Tag Archives: newspapers

Wisconsin newspapers fight bill to eliminate meeting minute publication

Wisconsin newspapers are pledging to fight a bipartisan effort in the state Legislature to eliminate a requirement that meeting minutes of government entities be published in local newspapers.

A group of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced they were circulating a bill to do away with the requirement that summaries of meetings by school districts, municipalities, counties and technical colleges be printed in the newspaper.

Instead, the meeting minutes, or summary of what occurred at a public meeting, would instead be posted on the government entity’s website.

Supportive lawmakers pitched the proposal as a way for cash-strapped governments to save money and a way to increase access to the information.

“I don’t know anyone who keeps a stack of newspapers at home to reference minutes of proceedings,” said Rep. Jason Fields, D-Glendale, in a prepared statement. “It is better to allow taxpayers to save money and have better and easier access to minutes.”

But Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, sees the proposal as an attack on the public’s ability to know what their elected representatives and local governments are up to.

“Obviously we’re adamantly opposed to it,” said Bennett, whose organization represents more than 230 weekly and daily newspapers in the state. “Maintaining access to public information is at the very core of what we do as an industry. We believe posting information on a government website does not notify anyone of anything. It is not pushing information out.”

Bennett said she did not find out about the bill until Jan. 24, the day its sponsors put out a press release announcing the idea.

A special legislative task force that last year studied the state’s public notice requirements did not recommend making the changes being pursued in the bill.

The proposal is sponsored by Fields and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, along with Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

The sponsors say the proposal is supported by eight groups representing school boards and administrators, counties, technical colleges and municipalities.

The bill would affect the requirement that meeting minutes be published in the local newspaper.

It would not change the requirement that meeting agendas and other legal notices be printed.

Bill sponsors said the change would affect nearly every government entity statewide, except townships, the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public School District, which already are exempt.

Neither the lawmakers nor Bennett had an estimate of how much the change would save taxpayers — and cost newspapers.

But the bill sponsors did have some anecdotal costs that they reference in their pitch for co-sponsors.

They claim that annual savings would be $12,000 for the Green Bay school district, $3,600 for the city of Wausau, just over $4,400 for La Crosse, $11,000 for Eau Claire and $2,100 for Beloit. And, they say, Outagamie County would save about $6,500 a year while Wood County would save over $13,000 annually.

The measure would have to pass both the state Assembly and Senate — which are controlled by Republicans — and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect.

New Jersey delays vote on Christie’s ‘revenge’ bill against newspapers

New Jersey lawmakers have postponed a bill that opponents call an act of revenge by Gov. Chris Christie against the state’s newspapers for their unflattering coverage of him as a two-time governor, failed presidential candidate and adviser to President-elect Donald Trump.

The measure seeks to scrap a law requiring local governments to publish legal notices in newspapers. Instead, the bill would allow local governments to post notices on their own websites.

The bill was scheduled for a vote yesterday, but following a furious lobbying effort by newspapers, action was delayed until after the new year.

Christie argues the current law burdens taxpayers, whose money goes to local government to pay newspapers for running their legal notices. In an opinion-editorial published over the weekend on the online publishing platform medium.com, Christie suggested that the New Jersey Press Association, which opposes the legislation, was “shameful” and self-serving.

“The Constitution guarantees a free press, not a government-subsidized one,” he wrote. Publishers testified that the legislation could decimate the industry, costing up to 300 jobs.

Lawmakers across the country have proposed eliminating the print requirement, but the New Jersey Press Association says New Jersey would be the first state to make the change.

One Christie opponent in the Legislature called it a “politically motivated crackdown on the press in New Jersey.” Democratic Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is running for governor in the Democratic primary next year, also called it a “revenge bill.” Phil Murphy, a fellow Democrat also seeking the governorship, called it a “vendetta.”

Christie argues the bill would save $80 million spent on legal notices by governments, businesses and residents. Christie’s spokesman Brian Murray said $60 million of that figure is for pending foreclosure notices, which are required to be publicized. The administration argues that the bill amounts to property tax relief since local government revenues come from property taxes.

But the state’s Office of Legislative Services says the fiscal impact is “indeterminate.”

When a similar bill was proposed in 2011, the New Jersey Press Association estimated in that local governments spent $20 million a year on the requirement, but about 60 percent of that amount was reimbursed by private entities, including banks paying for foreclosure notices.

Rates have not been raised since 1983, according to the association. Lawmakers last week didn’t consider a proposal from the association to cut the rate paid by governments by 50 percent while raising rates on businesses.

The po-boy: A messy history

History has it that the po-boy was invented by the Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis, to feed striking streetcar drivers in New Orleans in 1929.

According to an account on the website of the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, Benny Martin once said: “We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’”

It is true that the Martin brothers wrote a letter, addressed to the striking drivers and printed in at least one local newspaper, in which they promised to feed the men. “Our meal is free to any members of Division I94,” they wrote, omitting any description of what that meal might be.

But history is often not neat.

The explanation for how things came to be can change over time. What is accepted as gospel in one generation may bear little resemblance to what was previously believed. Sometimes what sticks is the best story. This is how legends are made.

The generally accepted and oft-repeated story of how the celebrated po-boy sandwich was invented first appeared in a New Orleans newspaper in 1969, 40 years after the streetcar strike. But before that the tale was different.

In 1933, The New Orleans States wrote about the Martin brothers as they marked their grand opening at a new location, a story that appeared alongside a large advertisement paid for by the shop. The States told how the Martins came to the city from Raceland and began selling “sandwiches of half a loaf of French bread generously filled with whatever one desired, from roast beef to oysters” near the old French Market. They later moved to the corner of Dumaine and Decatur before returning to the French Market, where they stayed until 1929. Based on this version of events, Benny and Clovis Martin were selling the sandwich years before the labor dispute sent streetcar drivers to the picket line.

The States then described how the sandwich got its unusual name, an account similar to those repeated throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

“From the hard-pressed truck farmers of St. Bernard, who gathered daily on the curb along North Peters Street with their produce, came the name of Poor Boy,” the paper wrote.

***

There are other mysteries about the official history of the po-boy. One involves New Orleans’ most famous son.

In his autobiography, jazz great Sidney Bechet writes of joining with a cornet player he had never heard play to promote a show at a local theater, presumably sometime in the 1910s.

“I hired Louis (Armstrong) to come with me on this advertising, and, you know, it was wonderful,” Bechet writes in Treat It Gentle, published in 1960.

“Anyway, I gave him 50 c., I gave the drummer, Little Mack, 50 c., and that meant I made a dollar; the leader always kept the double. That was the first time I ever heard Louis play the cornet. He played the cornet then, though he went to the trumpet later.

“We went out and bought some beer with the money and got those sandwiches, Poor Boys, they’re called — a half a loaf of bread split open and stuffed with ham. We really had good times.”

It is possible that Bechet learned of the po-boy later and embellished the story of his early gig with Armstrong. But it’s worth noting that Bechet’s exposure to New Orleans later in his life was limited. He was long gone from the city by the time of the 1929 streetcar strike during which the po-boy was supposedly invented. Bechet moved north in 1917, years before Benny and Clovis Martin had even arrived in the city. Armstrong left New Orleans, too, moving to Chicago in 1922.

According to John Chilton in his Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz, the clarinetist who wrote of eating po-boys as a young man became estranged from his family and rarely returned to his hometown. Bechet came back to New Orleans for 10 days in 1944, then played a one-night stand at Municipal Auditorium in 1945, a dark period when the po-boy seemed at risk of extinction. (On Nov. 11, 1946, the States wrote that “the ‘poor boy’ sandwich, a New Orleans invention whose notoriety ran ahead of its nutrient worth, is today little heard of in the land of its birth.”)

Other than that, it’s unclear whether Bechet ever set foot in Louisiana again.

***

The po-boy name first saw the light of day in the New Orleans press in late 1929, four months after the start of the streetcar strike, in a story about a high-profile murder trial in Pointe a la Hache. The scandalous case involved a man who had fallen off a steamship into the Mississippi River in what was first thought to be a suicide. After his body was recovered, though, it was discovered that he had been shot. A woman traveling with the dead man claimed she had become engaged to the ship’s second officer; he was charged with murder.

The legal drama attracted a circus of journalists and curious onlookers at the Plaquemines Parish Courthouse on Nov. 4, 1929. At 1 p.m. that day, wrote Meigs O. Frost of The New Orleans States, “human appetites began to assert themselves.”

“Lawyers and reporters went or sent to a nearby lunch stand,” Frost wrote.

“Presently the tree-shaded courthouse lawn was dotted with groups gnawing at the huge sandwiches New Orleans knows as the ‘po-boy sandwich’ — whole loaves of French bread split lengthwise and filled with a freight of ham, sausage or cheese — and drinking from bottles of pop.”

The ship officer was eventually exonerated. He and the woman, socialite Gloria Rouzer (the ex-wife of British film director Michael Powell), were both freed.

***

Lunch stands in New Orleans were serving sandwiches that bear a strong resemblance to modern po-boys long before the po-boy name became famous, some of them on the Uptown side of Canal Street. In 1917, for example, the Comus Soda Fountain on Common Street and St. Charles Avenue advertised an oyster sandwich for 10 cents.

“Four delicious fried oysters in a toasted, buttered French loaf with piece of pickle, wrapped in sanitary wax paper sealed bag, for 10 c.,” the ad says. “We keep them hot and ready to take with you.”

But even in 1917, the sandwich that would be king was not new to New Orleans. More than a half-century earlier, Sam’s Saloon on St. Charles Avenue began selling oysters in sandwiches, instead of the then-standard metal containers.

“A big loaf of bread is ‘dug out’ — reserving a crust end as a stop — any quantity of delicious fried or broiled oysters is piled in; the top is neatly put on; and a gentleman can carry home his loaf and his ‘dozen’ — all hot — or have them brought home, for a lunch or a relish to dinner, without putting himself out of ‘tin’ to pay for ‘tin,’” wrote The Daily Picayune on Dec. 7, 1851.

Sam’s Saloon was operated by John McClure, the founder of the New Orleans Crescent, which three years earlier had brought Walt Whitman to the city to write for the newspaper. (Whitman lasted only a few months in New Orleans.)

“The oysters are ‘Sam’s’ are not remarkable as fish, but as oysters they are ‘good,”” wrote the Picayune.

***

There are tantalizing fragments of history surrounding the po-boy name. On New Year’s Day in 1931, Andrew Battistella ran an advertisement in the New Orleans Item touting his sandwich shop in the French Market. “New Year’s greetings to all,” the small ad says. “French Market coffee and lunch stand. A. Battistella, Prop. Originator of the Poor Boy’s Sandwich.”

Battistella gives his telephone number in the ad: Main 1407. Years earlier, that phone number had been used by a prominent local real estate agent named Armstrong Donaldson. Donaldson ran his own advertisements in the local papers in the 1910s and 1920s. He signed them “A. Donaldson, poor man’s agent.”

In the mid-1920s, the Bienville Meat Market, which had several locations in the city, regularly advertised its prices “in our flyproof markets.” One fixture: the “poor boy’s special for hard times,” stew meat for 10 cents per pound. It was perhaps not a bad base for making a sandwich, though any connection to a restaurant is unclear.

***

While the origins of the po-boy and its name are murky, it is clear that the Martin brothers perfected the sandwich, helped make it famous and bequeathed it with many of the defining characteristics that we know today, the bread shape and consistency chief among them. There were some key differences, though, according to Nick Gagliano, a lawyer who lives in Metairie.

Gagliano, who was 3 years old the year of the streetcar strike, remembers going to the Martins’ sandwich shop as a child.

“There were several things that stood out for me,” he said in an email this year, “one being their house-made mayo that was like no other that I ever tasted. The lettuce was shredded, which was a first-time experience for me, and there was very little gravy, which allowed the crisp French bread to taste like bread (not like the sodden mess you get today from some shops).

“I do not recall them asking me if I wanted it dressed, nor do I recall whether they offered tomato,” he said. “I simply ordered a roast beef sandwich with mayo and lettuce.

“I can say it was what I would call a modest well-balanced sandwich, where the meat, gravy, bread and fixin’s did not overwhelm each other, and which you could easily eat with your hands, without fork or knife or a week’s supply of napkins.”

An AP member exchange feature.

Getting it right: Writing your own obituary

When Edna Briggs dies, she doesn’t want a well-meaning loved one to whitewash the ups and downs of her life. To avoid that, she is writing her own obituary.

Briggs, who is 69 and lives in Los Angeles, wants her farewell to offer insights into why her life turned out the way it did. Her two children might not understand how certain events — her father forbidding her from trying for a scholarship to Howard University, for example, or the pride of earning a prestigious internship — affected her path, so she’s handling it herself.

“I will describe my life the way I want it described,” says Briggs, a health care administrator and passionate genealogist. “I believe in having the final say.”

It’s an idea with which many Baby Boomers can identify, says Katie Falzone, spokeswoman for Legacy.com, a website that partners with newspapers and funeral homes to publish obituaries.

“Baby Boomers are comfortable talking about themselves in a way that previous generations never did,” says Falzone. “They’re used to defining their lives,” and to challenging the status quo.

While less than 1 percent of the obituaries on the site are self-written, the number is growing, she says.

Last year, the site ran about 525 self-penned obits, compared to only about 165 a decade ago.

The number has doubled in the last five years.

Who better to recount your story than yourself, says Sarah White, a writing coach in Madison, Wisconsin, who teaches a “selfie obituary” writing class online and at senior centers and libraries.

“Who knows all the parts of your life? Your children know you as a parent. Your co-workers know you professionally. Your spouse probably knows very little about your life at work. They say your siblings are the people with you your whole life,” she says. “I wouldn’t leave this up to my siblings. They don’t know anything about me.”

Kerry Kruckmeyer, who died unexpectedly in April, wrote the obituary that recently appeared about him in the Arizona Daily Star.

“I thought this would be different, amusing and enjoyable,” he wrote. He concluded that he had lived “a very good and blessed life for which I am most thankful.”

Kruckmeyer had distributed the document to his family about a decade ago, says his brother, Korey Kruckmeyer of Tucson, Arizona. “It’s typical of him,” Korey says. “It reflects his sense of humor.”

And the self-written obituary struck a chord with readers. “I’ve gotten a bunch of calls from people who don’t know me or Kerry just wanting to talk about it,” Korey Kruckmeyer says.

Writing such an essay — whether or not it’s actually published someday as an obituary — can be “very affirming,” White says. “It always seems to add up to more than the person realized.”

The writing process got Jim Weber of Tumwater, Washington, thinking about his future as well as his past.

“You may find you have some unfinished business,” says Weber, 60. “It may cause you to make decisions about how you want to spend the rest of your life.”

In his self-written obituary, he notes a strained relationship that he would like to see healed. He also pokes fun at his life, connecting his pursuit of a law degree to hours spent watching “Perry Mason” with his mother, and pointing out that he met his “third and final wife” in the freezer section of the local grocery.

White’s own selfie obituary highlights her love of traveling with her husband, her career as a commercial artist and writer, and her passion for her pets and the outdoors. “She also camped frequently in Wisconsin’s north woods,” she writes, “but would not reveal her favorite campsite even upon her deathbed.”

Putting your life down on paper is also an opportunity to share family history with future generations, she said. “I think people should leave a record of their life,” she says. “Be the ancestor you wish you had.”

Taking White’s class made Pattie Whitehouse of Victoria, British Columbia, realize she had a lot she wanted to say. She ended up with a document of more than 900 words, and intends to continue editing until she meets her ultimate deadline. Whitehouse injected some humor in the piece, which focuses on her passion for the environment. For now, the final line reads: “As she wished, Pattie’s remains were chipped and used as mulch.”

“Which tells you a lot about me,” the 65-year-old says. “The people who know me will recognize me in it.”

She plans to give the document to her partner, Robert, and her sisters to distribute upon her death.

Briggs, a widow, is putting everything in writing because her daughter doesn’t want to discuss the matter, she says. As a genealogist, Briggs says, she has seen too many erroneous obituaries. She also knows that handling the task now will make things easier for her daughter when she passes.

Alan Gelb, 66, of Chatham, New York, began thinking about preparing his final words when he started attending more funerals.

“When I would go to services, I found myself missing the voice of the person who was not with us,” he says.

Gelb, who helps high school students draft college entrance essays, decided that older adults could benefit from a similar task. In his book, “Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story” (Tarcher Books, 2015), he encourages readers to write a story that captures some of their core values, to pass it on to future generations. Gelb recommends having the story read at your funeral. The exercise is a good segue into obituary writing, he says.

“Writing your own obituary is sort of like voting for yourself whenßyou run for office,” he says. “It may be a bit self-serving but it is fully warranted, and it can make all the difference.”

Wisconsin editorial roundup: on college costs, drone bans and union declines

Higher ed proposals will help, but much more is needed to hold down college cost

Wisconsin State Journal, Jan. 31

A key Assembly committee just endorsed a package of modest yet worthy bills to make college more affordable.

The full Legislature should approve them, understanding much more must be done so students aren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The bills, which cleared the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities last week, would give a larger tax break to thousands of people paying back student loans. Lifting a $2,500 cap on a tax deduction for borrowers won’t save them a lot, but it will save some.

The bills also would provide more financial help to technical college students, including “emergency grants” for unexpected expenses, such as car repairs. That could prevent some students from quitting classes when trouble strikes.

The bills will connect more students to internships for real-life experience.

One of the most important measures the committee advanced would require colleges to provide students with better information about the debt they’re taking on. A financial reality check should persuade more students to streamline their course loads or work more hours at part-time jobs to borrow less.

Good counseling is a must, too, so fewer students go down academic paths only to find out — after considerable time and expense — it’s not for them.

Republicans have supported the bills, as do UW and technical college officials. Democrats voted against them at committee, saying the legislation didn’t go far enough. We get the point. But the bills represent progress. They deserve bipartisan support.

Gov. Scott Walker’s tuition freeze, in place since 2013, has saved students a lot of money. But the freeze was coupled in the latest state budget with a $250 million cut in state aid to UW System schools.

Wisconsin is one of the few states reducing aid to higher education, which isn’t a path to prosperity. Wisconsin needs to invest in its colleges to compete in a global economy and secure more good-paying jobs.

Even with the governor’s tuition freeze, the cost of higher education is a much heavier load than it used to be. At UW-Madison, for example, students pay twice as much today for tuition, housing and related expenses — nearly $25,000 — than their peers did three decades ago, when adjusted for inflation.

And the erosion of state aid has forced UW to draw down its reserves. That’s not all bad, since they were high. But our universities need some reserves for stability, just like a private company.

The next state budget should prioritize younger generations, rather than handing out still more tax cuts.

Democrats have prioritized legislation allowing students to refinance their education loans. That’s a needed change Republicans should embrace.

More private donations for tuition are helping pay for college. And schools such as Madison Area Technical College are striving to make two years of instruction free for lower-income students.

But bigger ideas are needed. Leaders should explore a “pay it forward” model where students get free college, then pay a percentage of their salaries after graduation to offset the cost.

Universities must aggressively pursue technology to deliver instruction more efficiently.

The current system of higher and higher cost for young people can’t continue.

Decline of unions isn’t good news for Wisconsin

The Capital Times, Jan. 30

There undoubtedly was some high-fiving among Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators and their corporate campaign contributors over the news that union membership has plummeted in Wisconsin over the past two years and is now far below the national average.

That may be good news for plutocrats, but it’s terrible news for working people and Wisconsin’s middle class.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that just 8.3 percent of workers in the state now belong to a union, which is down from 11.7 percent in 2014. Nationwide roughly 11.1 percent of working people belong to an organized labor union.

The big drop in union membership — estimated to be roughly 83,000 workers in little more than year — helps explain why Wisconsin’s economic recovery continues to trail the rest of the country. The figures are even more stark when compared to 2010, the year Scott Walker was first elected governor. More than 14 percent of Wisconsin workers belonged to unions then.

Unions may not be the be-all and end-all, but they’ve historically strengthened the country’s middle class, winning wage hikes and benefits for workers so they could support their families and share in the nation’s wealth, and making sure employers provided safe and healthy workplaces. Unions never did represent a majority of American workers, but they provided the benchmarks that nonunion employers used to keep their workers happy so they wouldn’t be tempted to form unions themselves.

It’s not coincidental that the biggest gains in the middle class occurred during the heyday of unions. And it’s also not coincidental that the middle class has suffered in recent years as union membership has eroded. The result has been an alarming increase in the gap between the rich and poor.

That’s been a particular problem here in Wisconsin. A Pew Charitable Trust report from last March showed Wisconsin with the largest decline among the 50 states in the number of middle class families. In 2000, 54.6 percent of Wisconsin families fell into the category of middle class, but that was down to 48.9 percent in 2013. The real median household income in our state had fallen 14.7 percent during that time.

While the drop in union membership has coincided with lower wages and fewer benefits, the upper classes have done well.

So we shouldn’t be happy that unions have taken big hits as a result of the Republicans’ attacks on public employees and teachers and the enactment of a right-to-work law, which hampers private unions.

No, we should be sad for the economic health of Wisconsin and worried about its future.

Regulate drones, but don’t ban them

The Journal Times of Racine, Jan. 30

“Star Wars” might be big at the box office, but drone wars are cropping up all over the country, including Wisconsin.

The latest initiative to drive the electronic beasts from the sky comes from Madison where Republican legislators are pushing a bill to fine people who fly a drone over a state correctional institution $5,000.

According to news reports the legislation follows a series of cases in which smugglers flew drugs, pornography and other contraband over prison walls. Last summer, according to an Associated Press report, a drone dropped a package of marijuana, heroin and tobacco into a prison yard in Ohio, triggering a fight among inmates. Other such instances have cropped up in Oklahoma, Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina.

We have previously called for regulations of drones, so we were all ready to jump on the bandwagon and back the legislative effort headed by state Sen. Richard Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, to stop this potential airborne crime wave.

Then we read a story that in Denver legislators rejected an ordinance to curb private drone use —for the third straight time.

It even rejected a watered-down version that would have banned only drones used to deliver contraband to prisons after opponents pointed out that prison contraband delivery is already a crime by any means.

“It’s really not a necessary bill,” said Vic Moss, owner of a suburban Denver photography business and a drone enthusiast, according to an AP report.

We would suspect that Wisconsin has similar prohibitions on sending contraband into a prison.

Disturbing, as well, is a provision in Gudex’s proposed legislation that would allow local municipalities and counties to establish areas where drones cannot be flown and to set fines of up to $2,500 for violations. We have no idea where that would go.

California bans paparazzi from using drones on private land, Arkansas bans drone voyeurism and News Hampshire bans their use for hunting, trapping and fishing.

We have previously endorsed the need for regulation of drones in order to make sure our skies are safe for air travel.

But we have also suggested that the current Federal Aviation Administration regulations that prohibit drone flights within five miles of an airport are too stringent. That rule essentially makes the entire city of Racine a no-fly zone.

Moreover, there are potentially many good uses for drones — from the delivery system posed by Amazon or their use in spotting forest fires to use by insurance companies in checking damage to roofs or other property _ and even to detecting potato diseases by flying them over fields to find stressed out plants. And, of course, hobbyists love them.

While air safety is important for commercial and private planes and there are other legitimate concerns for things like privacy and individual rights, the stampede of proposed regulations and bans should slow down until reasonable plans can be made.

Drones are not inherently evil and they need a little air space.

Made available via The AP.

This abundant life | Letters to the Future: The Paris Climate Project

I just flushed my toilet with drinking water. I know, you don’t believe me: “Nobody could ever have been that stupid, that wasteful.” But we are. We use air conditioners all the time, even in mild climates where they aren’t a bit necessary. We cool our homes so we need to wear sweaters indoors in summer and heat them so we have to wear T-shirts in mid-winter. We let one person drive around all alone in a huge thing called an SUV. We make perfectly good things — plates, cups, knives — then we use them just once, and throw them away. They’re still there, in your time. Dig them up. They’ll still be useable.

Maybe you have dug them up. Maybe you’re making use of them now. Maybe you’re frugal and ingenious in ways we in the wealthy world have not yet chosen to be. There’s an old teaching from a rabbi called Nachman who lived in a town called Bratslav centuries ago: “If you believe it is possible to destroy, believe it is possible to repair.” Some of us believe that. We’re trying to spread the message.

Friends are working on genetic editing that will bring back the heath hen, a bird that went extinct almost 80 years ago. The last member of the species died in the woods just a few miles from my home. Did we succeed? Do you have heath hens, booming their mating calls across the sand plains that sustain them? If you do, it means that this idea of repair caught on in time and that their habitat was restored, instead of being sold for yet more beachside mansions. It means that enough great minds turned away from the easy temptations of a career moving money from one rich person’s account to another’s and instead became engineers and scientists dedicated to repairing and preserving this small blue marble, spinning in the velvet void.

We send out probes, looking for signs of life on other worlds. A possible spec of mold is exciting — news conference! News flash! Imagine if they found, say, a sparrow. President addresses the nation! And yet we fail to take note of the beauty of sparrows, their subtle hues and swift grace. We’re profligate and reckless with all this abundant life, teeming and vivid, that sustains and inspires us. 

We destroyed. You believed it was possible to repair.

Editor’s note: World leaders convene in Paris soon for the critical U.N. climate talks. In fact, December of 2015 may be humanity’s last chance to address the crisis of our time.

Will the nations of the world finally pass a global treaty aimed at reducing the most dangerous impacts of global warming … or will we fail at this most crucial task?

Here and on letterstothefuture.org, find letters from authors, artists, scientists and others, written to future generations of their own families, predicting the success or failure of the Paris talks and what came after. Read these letters and write one of your own. The letters will be sent to targeted delegates and citizens convening at the Paris talks.

Dear future: Answering a national call for letters on climate change

The Paris Climate Project has launched “Letters to the Future,” a national effort to encourage authors, scientists, artists, activists and citizens to write letters about climate change to six generations hence.

The letters will be presented to U.S. delegates and others attending the Paris Climate Talks in December.

“‘Letters to the Future’ invites everyone, young and old, to write their future offspring, community, friends — what was it like to be alive when this most consequential summit on climate change occurred? … What do you wish to say, from your heart or your head, to those who weren’t yet here to speak for themselves, as you are?” Welsh notes.

Letter writers to date include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jane Smiley and Geraldine Brooks; Penn/Faulkner award-winner T.C. Boyle; 350.org founder Bill McKibben; U.S. Sen. Harry Reid; Hugo award-winner Kim Stanley Robinson; activist-journalist Michael Pollan; former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and NASA astronaut Stephen Robinson.

And this is just the beginning: People from all walks of life are encouraged to submit a letter and join the conversation. 

The project was envisioned and organized by Melinda Welsh, founding editor of the Sacramento News & Review. Other partners in the project include the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and many member newspapers, including the Wisconsin Gazette. The project also involves the Media Consortium, a network of leading progressive media outlets, such as Mother Jones, Grist, The Nation, Texas Observer and Democracy Now. 

Letters — 400 words in length along with author photos — can be submitted to www.letterstothefuture.org by Nov. 13 in order to be considered for publication in WiG and other newspapers and magazines, in mid-November — before the Paris Climate Talks begin. All letters will be published online. 

On the Web …

To participate in the project, go to www.letterstothefuture.org. And please, also share your letter directly with WiG.

Email Lisa Neff at

WiG will publish letters in print editions in November and online at www.wisconsingazette.com.

Media, business outreach to LGBT market growing

Thanks to straight allies in the local media, Wisconsin’s LGBT population is gaining more widespread attention than ever. That speaks to the desirability of the gay market, which numerous studies have shown is loyal to marketers who reach out to them, and it’s welcome recognition of the vital role LGBT citizens play in our communities. WiG gives a shoutout to two of those media outlets.

In March, Milwaukee Magazine featured two brides on its cover as part of a story about the economic benefits that legalizing same-sex marriage would bring to the state. The magazine conducted original research and found that marriage equality here could result in almost $44 million in spending during the first three years of legalization. Their research is confirmed by the Williams Institute of the University of California – Los Angeles, whose work has repeatedly shown a comparable rate of return from same-sex marriage in other states.

Nationwide, people who have never heard of the economic benefits that come with doing the right thing are becoming aware. Wisconsin badly needs that kind of boost, and now fairness advocates have numbers to dangle in front of equality obstructionists who claim to be “pro-business.”

Several months ago, the Shepherd Express hired Colin Murray as a sales consultant. He’s an out gay man who also serves as the executive director of Buy Local Dane. And this week, the Shepherd launched a new LGBT events and advice column by the popular Milwaukee drag personality Dear Ruthie. Portrayed by professional food writer and actor Mark Hagen, the popular Ruthie is sure to enliven the Shepherd’s pages. In addition to his considerable talent, Hagen is a good egg. As the brassy redhead Ruthie, he’s raised untold sums of money for local nonprofit organizations. He’s a smart catch for any publication.

The Shepherd Express also recently joined the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce as a gold member. More than 120 businesses around the state have joined the chamber in its first year-and-a-half of existence. Ranging from small mom-and-pop shops to such corporate giants as AT&T and MillerCoors, those businesses are in effect showing their confidence in the strength of our market.

Here at WiG, launched exactly four-and-a-half years ago, we welcome our newest media allies and celebrate the ongoing success we’ve had as Wisconsin’s go-to progressive/LGBT publication. Last week, we were proud to learn we’re being honored with eight Milwaukee Press Club Awards for our work in 2013. That means we’ve won a total of 17 awards in three years from the nation’s oldest — and the state’s premier — press club. There’s nothing more gratifying than having your peers recognize the quality of your work.

Many, many thanks to the hundreds of distribution sites and advertisers who have made us the fastest-growing and most honored alternative newsprint publication in Milwaukee. And, as always, special thanks to our mentor/CEO Leonard Sobczak, whose financial support and unflinching integrity guide us every step of the way.

Amid an evolving print market, we gratefully ring in our fifth year

Just as we were preparing this fourth anniversary issue of Wisconsin Gazette for print, we learned that The Onion will cease publication in Milwaukee, Chicago and Providence, R.I., on Dec. 12. The satirical news weekly had already ended its print edition in Madison, where it began, so the news was not surprising.

The Onion will be missed. It lambasted the news culture, taking journalism to outlandish extremes that often illuminated society more than the most carefully processed legitimate news. The Onion’s AV Club offered some of the most insightful cultural interviews and local performing arts content appearing in southeastern Wisconsin. Fortunately, that content will continue to appear online at avclub.com.

It would be wrong to dismiss The Onion’s action as another nail in the coffin of the print industry. There are many factors behind the failure of any business, and some of them are invariably the result of issues unique to that particular business.

While advertising at The Onion had noticeably declined over the past several years, new publications, including this one, have launched locally during the same period — and some appear to be thriving. We’ve experienced steady annual growth in distribution, gross and net revenue and industry recognition for each of the past four years. 

In fact, the print publication industry as a whole is well-positioned for growth, which is why Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway has acquired 28 daily newspapers at a cost of $344 million during past two years. Highly niched and hyper-local news sources serve informational purposes that nothing else can fulfill.

Print publications, with headlines that scream at you from boxes on the streets, racks in grocery stores and the hands of the patron seated next to you at a coffee shop, remain an integral part of the informational landscape. They’re too convenient in format, intuitive in style and accessible to disappear.

But the most encouraging development for newspapers today is the variety of formats in which people access them. According to the Newspaper Association of America, 69 percent of Americans read newspaper media content in print or online in a typical week, or access it on mobile devices in a typical month. Mobile newspaper readership is growing fast — up 58 percent each month for 2012 over 2011.

We’re always searching for new ways to get WiG in the hands of the most readers possible, by offering features with broader appeal and expanding our accessibility through technology. We reached a print circulation high this year, distributing 20,000 copies of our May 31 Pride issue. We also launched an e-newsletter in the spring that’s already drawn nearly 7,000 subscribers. Our social media engagement has leaped upward this year.

As we begin our fifth year, we invite you to become more involved with WiG by joining us on Twitter and Facebook — and by registering for our newsletter and .pdf versions. If there’s a grocery store, restaurant or retail shop where you see the Shepherd Express but not the Gazette, the odds are good that we’ve tried but failed to convince the owners to join our distribution network. Let them know that you’d like to be able to pick up the Gazette at their establishment.

And please thank and support our advertisers. They make it possible for us to keep you informed about news that would otherwise go overlooked locally.

Starbucks ad brews gun-control debate

Starbucks has always set itself apart by taking strong positions on progressive political issues. Now that reputation has landed the company in the middle of the heated national debate over gun laws.

On Thursday, the Seattle-based company ran full-page ads in major newspapers telling customers that guns are no longer welcome in its cafes. But Starbucks is stopping short of an outright ban, exposing the fine line it needs to walk on a highly divisive issue.

“We are not pro-gun or anti-gun,” CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview, noting that customers will still be served if they choose to a carry gun.

The move comes as the company finds itself at the center of a fight it didn’t start. In recent months, gun control advocates have been pressuring Starbucks to ban firearms, while supporters of gun rights have celebrated the company’s decision to defer to local laws. About a month ago, Starbucks shut down a store in Newtown, Conn., early to avoid a demonstration by gun rights advocates. They had planned to stage a “Starbucks Appreciation Day,” bringing their firearms and turning the company into an unwitting supporter of gun rights.

Support for guns runs counter to the Starbucks image. The warm feeling Starbucks customers get when they’re sipping lattes doesn’t always come from the coffee. For some, part of the brand’s attraction is the company’s liberal-leaning support of issues such as gay marriage and environmental preservation.

But with more than $13 billion in annual revenue and about 7,000 company-owned stores across the country -in red states and blue – Starbucks is being forced to tread carefully with its special blend of politics and commerce.

Many states allow people to carry licensed guns in some way, but some businesses exercise their right to ban firearms. They can do so because their locations are considered private property. Starbucks isn’t the only company that doesn’t ban guns, but it has become a target for gun control advocates, in part because of its corporate image.

“This is a coffee company that has championed progressive issues,” said Shannon Watts, founder of the gun reform group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “They’ve positioned themselves about being about the human spirit – that was so at odds with this policy that allowed guns inside their stores.”

Starbucks’ mission statement is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” and over the years, it has taken strong positions on a number of thorny issues. Earlier this year, the company banned smoking within 25 feet of its stores, wherever its leases allowed. The idea was to extend its no-smoking policy to the outdoor seating areas, regardless of state laws on the matter.

At the company’s annual meeting in March, a shareholder stood to criticize Starbucks’ support of marriage equality. Schultz told the man it was a free country and that he could sell his shares.

Starbucks has also been vocal about its health care benefits for workers. And the company says it only does business with coffee farmers who pay workers decent wages and farm in an environmentally friendly way.

Such stances explain why Moms Demand Action, which was founded the day after the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., has been urging Starbucks to ban guns with its “Skip Starbucks Saturdays.”

In turn, gun rights advocates have been galvanized by the company’s decision to defer to local laws and staged the “Starbucks Appreciation Days.”

Schultz said the events mischaracterized the company’s stance on the issue and the demonstrations “have made our customers uncomfortable.”

He said he hopes people will honor the request not to bring in guns but says the company will nevertheless serve those who do.

“We will not ask you to leave,” he said.

The Seattle-based company’s ad campaign included major national newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA Today. The ad contained a letter from Schultiz that pointed to recent activities by both gun rights and gun control advocates at its stores, saying that it has been “thrust unwillingly” into the middle of the national debate over firearms.

As for the “Starbucks Appreciation Days” being staged by gun rights advocates, it stressed: “To be clear: we do not want these events in our stores.”

But the letter noted that Starbucks is standing by its position that the matter should ultimately be left to lawmakers. Schultz also said he doesn’t want to put workers in the position of having to confront armed customers by banning guns. The AP was provided a picture of a memo to Starbucks employees on Tuesday. The document instructs workers not to confront customers or ask them to leave solely for carrying a weapon.

Phillip Hofmeister, president of gun rights group Michigan Open Carry Inc., said he respects the right of private businesses such as Starbucks to determine its own gun policies. But he noted that the message was confusing.

“They’re trying to make people like myself feel unwelcome but it’s not an outright ban,” said Hofmeister, who said he has been carrying a gun in public where permitted for the past several years.

Even if there’s no ban, Hofmeister said he won’t patronize a business where he didn’t feel welcome.

Several companies do not allow firearms in their stores, including Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Whole Foods. Representatives for those two companies said there haven’t been any problems with enforcing their gun bans.