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An immigrant holiday PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 20:31

We are a country of humanitarian instinct that provides a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyranny. We are a country that protects freedom of religion for all who live on our soil.

Contrary to lore often cited disparagingly by his political opponents, President George W. Bush did not call on his fellow Americans to respond to 9/11 by going shopping. At least, not in so many words. What he said in an address to the nation following the terrorist attacks was, “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.” 

The statement, unlike others by him following 9/11, particularly those that led to the disastrous invasion of Iraq, reflected sound judgment: The nation must not let its society and its economy be paralyzed by fear of terrorists.

Fourteen years later, some of Bush’s brethren in the Republican party are responding to a new terror attack, one not even on U.S. soil, with words that seem to be derived from fear so extreme they suggest not just paralysis, but a rejection of American values.

After terrorists killed 130 people in Paris, Donald Trump said all Muslims in America should have to register and be tracked on a database. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush said only Christian refugees should be allowed in the country. Ben Carson compared refugees to rabid dogs. Chris Christie said no Syrian refugees at all, not even children, should be allowed to enter the U.S. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Syrian refugees would not be allowed in Wisconsin. 

These words are not just panicked reactions to fear; they are, particularly in the case of the presidential candidates, attempts to exploit fear for political gain.

The words are undone by facts. The Paris attacks were not committed by Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees seeking to enter the U.S. are subject to a stringent vetting process. Those who are allowed in the country may not be prevented from living in any state they choose. Hundreds of thousands of American citizens are Muslims who contribute to the strength of this society and its economy.

Worse than their irrational basis, the words are alien to the values on which this nation is founded. We are a country of immigrants. We are a country of humanitarian instinct that provides a safe haven for refugees fleeing tyranny. We are a country that protects freedom of religion for all who live on our soil.

We are a country that this week is observing a uniquely American holiday that commemorates the gratitude expressed by some of our very first immigrants, some of whom were refugees who fled religious tyranny, for being able to live in a land where their ethnic origins and beliefs were no bar to enjoying freedom and plenty.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The lighthouse is in Port’s DNA PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Thursday, 19 November 2015 14:34

The Port lighthouse beacon, flashing red every 2.5 seconds, and fog horn, sounding twice every 30 seconds, brought them home

No stories are more compelling than adventure stories. The stories of the role of the Port Washington lighthouse in the lives of the community’s mariners are true adventure tales that federal government officials should surely find compelling enough to help them decide, once and for all, that the lighthouse belongs to this city.

As part of the energetic campaign he is leading to persuade the General Services Administration to transfer ownership of the lighthouse to the city, rather than a private Michigan group that covets it, Mayor Tom Mlada has invited residents to share their own lighthouse stories.

There have been reminiscences about romance, fishing and inspiring lake views experienced in the vaulted space beneath the lighthouse tower at the end of the north breakwater. These are warm memories that help illustrate the place the structure occupies in community life, but they are really only decorative footnotes to the Port Washington lighthouse stories that matter most.

Those are the stories of the commercial fishermen for whom the lighthouse was an essential aid to survival—the survival of their livelihoods, the survival of their very lives.

The lighthouse was built—in 1935—during the heyday of the Port Washington fishing industry. The harbor then was home to a fleet of fishing vessels that ventured daily out onto Lake Michigan. Some of the boats tended trap nets near shore, but others steamed for hours offshore to the middle reaches of the lake where the fishing crews set and lifted gill nets on what they called Northeast Reef.

This was year-round seafaring. The fisherman plied their dangerous trade in the gales of November and December, the snowstorms of January and February, the blinding rainstorms of spring and fall, the violent squalls of summer and on any given day in nearly opaque fog, at times in dangerous sea conditions with ocean-size waves.

As aids to returning safely to their home port at a time when GPS was not yet even a science fiction fantasy, they had only a compass and the lighthouse. The fishermen were masters at the dead-reckoning form of navigation, but finding the harbor entrance in low visibility without a visual or aural beacon to home in on was more a matter of luck than skill.

The lighthouse fog horn, before it was toned down near the end of the 20th century (currently it operates at the command of boaters with a radio signal), was a deep baritone blast, so loud it rattled windows downtown. Some shore dwellers found it annoying, especially when it would sound for days on end during foggy stretches, but it was music to the ears of fishermen.

For many years in the life of the lighthouse, the freighters that brought coal to Port Washington and the tankers that brought oil and gasoline had no more sophisticated navigational devices than the fishermen. Dead-reckoning and the lighthouse with its beacon and its horn guided them here too. 

The fish tugs, coal boats and oil tankers are gone. The ubiquitous satellite navigation wonder of GPS has replaced dead-reckoning. Yet sophisticated electronic devices are vulnerable to failure, and the lighthouse remains needed by the sport fishermen and recreational boaters who pass it on their way into and out of the Port Washington harbor. Their stories of a working lighthouse are still being written.

The lighthouse is a pleasing subject of photos, paintings and memories, a tourist attraction and a fitting civic symbol, but its meaning to Port Washington is much more than any of that. It is stored in this seafaring community’s DNA. It is as much a part of its maritime history as are the fishing families—the Bosslers, Nagrockis, Cayners, Deckers, Wildhagens, Smiths, Ewigs and others—for whom the lighthouse was an essential part of a way of life. 

That makes it Port Washington’s lighthouse—and no one else’s.


An affront to school district voters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 20:14

‘This is democracy in its purest form. One has to wonder what it is that Stroebel finds objectionable about that. Surely it isn’t that he regards voters as not smart enough to be trusted with school spending decisions.’

It’s hard to look at the intrusion into local control of education proposed by State Sen. Duey Stroebel without seeing it as yet another move by the Republican majority of the Legislature to undermine public education in Wisconsin.

In successive budgets, the Legislature has systematically reduced state aid to public schools already constrained by levy limits while increasing the amount of taxpayer money given to private schools.

Now comes Stroebel, whose district includes the northern half of Ozaukee County, with a bill that would restrict the ability of school districts to finance building projects and operating expenses through referendums.

The bill appears punitive—designed to punish public education—because it serves no other purpose. There is no evidence that school districts have abused the referendum process or have somehow taken advantage of voters.

Stroebel’s bill would prohibit districts from putting a new referendum on the ballot for two years after a referendum was rejected. It would require that school referendums be held only as part of general elections.

The referendum process was wisely institutionalized by the same Legislature that imposed levy limits on school districts. Its purpose is to give districts the ability to ask voters directly for permission to raise taxes above state levy limits if needed to pay for school buildings or to meet essential expenses that can’t be covered within levy limits.

In either case, school districts have to justify the spending to voters, and the voters, of course, are free to say no. 

This is democracy in its purest form. One has to wonder what it is that Stroebel finds objectionable about that. Surely it isn’t that he regards voters as not smart enough to be trusted with school spending decisions.

The bill exposes a political hypocrisy that is increasingly tarnishing state government in Wisconsin. Stroebel walks in step with legislators who profess to be champions of local control of government and then approve heavy-handed state mandates that usurp that control.

The same Duey Stroebel who has attacked Common Core educational standards approved by the U.S. Department of Education as a threat to local control of education now proposes to restrict control of school spending by local voters.

As Port Washington-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber put it in an interview with Ozaukee Press, “We have a state system that calls for local control and local decision making. And we have legislators who profess to support that system, yet propose legislation that would do just the opposite.”

Weber added, “I’m struggling to figure out the purpose of this legislation.”

That is indeed a struggle. It is also a struggle not to conclude that Stroebel’s bill is one more sign of the animus the Legislature’s majority holds for public schools.

Stroebel can temper that perception by withdrawing his ill-conceived and utterly unnecessary bill.

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