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Trenton, Illinois
December 4, 2013     The Sun Newspaper
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December 4, 2013

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013 Trenton Sun Page 5 - Opinion vl00lt00'r t00q ts Hey, it's Santa calling again... He wants to know where that updated list for 'who's been naughty and who's been nice' is at... Dogged Journalism Is A Blessing, Not A Curse By: Lee H. Hamilton Let's start with the obvi- ous: A democracy needs in- telligence agencies. It needs to know what's happening in the world -- and under- stand the plans of allies and enemies -- to keep the na- tion prepared and secure. If intelligence work is go- ing to be effective, much of it has to be done in secret. "National security" is not merely an excuse for keep- ing intelligence activity un- der wraps: often, the only way to protect our collective well-being is to pursue many national security activities, including intelligence-gath- ering, in the dark. But that's if they're legit- imately in the national in- terest. All too often, govern- ments use secrecy to protect themselves politically or to shroud activities that, seen in the cold light of day, their citizens would reject. This is why secrecy in gov- ernment can be dangerous, and should be subject to the checks and balances of our constitutional system. However legitimate se- crecy may be, though, there is a limit to how much a democracy can stand. As ordinary citizens, we need information about what our government is up to in order to make informed and dis- criminating choices about politicians and policies. Journalists and their media outlets are indispensable conveyors of this informa- tion. The work of the jour- nalist, who often presses for a more open, accountable government, creates ten- sions with a government set upon guarding state secrets. But it's a healthy, much-needed tension. Which brings us to Ed- ward Snowden's revelations to the press about the Na- tional Security Agency and its vast efforts to monitor communications. Around Washington, Snowden is routinely excoriated, and he's none too popular in the country at large, either. But whether he's a hero or a criminal in your book, there's no question that be- cause of him, we know far more about the surveillance our government has been carrying out. The expansion of government power that the leaks reveal is with- out precedent in the mod- em era. Technology, along with the surveillance and monitoring it enables, has clearly outrun the policies to deal with it. Although many commen- tators have raised questions about Snowden's leaks, the journalists who have dug into the NSA files he pro- vided are doing the job that democracy depends on them to do: getting information that details government ac- tions and prompting a bad- ly needed debate. It's one of the most important ways to hold government account- able for the use of its power. Our ability to judge wheth- er it acted appropriately or abusively and to act as responsible citizens is but- tressed by journalists who are skilled at finding and keeping confidential sourc- es, who know how to dig through copious records or amounts of data, who have learned how to build a sto- ry from a tip or a leak, and who are accurate, honest, rigorous and fair-minded. Now, I don't want to whitewash what's hap- pening in the media right now. There are plenty of worrisome trends. As a whole, media outlets are less interested than they used to be in accuracy, ob- jectivity, and solid cover- age, and more interested in advocacy, persuasion, and entertainment. Even at the largest papers, cutbacks have reined in their ability to cover the world and to launch expensive investiga- tive work. The recent rise of alternatives -- such as the non-profit ProPublica and the investigative report- ing venture just announced by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar -- may go some distance toward recovering what's been lost, but they're also an acknowledgement that we have lost ground. And we've done so pre- cisely at a time when we face a real challenge in con- straining the reach of gov- ernment into our lives. Its powers of monitoring and surveillance are astonish- ing and are being used ag- gressively. It is classifying secret information whole- sale, it is vigorously seek- ing to prosecute leaks, and it is trying to intimidate journalists: all of these are signs of a national security state that is determined to bulk up. 'Congress is only now be- ginning to stir; until recent- ly it has been a passive and willing participant in secre- cy. At a moment like this, we have to depend more than ever on the curiosity, skill and determination of good reporters to spur the kind of debate we should be having as our society tries to strike the right balance between security and free- dom. Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. As I write this, the House Speaker, Senate President and the two Republican minority leaders have an- nounced a deal on a long- awaited and much-antici- pated pension reform bill. Other than the obvious fact that pension payments are diverting billions of dol- lars from other state pro- grams like education and human services, Gov. Pat Quinn really wants this proposal passed before the end of the year for a couple of reasons, both political. Illinois statute requires the governor to propose a new budget based on exist- ing statutes. In the past, governors would almost al- ways say they'd balance the budget if a nev tax or fee was passed, or funds were transferred or programs were legislatively changed. That's no longer permitted. Gov. Quinn's Fiscal Year 2015 budget address is scheduled for February 19th. If a pension reform bill is passed and signed into law by the end of the year, it won't take effect until June 1st. But that's after the bud- get address and before the start of the new fiscal year. So, Quinn could still use the proposal's expected savings when he introduces his bud- get. And that's important be- cause most of the temporary income tax increase expires smack dab in the middle of the coming fiscal year, which will blow more than a $3 bil- lion hole in Quinn's budget. And that means Quinn will be forced to introduce a bud- get that makes huge cuts if pension reform doesn't pass. If pension reform passes by the end of the year, the savings, which could be as high as $1.8 billion in the first year, can legally be used to "balance" Quinn's introduced budget. With a strong revenue forecast, it's possible that the com- ing year's revenues could almost cover the remainirig hole from the tax hike expi- ration. That doesn't mean, how- ever, that Illinois' finances would be in the clear. If past is prologue, a court will ei- ther set aside the new pen- sion law while its constitu- tionality is adjudicated, or (perhaps more likely) re- quire that any savings pro- duced by the law be placed into an escrow account. If that happens, then legisla: tors and Quinn will have to deal with a new hole. The responsible thing to do, of course, would be to not include the pension re- form savings in a new bud- get if the bill is passed. But that would mean proposing / / -2013 I,..... I Member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors PHONE (618) 224-9422 FAX (618) 224-2646 email:[ Michael L. Conley, Editor 6" Publisher THE TRENTON SUN iS published weekly by Michael L. and L. Sybil Conley 15 West Broadway, Trenton, IL 62293 Subscriptions paid in advance: $21 per year, $35 per year outside Clinton County $40 per year outside the U.S. Newsstand copies 50 ESTABLISHED IN 1880 ENTERED AT THE TRENTON, IL POST OFFICE AS A PERIODICAL (asPs 638-200) Postmaster: Send address changes to The Trenton Sun, RO. Box 118, Trenton, IL 62293 an election year budget that slashes education and hu- man services to the bone, and what governor wants to do that ever - let alone in an election year? And that brings us to the second reason. The state pensio n sys- tems are in dire straits be- cause the state has never made enough contributions to the systems. For proof, just look at municipalities outside Chicago, which are required to make full pay- ments. The Illinois Munici- pal Retirement Fund is very close to being fully funded. No crisis at all. Quinn and the legislative leaders have long pushed for a funding guarantee to make sure that the state doesn't skip its payments again. But Republican guber- natorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who now leads the GOP primary field in two recent polls, is dead set against a funding guaran- tee. Does Rauner really want $53,000 a year would have to live another thousand years to equal one year's in- come for Rauner. Anyway, the funding guarantee is mainly just an excuse to derail the pension deal. Once pension reform is passed, it's doubtful that legislators will want to re- visit it unless the courts strike it down as unconsti- tutional. And since the pro- RICH MILLER posal has support from the most powerful Republicans the state to have the flex- in the Illinois General As- ibility to skip pension pay- sembly, it would be uncom- ments again, which could fortable for Rauner to con- lead to even more problems tinue his harangues against down the road? Well, there's the compromise over the something else going on next year. Better to just kill here. it up front. Rauner wants a complete So since Quinn could end revamp of the pension sys- up facing Rauner in the gen- tem. He'd immediately put eral election, defeating the employees into a 401(k) plan wealthy Republican on the instead. The irony is a bit legislative battlefield now rich here. Rauner's invest- would take some air out of ment firm made a fortune his well-funded campaign offofinvesting state pension down the road. fund money. Rauner is now Passing this bill, in other semi-retired and reported words, is a must-have "twof- making $53 million from er" for Quinn. his investments last year. A retired teacher making