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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.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Workers’ comp ‘business boost’ could backfire

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

Illinois’ first-term Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to make the state “more competitive” but neglects the everyday people who actually produce the state’s goods and services. One scheme is to cut workers’ compensation costs by making its victims prove that on-the-job accidents are more than 50 percent responsible for injuries, and cutting fees to doctors, hospitals and pharmacies by 30 percent.

In his February State of the State address, Rauner advocated such ideas as “much-needed reforms that address the shortcomings of the workers’ compensation law that was passed in 2011.”

That law featured a previous 30-percent cut to medical providers in the state's worker’s comp fee schedule, but advocates say such savings weren’t passed along from insurers to employers.

That reform saved $315 million, but business wants more -- $500 million, which former Gov. Pat Quinn had estimated. The independent National Council on Compensation Insurance reported that workers’ comp premiums should have fallen 20 percent, so Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan said employers may have a point, but he said it’s not victims’ fault, it’s the insurance industry, which generally sets its own rates and pocketed hundreds of millions in savings instead of passing them along to policyholders.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) warned, “Proposals to change the compensation received by men and women injured at their workplaces will have a significant impact on the financial security of middle-class families throughout Illinois. Changes that limit workers’ ability to provide for their families if they are hurt on the job will have an adverse ripple effect throughout our economy.”

So Rauner’s business boost could backfire.

Not the worst in workers’ comp costs, is seventh nationwide for costs per $100 of wages, according to a report from Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services. Illinois’ index rate is better than California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Alaska and Oklahoma, for instance. Further, Illinois’ rate is comparable to 11 other states, including Vermont, Delaware, Louisiana, Montana and Pennsylvania.

At stake is worker’s comp as an “exclusive remedy,” a century-old deal where victims can’t sue for damages except in special cases where product liability can be proved. Administered by each state, the social contract has workers relinquishing the right to sue for negligence and employers agreeing to buy insurance to pay victims’ medical bills and lost wages. That protects companies from large punitive awards from civil suits, but workers surrender their day in court.

One shortcoming is that benefits don’t fully compensate victims. In Illinois, the rates typically are two-thirds of lost wages besides medical expenses, capped at the state’s average weekly wage. Therefore, someone earning yearly pay of $95,000 would be limited to $1,005.80 per week, according to the state Department of Employment Security. That’s $52,301.16, not two-thirds of $95,000 ($62,700).

Also, compensation for the loss of a finger or limb, sight or hearing also are limited, from 22 weeks (a little finger) to 215 weeks (a leg), although the losses are for life. There are no cost-of-living adjustments, either, so victims eventually may have to turn to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to get by.

Before workers’ compensation, employers could be sued but had to be proven to be negligent, and companies had three main defenses: blame the victims (“contributory negligence”), the job itself (“assumption of risk”), or other workers (“fellow servant”). Still, there were risks that juries would be sympathetic and that legal costs would be substantial even if companies prevailed at trial.

Today, workers’ comp is another target of some corporations looking to maximize profits by cutting labor costs, from pensions and unions to pay and benefits.

A common corporate criticism of workers’ comp mirrors conservatives’ condemnation of food stamps or other social programs – even voting: fraud. However, research has shown that workers’ comp fraud is less than one-half of 1 percent. Robert Stern of the Washington AFL-CIO said, “In every study that has been done on fraud in workers’ compensation, employer, insurer and provider fraud are found to be a dramatically greater problem than claimant fraud.”

Even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently said, “Changes in state-based workers’ compensation insurance programs have made it increasingly difficult for injured workers to receive the full benefits to which they are entitled. Employers now provide only a small percentage (about 20 percent) of the overall financial cost of workplace injuries and illnesses.”

Lastly, Rauner’s demanding workers’ comp cutbacks before he’d compromise on a budget, a minimum-wage increase or tax reform.

“I don't think that our budget process ought to be held hostage given the time that we put in four years ago,” commented State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago).

[PICTURED: Illustration from nexislexis.]

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rauner ‘survey’ of foreign business contradicts praise

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 14, 15 or 16

Illinois’ top trading partners want better infrastructure but fewer taxes, and a highly skilled labor force but lower wages, according to 10 memos that Gov. Bruce Rauner released May 4, wanting people to take them as representative of countless potential investors in the state.

Besides feeding in to critics’ disparagement of the Land of Lincoln and betraying Rauner’s supposed fondness for the state he purports to lead, the governor’s own turnaround plan wants to cut some facets praised by the respondents (such as highway construction and universities). The first-term Republican billionaire also overlooks some suggestions, instead apparently cherry-picking claims that bolster his anti-union, pro-business austerity agenda.

Rauner’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity asked 10 ambassadors, business leaders, consuls general, etc. from other countries about their impressions of Illinois, especially in the context of locating and Foreign Direct Investment in Illinois.

Complaints range from the predictable to the petty: taxes, infrastructure; inadequate preparation of the labor force on the one hand, and parking rates, bureaucratic delays in getting drivers licenses and tollway fees on the other.

These Movers & Shakers (of course: Rauner’s 1% peers) criticized labor unions and downstate (which more than one noted is not competitive with Indiana or Wisconsin. Or developing nations with virtual slave labor, for that matter).

One wonders if they’d ventured beyond Chicago’s collar counties. Or interacted with everyday Illinoisans.

These 10 make up a tiny and narrow subject group virtually guaranteed beforehand to mirror Rauner’s mindset, and they were served up leading questions to stress the responses Rauner openly seeks.

As for the respondents: They want more. It doesn’t take a microscope or psychic to read between the lines and see their real plea: “Woo us!” “Give us more – more incentives, more subsidies, more ways to pay workers less and operate with fewer regulations…” “Gimme Gimme Gimme!”

None concedes that since two-thirds of the state’s businesses pay no income taxes, they probably are whining about sales taxes or property taxes or routine user fees, like for their stretch limos that are so danged hard to park.

Besides suspicious duplications on supposedly separate responses (for example, two different answers both describe Chicago as the “capital of the Midwest”), these Movers and Shakers (M&S, OK?) look at Illinois from Learjets, high-rise offices, and luxury residences, with equally lofty priorities of maximizing profit and doing well, not doing good.

Perception is reality for these M&S titans of wealth and/or power.

But their reality isn’t always – even often – real.

Sure, there’s general agreement that Illinois has great transportation and communication systems, some empathy that conventional wisdom by other nations’ ill-informed decision makers about Illinois stems from news coverage of crime or limited popular-culture references (one memo concedes that foreign “ignorance … rarely sees beyond Capone and Jordan.”) And more than one praised the state’s universities.

(Yes, Irony Hawks: Rauner’s Illinois Board of Higher Education Director James Applegate told the state’s already beleaguered universities to expect cuts of 30 percent over the next year and a half.)

A little insight trickled out, such as the concern that small companies don’t get the same consideration as large enterprises, but most telling was the common criticism that Illinois “undersells” itself, is “outgunned by less attractive states,” has too little of an overseas presence, where there’s a “deep lack of understanding” about the Midwest.” And repeatedly, those 10 surveyed say Illinois needs to do better promoting the state, to “do more outreach,” because “more work needs to be done.”

Instead of promoting Illinois, though, Rauner is going global in going negative, criticizing the people and places he contends he serves.

The Governor is adding insult to injury, and shame to greed.

[PICTURED: Photo from retired-iea-teacher.com.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Author sees different ‘Generation Gap’

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., May 18, 19 or 20

Demographics is destiny, right-wing British writer Arthur Kemp once said.

Not necessarily, of course, but a new book by Paul Taylor – scheduled to speak for the Peoria Area Labor Management Council (PALM) Tuesday (May 19) at East Peoria’s Par-A-Dice Hotel – offers revealing context for the profound demographic changes the nation has undergone since the 1970s.

“The Next America: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown” says that today’s Millennials are well-educated but saddled with debt, and tech-savvy but underemployed, and such disparities, if not contradictions, lead some to fear that that generation could be the first generation in U.S. history to fail to achieve a standard of living at least as stable as their parents’.

Indeed, America is in the throes of a demographic upheaval. Profound differences are happening in Americans’ political and social values, our collective prosperity or inequality, our families, our racial and ethnic mix, our gender norms, our religious affiliations, and our use of technology. But the divergence between generations may be the most dramatic.
Some may shrug and think, “Huh. A Generation Gap.” However, today’s is one that’s much different than previous disconnects.

The 12-chapter, 200-page book, published in March, benefits from social research conducted by the Pew Research Center, where Taylor is vice president. The private-sector opinion surveys reveal delightful or disturbing trends, from lifestyles to politics. The country’s changing nature affects populations, marriage rates and even consumer choices.

For example, longer life expectancies mean the nation is older, which burdens government’s social safety net and also contributes to U.S. society’s polarization. Age differences provide fertile ground on which to cultivate fear and demagoguery – as well as Republicans’ deference to the privileged and lip service to Christians, and Democrats’ identity politics and increasing corporate coziness. All of that marginalizes not just alternative choices like the Green Party but voters themselves, from racial minorities to the elderly to working-class citizens.

Further, polarization has dramatically increased since the 1970s. In fact, a 2006 study in the Journal of Politics said, “These divisions are not confined to a small minority of activists – they involve a large segment of the public and the deepest divisions are found among the most interested, informed and active citizens.”

Such polarization isn’t just in politics, where the level of animosity is intense. It influences everything from who people befriend to where they live. Plus, the tendency to socialize or use information that confirms beliefs already held – “silos of influence” – means that people who consider themselves well-informed are more active, and those more-involved citizens skew participation.

The most opinionated Americans are essentially overrepresented in politics.

In-depth and authoritative, yet readable and concise (even occasionally funny), “The Next America” also features charts and years of polling numbers to bolster Taylor’s assertions.

If there’s a weakness in what’s essentially a collection of observations (more than a call to action), it’s Taylor’s acceptance of mistaken judgments about Social Security. Misinformation has apparently convinced young Americans – and maybe Taylor – that the popular insurance system is broken or a bust.

Taylor writes, “More than 7 in 10 Millennials do not expect Social Security to be their main source of retirement income,” but he doesn’t challenge that opinion and neglects to note that Social Security insurance was designed to supplement people’s income, not provide most income.

In reality, though some say that Social Security is bankrupt, its Trust Fund holds trillions of dollars in assets in the form of legally binding debt from the U.S. Treasury.

“Social Security has a large and growing surplus,” says Richard Fiesta, director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “Social Security’s cumulative surplus [is] roughly $2.8 trillion in 2014, growing to about $2.9 trillion around 2020.”

Also, lifting the payroll tax cap, which is now $118,500 – meaning that no earnings above that level contribute to FICA (the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, which funds Social Security) – would strengthen the program for decades.

Nevertheless, Taylor’s book is very valuable; less of a series of answers than a host of questions.

[PICTURED: Author Paul Taylor.]

Saturday, May 16, 2015

In May, gardens a subject for wordsmiths, too

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 14, 15 or 16

Temperatures fell some this week, but mid-May remains a key time for gardens, whether flowers or vegetables.

This is when azaleas, dogwoods, lilacs, peonies, tulips, viburnums and other beautiful plants are vibrant. It’s also when tender vegetables such as beans, sweet corn and summer squash can be planted from seed, and tomato transplants can be put in, as well as vining crops such watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins and cantaloupes, plus eggplants, peppers and sweet potatoes.

May also is a time to recall the many people who’ve written about the wonders of gardens.

Between the Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane, for instance, the Bible has multiple references to the places where people cultivate color and nutrition. In 1st Kings, Ahab says to Naboth, “Give me thy vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs. And in Song of Solomon, it’s written, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.”

Secular poets also have frequently used the garden for imagery or metaphor, and such verse can be as inspiring as scripture. Of course, there’s the familiar "Mary, Mary, quite contrary" by Mother Goose –
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary
“How does your garden grow?
“With silver bells and cockleshells
“And pretty maids all in a row.

Here are a few other examples, courtesy of the poetryoundation.org:

“MUCH IN LITTLE”
Amid the iris and the rose,
The honeysuckle and the bay,
The wild earth for a moment goes
In dust or weed another way.

Small though its corner be, the weed
Will yet intrude its creeping beard;
The harsh blade and the hairy seed
Recall the brutal earth we feared.

And if no water touch the dust
In some far corner, and one dare
To breathe upon it, one may trust
The spectre on the summer air:

The risen dust alive with fire,
The fire made visible, a blur
Interrate, the pervasive ire
Of foxtail and of hoarhound burr.

-- Yvor Winters


“WHEREOF THE GIFT IS SMALL
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey”

And short the season, first rubythroat
in the fading lilacs, alyssum in bloom,
a honeybee bumbling in the bleeding heart
on my gelding’s grave while beetles swarm
him underground. Wet feet, wet cuffs,
little flecks of buttercup on my sneaker toes,
bluets, violets crowding out the tufts
of rich new grass the horses nose
and nibble like sleepwalkers held fast—
brittle beauty—might this be the last?

– Maxine W. Kumin

“DILUVIAN DREAM”
All afternoon I walk behind the mower,
Imagining, though paradoxically,
That even though the grass is getting lower,
What I have cut is like a rising sea;
The parts I haven’t cut, with every pass,
Resemble real geography, a map,
A shrinking island continent of grass
Where shoreline vanishes with every lap.

At last, the noise and smell of gasoline
Dispel my dream. What sea? Peninsulas?
They were the lands my inner child had seen,
Their little Yucatáns and Floridas.

But when I’m finished, and Yard goes back to Lawn,
I can’t help thinking that a world is gone.

– Wilmer Mills

What words!
What a time.

[PICTURED: My back yard.]

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ascension – and the descent into inequality

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., May 11, 12 or 13

This Thursday is Christianity’s ecumenical Feast of the Ascension – also called Ascension Thursday or Holy Thursday – marking the physical ascension of Jesus into Heaven 40 days after the Resurrection.

Although Scripture details are thin in passages of the books of Luke and Mark, Acts has a slightly more detailed account. As I read it now, I’m reminded of being a day-dreaming adolescent imagining a smoky “launch” of the Messiah (or a cloudy “beam-up,” in “Star Trek” parlance), my mind wandering to picture an angelic “away team” dressed in spacesuits then basically shooing away the stunned apostle witnesses.

The occasion also offers an opportunity to reflect – with shame – on the eerie parallels of today to 18th century conditions of wealth and want. Poet William Blake in 1794 wrote the following verse, titled “Holy Thursday,” or “Ascension Day”:

“Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery,
Fed with cold and usurous hand?

Is that trembling cry a song?
Can it be a song of joy?
And so many children poor?
It is a land of poverty!

And their sun does never shine,
And their fields are bleak and bare,
And their ways are filled with thorns:
It is eternal winter there.

For where'er the sun does shine,
And where'er the rain does fall,
Babes should never hunger there,
Nor poverty the mind appall.”


More than 14 million American children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about 1 in 5 kids. Also, 16 million kids live in homes without adequate food required for healthy lives. Yet Republicans in control of Capitol Hill say society can’t afford to raise the minimum wage, extend jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed, or maintain food stamps – despite such needs.

Indeed, the House of Representatives last month passed by a 269-179 vote a measure to eliminate the Estate Tax, offering a $269 billion giveaway to about 5,400 estates, according to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation – about 0.2 percent of the country. Seven Illinois Congressmen signed on as co-sponsors of the bill (which would be vetoed by President Obama if the Senate passed it – which is doubtful).

Still, repealing the Estate Tax – misleadingly dubbed the “death tax” by the GOP – would blow a pricey hole in the budget despite affecting so few Americans – because almost everyone is exempt. This year, individual estates can be as high as $5.4 million (married couples’ estates can be $10.8 million) before the 40-percent tax becomes effective.

Back to Ascension. As the Founders intended, no government should establish a state religion or mandate a certain faith for its citizens, of course, but how can those who cite the Old Testament’s Leviticus, or a few remarks in New Testament writings by the Apostle Paul, to condemn gays and prevent them from openly, legally loving on the one hand, choose to ignore Jesus’ words of mercy on the other?

Some conservatives fall back on Jesus’ comment, “You will always have the poor among you,” but He didn’t add, “Tough!” He repeatedly said people should care for each other. Christianity specifically instructs us on works of mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, free the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

Even some conservatives are starting to feel uncomfortable with ignoring the needy to serve the rich.

Conservative columnist Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post scolded Republicans as “a party working to reduce the taxes of the rich while cutting food stamps for the poor.”

Americans must demand our elected representatives arrange an economic ascension.

[PICTURED: Graphic from afropunk.com.]

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Faith leaders starting to address climate change

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., May 7, 8 or 9

Life is more than mere existence. It’s survival and growth – as individuals, a species, and inhabitants sharing a planet.. But humanity historically has trod two paths: faith and reason, or religion and science.

Now, however – about halfway between Earth Day and Pope Francis’ anticipated encyclical on the environment – we may be at a turning point about climate change. Faith leaders increasingly see common ground, connecting religion and science.
“Science and religion are two of the most potent forces on Earth,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist E. O. Wilson, “and they should come together to save Creation.”

Tom Mueller, an ordained Catholic Deacon in downstate Illinois, says the connection is natural.

“Based on what we know about global warming through research and study, it is irresponsible for any government or any corporation to ignore this growing crisis,” Mueller says “For a politician to call this concern trivial or non-existent is totally wrong.”

The Rev. Michael Brown, minister at Peoria’s Universalist Unitarian Church, sees a role for clergy.

“All religious leaders can lift up this issue by emphasizing how each tradition teaches our responsibility to care for the Earth,” he says.

“Our Unitarian Universalist tradition emphasizes the importance of learning from science and taking its findings seriously as we try to build a viable future,” Brown continues. “We also lift up the goal of respecting the whole interdependent web of existence and honoring all of nature as having value, not just human desires. This path offers our best chance for survival and long-term viability on Earth.”

Faiths’ understanding of Creation and humanity’s place in the environment isn’t exactly new. Pope John Paul II decades ago stressed that the ecological crisis is a moral crisis. But worsening conditions are inspiring new voices.

Catholic University religious studies professor William Dinges has said we’re seeing “a historic moment in which there is a lot of interesting thinking going on at a theological level.”

Emory University bioethicist Cory Labrecque in the religion newsletter Sightings writes, “The growing trend among many religious groups in the U.S. is in recognizing climate change as a moral issue that is a pressing threat to the Common Good writ large. The National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Catholic Climate Covenant, Creation Justice Ministries, the Evangelical Environmental Network, and Interfaith Power and Light are among the many organizations that have constructively engaged pastoral communities to make stewardship less about putting an end to the use of Styrofoam coffee cups and more about a constructive re-evaluation of how energy, food, materials, etc, are being used in congregations and in everyday living.”

There’s a foundation. The sense of stewardship is as common throughout faiths as the Golden Rule.

* “Religious leaders represent an under-tapped sector of society to promote change,” said Rabbi Yonatan Neril, director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, which pushes for sustainability based on religious teachings.

* Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says that society suffers from an addiction to consumerism that stresses the planet, adding that people should refrain from considering ourselves and Earth as two separate entities. When we know how to protect all beings, we are protecting ourselves.”

Imam Kamil Mufti, resident scholar at an Islamic center in central Illinois, adds, “The most important role for religious leaders to play is to communicate the importance of safeguarding our natural environment. It is only natural that those who care for God's Creation take environmental issues seriously.”

Deacon Mueller addresses one challenge.

“We live in a Country where we talk a lot about individual freedom,” Mueller says. But “with individual freedom comes individual responsibility, and we have to come to terms with our responsibilities to each other. We are all here together and we have to take care of one another. There are many of us who believe that is what we are here for, to love one another. In a land that worships individualism, we can become pretty selfish. It is selfish not to think about protecting our environment.”

Former Harvard Business School professor David Korten, author of “The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community,” says, “Earth is a living organism – we all are essentially a part of this one big life form. Destroying the natural living systems on which our existence depends, in order to get a quick energy fix or a quick profit, is literally insane.

“It comes back to this,” Korten continues. “Are we a part of nature? Or apart from nature?"

[PICTURED: screen grab from YouTube piece on an April 28 meeting between Pope Francis, left, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon about climate change.]

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Where are Republicans who used to fight for the rest of us?

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues., or Wed., May 4, 5 or 6

As a journalist I’ve met several members of Congress, and the recent resignation of Peoria Republican Congressman Aaron Schock sparked a renewed appreciation for past Republicans.

The Republican Party was never JUST “the party of Lincoln,” and sadly, it no longer is.

But the GOP used to be the party of Fighting Bob La Follette, Wisconsin’s great Republican Congressman, Governor and Senator who for years fought the increasing dominance of corporations. Hailed as one of the “10 greatest Senators in the nation’s history,” La Follette today probably couldn’t compete in a state primary, much less win respect from the likes of Republican “kingmakers” such as the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson.

Two Republican Congressmen I was privileged to interview were Tom Railsback of the Quad Cities and Paul Findley of Jacksonville, both of them strong voices for truth and justice – and less about ambition than independence. Findley in 1973 proposed a resolution to investigate Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew, and Railsback a year later cast a key vote in a House Judiciary Committee motion to impeach Republican President Richard Nixon.

But the last century had other such thoughtful Republicans working not for the wealthy and powerful but everyday citizens.

Consider this “Top 10,” in roughly chronological order:

Republican Congressman Nelson Aldrich (N.Y.) in 1908 passed a law resulting in the “Aldrich Plan,” which formed the basis for the Federal Reserve System.

Republican Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 first proposed national health insurance as part of his presidential campaign as a Progressive.

Republican party leader Harry W. Colmery and Republican Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers (Mass.) in 1944 helped write the G.I. Bill of Rights, one of the nation’s most successful “entitlement” programs.

Republican Congressman Jacob Javits in 1947 backed Democratic President Harry S Truman’s veto of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, and throughout his long career supported unions, and strongly opposed segregation and the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee’s “witch hunts” of suspected Communists. Further, as a Senator in 1978, Javits also was instrumental in helping Democratic President Jimmy Carter finalize the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1957 sent the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Ark., to enforce federal law and desegregate public schools.

Republican Governor of California Ronald Reagan in 1967 signed into law the Therapeutic Abortion Act, a measure permitting the termination of pregnancies when doctors determined that they endangered the physical or mental health of the mothers.

Republican politicians including Illinois’ Sen. Chuck Percy, Michigan Gov. George Romney, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton, and Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield in the 1960s and ’70s became just a few of the outspoken critics of the Vietnam War.

Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970 established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court – Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun and Potter Stewart – were crucial to 1973’s“Roe v. Wade” decision legalizing abortion.

And Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s raised taxes 11 times during his two terms, according to friend and colleague Alan Simpson, Republican Senator from Wyoming.

Reagan has been mythologized as a staunch tax-cutter who trimmed federal spending – an assertion his biographer Douglas Brinkley says is “false. It didn’t happen that way.” In fact, Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, told NPR, “I wouldn’t call it merely airbrushing. I would call it outright revisionism if not fabrication of history.”

Republicans who’d take such positions in 2015 would probably be called RINOs (“Republican in Name Only”), the criticism endured by the late Jim Brady – Reagan’s Press Secretary who after being wounded in the 1981 assassination attempt championed for common-sense gun control – and conservative Republican attorney Ted Olson – the winning “Bush v. Gore” lawyer and ex-Solicitor General who’s represented same-sex marriage partners in the run-up to the imminent Supreme Court case.

Few such actions would be taken by the 21st century’s national Republican politicians, who seemingly are cowardly, afraid of alienating influential corporations and campaign contributors, or so keen on staying in office they’ll do almost anything. Arguably, the same could be said of Democrats, of course, but it’s sad to see Republicans’ great heritage betrayed.

[PICTURED: "Fighting Bob" La Follette from saltofamerica.com.]

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Special delivery: Gyrocopter protestor had a message

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., April 30, May 1 or 2

A Florida mailman landed a small aircraft – a gyrocopter – on Capitol Hill April 15 in a protest about campaign finance reform. Doug Hughes, 61, was carrying 535 letters, to every member of Congress, calling for them to address corruption tied to political contributions and lobbyists.

His ill-advised yet inspiring flight into restricted airspace surprised authorities but the substance of his message didn’t get the attention of media focusing on Bruce Jenner and Hillary’s Chipotle meal.

Here’s Hughes’ letter, according to TheDemocracyClub.org (edited for space):

Consider the following statement by John Kerry in his farewell speech to the Senate —

"The unending chase for money I believe threatens to steal our democracy itself. They know it. They know we know it. And yet, Nothing Happens!" — John Kerry, 2-13

In a July 2012 Gallup poll, 87% tagged corruption in the federal government as extremely important or very important, placing this issue just barely behind job creation. According to Gallup, public faith in Congress is at a 41-year record low, 7%. (June 2014) Kerry is correct. The popular perception outside the DC beltway is that the federal government is corrupt and the US Congress is the major problem. As a voter, I’m a member of the only political body with authority over Congress. As a member of Congress, you have three options.

1. You may pretend corruption does not exist.

2. You may pretend to oppose corruption while you sabotage reform.

3. You may actively participate in real reform.

If you’re considering option 1, you may wonder if voters really know what the “chase for money” is. Your dismal and declining popularity documented by Gallup suggests we know. That these practices are legal does not make them right!

Dozens of major and very profitable corporations pay nothing in taxes. Voters know how this is done. Corporations pay millions to lobbyists for special legislation.

Almost half of the retiring members of Congress from 1998 to 2004 got jobs as lobbyists earning on average fourteen times their Congressional salary.

The new Democratic freshmen to the U.S. House in 2012 were “advised” by the party to schedule four hours per day on the phones fund raising at party headquarters (because fund raising is illegal from gov’t offices.) It is the donors with deep pockets who get the calls, but seldom do the priorities of the rich donor help the average citizen.

The relevant (rich) donors who command the attention of Congress are only .05% of the public (5 people in a thousand) but these aristocrats of both parties are who Congress really works for. As a member of the US Congress, you should work only for The People.

Not yourself. Not your political party. Not the richest donors to your campaign. Not the lobbyist company who will hire you after your leave Congress.

There are several credible groups working to reform Congress. Their evaluations of the problem are remarkably in agreement though the leadership (and membership) may lean conservative or liberal. They see how the current rules empower special interests through lobbyists and PACs, robbing the average American of any representation on any issue where the connected have a stake. This is not democracy even if the ritual of elections is maintained.

The various mechanisms which funnel money to candidates and congress-persons are complex. It happens before they are elected, while they are in office and after they leave Congress. Fortunately, a solution to corruption is not complicated. All the proposals are built around either reform legislation or a Constitutional Amendment.

Campaign finance reform is the cornerstone of building an honest Congress. Erect a wall of separation between our elected officials and big money. A corporation is not 'people' and no individual should be allowed to spend hundreds of millions to 'influence' an election. That much money is a megaphone which drowns out the voices of 'We the People.' Next, a retired member of Congress has a lifelong obligation to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That almost half the retired members of Congress work as lobbyists and make millions of dollars per year smells like bribery. Pass real campaign finance reform and prohibit even the appearance of payola after retirement and you will be part of a Congress I can respect.

The states have the power to pass a Constitutional Amendment without Congress — and we will. You in Congress will likely embrace the change just to survive, because liberals and conservatives won’t settle for less than democracy. The vast majority of Americans believe in the real democracy we once had, which Congress over time has eroded to the corrupt, dysfunctional plutocracy we have.

The question is where YOU individually stand.

Sincerely,

Douglas M. Hughes



[PICTURED: screen grab from Hughes' video announcing/explaining his protest -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hQM25NYX4M.]