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‘I voted’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 02 November 2016 17:54

“I voted.”

Those are the words on the little red, white and blue stickers that voters in Ozaukee County and elsewhere are given as they leave polling places to wear to announce that they’ve done their civic duty and to encourage others to do the same. 

The stickers come with a wrapping of nostalgia, for they date to a time—not that long ago—when Americans of all political persuasions agreed on the need to encourage people to vote.

For a vibrant democracy, the United States has a chronically low rate of voter participation. In many elections, fewer than half of those eligible cast a vote. Changing that has been not only a long-standing mission of good-government advocates, but a point of national consensus: People should vote.

Judging from current political affairs, today some regard that as a naive, obsolete belief. In coded words and actions, they are saying: Some people should not vote.

It is no longer a matter of conjecture that by describing the presidential election as “rigged” and calling on supporters to act as vigilante poll watchers to root out fraudulent voters, Donald Trump is advocating voter suppression. A senior campaign aide confirmed it in a widely quoted interview with Business Week magazine.

In Wisconsin, Rep. Glenn Grothman, who is running for re-election in the congressional district that includes Ozaukee County, confirmed suspicions that the intention of the state’s Voter ID law is to suppress voting turnout in large cities. He said so two years ago in a television interview; a video of the interview is still running on You Tube.

Federal courts have found parts of Wisconsin’s Voter ID law unconstitutional and ordered changes. Recently Federal Judge James D. Peterson angrily chastised state officials for making the ID application process exceedingly difficult to navigate for some residents whose right to vote was threatened by requirements of the Voter ID law.

According to court documents, 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters do not have a photo identification card required for voting.

That surely includes some residents of the small communities of Ozaukee County. For most voters here, producing driver’s license when voting is easy. But consider those who don’t have that form of ID, perhaps elderly people who have given up their driver’s licenses. If they have Social Security numbers and can prove citizenship, residence and identity, they can get a nondriver ID, but it’s a hassle and imposition for people who likely have been responsible voting citizens for decades.

This is why Voter ID laws look like the voter suppression tactic Grothman described. They make it harder to vote. 

The irony is unmistakable: Voter ID laws were passed with the justification of preventing voting fraud. But respected studies have determined that in-person voter fraud—the only kind of fraud Voter ID laws could affect—almost never happens in the U.S. The obvious conclusion is that Voter ID laws don’t prevent fraud—they prevent voting.

What an unfortunate turn backward this is from the time when we all agreed: People should vote. 

In search of a bright side, at least it can be said this state of affairs gives a bit more significance to that “I voted” sticker.

Wear it proudly.

Goverment work better than ‘good enough’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 26 October 2016 18:33

Good enough . . . for government work. 

The expression has been around forever implying that work done on the public payroll is somehow inferior to that of the private sector and has to be judged by a lower standard.

This disdain is amplified by the government bashing that is ever present among politicians at the state and national levels, where government employees are frequently characterized as lazy, incompetent and overpaid to justify efforts to privatize government services and, particularly in Wisconsin, to weaken unions representing public workers.

Anyone who has ever seen government work performed by Dave Ewig and his street and water department crews knows that such derisive generalizations do not apply in the City of Port Washington.

Ewig is retiring after nearly 40 years on the city payroll, many of them as head of those two departments that are so crucial to the smooth functioning of the city. 

From a story about his career on the front news page of last week’s Ozaukee Press, a portrait emerged of a government employee who never forgot that the people who paid his salary—the taxpayers, big and small, of Port Washington—were entitled to nothing less than the best service possible.

It made no difference to Ewig whether  the taxpayer affected by a water main break was a corporation with a workforce of hundreds facing a loss of production or an aged widow living alone who was fearful that her house would be without water. He gave them the same consideration, did his best to accommodate their needs, got the job done—and done well.

Public Works Director Rob vanden Noven put it like this: “If he gets a complaint, he takes it personally and works to fix it.”

Accolades reported in the Press story were so numerous they fairly leaped off the page, but the ultimate comment on Ewig’s work for his city’s taxpayers is the consistently high quality of the service provided by the departments he has managed.

Ewig’s career has been exemplary, but his commitment to giving city residents the respect they deserve as consumers of government services is not unusual among public employees. Many share that ethic. In Port Washington, they are the hard workers in various departments who, in Ewig’s words, “keep the city running on a day-to-day basic.”

Dave Ewig is 65 years old, but even so we’re going to call him a boy—a poster boy who represents all of the industrious, skilled and caring public employees whose work is far better than “good enough.”

For service and not for profit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 19 October 2016 18:26

The CEO of Wells Fargo Bank finally got it.

In appearances before Congress, John G. Stumpf didn’t seem to understand why senators and representatives from both parties were so mad at him.

He showed no signs of understanding that creating bogus credit card accounts and fake bank accounts in the names of millions of people, bilking them for millions of dollars in bank fees, perpetrating frauds so widespread that his company was fined $185 million by federal regulators and firing thousands of low-level bank employees for these deceitful business practices but holding no company executives, least of all himself, accountable were reasons for outrage. 

He didn’t seem to get it either when Sen. Elizabeth Warren told him, “You should resign.”

But then he got it. Or, rather, his board of directors got it, and forced Stumpf to submit his “retirement” letter last week.

The Wells Fargo scam had been going on for years, which suggests a corporate culture so corrupt that, like its CEO, it was blind and deaf to basic principles of morality, ethics and simple honesty. 

That culture is all too familiar. The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression was caused by the unethical, dishonest lending practices of giant banks. Uncountable deaths were caused by tobacco companies that hid evidence of the link between cigarettes and cancer as they hyped their product to unsuspecting smokers. More recently, lives were lost because a Japanese company continued to distribute automobile airbags that it knew could explode with fatal discharges of shrapnel and by an automaker that sold cars knowing they had an ignition defect that had caused fatalities.

The bad-behavior list could go on, but it should not be taken as a blanket indictment of business. There are many companies that give the same attention to ethics as to profits. Some of these are very large corporations, but the more likely exemplars of good corporate behavior are enterprises that are closer to their customers, small businesses such as those the people of Ozaukee County deal with every day. Many of these businesses take corporate citizenship beyond a commitment to deal fairly with their customers to supporting their communities with contributions of funding and in-kind donations of services and products for good causes.

Repellent as they are, the offenses of Wells Fargo and its ilk nonetheless should not be dismissed as aberrations, and memories of them should be kept handy as reality checks for use the next time someone asserts that government should be run like a business. That assertion is so common that it has achieved cliché status. 

Just the other day in Wisconsin, where an effort to privatize parts of the state government as business operations has been ongoing (such as the scandal-and-ineptitude-plagued move that turned the Department of Commerce into the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation), Gov. Scott Walker offered no state help for small school districts that can’t make ends meet under reduced state education funding and local tax levy limits. Instead he instructed them to adopt business methods, saying these districts just need to function like private businesses and find new ways to be efficient.  

Governments and school districts are not private businesses. There are long lists of economic and organizational reasons government can never function like a business. But the one that matters most is that the purpose of business—its mission and objective—is to make a profit for owners and investors.

Pursued with integrity, this is an honorable enterprise. But look where it can lead when integrity is absent: Those thousands of fired Wells Fargo workers who set up fake accounts were reported to be under intense pressure to meet lofty sales goals set by supervisors who were under intense pressure to generate profits.

The purpose of government is different—it is to serve the people.

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