Above average temperatures especially welcome this month

If ever central Illinois needed a warmer than normal winter, this is the year. AmerenIP, which provides natural gas service to Champaign-Urbana, Danville, Decatur and other area communities, has warned that – even with normal temperatures – natural gas bills will be, on average, $78 a month higher than a year ago. The lower the thermometer goes, the higher your gas bill will be.

So it was welcome news last week when the National Weather Service in Lincoln said that above-average temperatures were forecast through March. That means that it's likely we won't have a repeat of that December cold snap – nine consecutive days below freezing and only four days above 40 degrees all month. In fact, it was Illinois' second-coldest start to December on record, weather officials said. Statewide temperatures were nearly 11 degrees below normal for the first 20 days of December. Warmer weather also means that perhaps gas bills won't increase $78 this month, but maybe just $60 or $70. There's the proverbial silver lining on a dark cloud.

Crooked lobbyist Abramoff has D.C. pols nervous

Even though his impending guilty plea had been rumored for a couple of weeks, lobbyist Jack Abramoff rocked Washington, D.C., this week when he entered a guilty plea to multiple felony charges and promised to tell all about his efforts to ply powerful people with favors in exchange for valuable services rendered.

It remains to be seen how many prominent people Abramoff will take down with him. But given his prominence in the lobbying business and his flamboyant approach to entertaining members of Congress and their aides, it should be fun to follow – in a disgusting kind of way.

Bottom-line football business offers little security for coaches

Weep not for all those head football coaches in the National Football League who were dismissed at season's end. After all, this is the business they chose.

Nonetheless, it was striking to see how often the ax fell at the end of the football season for coaches whose teams didn't measure up. Tuesday's dismissal of Oakland Raiders' coach Norv Turner increased the number of vacancies to eight, only one (Kansas City's Dick Vermeil) of which was voluntary.

Corrupt state politicians keeping the feds busy

With the start of a new year, the FBI's top agent in Chicago sent out an unusual message, ostensibly to his superiors in Washington, D.C..

"We asked headquarters to give us more bodies," the FBI's Robert Grant told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Blagojevich's orphaned flu vaccine finally finds a home

Somewhere in Pakistan, an earthquake victim is wondering why the people of Illinois – wherever that unbelievably affluent place is – sent his country 256,000 doses of flu vaccine. The poor man wouldn't believe the story if you told him. But sadly it's true.

It all starts with a state government so poor that it is financing state operations with money that was supposed to go to cover pension costs but which is nonetheless comfortable throwing millions of dollars at whatever crisis is in the newspaper headlines at the moment.

Just when you thought federal spending couldn't get worse ...

One would never know that the federal government has a budget deficit problem, what with the ludicrous spending bill that Congress had routinely approved and that President Bush, to his discredit, has signed into law.

But sometimes it's the lesser spending (by congressional standards) that reveal how truly out-of-touch our representatives have become in their ceaseless efforts to address public needs, no matter how insignificant.

'I know nothing' not an easy defense to sell

Fans of the 1960s television situation comedy "Hogan's Heroes" will, no doubt, never forget the signature line of the hapless Sgt. Schultz.

"I know nothing, NOTHING," he would state in response to any sign of trouble.

Castro's ruthless rule to blame for baseball tournament ban

One of the oldest cliches in the book is that while sports and politics don't mix, the two, when properly combined, can help heal rifts between nations.

That's true enough. Remember when so-called "pingpong" diplomacy helped former President Richard Nixon open the doors to China and thaw diplomatic relations that had been frozen for more than 20 years?

Flawed father taught his sons an important lesson in honor

William A. "Al" Ginglen seemingly had led a model life in Lewistown, Ill. He had been an auxiliary police officer in Bloomington, an auxiliary deputy sheriff in Fulton County, a village trustee, a voluntary fireman and had served as president of the Jaycees. Ginglen had served in the Marine Corps, and had married and raised four children, including three sons.

But something happened to Ginglen about 10 years ago and he began a relationship with a woman 17 years younger. That led to cocaine abuse, visits to prostitutes and, ultimately, a string of armed robberies at five different small-town central Illinois banks. It wasn't until his sons saw a photograph of their father – wearing sunglasses and a mask over his mouth – that the crime spree came to an end.

Conservation may be the watchword in the new year

Happy new year! Now guard your wallet. After relatively tame inflation rates for several years (including a projected 3.5 percent rate in 2005), 2006 is starting to look like a year during which your money will be at risk, in everything from higher gasoline prices and health care costs to a bigger property tax bill.

Gasoline is already significantly more costly than a year ago and no one is predicting lower prices. A year ago, gas sold in Champaign-Urbana for $1.77 a gallon. Today it costs about $2.25. While that's down from the September high of $3.11 a gallon, it means that motorists may be facing a full year, not just 10 months, of $2 a gallon or more gasoline in 2006.