Minding Our Business

This morning, I started the day thinking I would write about the disturbing activities on our southern border where children have been separated from their mothers and fathers in the name of national policy.

Then I got word that, last night, a convincing majority of the Wilmette Village Board voted to opt-in to Cook County’s minimum wage adjustment schedule. This is especially newsworthy, considering the progressive vs. conservative principles that underlie this debate. (The opt in for a mandatory sick leave allowance was voted down.)

Then later this morning I learned that Supreme Court Justice and sometimes “swing voter” Anthony Kennedy will be retiring as of July 31. At this point in our history this is definitely not good news.

So…I could keep things simple by just choosing one of those topics. However, I’m going to try to comment briefly on each because I believe that, in a general way, they are all connected.

I’ll start with last night’s minimum wage opt-in vote in Wilmette. On the surface this was simply a local debate about whether village businesses could handle increasing the minimum wage they pay their employees. A number of the businesses and the local Chamber of Commerce asserted the increase would be burdensome and even damaging.

On the other hand, opt-in advocates pointed out that most local businesses already pay their valued employees more than minimum; the present minimum wage has been in place for eight years while the cost of living has increased; other communities that opted in last year have not experienced the Chamber’s predicted economic disaster; and, bottom line, raising the minimum after eight years was the right thing to do. — The majority of Wilmette’s Board agreed with such reasoning.

This morning’s announcement by Justice Kennedy threw a bit of cold water on my warm feelings about the Wilmette news. Although he was hardly a liberal justice, he did vote for social changes that would likely have been rejected if he possessed more of the Scalia or Alito understanding of individual rights. (In the future, look out Roe v. Wade.)

Now Chief Justice Roberts, with his boyish looks, charming smile and Federalist Society morality is enjoying the possibility of gaining a locked-in conservative majority in his court for years to come. This bodes well for Americans dreaming of a future of unfettered free enterprise with an absence of government intrusion. Unfortunately, in the long run, this is not a healthy prescription for a democracy.

Here at home, I’m sure that some of the opponents of Cook County’s mandated minimum wage schedule view it as a despicable government invasion. (The workers trying to get along on $8.25 an hour probably disagree.) And I’m guessing that if the SCOTUS had been running the meeting last night in Wilmette, they would have rejected the opt-in 5-4.

This is where the United States is today. The philosophical argument over what American values should represent is being debated, even at our most local levels of government, and not just in the area of commerce.

At its best, the United States is a capitalist democracy encouraging free enterprise within moral boundaries. Yes, there will always be a tension between the expectations of businesses pursuing profits and individual workers expecting to receive fair treatment as participants in the system. — But I believe that a fair-minded approach to business and worker relations can only lead to a stronger society and economy.

Such thoughts lead me back to the situation on our southern border with its flood of Central Americans seeking asylum from nightmarish situations. It’s one more story with American business at its center. A few days ago the wonderful international reporter Georgie Anne Geyer wrote a Sun Times guest column entitled, “U.S. support for brutal Central American dictators led to today’s border crisis.” I was heartened to see that headline since almost no-one was talking about why so many families have risked their lives to flee from their homelands.

For more than a century, the United States has played a big role in the Central American mess. Our unchanging national policy has been to keep governments in power that were friendly to our nation’s business interests, no matter how terrible those governments were. U.S business profits always trumped Central American human rights.

The Cold War against communism justified further support of oppressors. When that “war” ended, we did nothing to urge reforms. In El Salvador we supported rulers that sponsored death squads to murder anyone opposing them. We looked the other way in Honduras when reform-advocating priests and nuns were murdered. The peasants in Guatemala, embattled for 20 years, lost 200,000 lives. They still don’t have an honest democracy.

This decades-long turmoil has produced a hopeless, crushing nightmare for many in those societies. Lawless behavior has become a way to survive. Vicious gangs rule large areas. Cooperation between criminals, the police and the military leaves the poor with no possibility of a decent, safe life for their families.

Wouldn’t you want to get away from that?

Our President Trump says he wants immigrants allowed into our country based on their merit — scientists, doctors, engineers. But what could be more beneficial to our country than an influx of totally committed mothers and fathers? People so dedicated to their children that they would risk everything, traveling 2000 dangerous miles to give their families better lives. That’s the kind of “merit” that made our country great from its beginning. — And by the way, those immigrants were good for American business too.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973 

P.S. I urge you to read Georgie Anne Geyer’s article on Central America. Also, if you are unfamiliar with the Federalist Society, Google them to read what they stand for. You will understand Chief Justice Roberts more clearly.