Saturday, July 31, 2010

Regner Park turns 75: are parks socialist conspiracies?

Yes, they are -- and everyone likes them.

Saturday's column

Celebrating Regner and public parks
‘Thriller’ event shows how we re-create recreation

Parks were originally private enclosures of land set aside as hunting preserves for the aristocracy. The word “park” itself referred to the fencing that kept the peasants out. Today, park land is set aside for the recreation of the public, for us, the other 98 percent.

I’ve always thought that the word “recreation” contains the whole happy enchilada of what parks mean. Every wide-eyed 5-year-old has noticed that the word has two pronunciations and two definitions, and that these definitions overlap in a meaningful way. Parks are both recreational and re-creational. They divert our heads with fun and restore our souls with, well, something more.

Humans stand in a strange evolving relationship to parks.

Boundaries were originally set up to protect humans from nature – to keep out the lions and tigers and bears. As civilization grew and human populations swept out into every nook and cranny on the planet, we chased the Wild Things all the way to the horizon – and eventually caught them. By 1890, the year the U.S. census declared that our frontier was closed, our relationship to nature had spun 180 degrees.

It wasn’t too long afterward that Teddy Roosevelt got involved in the movement to establish national parks – in a reversal of human history, humans now set up boundaries, parks, in order to protect nature from humans.

City parks are an echo of this changed relationship. They are a cultivated wilderness where it’s safe for us to step back into a direct, if highly filtered, relationship with nature. Parks, whether deep and dangerous wilderness or the gardens and paths of a city park, continue to perform the function of putting us back into proper relation to nature and, somewhat more mysteriously, to ourselves – something every camper and hunter and weekend picnicker knows.

Wisconsin, and our little corner in particular, has a famous tradition of creating public parks. Milwaukee’s Sewer Socialists, who made Milwaukee work brilliantly through most of the 20th century, were born out of the labor movement’s crusade for that dangerous bit of anti-business socialism we now call the “eight-hour work day.” Scary, I know. And once they’d managed to infiltrate with this zany threat to the economic system, they turned their attention to other, so-called, “public necessities.” This included libraries, sewer and sanitation systems, public housing but also, and famously, public parks.

Regner Park, West Bend’s own public necessity, our local source for recreation and re-creation, turns 75 this summer.

Plans for the park were originally developed during World War I by Dr. W. J. Wehle, but it wasn’t until 1930 that Mayor Henry Regner and the city council spent $3,000 to buy the Goebel Woods to start the process. By 1934 the city was able to apply for funding assistance under the Federal and State Emergency Relief Administrations. After adding another 45 acres West Bend had spent about $22,000 along with $43,000 in federal assistance. Real money in those days.

Seventy-five years later we’re left with a beautiful legacy of public expense. Was it necessary?

This weekend’s events will celebrate all the ways people use the park to recreate themselves. You’ll be able to find a rock climbing wall, a display of military vehicles, McGruff the Crime Dog will be there with the West Bend Police Department, there will be yoga on the beach (hey, no tai chi?) and some of our local restaurants (like Poplar Place, Janulis, and Jaliscos) will be feeding people.

The organizers have also planned music everywhere and of every kind, from mariachis to polkas. The very first band concert, incidentally, was held on Aug. 8, 1935. Al Hron directed the Moose Band. I have not been able to find the program for that evening’s concert but the big hits in 1935 included “Cheek To Cheek,” “La Cucaracha,” “Anything Goes,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You” (still on my iPod) and “Easter Parade.”

Or you could try to break the world record for the number of people, and zombies, participating in a re-creation of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” The Thriller world record attempt, should you wish to see it or avoid it, will take place at 12:15 on Saturday afternoon. In an attempt to make this world record attempt even more thrillingly strange, it will include professional dance teams from Milwaukee and, I’m not making this up, the Klements Racing Sausages [for those of you from Not-Wisconsin, here's some video]. Frankly, they had me at “Racing Sausages.”

So, are parks really a “public necessity”? The best way to answer this is over a slice of pizza and frozen custard while listening to polkas and watching hundreds of your neighbors, and the Klements Racing Sausages, attempt to Moon Walk. Then ask your inner 5-year-old to answer the question and remember to say a quiet thank you to Dr. Wehle and Mayor Regner.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Democracy for the other 98% of us

Democracy for the other 98% of us

Three places to begin:

  • Overturn Citizens United:
    Amend the Constitution to protect America from unlimited corporate spending on our elections by overturning the Supreme Court's decision giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as people.
  • Fair elections now:
    Pass the Fair Elections Now Act, providing public financing to candidates who are supported by small donors so they can compete with corporate-backed and self-funded candidates.
  • Lobbyist Reform Act:
    Pass legislation to end the overwhelming influence of corporate lobbyists by: prohibiting individuals from switching from corporate lobbying to government service, or vice-versa, within a 5-year period; stopping corporate lobbyists from giving gifts and providing free travel to government officials; and posting online the attendees and content of all meetings between lobbyists and government officials.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ron Johnson: Liar liar pants on fire.

The latest Johnson commercial about Senator Feingold opposing laws to protect the Great Lakes? Whew: Johnson must be taking lessons in news fabrication from Fox News.

Will Johnson continue to embarrass himself like this? Survey says, Yes.

Letters: Feingold stood for ban on Great Lakes drilling | | Oshkosh Northwestern

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I guess it really is time to start voting Republican.

This was good the first time I saw it, and now, after a year or so of corporate sponsored obstructionism, maybe things would be better if we'd all cave in and start voting Republican.

Friday, July 23, 2010

A reader disagrees about Feingold

A reader disagrees.

We need Sen. Feingold to be more frugal
After reading Mark Peterson’s column Saturday, July 17, I have come to the conclusion that Mark was employing sarcasm to make a point on Sen. Russ Feingold actually being a big-spending, big-government loving liberal.

Mark’s comment that “Feingold is already a champion of Wisconsin’s tradition of fiscal responsibility” caused me to almost choke. I continued reading the article, expecting to read at any time that Mark was just joshing us about Feingold, and that even the liberal professor from the taxpayer-funded state university system knows that we taxpayers can't afford another six years of Feingold and his Democrat cronies in Washington.

I’m sure that Mark is aware that the Democrats have controlled Congress since 2006, and have had complete control since 2008. This also happens to be precisely during the largest and fastest increase in the national debt that has occurred since the founding of this country.

Russ Feingold’s voting record is far from frugal. In addition to his votes for the failed stimulus bill, which cost well over $1 trillion with interest, and the flawed health care bill, which Obama admitted this past week is actually a mandatory tax on all U.S. citizens, Feingold voted to adopt the $3.5 trillion 2010 budget resolution that created as much government debt as every other president combined – from George Washington To George W. Bush.

Here are some additional Feingold votes on spending, which clearly shows that we can't afford to keep him in Washington:

Voted YES on $192 billion additional anti-recession stimulus spending. (July 2009)

Voted YES on additional $825 billion for economic recovery package. (February 2009)

Voted YES on $60 billion stimulus package for jobs, infrastructure and energy. (September 2008)

Voted NO on paying down federal debt by rating programs’ effectiveness. (March 2007)

Voted NO on $40 billion in reduced federal overall spending. (December 2005)

Voted NO on prioritizing national debt reduction below tax cuts. (April 2000)

Voted NO on balanced-budget constitutional amendment. (March 1997)

Voted NO on establishing reserve funds and pre-funding for Social Security. (March 2007)

Voted NO on Social Security Lockbox and limiting national debt. (April 1999)

Voted NO on allowing Roth IRAs for retirees. (May 1998)

Feingold has spent 28 years as an elected official, and both Wisconsin and the United States are nearly insolvent. If Feingold is considered a frugal politician and a wise steward of our money, then this country is in serious financial trouble.

It’s time to clean out the nest of big-spending rats in Washington and Madison. If this country is ever going to get our financial house in order, then Russ Feingold needs to be removed from office now.

(Bob Gannon is of the town of Polk.)

I guess the point remains that if Russ Feingold were such a clear monster, Ron Johnson would be running against *him* rather than against Washington by using the essential features of Feingold's record.

But then Mr. Gannon wouldn't have had the opportunity to parrot the cherry picking that Republican Party Talking points have made up about Russ.

Final Score: Compassion 1, Bullying 0‏

Final Score: Compassion 1, Bullying 0
Well, we did it. We got some help for Americans who are living in their cars, and Americans who are eating cat food out of a can. Americans who have been out of work for almost two years, and then saw the right wing block their unemployment insurance payments for months.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mark Belling: A liar or just an idiot?

You make the call.

Personally, I suspect him of not being an idiot.

Belling unjustly slams great lawyer

I am a retired judge and have practiced law as district attorney
and in private practice and as a judge in Washington County for over
50 years. I have known James Pouros for almost 40 of those years. To
say the least, I could not recognize him from Mark Belling’s
description in the Wednesday paper.
To say that Pouros has “scant court room experience” is simply a
lie. Pouros has practiced in court from the time he came to West Bend
as a young lawyer. The judges of this county have appointed him time
and time again to represent persons in court on many types of cases.
He has tried many jury trials – both criminal and civil.
While all the candidates for appointment had to be qualified,
Pouros was the most qualified based on his many years of experience in
all aspects of the law. To malign him, as Belling and the letter
writer in that same edition did, is to put personal animosity over
James Pouros is the dean of the Washington County Bar. I know of
no lawyer or judge who does not have the greatest respect for him as a
lawyer and a person. I certainly will support him in his election bid.
A judge should be impartial, not connected to political
philosophy. Belling and his like cannot accept this.
To characterize Pouros as a liberal is simply ridiculous. His
Republican credentials are impeccable. He is a conscientious, hard-
working lawyer and will be the same as a judge. I certainly trust that
the voters will recognize this and not let a few zealots malign a good
person and deprive Washington County of a most qualified judge.

Richard T. Becker, Hartford

Does Ron Johnson want Feingold re-elected?

Hi everyone,

The more I watched Ron Johnson's first commercial for US Senate, the curiouser things became. The positions he advocates in that spot are, essentially, Feingold's. Maybe, I thought, subconsciously, the guy wants Feingold to be re-elected. Stay tuned.

Saturday's column.

Does Johnson want Feingold re-elected?
Republican’s commercials describe opponent

If Ron Johnson’s early TV commercials are any indication, we know what kind of senator he wants for Wisconsin.

He wants a senator who will fight unfair trade agreements that send American jobs overseas; who will vote for new laws to reduce the federal debt, eliminate earmarks, and advocate pay-as-you-go budgeting to keep Congress from spending like a room full of drunken monkeys.

From the sound of his early commercials, Ron Johnson wants a senator like Russ Feingold.

This works out great because we have a senator exactly like Russ Feingold already in place. I suppose it only makes sense that, even if unconsciously, Mr. Johnson supports Sen. Feingold’s legislative agenda. As a citizen of Wisconsin he’s benefited from exactly the kind of representation he says he wants, ever since we elected Sen. Feingold the first time.

In 1999, Feingold was one of only eight senators who opposed gutting the Glass-Steagall law, which protected us from unregulated Wall Street cowboyism and two years ago, Feingold was one of just 15 senators who opposed the Wall Street bailout that steered U.S. tax dollars into the accounts of the speculators. He voted against NAFTA at a time when, apparently, only Ross Perot could hear the giant sucking sound of US jobs leaving the country.

West Bend has always been enemy territory to Sen. Feingold, but his votes faithfully represented the interests of those people who used to work second and third shift at the West Bend Company. More recently he’s unveiled his Control Spending Now Act which targets earmarks and restores PAYGO (Pay As You Go) budgeting in order to cut and eventually wipe out the federal deficit.

He voted against the No Child Left Behind legislation, which effectively bit into local control of our schools’ curriculum, but has also helped increase access to Pell grants that will help guarantee access to college and, thus, a better chance that America’s economy won’t be swamped by the tidal wave from China and India.

Best of all, Feingold was one of the senators who voted against TARP. (Like Proxmire before him, Feingold is an oldschool Wisconsin progressive looking out for working people by voting for bills that help Wisconsin citizens and by voting against governmental waste.

Some kidding aside, Mr. Johnson kicked off his campaign by running against Washington instead of against Sen. Feingold and that could explain why, at this early stage, the race looks close.

In order to win this race, however, Johnson will have to run against Washington instead of Feingold because 1.) Feingold is already a champion of Wisconsin’s tradition of fiscal responsibility (the very platform on which Johnson hopes to stand) and 2.) when he eventually has to start running against Feingold, he’ll get pounded the same way Tim Michels did. (Tim Michels, you ll remember, was the previous businessman-millionaire who ran against Sen. Feingold and who folded like an incompetent boob as soon as he had to address deep-end-of-the-pool questions that went beyond a businessman-millionaire’s level of competence).

Once he starts running against Sen. Feingold, he’ll also have to start explaining the baggage he s carrying into the race. None of it fits in the overhead bin or under his seat. For instance: Is he or isn’t he being supported by the Tea Party; why did he lobby the Legislature, as part of the Green Bay Diocese’s Finance Council, against the Child Victims Act. Does he believe there should be a statute of limitations on child rape? And does he really believe it’s a good idea to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and does he really believe a government that looks after the public interest by demanding responsible environmental stewardship from companies like BP is beating up on those guys? (And finally, speaking of government getting out of the way of private initiative, let s go back to earmarks. While Feingold consistently opposed earmarks throughout his career, Johnson has been silent about a $500,000 state earmark from Assembly Democrats for restoration work on the Opera House in Oshkosh – on whose board he sits as treasurer.

He’s painting himself as an anti-government millionaire so, if he wanted the Opera House fixed up, why didn’t he spend his own money or raise it privately?

Maybe he believes, like other millionaires in the Republican Party seem to, that taking government handouts is okay so long as your personal welfare is sufficiently big -- like paying for pheasant hunting in Great Britain or restoring an Opera House as opposed to, say, buying food or getting medical coverage for your kids. Most telling, Republicans like this will even accept money from Democrats... which should tell you that their true priorities are not even political or public, but economic and private.

John Dewey, one of America s greatest thinkers, noted that the real problem in government is electing people who will look after the public’s interest rather than their own private interests. That’s the single best reason why Ron Johnson does not belong on the ballot this November and, from his early commercials, he doesn’t seem to think he belongs on it either.


ps. An editorial note... editorial adjustments to the version in Saturday's paper introduced a contradiction in the argument about whether millionaire Republicans thought it was okay to accept government handouts. I'd meant to note the irony that when the handouts are big enough they seemed to think it was okay to take government money (no-bid contracts to Halliburton, pheasant hunting for Wall Street hot shots, repairing an opera house). My editor adjusted this to suggest that they'd only accept money when their personal interests were *not* involved -- the exact opposite of what I'd meant to say. Dan always like to err on the side of decency, unlike the millionaires and billionaires gorging at the public trough and leaving a trail of trickle down bread crumbs for the rest of us.

pss. Oh, and I'm sorry I wrote that Tim Michels folded like an incompetent boob. My pointing this out contributes in no way to understanding just how dumb he looked at the end of his first debate with Feingold.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Political Environment: Feingold Nails Johnson On BP Stock Ownership

I'm only surprised Mr. Johnson doesn't have shares of Halliburton as well.

The Political Environment: Feingold Nails Johnson On BP Stock Ownership


The mourning after the Fourth of July.

Hi everyone,

Quo vadis, America?

Down to the 7/11 to get a one gallon slushy, that's where.

This week in a nutshell: why don't we do something about the free-marketeer meme corporatists selling the idea that freedom means having whatever you want whenever their marketing tells you you can have it? --and somewhere in there I tried to stuff 14 weeks of Existentialism into 900 words. ;^) Call me crazy.

Along with some pruning by Editor Dan, Saturday's column:

Reflecting on the Fourth of July
Fireworks blind some from responsibility freedoms carry

Fourth of July fireworks are so exciting you can forget there is more to the rocket’s red glare than, well, the rocket’s red glare. In fact, fireworks can distract us from the work on which those fireworks depend. When a celebration is so wonderful that it becomes an end in itself, we forget why we’re celebrating in the first place. Sounds like Christmas in July.

Freedom itself is a lot like fireworks. It’s exhilarating. Today, in the early part of America’s third century, it has become like air. Freedom seems free.

But, of course, it isn’t. There are costs, not all of them obvious.

Let’s do the obvious costs first.

The bumper sticker version of “Freedom isn’t Free” is all about fireworks and patriotic feeling. It helps us enthusiastically embrace the obvious and sometime dreadful costs of freedom: That we or those we love may die in war or that we may be called on, like the Founders, to pledge and lose our own sacred fortunes.

Still, the firecrackers and star shells stiffen our resolve so that, by the end of the evening, we’re all quite sure that we too could proclaim – with Nathan Hale – “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” As the thundering fusillade of Big Boomers concludes the display, we shed a tear and start humming “The Star Spangled Banner.” Anyway, I do.

But then we get back into our cars and drive home. We put the lawn chairs, and the flag, away for another year.

In honor of independence this year, let’s remember not only the obvious sacrifices that make our freedom possible; let’s remember the longterm, hidden cost of freedom as well. For some reason, this is much harder to swallow.

The hidden costs – or, to be philosophically accurate, the unexamined presuppositions that make it possible to suppose that freedom is a natural condition of humankind – are more difficult to access. Here’s a place to start: Real freedom doesn’t depend on feeling at all or on the happy exhilaration of doing whatever you like, but on the willingness to take responsibility for your actions. Responsibility is the backstop of freedom. Think about it this way: We only hold drunk drivers responsible for their actions because we believe they made a free choice to drink and drive. If someone slipped something into the designated driver’s soda, and they got caught weaving across four lanes of Highway 45 on the way home, there would be repercussions, but we wouldn’t hold them responsible in the same way because they did not freely chose to get intoxicated before driving.

The more freedom you want, the more responsibility you have to accept, and the more responsibility you accept, the freer you are. One more thing: Freedom requires letting your brain, rather than your appetites, drive the car.

Ironically, most people would rather sacrifice a quart of blood, or a sibling, than take responsibility for how they live.

Unfortunately, today, we live in a country where freedom has come to mean freedom FROM responsibility – buying any house, car or strategic weapons system I want, rather than the responsible choice. We demand the convenience of hamburgers and getting a full tank of gas at 3am, and ignore the social or environmental costs. We’re a culture in rebellion from this kind of responsibility and, to my eye, this mangled definition is the worm chewing up the center of the American apple.

This false definition of human freedom didn’t appear out of nowhere. It was created just after World War I and carefully injected into American culture over the years that followed. The whole process was kick started by one man: Edward Bernays. Sigmund Freud’s nephew. He borrowed his uncle’s psychological concepts and constructed a system for creating and nourishing the demand for consumer products, something he called “public relations.”

Public relations, what we now call marketing, transformed America’s idea of personal freedom from making rational choices into satisfying appetites for whatever sparkly new doohickie advertising convinced us to be hungry for. We’ve come to believe, as a result, that freedom means being able to have what we want, when we want it – regardless of the consequences.

So here’s a question for the morning (or in this case, week) after: Are we really making choices or are we simply slaves to appetites that have been created, sharpened, and fed by the efficient and soulless economic system we now tend to confuse with our political system?

If the latter, then we’ve reduced our constitutional rights to the rights to blather, bother, and buy. If the latter, then we are not free in any meaningful sense at all.

Freedom without responsibility turns liberty into license and adults into entitled 2-year-olds. Freedom with responsibility requires us to acknowledge not only our responsibilities to ourselves, but balances that egotism by acknowledging the obligations we have to each other as members of the same society.

That responsibility, you’ll notice, is easily forgotten in the fireworks of ego and, as our responsibility to each other is displaced by those fiery desires, so too is true freedom. Everyone likes freedom, but nobody seems to like responsibility.

Without accepting the responsibility that makes freedom possible, it isn’t only our personal identity that is diminished but our national identity as well. This love of freedom without responsibility has turned America into just one more frat party.

Or, more accurately, a frat party on a yacht.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Boston enters 21st century.

Judge in Boston says gay-marriage ban unconstitutional

Hydrocarbons in the air are already worse than the BP oil disaster.

Maybe it's time to break out the good stuff and pull up the lawn chairs....

Breathing the filth -

As deadly as the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is, the pollution pales in comparison with the hydrocarbons spilling into the air over our cities, farms and highways. The oil spill ranks as the nation's worst environmental disaster only if you ignore the great ongoing spill in the sky.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Teachers need a fair shake, even on a sinking ship.

Hi everyone,

A couple of bits were left out of this week's column, but the only one that mattered was the idea that local teachers have been taking the hit for our lousy state funding formula. If we're going down anyway, something that could happen in the near future, let's give teachers their due.

In the meantime, Saturday's column.

QEO bad for school districts

I was going to write something about the recently opened – and completely stupendous – new dog park in West Bend (just south of Highway 45 along 18th Avenue) but this week my dog has been even more interested in recent news stories about the inbound iceberg of state-funding-formula-disaster than he is in his new pals, Snowflake and Buddy.

As the school district fiddles with its navigation and replots its course to avoid the titanic iceberg promising to sink our fiscal solvency, local teachers have been a primary target. A significant percentage of district expenses is salary and benefits and so salary and benefits – even those negotiated in previous years – seem a likely place to start.

One recent suggestion has been to reinstate collective bargaining to reduce costs, a comment valuable only because it sheds light on yet one more grid in the toxic soduku of the state funding formula: the relationship between district solvency and the Qualified Economic Offer.

The QEO was instituted in 1993 as a way to limit annual increases in spending and specifically as a way to choke off big increases in teacher salary and benefits. It allowed school districts to unilaterally limit increases in teacher salaries and benefits to 3.8 percent.

At first glance this looks like one way to keep increases under control, but it has had a couple of entirely contrary consequences. Contrary consequence number one: the QEO, essentially, built a 3.8 percent increase into every school district statewide, increasing the pressure on districts to squeeze other programmatic functions (band, art, extra curricular sports) to stay afloat under the weight of their state mandated revenue caps. Revenue caps for West Bend, the reader will recall, have made it impossible for us to keep up with expenses over which we have no control. The QEO actually acts as an unfunded mandate which, since 1993, has slowly ticked away like a time bomb adding 3.8 percent to costs on a regular basis.

So back to that suggestion that we restore collective bargaining in order to climb out from under the tyranny of these regular, state-imposed, 3.8-percent increases. Here's what will happen if we do, and this is contrary consequence number two:

The teachers union has watched their salaries stagnate since 1993 – that's 17 years. During that time, much of that 3.8 percent has been eaten away by health care cost increases. The union will, quite naturally, negotiate for the best possible package of salaries and benefits. The district, up against the wall financially, will offer even less than before. The two sides, now at loggerheads, will go to binding arbitration where, in the interests of fairness, there is every good reason to suspect the arbitrator will award the teachers union even more than 3.8 percent. Suddenly, the process of collective bargaining will put the district even more deeply into the red, even closer to the iceberg that will, by 2012 or so, sink them.

The idea that collective bargaining will help us avoid the inbound iceberg is simply rearranging deck chairs while steering toward the iceberg and increasing the speed.

On the other hand, if we're going to sink anyway, there's no reason to be chintzy with the dinner rolls. Pass 'em out. So I suggest we remove the QEO and let the real market price for teachers settle at whatever rate can be negotiated or, barring that, arbitrated. Cutting salaries or, especially, going after already negotiated retirement benefits may only buy us another year anyway. But there is another reason to give our teachers the opportunity to negotiate a new contract.

West Bend will be one of the first districts to go into insolvency sometime in the relatively near future and, right now, there is not a lick of legislative will to do anything about it. Other districts in the state understand this full well. They're in the same boat we are, but they know that nothing will be done by our legislators until a big and academically successful district, like ours, sinks. They're waiting, hoping and praying, for that to happen. Only catastrophes seem to get the attention of legislators anymore and once the West Bend school district is dissolved, and parceled out to neighboring districts, enough people will be angry enough to vote out the rascals who occasionally radio'ed in from their lifeboats in Madison and watched us go down.

There's no reason to put it off. If the senate and assembly won't do anything to stop this disaster, let's precipitate one. Maybe school districts can get bailouts just like corporations do.