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Ask the tough generation about sacrifice PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 16 November 2011 18:40

Even as it honors the sacrifices of the World War II generation, America can’t bring itself to expect a bit more from some citizens in hard times

Tom Brokaw called them “the greatest generation,” but many of the Americans who lived as young adults through the World War II era take that aggrandized term with a grain of salt. They would probably be more comfortable with something like “the tough generation.” They earned that title by being asked to do more for their country than perhaps any generation before or since and responding in ways that to this day define sacrifice and courage.

One of the poster boys—the term fits even though the subject is now 85 years old—for that generation is Port Washington’s Joe Demler, who was featured earlier this month Ozaukee Press. Demler, who like so many of his fellow World War II veterans doesn’t take that “greatest” stuff very seriously, jokes about the number of times stories about him and pictures of him have appeared in the Press, starting in 1945 (so many we’ve lost count).

Demler became an iconic symbol of the sacrifice demanded of the World War II generation when Life magazine published a haunting photograph showing him as a starving 19-year-old prisoner of war on the day he was liberated from a Nazi prison camp in Germany. The occasion for the recent Press coverage was a meeting between Demler and a man from West Bend who, it turns out, was one of the GIs who liberated the camp.

The two met through the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight organization. The Honor Flights were started to give the aging World War II survivors the opportunity to see the memorials built in their honor in Washington, D.C., but they have become something more—a phenomenon that has seized the attention of Americans of all ages and given them cause to think of what the veterans’ generation has meant to this country. Evidence suggests such reminders are badly needed.


Though many volunteered, members of the tough generation didn’t have a choice about going to war. Millions were drafted. Those who didn’t join the armed services were expected to work harder and longer at home. They were also expected to make do with less, and give their government more in taxes. And they did.

Today little is asked in return for the privilege of American citizenship. There is no military draft, nor any form of mandatory or even strongly encouraged national service.

The country now finds itself in relatively difficult times, nothing like World War II, to be sure, but in the grip of a wounded economy that deprives the government of revenue necessary to ensure that some of the benefits that flourished in the prosperous years following the war will be available for future generations.

If the ethic of the World War II generation were properly valued, it would be obvious that some shared sacrifice is in order now, beyond the individual sacrifices of those who have lost their livelihoods, their homes or some of their savings. And yet the idea of increasing taxes, even if only for those most able to pay, is resisted so obdurately that it has effectively rendered the Congress dysfunctional.

In the World War II years, the tax rate on Americans earning over $200,000 was 94%. The average tax rate for all Americans was about 20%. Today income tax rates range from 10% to 35%, with the average well below the World War II years or almost any other American era.

And yet we are told that even small, targeted tax increases are too much to ask of Americans.        

It’s safe to say no one is going to look back some day and call this generation tough.

 
Citizens deserve a gun-free city hall PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 18:23

Fears that signs banning guns in Port Washington’s seat of government would invite violence fail the common sense test; it’s the presence of guns in city hall that would compromise safety

If a Port Washington alderman’s fantasy world were real, a police officer, preferably armed with an M-4 assault rifle, should be stationed in the Common Council chamber during every meeting and aldermen should get hazardous duty pay because their job is so dangerous.

That isn’t the real world, but here’s how the notion of the danger of aldermanic service got started: Ald. Joe Dean said at the Council meeting last week that signs banning guns in city hall should not be posted because they would tell “the bad guys that we (city officials) are lambs preparing for slaughter.” He went on, “We don’t want a Columbine situation here where the only person armed is a bad guy.”

Slaughter? Columbine? All those bad guys? Does anyone besides Dean, and Ald. Dave Larson, who pretty much seconded his fears, really associate those words with the Port Washington city hall? Are officials’ lives suddenly in jeopardy in the house of Port Washington’s city government?

If they are, it would have to be suddenly, because, as far as can be determined, never in the 71 years Ozaukee Press has been covering city hall has a threat to the safety of aldermen, the mayor or other officials by an armed person been reported.

What has changed to make an alderman now fear gun violence at city? Apparently it’s the concealed-carry law that took effect Nov. 1.

The state Legislature erred in not including in the law a provision to keep concealed weapons out of government buildings, but the legislation does allow that to be accomplished by posting signs prohibiting firearms. That simple expedient would maintain what had been the sensible status quo under state law for many years—no guns (except when carried by police) in government buildings.

Dean, a former Port Washington mayor, has expressed enlightened views about a variety of issues facing the city, and his shooting-spree scenario was perhaps just an overly dramatic endorsement of the often heard argument that the world would be a safer place if more law-abiding people carried guns. He also said, referring again to “bad guys,” that “it would be nice if they had to wonder who of the law-abiding citizens in the room had a gun.”


Still, it was surprising to hear Dean and Larson express so much concern for the safety of city officials, when the safety of the public in the buildings owned by the public for the exercise of government is the real issue.

Only in a fantasy world where government officials are endangered lambs could prohibiting guns make city hall dangerous. In the real world, it is allowing guns in city hall that could make it dangerous.

One of the problems with guns among groups of people is the possibility of the unintended discharge of deadly weapons. It’s not an unusual happening. Last week a handgun dropped accidentally on the floor of a Milwaukee shopping mall discharged. The owner of the gun was a police officer.

When guns are in the pockets and hidden holsters of less competent and well trained gun owners, the odds of such accidents rise, especially since the requirements for training to qualify for concealed-carry permits in Wisconsin have been relaxed. A gun at hand also increases the chances that a disagreement or misunderstanding will turn deadly.

Citizens have a right to assemble at city hall to observe or petition their representatives, and they should be able to do so without fearing they could become victims of gun handling negligence in a room full of guns.

As Ald. Paul Neumyer, who as a retired police officer and current county sheriff’s deputy knows a fair amount about guns, pointed out, the impact of guns in city hall would be a “chilling effect” on the public process of government.

Mayor Scott Huebner, City Administrator Mark Grams and Police Chief Richard Thomas have also voiced sensible views on the need to keep public facilities free of guns.

In their real-world view, posting signs prohibiting guns is not an invitation to mayhem, but a prudent gesture on behalf of keeping public places safe for the public.

The Common Council should see to it that guns are not allowed in city facilities, including the swimming pool, the ice skating warming building, the senior center and city hall.

It’s not likely that armed guard will be needed either.

 
Main Street banks and Wall Street banks PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 18:59

Don’t confuse the solid institutions that help make our communities thrive with the predators whose unregulated financial trickery helped trigger the recession

The president of the Wisconsin Bankers Association recently sent out an op-ed article lamenting the fact that the word “bank” has become a pejorative term people associate with some of the worst culprits in the Great Recession.

Rose Oswald Poels wrote that “in Wisconsin you can’t call yourself a bank unless your deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance corp. Traditional banks are insured depositories and lenders. Investment banks are the Wall Street traders.”

She’s right, and it is unfortunate that the word that has always described the solid institutions residents of the small towns of Ozaukee County rely on for their checking accounts, car loans and mortgages and as safe places for their savings is now used so loosely it also refers to the likes of Citigroup.

Citigroup is only one of a rogues gallery of investment banks that very nearly brought down the global financial system in 2008 with their unethical if not illegal exploitation of exotic mortgage derivatives, but we mention that company because it’s back in the news.

In October Citigroup was fined $235 million for selling packages of mortgage-backed securities that were essentially worthless and then profiting enormously by buying credit default swaps that paid off when the mortgage securities failed.

Citigroup’s machinations were typical of the abuses that led to the failure and subsequent bailing out at taxpayer expense of a number of investment banks and a financial crisis second in severity only to the Great Depression.

Citigroup was held only somewhat accountable. Incredibly, it was allowed by the Securities Exchange Commission to pay its fine without admitting wrong doing. Overall there has been little accountability for the misdeeds that contributed to the recession that cost Americans significant amounts of their life savings and, in many cases, their livelihoods.


Executives of the bailed-out investment banks were awarded obscenely generous bonuses by their boards of directors. The investment banks continue to spend billions—far more than any other special interest group—to lobby Congress to prevent reform of the system that caused the collapse.

The lobbying pressure appears to be working. The response of Congress to the investment bank scandal was the Dodd-Frank Act, whose regulations affecting the practices of investment banks, while better than nothing, are too mild. Even so, there is a movement in Congress to repeal the law.

Deregulation of the financial industry, which started in the 1980s and was facilitated by both Democratic and Republican presidents and members of Congress, is what got the U.S. into this mess. It is what allowed Wall Street shysters to cook up schemes to sell toxic mortgages and profit when they went bad.

Now Dodd-Frank, the one modest attempt at regulating risky derivative securities that emerged from the wreckage of the recession, is under attack from a number sources, including some Republican presidential candidates. One of them, Rep. Michele Bachmann, has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would repeal it.

Critics of the Dodd-Frank regulations claim they are job killers. Americans who lost their jobs because of a recession that was caused in part by an unregulated financial industry must find that amusing in a sick way.

In her defense of depository banks, the head of the Wisconsin Bankers Association included a veiled complaint about Dodd-Frank, describing it as an increased regulatory burden.

That is probably true to some extent, but there has been no groundswell of complaint by community bankers that the law is discouraging them from making loans to qualified business owners.

In any case, some increased hassle in dealing with regulations is a small price to pay to rein in the Wall Street banks whose reflected shame has damaged the image of the Main Street banks that are community assets.


 
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