Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
January 20, 2019
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
King’s words still ring true today
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Those words, more than any others, represent the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Felled by an assassin’s bullet in 1968, King would have turned 90 on Jan. 15.
King, one of America’s preeminent orators of the 20th century, delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to a throng of Americans gathered in the National Mall on Aug. 28, 1963. Those words outline the most basic principal of human life.
America was a different place in 1963. As the current movie “The Green Book” portrays, life was much more complicated for African Americans in those days. Jim Crow was the de facto law of the land, particularly in the South.
Men and women of color were second-class citizens. Finding a place to eat, or spend the night, was more difficult than pulling off the interstate and availing yourself to a fast food restaurant or a chain motel.
Seeking a place to stay could expose you to, at least, harassment. At worst, physical danger.
And, while King’s words sound benign today, they stirred up controversy and hatred in 1963. King was the subject of an FBI investigation — he was suspected of being a communist.
Reading King’s words today, what could be more self-evident? Why would you possibly judge a person by his/her color, religion or country of origin? How can modern man not see that a person’s true value lies in the content of their character?
So, did Rev. King move the needle on bigotry and hate?
At this point, America’s grade is incomplete at best.
There is no question this country has made strides in terms of race relations. The overt racism of Jim Crow days has largely disappeared.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to scratch the surface too deeply to find more covert forms of racism — the percentage of black men incarcerated, the discrepancy in sentencing for similar offenses.
It would be disingenuous to say American society hasn’t progressed. It would be more disingenuous to claim our nation is living by King’s ideals. We are still a long way from the mountain top King alluded to in his April 3, 1968, speech.
Iowa Representative Steve King asked just recently when “white nationalism” and “white supremacy” became offensive terms. That’s a stunning statement in 2019. It’s stunning he didn’t know the concepts were always offensive.
America, for all its lofty ideals, has a long, sordid history of racism and oppression. At times, it was the Irish, the Germans, the Japanese or the Chinese that drew the ire of “real” Americans. Real Americans being, of course, a formerly despised minority that had since assimilated to American culture.
And, of course there is the anti-Semitism that still appears regularly.
Today, American bigotry is focused more on Muslims and immigrants. It’s the same despicable feelings — only the names, color and nationalities have changed.
How many Muslim-Americans, how many immigrants will read King’s idealistic speech and think, “I know exactly what he meant. I want nothing more than that.”
So, as we honor King with a national holiday tomorrow, let’s not cast our eyes to 1963 and marvel at the eloquence and courage of our greatest civil rights leader. Let’s read those words and realize there is still a lot of work to be done.
Yes, living together in harmony should be a basic element of American life. Sadly, it also remains an ideal.
January 18, 2019
The (Champaign) News-Gazette
Follow the money
A change in personalities at the top of the political ladder is always exciting, the public optimism associated with turnover usually representing a triumph of hope over experience.
That’s why Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker took the state by storm this week, starting with his inauguration on Monday and followed by a downstate appearance to promote jobs, issuing executive orders and signing legislation.
As his tenure lengthens over what will be a four-year term, Pritzker won’t continue to dominate the news and editorial pages. But, for now at least, he’s the man. The public is watching with interest, hoping he’ll lead our sorry state to the promised land of balanced budgets, prudent financial management and fiscal solvency.
But Illinois will never get there if Pritzker repeats the mistakes of the past — spending money the state doesn’t have. That’s why it was disturbing that one of Pritzker’s first actions this week involved spending more money the state doesn’t have.
Former Gov. Bruce Rauner engaged in a four-year battle with unionized state employees, a conflict driven mostly by what he saw as excessive pay and benefits and the lack of resources needed to maintain them.
That’s why Rauner and AFSCME, a union representing thousands of state employees, were unable to reach agreement on a new contract. Long since expired, one of Pritzker’s duties includes concluding the AFSCME talks.
As part of that battle, Rauner denied step increases to employees, citing a lack of state appropriations.
Pritzker, who ran for election with strong union support, moved swiftly on that issue, immediately ordering the step increases.
Some might consider that action to be a simple matter of economic justice. After all, step increases were guaranteed under the terms of a union contract, even if the contract had expired.
That’s why a Pritzker spokeswoman said he moved “quickly to make employees whole for the wages they have been wrongfully denied since 2015.”
That’s one side of the argument.
The other side is that, for starters, the state doesn’t have the money to pay the increased wages, and, further, Pritzker’s office either didn’t or couldn’t say how much the raises will cost.
Pritzker’s spokeswoman said ”... it will take several weeks to provide an accurate picture of cost.”
The word “provide” is an interesting choice of language because it can be read in two ways.
It could mean the Pritzker administration knows the cost but intends to wait a while before providing it to the news media. A more benign, but no less concerning, interpretation is that the Pritzker administration doesn’t know how much it’s committed to spend.
Estimates have varied on the cost, the Rauner administration predicting late last year that it would be about $200 million.
A fiscal analyst at Wirepoints, Mark Glennon, suggested Pritzker’s rapprochement with AFSCME might be significantly higher.
The administration’s unwillingness and/or inability to provide cost figures drew fire because it significantly undermines its credibility with respect to fiscal issues.
Public employees who’ve gone without step increases deserve sympathy.
But it’s important to remember that one of the reasons Illinois is in a huge financial hole is because so many elected officials felt a moral obligation to spend money the state did not have.
There are those who say that can’t be done, but they’re wrong. Illinois has been spending money it doesn’t have for years.
But the bill eventually comes due. To listen to Pritzker’s inaugural address, it would appear that bill is due now. That’s why he said the state faces tough decisions in the future.
But spending money the state doesn’t have isn’t a tough decision. In fact, it’s easy — all that’s required is getting buried deeper and deeper in debt, as the state did once again this week.
January 16, 2019
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Amid sorrow, we stand in awe of those who step in to save others
From time to time we use this space to laud and thank those who act solely for the good of others.
The news of this week begs for us to do so again. Amid stories of grief, pain, frustration and danger, we stand in awe of those who seemingly without thought for their own safety step in to try to prevent harm to others.
That instinct is part of everyday life for police officers like Illinois State Trooper Christopher Lambert. On his way home to his wife and 1-year-old daughter in Highland Park at the end of his shift Saturday, he came across a crash on I-294. Lambert pulled his patrol car into the left lane to protect the drivers from traffic and stepped out into the snow. He was struck by another vehicle.
Lambert, a 34-year-old Army veteran, died hours later. Thousands of people, including police officers from around the nation and Canada, are expected today at his visitation from 2 to 8 p.m. at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington and at a funeral at 10 a.m. Friday at the church.
Two other instances of heroism this week had less sorrowful results.
Stephen Spapperi, 19, and Justin Mueller, 24, were driving separately on Grace Street in Lombard when both saw another driver had lost control of her car, driven onto the Metra tracks, and gotten stuck. Both went to help and were quickly joined by police Officer Dan Herrera.
They helped the 96-year-old driver out of the car, but saw a train coming. Spapperi picked up the woman and, aided by the other two, rushed to get away as the train hit her car.
“I truly believe that they helped save a life this day,” police Chief Roy Newton said while praising the trio.
Also, DuPage County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Obrochta’s “immediate, decisive action” helped save about 30 dogs from a burning kennel near West Chicago, where another 31 dogs were killed.
Obrochta raced into the burning kennel, freeing dogs and burning his hands in the process. Even as the inferno forced him to retreat, he grabbed a cage containing a large dog and carried it outside with him.
“He took some personal risk to himself to save these animals, and I just think he did a great job,” DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said.
While joining with those who mourn Lambert, we also recall the words of the late Fred Rogers, the reassuring host of TV’s “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.” Amid sobering news, he advised, “Look for the helpers.”
We looked, and we feel fortunate to have had these helpers among us.