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Editorials
Construction project: rebuild the economy PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 15:05

Vast numbers of construction workers remain unemployed while America’s infrastructure is failing; solve both problems and boost the economy

If there was any doubt that the recession that started in 2007 was an economic disaster second only to the Great Recession, it was removed by data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week.

    In Wisconsin from 2007 to 2010, more than 6,700 companies went out of business and 163,355 jobs were lost.

    The numbers are shocking both in their sheer size and in what they represent in the diminished lives of so many in this state and all of the states. They are distressing too in that they remind us that though in technical economic terms the recession is over, its effects linger.  

    Many who lost their jobs in the recession are still unemployed. Families’ wealth—the product of years of hard work and saving for college and retirement—has not recovered to pre-recession levels. Nor has the nation’s economy, now growing so slowly that economists of a pessimistic bent talk of a new recession born out of chronic economic malaise.

    All of which begs the question: Why isn’t government using more of the tools it has to revive the economy? Economies are not wheels of fate that turn at their own whim. They are instruments of humans that can be influenced and stimulated. There are bills in the House of Representatives that would create jobs—the essential drivers of economic recovery. Yet there is zero hope they will be enacted by a legislative institution that exists in an execrable state of dysfunction, crippled by blind ideology and political venom.

    The most promising of the proposals would put construction workers back to work on necessary infrastructure projects.


    Two facts refute any claim that these would be make-work stimulus projects:  America’s roads, bridges, tunnels and other essential infrastructure are so in need of repair that they will soon add to the country’s economic woes. Construction workers were the most sorely hurt of any class of workers in the recession (in Wisconsin one-fourth of all construction workers lost their jobs).

    Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Alan S. Binder, former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve and professor of economics at Princeton University, put it like this: “Legions of construction workers remain unemployed while we drive our cars over pothole-laden roads. Does this make sense?”

    It doesn’t, of course. Binder points out private business investment is growing at an acceptable rate, but public investment, as essential as private investment to economic growth, is lagging.

    “America’s infrastructure needs are so huge, and so painfully obvious, that it’s mind-boggling we’re not investing more,” Binder writes.  He makes the case that it is a grievous mistake for the nation to fail to take advantage of “the rare combination of historically low government borrowing rates and historically high unemployment among construction workers.”

    Sensible proposals to do just that are being blocked in Congress with the phony rationale that this is a noble stand against excessive government spending and debt.

    That’s a political, not an economic, calculation. Most economists agree that America will not be able to deal with its debt problem until its economy is functioning at a high level again.

    That’s the big-picture economic rationale for government investment in jobs. The human rationale is even more compelling: Americans, like many of those 163,000 Wisconsin residents who lost their jobs, are still hurting from the recession. The federal government has the wherewithal to help heal them and the economy and must not fail to do so.

 
Helmets optional, mufflers required PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 June 2012 15:41

Talk of reviving Wisconsin’s motorcycle helmet law will go nowhere; better to spend the effort cracking down on the noise-makers who destroy the peace of summer

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing motorcycle helmets save lives and maybe money has prompted talk of making helmet use mandatory in Wisconsin again.

    Our prediction: It won’t happen.

    Freedom is central to the motorcycle-riding ethos. A law that required helmets for all motorcycle riders in Wisconsin was repealed in the 1970s in the face of an impressive show of libertarian fervor. There is no way the Legislature is going to reprise the trampling of riders’ liberty.

    Wisconsin, in fact, is so in thrall of motorcycle riders’ freedom that laws regulating obnoxious motorcycle noise go largely unenforced.

    But back to helmets. The CDC report noted that motorcycles represent 3% of the vehicles on American roads but account for 14% of the traffic fatalities. It found that states that require helmets for all motorcycle riders have fewer fatal motorcycle accidents. And it deduced that states with helmet laws saved $1.3 billion in health care costs associated with motorcycle accidents.

    It’s not news that helmets prevent deaths and injuries. Tons of research data confirm that. Anecdotal evidence abounds as well, as in this ironic example: In New York state last July 4 one of the riders in a demonstration protesting the state’s helmet law slammed on his brakes, flipped over his motorcycle’s handlebars, hit his head on the pavement and was killed. A police investigation determined a helmet would have saved his life.


    The part about saving health-care money, on the other hand, is less than a compelling argument for helmet laws. Unhealthy behavior of many kinds—smoking too many cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol and eating too much food, to name three—surely add more to society’s health-care cost burden than helmetless motorcycle riders.

    Helmet laws don’t protect the general public; they protect riders. So why shouldn’t riders have the freedom to not use a helmet. They also have the freedom to do the obviously sensible thing and wear one.

    Better that lawmakers would spend their time dealing with motorcycle behavior that does injure the public by enacting stiffer laws regulating motorcycle noise and mandating their enforcement.

     Wisconsin already has a law requiring motorcycle and automobile exhausts to be muffled. A car with a malfunctioning muffler generating even half the decibels of an illegal motorcycle is a ticket waiting to happen. But when is the last time anyone saw a motorcyclist pulled over for making too much noise?

    Everyone knows the noise we’re referring to—the shocking-to-the-ears staccato detonations of an unmuffled motorcycle being revved for maximum cacophonous effect.

    Make no mistake, this is the work of outlaws, not the majority of motorcycle owners. Motorcycles must comply with federal noise standards when they are manufactured. Those that are an affront to civilized sound standards have been modified expressly to make outrageous noise.

    For the small percentage of owners who flaunt the law, the motorcycle ethos we mentioned is not just about freedom, but about showing off. For them, the allure of motorcycles is more than the open road and wind in their hair. It’s also the apparent thrill of firing up a straight-pipe Harley and roaring through towns, neighborhoods and the countryside destroying the ambience of a summer evening.

    Here’s a plan for Wisconsin: Let motorcycle riders keep the freedom to ride without a helmet. Take away the freedom of the noise-making show-offs to assault the ears of the public.



 
Three Rs plus breakfast, health and more PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 17:53

“I don’t think we as a school district need to provide breakfast to children. That should be the parents’ responsibility.”
 
   Had Steve Burmesch, a member of the Northern Ozaukee School Board, said that a decade or so ago it’s likely everyone on the board would have agreed with him. But when he said it last week, no one agreed and all but Burmesch voted to make breakfast at school available to Northern
Ozaukee students. Times change.

    The decision has no financial impact—the cost will be covered by federal subsidies and fees paid by students of $1.25 or $1.50 for breakfast unless they qualify for free or reduced price meals—but it is yet another sign of the increasing demands put on public schools as households with two parents working outside of the home have become the norm and single-parent homes become more common and more parent responsibilities become school responsibilities.

    The principals of the Northern Ozaukee Elementary School and Middle School told the board that many children in their buildings come to school without having had breakfast. A contributing factor is that some middle school and high school students have to be on the school bus by 6:30 a.m.

    When the new school year begins, a significant number of Northern Ozaukee students, like kids at many public schools across the country, will be getting two-thirds of their daily nutrition at school.

    (That’s true for a number of elementary school children in the Port Washington-Saukville School District, where volunteers provide a daily breakfast program.)

    As schools’ responsibilities expand beyond their basic reason for existence—to educate children—they are increasingly expected to help solve problems that were once dealt with in the home. Schools are now told to not just provide food for one or two meals a day, but to provide the right kind of food. They’re expected to be part of the solution for the problem of increasing child obesity, a trend that has health experts in a high state of alarm.

More parental responsibilities, like that so-called most important meal of the day, are being added to the list of demands on public schools

A third of Americans 2 to 19 years old are overweight, more than triple the percentage of 30 years ago. Physicians with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn that the consequences of this will be more unhealthy children, adolescents and adults, including many victims of an epidemic of diabetes.

    For a long time, school lunches were overloaded with fat and sugar and were part of the problem, but less so today. Federal guidelines, in spite of the famously nonsensical interference by Congress to ensure that pizza makers get their share of federally subsidized school lunch business by classifying pizza’s tomato paste content as a vegetable serving, now call for healthier menus.

    But these are guidelines, not mandates, and school meal offerings in many schools still consist of a lot of what students are perceived to want to eat, rather than what they should eat. To be sustainable, school meal programs have to be popular with the students whose families pay for them.

    It’s surprising school boards don’t spend more time on this issue. Contractors and staffs that provide meals for students should be expected to
explain and justify the meals’ nutritional content.

    Schools have another role to play in dealing with student obesity—by providing adequate physical education for students in every grade, starting with kindergarten.

    There is no mystery to child obesity. It’s caused by too many calories and too little activity. The structured activity provided by good physical education classes has never been more important than it is today. Even school districts that have resisted the temptation to cut back on physical education in the face of funding pressure could be doing a better job. Daily phy ed for every student should be the goal.

    Perhaps the cheering over the decreasing share of tax dollars going to public schools could be interrupted long enough to consider an initiative to strengthen that part of school curriculums that can help keep students healthy.

    Society demands a lot of public schools. It needs to give them the wherewithal to deliver it.

 
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