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Christmas is no time for war PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 December 2017 18:50

Our Christmas wish for all Americans:
    That we may celebrate Christmas in any way we think appropriate to the meaning of this day and that we may express the kind wishes it inspires in any words we choose to use without being hectored or criticized by those who have hijacked Christmas as a battlefield in a political and cultural war of their own making.
    The arrogance of those who trumped up the “war on Christmas” as a means to force their pinched orthodoxy on Americans is breathtaking in a nation that guarantees its citizens freedom of speech and freedom from government-imposed religious requirements.
    Yet they carry on, chastising those who use words other than “Merry Christmas” to express wishes of the season, threatening boycotts of businesses that don’t promote the Christian aspects of the holiday, demanding that Nativity displays be placed on government and school grounds, justifying it all as a righteous defense of Christmas against anti-Christian forces.
    For people who have turned “Merry Christmas” into a battle cry, these holiday scolds don’t seem very merry. Americans as a whole, on the other hand, in their great, sprawling mix of beliefs and ethnicities, are happy to celebrate Christmas. A survey published last week by the Pew Research Center found that 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas, a number that hasn’t changed in years.
    The survey also found that for a majority of Americans, it doesn’t matter what words are used, whether by individuals or businesses, to express holiday greetings. “Happy Holidays” is just fine with them. As in much about Christmas, it’s the thought that counts.
    One of the holiest days on the Christian calendar and a federal holiday observed by people of all faiths as well as those of no religious faith, Christmas is also a state of mind that for a few days each year unites most Americans in the spirit of kindness, generosity, empathy and respect for other members of the human community.
     The loudest of those who rail against the imagined war on Christmas come across as incapable of understanding that spirit, preaching words that threaten to sow the season with discord and spite and, in some cases, more than a whiff of hypocrisy.
    Concerning the latter, the TV performer given credit for inventing the term “war on Christmas” and turning it into a talk show franchise is the former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly, who was fired for sexually harassing co-workers. It was reported that he paid more than $32 million in hush money to his accusers. There was no report of how much he gave to charities carrying out the mission embodied in the Christian ethic emblematic of Christmas.
    The head-scratching mystery of the phenomenon that contributed to O’Reilly’s fame and fortune is how those claiming to defend the Christian heart of the holiday could have missed the message of the man whose birth Christmas commemorates.
    One of the bright spots in this year’s tiresome war on Christmas discussion is the public response to a three-minute video made by a Catholic priest in California on that subject. More than 10 million people have viewed it on and great numbers of them have expressed their support in emails.
    Father Kevin O’Brien, dean of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, begins the video with these words: “I don’t think Jesus would care much about whether we say Merry Christmas.”
    And then he lays bare the fundamental phoniness of the war on Christmas: “More important than just saying Merry Christmas is to live it. That is, to live as Jesus did, to live a life of simplicity, a life of generosity, a life of service, a life of welcome and hospitality to others.”                O’Brien has a simple explanation for the popularity of his short Christmas sermon: “We’re tired of war.”

Where’s a new Teddy when we need him? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 December 2017 16:03

Good old Teddy Roosevelt.
    Government officials love to publicly praise the charismatic 26th president of the United States. If only more of them would act like him.
    In his letter to the editor in last week’s Ozaukee Press announcing he would not seek re-election, Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada cited Theodore Roosevelt as his inspiration in serving his city. Roosevelt is a fine exemplar for public servants, even small-town mayors, but it is a stretch to think he would have approved of Mlada’s relentless effort to sell public land overlooking the water for a commercial development called the Blues Factory.
    Roosevelt’s legacy, after all, is his saving of millions of acres of America’s land from commercial development by protecting it in the public trust.
    On a national scale, even officials who are attacking that legacy grasp for some of TR’s reflected glory. Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, frequently compares himself to Roosevelt and in an asinine display of self-aggrandizement rode a horse to his first day of work in the Trump administration in imitation of the great conservationist who took office as president 117 years ago. Now Zinke is leading his boss’s assault on public lands that were designated as national monuments under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which historians consider one of Theodore Roosevelt’s greatest achievements.
    President Trump, who Vice President Mike Pence has said is “reminiscent of President Teddy Roosevelt,” last week withdrew two million acres of land precious for its majestic landscape and Native American antiquities from two national monuments in Utah. Other national monument lands are on a list compiled by the interior secretary as candidates to be stripped of federal protection.
    No justification would suffice for abandoning public lands as valuable for their unique and irreplaceable natural and cultural features as these, but the Trump administration’s attempt at a rationale is remarkably flaccid—that America needs the fossil fuels buried in the lands.
    It is true that business interests in Utah have lusted for years for the coal and oil buried in the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bear Ears monuments that Trump has now made vulnerable, but with many energy producers rejecting coal as too dirty and the country awash in cheap oil and natural gas, there is no benefit to the nation in mining and pumping these modest reserves, especially at the cost of damaging nature in some of its most beautiful manifestations.
    There are no national monument lands or waters in Wisconsin, but there is much in the environment of this state—long considered the cradle of the conservation movement—that needs protection.
    Like Trump, Gov. Scott Walker has been busy weakening environmental protection under the sham argument that complying with regulations is a hardship for business.
    Seeming to take a page out of the Trump environmental protection dismantling manual, Walker this month appointed an outspoken political foe of the Department of Natural Resources, former Ozaukee County Board member Jake Curtis, as the agency’s chief legal counsel, a move reminiscent of Trump’s appointment of Scott Pruitt, who proposed doing away with the Environmental Protection Agency, as the agency’s administrator.
    Walker topped his already dismal environmental record earlier this year by making the Foxcon electronics plant to be built in Racine county exempt from the environmental protection rules every other business in the state is required to follow.
    Foxcon will not even have to file an environmental impact statement for a plant that is expected to be three times larger than the Pentagon under the free environmental passes Walker threw in to sweeten a pot that was already full with $3 billion in taxpayer subsidies for the company.
    At least Walker has not, as far as we know, named Teddy Roosevelt as one of his personal heroes. Thank goodness. The name of the legendary protector of America’s natural assets has already been taken in vain far too often.

Wheel tax push invites spending questions PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 06 December 2017 20:16

The mayor of Port Washington wants the city to join a very select group of Wisconsin municipalities—the fewer than 1% of them that require their residents to pay a wheel tax.
    Mayor Tom Mlada is urging the Common Council to impose a $20 per year tax on vehicles owned by city residents—$40 a year for a typical two-car family.
    Wheel taxes are levied by only 16 of the state’s 1,931 cities, villages and counties. The taxes are collected by the state Department of Motor Vehicles and have to be spent for street and road maintenance in the taxing municipality.
    Wisconsin’s limits on local tax levies and state transportation aid that has failed to keep pace with rising construction costs make it a challenge for most communities to meet their responsibility to provide well-maintained streets and roads. Yet barely a handful resort to a wheel tax, a move that suggests fiscal desperation. If Port Washington is really in those straits, taxpayers no doubt would like to know why before being burdened with another tax.
    Mayor Mlada’s proposal to levy a vehicle tax on top of the property taxes paid by home and business owners invites questions about the city’s spending priorities. One of those priorities was on display two weeks ago when the council voted to spend $85,000 to shore up the site for the Blues Factory entertainment complex. (Ald. Mike Gasper voted against it.)
    The expenditure, when previous payments for contamination mitigation and other costs are factored in, likely raises the bill to taxpayers to more than $100,000 to make the site suitable for a risky commercial development that has attracted furious opposition.
    Not a penny of that would have to be spent if the mayor and a previous council had not insisted, in the face of strong citizen opposition, on selling the publicly owned marina parking lot for the Blues Factory.
    There would be no structural and environmental issues if the use of the land remained parking or if, as has been suggested, it is improved as a combined harbor overlook area and parking lot.
    Considering the widespread opposition to the Blues Factory, it is safe to say that many Port Washington taxpayers would prefer that the $100,000 to be paid to prepare the site—an amount  equal to half of one year’s estimated wheel tax revenue—would be spent on repaving deteriorated city streets.
    The high cost of site preparation is not the only fiscal issue dogging the Blues Factory. In its generosity to the developer, the city government has agreed to sell the site at a 50% discount—$250,000 for public land appraised at $500,000. Further, it will take years to recover the $1 million in taxpayer incentives the city has agreed to throw into the deal, which has a closing date of Jan. 18, 2018.
    Concerning the wheel tax, Mayor Mlada has discouraged the idea of holding a referendum on the tax on the grounds that getting voters to say yes “would be an uphill climb.”
    Perhaps a similar fear of a no vote was the reason the mayor and council members ignored petitions signed by about 1,000 city residents asking for a referendum on selling the marina lot for the Blues Factory.
    Had that referendum been held, a no vote (a reasonable expectation) would have saved taxpayers at least $100,000—money that could be spent to fix streets—and saved Port Washington from the intrusion of a commercial building that many in the city believe does not belong on their lakefront.

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