Smile Politely

Flipping through the Sunday paper

Nothing but local news, which is a good thing, on the front page of the Sunday News-Gazette this week. Three (two too many) similar photos of the Tour de Champaign, a feature about Champaign’s stash of bricks for brick street repair, and an article about state investigations into the Champaign County Nursing Home over a recent death and some allegedly poor practices that could threaten Medicare and Medicaid funding. The nursing home is contesting the allegations and the already imposed fines. This will play out over time, but it’s a pretty major story.

The other front page story is about Urbana Mayor Prussing’s call to look into a city two cents per gallon gasoline tax. It starts out predictably — local service station owner opposed and warning that drivers will go elsewhere to save two cents a gallon. Prussing hopes that other cities sign on. The interesting part of the article looks at local gasoline taxes elsewhere, notably Danville, which recently raised their local tax to 5.6 cents per gallon. Not surprisingly, or maybe surprisingly if you believe the station owners, sales levels in Danville did not change much. A sidebar polls the Urbana City Council on the idea and most either tentatively supported the idea or were open to it. Only Heather Stevenson was adamantly opposed, apparently because taxes are bad. Normally I’d think this idea was a DOA case, but it makes sense, and looks like it might actually go somewhere. In one way it’s a user fee. You want to drive your car on pothole-free streets, you should pay for those streets.

Spotty national/international news inside the front section, but who reads the Gazette for national and international news these days? One thing the Gazette does on Sunday that deserves positive recognition, is devote a page to environmental news in the front section. This issue has articles on the National Academy of Sciences strong statement defending the science on climate change. This is a nice antidote to much of the denialist garbage published in the commentary section over the past few years. Also a story from a Florida newspaper on how new federal lead rules will raise rehab costs there. Contractors threaten to just not work on older houses. Damned anti-business environmentalists! Would be interesting to have a local take on this story, although I think lead paint was banned in Illinois significantly earlier than in Florida (I’m too lazy — it’s too damn hot out, damned global warming — to look it up).

Very little local news in the local section (it’s all on the front page this week) except for a very interesting article by Tom Kacich on high-speed rail. What’s interesting is less the issue of rail itself than the process of perhaps getting it here. The gist of the story is about how the usual corporate eco-devo crowd (Dimit, Habeeb) got wowed by a presentation by a visiting Taiwanese scholar at the U of I railroad engineering program on the privately constructed and operated (of course, much of the cost was socialized through government support) high speed rail line down the west coast of Taiwan. The professor, T.C. Kao, “made believers our of a corps of Champaign-Urbana leaders…” who got starry-eyed about the potential for a privately financed (again with “some” socialized cost via government) high speed train running from Chicago to St. Louis through Champaign.

Again, the article is withheld from the website, so if you’re really interested you’ll have to go read a library copy, but it’s probably not worth the trip yet. Keep an eye out for the “public-private partnership” camel nose under the tent, and keep a grip on your wallet. It wasn’t clear from the article, but it seems there is Taiwanese capital that might be brought to such a project. The idea looks like nonsense at first glance, and I’ll have more to say about it later, but for now if you want to see the power points from the presentation, Kacich has posted them here. But I can’t resist this little bit in the article from State Senator Mike Frerichs. Noting that the U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to build such a system, he thought that there might be reluctance to turning over the running of our trains to a foreign national company. Two words for you Senator: Canadian National.

The Business pages have Don Dodson doing his bank examiner thing, looking at the performance of all banks in the area. Most had small returns on assets in 2009, or small losses, except for Busey, which took a big hit in 2009 with a big writedown of goodwill. Only six banks, not including Busey, posted a loss in the first quarter of 2010. Christine Des Garennes, still being held in the “It’s your business” column purgatory, notes that our economy can welcome a new flower and balloon shop — it will be cute and shabby chic — another pet care shop in Mahomet, and another consignment shop. No news on any high-wage, clean-energy-industry manufacturing plant coming in the near future.

Sports I usually ignore except for a couple box scores, because it strikes me as insane, particularly “Illini Nation” stuff. This week seems crazier than usual: a full page of college basketball “news.” Man, it’s May and 90 degrees out. What kind of obsessive loon cares about college basketball now? The big sports story is a three page wet kiss to former basketball coach Lou Henson. Here’s what we learn: Lou is recovering well from his recent health setbacks, does exercise in the pool, plays golf and bridge, listens to Fox news, hangs out with Loren Tate, has lunch at the Apple Dumpling with Jim Dey and John Foreman, drives past WDWS, gets up before the News-Gazette arrives, and….I forget the other reference to the News-Gazette, and I really don’t want to look it up. Geez, and to think I used to like the guy. Just kidding. I’ve never liked basketball coaches, football neither. Anyway, all this May basketball news just reinforces my belief that there are thousands of people around here who really need to get a life.

Commentary leads with an AP story out of Michigan on the Chevy Volt and how important it is to GM and everyone in Michigan. The story is a little slight, but it does capture just how desperately people in Michigan need this vehicle to succeed, and it looks at the car from the shop floor level-a nice change from the usual automobile sector reporting.

Former U of I history professor Vernon Burton has an article on Abraham Lincoln and the U of I. (it’s actually taken from remarks he made at the law school during the recent Lincoln celebrations). Burton makes a strong case that the U of I should more aggressively attach itself to Lincoln, primarily due to his signing of the Morrill Act, the legislation creating the National Academy of Sciences, which you’ll recall just said, yes global warming is real and scientifically sound, and his lifelong commitment to education in general as the bedrock of democracy. He wants the U of I seen as Mr. Lincoln’s university, as Virginia is Mr. Jefferson’s or Penn is Mr. Franklin’s. Good idea. Worth seeking out if you’re interested in this. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be on the website.

This seems like a nice place to go into my rant about the image of the U of I, which despite the banishment of the clown injun, still plays the Hollywood tom-tom injun music at half-time. Since there are murmurs of finding a new “mascot,” isn’t the obvious choice the old railsplitter himself? Put “Learning and Labor” on the helmets and get some dignity for a change. You could still have a “mascot” Abe with a wolverine firmly embedded on the business end of his ax roaming the sidelines. Just no dances, please. Maybe some rasslin’.

Guest commentary this week is by occasional contributor Joseph Bauers, and is a well-written and thoughtful piece about human hubris when it comes to nature. Again, it’s a shame it won’t be on the web since it’s worthy of wider distribution. Maybe if you email him at he’ll send you a copy. A taste: “Urban sprawl that consumes acres of farmland for the purpose of economic growth, real and imagined, seems a perfectly reasonable trade-off to local officeholders and developers, both of whom appear oblivious to the law of unintended consequences.”

Those interested in state politics might seek out Mike Lawrence’s (a former press officer and aide to Jim Edgar, and former head of the Paul Simon Institute at SIU) piece about those good old days when Phil Rock (D) ran the Senate, and Richard Ogilvy (R) was governor, and things actually got done in the public interest. Methinks his glasses are a shade too rosy, but he has a point. But this was pre-Gingrich (not to mention Reagan), and the poisoning of the well.

Not much of note in the letters: one from a right wing crank in Arcola, one from someone taking on the right wing crank from Dewey, and a satire about the creeping socialism of having the public pay for pothole repair. The dispatches from the usual cast of national right wing cranks, George Will and Cal Thomas, are not worthy of notice-just spin-Thomas on the need for school vouchers to restore freedom to America (unsaid is their use to fund Christo-Fascist Madrasses), Will incoherent, but soundly cynical, about the recent elections. Editorial on the state budget, which just restates the same thing the cabal has been saying over and over again for the past millennium, and one on the puzzlement over IDOT suddenly putting the kibosh on the I-74 to Mahomet expansion plans.

So there you go. You can now take your saved $1.50 and drive to Indiana to save $1.25 on gas.

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