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An image, a call to do our duty for veterans PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 28 May 2014 14:58

America has a sacred obligation to not just root out malfeasance in the VA, but to adequately fund the department that is charged with caring for the nation’s 21.2 million veterans

If one photograph of the many published in observance of Memorial Day could capture the spirit of America’s special regard for its war veterans, it was last week’s Ozaukee Press cover picture. The image was of a 10-year-old Boy Scout, a child who glowed with the fresh-faced innocence of youth but was proper and solemn in his uniform and tie, placing an American flag, its stirring colors brilliant in the spring sun, among the green grasses embracing the headstone of a veteran’s grave in Saukville’s Union Cemetery.

    The holiday weekend was replete with other acts of reverence for veterans living and dead—applause for the color guards marching on main streets in Memorial Day parades, gatherings in the parks named Veterans Park that nearly every community seems to have, speeches in praise of the sacrifice and courage of those who fought for their country.

     The holiday’s rituals reminded us that no matter how sharply Americans are separated by political, economic and social status, they stand together in respect for veterans. How, then, can the Veterans Administration health-care scandal that loomed like a unwelcome rain cloud behind the Memorial Day veterans’ honors be explained?

    Explanations of how veterans’ care was delayed at some Veterans Administration facilities will surely be forthcoming. Investigations by the Obama administration, Congress and the news media will likely find evidence of petty, greedy, incompetent or even corrupt actions by VA bureaucrats at some level. The bad actors will doubtless go, but the bigger problems in the way the U.S. fulfils its responsibility to its veterans will remain.

    Those problems start with the fact that the United States creates veterans at a pace unmatched by any developed country. It will be debated forever which wars were necessary and which were fought by choice, whether good choice or bad choice, but the fact remains that this is a warlike nation.

    As a result, America has 21.2 million veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs budget for fiscal 2014 is $150.7 billion. That’s an astonishingly large number, but it’s not big enough. VA funding has not kept pace with the numbers of wounded and sick veterans who need care.

    House Speaker John Boehner was moved to tears last week when he spoke in front of TV cameras in condemnation of the VA scandal. There is no record of him crying last February, however, when senators from his Republican party filibustered to death a Democratic bill that would have increased VA funding by $40 billion over 10 years to pay for 26 new VA health care facilities.

    The bill’s supporters argued it would be no burden on the federal budget because it would be funded by money saved in the wind-down of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Opponents acknowledged the savings, but insisted they be applied to deficit reduction instead of VA funding.

    Disgust and outrage over the VA problems cross party lines, but that doesn’t exempt the controversy from hypocrisy and political opportunism. Some of the loudest critics of the performance of the Veterans Administration are members of Congress who have repeatedly proposed cuts in VA funding. Others are exploiting the scandal as part of their shrink-the-government agenda, citing it as evidence of the evil of an oversized federal government.

    The VA is indeed a massive government bureaucracy with nearly 300,000 employees. That is what it takes to administer benefits to a population of veterans that is bigger than most countries in the world. This is a not a responsibility that can be passed off to the states or, as some government haters have proposed, to private for-profit companies.

    It falls squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States of America, and no other need, and certainly no call to reduce the nation’s debt, can take precedence over that of taking care of the men and women who gave service to their country. Fulfilling that obligation requires not just rooting out bureaucratic incompetence and malfeasance in the VA, but paying the financial cost of caring for veterans.

    There is something more to be found in that evocative cover photo than a portrayal of the reverence Americans hold for their veterans. In that image too is a nuance that foreshadows an uncertain future, the realization that the boy in the Scout uniform could one day in a decade or so be wearing a military uniform and along with others of his generation be asked, or told, to risk his life in defense of his county in yet another war.

    We can only hope future leaders will make the right choices in demanding sacrifices of citizens. But we can do more than hope that our veterans are cared for. We can resolve to keep every promise made to them in return for their service to their country—whatever the cost.


 
Cull the herd PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 17:30

It’s time to act to control the exploding deer population and the harm it brings to other species—plants, animals and humans

On one day last week six mangled carcasses of deer were counted on the roadside of northbound I-43 in the eight miles between Port Washington and Belgium. It is safe to say that many more traffic-slaughtered deer littered other stretches of highways and rural roads in the area on the same day.

    We hope the animals didn’t suffer, but we know the humans involved in these collisions did, if not with physical injuries, then with financial wounds. Every one of those deer fatalities represented a trip to the body shop and a bill for motor vehicle owners and insurers to pay.


    More than $4 billion in vehicle damage is caused by collisions with deer in the U.S. each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. More than 200 people a year are killed in those collisions.


    The numbers and the highway gore speak of the takeover of urban and suburban spaces by wild animals that should be living in Wisconsin’s vast areas of forest lands that are virtually uninhibited by humans, but they only begin to tell the story of the costs imposed by the deer herd that has settled on human turf.


    Here’s more of the story: Agricultural crops are plundered, gardens are destroyed, landscaping—the plants and trees in which homeowners invest money, toil and pride to beautify their yards—is maimed, cedar tree varieties in natural areas are shorn of branches to the height of a browsing deer depriving other animals of necessary habitat, Lyme disease is spread to pets and humans by ticks that infest deer.


    The way things usually work in organized society is that when a problem as obvious and serious as this one appears, an effort is made to solve it. That’s not happening here.


    In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources is more concerned about increasing the number of deer available for hunters than decreasing the number that are plaguing developed areas. Local governments seem content to let their citizens endure the predations of the deer.


    But elsewhere government agencies are moving to reclaim land from deer herds.


    In Washington, D.C., the National Park Service dispatched professional sharpshooters to kill deer that were destroying seedlings and vegetation in Rock Creek Park. Using small-caliber rifles at night, the marksmen killed 106 deer on their way to the goal of culling the herd from 70 deer per square mile to 20. The meat was inspected and processed and 3,200 pounds of venison were donated to homeless shelters and other charities.

    Essex County in Connecticut runs a similar deer-shooting program that results in diminishing numbers of deer and meat for food pantries and meal programs.


    Durham, N.C., and Rock Island, Ill., have enlisted bow hunters to kill deer, a safer option for heavily populated areas than firearms. The hunters are required to shoot from elevated blinds or into ravines to limit the danger of wayward arrows.


    Hidden Valley Lake, Ind., was so overrun with deer that bacteria from the animals’ feces was declared a health hazard. The city issued permits to archers who had passed a test and after two years the deer herd was reduced enough that the number of deer-vehicle accidents declined significantly and the animals were less of a public nuisance.


    There are other examples across the country of efforts, involving contraception, poisoning and trapping as well as shooting with arrows and bullets, to take the initiative to restore some sort of balance between the occupying deer and humans, animals and plants.


    Some groups and individuals who deplore cruelty to animals object to deer-control programs on the grounds they are inhumane. Their concerns are understandable and their sensitivity to animal suffering should be respected. Their influence, in fact, encourages people in charge of deer-control programs to abide by the imperative to be humane. For their part, animal advocates should acknowledge that, as the carnage on the roadside attests, the accidentally inhumane deaths of many deer (not to mention humans) might be avoided by controlling the deer population.


    Meanwhile, owing to the lack of any sort of control plan, deer have an open invitation to live in vast numbers in Ozaukee County, along with the manifold problems they bring.


    Man is the only predator these destructive animals have in this part of the world. It’s time to act like a predator.


 
Fredonia’s ‘Bleak House’ PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 14:44

In a parallel to Dickens’ classic novel, a dispute over taxpayer land and money that should have been settled years ago has grown into a six-figure monster

Where’s Charles Dickens when we need him?

    There’s a story in Fredonia crying for telling by the great 19th-century writer that would be a blockbuster followup to “Bleak House,” his classic satirical novel about the futility of the English legal system.


    In “Bleak House,” generations of would-be heirs stubbornly carried on a fight for an inheritance that crawled along in a dysfunctional court system for decades until the dispute became moot because the inheritance had been consumed by legal fees.


    In the Fredonia version of “Bleak House,” a school district and a property owner have stubbornly carried on a fight over land drainage that started with a bill for $8,300 but has grown to a cost nearing $150,000 in lawyers’ fees.


    The story has two twists Dickens would have loved: The property owner is a member of the district’s school board and the eventual losers in the fight could be the taxpayers.


    Fredonia’s version of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the case in Dickens’ novel, is Northern Ozaukee School District v. Kendall J. Thistle and Carla C. Thistle. The lawsuit was filed in 2011, though the dispute dates back to five years before that.


    The facts of the dispute are not complicated enough to warrant a prolonged legal battle. Grading of land by the company developing the Village Green subdivision (which went out of business before the subdivision was completed) disturbed natural drainage and caused nearby land owned by the Thistles to flood.

    To protect their property, the Thistles constructed a berm. The berm deflected water runoff to adjacent land owned by the school district, creating a pond that district officials considered a safety hazard. The district had the pond drained at a cost of $8,300 and asked the Thistles to pay the bill. When they refused, the School Board sued.


    Who’s at fault? Blame can justifiably be heaped on the irresponsible and evidently incompetent subdivision developer, Regency Hills Mastercraft, but that serves no purpose because the firm is bankrupt.

    Beyond that, the question of who is responsible for the district’s pond-draining expense has faded into virtual insignificance in the shadow of the inflated and ever-growing consequences of the failure of both sides to resolve a disagreement over a comparatively small amount of money.


    The fact that Kendall Thistle is a member of the School Board of the district that is suing him has been a complicating factor. He has dutifully recused himself from discussions and votes concerning the lawsuit, yet the fact remains that his part in failing to settle the issue could cost the people he was elected to represent.


    A majority of his fellow School Board members obviously believe they are in the right, but fighting for a principle is a luxury best indulged in by individuals. Representatives of public bodies, on the other hand, should be looking for the course of action that best protects the interests of their constituents, which is often not the same thing as “winning.”


    No one involved in this mess can escape responsibility for letting a disputed bill of $8,300 grow into a six-figure monster that someday will have to be paid by someone—the defendants or the plaintiffs, including taxpayers and presumably the district’s insurer, or all of the above.


    A recent attempt at settlement failed, to no one’s surprise, and the case is scheduled to go to trial in Ozaukee Circuit Court in late June.


    In the meantime, we recommend that the parties to the dispute read “Bleak House.” It’s a very long book, and frankly, a bit tedious in places, but it teaches a lesson in the futility of stubbornness in pursuit of legal remedies that this group needs to learn.

 
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