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Consequences and truth PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 19:12

Many Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration ban, his executive orders reversing environmental protection measures and tariff threats that could start a trade war.

Many other Americans, especially those voters who elected Trump, are pleased by those executive actions. They see a president who is keeping his campaign promises, and they certainly approve.

The things Trump did in his first week in office are the consequences people are referring to when they repeat the well-worn phrase, “Elections have consequences.”

No matter how divided Americans are over the consequences, there should be agreement that partisans on either side of those issues have a right to their beliefs and perhaps even that the arguments they make to support them deserve grudging respect.

No such agreement or respect is warranted, however, for something else that was evident in the first days of the Trump presidency—that the president lies.

That is not meant to be a provocative statement. It is a documented fact, and no American, Trump supporter or not, should tolerate it.

The eradication of truth as an imperative of the presidency is not an acceptable consequence of an American election.

The first words the new president wrote on his famed Twitter account after his inauguration were whoppers, even though the subject was so puny it should have been beneath presidential notice. In defiance of subway ridership data and photographic evidence, Trump declared that his inauguration crowd was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. When the National Park Service posted photos proving that claim wrong, Trump ordered the Park Service Twitter account shut down.

Other, more consequential, untruths followed, including his assertions that millions of people voted illegally in the presidential election and that the press invented his verbal attacks on the CIA and other intelligence services.

How can Trump’s White House staff and cabinet, members of Congress and the president’s devoted supporters across the country abide this? Since when is a president of the United States exempt from telling the truth? 

It goes without saying that truth telling is a fundamental standard of ethical behavior for everyone. Classic stories involving a cherry tree and a nickel told about America’s two greatest presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, may be quaint and probably apocryphal, but they nonetheless express the revered belief that our presidents—especially our presidents—are expected to be paragons of honesty.

Some Americans see something darker than the diminishment of the moral standing of the presidency in the untruthfulness. After presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway used the loony yet chilling term “alternate facts” to describe the presidential falsehoods, so many people bought copies of the George Orwell novel “1984” that the book moved to the top of the Amazon bestseller list.

The new appeal of the book, which was published in 1949, derives from its parallels with “alternative facts,” particularly the campaign by Orwell’s ironically named Ministry of Truth to deny reality. The main character describes a government that attempts to persuade citizens to “reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.” The novel describes a world in which hate and fear of foreigners are drummed up by propaganda and boatloads of refugees die at sea.

Another book surging in popularity in the “alternative facts” aftermath is “The Origin of Totalitarianism,” written by Hannah Arendt in 1951. Writing about the rise of Hitler and Stalin, Arendt observed, “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd.”  

Readers who find these visions relevant to these times are taking a very dark view of the Trump presidency. But even those who maintain a more optimistic outlook, including voters who chose Trump because they believed in his vision of America, would do well to follow the example of Winston Smith, the hero of “1984,” who vowed to defend “the obvious and true.”

Not an oxymoron: bipartisan gun control PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 25 January 2017 20:27

Ready for some good, positive, optimistic news about state government?

Here it is: Some members of the Wisconsin Legislature are going where no one from that institution has gone for years, into the terra incognita of bipartisan cooperation and gun control.

If that sounds too good to be true, it still might be—if the gun lobby instructs its devoted minions in the Legislature to block this small but promising step toward quelling gun violence. But a bill reacting to the plague of death and injury by gunshot in Milwaukee has a chance to survive, owing to the solid bipartisan sponsorship by Sens. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Joe Sanfelippo (R-New Berlin) and David Bowen (D-Milwaukee).

The bill would make possessing a gun a felony for people who have three misdemeanor convictions in five years. Buying a gun with the intent of giving it to someone who can’t legally possess a firearm would also be a felony under the bill.

These measures are needed because crime in Milwaukee is caused not only by criminals but also by the boundless abundance and easy availability of guns that so often make bad deeds deadly.

The bill also seeks to limit access to guns by those not legally entitled to have them by making lying about being a straw buyer on forms required to be signed by purchasers a felony.

It’s no surprise that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn is a big supporter of the bill. His officers have to confront the butcher’s bill for this violence on an almost daily basis, not to mention facing the possibility of becoming victims themselves. The bill would make Milwaukee “safer by prohibiting career criminals who currently may legally carry a firearm from carrying on in the future,” the chief said.

Besides furnishing law enforcement with a tool with some potential for effectiveness in combating gun mayhem, passage of the bill could show the way for future efforts aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of those likely to use them for crime.

The issue of guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens is settled. State laws permitting concealed-carry are virtually universal. Save for a federal statute limiting ownership of fully automatic guns, people who aren’t felons are allowed to own any kind of firearm they want, from sporting arms to the deadliest semiautomatic assault rifles and handguns with high-capacity magazines. In American history, the right to bear arms has never been more secure. Only the likes of the National Rifle Association, whose existence as a well-funded gun lobby depends on convincing gun owners they are in danger of having their firearms confiscated by the government, would say otherwise.

The focus, then, has to be on keeping some of the 300 million-plus guns in America out of the hands of those whose behavior shows they might use them to commit crimes, including convicted criminals and mentally disturbed people such as those responsible for recent mass shootings. 

That is what the public, including the gun-owning public, wants.

Polls of gun-owners have found that majorities want universal background checks for gun purchasers and tighter regulation of gun sellers, including those who sell guns off the books at gun shows. 

Given the public support for gun limits targeted at miscreants, the chances for passage of the bipartisan criminal gun-control bill should be good. That’s assuming the gun-rights zealots of the Legislature, like those who have pushed for legislation to allow guns in schools and airports, aren’t called to resist by the NRA.

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.

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