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Compromise to save a public treasure PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press Editoral Board   
Wednesday, 10 August 2011 18:39

“All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”

So said Edmund Burke, the 18th century British politician, philosopher and staunch supporter of the American revolution, a founder of modern conservatism and a brilliant orator whose words (it was also he who said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”) remain sound advice for every one in government if not all of mankind.

The consequences of failing to heed his advice have been on vivid display in the capitol buildings in Madison and Washington where refusal to compromise led to dysfunction and paralysis and a bitterness that hangs over public affairs like an acrid cloud.

Now in Port Washington there is an opportunity to demonstrate how “human benefit” can be produced for citizens by following Burke’s counsel: The firehouse dilemma cries for compromise.

The magnificent old firehouse building at the corner of Pier and Wisconsin streets belongs under the stewardship of the Port Washington Historical Society. It will take compromise to make that happen.           

Many in the community want this; hundreds of citizens have said so by signing petitions. The Historical Society wants it, and surely a majority of the Common Council would want it if the revenue issues associated with the building were addressed.

The community wants it because people understand that the firehouse is a building of uncommon architectural and historical merit, attested to by its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built with the public’s money in 1929 and has been owned ever since by the people of Port Washington. If it is going to be removed from public ownership, it should be preserved in the public trust by a worthy non-profit organization—the Historical Society—rather than be sold to a private owner to house a commercial establishment of one sort or another.

Both the city and the Historical Society have to give a little to keep historically valuable firehouse accessible to the public

The city is on a course to do the latter. The council’s 5-2 vote last week (Aldermen Jim Vollmar and Burt Babcock dissented) to list the firehouse with a real estate agent threatens to close
the door to compromise by bringing in a third party representing self-interest rather than the public interest.

Compromise could start with the council rescinding its decision and holding off on contracting with an agent. Then it should signal flexibility on the price and terms.  The city wants
revenue from the building to help pay for the new quarters the Senior Center took over when it left the firehouse, but the $250,000 it’s asking looks unrealistic, considering that the building needs extensive and expensive repairs and upgrades. With $250,000 set as a minimum bid, the property attracted not a single bidder.

Further, officials should drop their insistence that the building be added to the tax roll (after 82 years as an untaxed public property). It could be of greater value to the city as a preserved historical icon and a museum that would educate residents and attract visitors than a tax-generating property.

Compromise is a two-way street, of course, and the Historical Society has some distance to travel on its side of the street. For openers, it should acknowledge that it’s not enough to say it will take the firehouse off the city’s hands, maintain it and make it into a museum. It needs to buy or lease the building or facilitate that outcome through its supporters. The society should show that it’s amenable to various creative possibilities, including a partnership with a private buyer.   

The group would be in a better position to do that with the city showing its support for entrusting the building to the Historical Society, instead of appearing to work against that outcome.

Questions abound and there is no road map for an agreement, but one thing is certain—there will be plenty of regret if the public loses access to this valuable piece of Port Washington history—valuable for its role in the ciy’s past and for what it can do for its future. All for the want of compromise.

 
If Americans have to sacrifice, why are some exempt? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 03 August 2011 18:05

The anti-tax dogma that protects the wealthy and tax-avoiding corporations insults the intelligence of a citizenry that knows shared sacrifice is the way out of the nation’s debt problems

The burlesque in Washington over raising the national debt limit—a self-indulgent exercise in ideological posturing in the House of Representatives that damaged the stature of the United States and cost substantial losses in individuals’ retirement accounts when stock markets fell in response to the Congressional foolishness—may be ending, but the insult to the intelligence of the American public lingers.

The insult is the assertion by a Republican faction and the acceptance by moderate Republicans and Democrats of the notion that taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations must not be raised as part of dealing with the nation’s rising debt.

The proposition is economically bogus and morally bankrupt, and the American people know it. Yet the preaching goes on unabated: It’s a sin to raise taxes. Numerous opinion polls make it clear that a large majority of the public believes this is wrong. There is a fundamental understanding that if Americans have to sacrifice to control the country’s debt, it must be a shared sacrifice.

The same members of Congress who oppose modest, targeted tax increases favor reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits as a debt reduction sacrifice extracted from citizens who depend on these government entitlements. 

A shared sacrifice? Hardly, especially considering that federal tax collections are at their lowest level since 1950—14.8% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Federal corporate taxes amount to only 1.8% of the GDP.

Refusing to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and take measures to collect more of the taxes large corporations should be paying is based on premises as phony as the trickle-down theory once espoused by the anti-tax crowd (let the rich get richer and some of their wealth will trickle down to the not rich), which has long been exposed as nonsense.

According to one no-tax-hike rationale, the fragile economy will suffer if targeted tax increases are enacted. That was proven wrong by the robust economic gains that followed tax increases signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

According to another, collecting more taxes from large corporations will cost jobs. In fact, the multinational companies that have been able to minimize their tax payments through clever accounting are more responsible for job losses, by cutting back domestic work forces and outsourcing, than job gains.

Jobs are created by the start-up companies whose owners and investors are more concerned about the credit needed to nurture their dream of becoming profitable businesses—which would have become more expensive and difficult to obtain if the U.S. had defaulted on its debt—than paying taxes.

What the anti-tax zealots in Congress refuse to understand is that America’s skewed distribution of its wealth, the most unequal of any comparable industrialized country, is just as unsustainable as its debt.

Cutting the benefits that the middle class and poor depend on while preserving corporate tax loopholes and lowered tax rates on the wealthy cruelly exacerbates that imbalance.

The public knows it is wrong to make the wealthiest individuals and corporations exempt from the coming sacrifices facing an economically diminished America. In a Washington Post/ABC poll in July, 72% of respondents said people earning more than $250,000 a year should pay higher taxes.

Yet the tax deniers continue to insult the public’s intelligence. Will Americans tolerate it?

Shame on us if we do.

 
Schools must reverse backward slide on phy ed PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 19:18

America’s child obesity crisis adds urgency to the need to make physical activity part of every school day

The authors of an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggesting that severely obese children should be removed from their homes and put in foster care seemed to have achieved their objective.

News media took their outlandish proposal seriously and devoted an inordinate amount of time and space to their opinion that removal of obese children from their
homes may be justifiable “because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”

It’s probably safe to assume the authors, from the Harvard School of Public Health and Children’s Hospital of Boston, know that’s not going to happen, but were
seeking to get the nation’s attention to a health crisis affecting America’s children.

Twenty percent of children in the U.S. are defined as obese by the Department of Health and Human Services, four times the number in the 1970s.

Obesity makes children unhealthy—the American Heart Association estimates that $14 billion a year is spent to treat them—and condemns many of them to lives as
unhealthy, obese adults.

That provocative essay in the AMA Journal, however unrealistic its recommendation, was right to focus on parents, but it missed a key factor in the child obesity
epidemic—schools. Children are obese because of poor eating habits and poor playing habits, meaning they are not getting enough exercise. Schools can do
something about both.

It goes without saying that school lunches should not include high-calorie junk food. And any school districts that are still allowing soda to be sold in school should be
sued.

But it is in the childhood exercise deficit that schools can most influence the health of their students. Schools should be giving students opportunities to exercise in
recess and gym glasses—and teaching the importance of physical exercise as a lifelong discipline.

How sad that they are doing less and less of that. Schools are going backwards in physical education.

About 25% of American schools do not require students to take any physical education classes, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most schools are falling short of what experts think is the minimum amount of physical education time a child or adolescent needs.

Trends in education are going the wrong way as far as the health of students is concerned. Wisconsin is an unfortunate example.

The severe cutbacks in state funding of public schools and limits on school tax levies will be mean less physical education and more obese children. Simply put,
schools have less money to spend. Because schools are under intense pressure to meet standardized testing goals, regular academic programs are the last to go.
Physical education is often among the first to go or be cut back.

There’s more bad news in Wisconsin. The state budget, by diverting education funds to expanding the school voucher program, is designed to push more children
into private charter schools, many of which offer no physical education whatsoever.

The decline of physical education is an institutional educational failure that deserves as much attention as the academic challenges facing American schools.

Of course, parents who are ignorant or negligent concerning their children’s nutrition and a society that has tolerated a juvenile slide into indolence share
responsibility for the child obesity crisis. But so do schools.

Students should get physical education or structured physical activity every single day they’re in school.

Unlike the bizarre idea of putting obese children in foster care, that is a sensible way to start dealing with child obesity.

 
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