October 2, 2017
If we continue to do nothing on guns, our tears are a fraud
What we know is the sound of a war zone. We know the sound of bullets flying so fast you might think it's a rusted and ragged zipper.
Did you see the video? Did you see country music singer Jason Aldean, his guitar slung over shoulders, standing front and center when the gunfire began? He knew that sound, that staccato rip of mass-produced death. He fled for the safety of the back of the stage, and the crowd screamed and people were hit and bled and died, and nobody could be sure where the gunfire was coming from.
How do you run when you don't know where to run?
We are writing this so early. We don't know enough. Fifty or more people dead, right there at a country music show in Las Vegas. More wounded people will die in hospitals before nightfall. We can't guess how many.
We can't say much, as well, about the killer, Stephen Craig Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada. Except that he's dead himself, finally and too late.
But we know that sound, that ripping of bullets from a single indefensible weapon designed for nothing else. Not for hunting. Not for defending our homes. Not for target practice. Automatic and semi-automatic guns are designed to kill people by the bunches and this one on this night did its job superbly.
We are so damn sad. We can't begin to express our sorrow for all the people who were killed in Las Vegas, even as we slept so soundly in our beds in the Midwest. We are beginning to hear their names, see photos of their faces, and they could be any of us - they are any of us. Nice folks out for a night of music, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. Dead now. Do we feel survivor's guilt? We should.
The president tweets his condolences. For what it's worth. And there will be prayers and funeral services. For what they are worth.
And politicians in the pocket of the gun lobby, tons of them, will stand on the floor of the House and the Senate and say how tragic this shooting was and how something must be done - but don't punish the law-abiding gun owner because guns are American freedom, guns are apple pie, guns are the flag, guns are the national anthem.
And they won't tell you that every honest opinion poll for a generation in this country shows Americans are sick to death of the carnage.
The National Rifle Association hates those polls. Guns are money for them. Gun-makers make them rich.
Yes, we don't want to see grandpa stand defenseless against home invaders. We don't want to stop folks from hunting deer in the woods of Wisconsin.
But we have called for saner gun laws time and again, only for the gun nuts to twist the message: The crazy liberal media wants to take your guns!
So let's make two points clear:
-Most of America, to judge by the polls, wants to take illegally obtained guns away from bad people - the drug-dealers and the gang-bangers.
-Most of America also wants to ban access to semi-automatic and automatic weapons.
In June, the Washington Post did the arithmetic and reported that 889 men, women and children have been killed in mass shootings in the United States since Aug. 1, 1966 - about seven people per shooting.
Are we properly horrified yet? Will we do something finally? Will we honor the dead in Las Vegas by, at long last, demanding gun sanity?
If we continue to do nothing, all our tears are a fraud.
September 30, 2017
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Can we cherish both flag and right to protest?
In the debate that rages across the republic these days about the American flag, we find ourselves hearkening back to our dear friend and late columnist, the legendary Jack Mabley, who used to remind readers regularly of the protocol for how it was to be treated.
Jack was a refreshingly open-minded guy, but when it came to the flag, he was a stickler as to the respect it ought to be shown.
We are less preoccupied by the rules, but share his reverence for all the flag represents.
There is, we think, room for civil debate about what is or isn't respectful.
We cherish the flag and the ideals and freedoms it represents. We likewise cherish our right to protest, one of those most-treasured freedoms.
When sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos held up fists during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, was it an act of disrespect or a statement on behalf of human rights? Or a little bit of both?
When quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem before NFL football games, was it an act of disrespect or a protest of violent police behavior in the inner city? Or a little of both?
Like many Americans, we find ourselves grappling with the answers to those questions. Yes, in both examples, we reflexively felt offended. Yet in both examples, wasn't that the intent of the measured protests -- to offend us enough that we'd notice the message being delivered?
One thing is clear: There's a significant difference between the dignified protests of Smith, Carlos and Kaepernick and the appalling characterization by Elgin school board member Traci O'Neal Ellis of the flag as "nothing more than toilet paper."
The flag, after all, is not a symbol of the country's flaws and failings. It is a symbol of our ideals and freedoms, of everything we hold sacred, of all that our military men and women have fought and died for.
How many flag-draped coffins have returned to our soil? Those sacrifices are certainly deserving of respect.
It can well be argued that respectful protests are a call to fulfill the promises the flag represents.
Flippant disparagements of the kind Ellis uttered, on the other hand, are solely desecrations.
Mabley, by the way, used to point out that etiquette also prohibited the defiling of flag images on napkins and shirts and the back ends of bikinis. We assume the same would apply to flags that appear on "Make America Great Again" baseball caps and other political paraphernalia.
As we said earlier, we're not the sticklers that Jack was. We believe reverence for the flag is less about the code and more a matter of what's in your heart and how you show it.
But if you're going to follow the rules, well, all the rules are rules.
September 27, 2017
The (Springfield) State Journal-Register
Illinois needs a state capital plan
There's little doubt the state of Illinois needs a major capital works plan.
Most drivers can probably think of a pothole-ridden roadway or shaky bridge that should have been replaced a few years ago. Raise your hand if you would love to see Interstate 55 expanded to three lanes as it winds through Springfield. We'd probably all be willing to put up with some construction cones and lane closures if it meant a smoother ride soon.
There are state-owned properties, whether on university campuses or in downtown Springfield or Chicago, that need updated HVAC systems or repairs to foundations or roofs.
There's no debate about the need for improvements, or that now is the time. The report "Capital Plan Analysis FY 2018," released in April by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, noted that the $31 billion Illinois Jobs Now, the most recently passed major capital program, is nearing completion after selling $12.7 billion in bonds out of the $16.3 billion that has been authorized back in 2009.
But start talking how to pay for the billions of dollars in potential projects, and there's no consensus on how to proceed.
As usual, the state's woeful financial situation is a roadblock. The April report from CGFA stressed that due to "funding deficiencies in key areas of the current program" - specifically, the Capital Projects Fund and School Infrastructure Fund - the state can't borrow much new money without finding new revenue.
The price tag of a successful capital plan would likely be hefty. Gov. Bruce Rauner's FY 2018 new capital projects proposal would use $12.83 billion in reappropriations and require $4.85 billion in new appropriations, according to the CGFA report. It would use $134 million in federal funds, $3.45 billion in state funds and about $1.26 billion in bond funds. Long term, Illinois would need to spend an estimated $43 billion over a decade to rebuild and improve the state's transportation network, according to a report last year by the Metropolitan Planning Agency.
Those are large amounts of debt to contemplate taking on when the state is still trying to determine how to pay for an unfunded pension liability of at least $130 billion, not to mention the $15 billion stack of unpaid bills still sitting in the comptroller's office.
A private-public partnership would be ideal, although it might be difficult to find private companies that would want to partner with a state renowned for fiscal irresponsibility.
The most likely way to fund a new capital program would be to increase the gas tax. The state gas tax is 19 cents per gallon; add in federal taxes, and the average is about 51 cents per gallon in Illinois, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Another possibility could be to increase the fee to register vehicles with the state.
But given that state lawmakers just raised income taxes, there's going to be pushback if elected officials suggest residents should be asked to pay even more. Taxpayers are skeptical, rightfully so, about how money has been being spent. Any capital plan will have to provide hard evidence of its benefits and justifications for its funding.
The need will only become more dire - and more expensive - the longer the state waits. Lawmakers are going to have tough decisions ahead; they can't and shouldn't shirk the research and open dialogue that's needed about the state's options.