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Local Commentaries

What I Like About My Hometown

Feb 24, 2016
Jonathan Ahl

The Pope didn't choose to visit my hometown on his recent visit to the United States nor was it a prospective site for the 2018 Olympic games.  It's not a place to find high-end shopping malls and you won't find many popular chain stores either.   What you will find in Macomb, Illinois is a community of people, teachers, farmers, business owners, and public servants who foster core values in living and tirelessly dedicate themselves to improving the quality of life.

Macomb, IL – Occupy Peoria protestors were starting to assemble on Main Street one Saturday in October, when I was reading a magazine, eating an omelet and drinking coffee at a nearby caf . A dad at an adjacent table looked out the window at the dozens of demonstrators, turned to his daughter, and said, "What are they complaining about? Half of the country pays no taxes at all!"

Macomb, IL – A New Year's letter to my son

Dear Russell:

I've been writing these annual letters to you since 1994, when you were 7 years old and more concerned with the X-Men's Wolverine battling bad guys than more complicated issues or even first grade. Now you're about to finish law school, and as I write this on December 21, it's exactly one year before the end of the world, according to one interpretation of a Mayan calendar reference.

"Really," you might think.

Macomb, IL – It's not like the elves went on strike at Santa's North Pole, but in the last month, when a lot of unemployed Americans rallied on Capitol Hill and delivered 75,000 petitions urging Congress to extend unemployment insurance coverage, actions occurred that celebrated a mood and a momentum that was filled with the hope of the holidays.

Besides, St. Nick's one of the 99%, too, right?

Macomb, IL – Newspaperman Heywood Broun was one of the country's top columnists in the 1920s and '30s, when he also founded The Newspaper Guild labor union - risking his own financial position to help reporters paid 1/100th of his salary. Broun wrote about sports and books as well as current events and social-justice issues, but one of his most popular themes was Christmas, the subject of this sentimental piece from the defunct New York World:

Macomb, IL – For the second time in six months a proposal for the construction of a hog confinement in McDonough County has resulted in an Illinois Department of Agriculture public hearing. The meeting took place on Monday, December 5 and lasted a record six hours.

At their next meeting on December 21, members of the McDonough County Board will discuss their non-binding recommendation which must be submitted to the ag department by January 19.

Macomb, IL – Respected first baseman Albert Pujols could be playing for the Angels almost as long as disgraced Governor Rod Blagojevich will be giving the devil his due in prison. (Already, there are more arguments about Pujols deserving his pay than Blago deserving his 14-year sentence.)

Macomb, IL – It's received little attention, but voters last month seemed to send a message to right-wing extremists: Stop! In Arizona, Mississippi and Ohio, voters slowed or stopped intolerant anti-immigration moves, on overturning women controlling their own bodies, and on union suppression.

In the last major balloting of 2011, results could point to prospects for next year, when 10 governorships are at stake, plus the US House, a third of the US Senate, and the White House.

Macomb, IL – Right-wing radio and cable pundits say the "Occupy" effort is dead, not unlike police telling bystanders, "Move along. Nothing to see here, folks."

Macomb, IL – This Thanksgiving, we might give thanks that debates aren't always rich and poor or strong and weak. Sometimes it's right and wrong.

When a few government leaders, billionaire Bill Gates, the Pope and Occupy protestors find common ground, some rich, poor, strong and weak are on the same side. And it's right.

But in Illinois, it feels wrong.

Macomb, IL – Patients increasingly - still - seem like collateral damage in an archaic health-care system where profits are put ahead of people by powerful financial interests.

Profits at big for-profit health insurers are booming, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and even non-profits are reporting sizable gains since 2010.

Macomb, IL – Corporate claims of jobs to be created by TransCanada's proposed Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Pipeline Project (known better as the Keystone XL Pipeline) are inflated at best and misleading at the worst, according to a new report by the Global Labor Institute, part of the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) at Cornell University.

Macomb, IL – A couple of weeks ago, Florida Governor Rick Scott called for the decrease in state funding for the social sciences so that public universities can focus resources on producing graduates in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering, and math.

Like Illinois, Florida's economy is shaky and unemployment is looming over the heads of current and new college graduates. Governor Scott believes that focusing attention and money on the STEM fields will help spur job growth.

Macomb, IL – Days before President Obama finally declared the war in Iraq over, before news that Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi is as dead as al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, Obama announced that he's deploying about 100 armed advisers to central Africa to help fight the Lord's Resistance Army, and a study detailing the 1,446 U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan through December came out.

Macomb, IL – Like a lot of people, I have been known to have a bit of an obsession with the TV show CSI. I have been watching it since it began and although there have been quite a few cast changes over the years; the 12th season seems to be off to a good start.

One of the things I like so much about the show is the science behind each story. And although Hollywood doesn't always get the science right -- for example dead bodies do not spurt out blood during autopsies -- for the most part what is depicted is scientifically accurate.

Macomb, IL – Despite weeks of secret meetings, Congress' 12-member "Super Committee" on trimming the deficit seems to have made little progress. The panel's goal is suggesting, by Thanksgiving, $1.2 trillion in cuts from federal spending in the next decade.

If a proposal ever emerges, the House and Senate will get only an up-or-down vote in December, meaning that bipartisan consensus is needed. However, predictable arguments about cutting popular programs such as Medicare and increasing taxes have impeded progress.

Macomb, IL – Solving the country's economic woes might seem like a mystery to Congress, but people see the clues - and the consequences of the ongoing Great Recession sparked by unregulated Wall Street's greed.

News that Americans are hurting isn't surprising to most folks. What's surprising is the extent of hardship.

Macomb, IL – Last week, bystanders at a Peoria traffic accident worked together to save a biker trapped between two trucks, not unlike the September rescue of a Utah man pinned beneath a BMW that struck his motorcycle. Maybe you've seen the YouTube clip showing a flaming bike and a dozen or so regular people - construction workers and students, women and men, an African American and a cop - who lift the car high enough that the victim was pulled to safety.

Macomb, IL – Anyone who claims to know exactly how the future of news media will unfold has some big crystal balls.

Most of us, inside or outside journalism, figure it's somewhere between reporters forced to work for Rupert Murdoch or some other kingpin engaged in questionable practices worldwide on multiple media platforms, or writers replaced by adolescents blogging in their underwear in their folks' basements.

Macomb, IL – For the first time, participants in Banned Books Week this year can take part in a worldwide demonstration of the virtues of their favorite censored literature.

Macomb, IL – After Sunday's 10th anniversary of 9-11, two of many consequences of times of terror offer a positive and a negative result - more tolerance but more complacency - and show that balance between extremes remains necessary. Contradictions are common.

On the positive side, Americans are increasingly tolerant of a variety of views in speaking, teaching and making books available in libraries, according to research just released by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center (NORC).

Macomb, IL – Starting this week, the AFL-CIO and progressive allies are engaging in weeks of mobilization to focus on the nation's real crisis: jobs. Americans know this (more than Congress, apparently). But there's sometimes confusion or hesitation about What To Do.

The economic crisis itself can be summed up in six bullet points:

Macomb, IL – In 1977, 34 years ago, Western Illinois University and the movie theater manager, at that time Phil Weiss, teamed up to bring a series of films to town that became known as the International Film Series.

This university community was seen as a good audience for films from other countries. The movies played a limited engagement, 2 showings each Wednesday and Thursday, during the school year.

Macomb, IL – If your religious institution has clergy who openly appreciate labor - or at least faiths' "preferential option for the poor," as Pope John Paul II expressed it - it may be worth getting information and asking to make a few remarks at the Sabbath nearest Labor Day: Sept. 5.

Macomb, IL – Rural America's population is falling as fast as jobs are fading, but new studies about "clean jobs" find that such work could help restore employment in rural Illinois.

The population of non-metro areas of fewer than 50,000 people is down to 16% of the nation from more than 70% at the turn of the 20th century.

Macomb, IL – If the Capitol or corporate media bothered to notice, people prefer Democrats to Republicans in creating jobs (52% to 36%), in dealing with taxes (48% to 39%), and even dealing with the federal budget (narrowly, 42% to 40%), according to recent polling by Roper.

It apparently doesn't matter after the resolution of a contrived dispute about the debt ceiling - which is about borrowing to pay bills, not government's annual deficit or overall debt.

Macomb, IL – A favorite Psalm sings "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day," but when modern "arrows" are explosives, it's awfully difficult to be unafraid. Therefore, it's understandable that fear causes Americans to think that torture of suspected terrorists is sometimes justified.

Macomb, IL – In Monmouth and Macomb, Pekin and Kewanee, Canton and Galesburg, and points between thousands of workers face tough choices when they're sick. Employees in such rural areas have less access to sick leave, forcing them to choose between caring for themselves or family members, and losing pay or perhaps even their jobs, according to a study from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Macomb, IL – Triple-digit temperatures and strong winds that turn showers into severe thunderstorms with six-plus inches of rain in a few hours sap our strength. Droughts and wildfires plague the Southwest; tornadoes are more frequent and dangerous in the Midwest; the Mississippi River is flooded so much and so long the Army has to sacrifice thousands of acres of farmland to save some towns.