When Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev selected him as one of 200 scientists from the East Asian country to be rewarded with foreign exchange trips, Murzabek Baikenov could have gone almost anywhere.
But the chemist, a professor at E.A. Buketov Karaganda State University in eastern Kazakhstan, didn't pick the Sorbonne in Paris or the University of Hawaii. He chose Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois.
If you needed any further proof that sports – professional and collegiate – is a very big business, consider that the top ticket to see the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls this coming season will be $2,500 per seat per game.
That's $102,500 for a season ticket for a single bench seat – a seat located on the playing floor between the visiting team's bench and the scorer's table. It's a bundle of money, enough to buy a modest house or to pay for a full year of education for 19 Chicago Public School students.
The next 14 months are going to be long ones for officials in Tuscola, Mattoon and Springfield. That's how long the FutureGen Industrial Alliance is giving itself to decide whether to build the nation's first coal-fueled, zero-emissions power plant. Tuscola and Mattoon are finalists for the project, as are two sites in Texas.
The immediate benefits to East Central Illinois of winning the FutureGen sweepstakes are obvious: a billion-dollar investment in the area, an estimated 1,000 construction jobs, about 150 permanent jobs beginning in 2012, millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to support the project, scientists and researchers visiting the plant from all over the world.
What does it tell Illinoisans when their governor deceives state legislators and the public – not once but twice in consecutive years – about the contents of the state budget?
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has again lied to the Legislature about what is in the state budget. After telling lawmakers that there was no money in this year's spending plan for stem cell research, he acted last week – a day after President Bush vetoed any federally financed expansion of embryonic stem cell research – to convert a $5 million administrative line item in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services budget to a line item for stem cell research. Last summer, he announced after the Legislature had left town that he had hidden $10 million in the budget for the controversial research.
When former Gov. George Ryan became a target of corruption charges, another former governor, Jim Thompson, stepped forward to handle his defense. That was no surprise because they are longtime political allies, with Ryan serving two terms as lieutenant governor in Thompson's administration.
It was, however, slightly more surprising when Thompson announced that a team of Winston & Strawn lawyers would not only represent Ryan but do so for free. After all, Ryan isn't indigent. He has a six-figure pension.
Fundraisers for the Champaign Public Library are off to a flying start as they enter the public phase of their campaign to raise $3 million for the construction of a new library.
Library director Marsha Grove announced last week that a number of major donors made pledges totaling $2.5 million in "leadership" gifts, leaving the remaining $500,000 to be raised by the end of the year.
You may recall that more five years ago, during the winter of 2000 and the summer of 2001, hundreds of people in Champaign-Urbana were up in arms over a plan that would have given Illinois Power Co. greater leeway in trimming and removing vegetation near the utility's power lines.
It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Urbana City Council will approval the creation of a police review board.
The idea has been under consideration since last fall, when Mayor Laurel Prussing appointed a task force headed by former Alderwoman Esther Patt to study the issue. While Mayor Prussing has said the council will not rush to approval, she has made it equally clear that she expects an ordinance creating the review board to pass soon and a panel to be in place within a matter of months.
Recent days have brought encouraging news about how the campaign for Illinois governor may be conducted this fall. First, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign said that it has accepted invitations to seven debates around the state, and has asked Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka to do the same. Both sides earlier said they're willing to debate as many as a dozen times.
Second, there has been the first hint of a real discussion about a real issue, rather than an exchange about which of the two candidates is more like disgraced ex-Gov. George Ryan.
Earlier this month, city and school officials in Chicago held a raucous news conference to announce encouraging results from last spring's state tests in reading, math and science.
Most importantly, the tests revealed that 64.7 percent of students met or exceeded state math standards, a significant improvement from 45.7 percent last year.