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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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Senior status: Does every dog have its day?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 18, 19 or 20

This week I’m one of the Baby Boomers who’ll be added to the ranks of the program that’s the closest this country has to universal health care: Medicare. Whew! Made it! I almost feel winded, like I should be panting.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that, on the occasion of turning 65, I’m less attuned to issues and more reflective of all of the dogs I’ve been privileged to have. Or possibly it’s because in dog years, I’m only about 9. Or, it might be because the perspective that time offers helps me be grateful for dogs’ enduring faithfulness. (I’m no cynic, but sometimes I really appreciate the comment attributed to 18th century French economist and revolutionary Jean Marie Roland: “The more I see of men, the better I like dogs.”)

I especially appreciate my longtime companion, Beefheart, who enlivened my life with 14 years of genuine companionship; my current pal, Jake, a British lab who has a big heart, nice smiles and watches TV with me; or Jake’s predecessor, an unforgettable English pointer named Georgia.

Born partly brain-damaged and almost blind, Georgia was saved from puppy euthanasia by my wife’s late husband, who named her from the 1960 hit by (blind musician) Ray Charles: “Georgia on My Mind.”

A sweet-tempered, gentle soul, Georgia never growled, and howled only at fire sirens – until she went deaf a couple of years before her organs failed and she had to be put down.

On that terrible day, in the veterinarian’s room, I held Georgia and stroked her face and rubbed her ears the way she’d always enjoyed; I trembled as the needle went in and wept, sniffing quietly (although at one point I had a stupid male thought that I was “holding it together” pretty well until I glanced at a mirror and saw a big snot bubble hanging from my red nose.)

That was such a wrenching experience that I resisted welcoming another dog into our home until some six years later, when my wife and son brought a rescue puppy home from a St. Louis shelter and a new bond was quickly forged.

“His name’s Gunther,” they said.

“No,” I replied. “He’s Jake.”

I thank God for all my years, of course, but particularly for the blessings of Jake and Georgia, Beefheart and my family’s entire virtual kennel of kindred spirits: Duke, Bucky, Zappa, Benji, Bobber, Molly, Hendrix, Stanley and Stella. Together the names may sound like the cast of a play, but, if so, it’s been a comedy-adventure more than a drama.

No matter what, they always forgave us; they never lied (although, OK, they could spoof us into extra treats or walks).

Who knows for certain whether God admits our pets into Paradise, but I believe in a just Creator who has a sense of humor and an appreciation for love, period. Further, I strenuously feel that Georgia, Beef and the rest all deserve Heaven more than most of the rest of us human beings.

Another 18th century writer, English poet Alexander Pope, wrote about a like-minded person, who “thinks, admitted to that equal sky, his faithful dog shall bear him company.”

Musician and novelist Kinky Friedman in 1993 wrote a lovely line: “When you die and go to Heaven, all the dogs and cats you've ever had in your life come running to meet you,” and I hold onto that thought.

Also, nearing age 65 – or 9! – I enjoy the silly but sincere prayer I have on a t-shirt: “Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am.”

And on my birthday, I decided against taking part in the People’s Climate March in New York City. Instead, I’m going “to go for a ride in the car!”

I may even hang my head out the window and let my tongue loll around some.

[PICTURED: Georgia being a lap dog, circa 2003. Photo by Russell Baker.]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Off to illegal war vs. uncertain threat, spurred by media

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

Again, U.S. military assets are about to rain destruction on Middle East targets, and innocent bystanders are inevitably going to be among the casualties. President Obama on Wednesday authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, plus expanded air attacks in Iraq to combat ISIS terrorists who control large tracts of land in both countries.

A year ago this week, this column in a piece titled “Bombing? Are you Syria?” noted, “Maybe some sort of measured response – by the world – would not be unreasonable. What is unreasonable is looking at the situation – a ruthless authoritarian leader … angering a U.S. President who disregards Congress in considering a military campaign, and media becoming excited at the prospect of such dramatic action – and expecting the outcome to be much different than before. That’s insanity.”

“Crazy” may be an apt description of ISIS, which is ruthless in its treatment of conquered people and vicious in its wholesale slaughter of enemy troops and journalists. But there’s method to their madness. In seeking the drama of a confrontation with the United States, they provoke aggressive action against them to generate more support.

“Chaotic” describes the region, as well. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad – whose regime last summer probably used chemical-biological weapons against civilians, killing 1,400 – also is fighting the self-styled Sunni ISIS in the civil war involving others, including rebels tied to Shiite forces, and other, smaller groups.

Military intervention, however “modest” or “targeted” one depicts it, can escalate into full-scale regional conflict.

Besides being ineffective, unilateral U.S. military attacks on Syria would be illegal. First, the U.S. Constitution clearly states that Congress has the power to declare war, and those on Capitol Hill who advocate war should stand up and say so, or sit down and shut up. The White House also should remember then-Sen. Obama’s statement, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat.”

U.S. military strikes would violate international law, too. The United Nations Charter makes it illegal for one country to use force or threaten to use force against another country, and forbids intervention in an internal or domestic dispute in a foreign country. Plus, common sense says that noncombatants would inevitably be killed in such a misadventure; “collateral damage” remains the preferred, sanitized term for killing people who aren’t soldiers or terrorists.

Here, now, the world needs a genuine United Nations force, even temporarily, to contain and eliminate ISIS, whether freezing its finances, suffocating its trade, seizing its arms, or “imprisoning” them where they are while offering humanitarian assistance to refugees, with minimal fighting.

Already, ISIS’ foes include not just the Usual Global Suspects, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and UK Prime Minster David Cameron. The Arab League in general and Saudi Arabia in particular oppose ISIS, as do – incredible Strange Bedfellows – Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria’s Assad and Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

But any effective action requires true international action: China and South Africa, Iceland and Brazil, Norway and New Zealand…?

Also required: less rhetoric and more intelligence, analysis and thought, brought to bear and shared with the public. (We’ve been kept in the dark and lied to before.)

Thankfully, some journalists aren’t accepting the push to war. New York Times reporters Mark Landler, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt last week wrote, “As President Obama prepares to send the United States on what could be a years-long military campaign against the militant group, American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.”

The distortions have influenced the people. According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, 71 percent of all Americans now support airstrikes against the ISIS terrorists – up from 54 percent three weeks ago and from 45 percent in June.

That compares to last September, when the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that just 28 percent of Americans favored military action, including airstrikes, in Syria while 63 percent opposed them.

Ineffective, illegal and unnecessary, Obama’s airstrikes make it increasingly difficult to dream of that moment envisioned by Illinois poet journalist Carl Sandburg, who wrote, “Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will come.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from antiwar.com]

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Propagandists use facts as well as falsehoods

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

The mere accumulation of facts doesn’t always lead to good conclusions, judgment or wisdom. Too many of us, progressive and conservative alike, can fall victim to extrapolation or correlation.

An example of extrapolation is extending some inference based on a sampling of graduate students to people with an 8th grade education. The classic “Correlation is not cause” is concluding that roosters cause dawn because the sun rises when they crow.

Sometimes, facts are lacking. This summer, the Tampa Bay Times’ respected PolitiFact spinoff PunditFact released a report from analyzing statements made by employees, hosts or pundits (not guests or politicians) on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. On a scale from True, Mostly True and Half True to Mostly False, False or “Pants on Fire,” scorecards combining the three most-false categories show that 60 percent of Fox News were mostly false or worse, as did 46 percent of NBC/MSNBC statements, and 18 percent of CNN statements.

However, sociologist Jacques Ellul in his book “Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes” says that may not matter. Ellul writes that a danger in relying on media isn’t in dishonest broadcasts or stories, but in people’s susceptibility to isolated facts as the sole basis for decision-making.

Ellul wrote, “Propaganda does not base itself on errors, but on exact facts. It even seems that the more informed the public or private opinion is (notice I say ‘more’ not ‘better’), the more susceptible it is to propaganda. The greater a person’s knowledge of political and economic facts, the more sensitive and vulnerable is his judgment.”

Media are complicit, arguably, since a need to be fair has become a demand to offer different perspectives, regardless of value, leading to false equivalency.

Paul Rosenberg, editor of Random Lengths News, writes, “If you try to treat both sides equally regardless of the merits, then by definition that automatically favors the side that has less merit.”

Some progressives chuckle that Americans most affected by GOP cuts to food stamps vote Republican. A Time magazine analysis of county-by-county food-stamp data showed that in Owsley County, Ky. (99 percent white and 95 percent Republican), 54 percent of residents use food stamps.

Time reported, “Many rural districts with very high participation in the program are represented by Republicans leading the charge in cutting billions from the program.”

Deadstate.org editor Sky Palma writes, “Many economists agree that food stamps trigger economic activity when poor people utilize their benefits, which more than makes up for the cost. Republicans, however, take the opposite approach; they believe tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires is what stimulates growth, all the while cutting programs that help the poorest in society.”

Nevertheless, poor whites in the South voting Republican might tempt the conclusion that they’re racist, ignorant or manipulated by social issues into voting against their own interests, when real reasons could range from family tradition, to vulnerability to false attack ads, to a fondness for a candidate’s face. Facts: They voted, and they’re poor.

Conservatives defend Mitt Romney’s well-known comment about the 47 percent of Americans who are “moochers” and pay no taxes, what running mate Paul Ryan used to call “takers” as opposed to “makers.” However, they neglect to note that poor people still pay sales tax and taxes for Social Security and Medicare, and that most recipients of social-assistance programs are “on the dole” temporarily. Facts: Their jobs don’t pay enough for them to owe income taxes. Also, we sometimes delude ourselves. A Cornel University survey about whether people use government programs found most said no – despite about a fifth actually doing so.

Progressives express outrage that Illinois’ GOP candidate for governor, Bruce Rauner, avoided paying taxes by sheltering income in the Caymen Islands. Facts: That’s not illegal – nor is being wealthy.

Conservatives including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) currently assert that talk of the President’s impeachment is a political plot created by Democrats to gain sympathy. Facts: Well-publicized demands for Obama’s impeachment have come from Right-wing media figures such as Sara Palin, Mike Huckabee and Michael Savage, plus Boehner cohorts such as GOP Members of Congress Michele Bachman of Minnesota, Darrell Issa of California and Steve King of Iowa.

Whether generalizing, stereotyping or becoming lazy watching Fox News or MSNBC, media consumers should be careful not to make unjustified leaps of logic.

Fact.

[PICTURED: Graphic from izquotes.com]


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Our health lags behind similar countries

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


Everyday people might understandably fear West Nile Virus or Ebola, but a new report in the Annual Review of Public Health says it may be smarter to fret about policymakers’ decisions and wasteful health-care spending – which haven’t meant better health.

High levels of health-care spending don’t ensure a healthy society, according to the report “Why Do Americans Have Shorter Life Expectancy and Worse Health than Do People in Other High-Income Countries?” The United States spends more than any country on health care: 17.9 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In contrast, Canada’s health spending is 10.9 percent of its GDP, and Britain less: 9.4 percent. Despite that spending, says the report – which compares the United States to 16 “high-income” nations – U.S. life spans are shorter, infant mortality rates higher, obesity more common, and mental health poorer.

The report assesses various explanations for the U.S. health disadvantage, focusing on life expectancy. Authors Ichiro Kawachi of Harvard University and Mauricio Avendano of the London School of Economics compare mortality in the United States with Australia, Japan, Canada and 13 Western European nations.

“The American health disadvantage begins at birth and extends across the life course, and it is particularly marked for American women and for regions in the U.S. South and Midwest,” say Kawachi and Avendano, who both work at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

The report says that government-policy differences may play a role in shortening Americans’ lives: “Social policies and programs affecting Americans across the entire life course are less comprehensive in the United States.”

In particular, higher income inequality in the United States, weaker labor laws, and less investment in programs to address housing, poverty, education and child care may be responsible, they say.

“While multiple causes are implicated, crucial differences in social policy might underlie an important part of the U.S. health disadvantage,” the researchers note.

The study finds that the United States has the lowest life expectancy at birth for both women (80.6 years) and men (75.6 years) compared to the other 16 nations. Life expectancy also varies by U.S. region – people in the Midwest and South have the shortest lives. Among low-income Americans, rates of homicide and AIDS-related deaths are high, but another study found that white, middle-class Americans (a relatively healthy group by U.S. standards) also experience poorer health than their European counterparts.

Differences in infrastructure may contribute to differences in life expectancies. U.S. communities tend to be planned around cars, which limits opportunities for physical activity. Also, people in the United States drive longer distances and, as a result, they are more likely to die in automobile accidents.

Dr. Jerry McShane, CEO of the region’s OSF Medical Group, says inactivity has multiple causes.

“Car driving is one,” he says. “TV viewing versus playing sports is significant for children.”

As far as costs, differences in health insurance and nations’ health-care systems may explain some, but not most, of the U.S. disadvantage in life spans, according to the report. Lack of true universal health care coverage may be detrimental to health, but even Americans with insurance have poorer health than Europeans.

“Multiple differences in western society account for the differences in cost,” Dr. McShane says. “First, wages for all health care workers are higher in America than elsewhere. Next, the U.S. system is incentivized to provide too much care versus the right care. The lack of a strong primary-care base is an essential difference between the American system versus other western countries. Also, Americans have become consumers. In the past, first-dollar costs were paid by insurance companies. Patients are not discerning when the bill is paid by others. New insurance products will introduce high-deductible plans. This will reduce demand for unnecessary services. There are factors at work in America which will decrease the cost of care.”

Public health may be a result of many behaviors and policies. It seems as if Americans have undervalued the influence of social and environmental factors that influence health status. We need to place a larger emphasis on the social determinants of health as well as individual behaviors if we want to live longer. This requires a wholesale change in how we think about community health. Because public health needs action on multiple determinants, there needs to be a community-health-business-government partnership for reform.

Research can be tantalizing, but it can require study to clarify next steps, and more involvement by regular people to be more accountable for their health and more demanding of policymakers.

[PICTURED: Graphic from counselheal.com.]

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The game is rigged in ‘gray economy’

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

Workers who used to be on the edges of the economy – day laborers and temps, freelancers and adjuncts, independent contractors and contingent employees – are now closer to the core.

Powerful, for-profit corporations in general and near-monopolies in particular benefit from wage stagnation and deteriorating job benefits that have left U.S. workers “confused, angry, frustrated and scared,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently told the Steelworkers convention.

It’s a “gray economy,” writes Lynn Stuart Parramore for AlterNet.

“The gray economy is trapping millions of Americans in a dark world of haphazard and insecure jobs, few or no benefits, nonexistent chances for advancement, and little recourse if they get screwed,” she says. “[Several] factors … have shifted power away from workers and toward employers who seek their short-term advantage no matter what the social and economic costs.”

The shift to job insecurity has been propelled by a bad blend of business globalization, outsourcing, corporations’ focus on short-term profits, Wall Street’s financial shenanigans, and the erosion of labor law. Also, author Barry Lynn in his book “Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction” explains how the top-down economic trend isn’t as obvious as in the past, when a company like Standard Oil or Bell [Telephone] operated. Today, companies that seem to be competitors can all be controlled or owned by the same conglomerate – like Lenscrafters, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical and Sunglass Hut, which are all part of the Italian company Luxottica.

“Monopoly doesn’t mean that a company controls 100 percent of the marketplace,” Lynn says. It’s “that a company has sufficient control of the market to shape the outcomes of that market to its own advantage – to shape pricing, [even] reduce our liberties.

“As workers, one of the things you prize is an open market where you can sell your work to many potential buyers, many potential employers,” he continued. “If there’s a lot of consolidation nationally in your industry, or even your town, you may find yourself with really only one or two buyers for your work. That means that you have less ability to negotiate higher wages. It also means that you have less real freedom: you can’t just pick up and leave if you get a bad boss.”

Economic inequality is connected, too, he said.

“Back in the origins of anti-monopoly law in America, the people who wrote those laws … aimed at inequality because they saw monopolists as using their power to grab all of the opportunity and all of the wealth in a particular human activity and not leave anything over for other people,” Lynn said. “A generation ago, tens of thousands of families in America were in the business of selling groceries. Now, there are just a few companies that sell groceries in America.”

The gray economy also has correlations that are less obvious.

Social consequences range from the loss of tax revenue that could be used for infrastructure, education and so on, to difficult business climates in which honest employers must compete, to workers’ health. According to a recent University of Michigan study, chronic job insecurity was a stronger predictor of poor health than either smoking or hypertension, potentially shaving years off people’s lives.

A responsive, responsible government could be part of a solution, Lynn said.

“The reason we founded government is to break up dangerous concentrations of power at home and abroad,” he said. “You might not want to use government to fix all your ills – you might not want to use government to fix even most of your ills. But you need to have government to keep yourself free. To keep markets open. If you don’t have government, then every single system will be taken over by a private monopolist – which really means private government.”

People “have two choices,” he continued. “They can either sit back and do nothing and allow [a] company to manipulate [a] marketplace, or they organize and they can fight.”

Low-wage workers fighting for better wages and working conditions and the right to organize is inspiring, Trumka said.

“From fast food to forged steel, and everywhere in between, more and more people talk about economic inequality, people who never spoke the words before,” Trumka said. “The public is debating big issues, like a living wage and collective bargaining.”

“A lot of people didn’t understand the connections between their neighbors and themselves,” he continued. “They didn’t have to, because generations of strong union contracts kept us in pretty good shape. But that’s not the case anymore. People everywhere are starting to understand themselves as workers.”

[PICTURED: Cartoon by Matt Wuerker via islandbreath.blogspot.com]

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September: Cool down with homemade ice cream

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

I thank the Lord for you, readers, plus family, friends and September – when I dust off my Grandpa’s recipe for homemade ice cream, make it on Labor Day, and see whether it lasts until trees’ leaves start turning.

Born in 1907, Grandpa was Albert Avery Knight. A long-time Standard Oil sales rep, his company business card said “A.A. Knight” but everyone called him “Shorty” because he was 6-foot, 4 inches tall and the world’s got a sense of humor. (His dad, my great-grandfather, was 6-foot, 5 inches and dubbed “Tiny.”)

Among favorite memories of Grandpa was his hosting kin in the shade of his house on North Madison in Carthage, Ill., making his homemade ice cream in his wood bucket, hand-cranked ice-cream maker. His lawn furniture included a red metal glider and we’d swing on it as he cranked, occasionally taking a break to let us sample the salty ice, if not the still-forming ice cream.

One fall, when I was 5 and tired of my cardboard version of a Davy Crocket coonskin cap, he fashioned a colonist’s tri-corner hat by pinning up brims on one of his old fedoras – making the American Revolution exciting for me. When the leaves fell from his big tree – where a neighbor’s dog used to run up and sit in the crotch of its trunk, honest to God – he’d let me “help” him, although the only tools were garden rakes, so we’d have to stop constantly to clear the tines, laughing.

One autumn, during an ice-cream-making session when I was 3 or 4, I was chewing on a melting ice cube when it got stuck in my throat. Dad swept in, picked me up and did a pre-Heimlich maneuver on me to dislodge the ice, and I recall being annoyed at the rough remedy until I saw Grandpa laughing.

He laughed a lot, and seemed to smile all the time. Maybe it was the salesman in him, but despite an occasional ulcer, he was a happy-go-lucky character. He kept marshmallow peanuts in his “company car,” chewed gum all the time, and walked with a breezy gait, jingling coins in his pocket that often ended up in my hand.

He took my hand when I got separated from my Mom at church as a toddler. I was wandering around, weeping, until I saw him coming down the steps. “What’s happening?” he asked, kneeling down, face-to-face. “Mom’s lost!” I cried and he took my hand and said, “Well let’s just go find her, OK?”

Grandpa was a hard-working guy, too, driving a “route” that covered western Illinois from Quincy to Peoria when almost every small town had a Standard Oil filling station selling gas and the tires and other supplies he’d sell. But he relaxed, too. One evening, spending some vacation time with my brother and me, Grandpa sighed and smiled and said, “Billy, I can do a year’s work in 11 months, but not in 12.”

I didn’t understand that until I got my first full-time job.

This Labor Day, I’ll have made his ice cream and relaxed and smiled like Shorty.

Try it:

THE KNIGHTS’ HOMEMADE ICE CREAM RECIPE –

Ingredients: 1 quart whole milk, 6 eggs, 2 Cups white sugar, 1 Pint whipping cream, 1 13-ounce can evaporated milk, and 1½ Teaspoons vanilla extract.

Directions: In a large bowl, whip cream until it stiffens. In a second bowl, whip the eggs, then add the sugar to the eggs mixture and mix again. Pour the second bowl into the first, and add the vanilla and milk. Stir slightly. If you can stand it, refrigerate the blend a few hours (overnight is even better). Before using the ice-cream maker/freezer, stir again very slightly, and then fill the freezer compartment halfway.

Surround with ice cubes (not crushed, to let air circulate), and occasionally sprinkle rock salt on the ice to increase melting and accelerate freezing. Crank or motorize the concoction until the blades slow or stop. Scoop into separate container and continue with prepared mix, again filling (cleaned-out) freezer halfway; repeat.

Make it!

And make some memories.

You’re welcome.

[PICTURED: old family picture of Bill Jr. and "Shorty" Knight.]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Bill would make freedom to join unions a Civil Right

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., August 28, 29 or 30

As Labor Day approaches, it’s worth noting progressive Democrats’ effort to hold accountable employers that break the law by introducing legislation on Capitol Hill that makes free association with unions a Civil Right.

Congressmen Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Civil Rights pioneer John Lewis (D-Ga.) on July 30 introduced the Employee Empowerment Act, a measure that would protect labor organizing from retaliation like protections against other forms of discrimination. The legislation would make joining a union a legally protected Civil Right by bringing union membership under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – the same legislation that bars employment bias based on race, gender, religion, national origin, etc.

“Union organizing has been maligned in our society,” Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of the Change to Win coalition, told The Nation magazine. “There is a value in re-defining what all of these tens of thousands of brave workers are doing as, ‘We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country’.”

The bill would amend federal law to include labor organizing as a fundamental right.

Existing labor law prohibits employers from disciplining or firing workers because of union activity, but there are few consequences to discourage law-breaking. Workers facing illegal acts from employers today are limited to filing charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a process that frequently is slow and historically lenient on violators. If the proposal would pass, workers after 180 days could take their allegations from the NLRB to a federal court, which is how the law works now for Civil Rights disputes, giving workers the option to go beyond the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Workers then could choose to pursue their cases instead of relying exclusively on a decision by the NLRB to issue a complaint against law-breakers. The process could move faster than the NLRB, which can take years to decide, and help workers recover money.

In NLRB cases that levy small fines, Ellison said, “Some of these union-busting law firms will say, ‘So do it and we’ll just pay’.”

Bringing union membership under Title VII would allow for discovery, jury trials and recovery of lawyers’ fees and punitive damages.

The labor movement needs to get back on the offensive, Ellison added.

“With the Supreme Court in here, and what they just did in ‘Harris v. Quinn’ … it’s insane to hope for the best,” he said. “This Supreme Court is openly hostile to racial justice and worker justice simultaneously. So we better be moving out on both fronts.”

Ellison said he got the idea from a book by Moshe Marvit and Richard Kahlenberg, “Why Union Organizing Should Be a Civil Right,” which says that the First Amendment’s right to free association should include a crucial form of association – joining together to resist unfair treatment from employers.

Ellison and Lewis have 15 co-sponsors, including U.S. Reps. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

The proposal, which was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, passes Constitutional muster, Ellison said. And it’s something that’s sensible to everyday Americans.

“Civil Rights is something that Americans really understand, and has a legitimacy that is sort of beyond reproach,” Marvit told The Nation. “So when you put it in Civil Rights terms, it’s something that really speaks to people.”

Ellison added, “If it’s a Civil Rights action, it’s vindicating your personal right, first of all, to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. You shouldn’t be fired for expressing an intent to support union activity.”

Indeed, U.S. courts and legislatures have claimed they’ve tried to “strike a balance” between competing sets of rights. The notion of a “level playing field” is appealing, but trying to balance competing rights ignores the inherent power imbalance between labor and management. Therefore, what seems to be balanced actually favors the powerful: management.

As federal Appeals Court Justice Learned Hand, who served from 1924–1961, once explained the concept of employer free speech, “What to an outsider will be no more than the vigorous presentation of a conviction, to an employee may be the manifestation of a determination which it is not safe to thwart.”

[PICTURED: Graphic of U.S. Rep. John Lewis from unionswork.us.]

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ferguson: protests, progress and patience

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Aug. 25, 26 or 27

Not to dump an Ice Bucket Challenge on police and protestors alike in Ferguson, Mo., but racism remains and progress has happened.

It’s difficult, but patience is required.

That said, renowned playwright Franz Kafka once said, “All human errors are impatience, a premature breaking off of methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue.”

A few miles south of the grave of Dred Scott – the Missouri slave who sought his freedom but was denied by the Supreme Court because he was “not a citizen” – 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9 was killed by white policeman Darren Wilson, who shot an apparently unarmed Brown six times. Unrest has rocked Ferguson since.

One recalls Los Angeles’ 1992 riots and subsequent reforms, and, decades earlier, the 1968 riots that resulted in recommendations from the Kerner Commission, chaired by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner.

Macomb native Todd Purdum, now with Politico, in his new book, “An Idea Time Whose Time Has Come,” writes “When it came to Civil Rights, much of American was paralyzed in 1963.”

Paralysis seems back, yet progress has been real.

And real slow.

In 1900, mostly in the South, Black Americans were prevented from voting, riding on trains alongside whites, and using hospitals or schools with whites – besides being lynched.

Since then, advances include changes in attitudes about schools, housing, marriage and stereotypes, according to the study “The Real Record on Racial Attitudes,” by Maria Krysan of the University of Illinois and others. That work, in the 2012 book “Social Trends in American Life: Findings from the General Social Survey Since 1972,” found:

* in 1972 less than 15 percent of whites thought Black and white students should attend separate schools, but by 1985 so few embraced that segregationist belief that the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey dropped the question;

* in 1990, 10 percent of whites said they’d live in a neighborhood where most of the residents were Black, but by 2008, 25 percent said they would;

* the idea of an Black/white marriage, first polled in 1990, was opposed by 65 percent of whites, but by 2008, that number had fallen to about 25 percent;

* in 1990, between 60 and 65 percent of whites held negative stereotypes of African Americans’ intelligence and diligence, but by 2008 the percentages fell to between 24 and 41 percent.

“We’ve made extraordinary progress,” President Obama said August 18, “but we have not made enough progress.”

Indeed, conditions are still bad. Blacks are more likely to be searched if they’re pulled over on a traffic stop, given prison terms 10-percent longer than whites charged with the same offense, sentenced to death three times more often than whites when victims are white, are twice as likely to be jobless as whites, and twice as likely to be poor than whites.

Unsurprisingly, black Americans’ confidence in government has declined, according to Krysan’s analysis. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966 said, “A lot of people have lost faith in the Establishment; they’ve lost faith in the democratic process,” and the following year the nation had some 150 riots.

Also, African-Americans’ and Latinos’ trust in law enforcement is low. Many African Americans fear the police; many police fear African Americans, too, but they’re well-armed and have the criminal justice system behind them.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, defended activating the National Guard by citing “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts” (which also describe local police, you could argue).

The FBI tracks police “justifiable homicides,” and records that about 400 occur annually – more than one a day. Also, media have distorted and even helped justify questionable uses of force, said a 2010 article in the journal Theoretical Criminology.

Further, racial profiling exists, according to a National Institute of Justice report. Victims arguably range from Rodney King and Amadou Diallo to Eric Garner and Ezell Ford.

However, police-citizen confrontations can stem from class bias as much as race, according to a 2003 paper, “Neighborhood Context and Police Use of Force,” which found that high-crime neighborhoods are the most likely sites for such violence.

“Officers are significantly more likely to use higher levels of force when encountering criminal suspects in high-crime areas and neighborhoods with high levels of concentrated disadvantage independent of suspect behavior,” wrote researchers Michael Reisig of Michigan State University and William Terrill of Northeastern. Police “label distressed socioeconomic neighborhoods as potential sources of conflict.”

Obama also said, “We’re going to move forward together by trying to unite … and understand each other, … not simply divide ourselves from one another.”

But Kafka also remarked, “Because of impatience we were driven out of Eden, and because of impatience we cannot return.”

[PICTURED: A girl uses a rag to try to protect herself from tear gas police fired at protestors in Ferguson on August 11. Photo via rollingstone.com by Getty Images' Scott Olson, who was arrested there covering an August 18 demonstration.]