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A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A ‘Twilight Zone’ version of ‘A Christmas Carol’

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 15, 16 or 17

At a time when international relations are strained by ISIS atrocities and disclosures of CIA torture, by anxieties about nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea or Middle East countries, and by dystopian fears from Ebola to climate change, reminders of Bigger Things help – especially during dark December facing the bright promise of Christmas and other holidays.

So it’s recommended to watch or record cable/satellite channel Turner Classic Movies’ presentation of “Carol for Another Christmas” at 11:45 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 18).

It’s the 50th anniversary of Rod Serling’s quirky version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”

With an all-star cast, the 84-minute feature tells the familiar story, except with a subtext of global tensions. Until 2012, it had been telecast just once, on Dec. 28, 1964, on ABC-TV – the year when other chilling movies about world affairs such as “Fail Safe” and “Dr. Strangelove” came out.

Described by critic Mitchell Hadley as “the most remarkable venture nobody ever heard of,” the film was the first of six planned movies sponsored by Xerox to promote the United Nations as an alternative to war. Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”), “Carol for Another Christmas” is classic Serling, the “Twilight Zone” writer whose edgy relevance, fantasy sequences and strange twists made Dickens fresh decades ago. It still resonates with lessons about power and profits, fear and loss, and love and war.

“Carol for Another Christmas” is a Cold War version of the enduring tale, here with personalities as polarizing as peacenik veterans and right-wing-fringe types. A melancholy, embittered tycoon, Grudge, is spending another Christmas grieving over his son, Marley, killed in action in World War II. After a visit by his nephew, during which Grudge scoffs at the notion of dialogue and understanding, the industrialist seems to see visions of his son, and then he passes out, only to be visited by three ghosts.

The spirits work their redemptive grace, and the film ends with a measure of hope, a good feeling at a time of hate and dread, whether on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis or a time of the Tea Party.

Talking about the time it was made – months after Kennedy’s assassination and the escalation of the Vietnam War – Serling biographer Gordon Sander wrote, “For a liberal like Serling, that was a bleak year. The program reflects that.”

Sterling Hayden portrays Grudge, supported by top talent from the ’60s: Ben Gazzara, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw, Pat Hingle, Steve Lawrence and Britt Ekland. Henry Mancini wrote the score.

However, Peter Sellers is the standout as an extremist espousing individualism at the expense of everything else. His “Imperial Me” is a post-Apocalypse demagogue with a twisted nationalism seemingly built on prejudice and greed, warning a crowd about freedom and “immigrants”: “If we let them seep in here from down yonder and ‘cross river – if we let these do-gooders, these bleeding hearts, propagate their insidious doctrine of involvement among us – then, my dear friends, my beloved Me’s … We’s in trouble.”

Another fine performance comes from Lawrence, the singer who portrays the Ghost of Christmas Past as a weary World War I doughboy who argues for diplomacy: “When we stop talking, we start swinging. Then we bleed. Then we got problems. Like winding up dead.”

Only four of the six UN-themed films were made after a campaign by the right-wing John Birch Society. The others were “Who Has Seen the Wind” (1965), starring Edward G. Robinson and Theodore Bikel in a story about refugees; “Once Upon a Tractor” (1965), starring Alan Bates and Melvyn Douglas in a tale of a man dealing with government aid; and “The Poppy is Also a Flower” (1966), written by Ian Fleming and starring Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth and Eli Wallach, and narrated by Princess Grace Kelly, about drug trafficking.

Writing about “Carol for Another Christmas,” author Lorraine LoBianco (“Letters by Jean Renoir”) says, “The film is a must-see, not just because it … contains a long-forgotten Peter Sellers performance, but because it is a reflection of both its time and the state of mind of one of television's most brilliant writers.”

“Carol for Another Christmas” also features Barbara Ann Teer, James Shigeta, Percy Rodrigues, Joe Santos and (only in a portrait since his scenes were cut) Peter Fonda.

Watch it and wonder: Has much changed in 50 years – or 2,000?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Tea Party coverage obscures Republicans like Ike

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 11, 12 or 13

In a few weeks it will be 60 years since Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his State of the Union speech proposed a law to “eliminate excess profits,” reminded Congress that the corporate income tax was 52 percent, and advocated greater conservation measures to protect water resources.

That memory helps reveal that right-wing extremists backed by the wealthy and powerful have hijacked news about the GOP – the party of Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln.

Today, the sky’s the limit on profits and Wall Street’s setting records; profitable corporations are supposed to pay a 35 percent federal tax rate, but many pay less or nothing because of loopholes and special breaks, according to Citizens for Tax Justice; and the GOP wants to limit the Clean Water Act.

However, new research by University of New Hampshire sociologists shows that everyday Republicans who don’t abide the Tea Party have views on environmental issues closer to Independents than the right-wingers who get much of the attention.

“Across a range of science and environmental issues, non-Tea Party Republicans are more similar to Independents than they are to Tea Party supporters,” says UNH professor of sociology Lawrence Hamilton, first author of “A Four-Party View of U.S. Environmental Concern” in the journal Environmental Politics.

Realizing that non-Tea Party Republicans are more receptive to scientific findings is somewhat encouraging, Hamilton says.

“Science communication gets caught up in a political spin cycle that can counter years of data with a few days of blogging,” he says.

Still, too many in Congress are being held hostage by the well-funded, influential Right.

Unlike Eisenhower – the World War II leader who became the 34th U.S. President – GOP leaders today ignore widespread popular support to kowtow to the cacophony from the Tea Party or to their campaign contributors. Polls show sizable majorities of Americans favor ending subsidies to fossil-fuel companies (62 percent); improving, not killing, the Affordable Care Act (64 percent); offering a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (68 percent); raising the minimum wage (70 percent); keeping food stamp funding as it is (70 percent); taxing millionaires at 30 percent or more (71 percent); lowering student-loan interest to 3.4 percent (83 percent); and requiring background checks in all gun purchases (92 percent).

Eisenhower, affectionately called Ike, would have led such efforts, not deferred to the domineering rich. After all, Ike ended the Korean War, built the Interstate highway system, sent federal troops to desegregate public schools in Little Rock, Ark., made both conservative and liberal appointments to a ground-breaking U.S. Supreme Court, stood up to Red-baiting demagogue Joe McCarthy, and coined the term “military-industrial complex,” which he criticized.

He erred, too, of course, engineering a coup in Iran that continues to echo in the Middle East, having a U-2 spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union, and continuing a dangerous Cold War. But he avoided escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam, defied Democrats who for political gain conjured a phony “missile gap” compared to Soviet weapons, promoted protecting voting rights, expanded Social Security, increased the minimum wage, and established the cabinet post of Health, Education and Welfare.

In 1967, journalist Murray Kempton wrote a reflection on Eisenhower in Esquire magazine, saying Ike was “as calm when he was demonstrating the wisdom of leaving a bad situation alone as when he was moving to meet it on those occasions when he absolutely had to.”

Certainly, Ike was no Michelle Bachman, Ted Cruz, Steve King or Rand Paul. Maybe it’s unfair or unrealistic to fondly recall such Main Street Republicans. But Ike showed the possibilities.

Jean Edward Smith in his biography “Eisenhower in War and Peace” added that Ike “knew the difference between right and wrong.”

Many Americans – many Republicans – must concede that if the Tea Party isn’t malicious, its adherents sure don’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong.

[PICTURED: Photo collage from ecolocalizer.com.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Businesses chose to profit at the expense of workers, society

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 8, 9 or 10

Wage stagnation stems from businesses abandoning their historic role of operating for social good as well as commercial gain, according to several recent analyses.

Third-quarter corporate earnings were about 10 percent – the widest margins in 22 years, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart. He wrote, “A big reason margins have continued to widen is wage gains – or more aptly, a lack of them. Average hourly earnings continued to grow weakly in October, and were up just 2 percent from their year-earlier level, according to the Labor Department. That is even though companies have been hiring over the past year at a faster clip than economists expected, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.8 percent last month from 7.2 percent a year earlier.”

The New York Times reported, “Since the recovery began in mid-2009, inflation-adjusted figures show that the economy has grown by 12 percent; corporate profits, by 46 percent; and the broad stock market, by 92 percent. Median household income has contracted by 3 percent.”

Further, as the Washington Post’s Chico Harlan reported, “Since 2006, the number of Americans seeking full-time work but reluctantly holding part-time jobs has risen 65 percent, to 6.8 million.”

The disconnect is worse when considering that business no longer even pays for good production.

“Despite increasing economy-wide productivity, wages for the vast majority of American workers have either stagnated or declined since 1979,” according to “Raising America’s Pay: Why It’s Our Central Economic Policy Challenge,” a recent Economic Policy Institute report. “Between 1979 and 2013, productivity grew 64.9 percent, while hourly compensation of production and nonsupervisory workers – who comprise 80 percent of the private-sector workforce – grew just 8.2 percent.”

The lost link between work and wages comes down to business gaining power over both workers and elected officials, and exerting that influence to maximize profits at the expense of employees and society.

Business had a choice and made one damaging to their labor forces and the country.

“A century ago, industrial magnates played a central role in the Progressive movement, working with unions, supporting workmen’s compensation laws and laws against child labor, and often pushing for more government regulation,” wrote James Surowiecki in The New Yorker magazine. “This wasn’t altruism. The reforms were intended to co-opt public pressure and avert more radical measures.”

After World War II and through the Johnson administration’s Great Society programs, many businesses cooperated with reform efforts, he continued.

“Corporate leaders formed an organization called the Committee for Economic Development, which played a central role in the forging of postwar consensus politics, accepting strong unions, bigger government, and the rise of the welfare state,” Surowiecki said.

Today, there are no such “centrist” business organizations with political clout left, he added.

Adding insult to injury, 35 percent of investment capital put up by limited partners comes from pension funds, according to “Private Equity at Work: When Wall Street Manages Main Street,” by Rosemary Batt and Eileen Appelbaum. That means, Robert Kuttner wrote in the New York Review of Books, “Workers’ own funds become part of the financial system that drives down workers’ wages.”

Another consequence of the lack of wage growth is its contributing to rising household debt, a factor in the Great Recession of 2007-2009, says Jonathan Tasini, a union activist who blogs at Workinglife.org.

“The basic bargain was roughly this,” he says. “If you worked hard and became more productive, you would see that sweat of the brow in your wages. And from the post-war era until the 1970s, that deal basically held. If [that] had continued, the minimum wage would be more than $19 an hour. The minimum wage!

“In short: people had no money coming in in their paychecks so they were forced to pay for their lives through credit – either plastic or drawing down equity from their homes,” he continued.

Lahart, in the Wall Street Journal, added, “Eventually, things will change. Companies will no longer be able to keep labor costs at bay, interest rates and inflation will rise, and investors’ focus will swing back toward growth. But as the persistence of wide profit margins has shown, eventually can be a long time coming.”

[PICTURED: Chart from independentreport.blogspot.com.]

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Ferguson: emotions unleashed, tragedies go on

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 1, 2 or 3

Grief, frustration or fear can unleash emotions as raw as an open wound. Those can lead to bad decisions like shooting an unarmed person 20 yards away or stupid choices like destroying property.

After a St. Louis area grand jury last week found no probable cause to try for any crime a Ferguson, Mo., policeman who in August shot and killed an unarmed black youth, many people feel like screaming, weeping or both … and also like trying to comfort, understand or acknowledge the passions at hand.

Some also are upset by the extent of public uproar about property damage and looting compared to the outcry against violence against young African-American men.

Questions nag. What if the shooter would’ve been a black teen fearing for his life from some 20 feet away and the unarmed victim a 28-year-old public employee?

Did the criminal justice system communicate that it’s acceptable to shoot unarmed people if someone thinks they’re in danger? That a segment of U.S. society is a threat not worth saving, some sort of infection or infestation justifying lousy, lethal force?

“People take our anger and they try to make it violent, when the real violence is the AK-47s and the M16s that are pointed at us,” said young Ferguson activist Ashley Yates, speaking to National Catholic Reporter. But true violence is “when you see a sniper pop out of the top of a tank with a smile on his face, when all you have is your hands and your words and your anger.”

Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon didn’t help. His executive order days before mobilizing 2,000 National Guard troops and coordinating every law enforcement official above a mall security guard only antagonized people already suspicious of the proceedings, and the veiled threat gave the sense of imminent unrest an unnecessary inevitability.

Such social spasms of real feelings aren’t new, of course, but even destructive acts are rarely violent against people. And what response would’ve avoided confirming presumptions about grassroots reaction? No protests may have seemed like acceptance of the shooting. Lawlessness seems to justify police overreaction.

There must be an alternative to rioting beyond a stern letter.

Certainly, law enforcement can be dangerous. The United States has more guns and more murders than other industrialized nations. Also, police using nonviolent resolutions don’t make the news. We expect that.

Maybe that’s na├»ve. Statistics from Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office show that blacks in Missouri last year were 66 percent more likely than whites to be stopped by police, and twice as likely to be searched. Interestingly, though, among people searched, whites are 30 percent more likely to be in possession of contraband.

“In Missouri, black people are killed by law enforcement twice as frequently as white people,” according to a report by the Sunlight Foundation, and “nationwide, the rate at which black people are killed by law enforcement is three times higher than white people.”

Last month, ProPublica, a respected investigative journalism service, concluded that young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts.

Polls show minority groups have little confidence in law enforcement; many believe they’re likely to use excessive force. Further, a Pew/USA Today poll in August showed Americans of all races collectively “give relatively low marks to police departments around the country for holding officers accountable for misconduct, using the appropriate amount of force, and treating racial and ethnic groups equally.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said, “We cannot deny or marginalize the perception that the system itself is not yet color blind. We are dedicated to supporting organizing efforts that reinforce unity, healing and fairness.”

Meanwhile, federal charges are doubtful, and in similar situations, civil lawsuits can be more successful, but any monetary judgments are paid by cities. Individuals aren’t exactly accountable for their actions.

“I am OK with being angry,” said Yates, the Ferguson activist. “If you can see a dead black body lying in the street for four and a half hours and that doesn’t make you angry, then you lack humanity. When we neglect to see [our shared humanity], we end up where we are today.”

[PICTURED: Cartoon by Sean Mack from rebloggy.com.]

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Republicans, Democrats both concerned about election

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Dec. 4, 5 or 6

The political parties have lessons to learn from November’s election, and progressive Democrats and mainstream Republicans are trying to teach leaders that they must change to represent the way Americans actually feel.

Two Texans offer political primers. James Cullen, a Manchaca, Texas, journalist who edits the Progressive Populist newspaper, notes that Democrats had a 42.2 percent approval rating going into the midterms but the GOP had a 36.2 percent rating, meaning that Republicans’ marketing and spending made a difference.

“Republicans have succeeded in their strategy of blocking President Obama at every turn and then blaming him for not accomplishing his goals,” Cullen says. “Republicans opposed Obama on the stimulus; on rescuing General Motors and Chrysler; on developing a national health reform bill (though it was based on a Republican proposal); on reforming Wall Street. And the obstruction worked!”

“Even as the economy began to stabilize,” Cullen continues, “Republicans complained that the economy wasn’t improving fast enough – despite their almost unanimous opposition to the measures designed to save jobs and stimulate business.”

Cullen says instead of trying to placate elements of the GOP unwilling to compromise, Democrats must reflect an electorate that supports raising the minimum wage and protecting the right to vote, plus progressive taxation, women’s health protection, same-sex marriage, equal-pay, paid sick leave, labor rights and legalized marijuana, as polls and votes showed.

“Democrats ought to be able to make the case that they are the better choice for the working class, that Republican priorities are to benefit the rich and giant corporations at the expense of the middle class and mom-and-pop businesses.”

Republican Chris Ladd, an ex-Texan who blogs at GOPlifer.com, is critical of Republicans’ Radical Right.

“The biggest Republican victory in decades did not move the map,” he says, and “voter turnout was awful. Republicans in 2014 were the most popular girl at a party no one attended.”

Considering states leaning toward parties, Ladd sees a “Blue Wall – a block that no Republican Presidential candidate can realistically hope to win.”

Besides the West Coast, the Northeast, and much of the Upper Midwest, the bloc now arguably includes New Hampshire and Virginia, he says, adding that even Georgia “is in play.”

Ladd notes the “missing story of the midterm election” – Republican Senate candidates lost every race behind the “Blue Wall”; Democrats consolidated power in parts of the country that generate most of America’s wealth beyond energy; and “vote suppression is working remarkably well,” Ladd says, “but eventually Democrats will help people get the documentation they need. Meanwhile we kissed off minority votes for the foreseeable future.”

Further, the Senate seats up for election favored the GOP, and that’s not going to repeat soon.

“Democrats in 2014 had to defend 13 Senate seats in red or purple states,” he says. “In 2016 Republicans will be defending 24 Senate seats and at least 18 of them are likely to be competitive. Democrats will be defending one seat that might be competitive.”

As to the “Blue Wall,” Ladd breaks down the Electoral College: Strong Democratic states have 257 votes, he shows, compared to strong Republican states’ 149. Winning the Presidency requires 270 votes.

“No Republican candidate has a credible shot at the White House in 2016, and the chance of the GOP holding the Senate for longer than two years is precisely zero,” he says. “Only by sweeping all nine of the states that remain in contention AND flipping one impossibly Democratic state can a Republican candidate win the White House.

“What are the odds that a Republican candidate capable of passing muster with 2016 GOP primary voters can accomplish that feat?” he adds. “This means that the next Presidential election, and all subsequent ones until a future party realignment, will be decided in the Democratic primary.”

As for the remainder of Obama’s administration, Ladd says the Senate’s Mitch McConnell is “about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive. We’re about to get two years of intense, horrifying stupidity. If you thought Benghazi was a legitimate scandal that reveals Obama’s real plans for America then you’re an idiot, but these next two years will be a (briefly) happy period for you.

“What are we getting from Republicans?” the Republican continues. “Climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called ‘issues’ so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs, that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation.”

[PICTURED: Photo from GOPlifer.com.]

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Teachers must be defended

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Nov. 27, 28 or 29

Time magazine this month had a cover story bashing teachers that was not just one-sided, but as misleading as less-respected voices on talk radio and cable TV.

Soon, such ill-founded resentment may echo in grumbling about schools’ holiday breaks or in misinformed complaints that teachers don’t work enough, are overpaid, have exorbitant pensions, or cause local property owners to shoulder inflated real estate taxes to fund lousy-performing schools.

Teachers must be defended.

It is elected representatives more interested in re-election than governing who have neglected their duties, not teachers. Faced with budget challenges, lawmakers must cut government where permissible (knowing some citizens will object), or raise revenues such as taxes (knowing some voters will object).

So little gets done.

As to the tired complaints: Local school boards ultimately decide the length of school years based on a state funding formula, but most teachers work a 174-day year. Since class days are fewer than eight hours, it’s not illogical to assume teachers work “half a year.” However, as Pennsylvania journalist Walt Brasch shows, “There are 365 days in a year. Subtract two days a week, which the average worker does not work, and that leaves 261 days. Next, remove 10 days of vacation. That leaves 251 days. Next, there are state and federal holidays, bracketed by New Year’s Day and Christmas. Generally, most businesses accept the 10 federal holidays. That leaves 241 days.”

Sure, 174 is less than 241, but teachers’ days and weeks are actually longer than 9-5 or Monday-Friday. Teachers start before school, stay late to prep for the next day or student activities, and then – at home most nights and weekends – grade papers, prepare lesson plans, study teaching methods, and keep up with their specialties. Teachers spend holidays – any break, from Thanksgiving to summer vacation – catching up on scoring tests and reading papers, planning for the classes and semesters, attending professional conferences, and taking classes to stay certified and improve their teaching and expertise. It’s demanding.

“Teaching has a high burnout rate,” said Victor Devinatz, Distinguished Professor of Management at Illinois State University. “Many leave the profession within five years.”

As for teachers’ pay, the starting salary for Illinois teachers – who must have a college degree – is $37,500, according to the TeacherPortal.com survey cited in Forbes magazine, and the average wage overall (including Chicago and affluent suburbs) is $58,686. That seems generous, but it’s below those with similar education and experience. The Economic Policy Institute says public school teachers are paid about 19 percent less than professionals with similar qualifications, and some, notably in sciences and math, may be paid less than half of what others with their backgrounds receive.

Critics also complain about pensions. In Illinois, the problem isn’t teachers, who paid their share of contributions, but the failure of Democratic and Republican administrations alike to meet government’s legal obligation to contribute to the pension system. (Also, public employees like teachers don’t receive Social Security for their years of working for government.)

Like every workplace, education has lazy or less-competent teachers, but contrary to Time and education bashers, teachers – even tenured – can be fired for cause. Also, some parents are slackers, doing little to help kids learn, instead instilling in their families unfair stereotypes of teachers.

Finally, taxpayers have a point about funding schools. The notion of school districts depending on property values and taxes is outdated and must be changed to let less affluent areas have the same caliber of education as richer districts. Schools get less help from state and federal sources than local taxes. Urban and rural areas don’t have the property tax base that suburban areas do, yet fixed expenditures such as buses and books make the burden heavy there.

Many politicians claim to support education, but action falls short of oratory.

Teachers must be defended.

[PICTURED: Graphic from TwistedSifter.com]

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Forget Keystone, another pipeline targets Illinois

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Nov. 24, 25 or 26

Illinoisans who may be disappointed because the U.S. Senate didn’t pass the Keystone XL pipeline measure letting multi-national corporations bring tar-sand Canadian oil down through the Great Plains above major water sources to get crude to refineries to export: Take heart! Another pipeline is planning to plow through 12 Illinois counties after digging up Iowa and the Dakotas.

People who aren’t crazy about a pipeline slicing through – the route looks like an ugly incision – better get engaged with the process.

After the House overwhelmingly approved Keystone on Nov. 14, the Senate on Nov. 18 voted 59-41 –one short of what’s needed to overcome a filibuster. GOP leaders said they’ll reconsider when there are fewer Democrats in January, although President Obama could veto it.

Keystone owner TransCanada says it may go to British Columbia, Montreal or New Brunswick before shipping Canadian oil overseas.

Meanwhile, Dakota Access, an Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) subsidiary, plans to build some 1,134 miles of pipeline, including about 177-miles of 30-inch-diameter pipe through Illinois. This project would move crude oil from the Bakken Shale area in northwestern North Dakota to facilities near the Marion County town of Patoka, where a tank farm is a hub heading to distant refineries and terminals.

Already, some landowners have reportedly received letters from Dakota Access/ETP seeking permission to survey property for the pipeline, which would carry between 300,000 and 450,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

ETP says the pipeline would be within a permanent easement of 50 feet with a construction corridor of up to 150 feet, covered by at least 36 inches of soil, and at least 24 inches away from field drain tiles.

The $3.7 billion project, which also involves Phillips 66, could create 8,000 temporary construction jobs and boost tax receipts to states, supporters claim.

Opponents say this Bakken pipeline would carry oil that’s more flammable than other crude from fracking sites in North Dakota (where shale sites are destroying the land), over aquifers and watersheds, risk leaks, affect property values and continue the planet’s addiction to fossil fuels.

“This is not a partisan issue,” commented Illinois native Paul Reynolds, who’s worked for utility projects in Arizona. “To the contrary, libertarians, environmentalists, Democrats and Republicans can find things to like and dislike. Can there be benefits to state economies, energy independence, safer transportation, and lower fuel costs? Sure!

“Is there danger to water, rivers, wildlife, topsoil, tiles and wallets? You bet!” he continued. “Do big companies go bankrupt and leave the cleaning to someone else? All the time. Do pipelines leak and pollute? Sometimes.”

Nathan Malachowski, an organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), said, “Bakken crude will not actually contribute to energy independence like they claim, but will instead be exported for higher profit margins.”

Informational meetings have been spotty, although one is scheduled for Fort Madison at 1 p.m. Monday at the Comfort Inn, and in Ottumwa at 9 a.m. Dec. 16 at Bridge View Center. The company hasn’t announced Illinois gatherings.

“The plan was hatched in secret,” says ICCI, and Reynolds agrees.

“For the last 20 years I worked directly in siting power plants and transmission lines for the largest electric utility in Arizona,” he said. “I’ve seen more public discussion around the location of a small electric transformer in a vacant lot than I’ve seen over this massive, four-state invasion of private property.”

Area Farm Bureaus are urging landowners to seek counsel from an experienced pipeline attorney before granting access to property.

The company says it’s finishing an application for an Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) permit and certificate, as well as finalizing a mitigation agreement with the state Department of Agriculture. But the ICC says no application has been received as of Nov. 20, the proposed pipeline isn’t listed in its Major Cases, and neither Dakota Access nor ETP is in its list of certified pipeline utilities.

So: There’s still time to investigate and intervene – or maybe to welcome an out-of-state business that will profit enormously by passing through Illinois, jeopardizing the state en route to selling oil to foreign markets.

[PICTURED: Energy Transfer's map of its proposed Bakken pipeline route through Illinois.]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Affordable Care, the Supreme Court and hope

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Nov. 20, 21 or 22

It’s not yet Thanksgiving and last winter’s “polar vortex” has become this season’s “bomb cyclone” – meteorologists’ trendy term for an intense, fast-moving storm resulting from the jet stream shifting and sending frigid air roaring south into the United States, icing the roads and causing wind-chills to flirt with zero.

But the cold can’t last forever.

Just as cyclical are cynical political maelstroms, and though Washington Republicans recently won the Senate and a few governorships, it’s somehow difficult to believe that the momentary GOP resurgence will further disrespect President Obama through impeachment, or discount climate change to the peril of the planet, or discard the insured, the poor or immigrants.
Consider the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As another enrollment period starts, business magazines and groups have conceded that the law stopped the double-digit increases in health insurance premiums common a decade ago. In 2004, those premiums went up seven times faster than inflation, according to the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.

A study from PriceWaterhouse Coopers projects median premium increases for next year to be about 6 percent, a finding echoed in Bloomberg News, where Alex Wayne added, “While foes of the Affordable Care Act warned of double-digit rate increases, the costs of premiums seen so far is more modest.”

Forbes magazine’s Rick Ungar wrote about a report from the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform, which, Ungar said, “expects that a number of people purchasing higher price plans … will move to either the lowest or second lowest plan. For those people, the study suggests the mean increase will be less than 2 percent.”

Meanwhile, the number of insurers increased by 26 percent between 2014 and 2015, and the number of products grew 66 percent, Ungar said, adding, “It is going to be quite a stretch for Obamacare opponents to turn this data into bad news.”

OK, good news hasn’t stopped Obama-bashers. After all, as Lee Papa writes in The Rude Pundit blog, “Things seem to be progressing. Millions of people have health insurance who didn't have it before. The unemployment rate is below 6 percent, down from 10 percent in 2009. The deficit has shrunk to just 3 percent of GDP, down from 9.8 percent in 2009. Corporate profits are up. Oil imports are down. Alternative energy sources are finally growing. The crime rate is at a 20-year low, so low that Obama wants to try to roll back some of the ludicrous sentencing laws from the Clinton era. And how many states are we up to on same-sex marriage? And how many terrorist attacks in the United States since Obama's inauguration?”

So it’s no shock that an unexpected challenge to the ACA is now set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in March for a June ruling. “King v. Burwell” disputes the federal government’s power to distribute tax credits to low- and middle-income people to aid the purchase of private insurance.

Four words in one sentence of a law of hundreds of pages makes millions of Americans eligible for federal subsidies to get insurance; abolishing that could mean between 4 million and 7 million people in 37 states left without the means to buy insurance.

Most federal judges tossed out the lawsuit, but the conservative-leaning court accepted the appeal.
Analysis by the RAND Corp. shows concern with the court threat.

“If subsidies are eliminated entirely, our research predicts substantial disruption in the individual health insurance market,” said RAND’s Christine Eibner.”Many people could not afford to enroll.”

In other words, fewer subsidies would mean more people dropping policies, which could force insurers to raise prices, which could cause others to drop coverage, etc.

A 5-4 decision killing this ACA provision would be terrible for consumers, hospitals and insurers – plus for the GOP, which purports to represent many people who are benefiting, like in Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation has shown that the states hardest hit would be in the Republican-red South.

So we must stay aware, work to genuinely improve the ACA, and think of the coming Spring.

[PICTURED: Graphic from paxonbothhouses.blogspot.com.]