Tag Archives: roosevelt

I already miss President Obama

In the midst of the 2016 presidential election circus, I’m beginning to realize how much I’ll miss President Barack Obama.

This yearning welled up in me during his valedictory State of the Union speech. The president channeled the collective wisdom of many of his predecessors to remind us of who we are and what our country at its best has aspired to. 

Like Teddy Roosevelt, he asserted our strength. Like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he dispelled our fears. Like Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, he championed fairness for all. Like George Washington, he warned of foreign entanglements.

Like Ronald Reagan, he expressed confidence in our future. He echoed Abraham Lincoln in encouraging us to follow the better angels of our nature. He touted our diversity as only Barack Obama can. 

He challenged the claims of chaos and decline purveyed by the GOP presidential candidates. He warned of the danger of reckless rhetoric. He also conveyed several important lessons, including one that ended on a note of impatience:

“We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis … even if it’s done with the best of intentions. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam. It’s the lesson of Iraq, and we should have learned it by now.”

I don’t think any president has ever been so blunt in admitting our failures. I’m proud of President Obama for giving us this reality check. His reluctance to commit ground troops to Syria or against ISIS is clearly informed by the lessons of previous military misadventures. Will our next president exercise such restraint?

The usual critics complained that the president’s speech was a triumph of style over substance. I disagree. His speeches are remarkable for both style and substance, evidenced by the examples I’ve cited. In times of crisis, is there anyone more steady and thoughtful? After Obama, do we really want to go back to a shoot-from-the-hip president?

Pundits already are writing post-mortems on his presidency. The common theme is of promise unfulfilled.

I’m disappointed about some things. I wish he had been more aggressive about his proposals during his first years in office when there were Democratic majorities in Congress. I wish he hadn’t offered so many concessions, especially in the case of the Affordable Care Act. 

But I am grateful to the president for many things. He nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. He continually spoke up for LGBT rights and endorsed same-sex marriage, which became the law of the land on his watch. He championed women’s rights, including the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. Will the next president veto attacks on reproductive rights as President Obama has?

The president stabilized the economy after the 2008 crash. He restored our reputation abroad after the belligerent Bush-Cheney era. He dared to pursue normalized relations with Cuba and Iran. He re-engaged with the international community in efforts to stem global warming and imposed limits on carbon pollution from power plants here at home. 

I am really going to miss President Obama. I’m confident he will have as distinguished a post-presidency as Jimmy Carter, and I think history will look kindly on his lifetime of achievements.

Social Security must be preserved

Social Security, one of the most successful government programs in U.S. history, marked its 80th anniversary this year. As it enters its ninth decade of providing basic income security for older Americans, GOP presidential candidates are working to undermine faith in it.

They decry Social Security as an “entitlement” and warn of its insolvency. Using their favorite tactic of divide and conquer, they claim the money won’t be there for young people. They say Americans can get better returns from investing the same small sliver of their paychecks in private markets. So why should the government take the money?

Please don’t drink their Kool-Aid. 

Social Security is not an entitlement. Each of us pays for it through a deduction of 6.2 percent from every paycheck. Our employers match that 6.2 percent and send the total amount to the federal government monthly.

When we draw from Social Security in retirement, we receive money we have invested in the system our entire lives. The earliest age to claim Social Security is 62. The monthly check is larger if a person waits until full retirement age, which is 66 or 67, depending on your year of birth.

Social Security is not insolvent, and young people need only look at how the program benefits their grandparents to see what a valuable investment it is. All of my older relatives and friends rely on Social Security as an important part of their retirement income. They are not moochers. They have earned their benefits.

Social Security was championed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and adopted by bipartisan Congressional majorities in 1935. Private charity had never fully met the needs of the poor and elderly poverty, a scourge that predated the Great Depression, grew more severe during the economic crisis.

The Social Security Act included old age insurance (the focus of this column), unemployment compensation, welfare benefits for the poor and survivor benefits for widows and orphans. Welfare — Aid to Families with Dependent Children — was abolished under Bill Clinton in 1996.

Many studies confirm that in the second half of the 20th century, Social Security helped significantly to reduce poverty among the elderly. Without Social Security today, 48 percent of Wisconsin seniors would descend below the poverty line.

Concerns about the solvency of Social Security have been addressed over the years in several ways: raising the retirement age; increasing the percentage of contributions; and raising the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes.

Currently, individuals do not have to pay Social Security taxes on income above $118,500. Lifting the payroll cap to $250,000, which Bernie Sanders proposes, would secure Social Security for at least the next three generations.

Of course, the GOP opposes any new taxes — even for a successful program that keeps millions from destitution. The financial windfall for investment firms is the real motive behind those who want to privatize Social Security. 

Why should Americans hand over our one small reserve of secure savings to the banks and Wall Street, whose practices have become more secretive and whose history is full of reckless speculation? Have we forgotten the near crash that took place only seven years ago? They not only stole our money, we had to bail them out!

Social Security guarantees all of us a minimum retirement income when we grow old. It must be preserved.

At Devil’s Lake, vintage rustic architecture adds to the autumn landscape

This time of year, there’s no better public art than our autumn leaves, and one of the best places to see them in Wisconsin is Devil’s Lake State Park. That park’s packed with other sorts of art, too, albeit art that’s a little out of the ordinary. And some of it is at risk. 

One of its most appealing art forms is “parkitecture,” formally known as “National Park Service Rustic.” It’s a real architectural style that was developed in the 1900s, during the Arts and Crafts movement. Among its features are local materials, designed to harmonize with the landscape.

Devil’s Lake has some excellent examples, including the Chateau, a pavilion on the North Shore constructed in 1925. Many of the scattered, open-sided shelter buildings, as well as the park headquarters, were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, using native quartzite stone.

The park’s often-overlooked Nature Center holds more unorthodox gems. Incredibly, taxidermy is reported to be the latest hipster art fad and, if so, the Nature Center could be a mecca. It contains mounted songbirds, ospreys, otters, foxes, at least three kinds of hawks and seven kinds of owls, as well as living examples of aquatic residents.

Joining them are art photos from the 1910s, original paintings that show the park’s archaeological development and a bas relief topographic map sculpted by Mark Almerlie. Another of his works is in the Visitor Center.

The park also has several Indian mounds, examples of the state’s oldest art form, created around 1,000 years ago. Near the south shore shelter, four 1989 sculptures by Alan Tollakson, collectively titled “Indigenous Reminder,” mimic Native American themes.

The neighboring south shore store is a puzzle and a problem. It features native stone, but when was it built? “I’m guessing it was around the same time when the other stone buildings were built in the park by the CCC,” says Steve Schmelzer, park superintendent with the Department of Natural Resources.

Kevin Flock is general manager and CEO of the Devil’s Lake Concession Corp., which offers souvenirs, refreshments and food at the Chateau and south shore store. He doesn’t know how old the building is, either.

But it’s what’s inside the building that most charms visitors: vintage Art Moderne furniture. Diners and campers can enjoy rose Formica and tubular-chrome chairs and tables that harken to an earlier time while blending perfectly with the general National Park Rustic style.

The Chateau also featured the décor, but in 2011 it was remodeled to make Devil’s Lake appear, ironically, more like a traditional national park.

If you enjoy the décor while looking at autumn leaves, you better take a picture. “It is possible the furniture could be replaced, and a decision should be made no later than May,” Flock says.

Utah coach suspends entire high school football team after cyber-bullying incident

Union High School football coach Matt Labrum suspended his entire team after receiving reports of at least one cyber-bullying incident and also players ditching class and disrespecting teachers.

The day after the suspension of the players at the school in Roosevelt, Utah, the coach explained how they could get back on the team and the field, according to the Deseret News newspaper.

The newspaper reported that the coaching staff gathered the team for a lengthy meeting after a Friday night loss and instructed the players to turn in their jerseys and equipment. The coach told them they’d get to suit up when they’d earned the right.

One mother told the newspaper, “They were in the locker room for a really long time. They came out, and there were tears. Those boys were wrecked. My son got in the car really upset and (said), ‘First of all, there is no football team. It’s been disbanded.’”

School officials said the cyber-bulling took place on a social media site called ask.fm and that one student reported to the guidance counselor department that he’d been harassed online, and believed it was by football players.

The coach said that and the complaints that football players were acting up told him the program wasn’t headed in the right direction and that a character-building exercise was needed.

A letter to the suspended players said, “The lack of character we are showing off the field is outshining what we are achieving on the field. It is a privilege to play this wonderful game! We must earn the opportunity to have the honor to put on our high school jerseys each Thursday and Friday night!”

And instead of practicing for an upcoming game, the players spent a week performing community service and attend a class on character development.

By Sept. 25, most of the players had met the requirements to return to the team.

The homecoming game is tonight (Sept. 27).