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Welfare that works PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 November 2013 17:52

The surge in food stamps that has politicians railing against ‘dependency’ is really a sign that many Americans are in economic pain and are taking part in a program that helps

Ozaukee County, virtually tied with Waukesha County as the richest in Wisconsin based on average income, is the 25th wealthiest county in the country and has the second lowest poverty rate, according to the 2000 census.

    Yet a study done by the Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee County United Way organizations found that 1,364 households in Ozaukee County are living in poverty. The study also determined that more than 7,500 Ozaukee households are struggling, meaning they are having difficulty meeting the basic needs of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

    So it is safe to say that even in this county where so many are well off, thousands of families are not, and many of them receive assistance from the federal government in trying to meet the most basic need of all—food—in the form of food stamps. That makes them, in the view of increasingly vocal critics of the food stamp program, symptoms of an increasing welfare dependency that threatens America’s character.

    In July, the House of Representatives passed a farm bill that for the first time in 40 years provides no funding for food stamps. Funding could continue under other appropriations, but the House budget calls for reductions in food stamp spending that would require cutting millions of people off of the benefit. The chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has warned of food stamps and other federal assistance programs sending “able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency.”

    Evidence cited in the push against food stamps is the sharp increase over the past five years in the numbers of people receiving the benefit. In 2008, 28 million Americans got food stamps. Last year, the number was 45 million. Eligibility standards were eased by the George W. Bush administration and benefit amounts increased by the Obama administration. These changes were motivated by the financial crisis, which remains the primary force that has driven the cost of the program to $80 billion a year.

     That number is enormous, but it hardly constitutes an argument to roll back the food stamp program. Consider the other numbers:

    The average food stamp household consisting of 2.2 members receives $72 a week in food assistance. The average recipient household has a gross annual income of $8,532. Of the individuals who receive food stamps, 47% are children; 91% of all food stamp benefits go to households living below the poverty level.

     Make no mistake, food stamps are welfare—welfare that works. Without food stamps, many more Americans would be hungry, and about half of them would be children.

    It’s easy for the well fed to rail against free food. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama proclaimed, “No program in our government has surged out of control more dramatically than food stamps.”

    But William A. Galston, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, points out that growth of the food stamp program “mostly reflects worsening economic conditions rather than looser eligibility standards.”

    At the end of an analysis published on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Galston wrote: “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the current attacks on the food stamp program are motivated far more by budget-cutting zeal and anti-government ideology than by defects of the program—and that real disagreement is about the extent of our collective obligation to the least fortunate Americans.”

    Taking food off the tables of the poor in the name of sparing them from dependency and complacency mocks that obligation.

Another government shutdown PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 November 2013 00:00

Posting signs warning the public to ‘Keep Out’ of the Port breakwater is a sign of government negligence; join the fight to fix this essential infrastructure

Remember the federal government shutdown? While most Americans have been trying to forget that disgraceful game of political chicken
that deprived citizens of necessary government services, Ozaukee County residents got a flash of deja vu on Nov. 1 when a federal
agency shut down the Port Washington breakwater.

    The reasoning for this closure of a government facility valued by the public is about as tortured as the rationale for the government

    The breakwater, owned by the federal government, has been deteriorating for years but was ignored by its owner. After entreaties by
local officials and pressure from a member of Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers finally inspected the breakwater, and then
announced that, just as everyone had been saying, it’s in terrible condition. But instead of making plans to fix it, the agency posted
“Danger” signs telling the public not to use it, calling it a “Restricted Area” and warning people to “Keep Out.”

    This hurts Port Washington. Residents and visitors want to walk on the breakwater—to see the lake, to see the city from the lake, to
see the lighthouse up close, to take pictures, to catch fish. For any number of reasons, going out on “the pier” is a ritual for many
residents and an attraction for tourists.

    For some, the signs will be a turn-off; others won’t be stopped from walking on the breakwater, nor will anyone try to stop them. (This is
not law a enforcement issue.) The signs seem as much intended to cover the Army Corps’ backside as to warn of actual danger.

    The breakwater is probably no more dangerous to tread on now than it was a year ago or five years ago. In fact, it’s safer now, thanks
to the liferings and ladders installed recently by a citizens group.

    To walk on the breakwater has always been treated as an at-your-own-risk decision. The corps’ inspection revealed that the outer
portions of the breakwater are unsound and could fail, presumably when battered by storm seas. Prudence by breakwater walkers is

    The clearest message of the new warning signs is that the government has failed in its duty to take care of the public’s property.
Congress bears ultimate responsibility. Breakwaters like the one that is fundamental to the integrity of the Port Washington harbor are
basic infrastructure. The notion that this nation cannot afford to maintain its infrastructure is absurd, though it is offered as an acceptable
price to pay by those in Congress who rank deficit reduction gestures as more important than a government meeting its responsibilities.

    This leaves the Army Corps of Engineers rationalizing its negligence by saying fixing the Port Washington breakwater will have to wait
because the harbor no longer needs to accommodate commercial shipping. That’s a false priority.

    Elsewhere in this issue of Ozaukee Press, readers will find a news story detailing how the federal government recently rebuilt the
breakwaters at the city of Two Rivers in state-of-the-art fashion with special emphasis on use of the breakwaters by walkers. Two Rivers
has no commercial shipping.

    The only good news is that Port Washington is not taking this lying down. City officials have been pressing members of Congress for
relief and are amping up the pressure by urging the public to attend a meeting at city hall Thursday night. City staff and elected officials
will answer questions about the breakwater, but the real purpose of the meeting is to serve as a forum for a strong show of public

     A big turnout of citizens will bolster the message Mayor Tom Mlada and Ald. Dan Becker plan to take to members of Congress and
Army Corps of Engineers officials in Washington, D.C., next week. They will be saying many things to many people, but we’re pretty sure
the essence of their message will be:

    Don’t shut down our breakwater—fix it.

The demonizing of national education standards PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 16:58

An enlightened move to elevate America’s public schools with rigorous common goals may be the latest hostage of ideology-driven politics

What is Common Core?

    One of two correct answers is: a set of voluntary standards for student achievement in math and English in all grades.     

    The other is: the subject of a conspiracy theory featuring the evil of federal control of local education.

    The Common Core State Standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Education Officers and were adopted with little fanfare or controversy by 45 states, including Wisconsin, starting in 2010.

    Three years later, Common Core has become the threat du jour of federal government take-over of life as we know it in America, no matter that the federal government did not create the standards or force states to adopt them. Political talk-radio performers find Common Core, which some have dubbed Obamacore, a useful alternative when a break is needed from ranting about the Affordable Care Act.

    The education standards were barely noticed in Wisconsin when they were first adopted, but since national groups identified with conservative political agendas began criticizing them as a federal curriculum forced on local school districts, Republican legislators have been busy in efforts that seem designed to limit or end Common Core in Wisconsin.

    The efforts included hearings around the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last week that several out-of-state speakers who criticized Common Core at hearings in Fond du Lac, Eau Claire and Wausau were paid by the American Opinion Foundation, which is affiliated with the John Birch Society.

    The Senate and Assembly committees that conducted the hearings are considered hostile to Common Core, and it is widely expected they will recommend legislation to change or eliminate the standards.

    And so a set of teaching standards developed by a bipartisan governors group and a non-political education organization and intended to elevate the quality of education in American schools is starting to look like the next hostage taken by ideology-driven politics.

     The Common Core standards are an unlikely candidate for that fate.

    Wisconsin State School Supt. Tony Evers explained what they are and are not: “The Common Core State Standards are a set of expectations in English language arts and mathematics for what students should know and be able to do in every grade.” They are not a federal curriculum because “a district’s curriculum, textbook adoption and instructional choices all stay at the local level.”

    PolitiFact, the newspaper fact checking project, confirmed that Common Core is totally voluntary for states and found that the only involvement of the federal government is that it has included adoption of Common Core Standards as one of several ways for states to qualify for grants under the No Child Left Behind law signed by President George W. Bush.

    The standards are rigorous. They have to be to better prepare students to succeed in college and in careers that will inevitably be impacted by global competition. Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Wisconsin public school students will have to take standardized tests based on Common Core Standards. Teacher evaluations may be based on the results.

    No doubt, the standards put pressure on students and teachers, but that’s not what bothers most of Common Core’s critics. They have something a lot scarier to worry about—federal control of local education. It’s a conspiracy, you know.

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