GM, UAW need each other to survive in global market

It looks like all the rhetoric about the United Auto Workers' decision to strike against General Motors was so much sound and fury signifying nothing.

The walkout that started on Monday ended early Wednesday morning. By now everyone is back on the shop floor while negotiators for union and management brag about the mutually beneficial deal they worked out in their marathon negotiations. Maybe they're right. But they said the same things about previous contracts that resulted in an evisceration of the UAW and near destruction of the company.

UI earned its award

It was not just local supporters of Chief Illiniwek who took notice earlier this year when University of Illinois administrators and trustees were skulking around in the shadows as they greased the skids for the ouster of the Chief.

The Illinois Press Association noticed as well. Last week, it awarded the UI a "Worsty" award for its intentional effort to circumvent the state's Open Meetings Act and oust Chief Illiniwek in private. The IPA issues these awards annually to publicize abuses of the state law on opening meetings in the hope, usually vain, of discouraging future violations.

Illinois' local government and tax systems overdue for change

Try explaining to a financially pressed homeowner why his or her property taxes are soaring at the same time that property values are dropping nationally.

It doesn't make sense.

Turning back the hands of time

If he didn't have so much influence – as in suggesting that a barrel of oil might soon cost $100 – and didn't associate with other international troublemakers, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez might be considered something like a guilty pleasure. He's so amusing that he's hard to ignore, especially when he sets the record for the longest television show by a governmental leader.

The other day Chavez broadcast live on state television for more than eight hours. He talked about energy policy, constitutional reform (he wants to amend his country's constitution to eliminate presidential term limits), peace talks with Colombia and the increasingly common practice in Venezuela of parents buying breast implants for their daughters on their 15th birthday. At the end of the program, Chavez grinned at the camera and said, "The first time in history."

Wading into change at Spalding and Crystal Lake pools

That the Champaign Park District made the right decision converting Sholem Pool to a different kind of facility – with a lazy river, tube slide, body slide, kiddie pool and other amenities – is indisputable. Attendance there this summer was almost three times what was found at the community's two traditional outdoor pools combined: 104,000 versus about 38,500.

Now the question for both the Urbana and Champaign park districts is what to do with those other pools – Crystal Lake in Urbana, where there were 26,300 admissions this summer, and Spalding in Champaign, where attendance was just 12,179.

Attendance incentives teach the wrong lesson

The public schools in Urbana – home of the University of Illinois, home of Nobel and Pulitzer prize winners, a school system with a proud past – have taken to boosting attendance by seducing high schools students with the hope that they might win a car.

The old-fashioned and time-tested incentive of getting an education in order to advance oneself, learn about a skill or profession and get a job has been replaced by the high school equivalent of playing the lottery: you've to play (go to school) to pay (win a chance at a dressed-up 1995 Chrysler Concorde). How humiliating for a community that once prided itself on its public schools and the students they produced.

Krannert guitar fest big winner

Billed as a "three-day journey to guitar heaven," the recently concluded Wall to Wall Guitar Festival at the Krannert Center has succeeded in putting the University of Illinois on the map in a new area.

Known not just for films (Roger Ebert's film festival) or ground-breaking research, the UI is now making a new mark with its biennial music festival devoted to the guitar.

New policy institute will help boost the UI

This coming Foundation Weekend is going to be big for the University of Illinois, but even bigger for the newly created Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Fund. The privately funded academy is making its public debut, starting with a Thursday meeting at the Illini Union that will feature guest speakers from both inside and outside the UI to explain what this fledgling organization is all about.

Although this development has some faculty members fretting and wringing their hands over faculty governance issues, the broader university ought to welcome the academy with open arms. Its creation makes the UI the only public university in the country with a public policy institute of this nature. Some private institutions, like Stanford, Princeton and Duke, have similar institutes, and that's not bad company by anyone's measure.

Big plans can equal big losses

Local government officials sometimes dare to dream big, and then get brought back to earth. In the recent past officials in Champaign and Urbana suggested developing a tram system to ease traffic congestion and lure tourists. At another time the county forest preserve district talked of building a hill that could be used for snow skiing. Long ago, the Urbana Park District considered the notion of having its own zoo. None of those ideas gained enough public support to bring them beyond the idea stage.

Officials in Bloomington undoubtedly wish they had listened to the public years ago when someone first suggested building a downtown coliseum for entertainment and sporting events.

Repairs should be a priority on capital improvements list

Several recent stories in the news, both local and nationally, highlight an important issue of government bricks and mortar: the need to maintain our infrastructure before calamity – either human or financial – strikes.

The most obvious example is the Aug. 1 interstate highway bridge collapse in Minneapolis that killed 13 people, injured more than 100 and has disrupted traffic in the Twin Cities. But numerous other examples have followed, including the closing of bridges in Champaign, a decision to undertake long-delayed renovations to the Fairchild Street subway in Danville and the debate over whether to try to save a historic decorative archway in Danville's Douglas Park.