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DNR caves in to climate-change deniers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 18:53

Where giants of environmental conservation and protection once walked, political pipsqueaks now scurry about trying to cover their enormous tracks.

Politicians presiding over the government of Wisconsin, where John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson began their legendary service as valiant defenders of the environment, are leading the state away from its responsibility to serve in the most consequential environmental battle of the age.

In December, members of the administration of Gov. Scott Walker expunged long-standing language from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website that explained the consequences of climate change and acknowledged the role of man-made greenhouse gases in trapping heat in the atmosphere. 

The erasure, along with a similar deletion of information about global warming from the Public Service Commission website, signals obeisance to the orthodoxy of the climate-change deniers who, though shrinking in numbers, remain an impediment to the reduction of the carbon emissions that are causing the warming that imperils the earth.

This bow to anti-science backwardness by a state that was once regarded as enlightened in the protection of the air and water and other natural resources puts Wisconsin on the wrong side of an international campaign to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases discharged into the atmosphere. 

The finding that humans cause global warming by burning fossil fuels that release carbon is firmly in the mainstream of scientific analysis. It is the conviction of an international consensus representing most of the world’s climate scientists. Yet the replacement climate-change statement now on the DNR website implies that global warming is a natural phenomenon that is unexplainable by science.

That puts Wisconsin in step with the president-elect, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China, but leaves the state awkwardly out of step with people and institutions that have judged the matter based on evidence rather than a compulsion to issue political-rally-rousing sound bites.

Leaders who do not avert their eyes from the reality of man-made climate change include some of Donald Trump’s own cabinet nominees, including his choice for secretary of state, who spoke of his concerns about global warming in Senate hearings. The words came with extra heft because the nominee, Rex Tillerson, is the biggest of big oil men, the chief executive of the world’s largest fossil fuel company, ExxonMobil.

Some of the military leaders who have garnered Trump appointments have also shown they understand the role of carbon in climate change. The American military, in fact, has long recognized the threat of worldwide destabilization caused by global warming and has developed strategies to counter it. As a massive consumer of fossil fuel, the military is starting to do its part in reducing carbon emissions with the development of aircraft and naval vessels powered by renewable energy and biofuel.

Meanwhile, American businesses are not wasting time denying the carbon threat; they’re acting on it. Two hundred multinational companies, including the likes of Walmart and Procter & Gamble, have committed to science-based targets for reduction of carbon emissions. This is not necessarily out of concern for the planet—these companies see human-caused climate change as a risk to their operations.

In Wisconsin, utilities have pledged to cut carbon emissions 40% by 2030, even if Trump follows through on his threat to revoke Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require power plant emission reductions.

A number of other businesses in the state have programs in place to create so-called net-zero buildings that offset carbon emissions with energy-efficient lights and equipment and renewable energy sources.

The growing embrace by business of carbon-cutting programs along with the rapid rise of the renewable energy industry serves to neutralize the claim by climate-change deniers that measures to reduce fossil-fuel emissions cannot be tolerated because they damage the economy.

Global-warming remains an existential threat to the world, but forces are marshaling to combat it. The Walker DNR, however, is not reporting for duty.

Prison for a teen locker room video? Really? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 January 2017 19:58

It would defy common sense to think that the Wisconsin legislators who voted to enact the state’s revenge porn law in 2014 intended to give law enforcement a tool to crack down on locker room horseplay by teenage boys. 

Yet the law is being used to charge a 17-year-old Port Washington High School student with a felony punishable by 1-1/2 years in state prison for posting a video of another boy’s buttocks taken in the school locker room.

The colloquial name of the law describes the behavior the law aims to punish: Maliciously posting sexually explicit photos of former lovers or spouses as acts of revenge.

Nothing like that was involved in the behavior of the Port High senior. According to the complaint, the boy, who is charged as an adult, made a cell phone video showing a student’s bare backside as he tried to retrieve underpants someone had thrown on top of a speaker box. The alleged crime consists of posting the video on Snapchat, the mobile app that displays submitted images for 10 seconds and then deletes them.

Locker room horseplay is nothing new. Often it’s just boisterous fun, though it can be mean bullying. In any case, it’s behavior that is best avoided, but it’s not usually behavior that results in intervention by police and courts. Social media seems to have changed that. Opting not to handle the video incident as a matter to be dealt with by the school, high school administrators called the police.

The Snapchat post that drew attention to the locker room activities could have deprived the subject of the video of privacy and exposed him to ridicule. Discipline for the student who sent the video for its 10-second run on Snapchat is warranted. But a felony charge?

The charge is so out of proportion with the offense that it mocks the generally accepted definition of a felony as a crime serious enough to justify a prison term along with the loss of various rights, including the right to vote. Can anyone imagine a 17-year-old boy being sent to prison for posting a locker room video?

Over charging is a standard prosecutor’s gambit frequently used as leverage to speed the wheels of justice by motivating defendants to accept plea bargains. But in this instance it’s an unnecessarily hard-nosed tactic that inflicts punishment even before the case is decided. 

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the stigma of being charged with a felony could follow the boy for years, affecting his ability to enroll in college and start on a successful working career. The seriousness of the charge also means that the accused boy’s family is facing the significant cost of a lawyer to safeguard his rights in the plea bargaining and court process.

District Attorney Adam Gerol is a respected litigator with a solid record prosecuting offenders and managing of the Ozaukee DA’s office. His decision to bend a law designed to punish the malicious use of pornographic images to fit locker room behavior that appears to be more prank than crime is surprising and disappointing. If prosecution is truly justified, Wisconsin statutes offer ample means to apply a misdemeanor charge to an offense of this nature. 

Many successful prosecutors are known for their unrelenting focus on doing whatever it takes to win a guilty plea or verdict. That’s not needed in this case. The accused teenager has admitted posting the video, according to the complaint. What is needed is a touch of the spirit of a hallowed tenet of justice: The punishment should fit the crime.

Driving the DOT bus on a bumpy road PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 18:31

There will be no speculation here as to whether Mark Gottlieb retired as Wisconsin’s secretary of the Department of Transportation just because he wanted to, or was asked politely to step aside, or was summarily fired. 

No matter what the reason he is leaving the cabinet post on Friday, it doesn’t change the fact that he gave the state outstanding service for six years trying to do a job that ultimately proved to be impossible.

Interviewed by Ozaukee Press when he was appointed transportation secretary by Gov. Scott Walker, he called it his “dream job.” When interviewed by the Press about his retirement last week, he said, “I’m just not talking about it.” He didn’t have to; everyone could see that the most important part of his job—keeping up with the state’s needs for highway maintenance and construction—had turned into something more like a nightmare than a dream.

The DOT chief’s hands were tied by the insistence of the governor that no new revenue, not even that which would result from a modest increase in the gas tax, be spent on roads. During his tenure, Gottlieb put together creative financing proposals that paired the bonding favored by the governor with a small gas-tax hike and some experimental use of fees based on miles driven. But nothing flew against the anti-tax wind that prevailed in Madison.

As a team player, Gottlieb gave the governor the budget he wanted for the coming biennium —one that included no new revenue, just new borrowing, but not enough for the state to stay on pace with its road repair and building needs. 

In a statement that was as honest as it was politically incorrect, Gottlieb told the Assembly Transportation Committee several weeks before his retirement was announced that the effect of the budget would be to double the number of roads in poor condition in the state in the next 10 years.

Gottlieb was also known to tell it like it was when he was the mayor of Port Washington, a position he held after serving as a city alderman and before being elected to the state Assembly. The Common Council meetings over which he presided were known for the open and frank airing of issues, often marked by lively and illuminating exchanges among council members and the citizens in attendance.

The city generally fared well under Gottlieb, though this editorial page did not agree with the mayor’s approach to the most important issue he faced—the decision that ensured that the city would have a huge power plant on its lakefront far into the future.

When We Energies announced that it planned to shut down the Port Washington coal-fired plant and replace it with a new one using gas-fired generators, Press editorials, arguing that the city and its residents deserved relief from the nuisance of the power plant they had endured for some 70 years, urged the mayor and council to deny permits for the new plant and acquire the lakefront site for public use and non-intrusive private development.

An engineer through and through and a practical man, Gottlieb measured the difficulty of a small town with limited resources fighting a giant utility to rid the site of the massive structure and the residue of its operations, and with council backing opted to make a deal.

The results of the arduous negotiations led by Gottlieb are obvious today. The city has the new plant on its lakefront—enormous, brutally industrial, shockingly out of place. But it also has possession of the former power plant’s deep-water dock, the sprawling Coal Dock Park, more than 40 acres of former We Energies lakeshore land soon to be developed, access to the south beach and an annual cash stipend from the utility in lieu of taxes.

It’s not the perfect outcome, but it is one that benefits the city significantly, and Gottlieb would be entitled to regard it as his legacy to his hometown.

As for his record as transportation secretary, he won’t be able to claim credit for smooth roads. But that is not for lack of trying as the head of a huge and complex department of state government who, as Assembly Majority Leader Robin Voss put it in a gracious send-off, was “one of our most hard-working and articulate public leaders” whose “expertise and candor will be missed.”

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