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The Voter ID follies PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 15 October 2014 19:53

The attorney general’s insistence on trying to impose ID requirements on the Nov. 4 election in defiance of a Supreme Court order has elements of farce, but it’s not funny

If the consequences were not so grave, we could all be enjoying a good laugh over the burlesque that Wisconsin’s Voter ID follies have become.

    Alas, there is nothing funny about confused voters and poll workers and citizens discouraged from exercising the fundamental act of participation in democratic government—voting.


    Here is the latest tragicomic twist: The U.S. Supreme Court last week issued an order that can only be interpreted as telling Wisconsin officials they cannot under any circumstances impose Voter ID restrictions for the Nov. 4 election. To which Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen responded with a statement vowing that Wisconsin will “have Voter ID on election day.”


    While we ponder what part of the word “no” baffles Van Hollen, we can observe the ironic result of his efforts and others in the Walker administration to force the flawed Voter ID law into effect, which is to make the once simple act of voting more difficult for not just those most likely to be affected—the poor, the elderly poor and minorities who don’t have IDs that satisfy the law—but for everyone.


    Counties like Ozaukee have relatively few citizens in the most affected groups; nearly everyone has a photo ID that would suffice at the polls. Yet by persisting in trying to apply the law to the fall election less than three weeks away, Van Hollen has cast a pall of uncertainty over the votes of thousands of voters here.


    These are the votes by absentee ballots that have become the preferred way of voting for a sizable percentage of voters. The ballots were mailed to requesters before Van Hollen announced he would impose the ID law on the Nov. 4 election and thus came with no mention of the photo ID requirement.

    That impediment to the voting process was so obvious that even one the three Supreme Court justices who dissented from the order blocking Wisconsin’s Voter ID law took note of its pernicious effect. Justice Samuel Alito called it “particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that the proof of photo ID must be submitted.”

    The Voter ID law was passed and signed in 2011, yet three years later it is more like a volleyball than a law, a thing being whacked back and forth across judicial nets. After challenges in state courts, it was struck down by a federal judge, then resuscitated by a three-judge panel of the 10-member Seventh District U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled it could go into effect for the Nov. 4 election, then halted by the U.S. Supreme Court last week, then a day later attacked in a furious assault by five members of the Seven District Appeals Court.

    Wisconsin was one of a number of states that enacted Voter ID laws in the past several years as part of what looked like a fad among states with Republican legislatures that were following a conservative playbook. No surprise there—this sort of thing is one of the perks enjoyed by majority parties. In the past, Wisconsin Democrats had their own playbook.


    But Wisconsin’s attempt morphed into the Voter ID follies because legislators could not resist making the ID requirements so stringent that the law’s constitutionality was in doubt from the get-go.


    At least it can be said that the resulting delay in enacting the law has had some benefit: Facts presented at various court hearings have made it clear that Wisconsin doesn’t have any voter fraud problems that could be remedied with a Voter ID law. It’s always nice to get a bit of good news.


    Last week Federal Judge Richard Posner, in a withering indictment of the Wisconsin Voter ID law signed by five appeals court judges, wrote, “Some of the ‘evidence’ of voter impersonation fraud is downright goofy, if not paranoid.” He went on to state that such fraud “is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin” and to criticize the Wisconsin law for discouraging voting.


    The much respected Posner was appointed to the federal bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan and supported Indiana’s Voter ID law (less severe than Wisconsin’s).


    It was fitting that Posner, as a jurist who now has to play a role in Wisconsin’s Voter ID follies, punctuated his scathing opinion with a punch line:


    “As there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is a problem, how can the fact that a legislature says there is a problem turn it into one? If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?”


 
Make it truly Port’s lighthouse PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 20:12

The federal government’s failure to maintain its lighthouses is an opportunity for Port to ensure the future of its most recognizable symbol

The Port Washington lighthouse is both a beacon and a sign of the times.

    As a beacon, it guides mariners to the harbor. As a sign of the times, it reminds citizens that their federal government is going backwards in terms of providing essential services to the public.


    The city has learned that the U.S. Coast Guard plans to divest itself of the  lighthouse because it can’t afford to maintain it.


    You read that right—the government that has owned and maintained lighthouses at the port of Port Washington for more than a century and a half claims it doesn’t have the means to pay for the upkeep of the current pierhead lighthouse.


    You could call this a trend—a number of federal lighthouses have already been given away or sold, some of the latter to private owners—but it is also a failure. It has been a federal government responsibility to provide and maintain navigational aids since the earliest days of the republic. It is disconcerting if not embarrassing that the same nation, now grown up and owning the world’s largest economy, can no longer meet that responsibility.


    Nonetheless, that is the state of things, and it leaves the city with a decision to make: Should it acquire the lighthouse?


    The answer is yes—because the lighthouse means too much to the community, beyond its role as an essential aid to commercial and recreational navigation, to allow its future to become uncertain under new ownership.

    The lighthouse is Port Washington’s symbol, officially in its logo and wayfinding signs, and informally in its prominence in popular images, photographed, painted and imagined, of the city. The distinctive tower standing on a massive concrete base with arched portals for waves and walkers to pass through is a destination for the thousands of residents and tourists who transit the half-mile long north breakwater to visit it each year.

    The appeal of lighthouses is demonstrated by a much older Port Washington lighthouse, the one in the 1860 Light Station atop St. Mary’s Hill. Restored by its current owner, the Port Washington Historical Society, it is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.

    The pierhead lighthouse, though dating to a comparatively recent 1935, is an important historical icon in its own right, symbolizing both  the city’s nautical roots and the ongoing importance of seafaring in Port Washington’s story.


    It should not be overlooked that this is a working lighthouse that will have to serve that purpose far into the future. Even with the GPS navigation that guides most mariners, entering the harbor in bad weather and low visibility without a lighthouse beacon could be risky. The light and foghorn in the Port Washington pierhead lighthouse are necessary aids and potential lifesavers.


    The Coast Guard says it will maintain the light itself (not the building) after giving up ownership of the structure. It says the same thing about the foghorn, though that perhaps should be taken with a grain of salt. The horn currently seems to be out of operation.


    The audible function of the Port Washington lighthouse might be termed the incredible shrinking foghorn. Long-time Port residents will remember, perhaps vividly, when the foghorn was a deep, baritone blast, so loud it rattled windows in the downtown. A foggy stretch could mean two booming blasts every 30 seconds around the clock. The horn was eventually turned down in volume and up in pitch to something resembling a squeal. In recent years its automatic fog-sensing function was turned off and it sounded only when boaters signaled it on their VHF radios. Now even that is apparently not functioning.


    In any case, Port Washington should move on this opportunity. The lighthouse is expected to be made available by the General Services Administration at no cost if the new owner is a local government or a non-profit organization. If there are no takers, it could be sold at auction to a private buyer.


    The city is no better able (well, quite a bit less so, actually) than the federal government to pay for lighthouse maintenance, so help from organizations, corporations and individuals willing to sponsor the lighthouse adventure will be needed. Judging from the community support for such initiatives as the waterfront safety campaign, we are confident that help will be forthcoming.


    We’ve always called it Port Washington’s lighthouse. Now let’s make that true in every way.


 
Insult on top of the injury of job loss PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 16:13

If people seeking jobless benefits are forced to take drug tests, then the same should apply to corporate leaders who get cash and tax credits as Wisconsin taxpayer-funded benefits

Do workers who lose their jobs forfeit their dignity along with their paychecks?

    The answer could well be yes in Wisconsin if Gov. Scott Walker is able to carry out a promise made in the current gubernatorial election campaign to require people who lose their jobs to take a drug test before they can receive unemployment benefits.


    For many of the unemployed, being laid off—downsized, furloughed, let go, fired, call it what you will—is already a psychological blow as well as a financial blow. There is dignity in work; some of that is surely stripped away when the ability to work is lost when employment ends, usually through no fault of the worker. Forcing people in these straits to submit to a drug test in order to claim a benefit meant to provide a modicum of support while they seek new jobs would impose a further indignity.


    Beyond that, it would be manifestly unfair. If the unemployed must pass a drug test, then everyone who gets government benefits should be tested, including CEOs and directors of the companies that receive taxpayer-paid-for perks, including the cash distributed to corporations by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the tax breaks awarded as business incentives.


    There is no reason to believe people who lose their jobs are any more likely to be drug users than corporate executives or any other group.

    When Florida made the mistake of passing a law requiring drug tests as a condition for receiving unemployment compensation and benefits for the poor, 108 of 4,086 people seeking benefits failed drug tests—less than 3%, a far smaller percentage than the estimated 9% of Florida residents overall who use drugs.

    Florida’s drug-test-for-benefits program lasted only four months before it was shut down by a federal-court injunction, but in that short time it cost state taxpayers nearly $200,000 for drug testing to deprive benefits to the few applicants who failed the tests.


    The Florida law was struck down in part because it required drug tests for food stamps recipients as well as those applying for unemployment and other benefits. Federal law specifically forbids tests for food stamps.


    Walker is proposing drug tests as a condition for getting food stamps as well as unempolyment benefits in Wisconsin, ensuring that there would be expensive litigation for taxpayers to pay for as well as the cost of the drug testing itself.


    There are better reasons than the cost, however, to hope nothing comes of the governor’s campaign promise. It should be rejected in Wisconsin because of the demeaning way it would treat citizens in need of some assistance from their state government.


    Rhetoric supporting such measures sometimes refers to recipients of government aid as “takers” and members of a “dependency class.” People who buy into those cruel characterizations may have no qualms about invading the privacy of a jobless person by requiring a drug test, but the rest of us should. The dignity of the working man and working woman is ingrained in civilized societies. Being out of a job should not mean it has to be forfeited.

 
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