Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: We have to rethink farm subsidies before they do more damage

The autumn harvest is underway in Illinois, and it’s a juicy one despite the otherwise lousy year.

Corn and soybeans matured early, yields are mostly abundant and prices stand at the third-highest level ever, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Add to that a bumper crop of subsidy checks from the federal government, and Illinois farmers will be enjoying some of their highest incomes in years.

Yes, even in good times, Uncle Sam subsidizes agriculture.

Last year, the U.S. government made more than $45 billion in direct payments to landowners and farm operators, much of it in pandemic relief that also was (at least in part) aimed at swaying voters ahead of the November elections. This year, the USDA expects to make $28 billion in direct payments. With its 27 million acres of farmland, Illinois is among the top recipients of those federal dollars.

For years, this page has supported weaning agriculture from its dependence on government programs, which include everything from subsidizing crop insurance to diluting motor fuel with ethanol, which is mostly made from corn. These persistent subsidies not only cost taxpayers a fortune, but they distort the marketplace for food, encourage consolidation at the expense of smaller farm operations and contribute to obesity by promoting overconsumption of meat and dairy products.

The American farm lobby has a different point of view, unsurprisingly, and a history of success in farming the government. The same is true around the world: Government support for agricultural producers totals $540 billion a year, the United Nations estimates.

Now a common threat finally may be uniting the interests of taxpayers, policymakers and at least some producers.

Food production is one of the biggest contributors to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Many common agricultural practices contribute to warming the planet: raising cattle, producing chemical fertilizers, clearing land to plant the same crops repeatedly. At the same time, food producers are acutely vulnerable to droughts, floods, severe storms and heat waves brought on by climate change.

Business as usual is not a realistic option for citizens whose taxes pay to support agriculture, or for those who make a living at it. The agricultural sector needs to help solve the problem of climate change rather than being a cause of it, and one of the keys is restructuring farm aid.

As it stands, the spending is way out of whack.

International pledges to fight climate change amount to an estimated $100 billion a year, while about $470 billion of the global total spent on government support to farmers is what the United Nations categorizes as “harmful,” including subsidies for specific livestock, crops, fertilizers and pesticides, as well as inefficient export and tariff schemes.

It’s time to reconfigure the government handouts to back environmentally friendly infrastructure improvements, research and development and, especially, sustainable, climate-smart agriculture.

That will mean diverting public funds from some politically powerful vested interests. It’s a daunting prospect, given how politicians and lobbyists tend to think, but shifting dollars from one farm program into another is far more doable in the short run than eliminating subsidies altogether.

And, especially abroad, there have been notable successes. China changed its programs to reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the United Kingdom shifted subsidies to meet environmental goals and India has piloted a promising natural-farming policy. Even in the U.S., the Conservation Reserve Program pays out billions every year to remove sensitive acreage from production. Despite flaws in the program, landowners have used it to restore millions of acres since President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1985.

The U.S. has a proud history of innovation in the farm sector. American producers, agribusinesses and our fine public universities have played a leading role in feeding us all with greater and greater productivity and efficiency.

But in 2050, the world will need to feed an estimated 10 billion people.

And we’re all beginning to better appreciate the vital importance of combating climate change effects that can be devastating, as we see today in the droughts now ravaging California and the Dakotas.

America must lead the way and make crucial changes to how the government interacts with the agricultural sector.

The next opportunity to reimagine federal programs is getting started through early work on the farm bill, a package of legislation approved every five years or so that sets U.S. agricultural policy for the next five years.

A new farm bill is expected in 2023. Let’s make it green.

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Chicago Sun-Times. October 14, 2021.

Editorial: Make time for gun safety during the Illinois Legislature’s fall veto session

Much attention will be devoted to legislative and congressional maps, but addressing gun violence is crucial, too.

Illinois lawmakers should divert their attention from maps, maps, maps during their veto session next month to address four important gun safety issues.

Redrawing the legislative and congressional maps that will shape Illinois elections for the next 10 years will be a time-consuming process in the upcoming session, which will run for just six days over two weeks later this month. We get that. And every lawmaker is naturally extremely concerned about what their district will look like.

Other big issues may be on the table, as well, including abortion rights for minors and amending the Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

But all the same, legislation that could make a difference in quelling the gun violence that has beset Chicago and other towns in Illinois should not be overlooked. We urge the Legislature to take up at least these four issues:

‘Ghost guns’ On Thursday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and state Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, called for a ban on “ghost guns,” which are firearms that purchasers assemble themselves. Ghost guns, which don’t have serial numbers and can’t be traced, are showing up on the streets with greater frequency. Because kits for the guns, which can be delivered almost fully assembled, don’t require background checks, criminals banned from normal gun purchases can easily buy them.

Illinois recently enacted a helpful law that requires guns to be traced through a background check even in private sales. Ghost guns weaken that law.

Mentions of ghost guns are becoming more common in police reports. According to Dart’s office, the number of ghost guns recovered by law enforcement shot up nearly 400% across the country between 2016 and 2020. Just on Tuesday, San Diego police seized 45 ghost guns in a raid.

It is important for the police to be able to trace guns because that is how many violent crimes are solved. Also, tracing guns allows law enforcement to hold straw purchasers accountable when it is their guns that turn up at crime scenes.

Dart’s and Collins’ proposed legislation would ban privately made firearms unless they are registered with the state and have a serial number.

Guns in the Cook County forest preserves On Sept. 13, U.S. District Judge Robert Dow ruled that a ban on the concealed carrying of firearms in the 70,000 acres of the forest preserves is unconstitutionally broad. Instead of ordering that his ruling be immediately enforced, Dow gave the Legislature until March 15 to fix the law to keep it within constitutional bounds, perhaps by more clearly defining what makes forest preserves “sensitive areas.” The Legislature should do so.

The forest preserves have traditionally been idylls where people can escape the hectic urban environment. In the summer, large groups fill the groves for cookouts, and the presence of alcohol does not mix with well with firearms. People go to the forest preserves in hopes of seeing natural vistas and wildlife, not guns.

Gun crimes have been spilling into all sorts of areas where they previously were rare. Expressway shootings are closing in on 200 for this year, compared to 52 in 2019. Armed carjackings have nearly doubled this year and are spilling into the suburbs. Bullets have been flying in large numbers recently along Irving Park Road, in Wicker Park, Austin, Englewood, at Grand and Milwaukee near downtown and elsewhere. In Chicago, four people were killed and 38 were wounded over the past holiday weekend.

It would be tragic if the forest preserve district’s groves, prairies, trails and bike paths were added to those places where people are hesitant to venture. And if the ban on guns in forest preserves falls, what happens to the gun bans on public transportation, in places of worship or other areas where firearms are now prohibited?

Stand your ground More than half of U.S. states have enacted “stand-your-ground” laws, which result in more homicides because they allow people to use deadly force in public, even if they safely could have stepped away from an incident. The laws are also called “shoot first” laws because they encourage quick triggers. Illinois has enacted no such law, but the courts here have ruled that people do not have a duty to retreat, which enshrines a similar idea into case law and jury instructions.

Although Illinois’ case law does not go as far as statutes enacted in other states, any type of stand-your-ground rules can make people think they have the right to shoot first.

Case law can be overridden by the Legislature. On this issues, lawmakers should do so.

Lost and stolen guns Illinois has enacted a law to require the reporting of lost and stolen guns to help crack down on gun trafficking. But police say the penalties are so weak, the law is easy to ignore.

“The General Assembly could move very quickly” on this issue, said Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of G-PAC, a gun-safety group.

Recently, the Chicago police department assigned about 50 more cops to investigate gun trafficking. Stiffer penalties for not reporting lost and stolen guns would help them get the job done.

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Decatur Herald & Review. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: Give a break to servants

We have evidence now that’s more than apocryphal. People in service industries are leaving their jobs in record numbers.

Those help wanted signs and unreal bonuses aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

What kind of issues makes a restaurant worker or a retail employee turn their back on employment? Take a close look the next time you’re shopping or sitting in a restaurant.

Would you like to be treated the way you see those workers being treated?

The workers who have their faces immediately in front of the public are the most vulnerable and the most underappreciated. Complaining to that employee about almost anything is like, to quote comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, like complaining to Ronald McDonald when you don’t like your cheeseburger.

That worker is the point where pressure from all directions ends up. We don’t know whether that person is covering for an absent worker, battling with a co-worker or being put in a position by a boss where they shouldn’t be.

But customers don’t always think of workers’ difficulties. That’s understandable. After months of sacrifice, if we’re going out to be served, we want to be served. As it turns out, some of us are more demanding than others, and some of us are more vocal than others.

Some of us certainly have the ability to be so angry, so obnoxious, so cutting in our presence and conduct that we can make a person on the receiving end of that anger want to go hide in their bedroom and never come back out.

More than ever, we need to help one another. There are so many things attempting, with various degrees of success, to divide us. We don’t need to bring those attitudes to our everyday transactions.

Want a project? Try, once a day or once a week, but at least try to say something kind to a service worker. It might balance off a previous rude customer, and it might keep them working, and serving.

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