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.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fighting the Right for our rights

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Oct. 20, 21 or 22

This election, the two dominant political parties’ behavior is reminiscent of two classic quotes. Humorist Will Rogers in 1935 wrote, “I am not a member of any organized party – I am a Democrat.” And mainstream Republicans attacked by Right-wing extremists might think of the 1980 movie “Elephant Man,” in which the title character cries, “I am not an animal! I am a human being!”

Americans are focused on pocketbook issues, yet decades of attacks on labor, the declining value of wages compared to the cost of living, and the worst “do-nothing” Congress in history all make reform difficult. Instead, some Republicans now impede voting itself as well as legislation.

An Associated Press/GfK poll out this month found that 90 percent of us think the economy is either “very important” or “extremely important.” Despite the GOP’s blocking most proposals from President Obama, there’s been somewhat of an economic recovery, but regular folks haven’t benefited from years of a booming stock market and corporate profits. By itself, the “market” fails us.

“The Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at a 4.6 percent annual rate in the second quarter of the year,” wrote former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “So what? The median household’s income continues to drop. Consumers don’t have enough money to buy. We’re in the first economic upturn on record in which 90 percent of Americans have become worse off.”

The campaign leading up to Nov. 4 has underscored that – rather than strengthening the middle class – the GOP has boosted the fortunes of the 1% who contribute to their campaigns and to engage in questionable actions such as voting suppression in order to hang on to power. Too many Democrats also seem more worried about re-election than effectively confronting obstructionism.

In Illinois, the GOP has launched a $1 million campaign that assigns 5,000 election “observers” to polling places. Supposedly guarding against voter fraud by targeting ineligible voters, the operation is actually voter intimidation, Democrats say.

“We don’t interpret these efforts as anything other than voter suppression,” commented Rikeesha Phelon, an Illinois spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association.

Illinois voters aren’t required to show photo identification, but the GOP says it’s checking obituaries, comparing utility shut-off notices and vacant or commercial properties with voter-registration records, which can target the poor as well as people who inadvertently err in updating changes of address.

“The GOP is working desperately to deny the right to vote to citizens it doesn’t like,” said Leo Gerard, President of the United Steelworkers, “ – you know, poor people, black people, Hispanic people, old people, female people, especially people it believes are inclined to vote for Democrats.

“When their hands are pressed on a Bible in court, Republican experts admit they’ve got no evidence of in-person voter fraud,” Gerard continued. “Voter fraud is unacceptable. But so is disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of citizens.”

Elsewhere, extremist GOP candidates have become common, from multi-millionaire Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor and obstructionist Mitch McConnell seeking his sixth six-year term as U.S. Senator from Kentucky, to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Tea Partiers such as Georgia’s Jody Hice. Rauner opposes collective bargaining for some workers, advocates cutting public-employee pensions guaranteed by the constitution, and has led corporations like H-Cube and the Polymer Group in sending jobs overseas.

Brownback instituted “trickle-down” economic policies, promising, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” But its job growth now trails the nation, its budget is being drained, and revenue is coming in much lower than even the worst forecasts predicted. Kansas’ financial condition is so bad now that both Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating. (Standard & Poor’s also reported last month that as income inequality grows, state tax revenues decline.)

GOP Congressional front-runner Hice, a Baptist pastor, seems to endorse armed insurrection against the government he wants to join, commenting, “The Second Amendment, ultimately, [is] not about hunting and fishing and that type of thing. It is about our ability as individuals to defend ourselves.” (He also wrote that the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty doesn’t include Islam.)

There are choices, and the ballot box will present opportunities to resist extremist positions. (It would be nice to have more Libertarian and Green Party options, but Democrats and Republicans block their access whenever possible.)

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stigitz, author of “The Price of Inequality,” says, “The Right wing is condemning communities to death. Their answer is the market will take care of it. Well, we’ve been watching, and it hasn’t happened.”

[PICTURED: David Horsey editorial cartoon from]

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