Daily dose: J.O. Cunningham & Lincoln, Taxing Illinois seniors, gas prices, Reinventing silk, Caterpillar & Peoria, Blago the clown

Daily dose: J.O. Cunningham & Lincoln, Taxing Illinois seniors, gas prices, Reinventing silk, Caterpillar & Peoria, Blago the clown

Local history

In 1911, Judge J.O. Cunningham, Urbana’s grand old man and historian, appeared before the county board and asked and was unanimously granted permission to place a tablet on the wall near the entrance to the county clerk’s office marking the spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his third lecture against slavery. In his statement to the board, Cunningham said, “This speech (made Oct. 24, 1854) and the occasion have now become historical, for several of the most read histories of President Lincoln referred to it as one of that remarkable series of speeches which arouse public sentiment upon the aggressive character of slavery and which resulted in his election to the presidency. Your petitioner was present and listened to that address, and is probably the only resident survivor of the audience so favored by fortune.”

In 1961, officials of Eisner Food Stores, a division of the Jewel Tea Co., announced that construction of a store in Lincolnshire will begin immediately after contracts are signed. The store will be located on Kirby Avenue just west of Prospect Avenue. It will be the fifth recently remodeled or new store in Champaign-Urbana.

Cullerton's plan to tax seniors' income

From the Chicago Tribune ...

Senior citizens who thought they escaped the pocketbook pain of Illinois' major income tax increase soon could find they didn't elude the taxman's grasp after all.

Influential Senate President John Cullerton on Monday suggested the state should start taxing retirement income. Illinois does not currently tax pensions or retirement funds such as 401(k) plans, but Cullerton suggested that the idea be in the mix as part of an effort to change the state's outdated tax system.

"It would just be a matter of fairness," Cullerton, D-Chicago, told a City Club of Chicago luncheon.

Details are still being ironed out, but Cullerton said the state could bring in $1.6 billion a year if retirement income was taxed at 5 percent, the same as the personal income tax rate that until January's hike stood at 3 percent. But Cullerton said he wants to exempt those with "modest pensions" or who rely only on Social Security and instead focus on those who could most afford the additional tax.

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"For example, (former) Gov. (Jim) Edgar's pension is $130,000 a year, and he pays no tax," Cullerton later added. "Someone like him would probably be willing to pay a state income tax on a portion of that."

Imposing a tax on retirement incomes could be a politically difficult prospect. Seniors make up a potent voting demographic. Even the successful attempt to end free CTA rides for the elderly, a cost many seniors said they could afford, proved tough to get through the General Assembly.

"We're talking about going from zero to 5 percent," said J. Fred Giertz, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "That's not going to be an easy thing to sell."


The bad news on gasoline prices

From the AAA Chicago Motor Club

Average gas prices in C-U today (for regular) $3.48 a gallon

Month ago: $3.15 a gallon

Year ago: $2.73 a gallon

The reinvention of silk

From The New York Times ...

As some silk researchers see it, if spiders were gregarious vegetarians, the world might be a different place.

For spiders are nature’s master silk makers, and over millions of years of evolution have developed silks that could be useful to people — from sticky toothpastelike mush to strong and stretchy draglines.

“There’s not just one kind of material we’re talking about,” said Cheryl Hayashi, who studies the evolutionary genetics of spider silk at the University of California, Riverside. “You can look in nature, and there are a lot of solutions already made. You want a glue? There’s a silk that’s already a glue.”

For years there has been talk of the bright promise of spider silk: that it might one day be used to make cables that are stronger than those of steel, for example, or bulletproof vests that are more effective than those made of Kevlar.

There has been a big fly in the ointment, however: spiders cannot spin enough of the stuff. Although a typical spider can produce five types of silk, it does not make much of any of them. Obtaining commercial quantities is a practical impossibility — spiders are loners and require a diet of live insects; some are cannibals. In other words, spider ranching is out of the question.

Researchers have worked to overcome this fundamental limitation by trying to unlock the secrets of the spider’s silk-making abilities so silk could be made in the laboratory, or by genetically transferring those abilities to other organisms that could produce silk in quantity. But so far the materials produced lack the full strength, elasticity and other qualities of the real thing.

Some scientists are making an end run around the spider problem and working on reinventing the one silk that is plentiful — that of silkworms. They are reconstituting it to make materials that have the potential to go far beyond the dream of bulletproof vests.

Among these researchers are David Kaplan and others at Tufts University, whose creations have potential applications in medicine and other fields. “Here’s a material that’s been around for 5,000 years and used in sutures for about that long,” Dr. Kaplan said. “Yet there’s this untapped territory.”

Dr. Kaplan’s group and colleagues at the University of Illinois and University of Pennsylvania have recently produced electrode arrays, for example, that are printed on flexible, degradable films of silk. The arrays — so thin they can conform to the nooks and crannies of the surface of the brain — may one day be used to treat epilepsy or other conditions without producing the scarring that larger implanted electrodes do.


Caterpillar and Peoria

From the Wall Street Journal ...

Just over 100 ago, the company we know as Caterpillar began building track-type tractors at a plant on the banks of the Illinois River. From these humble origins in East Peoria—the factory had 12 employees when it started—this icon of the American Midwest has grown into one of the world's most competitive manufacturers, recently forecasting record profits for 2011.

The question is, how come its home state of Illinois has so little to show for it?

Part of the answer has to do with the unvirtuous circle created when organized labor—public as well as private—forgets it has an interest in a growth-friendly environment. We saw some of this in Madison this weekend, when filmmaker Michael Moore showed up on cue, urging protesting government workers to show a "little bit of Egypt" in their confrontation with Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In Peoria that same weekend, it was a different story. Not long after Mr. Moore delivered himself of his rhetorical pyrotechnic, the United Auto Workers quietly ratified a new, six-year contract with Caterpillar. A news article in this newspaper rightly described the agreement as "the smoothest contract negotiations between the UAW and the Peoria, Ill.-based company in recent memory."

Indeed it is. For a simple reason: Today's UAW is not nearly as strong as it was in the 1990s, when it took its Caterpillar workers out on two bitter strikes. A big reason is that, over the past few years, the bulk of Caterpillar's investing has gone either overseas or to more business-friendly states at home.


Blagojevich resurfaces

From Huffington Post and Comedy Central ...

On Monday night's new episode of "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart continued his coverage of the chaos in Wisconsin, going as far as sending correspondent John Oliver to the "savage, frozen territory... devoid of any sign of humanity" known as Illinois to hunt down Wisconsin's 14 Democrats in hiding.

Oliver's journey starts with numerous "check points" (which are actually drive-thru fast food chains) and continues until he runs into Tea Partier David Hale, who actually caught one of the 14 Democrats on camera (not in the hopes of bringing anyone "to justice," just so he could post it on his Facebook page).

Venturing deeper into the "infamous I-90 pass," Oliver was granted a meeting with a "notorious former warlord" in the region, Rod Blagojevich, who refused to sell Oliver information on the democrats whereabouts.










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