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, May 28, 2017

Medicare-for-All catching fire with all sides

Bill Knight column for Thurs, Fri, or Sat., May 25, 26 or 27

A new health-care plan passed one house of the New York legislature on May 16, not long after weeks of rowdy town-hall meetings from coast to coast following House Republicans’ passage of the controversial Americans Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA).

A universal, single-payer approach to health care in the United States is gaining support. In fact, in regular America if not Capitol Hill, its proponents now include self-styled socialists who backed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries last year, and Trump voters. Further, bills have been re-introduced in Washington and some states to achieve a “Medicare for All” system.

With little media attention and virtually no support from Democrats or Republicans, 59 percent of the public already favors Medicare for All, according to a recent poll from Pew Research Center. Broken down by party affiliations, 80 percent of Democrats back it, 60 percent of independents and even 30 percent of Republicans. Detailed further, Medicare for All is favored by 40 percent of Americans who voted for Donald Trump, according to an Economist/YouGov poll.

Compare those numbers to the AHCA’s 31-percent support, according to a HuffPost/YouGov survey, which says that 44 percent oppose it and a fourth aren’t sure.

Besides New York, Minnesota and California have pending bills on such statewide single-payer systems, which would work like Medicare, with government handling payments for an all-inclusive plan. In Washington, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced in the House of Representatives the U.S. National Health Care Act (“Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act,” H.R. 676), which as of last week had 110 co-sponsors, including Illinois Democratic U.S. Reps. Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Robin Kelly, Bobby Rush and Jan Schakowsky. In the Senate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is introducing a Medicare for All measure backed by progressives such as Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth.

“Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege,” Sanders said. “Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income. The only long-term solution to America’s health care crisis is a single-payer national health care program.

“If every major country on Earth guarantees health care to all people and costs a fraction per capita of what we spend,” he continued, “don’t tell me that in the United States of America, we cannot do that.”

The New York Health Act would afford all state residents access to comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care, primary and preventive care, prescription drugs, behavioral health services, laboratory testing, and rehabilitative care, as well as dental, vision and hearing coverage. There would be no premiums, deductibles, or co-pays; the plan would be funded through progressively raised taxes, including a surcharge that would be split 80/20 between employers and employees.

“Almost all New Yorkers would pay less than they currently do because they would be able to replace their current plans with this more affordable state-based plan,” said New York legislator Richard Gottfried.

“One [advantage] is that a single-payer plan will allow providers to economize on the costs of handling the billing and insurance-related expenses,” commented Gerald Friedman, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Introduced and defeated in New York in the past, the 2017 bill could see passage this time.

“Similar proposals passed the Assembly in previous years, but this is the first year it has a fighting chance in the state’s Senate,” wrote Laurel Raymond for ThinkProgress.

The current Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and the GOP’s new AHCA have been criticized by Trump voters as well as progressives for a dependence on profit-oriented insurers.

“The problem is putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse,” said Rochester, N.Y., Trump voter Tim Schiefen on public radio. “Why are we allowing these gross, overspending health insurance companies to administer this stuff?”

Republicans’ new plan would benefit the wealthy and cause more than 20 million Americans tolose coverage.

“As the radical right wing in Washington try to disguise a $500 billion tax cut for the super-rich and insurance giants as a health-care bill, the New York State Assembly is leading the way with the only kind of health-care bill that will put people before profits, and make health care what it should be: a human right,” said consumer advocate Ivette Alfonso, president of Citizen Action of New York.

Trump supporter Schiefen added, “Let’s put aside the differences. Let’s get to the root of the concern.”

[PICTURED: Graphic from]

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Biss seeks governorship because ‘It’s about us’

Bill Knight column for 5-22, 23 or 24

If you asked State Sen. Daniel Biss if he sees himself as a pessimist, optimist or realist, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear, “Yes!”

Since late March, when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination to face GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner next year, the 39-year-old former University of Chicago math teacher has juggled the challenges, hopes and resolve ahead.

“The oddsmakers aren’t betting on me right now,” Biss says of the crowded field of candidates. “There are powerful people, wealthy people, and, on the Democratic side, good people.”

There’s bad news, too: Illinois’ inadequate school funding; Rauner’s attacks on unions and workers compensation, a growing state debt, and almost two years without a budget.

“First, we need a budget,” says Biss, elected to the state Senate in 2013 after one term in the House in Springfield. “That’s job Number 1. But that’s only one year. If we don’t fix the underlying problems, we’ll be right back in this situation.”

People aren’t stupid, and Biss has faith that if Illinoisans see a way out and a way to share the burden, progress will happen.

“Most states do better,” he says. “We have to explain that and the path forward. Democrats too often duck that responsibility.”

Already, some Democratic insiders are bypassng a grassroots effort to instead focus on big money from a few big players, Biss concedes. For example, earlier this month, 14 unions endorsed Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker. However, they were union locals, not state or national unions; mostly from Chicago and the building trades; or historically linked to House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), who’s been speaker for 32 of the last 34 years and has amassed considerable power in what many feel is a 21st century political Machine.

(Interestingly, the Teamsters haven’t endorsed Pritzker, who was part of the ownership group at PECO Pallet in Hegewisch, Ill., where the Teamsters had difficulty bargaining a first contract. Likewise, UNITE-HERE, who had a long labor struggle at Hyatt Hotels, owned by the Pritzker family, haven’t endorsed a candidate.)

“It’s Pritzker’s vast wealth – and his stated willingness to invest it toward vanquishing Gov. Bruce Rauner and in support of other Democrats – that makes his candidacy so attractive to party leaders,” commented Mark Brown in the Chicago Sun-Times.
On the phone, Biss softly chuckles and admits that doing the right thing isn’t always easy.

“We have to keep our heads down and keep plugging away,” he says.

Biss is plugging away by means of a “comeback agenda” that calls for real investment in public services, reforms such as getting money out of politics, and fair taxation – a progressive tax based on citizens’ abilities to pay.

“Illinois’ ‘original sin’ is the flat tax, in our constitution,” he says. “We tax the middle class and the working poor more, and the richest Illinois residents – the beneficiaries of two generations of all the economic growth – aren’t being asked to pay their fair share. It’s unfair, unjust, and it keeps Illinois broke.

“Changing it is a long-term process, which is why it’s more critical [to start],” he continues. “A constitutional amendment is hard work, but it’s doable. We can’t wait. People want fair taxation [and] government should work for the people.”

Biss is anything but cranky, but he’s very independent. In 2011 he introduced House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 20, which would impose term limits of 10 years on the legislature’s leaders, a measure that would force Madigan out.

“It can be frustrating. There’s too much power in the Machine,” Biss says. “If Mike Madigan had had his way, I wouldn’t have been a State Representative.”

Others are glad he was, and is a Senator, and is now a candidate. State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria), a 10-year veteran of the Senate, this month endorsed Biss for governor. Biss appreciates such support and sees other progressive voices from Illinois, including U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly and Jan Schakowsky, and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth. But he’s mostly counting on everyday Illinoisans.

“People are ready to chip in,” he says. “People are demanding more, they’re hungry to be involved – they just want to be asked.”

That sentiment is echoed in his campaign slogan: “It’s about us,” which he summarizes as, “Decisions are being made about us, without us.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Climate worries business, military, too

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

In addition to common sense, science and the survival of the species, concerns about climate change are increasingly recognized by other sectors, notably business and the military.

The insurance industry is probably the most vulnerable to the financial consequences of climate change. Already, storms occur more often and with greater severity, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which adds that rising water alone will increase areas of higher risk for flooding by 45 percent by the year 2100, almost doubling the number of flood-prone properties.

The number of declarations of major disasters, meanwhile, has increased five-fold in the last 30 years, FEMA says, from a median (midpoint) of 103 annually in the last 30 years compared to a median of just 24 in the previous three decades. There were 103 last year, and 34 already through May 14.

Storms that hit the Midwest in March cost insurance companies about $1.7 billion, with Illinois alone costing insurers about $300 million between January and April, according to Aon Benfield, a reinsurance firm, and $225 million of that was between Feb. 28 and March 2 due to severe weather, the type that authorities say is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

Besides private insurers, the 45-year-old National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) helps cover losses, but disaster funding isn’t in the federal budget. Such relief is considering “emergency spending,” while preparedness is chronically underfunded. So the government spends billions afterward but little beforehand. The Government Accounting Office says the NFIP is about $24 billion in debt, which led to the Homeowner Floods Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, seeking to phase out subsidized flood insurance for more than a million people by raising premiums some 10 percent and encouraging elevating structures in flood-prone areas.

As the Oval Office Occupant continues to postpone action on U.S. involvement in the Paris climate agreement that the Obama administration signed, other, respected voices urge participation.

It would be unfortunate if the Trump administration chose to relinquish leadership on climate change, says Natalie Mahowald, a professor in Cornell University’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Not only is climate change and the movement to sustainable energies important for the environment, it also represents and huge new business opportunity,” Mahowald says. “Since the U.S. excels at technological innovation, and our business competitors in Europe and Asia are committed to converting to sustainable energy, trying to stall U.S. conversion to sustainable energies will adversely impact U.S. business.”

About 70 percent of U.S. citizens favor remaining in the Paris agreement, according to a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Further, Fortune 100 companies are voicing strong support for remaining in the Paris accord, wrote George Shultz and Ted Halstead last week in the New York Times.

“The breadth of this coalition is remarkable: industries from oil and gas to retail, mining, utilities, agriculture, chemicals, information and automotive,” they said. “This is as close as Big Business gets to a consensus position.”

Schultz was Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and Secretary of the Treasury under Richard Nixon, and Halstead is the president of the Climate Leadership Council.

“Our companies are best served by a stable and predictable international framework that commits all nations to climate-change mitigation,” they wrote. “The Paris agreement overcame one of the longest-standing hurdles to international climate negotiations: getting the developing world, including China and India, onboard. If America backs away now, decades of diplomatic progress could be jeopardized.”

The effects of climate change also pose a national security threat, according to some military leaders.

Speaking to an American Security Project conference at the University of Pittsburgh in February, Rear Admiral David Titley (USN) described three reasons why climate change must be on policymakers’ agenda: “It’s all about people, it’s not polar bears,” he said. “It’s about water – too much, too little, wrong place, wrong time. Finally, it’s about the change.”

Another military leader and the 34th President of the United States in remarks to U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1959 indicated the importance of public opinion.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was talking about peace, but the Republican and former Army General could just as easily have been addressing climate change and the need for politicians to actually represent constituents.

“I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments,” Ike said. “Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”

[PICTURED: Illustration from The Green Market Oracle.]b>

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mushrooms offer inspiration as well as tasty temptation

Bill Knight colm for 5-15, 16 or 17

After the Oval Office Occupant fired FBI Director James Comey last week, many Americans probably felt like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed a bunch of manure.

But that’s as unfair to mushrooms as the claim that the move had nothing to do with derailing an FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling with elections – especially this month.

No less an authority than The Forager Press has pronounced mushrooms – specifically the morel mushroom – “May’s wild food of the month,” noting, “The true morels – morchella esculenta, elata and semilibera – are not only some of the most delicious wild mushrooms in North America, but they are also some of the easiest to safely identify.

“They can be found for a few weeks each spring, fruiting just after the first spring flowers appear,” they add.

Well. Morels are tasty. (Of course, even corks might be delicious after dipping them in egg whites, covering them in cracker crumbs and sautéing them in butter.) However, “they can be found” is technically true but quite misleading, as anyone can attest who’s tramped through the woods fighting off sticker bushes only to end up with an empty, forlorn plastic bag from some grocery store and a tick crawling on an ankle.

Besides foragers who may mimic Euell Gibbons (“Stalk the Wild Asparagus” author and Grape-Nuts huckster), there also are scholarly musings, such as “Mushrooms and Macrofungi of Ohio and the Midwestern States,” a 166-page book published in 2013 by Ohio State University Extension. But in describing toxic as well as scrumptious mushrooms, the plant-pathologist authors might discourage mushroom afficiandos from foraging much past the produce section at a nice, clean and tick-free grocery store.

So I prefer a literary appreciation that these Fungal Friends have spawned (spored?).

Twenty years ago this month, I did a reading at a Spoon River Morel Mushroom Festival, where the material included the following pieces of ’shroom poetry. I concede that the audience was more tempted by edibles than audibles, more interested in free beer than free verse. Still, these excerpts are enjoyable, if not quite tasty:

“After rain, after weather,/ they emerge, flesh-colored/ and naked as throats:/ milky as the caps they’re/ named for. They loll,/ slouch-brimmed and sprawling/ upon their stalks,/ pale slips swelling upward/ almost visibly/ through the grainy loam.” – Robert Gibb

“These morels, smelling of wet graham crackers mixed with maple leaves;/ and, reaching down by the pale green fern shoots, I nipped their pulpy stems at the base/ and dropped them into a paper bag – a damp brown bag (their color) – and carried/ them (weighing absolutely nothing) down the hill and into the house; you held them/ under cold bubbling water and sliced them with a surgeon's stroke clean through,/ and sauteed them over a low flame, butter-brown; and we ate them then and there –/ tasting of the sweet damp woods and of the rain one inch above the meadow:/ It was like feasting upon air.”
– William Jay Smith

“Overnight, very/ whitely, discreetly,/ very quietly/ our toes, our noses/ take hold on the loam,/ acquire the air./ Nobody sees us,/ stops us, betrays us;/ the small grains make room.”
– Sylvia Plath

“Mushroom, soft ear, old memory,/ root come to tell the air:/ Bring the forest floor along/ the valley: Bring all that comes/ blue into passes, long shores/ around a lake, talk, talk, talk,/ miles then deep. Bring that story.” – William Stafford

“I am a mushroom/ on whom the dew of heaven drops now and then.” – John Ford

So: Celebrate; feast!

“O, the month of May, the merry month of May,/ so frolic, so gay, and so green, so green, so green!” – Thomas Dekker

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Oh-oh. No OT?

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

“Choice” can sound pleasant (“Soup or salad?”), but it isn’t, necessarily (“Nausea or diarrhea?”)

Likewise, lawmakers who think like lobbyists or marketing types use words like “offer,” “option” and “flexible” and expect regular people to get excited about Good Times to Come.

The Working Families Flexibility Act was approved by the GOP majority in the House of Representatives on May 2. It’s the newest version of an old Republican issue: forcing workers into accepting promises of time off at some point in the future instead of the overtime pay they earn now.

The 229-197 vote broke mostly by party, with no Democrats supporting it and just six Republicans opposing it. It’s now gone to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

“If [House Speaker Paul] Ryan and others are able to get this passed, it would mean that employers could choose to give working people time off instead of paying them the required ‘time and a half’ for overtime hours worked,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. “It’s ‘paid leave,’ sort of, but workers wouldn’t be making as much as they would if they just were paid the standard overtime rate.”

Supporters such as U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood (R-18th Dist.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-16th Dist.), who both voted for the measure, say the bill would help people better balance work and family. Oddly – obviously – companies can already do this, bargaining or unilaterally presenting family-leave policies, paid vacation comparable to Europe’s, and genuinely flexible scheduling that could benefit employer and worker alike. Further, the “flexibility” workers really need could be helped enormously with paid sick days, a better minimum wage, and pay equity between men and women workers.

Instead, the Working Families Flexibility Act would let workers accumulate up to 160 hours of comp time, but it provides no means to ensure the hours can be used at workers’ convenience.

The predictable consequences? Unpredictable schedules, longer hours, and one more way to pressure workers to “do more with less.”

This scheme would encourage bosses to demand excessive hours by making overtime work cheaper for them. It would let employers pay workers nothing for overtime work during the pay period when workers actually do the work. Then, the “flexibility” would let managers schedule comp time off at their convenience, not workers. Choosing between OT and time off is an illusion anyway.

Employers have the power to hire, fire, transfer and schedule workers they deem “uncooperative” if they insist on being paid for hours worked. (The nerve!) Supervisor pressures would make it unlikely comp time would be truly voluntary; management has the exclusive power to approve when comp time can be used under this measure.

And the temptation for employers would be colossal. Comp time would be a loan of labor that becomes an outright gift if unused.

In a letter to lawmakers, AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel said the comp time for overtime bill would hurt millions of workers by depriving them of pay they need. After all, people cannot buy food or fuel, pay rent or utilities with time off.

“The Working Families Flexibility Act (HR1180) would weaken overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), reduce take-home pay for millions of workers, and result in longer hours, more unpredictable schedules, and higher day care costs for working parents,” Samuel said.

“The FLSA established the 40-hour workweek to allow employees to spend more time away from work. The only incentive to uphold the 40-hour workweek is the requirement that employers pay a time-and-a-half cash premium for overtime. The FLSA discourages [firms] from demanding excessive hours by making overtime work more expensive.”

Even if somehow applied fairly, the GOP legislation “would reduce take-home pay for millions of workers who are compensated with time off rather than cash. These workers would no longer receive any supplementary income as a result of their overtime work.”

The bill is also a barely disguised attack on President Obama’s 2016 landmark modernization of the overtime rule, which sought to double the wage threshold for overtime pay, extending OT pay to millions of workers. A Texas judge blocked the rule, and it’s doubtful the Trump administration will appeal that decision.

The 40-hour week stems from FLSA, which for 79 years has guaranteed fair pay for overtime work, and besides discouraging companies from overworking employees, it encourges them to hire more workers to meet their staffing needs).

“Literally, this is a complete and total fraud. [It] doesn’t give any new rights to workers that they don’t have now,” said Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute. “But it does give new rights to employers.”

In reality, it could cause a storm that erodes the levee of labor rights protecting workers from outright exploitation, and the flood would be devastating.

[PICTURED: Graphic from SEIU Local 200 United.]

Thursday, May 11, 2017

20 Republicans show independence in DC, Illinois GOP toes the line

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., May 8, 9 or 10, 2017

There was righteous outrage Thursday when the U.S. House voted to take health care away from millions of Americans, but a side story was mostly overlooked: All 193 Democrats opposed it, unsurprisingly, but so did 20 Republicans. Good for them: Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Barbara Comstock (Va.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Dan Donovan (N.Y.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Will Hurd (Texas), Walter Jones (N.C.), David Joyce (Ohio), John Katko (N.Y.), Leonard Lance (N.J.), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Thomas Massie (Ky.), Patrick Meehan (Pa.), Dave Reichert (Wash.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Michael Turner (Ohio).

Meanwhile, in Springfield, a Democratic-backed measure to reform Illinois’ Workers Compensation system was approved by the House of Representatives on April 27, but a lack of GOP support seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that it has as much chance to get signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner as people facing a herd of black Angus cattle running at them.

That’s disappointing, but truly depressing is seeing some sensible Republicans heel to the cries of the state Chamber of Commerce and other powerful lobbies instead of seeing the effort as a positive step in addressing business costs.

Introduced by Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville), the reforms in HB 2525 include workers’ compensation insurance rate regulation by the Department of Insurance, providing employers with a compensation insurance rate reduction if they have a bona fide safety and return-to-work program and penalties on employers when they don’t authorize medical treatment for injured workers, and – most interesting – establishing a task force to possibly create a nonprofit workers’ comp insurance outfit to compete with insurers in providing coverage to employers.

The roots are traced to 2011, when workers comp reforms passed to include the National Council on Compensation Insurance recommendation to cut costs 30 percent over five years.

“This reduced medical-related costs, but these savings that insurance companies see have not been passed on to employers and instead have been used to pad the profits of big insurance companies,” says 2525 co-sponsor State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch of Westchester. “One of the concerns that I hear from businesses in my district and throughout the state is that workers' compensation insurance is too expensive. This legislation creates a process for rate review.”

Illinois doesn’t strongly regulate workers’ comp insurance premiums (like some states do), so insurers just pocketed the savings, advocates say.

If passed in the Senate and somehow overriding Rauner’s inevitable veto, 2525 also would require greater transparency for “self-insured” companies such as Deere & Co., Niemann Foods, and OSF Healthcare Systems to disclose actual financial losses they claim because of job-related injuries.

“This will result in a free market for workers’ compensation insurance,” said the Illinois AFL-CIO, “bringing prices down, saving employers money, and reinvesting that money back into Illinois and its workers.”

Also co-sponsored by Democratic State Reps. Katie Stuart of Collinsville and Elgie Sims Jr. of Chicago, 2525 would provide “that a rate is excessive if it is likely to produce a long-run profit that is unreasonably high for the insurance provided or if expenses are unreasonably high in relation to the services rendered,” its synopsis says.

Welch adds, “Any changes that are made to the workers' compensation system need to be done in a way to protect workers, which is why I believe this is the correct course of action. I will not support Gov. Rauner's proposed reforms that will make it harder for workers to get the assistance they need if they are injured on the job.”

The bill sought bipartisan support by addressing a long-time GOP complaint: liability for injuries not on the job by providing “that accidental injuries sustained while traveling to or from work do not arise out of and in the course of employment.”

That didn’t matter to the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the American Insurance Association and their ilk. They oppose the bill, so Republican lawmakers heard those lobbies’ voices and fell into line, accepting the illogical criticism that new competition would be “interference with open competition.”

So, likeable, intelligent and sometimes cooperative downstate Representative such as Tim Butler, Ryan Spain and Mike Unes went along with the herd, stampeded by Big Business.

And Rauner offers no more hope here than with the state budget or adequate funding of education.

“If the past is any indication, he is going to side with big corporations over hard-working Illinoisans,” Welch says. “Regardless of what the Governor decides to do with each piece of legislation that he is sent, I believe that legislators have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the people we serve and that is why I am proud to support this legislation.”

[PICTURED: David Horsey editorial cartoon from the Los Angeles Times.]

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Clinton lost Obama’s margins in Illinois, union homes

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

During 2016’s wild, wooly and weird presidential campaign, Donald Trump championed some issues organized labor cared about: preventing manufacturers from shipping jobs overseas, pledging $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, threatening stiff tariffs against importing countries, and vowing to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Some observers point to such promises as the reason some union households supported the real-estate billionaire and reality-TV host. But it’s looking less like Trump substantially did better than Republicans have usually done, than Hillary Clinton did poorly.

For example, in Illinois, Trump’s 2.1 million overall votes here wasn’t even as good a performance as George W. Bush’s 2.3 million in 2004 (during setbacks in the unpopular Iraq War). A more revealing comparison may be that Clinton’s 2.9 million Illinois votes last year were significantly less than Obama’s 3.3 million in 2008, a 12-percent drop.

Still, the conventional wisdom is that Trump did well with the union bloc, or with the working class, which made the difference. It’s an oft-repeated diagnosis.

“What if these prognoses have it wrong?” ask Jake Rosenfeld and Patrick Denice, sociologists at Washington University in St. Louis, who’ve analyzed 2016 exit-poll results from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University.

“Could it be that instead of Trump’s unique appeal to union household voters, the election results really suggest sagging enthusiasm among union households for the Democratic candidate?” they ask.

Last year, voters in union households supported the Democratic over the Republican candidate by only 8 points, exit polls indicate. In 2012, by contrast, the Democratic advantage among members of union households was 18 points.

“But there is another way of investigating the issue,” the St. Louis researchers say. “What if the shrunken Democratic vote advantage among union households in 2016 didn’t so much stem from Trump’s inroads among union household members, but from union households turning to outsider candidates over the Democratic Party choice? The 2016 election featured not one but two candidates unaffiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party: Jill Stein and Gary Johnson – the Green Party and Libertarian Party candidates.”

In that premise, the widely-cited 8-point difference in the union household vote may not reflect Trump’s singular success in winning over voters in union households, they say, but instead result from a lack of enthusiasm among union household voters for Clinton, as shown by the rise in the union household vote for those independent candidates. In Illinois, which has more than 900,000 union members, a lack of passion for Clinton could have affected choices or turnout, and results.

Nationally, Trump outdid Mitt Romney’s performance among union household voters – but by just 3 points. More significantly, between 2012 and 2016 the share of the union household vote going to the Democrat in the race shrank from 58 percent to 51 percent, with the share of union household members saying that they voted for neither the Democrat nor the Republican in the race tripling, from 2 percent to 6 percent.

“In fact, Trump performed pretty similarly to past Republican candidates among union households,” say Rosenfeld and Denice.

“The evidence thus far cautions against making too much of Trump’s success at wooing union households,” the researchers say. “What these results do suggest is the need for Democrats going forward to craft a message and groom candidates that might reverse waning enthusiasm among this core constituency. Every four years, approximately two out of every five union-household voters choose the Republican in the race, [so] 2016 was typical. What was atypical was the drop-off in union household support for the Democrat.”

Elsewhere, Clark University industrial-relations professor Gary Chaison asked unionists who voted for Trump, “Aside from somehow creating jobs for some members, what do you get in return? You can forget about having any labor law reform to make it easier to unionize, and you can kiss goodbye a $15 federal minimum wage.”

[PICTURED: Nate Beeler cartoon, from the Columbus Dispatch.]

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Like successful execs, tax reformers should stress character

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

As “tax reform” ideas drop on our heads like bird droppings, I’m reminded of my column from 18 months ago recommending Cubs exec Theo Epstein for Illinois governor. Now, it seems overdue for the administration to adopt his management philosophy for setting tax policy.

Epstein tackles situations (such as a 108-year World Series drought) by using data and stressing character, Tom Verducci reports in his new book, “The Cubs Way.” Explaining in the 375-page hardcover, Epstein says, “Maybe we can be better than anyone else with how we treat our players and how we connect with players.”

If taxpayers are players in Team America, we’re treated poorly and disconnected from the one-page tax-reform summary presented last week by Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin (who on Nov. 30 told CNBC, “there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class”). The plan would increase the standard deduction and let small-business owners pay at lowered corporate rate instead of the personal rate. But it would cut corporate taxes more than half, from 35 to 15 percent and slash taxes on stock holdings and more.

“The sweeping tax plan will make this rigged system even worse, with more massive tax giveaways and more loopholes for banks and billionaires,” says Tim Canova of Progress for All, a grassroots advocacy group resulting from his campaign as a progressive alternative to U.S. Rep. (and DNC chair) Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) “The rest of us will have to make up the difference.”

By cutting taxes to win favors from the 1% (potential campaign contributors), the administration would reduce resources to fund programs people want. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told the Washington Post the reform could pass if Congress is willing “to blow a hole in the federal budget and cut a whole lot of things like Meals on Wheels and [Great Lakes] restoration, and then lie about the growth rate of the economy."

Claiming revenue losses would be covered by consumer spending is an old idea suggested in 1974 by economist Arthur Laffer and discredited by conservative and progressive economists. Laffer said letting people keep more of their money sparks economic growth, but George Bush called that “voodoo economics,” and tax cuts in 1981, 2001 and 2003 were followed by huge budget problems.

The administration is reportedly willing to “raise revenue,” but it hasn’t explained how. The ways cold include raising taxes or user fees or go into more debt. Also unexplained are unspecified tax breaks promised to individuals, but the outline proposes dropping all current deductions except charitable donations and mortgage interest (which mostly benefit the prosperous). Also, some taxpayers could become “small businesses” and file at companies’ 15-percent rate instead of the 39.6-percent rate the rest of us pay.

Further, it’s an illusion that everyday Americans need lower taxes. The effective rate (after deductions) for the bottom 80 percent of U.S. households has fallen for decades. Unfortunately, the average income has fallen even farther. The country needs decent jobs, not a bigger divide between Haves and Have-nots.

“The decline in top effective rates has contributed substantially to rising inequality in recent decades,” says Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, citing economists across the political spectrum such as Thomas Piketty and others, writing in American Economic Journal.

Another unnecessary reform (appealing to the superrich) is eliminating the estate tax (dubbed the “death tax” by the GOP). Now, survivors can receive inheritances of up to $5.49 million tax-free. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, says about 2,7 million Americans will die this year, but just 5,200 of their estates will pay this tax – 2/10ths of 1 percent – contributing $19.7 billion to the Treasury.

Meanwhile, the administration says it intends to have “listening sessions” with stakeholders to get their input.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the popular Democratic Socialist, offers his input: “At a time when we have a rigged economy designed to benefit the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations, President Trump’s new tax plan would only make that system worse,” Sanders said. “He would slash taxes for himself and his billionaire friends and significantly increase the deficit, while doing little to help rebuild the collapsing middle class.”

If the administration seeks real reform, it should build on data that show Americans want everyone to pay their fair share, and on solid character in stakeholders at kitchen tables as well as on Capitol Hill.

That would truly help make America great again.