Smile Politely

Doom and gloom from the Gazoo

This will likely be the last of these Gazoo summaries until fall (unless someone else steps up), since I’ve fled the July heat of May for cooler climes. Needless to say, the current Gazette website, which is limited to “protect the value of the paper” according to poohbah John Beck, is next to worthless, unless you enjoy reading silly twitters.

Onto the curiously slight Memorial Day weekend Sunday paper: The Entertainment and Living sections were compressed into one section, as were the Local News and Commentary sections. Don’t know what that’s about, unless they’re saving newsprint for some giant Memorial Day shopping edition. Or maybe it’s part of the general sense this week’s paper imparts — things are not going well.

The lead front-page story concerns the empty shelves at food pantries in the region as demand keeps rising. Another front-page story is about raising funds for pantries, and in the local section is one is about a fundraiser for the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. Inside the Commentary section, David Green provides a detailed look at the hard times human services providers, both agencies and non-profits, face these days. Besides noting the impact of the crash of the speculative bubble economy, Green gets to the underlying issues of what he calls “the long-term structural deficit” of the Illinois tax system, a result of the loss of 200,000 manufacturing jobs, stagnant wages and the “dysfunctionally flat, low and regressive state income tax.” So we get at least a decade of declining state services. The problem he addresses is how the infrastructure, particularly the human infrastructure, of human services institutions is fraying, and once that is gone it’s not easy to replace. Meanwhile the needy and vulnerable are left to fend for themselves. As Green says, it’s a vicious and heartless cycle.

Front-page AP story on failure to stop the BP gusher, and on the environmental page an AP piece about how the population growth along the Gulf Coast — up 150 percent since 1960 as people have been priced out of the east and west coasts (according to one demographer) — is going to end due to hurricane fears, and uncertainty over the oil spill and the damage it will do to the Gulf economies. Also on the Environment page, Rob Kanter’s column details the important work that will not be done at Allerton Park due to budget constraints that forced the layoff of the natural areas manager.

The Living/Entertainment section contains a long, treacly article about a local 17-year-old girl with a drug addicted mother who is persevering though church, and a nice personality profile Q and A with Urbana Market at the Square Manager and all around good gal Lisa Bralts-Kelly.

In Business, someone is going to put up some more pre-fab apartment blocks by campus, National City Bank’s green signs are changing to PNC orange and blue, and in the Wall Street Journal stuff that usually makes up most of the business section, an article ominously warns that the May sell-off in the markets is just a taste of what’s to come.

Several new food places are opening: a hot dog, Italian beef, polish etc joint on Green St. that will be “fast;” a kebab joint also on Green; a new Asian market behind Walgreens at 5-points; and a new Mexican grocery and meat place on Bloomington Rd. The owner said he decided to open in the C-U area because he noticed the Hispanic population growing in recent years. There is no truth to the rumor that certain elements at a certain newspaper are organizing a posse to go check papers and look for guns and drugs. Finally, Luna has its summer hours announced, but no news on whether they’ve been able to hire adequate and competent wait staff.

In the Local section, a very depressing (at least to me) story about the Chuck Wagon Diner, once a mainstay on Springfield at Neil, and then reborn as the Elite Diner in downtown Urbana has been reborn again, this time reunited with the cool cowboy sign, in suburban New York.

Tom Kacich writes about Bill Black, the retiring Republican state rep from Danville, who broke ranks (along with one other retiring Republican) on the state borrowing vote, and is about to get the slap down from the party bosses. He also notes that Martin Sandoval, the Cicero Democrat Senator who wants to freeze state university tuition and look into its spending, was happy to get a UIUC Student Senate resolution passed May 5 (things move slow in Illinois) that supported his stance. Kacich reports the tuition portion of the UI budget has increased from 5.7 percent in 1980 to 15.7 this year. State contribution to the UI budget has gone from 44.5 percent in 1980 to 16.4 percent this year. The unasked question is where is the other 68 percent coming from? These sorts of numbers always seem to hide more than they reveal. How much has the budget grown over the past 30 years and how much of that was from corporate contributions? That bit of information might provide a better picture than the OMG! numbers journalists and politicians like to fling around.

Speaking of University news, a emeritus history professor at ISU makes a strong case in the Commentary section that ISU, not the U of I, which a U of I emeritus history professor touted last week, should be known as Abe Lincoln’s University. He has a case: particularly the part about how the state industrial school should have been in Normal, until a bunch of our distinguished ancestors wined, dined, and likely bribed the legislature to put it in Urbana.

Elsewhere in commentary, the usual characters and letters are not much worth mentioning. George Will is trite on political posing as an excuse to bash Obama, Calvin Thomas lays out his agenda for the GOP, including gutting “entitlements” that are “really just bribes for votes,” and requiring people to see a counselor before getting married or divorced. I’d love to see this platform touted by GOP candidates: cut those socialist entitlements of social security and Medicare, and get big government off our backs, except the state requires you to see a counselor. Go for it Cal!

In a McClatchy Newspapers-provided feature, offshore oil drilling is debated by a couple of university economists, one from the environmental side, and one from the drill baby drill school. Not much new here. Environmentalist says the cost/risk is not worth it as the oil gained is marginal and insignificant and we should be driving investment into conservation and alternatives. Drill Baby Drill says we are slaves to foreign oil and even a little more is worth it, plus tankers spill more and 62 percent of oil in seas is from natural leaks. Nothing about trees causing pollution though.

Guest commentary from former Urbana teacher Andrew Wilk points out that despite the “hoopla over revamping our schools into engines of 21st-century excellence” (nice phrase, which I should note Wilk uses with a wee bit of sarcasm), not much has changed about the real work of schools, and a student from 1960 would quickly feel right at home in today’s classroom. The amazing tech stuff cannot substitute for the day-to-day work of dedicated teachers motivating students to take an interest in and become familiar with material that will make them able to function after high school. Much of the article is about the trajectory of failure when kids start falling behind, and how it builds. Not much solution-wise provided except to expect more and get more teachers. As he says, “The more you know, the easier it is to learn more… the less you know, the easier it is to learn even less.” Which brings us to John Foreman’s latest.

Foreman puts on his nasty angry white guy hood this week to attack those “hysterical,” “hyperventilating” “howlers” who think the Arizona immigration law is wrong. I think I mentioned in SP recently the former UI prof who used Foreman’s columns as a way to show students how not to write an op-ed. This one could be used as a perfect example of how to demagogue. The column has almost nothing to do with immigration, let alone the conditions driving it. And of course the law has nothing to do with race, just the law and our “sacred” borders. The column quickly turns its focus to the drug trade and the surrounding violence, as if this has much to do with the purpose of the Arizona law — to allow state agents to demand papers of anyone they think looks like an illegal alien. The misdirection is only half of it though. Reciting a few violent incidents, Foreman pulls out the old what-if-the-drug-gangs-were-across-your-street ploy. Um, actually they are, but this has little to do with immigration. [It should be remembered that Foreman once warned that if the Obama administration moved some “enemy combatants” to a prison in western Illinois, Chechen terrorists might seize the second grade class at Yankee Ridge as hostages.] It gets worse. He cites right-wing propagandist Mona Charon, who he laughably calls an expert in Central American affairs, to push the point that the problem is all because Obama and the Democrats won’t do anything to avoid offending those hordes of Hispanic voters who got here by past amnesty programs. That should get the posse’s torches lit.

I suggest the $1.50 you saved this week be spent on some good tortillas or pan dulce at one of our fine local Mexican groceries before some tea party yahoo burns them down.

I hate to end on that ugly note, although as many have noted, we’re bound to increasingly have this sort of nastiness for a long time. This immigration business is just one part of the general sense one gets reading the scattered bits of a newspaper: Things are not going well. It has been argued that neo-liberalism, the hubristic ideology that has guided the political-economic elites globalization, public-sector defunding, and deregulation projects for the past 30 years, has met its nemesis — itself (see Wall Street, or NAFTA and the dispossession of peasants who then head north, or the Deepwater Horizon well or a dozen other messes). The wreckage is what makes up the news. Someone has described our current situation to the Wile E. Coyote situation where he’s run off the cliff but hasn’t quite recognized where he is yet. That seems about right. Well, I now get the pleasure of not reading the Gazette for a couple months. If you want to find out what’s happening locally (filtered through an ultra-right lens, however), you’ll have to read it yourself. My condolences.

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