- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 4, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Judge puts hold on soda tariff

Cook County taxpayers got a reprieve last week when, one day before it was scheduled to take effect, a judge put a hold on a big tax increase on sugary drinks.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, joined by grocers, filed a legal challenge against the penny-per-ounce tax hike. They asserted the tax creates classifications between sweetened beverages that violate the Illinois Constitution’s uniformity clause and is unconstitutionally vague. That may or may not be a winning legal argument - frankly, it sounds somewhat suspect - but Judge Daniel Kubasiak agreed to issue a temporary restraining order blocking the tax while he sorts out the arguments for and against it.

The tax foes said the restraining order was needed because there is no system in place for refunds in the event they prevail in their lawsuit.

The legalities of the tax may be a matter of spirited legal debate, but there is no question this is both bad policy and politics.

Cook County Board Chairwoman Toni Preckwinkle, as was discussed in an earlier editorial on this subject, is looking for additional revenue to run the county’s financially challenged government. But she’s dishonestly pushing the tax increase as a public health measure.

Remember the old saw that when people say it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.

This proposed tax increase is about big money - an estimated $200 million in additional revenue for county government.

Indeed, the motives couldn’t be more clear - that’s because the tax on sugary drinks isn’t limited to sugary drinks. The penny-per-ounce tariff applies to regular soda and diet soda, sweetened coffees and teas, sports and energy drinks and juice products.

The 2-liter Pepsi that costs about $1 will increase in price by roughly 70 cents. A 24-can case (12 ounces per can) of soft drinks will increase in price by about $3.

People will be amazed, and then disgusted, when they watch the cash register light up with the higher numbers. Then they’ll start shopping outside Cook County when they’re looking for the items being targeted by soda tax.

Indeed, that’s exactly what Cook County merchants fear, a loss of part of their customer base because the price of these beverages will go up so dramatically.

That’s one of the reasons both The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times last week published strong editorials denouncing the whole screwy idea.

The health idea behind the tax is premised on the notion that people consume too many sugary drinks and, as a consequence, become obese. Health problems follow. So, these new prohibitionists posit, if sugary drinks are made too expensive, people will stop buying them and the health problems associated with obesity will dramatically decline.

It’s the same premise that guided the attack on the tobacco industry.

Smoking, of course, is a serious public health threat, and so is obesity. But it’s questionable whether the soda tax will boost public health, particularly since it’s being adopted on a hit-and-miss basis across the country.

In addition to Cook County, San Francisco, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., have adopted soda taxes. The promoters’ ultimate goal is to nationalize this policy, something that will be a challenge because consumers of soft drinks won’t be as easy to marginalize as smokers.

Nonetheless, the Cook County tax poses an interesting question - how much can and will ordinary people take from their elected officials? The judge’s decision to bar implementation for the time being will result in a delay in getting an answer.

But members of the Cook County Board, whether they know it or not, are taking a huge gamble when they, acting in their capacity as those who know best, decide to dictate consumer choices through heavy taxation.

___

July 1, 2017

Belleville News-Democrat

Race riot embers remain 100 years later, but can ignite hope

Within days of the anarchy, Ida B. Wells was sent by the Negro Fellowship League from Chicago to East St. Louis. The anti-lynching crusader and journalist spent Independence Day collecting the stories of the victims of the July 2, 1917, race riot.

She had no trouble finding eyewitnesses to the tactics of the white mobs, setting fire to the backs of houses in the Black Bottoms so the family would flee out the front. There the white mobs would wait to kill the black families, shooting babies in the head and men repeatedly in the stomach.

Estimates of the black people killed range from 39 to 300. The fires set by the mobs destroyed 300 homes and left 6,000 residents displaced.

World War I stopped the cheap labor immigrating from Eastern Europe, so industrialists turned to the rural South to lure cheap black labor. As white union members would strike the packing plants and industries in East St. Louis, black workers arriving daily on the trains would replace them. The new black families were Republican, meaning their growing power also threatened the Democrats who ran the city and county.

The riot began after 1,700 Aluminum Ore workers walked off the job and were replaced by black workers. Rumors, incendiary speeches and false newspaper stories propelled a car of whites around midnight to shoot up a black neighborhood. In the early moments of July 2, 1917, about 150 armed black men gathered to protect their homes when an identical car with police came through to investigate. The car backfired, the crowd fired and two dead white police officers set off the race riot.

The violence ran all day, unimpeded by authorities and with Illinois National Guard members claiming they had no orders to intervene. It only ended late that night when guardsmen finally stopped 200 men from lynching a black bystander at Fourth and Broadway.

Wells took the victims’ stories to the Illinois governor. Congress interviewed 100 of them over the course of a month.

Nothing was done to bring justice for the dead or displaced. Just like nothing was done by the authorities as the rioters raged 100 years ago today.

A century fails to erase our blood ties to the people involved in the riot. Our current economy, political climate and relations with one another were forged on that day and the remnants are everywhere if you bother to look and understand.

So today we remember just how horrible human beings can be toward one another when their place of privilege is threatened. The concentration camps of Germany are kept as reminders in the hopes that it doesn’t happen again.

The Eads Bridge is our place of remembrance. It was the path to survival for the black families of East St. Louis. It was the place where a baby who threatened no one was discarded in the river.

___

June 29, 2017

The Quincy Herald-Whig View

Ensuring accurate, secure elections must be a priority

While there are many things we still don’t know, one thing we have learned about Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 election is that is was far more widespread than previously thought.

According to a recent report from Bloomberg, hackers broke into the election systems in 39 states, including Illinois. They may not have succeeded in breaching the voting machines themselves or even in substantially disrupting the voter registration rolls. But next time, they could.

The details that have emerged so far about the Russian effort underscore how difficult our election system is to secure. Hackers reportedly targeted employees of voting system vendors by sending them fraudulent emails designed to get them to provide their passwords. They used the information they gained through those efforts to target election officials with deceptively realistic fake communications.

Adopting balloting systems with voter-verified paper trails is a good first step, though one that hasn’t been universally adopted. About 20 percent of voters still use machines that leave no paper trail.

When reports of Russian hacking efforts first surfaced last summer, New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice issued a report on vulnerabilities of our voting systems, noting that voting machines across the country were outdated, leaving them prone to errors, if not hacking, and that lax procedures left many state or local voter registration systems at risk.

The former problem can be solved through greater federal investment in supporting voting machine hardware purchases at the state and local levels. It’s a good thing that we have variation in the types and manufacturers of our voting machines because it makes wide-scale manipulation more difficult. But we do need more uniformity in their age and quality.

As for registration databases, more needs to be done to ensure that local and state officials follow some basic precautions, for example making frequent paper back-ups of the rolls and employing auditing techniques to flag unusual activity.

This cannot become a partisan question. We all have a stake in ensuring that our voting system remains reliable and trusted, and we need Republicans and Democrats alike to make it a top priority immediately. The 2018 congressional elections are only 17 months away.

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