Friday, July 24, 2009

School of Freshwater Sciences should stimulate revitalization

The Journal Sentinel editorial board continues to shill for locating the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences on prime Lake Michigan shoreline between Discovery World and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

By equating support for the Lake Michigan site with support for the research facility the editorial board is misrepresenting this important locational discussion.

At the Board of Harbor Commissioners public hearing opponents of the former Pieces of Eight location (who numbered supporters by more than 2 to 1) were clear that they supported UWM's effort to establish a School of Freshwater Sciences. Their opposition was to locating the proposed 50 thousand square foot building on prime lakefront property.

Alderman Tony Zielinski was particularly eloquent in suggesting that UWM and the Commission be more strategic in their location of the new school, urging that the investment be used to help revitalize a less pristine waterfront area south of downtown.

Proponents of the Pieces of Eight site like Badger Meter Honcho Rich Meeussen argue that other cities closely tied to a specific industry all boast bricks-and-mortar structures to denote their status. He told a meeting of area business executives that Paris has the Louvre Museum as the centerpiece for art, New York City has the Broadway theater district as the focus of its theater business and Nashville can point to the Grand Ole Opry as the home of country music.

There are more than a few problems with this position.

Milwaukee's identity is not defined by ties to water companies as Meeusen argues. Our commercial identity remains more closely associated with beer, Harley Davidson motorcycles, advanced manufacturing and our now defunct hometown airline. Our city's baseball team is not named the Badger Meters or even the Lake Perch, but the Brewers!

Following Meeusen's logic we would absurdly urge MillerCoors or at least one of our signature microbreweries to relocate to the lakefront.

Meeusen's proposition that the community lacks a signature building is also dead wrong. The Art Museaum designed by the internationally renowned Santiago Calatrava is that signature building. It provides Milwaukee with a soaring aesthetic identity that promotes both the city and Lake Michgan. Locating a 50,000 square foot building near it would, as others have pointed out, detract from its unique relationship to the lake, sky and shore.

Meeusen has been honest that he wants the prime lakefront property location to hawk his firm's meters to out of town corporate clients. What better site than Milwaukee's lakefront with the signature Calatrava as background?

But that ignores two crucial questions. First, should the lakefront be devoted to marketing a private firm's products? The answer is obviously no which is why Meeusen has tied his wagon to the public mission of the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences.

But that raises the second question-does UWM need a 50,000 square foot building if its goal is to conduct fresh water research and graduate education. The answer is a resounding no. That's why half the facility is designed for water product displays.

Meeusen dubious goal is to use the state's bonding authority to subsidize the sale of his firm's merchandise. Public use and control of lakefront property should not be sacrificed for that narrow private objective. Nor should the public's bonding authority be devoted to boast Badger Meter's share price.

Support for a School of Freshwater Sciences does not dictate support for the former Pieces of Eight property. The question the public needs to ask and UWM needs to respond to is where will Milwaukee get the biggest bang for its School of Freshwater Sciences investment buck?

Twice in recent years the City has allowed narrow business interests to dictate public investments that undermined their catalytic economic impact. Miller Park was built in a isolated concrete jungle off I-94 rather than downtown. Other cities like Cleveland and Baltimore more wisely located new stadiums downtown to capture the ancillary economic benefits. More recently UWM made the decision to locate its new engineering building in Wawautosa minimizing the regional economic development benefits of this investment.

Once again the community has the opportunity to maximize the economic gains from a public investment. The School of Freshwater Sciences should not be located on prime lakefront property that already has two signature developments. It should be built on a river or lakefront location where it will stimulate community revitalization and commercial activity as it pursues its important mission of educating a new generation of freshwater scientists and engages in freshwater research.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obstructing Health Care Reform Is A Money-Maker

If you are wondering why some Democrats are not supporting President Barack Obama's health care reform initiative follow the money! It leads right from those who profit from the current bloated and bureaucratic system that leaves 50 million American uninsured right to the Blue Dog Political Action Committee which has collected $1.1 million for the 2010 election cycle.

People might voted for reform in November, but as we approach the dog days of August, its business as usual for the Blue Dog Democrats.

Monica Sanchez writes:

Blue Dogs, as ‘fiscally conservative’ Democrats are called, are falling well in line with ‘the right's delay and kill strategy’ towards health care reform. As The New York Times reported:
“Fiscally conservative House Democrats forced leaders of their party on Tuesday to slow the pace of work on major health care legislation so Congress and President Obama could address their concerns about the cost of the bill, its impact on small businesses and the shape of a proposed new government health insurance plan...

“‘The seven of us cannot support the current House bill,’ said Representative Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, who is the point man on health care for the Blue Dogs. ‘Whether it requires a new bill or whether this bill can be amended, those are decisions, I guess, for the parliamentarians to help us make.’”

Congressional Quarterly also highlighted the ‘friendly fire’ threatening the Democratic health care reform bill in the House:

“Moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats are starting to show their potential influence on the health care overhaul being written in the House. And top dogs in the House are taking note.
“‘There’s no doubt in my mind that if the Blue Dogs join with the Republicans they can bring this bill down,’ said Rep. Henry A. Waxman, chairman of one of the committees that’s been working on the health bill.

“The Blue Dogs, a 52-member coalition, are a closely watched group, as they have threatened to block approval of the House bill (HR 3200) unless it is modified to meet their concerns about its policies and cost. House leaders have been struggling to woo enough of them to assure passage once the bill goes to the floor.”

But putting a wrench in the works may not be just about differing values. It has proven very lucrative, according to Congressional Quarterly Today: “Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition might have drawn the ire of party liberals for putting the brakes on the fast-moving health care overhaul, but their political action committee has been raking in contributions from business interests with an eye on reshaping President Obama’s signature initiative.

“The Blue Dog Political Action Committee has collected $1.1 million for the 2010 election cycle, more than any other leadership political action committee on Capitol Hill, according to CQ MoneyLine.

“The total includes about $300,000 from health care interests, including $158,000 from doctors and other provider groups; $87,000 from makers of drugs and medical devices; and $50,000 from health insurance interests.”

Which begs the question, just whose interests are these ‘Blue Dogs’ representing? If you are one of their constituents, let them know you expect them to stand up for your need for affordable health care now by supporting the House health care reform bill as introduced.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two year colleges will be key to revitalizing U.S. economy

Laura Fitzpatrick of Time writes:

Community colleges are deeply unsexy. This fact tends to make even the biggest advocates of these two-year schools — which educate nearly half of U.S. undergraduates — sound defensive, almost a tad whiny. "We don't have the bands. We don't have the football teams that everybody wants to boost," says Stephen Kinslow, president of Texas' Austin Community College (ACC). "Most people don't understand community colleges very well at all." And by "most people," he means the graduates of fancy four-year schools who get elected and set budget priorities.

Many politicians and their well-heeled constituents may be under the impression that a community college — as described in a promo for NBC's upcoming comedy Community — is a "loser college for remedial teens, 20-something dropouts, middle-aged divorcĂ©es and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity." But there's at least one Ivy Leaguer who is trying to help Americans get past the stereotypes and start thinking about community college not as a dumping ground but as one of the best tools the U.S. has to dig itself out of the current economic hole. His name: Barack Obama. (See pictures of Barack Obama's college years.)

The President hasn't forgotten about the 30 or so community colleges he visited during the 2008 campaign. These institutions are our nation's trade schools, training 59% of our new nurses as well as cranking out wind-farm technicians and video-game designers — jobs that, despite ballooning unemployment overall, abound for adequately skilled workers. Community-college graduates earn up to 30% more than high school grads, a boon that helps state and local governments reap a 16% return on every dollar they invest in community colleges...

Read the entire column.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Declaration of Independence: an enduring message of equality and citizenship

As friends and family gather to celebrate Independence Day we ought to pause for a moment to reflect on its history and meaning.

It was on July 4, 1776 that members of the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence.

Four days later the first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia's Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band music. It was soon read in other cities. Everywhere the colonists heard it they erupted in cheers and celebration

A year later, on July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked Independence Day by adjourning Congress and celebrating with bonfires, bells and fireworks. However, while the Revolutionary War raged, July 4 celebrations were modest at best.

When the war ended in 1783, July 4 became a holiday in some places. In Boston, it replaced the date of the Boston Massacre, March 5, as the major patriotic holiday.

The custom eventually spread to other towns, both large and small, where the day was marked with processions, speeches, picnics, contests, games, military displays and fireworks. Observations throughout the nation became even more common at the end of the War of 1812 with Great Britain.

But it was only in 1941 that Congress declared July 4 a federal holiday.

The Declaration of Independence is a revolutionary document. Not only did it declare the 13 colonies independence from the British Monarchy, but it challenged the accepted structures of inequality that had previously governed the affairs of mankind.

For centuries human beings had lived in highly structured, hierarchical societies. Economic and political power were the inherited birthright of a privileged few. Most people were subjects, slaves, indentured servants, and peasants, whose role was to serve their superiors, the lord, the monarch, and the priest.

Structured inequality was the natural order of things, political liberty non-existent. As Aristotle wrote: “Some men are born to rule and some to be ruled.”

The Declaration of Independence challenged the idea that all men were created unequally by asserting the opposite: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This was nothing less than a revolutionary assault on the old order. Men and women, according to the Declaration, were not SUBJECTS who lived to serve a higher power. Rather they were CITIZENS with inalienable rights including the freedom to organize a government whose legitamcy was entirely determined by the citizens who created it. As the Declaration states: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

This document authored by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia statesman and slave owner, who became the nation’s first Secretary of State and 3rd President, turned man’s understanding of the world upside down and laid the basis for an expansive democracy.

The defeat of the British led to the establishment of a new government that restricted citizenship to white male property owners. But the Declaration inspired labor republicans, country democrats, abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights activists who used the words and inspiration of the patriots to extend the rights of citizenship more broadly.

The Declaration lists a series of grievances against King George, the British monarch who ruled the thirteen colonies. While it is well know that the patriots opposed taxation without representation, being forced to house and feed the occupying British troops, and British monopoly control of trade and production, it is rarely mentioned that restrictive immigration policies were another important Patriot grievance. Yet the document declares: "He (King George) has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither…”

So as we celebrate this weekend with barbeques and fireworks, with family reunions, brats and beer in our backyards, at our cabins, parks, and lakes, take a moment to remember that two hundred and thirty three years ago thirteen sparsely populated Atlantic outposts of farmers, servants, and slaves declared that all men were created equal with inalienable rights. Since that day freedom loving people from Selma, Alabama to Warsaw, Poland from Tienanmen to Iran have been inspired by the patriots’ declaration of and fight for political liberty.

In the Twenty-First Century, undocumented workers who do our hardest and dirtiest work have picked up where the Patriots and their descendants left off asserting that they too are human beings with rights denied.

On June 24, 1826, Thomas Jefferson sent a letter to Roger C. Weightman, declining an invitation to come to Washington, D.C., to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. It was the last letter that Jefferson, who was gravely ill, ever wrote. In it, he wrote of the document:

"May it be to the world, what I believe it will be ... the signal of arousing men to burst the chains ... and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form, which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. ... For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them."