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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.

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.

Rich Egger

This past January, Sarah Haynes and I took 9 intrepid WIU students to India for a study abroad course. We spent two weeks living and working at Navdanya, an organic farm that is the headquarters for Vandana Shiva’s national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources through the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.

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.

Rich Egger

My cousin Steve died earlier this month. He is the first of the cousins to pass, and although we haven’t seen each other in a really long time, he taught me a valuable lesson as he came to terms with a future we all face. His older brother Keim and I see each other more often, the last time being just a week or so before Steve died. 

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.

Rich Egger

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the University Theme at WIU. By bringing internationally renowned speakers to campus, the University Theme offers students, faculty and community members the opportunity to enjoy candid and personal interactions with world leaders. Discussions that begin with the lectures often continue days and weeks later in residence halls, coffee shops and classrooms.

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?

Education doesn’t tell students what to think but how to think. However, too many textbooks and legislators seem to see education as indoctrination, a troubling trend, especially as the nation celebrates Labor Day.

Generally, some textbooks ignore or marginalize labor. Specifically, some lawmakers in states including Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas oppose instruction in critical thinking and impose fanciful notions as fact – if it pleases their extremist base.

All summer, the press has occasionally covered the “LIBOR Scandal,” but many stories have been a lot of “inside-baseball”-style financial confusion. Actually, the situation affects working people much more than has been noted.

There’s more than one drought choking the country. On Capitol Hill, there’s a drought of ideas – and compassion – about farmers, rural America and the needy.

As tempting as it is to blame a U.S. President for insufficient job growth – whether Barack Obama or George W. Bush – jobs come from employers, not politicians. Sure, White House leadership is important, ideas from the executive branch should spur government action to help businesses hire, and a president sets an administration’s tone. But presidents can’t exclusively take the blame – or the credit – for jobs.

As preparations are finalized for the Democratic and GOP National Conventions, some labor unions and their progressive allies have decided to host a rallying event of their own in Philadelphia to “refocus the national political debate on economic opportunity and middle class rights.”

That’s news to too many Americans.

A “Workers Stand for America” rally is scheduled to occur next Saturday, August 11, when working people from all walks of life, union and non-union alike, will come together to have their voices heard during the election campaign.

Illinois’ legislature last session failed to pass a law addressing fracking (hydraulic fracturing), and the result may be less that the state dodged a bullet and more that Illinoisans got a blindfold before the order to fire.

The House’s last-day attempt to impose a two-year moratorium and a tax on fracking scuttled SB3280, which in May sought to create fracking regulations where none exist (the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts it from the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and other federal environmental regulations). The state Senate unanimously approved the measure in April.

Good business folks used to nurture ventures for the long haul, paying decent wages for secure jobs, offering products and services customers valued, and paying taxes that sustained communities. Their companies were built to last. Too often, today’s corporate kingpins are instead focused on short-term gains – to the detriment of workers, customers and communities. Such companies are “built to loot,” as Chuck Collins of the Institute for Policy Studies says.

Verizon is an example of such looting, according to two unions in Year 2 of bargaining with the company.

“This Land is Your Land” isn’t the country’s national anthem, but the 1940 tune by Woody Guthrie still touches many Americans’ hearts – maybe more now than ever. The 100th anniversary of Guthrie’s birth is this week, a nice time to reflect on times and tunes. Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was a skinny, angry but ultimately optimistic singer with an unrefined voice, a sophisticated appreciation for regular people, and a beat-up Martin guitar with a small sign that read, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”

A month ago today Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defeated Democrat Tom Barrett and retained his office, as did Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three of four Republican state senators.

The results were similar to 2010, when Walker beat Barrett 52-46 percent. Handing Walker a 53-46 victory, voters apparently “concluded it is not best to swap horses while crossing the river,” as Lincoln said after winning reelection in 1864.

As Independence Day is celebrated next week, it’s wise to recall that regular people were key to that victory, whether it’s called the American Revolution, the War for Independence, or the Revolutionary War. Further, while the hope for independence was achieved, the promise of revolution was only partly fulfilled.

 How about a “Fortnight for Forgiveness,” an idea stemming from a few thoughts within Catholicism. First, there was news about Catholic groups’ lawsuit about a proposed government rule ensuring that employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and other non-religious companies have access to the same health insurance benefits as other corporations’ workers – including birth control (if the individual seeks it and has a doctor’s prescription). Interestingly, 182 out of 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses have not joined the suit.

It’s easy to criticize Wal-Mart for selling outsourced merchandise made overseas, some of it by virtual slaves or kids. But as Flag Day’s marked today, it’s worth noting that some corporations, such as Peoria-based Caterpillar, see outsourcing as inefficient or undesirable, and that we can individually make a difference.

The Summer of '68

Jun 6, 2012

We’re now past Memorial Day, traditionally the first milestone of any baseball season, a time to see who are contenders or pretenders. (As this is written, the Cubs, Diamondbacks, Padres, Rockies and Twins seem out of it.) The holiday also launches summer for most folks, and offers a chance to reflect.

My first political role model was Dwight D. Eisenhower – “Ike.” He was a peace-loving war hero, a Main Street Republican who sent troops to desegregate schools, a free-market guy who appreciated unions and launched the huge government program building the Interstates, a standup guy who stood up to GOP demagogue Joe McCarthy.

Ready for Retirement

May 23, 2012

If you want sure-fire compliments, the choices are pretty much a) retire or b) die. Highly recommended: a).

When you retire you don’t hear from people who think you’re a fool or a boob, and a party especially is nice – like a visitation only you’re there. And alive.

As this is written, it’s 50 years since arguments were made before the US Supreme Court in “Engel v. Vitale,” which a couple of months later resulted in a clarification of the “separation of church and state.”

As this is written, some Catholic Bishops, including His Excellency, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria, continue to not-so-subtly attack government and to portray the church as victims (despite US Catholics numbering more than 68 million people and 76% of the country saying they are Christians.)

As Mothers’ Day approaches, I recall inadvertently insulting my Mom decades ago, trying to defend a girlfriend’s career goals by criticizing the lack of opportunities for women who stayed home. She said, “I chose to be a housewife and raise you boys.” She did (and did well), but it helped that Dad made decent wages as a lineman. Some women don’t have such choices.

Changes in the economy are causing a lot of hope, a little fear and a healthy measure of rage.

There’s common-sense optimism in the addition of more than 225,000 private-sector jobs in February – the 17th consecutive month of employment improvement and the third straight month that more than 200,000 jobs were added.

In USA Today, Princeton University economics professor Justin Wolfers said, “To the extent there is a debate, it’s whether the economy is recovering or recovering strongly.”

The vast area of the country between the cities has considerable strengths, recent studies show, although population growth generally has some negatives and the need for grocery stores specifically remains an unmet need. Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index, which assesses rural economic health based on a scale from 0 to 100, examines about 200 communities with an average population of 1,300 in Illinois and nine other Great Plains states.

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