WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Local Commentaries

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.

Adventures with Jake

May 22, 2013

A handsome two-year-old British lab barreled his way into my heart after I resisted our getting another dog. It was a relationship made in heaven.

The April explosion at the West, Texas, fertilizer plant that killed 14 people, injured about 200 others and destroyed dozens of homes was so powerful it could be felt 50 miles away, registering as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake. The blast should continue to rumble throughout the country since its owner apparently didn’t disclose the dangers there, and the government agencies responsible for protecting the area also failed.

In the last 30 years, CEOs have gone from being well-paid (more than 40 times the pay of everyday workers) to being ridiculously enriched. CEO compensation now averages hundreds of times the pay of regular working people.  

Is it worth it? To their companies and shareholders? To their industry and the economy?  To the country?

I was a youngster when the first funeral I ever attended was a schoolmate who’d died in a grain storage bin, where he’d slipped and suffocated. I went to the open-casket services with buddies, and we were shocked and silenced by the appearance of a kid like us who’d essentially drowned in corn.

Rich Egger

In their 2004 article in the journal Nature, Bramble and Lieberman write “Striding bipedalism is a key behavior of hominids that possibly originated soon after the divergence of the chimpanzee and human lineages .” Dr. Daniel Leiberman, a biology professor from Harvard also known as “The Barefoot Professor” suggests that a massive environmental change that took place on the African continent coinciding with the rise of running among humans.

Superficial reforms are failing, I reckon.

U.S. employers in March hired at the slowest rate since last June, adding just 88,000 jobs to non-farm payrolls, with steep job cuts in retail and government sectors, including 12,000 at the U.S. Postal Service, according to the U.S. Labor Department’s monthly report released April 5.

Economists had forecast the month’s gain to be about 190,000.

B-r-r-r-r-r.

A year ago this week, I’d already partially tore an Achilles tendon playing softball, but this spring has been so wintry my back still aches from shoveling wet snow off the driveway and sidewalk.

So, I’m still coping with the delayed change of seasons by retreating to springs of my youth:

Do 21st century kids still have wonderful crap marketed to them when the weather warms?

Kites!

Days after April Fools Day, we still look over our shoulders, and one political prank breathing down our necks is the “new” GOP.

President Obama’s 5-million vote victory over Republican Mitt Romney showed the country’s shifting demographics – more voters who are younger, better educated, more likely to be women, and more diverse in religion and race. That supposedly signaled to some GOP leaders that they should be less extremist and more open to the actual makeup of the nation.

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.

Rich Egger

As a history professor, I often look for ways in which the past can inform the present.  One belief that led me to my profession is that history imparts crucial lessons that can help us make sense of events unfolding in the here-and-now.

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.

Work Remains for the Feminist Revolution

Mar 4, 2013
Rich Egger

“The Feminine Mystique,” by Betty Friedan, was published 50 years ago last month.

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.

Guns, Words, and Ideas

Feb 18, 2013
Rich Egger

We are engaged in a debate over guns and gun control. Some of the voices that we can hear, are telling us that the government wants to take away all of their guns, while others tell us that they need their guns to protect their families from the eventuality of a government that has gone mad, and wants to take away their freedom. These voices are passionate about their guns and maintaining the right to own and to use them.

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.

Fighting the Flu with More Than Vaccines

Jan 28, 2013
Rich Egger

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you are probably aware of the flu outbreak in the United States. Schools, offices and hospitals are all feeling the effects of the scourge. I know this well, as I work in a hospital which has been full for weeks. Even the nurses are calling in sick in record numbers.

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.

Rich Egger

The Macomb Community Unit School District 185 Board of Education recognizes there is no current issue in the State of Illinois that has greater impact on all citizens than pension reform legislation. The topic of pension reform reaches all counties in our state and will ultimately impact each and every citizen. Therefore, we believe it is important for us as citizen leaders to participate in this debate and work towards a reasonable solution.

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.

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