“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana's pithy observation is one of the most frequently cited quotes of our time – and rightly so, because it sums up our time well. It would be cited even more frequently, were more of us in the habit of reading regularly and noticing the quote.

If he were alive today, Santayana would no doubt add a corollary, regarding the dire consequences of being oblivious to what's happening all around us in the present.

How can we remember the past when we don't know what's going on now?

If, for instance, we were familiar with the history of political corruption in America, we might recognize current manifestations of it and be better able to nip it in the bud. Even without this historical knowledge, however, we could, if we paid attention, see bad things happening in other parts of our country contemporaneously and take steps to prevent it from developing here – or identify and stifle it before it takes root.

Here in Madison County, we could draw lessons from events transpiring now, hundreds of miles away, in New York State.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been arrested for secretly directing state funds to the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center, whose director, Dr. Robert Taub, reciprocated by referring asbestos patients to Silver's law firm.

Silver may also have used his position as speaker to deter lawsuit reform, to aid the appointment of friendly judges, and to bestow favors on co-conspirators.

Does any of this sound familiar?

It turns out the Simmons Law Firm in Alton also had a cozy, mutually-satisfactory arrangement with Dr. Taub, exchanging “grant” money for referrals.

Maybe it's just a coincidence. Or maybe, if we had the brains and eyes and the will to use  both, we'd discover that some of our own politicians deserve to be investigated.

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