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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Is Illinois torturing its inmates?

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Oct. 5, 6 or 7

Imagine sitting in your bathroom.

Now imagine STAYING there.

For more than a YEAR.

That’s how long some 30 percent of Illinois inmates are in solitary confinement, concedes the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

Another 10 percent suffers such isolation for more than a DECADE.

The United Nations considers solitary confinement of 15 DAYS or longer torture.

This summer, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of current and former inmates, accusing IDOC of inappropriately using solitary confinement, which can profoundly hurt prisoners. The class-action suit said the practice in Illinois is “cruel, inhumane [and] offensive to basic human decency.”

Alan Mills, director of Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC), which filed the suit with the Chicago law firm of Winston & Strawn, said, “I don’t know anybody who spent more than a few months in solitary who doesn’t come out quite damaged.

“Those who have been subjected to prolonged solitary confinement are often too traumatized to work and must collect Social Security income,” he said.

Former prisoner Brian Nelson in a press conference with UPLC representatives explained some effects of his 23 years in solitary confinement.

“I paced 18 hours every day and they had to cut blood blisters off my feet,” Nelson said. “Consider an animal in the zoo; we don’t put them in an environment like that.”

Nelson told reporters that after his release he needed prescription medicines and psychological therapy, and has difficulty with daily routine such as riding public transportation.

People who’ve been in solitary “have a little closet somewhere,” Nelson said. “I got a place in the basement I can go hide.”

UPLC said about 2,300 inmates in Illinois’ 25 adult correctional centers – including about 15 percent of those housed in maximum-security prisons – are kept in solitary confinement, sometimes for months at a time and often for minor offenses such as “unauthorized movement” and “insolence,” according to data from the Vera Institute of Justice.

Solitary confinement – imposed in Illinois for behavior ranging from “rolling one’s eyes at a guard or in retaliation for helping other prisoners assert their legal rights,” UPLC said – is defined as 22 to 24 hours of isolation a day, and the practice can continue indefinitely.

“Illinois puts too many people into solitary, and for petty reasons,” UPLC’s Mills said. “The conditions there are appalling and unconstitutional, and we leave people in there for too long. Worst of all, Illinois’ excessive use of solitary doesn’t make our prisons safer, doesn’t protect staff, and does nothing to protect the public.”

The suit aims to get IDOC to implement the American Bar Association’s standards on segregation, which say it should be used only for inmates who present “a continuing and serious threat to the security of others, limit how long individuals are kept in solitary confinement, and recommend that people with mental conditions not be subjected to it.

IDOC wouldn’t comment on the case, but after an inmate hunger strike at the Menard Correctional Center last year, a Corrections spokesman said that the state’s prison system does not practice solitary confinement but “administrative detention” that permits some time for exercise, phone calls and visitations.

The National Institute of Corrections reports that Illinois imprisons more than 48,000 people, and that IDOC operates on a budget of about $1.3 billion, with about 10,000 employees.

If “Crime and Punishment” author Fyodor Dostoyevsky was accurate in his comment “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners,” Illinois may be condemning itself.

[PICTURED: Chart from Vera Institute of Justice.]

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Labor ‘shortage’ may mean more competitive pay

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Sept. 28, 29 or 30

It’s a relief to write with hope instead of despair, fear or rage – instead of feeling like (or BEING) a crank.

So, maybe don’t borrow or bank on it immediately, but look ahead at better times.

Yes, economic gains could be ahead for U.S. workers (barring a host of other factors ranging from antagonistic legislatures and courts to environmental disasters and global conflicts, of course).

A greater role for better-rewarded workers in a consumer economy could result from a slump in the growth of the labor force in the country.

That points to the possibility that in the near future employers may have to raise wages to attract and keep skilled workers.
Credit – or blame – changing demographics.

Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are retiring, and the number of workers between 15 and 24 years old is falling about 4 million each year due to declining birth rates all over the planet, says the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Bottom line: Older workers aren’t being replaced by younger ones.

For the United States as a whole, the labor force has grown just 1.6 percent since the Great Recession technically wound down in the summer of 2009, compared to growth of more than 10 percent in the last decade, the U.S. Labor Department says.

It’s not just the U.S. job market, either. German and Japanese economies also are noticing decreases in labor supply, and even Chinese officials have predicted a tightening of the size of it labor force.

“We will see a massive slowdown in labor supply in the coming years,” ILO economist Ekkehard Ernst told Bloomberg News. “Wage growth will have to accelerate.”

Yes: If employers want to attract and keep workers, they’re going to have to start paying more.

Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist Mark Zandi said, “We’re going from a world of generally too much labor to a world of labor shortages. When we look back 10 years from now, the labor share of income will have hit bottom now.”

Already, there’s a slight uptick in projections for better compensation, according to the Labor Department, which reports that labor’s share of income – of U.S. non-farm businesses – increased to almost 57 percent last year from a 70-year low of 56 percent in 2013. That’s different from the last 15 years, when workers’ share of income fell some 6 percent because employers played U.S. workers against low-wage workers in China, Mexico and elsewhere to achieve concessions or exploit the desperate jobless.

“The U.S. labor market is tightening faster than expected,” said Gad Levanon of the independent Conference Board business research group. “Wage growth will increase, and corporate profits are likely to suffer.”

However, everyday workers eventually may find it easier to become consumers without borrowing.

Yes: Maybe there is an economic pendulum, and its arc is swinging back toward fairness after moving the opposite director for years.

We can hope.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Illinois Central strikers won in long, expensive ‘defeat’

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Oct. 1, 2 or 3

One hundred and four years ago this week 38,000 workers in 28 cities launched a work stoppage that would last 45 months against the Illinois Central Railroad and the Harriman lines.

It was “people power” from beginning to end.

The Harriman railroad lines included the Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and the Illinois Central, which stretched from Chicago through Memphis to New Orleans.

It was a time of great labor upheaval. In New York in March 1911, 146 people died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, where working conditions made it a 10-story sweatshop. In January 1912, the three-month “Bread and Roses” textile strike shut down Lawrence, Mass. In 1913, there was a massive Machinists strike, another textile strike (in Paterson, N.J.), and an Auto Workers strike at Studebaker; in 1914 the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill strike and the “Ludlow Massacre” against Mine Workers in Colorado occurred; in 1915 factory guards shot 20 strikers at American Agricultural Chemical in Roosevelt, N.J., and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “yellow dog” contracts prohibiting workers from joining labor unions WAS constitutional.

Against that background, railroad shopmen on Sept. 30, 1911, walked off the job and cost the railroads some $15 million before it ended – the equivalent of more than $360 million today.

The shopmen sought to form the Federated Railroad Shop Trades, made up of blacksmiths, boilermakers, laborers, machinists, painters, railway car men, railway clerks, sheet metal workers and steamfitters unions.

“More than 90 percent of the men” struck, according to the Boston Evening Transcript from that day. “As soon as the clock showed 10 o’clock the employees walked out.”

Strikers sought an eight-hour day but mostly just the right to organize, to exist.

“The core demand of the system-wide strike in 1911 on was for employers to recognize the system Federation,” wrote University of Toronto researcher Joseph Kelly in 2010. “The strike was an accumulation of years of frustration over management moves to increase productivity, minimize costs and tighten discipline over labor.”

In fact, IC president C.H. Markham and Harriman president Julius Kruttschnitt later conceded that their main objection was a well-organized employees’ system federation.

“Undoubtedly,” according to their testimony, “a federation of employees is in a much better position to force issues than is an individual craft.”

In Illinois, thousands of strikers shut down railroad facilities in Centralia, Chicago, Clinton, East St. Louis and Mattoon. But the job action was felt throughout the continent, affecting Kansas City and Omaha, Vicksburg, Miss. and Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Tucson, San Antonio and San Francisco, Seattle and Houston, Pocatella, Ida., and Water Valley, La.

However, railroad officials got wide-ranging court injunctions against strikers, and they hired hundreds of armed guards to protect scabs.

The Commission on Industrial Relations was appointed by Congress in 1912 to investigate labor strife generally and especially unrest during the New York City garment workers strike (1909–1910), the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company strike – where the Ludlow Massacre occurred (1913-1914), and the railroad shopmen’s struggles with Illinois Central and Harriman (1911–1915). It issued a 1916 report critical of employers’ treatment of workers.

Historian David Montgomery in “Age of Industrial Violence, 1910-15,” wrote that the commission found “repression by police, judicial and military agencies, which envisaged themselves as the defenders of society’s ‘good people.’ Small wonder that in all these strikes, and above all in the sanguinary three-year conflict on the Illinois Central Railroad, workers simply took the law into their own hands.”

Adding feelings of betrayal to struggle, some union leaders backtracked, urging strikers to return to work, weakening workers’ resolve and causing dissension in the rank and file.

In his 1918 memoir of the massive work stoppage, “The Lizard’s Trail,” Clinton, Ill., Machinist Carl Person wrote, “No other strike has played the industrial circuit for this length of time, with this large army of men, under such great expense to those who claim the ownership of the factory altars, while deserted by the labor leaders who cried in the storm that they were themselves responsible for.”

The walkout ended on June 18, 1915, less a defeat than a victory without short-term gain: solidarity among regular workers instead of better wages and working conditions achieved through organizing.

Today, courts still rule against unions, and corporations still resist workers unionizing, just like a century ago: An organized labor force is a worthy opponent in bargaining. Also, private security guards are less frequent, but they, too, persist, though with more subtlety in a wired world. And, unfortunately, some labor leaders are more timid than workers they should represent.

But real power remains at the grassroots.

[PICTURED: IC strikers, from "Today in Labor History."]

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Trump and media: building up, tearing down

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 24, 25 or 26

As an avid news consumer, I’ve come down with a case of the “DTs.”

Not DTs as in delirium tremens from alcohol withdrawal; DTs as in an overdose of Donald Trump.

How can national news media that have marginalized most candidates – or asked them to respond to a Trump-ette blast – expect him to do or be anything different than he’s always been, even when a supporter says something that’s really not surprising (even if it’s wrong)?

At a rally Sept. 17, the GOP frontrunner (at 33 percent) heard a statement that President Obama is a Muslim, followed by a question: “When can we get rid of them?”

I’m sick of coverage of Hillary, too, by the way, whether the stories are exaggerated Benghazi BS or her stupidity in using private emails or her too-practiced, poll-driven comments. (Although I see some fun in her being the political personification of the current VW emissions scandal, doing what she wants until she’s “tested,” when her filtering “controls” then kick in to pass “inspection.”)

Trump, meanwhile, is far more polarizing than Obama – or even Nixon. He might be fun to be with at dinner, but so would comic actor Bill Murray, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, or singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge. None would be a good President.

On Sunday, Trump defended his failing to correct the inaccurate assertions supporters express about Obama’s faith and birthplace. On ABC and CNN, Trump dismissed concerns with his letting the attacks slide, rhetorically asking, “Are you trying to say we don’t have a problem? [with Muslims].” He also declined to say he believed Obama was born in Hawaii, as if in his mind, Obama’s parents in a Kenyan hospital in 1961 conspired to fake a Honolulu birth announcement so that 47 years later their son could run for President.

Trump – and the media attention to him – is making bigotry more acceptable, like Fox News has done for demagoguery.

The unapologetic billionaire knows his audience, too, a large percentage of which believes Obama to be a foreign-born pretender allied with a religion they mistakenly think equals terrorism.

In fact, according to Public Policy Polling, 66 percent of Trump supporters think the President is a Muslim and 61 percent believe he wasn’t born in the United States. (Sadly, 29 percent of all Republicans agree about his birthplace). On the other hand, a Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 72 percent of U.S. voters think elected officials cannot be trusted and two-thirds consider the political system dysfunctional.

However, such suspicions make too many too susceptible to manipulation.

Chip Berlet, who wrote “Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort,” recently wrote of violent consequences of such talk.

“The leaders of organized political or social movements sometimes tell their followers that a specific group of ‘Others’ is plotting to destroy civilized society,” Berlet said. “History tells us that if this message is repeated vividly enough, loudly enough, often enough, and long enough –it is only a matter of time before the bodies from the named scapegoated groups start to turn up.”

Not wanting to be outdone, perhaps, Dr. Ben Carson – maybe realizing he’s still second in the GOP field of presidential candidates (at 20 percent), on NBC Sunday conceded that he opposes any Muslim being U.S. President, saying, “I absolutely would not agree with that.”

So “Others” – Muslims or Mexicans, the needy or women, gays or maybe, soon, YOU – are targeted.

Dangling ridiculous assertions and unreal promises, Trump is trying to tempt regular people to blame the powerless, to pick racial superiority instead of real solidarity and true security within the economy, society, community and family.

He panders to people’s most selfish impulses to blame “Others” (but not the powerful financial interests that blew up the economy and still hurt it, worldwide). And he’ll continue to do so until that strategy fails, when it’ll be someone else’s fault.

Probably the media.

Or you.

[PICTURED: Illustration by Texas cartoonist Mario Piperni.]

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The economy, between a kiss and a swift kick

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Sept. 21, 22 or 23

There’s a lot of room between a kiss and a kick in the butt.

The most recent jobs report seemed to show some affection for the idea of a recovery. The unemployment rate last month was down to 5.1 percent – the lowest level since before the Great Recession started before the 2008 elections. Employers reported creating 173,000 jobs.

But Wall Street and its media chums warned: What would it mean for the Federal Reserve Board’s decision to raise interest rates 0.26 percent when its Open Market Committee meets this month?
Who cares?

There may have been a peck on the cheek in the numbers, but the real caution was feeling spurned.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that 10 percent of U.S. workers are either unemployed, so discouraged they’ve stopped looking for work, or laboring at part-time jobs when they want full-time work. Also, most new jobs are in low-wage positions such as restaurants and bars, temporary work, and health-care assistance.

Oh, yes: Factories lost 17,000 jobs.

There were more than 17 million manufacturing jobs from 1971 to 1997, BLS says, but 1994’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) started sacrificing factory work so much that manufacturing was down to 13.9 million jobs by 2007.

NAFTA and other “free-trade” agreements encouraged moving jobs to Mexico, China or other countries with sweatshops, leading to more importing and less exporting, and they contributed to an over-valued dollar, which also worsened the trade deficit.

Another report released this month, the National Employment Law Project’s “Occupational Wage Declines since the Great Recession,” demonstrates that the economic recovery has not only left wage-earners behind; it’s hurt them. The research details the inflation-adjusted decline in wages during the recovery from the financial collapse. Hourly wages have declined at every income level, with the lowest-wage workers getting hit the worst. Real median hourly wages declined by 4 percent from 2009 to 2014.

“Most workers have failed to see improvements in their paychecks,” NELP reported. “In fact, taking into account cost-of-living increases since the recession officially ended in 2009, wages have actually declined for most U.S. workers. Inflation-adjusted, or ‘real,’ wages reflect workers’ true purchasing power; as real wages decline, so too does the amount of goods and services workers can buy.

“The failure of wages to merely keep pace with the cost of living is not a recent phenomenon,” NELP added. “The declines in real wages since the Great Recession continue a decades-long trend of wage stagnation.”

But the apologists for the elite are anxious about the Fed raising interest rates even a teensy amount – above a rate already so low companies should have been investing in expansion and innovation and – yes – employing people.

“The argument is whether the least democratic economic institution should raise interest rates by one quarter of one percent,” said Robert Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future advocacy group. “Will the gesture reassure speculators that the Fed thinks the economy is strong or spark a stock market rout?”

Again: Who cares – compared to empowering workers with wages decent enough to help them be consumers?

Officials elected to represent regular Americans should be debating how best to rebuild the nation, ease student debt, enact a jobs program for urban and rural America, agree on a federal budget, replace free trade deals with fair trade pacts, and start using federal contracts to encourage good employers to pay decent wages.

Instead, the paralyzed, paranoid GOP-controlled Congress is gearing up to shut down government again because of exaggerated claims about Planned Parenthood, or to drone on about building border walls, or sabotaging a treaty with Iran, or same-sex marriage or the Affordable Care Act…

True, Republican presidential hopefuls are saying a few of the right things. Bush, Christie, Paul, Rubio and Walker all have acknowledged threats to everyday workers and the middle class. However, they’re also announcing more of the same failed policies, like not raising the minimum wage hike, promoting more tax cuts for the rich, and blocking family-friendly policies like paid sick leave to help households that need parents both to work to have a chance to tread water.

“Instead of offering ideas that will improve economic security, boost incomes and support working- and middle-class families, Republicans are simply repackaging the old top-down solutions that favor the wealthy few at the expense of working families,” said Anna Chu and co-authors from the Center for American Progress. “It’s old wine in new bottles.

“Although leading Republicans are talking more about opportunity and mobility,” she continued, “there is a mountain of evidence that many of their proposed policies would hurt average families.”

Enough pretending that there’s kissing (and making up).

It’s past time to kick butt and take names.

[PICTURED: Cartoon by Bob Rich via]

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Do candidates hope we won’t notice they’re targeting Social Security?

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 17, 18 or 19

Beyond distracting, divisive campaigns about immigration or other wedge issues, most presidential candidates are advocating cuts or privatizing Social Security, the immensely popular program that turned 80 years old last month.

Like exaggerated “threats” by Mexicans, same-sex marriage, gun seizures or less freedom to worship, Republican candidates embellish or falsify Social Security’s health, claiming Social Security is going bankrupt in spite of its $2.8 trillion; dismissing the trillions in its trust-fund balance as phony “IOUs” (but not government bonds or similar assets); or saying Social Security adds to the country’s deficit (even though it doesn’t, being self-financed).

Americans like Social Security, don’t want cuts, and support its expansion. The world’s foremost social-insurance program, its benefits are modest but critical and its administrative expenses far below private-sector investment costs. Nevertheless, Bush, Rubio, Paul, Walker and the GOP field (excepting Carson, Huckabee and Trump) want to raise the retirement age, cut benefits, and/or privatize the system.


First, it’s Right-wing ideology. “True believers” in killing government programs think weakening or eliminating Social Security would “get government out of Americans’ lives.” Again, however, Social Security’s funds don’t come from the federal budget’s general revenues, but from its own revenues (the payroll tax known as FICA shows it pays a PREMIUM – FICA stands for Federal INSURANCE Contributions Act).

Next, the 1% – the source for most campaign contributions – doesn’t like Social Security. They don’t need it (and don’t pay their fair share into it anyway). The maximum taxable earnings are now $118,500, a ridiculous ceiling that means all earnings above that level contribute nothing. So a millionaire pays the same as a small-business owner.

“That means that people who make twice the cap – $237,000 per year – pay the Social Security tax on only half of their earnings, so they no longer pay it after July 1st,” says a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Those who are fortunate enough to make over $1.2 million annually are finished paying their Social Security taxes for the year by February 6th. In other words, workers who earn $118,500 or less per year pay a higher Social Security payroll tax rate than those who make more.”

Lastly, Republicans who seek the White House hear Wall Street, which seems to salivate about the possibility of gambling with Social Security’s trillions.

“Greed is always in fashion on Wall Street. But working Americans see no reason to hand Social Security over to the banks, when its administrative costs amount to well under 1 percent of its revenues,” writes Joe Conson, author of “Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth.”

“They know that the financial geniuses who almost sank the world economy eight years ago would charge far more than 1 percent,” he continues, “– while imposing enormous risks on everyone but themselves.”

The deterioration of private pensions – mostly because of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 – makes Social Security even more vital. When retirement is at risk for an increasing number of workers, Social Security is a crucial part of the nation’s safety net.

“For those working for a better life, Social Security is an important family income and disability protection program and the cornerstone of our retirement security,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “The program has worked efficiently for 80 years – even though opponents have tried to dismantle, cut, privatize or undermine the program since the day it was signed into law. They have created crises when none existed and demanded ‘reforms’ that make no sense.

“But Americans understand that Social Security is a solution, not a problem,” he continued, “and now is the time to strengthen and expand it for all generations of working families.”

A decade ago, President George W. Bush tried and failed to privatize Social Security. Now, it’s as if GOP candidates didn’t notice. Most Democratic presidential candidates realize Social Security’s place in people’s hearts and homes. All Democratic candidates except Hillary Clinton have proposed expanding benefits.

Protecting and improving Social Security wouldn’t be difficult. Congress could mimic Republican President Ronald Reagan, who raised the tax rate and added some government workers to Social Security. Or it could raise the payroll cap – say, to $1 million – so FICA contributions would increase, shared by more of society.

Also, Americans could cut through the fog of fear, hate and debate outrage, and vote their own interests – against cutting Social Security.

[PICTURED: Illustration from]

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Using courts to pile on unions, Right wing gets medieval

Bill Knight column for Mon, Tues., or Wed., Sept. 14, 15 or 16

Right-wing interests seem to want to return the nation not just to the Gilded Age, but the Dark Ages, reducing society to lords and peasants. They’re doing so by attacking unions through money to compliant political candidates, well-financed influence of legislatures, and a U.S. Supreme Court cozy with the elite.

The Supreme Court that gutted campaign-finance rules in “Citizens United” is now targeting organized labor. The Court announced that it will review a lawsuit that threatens unions collecting partial payments to recover costs for representing workers who aren’t members.

“Citizens United” made possible the domination of wealth in political campaigns. Right-wing groups such as the billionaire Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) made possible extremists and lobbyists drafting legislation lawmakers introduce and sometimes pass. And now a Supreme Court with five members nominated by Republican presidents seems determined to undermine one of the few American institutions able to stand up to wealth and power: unions.

Funded and pushed by the anti-worker National Right To Work Committee, “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association” is trying to obliterate public worker unions by destroying their finances. The case stems from an Orange County teacher who objects to paying a “fair share” contribution to the union that bargains her wages, hours and working conditions on the grounds that it violates her First Amendment right to free speech.

Unions are legally required to represent all employees in their workplace, and fair-share revenues cannot be spent on political activities, courts have ruled.

In a joint statement, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees said, “We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America – that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.”

The Supreme Court in 1977 ruled that public unions may collect fair-share fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining, even from employees who don’t join or support the union.

Last summer, in a case about unionized health-care workers in Illinois, the Court ruled 5-4 that unionized home health care workers here can’t be required to pay fair-share fees to the unions representing them, and George W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito said no public workers should pay fair share fees, on “free speech” grounds, essentially inviting the current case to come before the Court.

The Right To Work crowd can’t be forthright about its agenda in legislatures, because pro-worker lawmakers would block it, but it’s really after the elimination of unions and no worker opposition – total control by plutocrats, the country’s new “lords.”

Oddly, fellow conservative Antonin Scalia supported fair share in 1991, saying that public-sector unions had a legal obligation to represent all employees in their bargaining units, so it was reasonable to require workers to pay their share of the costs.

The “Friedrichs” appeal was filed by Michael Carvin, the attorney who argued this year’s failed attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act. That extremist connection is no coincidence, according to Bob Bruno, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It’s all to do serious damage to the Democratic Party,” Bruno said. “Even with falling numbers, labor is still punching above its weight class. If you could do damage to that constituency group, you can do damage to Democrats.”

If the justices decide against organized labor, then the unions involved would be unable to legally require contributions from people they must represent. Unions would be financially weakened and forced to cut spending, so the case threatens public unions first but eventually all unions.

Soon, every union in every sector would face contrived “something for nothing” claims hiding behind the First Amendment. But more immediately, every state and local governmental body could become a Right To Work (for Less) fiefdom of managers and supervisors.

A 21t century Magna Carta is needed before workers get out the torches and pitchforks.

[PICTURED: John Darkow cartoon from]

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Retreat in drug war, engage Big Pharma

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Sept. 10, 11 or 12

It’s time for an armistice for one “war on drugs” and for devoting resources toward relief in another drug-related conflict.

Prisons are overcrowded, costly and ineffective as a deterrent to drug use. The United States imprisons more of its population than any nation on Earth, mostly due to stiff sentences for drug crimes. About 20 percent of all state inmates and 60 percent of federal prisoners are drug offenders, according to the ACLU, and a staggering 96 percent of all Life without Parole sentences is for nonviolent drug convictions.

Most Americans support marijuana legalization, according to Gallup polling, which also has tracked attitudes about the “war on drugs” in the last 40 years and found the percentage that sees progress has dropped. Already, apart from medical use, marijuana is essentially legal in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington; a misdemeanor in 20 other states.

Politicians from libertarian Republican Rand Paul to centrist Democrat Hillary Clinton have conceded the need for a new approach, and Republican governors ranging from Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry to Mitch Daniels and John Kasich are discussing sentencing reforms generally. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has sponsored the Smarter Sentencing Act, which would reduce mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug-related crimes, and conservative Republican Newt Gingrich and progressive commentator Van Jones have teamed up to call for sentencing reform.

The FBI’s most recent crime report estimates that 13 percent of all arrests are drug-related. Of all drug arrests, almost half were for marijuana. In Illinois, 94.9 percent of all arrests in 2013 were for nonviolent offenses: 114,000. Excluding serious charges unrelated to drugs (such as burglary and arson), that’s still 80,000 arrests. Even using the FBI’s 13-percent benchmark, almost 16,000 people arrested in Illinois were for drug offenses.

Launched in the 1970s during the Nixon administration, the “war on drugs” gained steam under President Reagan but accelerated under President Clinton, when “tough on crime” laws took sentencing judgment out of the hands of actual judges. In 1994, Clinton and Congressional Democrats helped pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, when then-First Lady Clinton sought to bolster the White House’s law-and-order standing by stating, "We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders.”

Meanwhile, there’s a real drug war – with Big Pharma, the pharmaceutical industry that imposes the world’s highest prices for prescriptions – despite taxpayer support funding research and development. Prescription drug prices last year were up 11 percent from 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal, while inflation was less than 1 percent.

“Our drug costs are out of control because that’s the way the pharmaceutical companies want it,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “Other countries have national health insurance … able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.”

Sanders wants to help make life-saving prescription prices reasonable by repealing the ban on negotiating bulk discounts for seniors; letting Americans buy cheaper drugs on-line from Canada; stripping patent protection from companies fraudulently manufacturing or selling drugs; stopping the practice of companies paying competitors to postpone introducing cheaper generic alternatives; and requiring disclosure of public support for drugs’ research and development while companies invest in packaging and marketing.

As to the failed “war on drugs,” even churches are starting to stand against the campaign, which has led to public health problems, violent drug trafficking, wasted tax money and innumerable lives lost or incarcerated in overcrowded prisons, according to the United Methodist Church’s New England Annual Conference, representing 600 congregations, which this summer voted to support “seeking means other than prohibition to address the problem of substance abuse; and is further resolved to support the mission of the international educational organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition.”

LEAP director Neill Franklin added, “Jesus concerned himself with the plight of the poor and marginalized in his society. In our society, the story of the poor and marginalized is one of mass incarceration, racial injustice, and the breakdown of families caused by the War on Drugs.”

The Methodists’ action follows similar calls last year by Christian clergy in Nashville, Tenn., and Gary, Ind.
Yes, it’s time for a ceasefire in one “war” and true engagement concerning unaffordable prescription drugs that aren’t just expensive, but exploitative.

[PICTURED: Graphic from]