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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.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Lawmakers take positive step with modest tax hike

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July 20, 21 or 22

Like most folks, I’m not crazy about paying more taxes.

But I’m not crazy.

The tax increase that was part of the General Assembly this month stepping back from the financial cliff the state was facing is understandable and tolerable.

Overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto and enacting Illinois’ first budget in 736 days, the bipartisan vote on a package of measures cuts operational spending $5 billion, cuts state-agency funding 5 percent across the board, cuts spending on pensions by $1.5 billion this year and reforms pensions to include a Tier III hybrid plan blending defined benefit and defined contribution parts, and pays more than half of the state’s $15 billion in unpaid bills. Lawmakers also approved raising the income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent – a tax rate Rauner previously agreed to. (Incidentally, the $36.1 billion balanced budget is less than Rauner’s $37.3 billion plan suggested in February.)

Some describe the tax increase as a “32-percent hike,” which is technically accurate but misleading. Raising the income-tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent is a 32-percent difference using only a percentage difference. Using subtraction instead, it’s a 1.2 percentage point increase. (Who would see a discount moviehouse raising its $3 admission to $6 and consider that a “200-percent hike” without appreciating that it’d still be lower than most theaters’ $9 ticket?)

After all, Illinois’ flat-rate income tax is lower than nearby states, which have graduated income taxes, with higher incomes paying higher percentages. Again, Illinois’ new rate is 4.95; surrounding states’ top rates are 6 (Kentucky and Missouri), 6.61 (Indiana), 7.65 (Wisconsin) and 8.98 (Iowa).

The new tax is bearable. The median (midpoint) income in Illinois is $60,413, according to Census figures. Households earning $60,413 that used to pay 3.75 percent ($2,265.48) will now pay 4.95 percent ($2,990.44) – a difference of $724.96 (and exemptions would reduce that).

In other words, the difference for an individual taxpayer would be less than $2 a day.

The prolonged deadlock was never a give-and-take debate and compromise, but Rauner holding the state hostage for his “turnaround agenda” of unrelated issues built on the backs of regular people: weakening workers compensation, busting unions, betraying pension promises, setting term limits, freezing local property taxes for four years, eliminating some levels of local government, and reforming school funding.

Plus, lawmakers seeking compromise approved some workers comp reform, pension reform and possible consolidation of local governments, but not precisely what Rauner sought. A new school-funding formula passed, too, but Rauner’s pledged to veto it, so it’s languishing as he now holds kids hostage.

None of Rauner’s demands were more important to him than weakening unions like Republican Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, whether through making unreasonable contract ultimatums or taking union resources by limiting fair-share fees from workers who benefit from union representation but decline to become union members.

The billionaire hedge-fund manager’s first campaign stop in running for governor was in Decatur, where he proposed Right To Work legislation and praised Kentucky’s attempt to enact RTW schemes at local levels in an obvious partisan scheme to dilute Democratic-leaning support. His obsession with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees or other unions that mostly back Democrats neglects two points: Unions cannot donate funds to political campaigns from resources meant for bargaining and enforcing contracts, and corporations and the rich mostly back Republicans. So campaign-finance reform should therefore be the goal, not hamstringing one political party.

Further, Rauner’s long campaign to personalize the dispute as House Speaker Mike Madigan’s fault is just silly. Even former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, has said Madigan “is not the big problem. Even a somewhat incompetent governor has more power than Mike Madigan.”

Meanwhile, however, there’s no funding for schools just weeks before classes are supposed to start, despite an innovative Senate Bill 1 that passed both houses by providing “evidence-based” funding to districts. It’s as close as Illinois has gotten to repairing an unfair approach that short-changes areas with low property values. If Rauner doesn’t sign it (he’s conceded he agrees with 90 percent of the measure) – or if the legislature doesn’t again override his veto – schools face an unfunded future that surely within months will drain reserves that conscientious local school boards have built up over decades.

That’s not tolerable.

That’s just crazy.

[PICTURED: Chris Britt cartoon from Progress Illinois.]

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

‘Pet Sounds’ was – and is – an inspiration

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-17, 18 or 19

The Beatles’”Sgt. Pepper” all summer has received justifiable attention on its 50th anniversary, but the wonderful album didn’t spring full-blown from Lennon and McCartney’s heads. It owes a lot to Capitol Records labelmates the Beach Boys, especially their ground-breaking 1967 release, “Pet Sounds” – scheduled to be performed live by Brian Wilson in Illinois and Indiana this fall.

Also, a Beach Boys boxed set just came out: “1967 – Sunshine Tomorrow” with rarities from recording sessions that produced “Smiley Smile” and “Wild Honey” plus concerts featuring “Pet Sound” tunes such as “God Only Knows.”

Speaking of live Beach Boys, the group in various lineups has frequently played Illinois, from Chicago, Rosemont, Tinley Park, Hoffman Estates and Aurora to Rockford, Moline, Springfield, Macomb and Peoria. Wilson and his current band, including Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, are scheduled to perform “Pet Sounds” in South Bend and Florence, Ind., and Rosemont and Peoria, Ill.

“Pet Sounds” benefited immensely in 1964-65 after Brian Wilson was replaced on tour by Glen Campbell, then Bruce Johnston, letting Wilson stay in the studio to refine his creative process, which he mastered as a consummate composer/arranger. The album became a bold and original production, experimental and moody, yet uplifting and visionary.

Author and journalist David Wild, in the hour-long documentary directed by Martin R.Smith currently being cablecast on Showtime, ”The Beach Boys: The Making of ‘Pet Sounds’,” says the record was “where rock ‘n’ roll became a religious experience.”

Songs such as “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “Caroline No” and particularly “God Only Knows” bookend a superb collection of 13 tracks.

“Pet Sounds” inspired John Lennon and especially Paul McCartney and was a catalyst for “Sgt. Pepper.

Johnston in the film says after the LP was finished “I took two copies of ‘Pet Sounds’ with me [to England]. Our publicist set up about 25 interviews for me.” Then Lennon and McCartney went to his hotel to hear the record.

“I played them the album and they heard it two times and they were just delightful,” he added.

Wilson and the Beach Boys had started to move away from their successful formula of songs about surfing, hot rods and young love starting in 1965 with “Beach Boys Today,” followed that year by “Summer Days (and Summer Nights!)” – featuring the popular “Help Me Rhonda” and “California Girls” – and then the acoustic “Beach Boys Party!” with mostly cover songs. “Pet Sounds” came next, taking six months to finish and released a year before “Sgt. Pepper.”

The Beatles were evolving, too, releasing the more-challenging “Rubber Soul” (1965), “Yesterday and Today” (1966), and “Revolver” (also 1966) immediately before “Sgt. Pepper.”

“Pet Sound’s” melodies and arrangements, structure and chords, harmonies and performances, instrumentation and lyrics (by Tony Asher on 8 of 11 tracks; 2 are instrumentals ) remain breathtaking.

“If you can pop all of those together in one album, I figure you’ve got it,” McCartney said in a 1990 interview with David Leaf. “It may be going overboard to say it’s the classic of this [20th] century, but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways.”

McCartney conceded that “it was ‘Pet Sounds’ that blew me out of the water. I’ve often played ‘Pet Sounds’ and cried. It’s that kind of an album for me.

“ ‘God Only Knows’ lyrics are great,” McCartney continued. “Those do it to me every time. Very emotional. Always a bit of a choker for me. It’s a really, really great song. [In my] top 10 favorite songs [it’s] at the top of my list.

“If records had a director within a band, I sort of directed ‘Pepper’,” McCartney added. “And my influence was basically the ‘Pet Sounds’ album.”

Wild reminisced about “Pet Sound’s” impact.

“A half a century [later] – this is how good this can be,” he said.

[PICTURED: Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson in 2002 teamed up for a live duet of "God Only Knows" during a Los Angeles fund raiser for McCartney's Adopt-A-Minefield charity. Photo from "Beatlebomb," c/o geocities.ws.]

Sunday, July 16, 2017

122 nations try to present ‘the gift of time’

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July 13, 14 or 15

Talk turned inevitably to shared memories and current events when the high-school reunion started last Friday, the day the United Nations adopted a global treaty banning nuclear weapons. Old friends discussed how rain these days seemed to be either thunderstorms or severe thunderstorms, unlike the years of our youth. Conversation bounced between the state budget, baseball, corn crops and Japanese beetles – another invasive species our childhoods were spared.

Will our own children and grandchildren be spared the threat of nuclear holocaust, some innocent and angry questions asked. Have we explained our experiences practicing “duck and cover” drills to prepare to be annihilated in an orderly fashion? Or having fallout shelters sold like the new-model cars on lots? Or 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis, when some high school freshmen thought, “Why study for Latin class when it’s a coin toss that we may not be here Monday?”

Last week, despite (or due to) dangers on the Korean peninsula, in the Mideast, and with Russia and various “proxy wars,” 122 nations voted to ban nuclear weapons. Only the Netherlands opposed it, and Singapore abstained. Together, they started the process to offer to the future “The Gift of Time,” as journalist/activist Jonathan Schell described the abolition of nuclear weapons in his 1998 book.

It’s the first time in history that a majority of countries approved such a pact, an unprecedented move, except perhaps for the Paris Accords on climate change.

Why? Nuclear weapons threaten all life, from people to animals to plants to Earth itself. And humanity needs a plan. As Gen. (ret.) Lee Butler, former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, has said, we can’t take much credit for our survival in the atomic age. Nuclear apocalypse has only been avoided, Butler’s said, by a combination of skill, luck and Divine intervention.

The last few weeks of negotiations followed meetings in Austria, Mexico and Norway, spurred by the International Red Cross and non-governmental organizations working for five years and building on grassroots concerns perhaps best exemplified by a million protestors gathering in New York City to demonstrate against nuclear arms during a 1982 UN session on disarmament.

Unfortunately, nine nuclear-armed nations didn’t participate: China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States (and China, France, Russia, the UK and the US are permanent members of the UN’s Security Council, and the United States and Russia have about 90 percent of all nuclear weapons.) Interestingly, earlier test votes on drafts had China, India and Pakistan abstaining (and North Korea agreeing!)

“The historic shift powering the negotiations is that states without nuclear weapons are taking leadership to achieve a global public good on the basis of international humanitarian, human rights and environmental law,” said Marie Dennis and Jonathan Frerichs of Pax Christi and the World Council of Churches. “The permanent members of the Security Council still cling to Cold War plans that require an unshakeable commitment to ‘mutually assured’ nuclear destruction and to a nuclear ‘balance of terror.’

“Instead of meeting their United Nations Charter obligations, instead of negotiating nuclear disarmament in good faith as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, instead of outlawing the ultimate instrument of indiscriminate violence in an era of indiscriminate violence, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are boycotting the deliberations and even belittling their purpose.”

Still, the treaty may offer cover to reluctant policymakers, or leverage to pressure governments to plan to cooperate instead of to obliterate.

“By delegitimizing nuclear weapons and raising awareness of the terrifying dangers that come from continued reliance on them, the nuclear ban makes a valuable contribution to nonproliferation and disarmament efforts,” commented Meredith Horowski with the anti-nuclear weapons group Global Zero. “There are many more steps to come in order to secure a world without nuclear weapons, but the world took a step in the right direction.”

After all, global cooperation is possible, seen in pacts providing for no-questions-asked help for distressed vessels in international waters, and assistance for emergencies or disasters, whether tsunamis or orbiting spacecraft. Such common sense has even occurred in Congress, where this year bills were introduced by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) prohibiting a first-use nuclear strike.

As the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has said, “Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.”

That could lead to future reunions where talk drifts to how strange it was when nuclear weapons seemed as common as the pestilence of leaf-devouring beetles.

[PICTURED: Photo from The Nation magazine, Nov. 1, 2016.]

Thursday, July 13, 2017

‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy’ - or at least worth doing

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-10, 11 or 12

Summer isn’t what it used to be, despite George Gershwin and his lyrics about catfish jumpin’ and cotton being high.

There’s “school summer” and “real summer” – which for most adults means work, only hot.

As a kid, I worked various jobs, shoveling walks, delivering newspapers, mowing lawns and bagging groceries, and in college worked as a cafeteria “beverage boy” and dorm front-desk clerk. That all offered me independence of a sort for spending money on baseball cards, comics and pricy musical instruments, and for saving for college, where money would be scarce.

Summertime steadily became a transition from school breaks to summer jobs to help pay for school, to practice being grown up. Seasons change, but after high school, apprenticeships or vocational training, community college or university, summer seasons profoundly transform to be not much different than April or October, except for temperatures.

Summer jobs got us used to separating “work” and “play” into shifts. We’d work eight hours, and then maybe play eight hours (or more) and sleep eights hours (or less). That was unlike childhoods of working a while, playing some and napping whenever.

Some summer jobs led to new skills; others seemed irrelevant to our dreams, hoped-for adventures or even college majors. However, manual labor or working in offices or eateries offered perspectives no classrooms gave, points of view valuing the trades, the liberal arts, and life. I came to appreciate work.

Republican progressive Teddy Roosevelt in 1903 said. “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

At their best, summer jobs presented significant steps toward adulthood, if not immediate maturity.

From a summer before I turned 16 – when I had Drivers Ed most mornings, and mowed lawns or played baseball or golf afterward – I moved the next summer to working as a farm hand, driving a tractor, picking corn or weeds out of bean fields, doing chores and getting paid for a 40-hour work-week.

Then I spent two summers working construction, toting shingles, banging a hammer and narrowly avoiding being beheaded by a concrete truck’s chute on a patio project. That was followed by summer work on a rural electric company’s crew clearing the right of way beneath lines on country roads, and eating out of a lunch bucket in the shade or in the truck cab in bad weather. Before I finished my degree, I had a last summer juggling summer classes with a steamy stint washing dishes in a cavernous campus kitchen.

Later working full-time, the temptation to re-live carefree summers led me to taking a week off to hitchhike to New Haven for protests about a Black Panther trial, squeezing a few hours to drive to Davenport to check out Father James Grubb and his butterfly robes at St. Anthony’s folk Mass, and going to Ann Arbor for a blues and jazz festival with others in the “collective” or commune or whatever we called it when work and play once more blended together. (But that’s a story for another time.)

Even now, in semi-retirement, I most enjoy combining “work” and “play” like I did riding my bike back from spending lawn-mowing money at the local Rexall drug story, chewing baseball-card bubble gum and wondering if Superman could beat the Flash in a race.

Maybe Gershwin in the number from his classic opera “Porgy & Bess” really had something for kids working summers. Its lyrics also offer, “One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing and you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky…”

[PICTURED: Illustration from gurl.com.]

Friday, July 7, 2017

Unions offer balance to conservatives, progressives

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, July 6, 7 or 8

Conservatives occasionally concede that organized labor has been a reason for rising standards of living and making the middle class, and The Atlantic magazine shows that unions provide common ground for progressives and conservatives alike.

Historically, conservative pundits and politicians have praised unions. Columnist George Will in 1977 said, “I think American labor unions get a large share of the credit for making us a middle-class country.”

In 1991, Republican economist George Schultz (Secretary of Labor under Richard Nixon and Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan) said a “healthy workplace [needs] some system of checks and balances” and unions provided an effective “system of industrial jurisprudence,” a check on corporations’ focus on profits.

In The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch recalls a 2016 brunch with conservative Eli Lehrer, who runs Washington’s Republican-leaning R Street Institute, and Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union.

“Lehrer believes the time has come for the American Right to reconsider its decades-long war on unions,” Rauch says. “Their collapse, he says, has fueled the growth of government and of the welfare state, which has stepped in to regulate workplaces and provide job security as unions have died out.

“Stern thinks unions cannot survive unless they innovate and change, but laws intended to protect and preserve them get in the way,” Rauch adds.

The journal National Affairs this summer published Lehrer and Stern’s essay about the need for change. In “How to Modernize Labor Law,” the two write, “The fundamental federal rules governing employer-worker relations were written for a different era.“

That era was the Great Depression. It resulted in 1935’s National Labor Relations Act, but it hasn’t substantially changed except for court rulings and sometimes-partisan National Labor Relations Board decisions since 1947’s anti-union Taft-Hartley Act.

Meanwhile, regular working people are worried about pay but also anxious, if not angry, about how they’re treated. Last year’s campaign showed that many workers feel voiceless and powerless, that unhappy workers are angry voters, and that angry voters can lash out against trade, immigration, and even democracy.

“Private-sector unions are close to extinct,” Rauch writes. “In the 1950s, more than one in three private-sector workers belonged to a union; today, unionization is down to 6 percent of the private-sector workforce, lower than it was a century ago – before the modern labor movement took off.

“The decline of unions is one of the country’s most pressing problems – and at least as much a social and political problem as an economic one,” he continues. “Old-style, mid-20th-century industrial unions had their flaws. But when unions work as they should, they serve important social functions. They can smooth the jagged edges of globalization by giving workers bargaining power. They are associated with lower income inequality. Perhaps most important, they offer workers a way to be heard.”

Other models exist for workers organizing, from Europe’s “works councils,” which give workers a voice in company affairs, to Germany’s permitting unions to organize sectors rather than employers, offering incentives to workers and companies to cooperate for better competitiveness.

“Unfortunately, in America in 2017, we don’t know how a truly modern union would look,” writes Rauch, “because it is mostly illegal to find out.”

Efforts to legislate reforms have fizzled (most recently, during President Obama’s first term, when Democrats had more power), and the GOP-dominated Capitol makes change doubtful. But Stern and Lehrer suggest a “workaround” like giving states authority to grant labor-law waivers permitting experimentation. For example, if employers and unions had an interesting model that met certain guidelines, they could try it.

“The Stern-Lehrer waiver idea is a no-brainer if we want to address the deeper causes of the malaise and distemper afflicting America’s lower-middle class,” Rauch writes. “Although income stagnation is certainly one culprit, another is the decline of the civic organizations and social institutions that help people feel connected. Service fraternities, volunteer clubs, youth groups, churches, political parties, widespread military service, unions and the rest in their prime all fostered social interaction … a sense of social cohesion even when times were much tougher. None matters more than unions.”

GOP President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s seem to know this, but also saw the relationship as unchanging.

“Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice,” Ike said. “I have no use for those – regardless of their political party – who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when organized labor was huddled, almost as a hapless mass. Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.”

[PICTURED: Illustration from ctdevilsadvocate.com.]

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rural areas hit hard by administration proposals

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 7-3, 4 or 5

Acreage isn’t people, so election maps showing Trump’s support in rural areas might be misleading.

PEOPLE cast ballots, wherever they live, not farm fields or timber, and Trump got substantial rural support. But since Inauguration, that may have dropped due to administration actions that are starting to trouble rural Americans.

Trump’s vote tallies from rural areas show how we’re being betrayed.

The geographic perspective isn’t criticism, a complaint about “open spaces/closed minds.” Voters presumably had reasons to vote for Trump (or against Clinton). However, it’s increasingly obvious and outrageous that rural America may have to bear the brunt of burdens imposed by the administration in health care and budget proposals.

In Illinois, Trump won most counties outside Chicagoland. He defeated Clinton in these counties (by these percentages): Fulton (54.3-39.2), Henderson (61.9-33.1), Henry (57.6-36.5), Livingston (67.5-26.5), McDonough (52.6-40.9), Mercer (57.0-36.4), Tazewell (61.0-32.5), Warren (55.4-38.7), and Woodford (68.0-26.1). Elsewhere downstate, Clinton won five counties: Champaign, Jackson, Peoria, Rock Island and St. Clair.

But more than five months after ballots were counted, the administration’s budget ideas show that rural residents don’t matter.

“I have worked in rural housing since 1973,” said Moises Loza of the Housing Assistance Council, “and I have never seen a budget proposal that is indifferent to the needs of the most vulnerable rural people. Until now.”

The budget would cut assistance to rural businesses, water systems and renewable-energy endeavors, from the Rural Housing Service to the Rural Business Cooperative Service and the Rural Utility Service, plus farm programs such as crop insurance, support payments, and soil, waterways and wildlife protections.

Trump’s budget is “an assault on the programs and personnel that provide vital services” to “America’s family farmers, rural residents and consumers,” commented National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson.

Concerning health care, most Americans still don’t realize that Medicaid is threatened with huge cuts jeopardizing seniors, disabled neighbors who live independently or in nursing homes with Medicaid’s help, and low-income citizens. That profoundly hurts rural areas (which have higher poverty rates for adults and kids than urban areas). The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation in late June found that 74 percent have a favorable opinion of Medicaid but just 38 percent know about looming cuts.

Trump, who campaigned to “save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts,” is now OK with Capitol Hill doing the opposite. The House’s health-care reform would make big cuts and structural changes to Medicaid, a 52-year-old program that helps about 75 million Americans. The Senate’s plan is worse, set up to eventually eliminate Medicaid.

Instead, Medicaid funds essentially would be transferred to pay for billions in tax breaks for corporations and the super-rich.

“Those of us who live in small towns and rural communities have the most to lose,” commented LeeAnn Hall from the Health Care for America Now advocacy group. “Even if you don’t use Medicaid, taking it away from 14 million people, as this bill will do, is going to devastate small communities, where Medicaid is a lifeline for rural health facilities and a source of good jobs. Rationing it will throw rural hospitals and nursing homes into a financial tailspin.”

Sixty-five percent of voters specifically disapprove government decreasing federal funding of Medicaid, according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted last month. Also, 62 percent of voters – every age, race, gender and level of education – also generally disapprove of the health-care plan, and Republicans barely approve – 42 for, 25 against and 33 undecided.

In cuts made through “Wealthcare” maneuvers or budget demands, such reductions led National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan to call them “a fatal blow to the rural health care safety net.”

[PICTURED: Chan Lowe cartoon from heron.org.]

Sunday, July 2, 2017

We’re a bit complicit in inequality, trade deficit

Bill Knight column for Thursday, Friday or Saturday, June 29, 30 or July 1

The New York state government’s recent agreement to require using U.S.-made iron and steel for roads and bridges next year is good news, promising to help steelworkers, employers, communities and middle- and working-class residents.

But is it too little, too late? Is it too far removed from the real problem: us?

The arrangement reached between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers promises to buy from U.S. steel plants; the state budget calls for spending $677 million on highways, $564 million to rebuild expressways around Kennedy Airport and $264 million toward replacing the Koszciusko Bridge.

Although that’s a positive action, it’s one state, and it doesn’t affect other sectors – nor consumer choices on where and what we buy.

The American Dream is that anyone can prosper if they work hard, but many people don’t have the same opportunities if they’re born into poverty or are in the working class. Further, middle-class consumers in particular contribute to economic inequality because of their expectations, if not demands, for considerations provided by government, according to the new book “Dream Hoarders” by Richard Reeves, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families.

It’s not about middle-class greed or malice, but privileges – college savings plans (in Illinois, such contributions are tax-deductible), mortgage-interest deductions, zoning regulations that result in who can afford to live in certain areas, and internships that offer opportunity but are essentially limited to the well-off since most internships are unpaid.

Consumers of all classes, from the poor to the 1%, also make up a factor, as do manufacturers and the government that regulates commerce. A Commerce Department report out this spring – “What is Made in America?” by Jessica Nicholson – analyzes “how much of our economy’s total manufacturing production is American-made.” And despite moves like New York’s and campaigns to “shop local,” small-town business districts offer few locally owned places to shop while consumers patronize dollar-store chains or commute miles to shop at Big Box stores that use imports from countries paying virtual slave wages. Even major retailers such as Sears/Kmart, Macy’s and J.C. Penney are hurting, closing stores and laying off thousands.

Only 53 percent of the total U.S. demand for manufactured goods was for domestically produced items, Nicholson shows.

The report doesn’t precisely define “Made in the USA.” Instead, its more accurate study shows the share of “American” products after using factors such as domestic material or value-added domestic features. She starts with U.S. gross output, adds “value added” inputs such as labor costs and taxes paid (less subsidies), recognizes domestic sourcing of supplies, and determines U.S. manufacturers’ “domestic content.” She concludes that domestic content from the most recent year for which data is available (2015) is more than four-fifths across the board, with 18 percent foreign content.

“We found that, on average, of the total manufacturing gross output of $5.7 trillion, 82 percent was comprised of domestic content,” she writes. “However, while a large percentage of the value of goods that are made in America is from domestic sources, this does not necessarily imply that the domestic content of the goods that we purchase from our store shelves is also high.

“Final purchases by U.S. consumers, businesses, and governments of manufactured goods was [about half,] $2.9 trillion – including goods manufactured here and imported,” she says.

That indicates the need for more exporting and more supportive shopping.

A comparison of cars and clothes reveals nuances we might consider.

“Consider the motor vehicle and parts industry,” the report states. “While 82 percent of the gross output of the industry is accounted for by labor, capital and other inputs sourced in the United States, a relatively large portion of these other inputs contain content that was imported. As a result, the domestic content of this industry is 73 percent, significantly lower than the simpler estimate of domestic sourcing.

“Output from the U.S. apparel industry was [also], on average, 82 percent American,” she adds. “However, only 16 percent of the apparel that was sold as final products in the United States that year was American in origin. The domestic content of what we produce and what we purchase in the United States is not the same.”

Whether income inequality or the nation’s trade deficit, it’s partly our fault. Indeed, sensible shopping and sensible trade (exporting) are part of the calculation over which we all have some control.

Reeves urges conscientious consumption as well as pressure on industry and government policymakers.

“It's about trying to change the way we think about inequality and taking more responsibility for it in the hope that will prepare the ground for the bigger policy changes which are going to be required,” Reeves writes.

[PICTURED: Chart from the Office of the Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce.]

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Defeat secret health-care bill, save money with Medicare for All

Bill Knight column for Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, 6-26, 27 or 28

The law’s on the line.

Political divisiveness erupting after wacky court rulings, on social media, and even shootings at ballfields, churches and clinics can vanish before a common threat – like grassroots opposition to current health-care reforms. Most of the country agrees that today’s health-care bills jeopardizing one-sixth of the U.S. economy should be defeated, and if a few Republican Senators vote on behalf of the people, it could lead to Medicare For All – a better, cheaper way.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a 142-page draft of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” and the chamber may vote this week, before lawmakers leave for their July 4th recess. The draft comes from GOP-only, closed-door sessions by a 13-member “working group” (all men) including Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Kentucky), who reportedly think its cuts don’t go far enough. Other Republicans, such as Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy and Maine’s Susan Collins, worry how people will suffer. And last week, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “None of us have actually seen the language. If we had utilized the process that goes through a committee, I would be able to answer constituents’ questions.”

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) in 2009 had 46 days of public debate in open committee hearings and the full Senate starting that June before it passed on Christmas Eve. Limiting discussion (and chances for Americans to learn and respond), McConnell refused requests to confer on the proposal, and the draft had little input from experts, relying more on aides and lobbyists. Why the secrecy? With publicity, public pressure can mount, and the GOP has 52 Senators, so if three oppose it, it loses.

More than 100 patient and public-health groups – from AARP and the March of Dimes to the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Associaton – have written to the GOP to object to the process and product. A joint statement about the measure from the American Public Health Association, Prevention Institute, Public Health Institute, and Trust for America's Health, for example, said, “The pain will be felt in every state, every congressional district, and every neighborhood, and those who are most vulnerable will suffer the most.”

The bill provides for deep cuts to Medicaid and eliminates most taxes on the rich that financed expanded coverage. It relaxes insurers’ regulations and let states waive requirements such as providing coverage for pre-existing conditions.

“In broad strokes, the Senate bill is just like the House,” said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, “ – big tax cuts, big cut in federal health spending, big increase in the uninsured.”

The AFL-CIO, which dubbed the draft “wealthcare reform,” added that the measure “would kick seniors out of nursing homes to give tax breaks to corporate CEOs and the wealthiest 1%. It would throw millions off health insurance by cutting Medicaid deeply to give massive tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest 1%. The health care of millions of Americans – from military veterans to young children, from the elderly to working families, children with special needs and half of all childbirths – hangs in the balance.”

No state has a majority of residents supporting such reforms, according to national polls. (In Illinois, Kaiser reports, 25 percent support but 55 percent oppose the House version.) Such opposition is historically huge, according to the Roper Center – more so than Obamacare, 2008’s bank bailout, 2006’s ban on gay marriage or even Clinton’s 1993 Health Care Plan.

Support is less than one-third in states with swing-vote Senators, such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) – where Medicaid was expanded to cover more elderly and poor residents – haven’t endorsed the draft.

The main problem isn’t care, it’s the marketplace, reflected in costs and colossal insurance profits. That leads to reconsidering Medicare For All, which isn’t just a socially responsible idea but a financially sound approach. England’s National Health Service (NHS) covers everyone (54.3 million people there) for 122.6 billion pounds, or $154.67 billion. The United States has almost six times as many people, so that would mean an NHS system here would cost $928 billion.

Compare that to mandatory and discretionary expenditures for Medicare and Medicaid ($970.8 billion total) plus the Veterans Health Administration ($64.9 billion), totaling $1 trillion.

We could have Medicare For All for $72 billion LESS than that – for a less-complicated, more-inclusive system favoring patients, not insurers – and save billions more in private health-care spending).

The Senate should defeat McConnell’s Folly and cover 100 percent of the nation for less money.

Besides the fiscal logic, lives are on the line.

[PICTURED: Graphic from #ResistanceRecess.]