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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.

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.

For organized labor: If the environment deteriorates, where will we work? For that matter, for environmentalists: If work is unsafe, how can society be sustained?

Single-issue activism can be focused, but it also can be ineffective, and this month that’s especially worth noting. April is when people commemorate both Earth Day and Workers Memorial Day, sensibly urging prevention as the best course against trouble – on global and personal scales.

The tax code has eroded over the years so it’s no longer progressive – in the sense that more affluent citizens and profitable businesses pay more (what they have left is still a fortune). Now, tax law is filled with loopholes, exemptions and allowances that let some successful corporations pay less to the treasury than they pay their own CEOs.

From guest commentator Byron Oden Shabazz:

As the US Supreme Court deals with President Obama's health care plan, here in western Illinois we are celebrating Minority Health Month as a reminder of our community's -- and the nation's -- commitment to educate all people about the need for comprehensive health care.

 Recording artist Bruce Springsteen talks about his new album, “Wrecking Ball,” in a conversation with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine, describing the record as featuring characters who are regular people who “just want a job.” In cuts such as “Jack of All Trades” and “Death to My Hometown,” Springsteen’s newest record depicts the country at odds with itself.

 “The banker man grows fat,” he sings, “Working man grows thin.”

The mere title of Larry Bloom’s decent trade paperback – The Cure for Corporate Stupidity: Avoid the Mind-Bugs that Cause Smart People to Make Bad Decisions – might attract anti-corporate types tempted to accumulate more ammunition to bolster existing attitudes against the powerful business structure. But its contents would most benefit business managers who want to prevail and do good work while avoiding mine fields. Or, “mind” fields, with a “D.”

The term “collateral damage” seems insidious, somehow making less meaningful the notion of “innocent bystanders.” However, some say that Americans may prefer the impersonal reference, which also could be why remote-controlled planes provide a level of comfort to a nation at war.

 If so, it’s time for us all to shake ourselves awake, and perhaps the recent tragedy of an Army sergeant apparently killing 16 unarmed Afghan civilians is a horrific alarm to stir us to consciousness.

Bill Knight - March 15

Mar 14, 2012

Most journalists occasionally are confronted by angry newsmakers (usually powerful ones). Some journalists get threatening calls or emails, rude posted comments or letters to the editor, and that’s about it. But this week, as the seventh annual Sunshine Week is underway, it’s appropriate to also note that some journalists are killed for being part of the handful of human beings whose job – whose calling – is to run toward danger.

As gas prices ignited, a visit to New Orleans raised almost as many questions as Republican presidential contenders’ accusations against President Obama. (“Stop,” they scream of the far-from-perfect chief executive, or, “Start”, apparently willing to blame Obama for everything from Gary Oldman not winning an Oscar and tornados hitting downstate Illinois to Google’s new privacy policy and Los Angeles acquiring a “nuke” – Albert Pujols.)

Bill Knight - March 1

Feb 29, 2012

General Motors in mid-February announced its highest annual profits ever -- $7.6 billion in 2011 profits on revenues of $105 billion. That’s not only an increase of 62% from the year before, it’s just two years since GM reorganized under federal bankruptcy law – helped by $82 billion in taxpayer money.

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