Big breast issues We can't help but notice that breasts have been big news lately. It's rare to find breasts in the news, but lately bare breasts have captured media attention, while too little attention has been paid to breasts that give care and breasts in need of care. So, we'll touch on all three.

Let's begin with breast-baring or the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake debacle at the Super Bowl halftime show. To recap: As Timberlake sang the finale to their misogynist duet, he reached across Jackson and tore open her bodice, revealing her medallion-adorned right breast.

Although the media had a field day with Breastgate, we see it as something more sinister. It was a display of sexual aggression that, rehearsed or not, has no place in what should be a G-rated halftime show. Ripping off a woman's clothes is assault, not entertainment.

The National Football League claimed to be upset; Federal Communications Commissions chair Michael Powell claimed to be outraged.

The NFL says MTV will never do another halftime show because the NFL would not tolerate indecency. This is the same NFL that has long tolerated players taking their aggression off the field and out on women. The NFL has penalties for players who rough the kicker but those who rough up women are brought back and glorified.

Meanwhile, Powell is appalled and promises to investigate. This is the same Powell who has championed new rules to consolidate media ownership—despite warnings from advocates that the move would harm children's programming and take the teeth out of the Children's Television Act.

While Powell has been at the helm of the FCC, the primetime airwaves have been home to more violence, sex and rough language, not less.

Now, on to undercovered breasts.

Chicago Parent in January detailed the politicization of an Ad Council campaign to promote breastfeeding. The Ad Council's campaigns are big-bucks operations and are responsible for changing societal norms, such as stopping smoking and driving after drinking.

Now the Ad Council is set to take on breastfeeding, a move that bothers the makers of infant formula. Two companies, Ross Products, the unit of Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories that makes Similac and Isomil, and Mead Johnson, the Bristol-Myers Squibb subsidiary that makes Enfamil, said the Ad Council was using "scare tactics" to persuade new moms to nurse for at least six months.

Complaints from the formula-makers and leaders at the American Academy of Pediatricians delayed the campaign's start indefinitely to review the charges. Now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the campaign will debut "later this spring." The new version of the ads will be toned down but will still outline the risks of not breastfeeding babies, including diarrhea, ear infections and respiratory illness.

We were one of the few news outlets covering this story. Our thanks to reporter Eryn McGary. We like to think we did our part to help ensure this important public service campaign goes forward.

And, finally, breasts in need of care.

Breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer in American women; every three minutes another woman is diagnosed and every 14 minutes, another woman dies. Many organizations are working to find a cure and could use your help. Perhaps the most demanding is the Breast Cancer 3-Day to benefit the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer Foundation. This 60-mile walk in 10 U.S. cities this year, including Chicago's on Aug. 27-29. Participants are asked to raise at least $2,000. For information, visit www.thethreeday.org.

Or, there's the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which now is a two-day event. Participants are asked to raise at least $1,800, then walk at least 26.1 miles. In the last 12 years, the Avon program has raised $300 million for breast cancer causes around the world. Last year, 2,000 people were part of the Chicago walk, raising $5.6 million. This year, the Chicago walk is June 5-6. To sign-up or get information, visit www.avonwalk.org and click on the Chicago link.

If you're looking for a less strenuous way to fight breast cancer, visit www.thebreastcancersite.com and click on "Fund Free Mammograms." Click once a day. Every 40,000 clicks means one free mammogram is donated to a woman who otherwise couldn't afford it. In 2003, 1,933 mammograms were paid for by the advertisers that support the breast cancer site.

A+ for effort ZIP codes and property addresses should not determine the quality of education for any child." With those words, Cook County Assessor James Houlihan kicked off the latest effort of a statewide coalition to reform the way Illinois pays for its public schools.

We couldn't be more thrilled.

This state provides children with an embarrassingly uneven education. Schools in poor communities spend less than $5,000 per student while wealthy communities spend $18,000 or more. The spending gap and disparity puts Illinois dead last among all the states, according to Illinois State Board of Education.

This new coalition, which calls itself A+ Illinois, includes organizations that work on children's issues, education and tax reform as well as business groups and labor unions, civic and faith-based organizations. They have an agenda as broad as their base of support: to fix the way schools are funded and lower the portion of property taxes that go to schools while not cutting human services programs. It's a big job in a good economy. But with a $1.7 billion state budget deficit and a governor who pledges not to raise income or sales taxes, it seems nearly impossible.

Yet, there is reason to applaud this new effort. Those of us who own houses are ready to break under the burden of ever-rising property taxes, but it's still not enough money for the 80 percent of the state's 891 school districts operating in the red this year.

It's time this state accepts it needs a saner way to fund public education. For four consecutive years, we have gotten an "F" from Education Week because our system of relying so heavily on local property taxes is inadequate. It should come as no surprise that more than 1,600 of Illinois' 3,919 public schools failed to meet the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The Illinois Constitution says the state has the "primary responsibility for financing the system of public education." But only 36 percent of school expenses come from the state budget. This proposal to swap higher statewide taxes for lower property taxes has been on the political horizon for more than 20 years, but it has always been beyond the reach of the political will of state leaders.

We know these are tough times in Springfield. But they are tough times in classrooms across the state as well. We cheer the creation of A+ Illinois and urge you to write your representatives. Tell them to listen to what this organization has to say. Visit www.aplusillinois.org to find out more about the coalition and click on the "Take Action" link to let your elected representatives know how you feel.


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