WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Bill Knight

Local Commentator

Ways to Connect

A couple of weeks ago a couple of harbingers of Spring came and went, and each acknowledges how we depend on sunshine.

One was Daylight Savings Time, letting us think about spring and more sunlight, and the other was “Sunshine Week,” a time to promote and praise transparency in government: open government.

Effective representative government depends on transparency through open meetings, open records and public notices. If any of those three is absent, government collapses into secrecy and darkness.

Most Illinois House members recently backed a measure to limit the salary on which public employees’ retirement benefits could be based. One of a few proposals to address the state’s $96 billion pension shortfall, it was seen as a test vote as lawmakers grapple with some way to make good on years of the legislature failing to make its payments.

Labor income “has been declining as a share of total income earned in the United States for the past three decades,” according to a new analysis on income inequality from an unlikely supporter of economic justice: the Federal Reserve, which adds, “The capital share, by stark contrast, has been increasing.

Even if lawmakers may not always realize the consequences for rural areas if Emergency Medical Services troubles aren’t addressed, operations fold, and rural residents have to rely on help from bigger cities, State Rep. Don Moffitt appreciates how everyday people get it.

Rich Egger

(Editor’s note: due to a technical glitch with this week’s recording, we are presenting an encore presentation of an earlier commentary by Bill Knight)

The recent release of a government report regarding the numbers and percentages of U.S. employees belonging to unions or working where unions represent them made headlines but most newscasts or stories lacked context. It’s an occasion for a statistical “status report.”

The percentage of the U.S. labor force belonging to unions fell 0.5% from 2011 to 2012, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The drop went from 11.8% to 11.3% – from 14.8 million to 14.4 million Americans.

On this Valentine’s Day – still celebrated in some churches as a Feast day – it might be instructive, or reflective, to tie romantic love to brotherly love. In public affairs, that’s difficult.

Ninety-two years ago this week, the author of “The Feminine Mystique” and cofounder of the National Organization for Women, Betty Friedan, was born in Peoria. Decades later, working women are more financially vital than ever to families, but they continue to struggle at inferior wages, and single moms are especially hard hit, according to two recent studies.

U.S. households increasingly depend on wives’ income – at the highest level of reliance in years, according to research from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

When the movie “Promised Land” came out this month, one was tempted to repeat the tagline from 1972’s horror flick “The Last House on the Left”: “It’s only a movie... It’s only a movie...”

But … it’s worse. People on both sides of the fracking debate cringe at “Promised Land,” the Matt Damon drama about fracking advocates trying to get a depressed rural area to sign over drilling rights. Fracking supporters say the film’s unfair; fracking opponents say it doesn’t go far enough.

The Servant Economy

Jan 23, 2013

When President Obama delivers his 2013 State of the Union address, remember a comment he made at last year’s State of the Union speech: "Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you: America will always win.”

Illinois has one of the strongest laws in the country with its Wage Payment and Collection Act, which helps workers recover pay withheld from them in so-called wage theft cases and discourages employers from breaking the law. The wage-theft law lets current or former employees file claims against employers for disputes ranging from a last paycheck, earned bonuses or commissions to illegal deductions or lack of compensation for required work.

Most working people routinely tip servers at sit-down restaurants, but after considering a recent list of the dozen U.S. companies that pay employees the least, consumers may want to start tipping fast-food workers and clerks at familiar department stores, too.

Maturity and Gun Laws

Jan 2, 2013

A New Year’s letter to my son –

Dear Russell:

When I started writing these annual notes to you in 1994, I imagined your maturing into a young man, but I never imagined a lost opportunity to mature, like at Newtown, Conn. I can’t imagine if you’d had to grow up without your pals from sports or Scouts, without Matt, Cole, Joe, Dax, Nate, Nick …

Illinois’ pension-reform issue seemed to make some progress this month, but labor and legislators still question the latest, bipartisan proposal addressing the state’s $95 billion pension problem, and as of press time the state’s We Are One coalition still plans a rally at the Illinois Statehouse on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 3-4.

Eighteen lawmakers appeared with HB 6258 Democratic co-sponsors Elaine Nekritz of Des Plaines and Daniel Biss of Skokie at the measure’s introduction Dec. 5.

All the yakking about a fiscal cliff seems to fall somewhere between mistaken Mayan prophecies about Doomsday and hypersonic skydiving from space.

The lame-duck 112th Congress – hamstrung by Tea Party Republicans in the House and filibuster-happy Republicans in the Senate – is proposing to Democratic President Barack Obama that Social Security, Medicare and other social services be cut. Meanwhile, the Economic Policy Institute has released a report with a solution: Cut the deficit by growing the economy.

Congressman Aaron Schock shouldn’t have it both ways. The two-term Republican from Illinois’ 18th District has been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate for governor in 2014, and after last month’s election losses, the 31 year old has been quoted as saying his party should move toward the middle of the road.

Although Schock was easily re-elected, his opponent was neither well-funded nor strong, and within Schock’s district, 8 of 10 counties between Peoria and the Quad Cities voted for President Obama.

Illinois’ friends of labor must be feeling a double-whammy double-cross , as Gov. Pat Quinn last month terminated the state’s contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and House Speaker Mike Madigan revived his dormant resolution to limit raises to people who work for the state.

The best route from a slow recovery to a stable economy is one where employers and workers are partners in a cooperative venture to prosper, and instead of standing in the way of employees who seek the middle class by organizing unions, the nation’s biggest umbrella organization for business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, should encourage workers to have a stake in their companies.

At the first Mass after the election, a 70-something parishioner scolded an usher about giving her any more letters from Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky, saying, “If there is one, keep it.”

There wasn’t – which was too bad. After political bishops “took a beating at the polls,” according to Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, it could have been an opportunity for reconciliation. His Excellency looks more natural smiling, rooting for Notre Dame or cuddling with his Chihuahuas than comparing President Obama to Hitler.

As the world’s largest retailer last month filled aisles with Halloween candy and cheap costumes, workers from coast to coast conducted an effective “trick ‘r treat” job action, and now others are taking the giant retailer to court.

Climate change is not just an abstract, an inconvenience, or a disaster limited to Arctic ice or coastal populations during superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. Illinois is already affected and climate change could hurt us all worse. The saying “think global, act local” is recalled, but there are no simple or easy answers.

The new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele is, they say, “the story of how a small number of people in power have deliberately put in place policies that have enriched themselves while cutting the ground out from underneath America’s greatest asset – its middle class.

Most Illinois voters might be surprised by their ballot when they vote next month – but they’ll be shocked by the consequences if it passes. Proposed Constitutional Amendment 49 “adding Sec. 5.1 to Article XIII,” claims to address the state’s pension obligations.

First, given the shortfall of more than $80 billion in Illinois’ five pension plans, voters should ask how a new Sec. 5.1 would deal with the money the state owes those pensions. It does nothing.

The country’s unemployment crisis is because workers no longer have marketable skills prospective employers want, according to corporate-cozy politicians who repeat Big Business’s excuse for not hiring, despite record corporate profits.

Such a justification is another “blame-the-victim” attack rather than helping jobless Americans.

If there’s anyone as unpopular as the NFL’s replacement referees this fall, it’s Congress.

After all, “action” such as Senate Republicans on Sept. 19 killing the veterans jobs bill –endorsed by the American Legion (and co-written by four GOP Senators who followed orders and voted against it!) – may be one reason, tied to the GOP’s strategy to stall or stop government, apparently hatched in a 2009 meeting.

Some 9 out of 10 Americans disapprove of Congress, according to a new Gallup poll. Before 2007, the disapproval rating topped 80 percent only twice.

One of the most recent groups of U.S. workers to see their jobs outsourced is in Illinois, and they have Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital to blame.

Freeport’s Sensata Technologies – majority-owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm once headed by Romney – is another example of how venture capital and globalization function for regular Americans.

Illinois’ economy has been affected by the drought and other negatives, plus improved retail sales and home sales, but its overall Rural Mainstreet Index remains below neutral, according to the new assessment of Creighton University’s monthly poll of area business executives.

The state’s Rural Mainstreet Index (RMI) fell in August, says the project out of Creighton’s marketing and public relations department at its Omaha campus. It’s the third consecutive month Illinois’ RMI was below growth neutral.

This week is the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and as two new fund-raising CDs get played more and more, it’s increasingly obvious that the 1% have more in common with Saudi potentates than regular Americans. … In some ways, that’s not new.

Big banks, corporations and Wall Street are making record profits, but workers, small businesses and Main Street are suffering. Will voters blame President Obama or the real culprits?

After decades of deregulating and tax-cutting for the wealthiest corporations and the rich (so these ‘job creators” will help the economy, supposedly), results show that the theory of “trickle-down” economics – which claimed that benefits gained by the affluent eventually will drip down to the rest of us – has failed.

Most Illinoisans seem torn between anger about state pensioners supposedly getting rich off taxpayers, and concern about state-worker neighbors caught between incompetent lawmakers and greedy credit agencies in cahoots with big banks. The real debate should be one timid types in Springfield (or Washington) avoid: What do citizens want government to do and how will it be funded?

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