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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, January 15, 2017

Perspective and hope from unusual source

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Jan. 12, 13 or 14

In what may seem to be surprising, and coming from an unlikely social critic, a New Year’s Day public comment calling for citizen engagement and action was both harrowing and hopeful.

This year, all manner of disasters may loom, according to artist, musician and producer Brian Eno. But as lousy as last year seemed, he said 2016 may have been less of a hint at a Dark Age to come than the winding down of a 40-year decline in the social contract we’ve enjoyed – an informal pact that implied shared prosperity and responsibility, civility and, yes, hope.

Citing author Ayn Rand and political leaders Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom (UK) and U.S. president Ronald Reagan, Eno said this social decline emerged from an individualistic ideology that “sneered at social generosity and championed a sort of righteous selfishness.”

“Oh. Huh,” you might think. “The Boss, maybe, or Bono or Beyonce. But Brian Eno?”

Yes, skeptic! (Plus, his perspective makes sense, apart from the source.)

Eno, 68, is known for playing synthesizer with Roxy Music in the 1970s; recording solo albums; collaborating with recording artists including David Bowie, David Byrne and Robert Fripp; and producing records by John Cale, Devo and Talking Heads and also Laurie Anderson, Coldplay and U2. But Eno also is a visual artist, journalist and activist, writing regularly for The Observer and Prospect Magazine, both in the UK, and has been involved for years with the Labor Party and the Liberal Democrats there.

This month – conceding that factors like income inequality, persistent discrimination and an increasing power held by rich plutocrats can lead to prejudice and “knee-jerk nationalism,” Eno said that decades of losing employment opportunities, workers’ rights, affordable access to health care, and education that’s adequately funded for K-12 and reasonably priced beyond all have contributed to more and more concentration of wealth and power at the top.

The global promise of “trickle-down economics” never occurred – over years of promises and claims by various administrations in different governments.

“No wonder people are angry and turning away from business-as-usual government for solutions,” Eno said. “When governments pay the most attention to whoever has the most money, the huge wealth inequalities we now see make a mockery of the idea of democracy.”

Now, what’s needed, he continued, is a soft revolution, a discreet and quiet transformation requiring everyday people to think about where we are and how we got here.

“People are rethinking what democracy means, what society means and what we need to do to make them work again,” he said. “People are thinking hard, and, most importantly, thinking out loud, together. I think we underwent a mass disillusionment in 2016, and finally realized it’s time to jump out of the saucepan.”

It will be challenging, requiring thinking and organizing more than “tweets and likes and swipes,” he said, “ – thoughtful and creative social and political action.”

Eno suggested paying taxes in a fair-share support of the common good, backing good journalism, demanding public education for its community and social good, not as a propaganda mill or profit center controlled by “ideologues and bottom-liners.

“Inequality eats away at the heart of a society,” he continued, “breeding disdain, resentment, envy, suspicion, bullying, arrogance and callousness. There’s so much to do, so many possibilities; 2017 should be a surprising year.”

Music to our ears?

[PICTURED: Graphic from azquotes.com.]

Monday, January 9, 2017

White working class isn’t solely to blame for Trumpism

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Jan. 9, 10 or 11, 2017

Countless boring books will probably be published in the next year about Republican Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, and if media coverage is an indication, many will either blame Democrats and labor leaders for losing touch with the working class in general or everyday unionists in particular, or accuse workers themselves of abandoning their own interests and values.

I’m torn, frankly. But while such criticism may be somewhat true, there’s more to the story.

Reaching out and restoring Democrats’ long history of representing regular Americans would be sensible, but surely other factors were involved in Trump’s win: voters’ disapproval of both candidates, sexism, media coverage dominated by Trump (whether wild claims or outrages), fake news and interference by hackers or foreign interests, the FBI’s odd involvement, and some journalists being so worried they’d seem fair that they indulged in “false equivalence” (so stories about Trump lying outright were “balanced” by mentioning Clinton’s role in Benghazi or clumsy use of an email server despite no resulting charges).

“One of the reasons for Trump's success is that he campaigned on his understanding that millions of working people are in pain, are hurting,” said Bernie Sanders – the insurgent Democrat who led Trump in primary campaign polling of union members.

Again, however, it’s short-sighted to exclusively blame American workers.

Joshua Holland of The Nation magazine, wrote, “Clinton underperformed Barack Obama's 2012 results among not only non-college educated whites, but also white men; black men and women; Hispanic men and women; Asian men and women; men and women of other races; every age group except voters over 65; liberals, moderates and conservatives; Protestants, Catholics, adherents of other religions and those who claim no religious affiliation; married men and unmarried men and women; union and non-union households; self-identified Democrats; straight people; people who think undocumented immigrants should be given legal status; and people who think the country is going in the right direction. In that sense, the commentariat's intense focus on non-college whites already seems a bit odd.”

Besides about 46 percent of Americans not bothering to vote, Clinton was hurt by a lower turnout possibly stemming from overconfidence, her unpopularity, disappointing get-out-the-vote efforts, or just lousy campaigning.

Obama, in a post-election interview with Rolling Stone magazine, said, “Whatever policy prescriptions that we've been proposing don't reach – are not heard by – the folks in [working-class] communities. It is really important for us, as progressives to think about how we are operating on the ground and showing up everywhere and fighting for the support of folks and giving them a concrete sense of what it is that we think will make their lives better, rather than depending on coming up with the right technocratic policies and sharing that with the New York Times editorial board.”

The news media continue to be played by Trump, and have been quick to focus almost exclusively on working Americans who were themselves played, but who were at least somewhat complicit in the outcome.

“Much of the mainstream media has complied by offering up fawning profiles of Trump’s semi-mythical white working-class voters and how we need to understand them, instead of holding them responsible for imposing an authoritarian regime on the country,” said Chauncey DeVega, host of a weekly podcast and a writer for Salon.

Dividing and conquering, especially exploiting race, isn’t new, he noted.

“Lyndon Johnson reflected on his upbringing in the South and the power of the color line in America this way: ‘If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you’.”

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, “So far, it appears a cruel bait-and-switch is in the works – a campaign that promised to lift up working people is transitioning into an administration that will tear them down.”

Whining isn’t an option, and opposition isn’t just workers’ obligation.

“Our future is not raising money from wealthy people, but mobilizing millions of working people and young people and people of color,” Sanders said. “Not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, but we've lost the Senate, we've lost the House, we've lost two-thirds of the governors' chairs in this country. We've lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?”

[PICTURED: Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons.]

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Remembering the Black Panthers

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Jan. 5, 6 or 7, 2017

As the nation copes with a Donald Trump administration that’s nominating a Klux Klan sympathizer as Attorney General (Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions), it’s wise to recall recent history so that it’s not repeated – and to recognize contemporary parallels.

Forty-seven years ago last month, Chicago police in a pre-dawn raid killed Peorian Mark Clark and Chicagoan Fred Hampton in an apartment where they and other Black Panthers slept.

Founded 50 years ago in Alabama as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense gained attention when armed members patrolled Oakland, Calif., to monitor police and demonstrated at the California legislature, legally carrying rifles.

“As we consider the similarities between the injustices of yesterday and today, it is important to understand that the Panthers were energized largely by young people – 25 and under – who started as a small group of actively engaged individuals that collectively became an international human-rights phenomenon,” said Stanley Nelson, director of “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” film.

“The Black Panther Party emerged out of a love for their people and a devotion to empowering them,” he said.

Eventually involving not only leaders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, but author Eldridge Cleaver, Civil Rights veteran Stokely Carmichael and activist Angela Davis, the Panthers were guests on TV programs from Mike Douglas’ afternoon series to William F. Buckley’s political talk show, and at fund raisers hosted by the likes of composer Leonard Bernstein.

“Their impact on American culture continues to resonate today,” comments journalist Eric Arnold on radio’s “Making Contact.”

The Panthers sought a united front, too, making alliances with progressives ranging from the American Indian Movement, the Latino Brown Berets, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, the white community’s Rising Up Angry, and the White Panther Party.

The Panthers foreshadowed Black Lives Matter, except the Panthers became involved in violent confrontations and also were more ambitious, launching a breakfast program for schoolkids and an education arm called the Intercommunal Youth Institute.

The Panthers’ approach was to be armed but nonviolent, as explained by member Robert Williams, who said, “If you are confronted by a racist who believes himself superior, and you’re armed, he has to consider: Does he want to risk his ‘superior’ life to take your ‘inferior’ life? And if you have a gun, you can put him in that position. And nine times out of 10, he doesn’t, and that’s the end of the violence. So we believed self-defense was a way to put a reduction into violence.”

Nevertheless, the Panthers were labeled a threat to the country by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

The Minister of Defense for the Illinois Black Panther Party, Bobby Rush – now a Congressman from the 1st District – days after Hampton’s killing said that the FBI was behind the assassinations, and over eight years the conspiracy was exposed, from the plan for the Chicago attack and its cover-up to the FBI’s involvement and its secret and occasionally criminal COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram).

Documents verifying Rush’s accusations came to light after anti-war activists broke in to an FBI office in Media, Pa., and retrieved records showing the FBI’s role.

“An honest Assistant U.S. Attorney produced an FBI memorandum that included a detailed floor plan of the interior of Fred Hampton's apartment that specifically identified the bed on which Hampton slept,” according to Flint Taylor, a lawyer for the Hampton family. It “showed that the floor plan, together with other important information designed to be utilized in a police raid, was based on information communicated by a paid informant.”

Reportedly the longest trial in the history of the federal courts, the 18-month wrongful death lawsuit against the officials who’d murdered Hampton and Clark ended with Judge Sam Perry dismissing all charges. Exonerating police, the FBI and the Department of Justice, Perry in 1979 was overturned by a federal appeals court. A new trial was ordered, but an out-of-court settlement was reached.

In 1976, Idaho Senator Frank Church's Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations devoted a chapter to the “FBI’s Covert Action Plan to Destroy the Black Panther Party.” Decades later, Beyonce’s homage to the Panthers at Super Bowl 50 helped spark conversation and connections, which should continue.

The problems of racism, police misconduct and inequality “loom just as large today as they did 50 years ago,” commented Julia Felsenthal in Vogue.com.

Historical material is online, from documentaries such as “The Murder of Fred Hampton” (a 1971 film) and “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” (released last year) to a roundtable discussion on the news show “Democracy Now!” [democracynow.org] and a half-hour radio feature on “Making Contact”[www.radioproject.org ] .


[PICTURED: Detail from the documentary's promotional material.]


Thursday, January 5, 2017

A New Year’s letter to my son

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Jan. 2, 3 or 4, 2017

Dear Russell:

A year in which the Cubs stirred hope and then delivered – winning the World Series - 2016 in hindsight still seems dominated by defeat and dread.

Starting in 1994, these annual letters have touched on fear and faith, love and loss. But last year seemed to swirl with every emotion. “Trip to Italy? Fine. Your dog’s dying.” “Your son got a new job in Chicago? OK, Your father’s dying.” “Cubs win the World Series? Alright: Donald Trump.”

Reality restores humility.

Humility is a virtue. When I worked at a daily newspaper, I answered my phone, “Newsroom, Knight,” and when Grandpa called me there, he often responded with a tease: “Big deal.”

He’s missed. But since the lifelong Cardinals fan started wearing a Cubs cap and rooting for Chicago, I put a Cubs souvenir on his headstone last month with a holiday wreath.

At Grandpa’s estate sale, it was impossible not to think of things lost – his laughter and belongings, plus lives we all share, from Muhammad Ali and other celebrities to family and our furry pal Jake, to friends, neighbors, colleagues. Not lost, unfortunately found, are American Nazis, and such people seem to feel heartened to threaten emotional or physical harm to the marginalized. Hate crimes are more commonplace, unsurprising if rejected by most folks.

Grandpa also was a lifelong Republican, but he liked Obama and laughed at Trump, and he thought his white-supremacist supporters were humorous, too. He left us his sense of humor (honed by Groucho Marx books and movies and all the wild energy of the Marx Brothers), and his appreciation for music (especially Dixieland and jazz – most notably Fats Waller and his stride piano and hits from the 1920s and ’30s) and baseball.

The sale? Ice was a theme. Hours of sleet coated everything in a storm like the ones that demanded Grandpa restore rural residents’ power when he was a lineman. There was the antique icebox, the only remnant of an abandoned country schoolhouse he bought and restored in the ’70s. And there was some slight iciness as the curious walked around back where graves and ashes of pets he loved are, adding to a sense of melancholy when strangers looked over beds, dishes and collectibles, like some sad scene from “A Christmas Carol.”

At the start were pieces of furniture he’d refinished, antique clocks he’d restored, latch-hook creations he made when weather kept him from golfing, and ukuleles on which he played old tunes like “My Blue Heaven" and “Old Shep.”

As guys bid on lawn tractors (“one for grass, one for snow”), I felt gloomy when an older gent in Carhartts and a seed-corn cap gingerly walked on frozen ground toward a pickup truck parked beneath the apple tree out front, toting a concrete flower basket from the stoop where Grandma planted petunias in the spring.

Before, facing Grandma and Grandpa’s stuff – sorting heirlooms, mementoes and knickknacks, giving some away, throwing some away, and prepping more for the auction – I wondered how it accumulated. Since they grew up during the Great Depression, I suspect it was as much from anxiety about scarcity as hoarding, varied interests or over-organizing. Then I looked at the clutter in my office and elsewhere and wondered what I’ll leave you: Stuff? Paper nuisances? Hopeful expectations?

The Cubs won the World Series after 108 years. That’s hope, if not often expectation.

Death is expected, of course, yet its impact can still stun us into despair. Memories can shield against some grief and disappointment.

But the Cubs won, against silly superstitions, late November 2. Trump won, against most projections, late November 8. So we had six exhilarating days of celebration. Six days – almost making the Cubs an aside in a year whose sunset heralds darkness ahead. That’s reality. Humanity. Humility.

Yet they won, and we can’t gloat. But we can cherish moments, like the one that happened hours before Grandpa died, in his bed, at his home, his dog at his side. He’d smiled and said, “I’m proud of you boys.”

He meant Uncle Tracy and me, and you, too.

Love, Dad

[PICTURED: Father and son at a Wrigleyville watering hole after a September ballgame.]

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Should Dems ‘go low’?

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Dec. 29, 30 or 31, 2016

First Lady Michelle Obama's rallying cry for progressives has been, “When they go low, we go high.” But after enduring eight years of Republican obstructionism going so low it bordered on treason, Democrats may see a Trump administration and a GOP-majority Capitol Hill ahead and concede that refusing to cooperate in governing may have resulted in historically low approval ratings for Congress but also few negative consequences at ballot boxes.

The Trump White House looks to be a weird blend of billionaire insiders and dangerous nutjobs, but the GOP victories in Washington and many states in November essentially rewarded Republicans’ obstruction and propaganda. That not only betrayed decades of civility, but put party politics above patriotism, and confused many voters enough to cast ballots against their own interests (like working-class folks believing Trump would “drain the swamp,” or Red State beneficiaries of Obamacare or Medicaid who face an uncertain future without such programs).

In their boldest betrayal, the Republican-majority Senate refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, Merrick Garland, which could result in one of Trump’s right-wing zealots filling the vacancy. Dozens of federal judges’ seats were never confirmed, either.

The venomous destruction since Inauguration 2009 included judicial paralysis, budget brinkmanship and legislative stalemates, but also a series of distracting stunts that served figurative red meat to the right-wing media echo chamber for years, from Benghazi on Capitol Hill to bathroom prohibitions at the state level. At the crossroads of state and federal manipulation, the Supreme Court’s weakening of voting rights helped legitimize some states’ gerrymandering, which carved up and isolated citizens not identified as part of Republicans’ base. So Americans who tended to vote Democratic were “walled in” in urban areas, recognizing that higher populations could means greater opposition.

During the George W. Bush years, Democrats worked with Republicans, approving John Roberts as the Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, and a few steps toward reforms in education and immigration. But when Americans elected Obama, such compromise was scorned, reason dismissed, and governing sacrificed for Machiavellian cynicism. Now, there may be a sense that progressives – even a few Democrats – have tired of surrendering.

Other Democrats are trying to rise above the Electoral College victory of an incompetent showman, recommending he be “given a chance,” a signal, perhaps, of a willingness to be respectable, reasonable and compliant. But some may choose to learn from years of Republicans stonewalling progress and to show that there’s a consequence to obstructionism, that they’ll exact a penalty for unpatriotic hindrances.

Should “Just say ‘No!’ ” become a Democratic strategy?

After all, at the GOP convention, Trump said, “I alone can fix it.”

Have at it, then.

Fix it without confirmation of Cabinet appointees or judges, without repeals of laws or maybe budgets, unless some quid pro quo is attached.

Uncomfortable? Sure. But as voters made clear last month, it’s as likely as not that obstructionists could prevail in 2018 anyway.

Instead of being collaborators – a 21st century Vichy France – Democrats could lead a Resistance, and could do so with proactive plans for Medicare for All, tax reforms, better wages, restoration of labor rights, action to address climate change and much more.

Again, uncomfortable? Unpleasant? You bet. But it may beat the alternative expressed so well by the terrific First Lady. Intelligence and poise, class and compassion were sapped by an energy-draining struggle to achieve basics (judges!) much less needed reforms.

The next few years may demand such a lousy choice: losing the Republic on principles and with character, or protecting the Constitution and Americans’ liberties by stooping to conquer, if in shame.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lawmakers: Balance taxing with spending

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 26, 27 or 28, 2016

What’s worse than “tax-and-spend” governing is “spend-and-spend.”

Without adequate revenues to fund programs people want, financial disaster looms.

In Illinois, billionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner is pushing the Republican Dream Theme of reducing taxes on the rich, cutting business regulations, and slashing budgets. The state’s stopgap budget may run out this month, as its partial spending plan expires, so 2017 may start with familiar uncertainties.

There hasn’t been a state budget since July 2015, and Rauner continues to make demands before he’ll present one to lawmakers. Earlier this month, he issued an ultimatum to the legislature and called it a compromise. The Republican billionaire said he’d agree to another stop-gap budget if lawmakers passed a property tax freeze requiring communities to go to referendum when they wanted to raise property taxes, and term limits through a 2018 referendum.

Balancing revenues and expenditures CAN be done.

“Illinois can really change from being an anomaly – one of the few states with a flat income tax – to one of the vast majority of states that have a fair tax where different rates apply to different rates of income,” said David Lloyd of at Voices for Illinois Children.

Plus, it HAS been done. California in 2012 raised taxes to 13.3 percent, and its economy has prospered (up 4.1 percent last year). That contradicts the belief that tax hikes cause companies to flee, and only tax cuts or corporate subsidies spur growth.

The world’s sixth-largest economy, California’s geography, industries, culture and demographics are different than Illinois, of course. So maybe more pertinent is Minnesota, where another billionaire governor working with a legislature controlled by the opposition party, Democrat Mark Dayton, led a REAL turnaround since taking office in 2011. The Republican legislature compromised and raised taxes to 9.85 percent for annual incomes of more than $150,000. Also, Minnesota raised the minimum wage (to $9.50 by next year), approved online voter registration, and mandated equal pay for woman. The results include adding 170,000 jobs in four years and in the last few years, Minnesota and California have been listed as two of the nation’s fastest-growing economies by the U.S Bureau of Economic Analysis, which considers manufacturing, construction, mining, agriculture, wholesale trade, and finance & insurance sectors.

Meanwhile, Kansas – trying trickle-down economics – grew at just 0.2 percent in 2015. There, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback slightly increased taxes on the poor and working class (who pay more in sales taxes and income taxes), but cut them for the wealthy.

“States dominated by Republicans embrace cut and extract – cut taxes and business regulations, including on the extraction of natural resources,” wrote political scientists Jacob Hacker of Yale and Paul Pierson of the University of California, Berkeley, authors of “American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.”

“States dominated by Democrats do much more to maintain their investments in education, infrastructure, urban quality of life and human services — investments typically financed through more progressive state and local taxes. Blue states are generally doing better.”

Blue Illinois could still add revenues, with political will in Springfield.

The groundwork was laid two years ago, when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in a non-binding referendum to raise taxes on annual incomes of more than $1 million to 8 percent. Also, in 2011 Illinois raised income-tax rates from 3 percent to 5 percent, but it was a temporary measure that expired when Rauner blocked its renewal.

“No state has ever lost revenue by raising taxes on rich people,” Michael Mazerov of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told USA Today. “There might be a small amount of induced migration, but we have very powerful research now from New Jersey and California and Montana showing that raising taxes on millionaires does not lead to a significant uptick in the number of people who leave. On balance, the states raise a lot of revenue.”

Changing from Illinois’ constitutionally mandated flat tax would require an amendment. That needs either a constitutional convention if 60 percent of the members of both houses of the Illinois General Assembly vote to place a constitutional convention on the ballot and voters approve it, or the legislature referring an amendment (again, if 60 percent of both houses vote to put it on the ballot, with some limits, including collecting the equivalent of 8 percent of votes cast for governor in the most recent election) and it’s approved by 60 percent of those voting on the question, or a majority vote of those who cast a ballot for any office in that election.

Not easy, but smarter than spending and spending. Planning and acting is better than acting without planning – with political will in Springfield.

[Graphic from bettergov.org.]

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The press: ‘You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone’

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Dec. 22, 23 or 24, 2016

The press can be like the police. They’re not always appreciated until they’re really needed.

There’s been some attention to “fake news” sites as well as President-Elect Donald Trump’s attacks on reporters corralled at his rallies and his criticism of fact-checking his claims – or otherwise doing journalism. However, a more troubling act on Capitol Hill could jeopardize independent news – and it’s a demonstration of the authoritarian streak that’s increasingly obvious for the upcoming Trump administration, working hand-in-fisted-glove with a GOP-controlled Congress and Supreme Court.

The “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act” this month passed in the Senate, unobtrusively added to the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Conference Report. The NDAA is a huge measure to “authorize appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017 for military activities of the Department of Defense and for military construction, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes.”

Those purposed include the Voice of America (VoA), Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), taxpayer-funded efforts to bring independent journalism to 150 million people worldwide in dozens of languages (a larger audience than U.S. news networks) in places without access to a free press.

“The Republican-controlled House quietly inserted an amendment to the 2017 Defense National Authorization Act that will gut the VoA and RFE/RL and turn it into a Trump-controlled propaganda machine,” said journalist Michael Rosenblum, who worked with the programs for years.

“Since its founding, the VoA, RFE/RL and Radio and TV Marti [aimed at Cuban audiences] have been under the control of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG),” Rosenblum continued. “This was an independent board in place to guarantee that the work of the journalists was independent of government editorial control. The news that was reported was honest, fair and of the highest journalistic integrity. And it worked.

“What makes VoA and its cohorts so powerful is that it is a voice that can be trusted by its viewers and listeners,” he added. “Their work stands in stark contrast to the kind of ‘news’ that people in repressed societies get from the ‘state’ broadcasters (like in Russia). [This] legislative action, however, replaces the BBG with one President-appointed director, who has the power to hire, fire and control editorial content.”

So: Under the guise of fighting foreign propaganda, this could create U.S. propaganda ultimately controlled by a White House that openly despises the press (and that has as Senior Counselor Steve Bannon, former chair of Breitbart News, a right-wing website tied to the Internet-based alternative right – white supremacists).

First introduced as the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 by Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger and California Democrat Ted Lieu in the House, and as the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 by Ohio Republican Rob Portman in the Senate, the idea has alarmed conservatives as well as progressives.

“The Act will greenlight the government to crack down with impunity against any media property it deems ‘propaganda,’ and provide substantial amounts of money to fund an army of ‘local journalist’ counter-propaganda, to make sure the government’s own fake news drowns that of the still free ‘fringes’,” writes Tyler Durden, on teaparty.org.

Progressive economist and former Clinton administration Labor Secretary Robert Reich warns of a general drift or drive to government control of media.

“The Trump administration, like Trump himself, will be creating its own media vehicles, such as his tweets and rallies, and trying to intimidate the media, as per his threats to expand libel laws and target the independent press,” Reich told In These Times magazine. “The only guarantee we have of a democracy is an informed citizenry.”

But the clumsy takeover attempts could backfire.

“There is a willingness to pay for journalism that is seen as holding the President-Elect accountable,” commented Pete Vernon of Columbia Journalism Review.

Indeed, after Trump pounced on Vanity Fair magazine, editor Graydon Carter added to its web site the line “The magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read. Subscribe now,” and the monthly in one day added 13,000 subscribers. Likewise, the NewYork Times has benefited from Trump’s condemnation, signing up 10,000 new subscribers per day several times since the election, and recording a ten-fold increase in new subscriptions over the same period last year, Vernon said.

“If Donald Trump doesn’t like your work, it’s probably good for business.,” he said.

Country music’s Carter family in the 1930s had the memorable lyric covered by Anna Kendrick in the 2012 movie “Pitch Perfect,” a line also used by innumerable bluesmen and the contemporary Country duo Brooks & Dunn, and it could be applied to the press as well as a sweetheart:

“You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”

[PICTURED: Illustration from brainyquote.com, which featured this sign-off by respected newsman Edward R. Murrow, who after a long career with CBS News was head of the Voice of America's parent organization, the U.S. Information Agency, from 1961-1964.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Voting process a recipe for disaster

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Dec. 19, 20 or 21, 2016

If too many cooks spoil the election broth, voters are in the soup.

And it stinks.

As the Electoral College gets ready to cast its ballots for President Monday, the various interests that may have influenced, tampered or tarnished the United States’ election system include Democrats and Republicans, Russians and precinct captains, FBI Director James Comey and fugitive Julian Assange, billionaires and bums… There are so many possibilities, in fact, that it seems like everyone’s got their hand in the pot except voters.

It’s highly unlikely anything’s going to change the election results, but after this year, who can predict?

What is predictable is that the public’s trust in elections’ integrity is in jeopardy.

Voting is vulnerable – to innocent internal errors (especially with optical-scan and electronic voting machines), legislation suppressing or restricting voting rights, cyberattacks or media manipulation by outside forces (whether another nation or a powerful interest group), and the Electoral College system that’s supposed to prevent a demagogue or unfit person from taking office, but has the effect of sacrificing the one-person, one-vote concept in the only race in which the entire nation participates).

Ballots are tabulated by computers, and computer scientists say statistics suggest something is wrong for respected polls to have been so off. The only way to check crooks, hackers or mischief is a recount, and recounts were done incompletely in Wisconsin and blocked in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump won Michigan by 11,600, Wisconsin by 27,200 and Pennsylvania by 68,000 (totaling 106,800), so 53,401 votes would change the outcome. But no hand count is planned.

The CIA and National Security Agency head Admiral Michael Rogers say a foreign country attempted to interfere with the election, and signs point to Russia (although it would be disturbing if it were Canada, Japan or Nigeria). Ex-CIA operative Robert Baer told CNN that such interference should mean a new election, but in Washington, the response has been a bipartisan call for more investigating.

Russian meddling doesn’t explain Democrats’ down-ballot losses either, but voter suppression does. For the first time, more than a dozen states – including Ohio, Wisconsin and some swing states – voter-ID and other laws supposedly addressing voter fraud (which is “essentially nonexistent,” federal Judge Richard Posner said this fall) dramatically limited turnout or disenfranchised voters. Even retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion upholding voter-ID laws, seems to regret the ruling, calling it “an unfortunate decision.”

“Officially, Donald Trump won Michigan by [about] 11,000 votes,” reports journalist Greg Palast, author of “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits.”

“But a record 75,335 [Michigan] votes were never counted,” he continues. “Most of these votes that went missing were in Detroit and Flint.”

Nationwide, something called the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program” directed by Kansas Republican Secretary of State in dozens of states with compliant officials also may have purged more than 1 million eligible voters from the rolls, Palast reported in Rolling Stone magazine in August. And even if voter cast ballots, officials can reject them, which is why results sometimes don’t match exit polls – “the standard by which the U.S. State Department measures the honesty of foreign elections,” Palast adds. “How could these multi-million-dollar, Ph.D.-directed statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong? Answer: They didn’t. The polls were accurate because exit pollsters can only ask, ‘How did you vote?’ [not] ‘Was your vote counted’.”

And those shocking numbers pale in comparison to the routine disposal of millions of rejected, invalidated or spoiled ballots, says Palast, who estimates, “In a typical presidential election, at least three million votes end up rejected, often for picayune, absurd reasons.”

Current data seems to show the 2016 election had 2.5 million fewer votes than 2012, which seems peculiar.

The country needs to clean out the “kitchen” and make voting simple and secure in the long term. In the short term, even if Electoral College Electors do their duty to the Constitution to overrule the “prevailing minority” (Clinton did receive about 2.8 million more votes than Trump), such a surprising move would throw the race to the House of Representatives, and it’s hard to believe Speaker Paul Ryan or the GOP majority would favor patriotism over partisan power.

“This goes beyond candidates winning or losing,” I said in a June column about the issue. “Is democracy at risk from rigged elections?”

The “cooks” behind various election ingredients are trying to serve up a rotten dish.

[PICTURED: Illustration from Signs of the Times - sott.net.]