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Fourth Ward on the Fourth: Patriotism, parade and possibilities

JANESVILLE

Kenya Williams, 11, was among the children decorating their bicycles in red, white and blue Wednesday when a Gazette reporter asked what the Fourth of July was all about.

“I know that it’s Independence Day for America, and a lot of people celebrate it because it’s a chance for America to come together and help each other.

“And for our Founding Fathers—we’re celebrating them, too,” she said.

Williams was one of about 50 people—mostly children—who marched in the Fourth Ward neighborhood’s third annual July Fourth parade in Fourth Ward Park.

“I think it’s good for all of us to come together and get to know each other and not be scared of each other. ... No strangers here!” added Le’von Hatchett, 12, another parade entrant.

As one of the event’s organizers, Ed Hookham, who runs Jack and Dick’s Feed & Garden with his wife on the south side, also had community building on his mind.

“It’s for people to get to know each other and talk to each other and improve the image of the Fourth Ward,” Hookham said. “It’s a way better neighborhood than people perceive.”

The neighborhood is known for higher poverty and crime rates relative to the rest of Janesville, but residents said they see a lot of positives, too.

Dan Hartung said the event is just one part of an overall surge in community activism in the neighborhood.

Efforts include recognition by the Fourth Ward Neighborhood Action Team when homeowners improve their homes’ appearance and a second annual Wilson Street Arts and Culture Day, set for Aug. 3.

Some residents are working to organize a Janesville Community Center in the neighborhood.

“It’s really gratifying to see,” Hartung said.

Attendees at Wednesday’s event celebrated with doughnuts, pizza, lemonade and more.

The neighborhood action team organizes the annual event. Member Cameron Pickering came up with the idea after a friend, Jackie Wood, invited Pickering’s family to the Courthouse Hill Neighborhood’s July Fourth kids parade several years ago.

“And I thought, ‘Man we really need this for our neighborhood,’” Pickering recalled.

“My kids look forward to it every year now. It’s a tradition,” she added.

Nearly 100 people turned out for the event, staying mostly in the shade as the temperature climbed and noon approached.

Organizers provided American flags and other decorations for the bikes. The kazoos were a big hit with the kids.

The Rev. Earl Sias of All Saints Anglican Catholic Church led the parade with a boombox on his shoulder blaring patriotic kids songs.

Pickering said she likes the idea of promoting patriotism to children.

“It’d be great if every neighborhood had something like this,” she said.


Angela Major 

6-year-old Ja'Corian Brooks watches a sparkler burn as he waits for the fireworks to begin Wednesday, July 4, 2018, at Traxler Park in Janesville.


Obituaries and death notices for July 5, 2018

Douglas Thomas Aavang

Brian K. Bishop

Marian C. Briggs

Donald “Chris” Christensen

Kathleen “Kathy” Johnson

James S. Kruse

Joyce I. Monroe

Paula Nehring

Mary Kay Nordmeyer

Jodie O’Connor

Donald Wayne Osborn

Owen Snyder Jr.

Robert Wendland


Trump pressed aides on Venezuela invasion, US official says

BOGOTA, Colombia

As a meeting last August in the Oval Office to discuss sanctions on Venezuela was concluding, President Donald Trump turned to his top aides and asked an unsettling question: With a fast unraveling Venezuela threatening regional security, why can’t the U.S. just simply invade the troubled country?

The suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both of whom have since left the administration. This account of the previously undisclosed conversation comes from a senior administration official familiar with what was said.

In an exchange that lasted around five minutes, McMaster and others took turns explaining to Trump how military action could backfire and risk losing hard-won support among Latin American governments to punish President Nicolas Maduro for taking Venezuela down the path of dictatorship, according to the official. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

But Trump pushed back. Although he gave no indication he was about to order up military plans, he pointed to what he considered past cases of successful gunboat diplomacy in the region, according to the official, like the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s.

The idea, despite his aides’ best attempts to shoot it down, would nonetheless persist in the president’s head.

The next day, Aug. 11, Trump alarmed friends and foes alike with talk of a “military option” to remove Maduro from power. The public remarks were initially dismissed in U.S. policy circles as the sort of martial bluster people have come to expect from the reality TV star turned commander in chief.

But shortly afterward, he raised the issue with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, according to the U.S. official. Two high-ranking Colombian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing Trump confirmed the report.

Then in September, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Trump discussed it again, this time at greater length, in a private dinner with leaders from four Latin American allies that included Santos, the same three people said and Politico reported in February.

The U.S. official said Trump was specifically briefed not to raise the issue and told it wouldn’t play well, but the first thing the president said at the dinner was, “My staff told me not to say this.” Trump then went around asking each leader if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution, according to the official, who added that each leader told Trump in clear terms they were sure.

Eventually, McMaster would pull aside the president and walk him through the dangers of an invasion, the official said.

Taken together, the behind-the-scenes talks, the extent and details of which have not been previously reported, highlight how Venezuela’s political and economic crisis has received top attention under Trump in a way that was unimaginable in the Obama administration. But critics say it also underscores how his “America First” foreign policy at times can seem outright reckless, providing ammunition to America’s adversaries.

The White House declined to comment on the private conversations. But a National Security Council spokesman reiterated the U.S. will consider all options at its disposal to help restore Venezuela’s democracy and bring stability.

Under Trump’s leadership, the U.S., Canada and European Union have levied sanctions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials, including Maduro himself, over allegations of corruption, drug trafficking and human rights abuses. The U.S. has also distributed more than $30 million to help Venezuela’s neighbors absorb an influx of more than 1 million migrants who have fled the country.

For Maduro, who has long claimed that the U.S. has military designs on Venezuela and its vast oil reserves, Trump’s bellicose talk provided the unpopular leader with an immediate if short-lived boost as he was trying to escape blame for widespread food shortages and hyperinflation.

Within days of the president’s talk of a military option, Maduro filled the streets of Caracas with loyalists to condemn “Emperor” Trump’s belligerence, ordered up nationwide military exercises and threatened to arrest opponents he said were plotting his overthrow with the U.S.

“Mind your own business and solve your own problems, Mr. Trump!” thundered Nicolas Maduro, the president’s son, at the government-stacked constituent assembly. “If Venezuela were attacked, the rifles will arrive in New York, Mr. Trump,” the younger Maduro said. “We will take the White House.”

Even some of the staunchest U.S. allies were begrudgingly forced to side with Maduro in condemning Trump’s saber rattling. Santos, a big backer of U.S. attempts to isolate Maduro, said an invasion would have zero support in the region. The Mercosur trade bloc, which includes Brazil and Argentina, issued a statement saying “the only acceptable means of promoting democracy are dialogue and diplomacy” and repudiating “any option that implies the use of force.”

But among Venezuela’s beleaguered opposition movement, hostility to the idea of a military intervention has slowly eased.

A few weeks after Trump’s public comments, Harvard economics professor Ricardo Hausmann, a former Venezuelan planning minister, wrote a syndicated column titled “D Day Venezuela,” in which he called for a “coalition of the willing” made up of regional powers and the U.S. to step in and support militarily a government appointed by the opposition-led national assembly.

Mark Feierstein, who oversaw Latin America on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said that strident U.S. action on Venezuela, however commendable, won’t loosen Maduro’s grip on power if it’s not accompanied by pressure from the streets. He thinks Venezuelans have largely been demoralized after a crackdown on protests last year triggered dozens of deaths, and the threat of more repression has forced dozens of opposition leaders into exile.

“People inside and outside the administration know they can ignore plenty of what Trump says,” Feierstein, who is now a senior adviser at the Albright Stonebridge Group, said of Trump’s talk of military invasion of Venezuela. “The concern is that it raised expectations among Venezuelans, many of whom are waiting for an external actor to save them.”


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Supreme Court ruling won't affect Janesville fire, police unions, officials say

JANESVILLE

Local public safety unions said they won’t be significantly affected by last week’s Supreme Court ruling that allows employees to opt out of paying union dues.

The court’s decision means unions no longer can require nonmembers to pay membership fees. Unions long held this power because they negotiate contracts for all employees, not just union members.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker rescinded that power in 2011 with the passage of Act 10. Public safety unions representing police officers and firefighters were exempted, but the court ruling ends the ability for those unions, as well.

Representatives from Janesville’s fire and police unions don’t expect major fallout from the Supreme Court’s action—even if they are disappointed by it.

“I understand it. I don’t necessarily agree with it,” said Glen Hageman, president of the Janesville Professional Police Association. “It definitely weakens our position, but anybody who’s ever been in the union, who sees all the things hidden in the background, understands how important they are.”

All Janesville police officers are unionized, and the union automatically withdraws roughly $45 per month from their paychecks. Many officers consider union-funded legal protection for potential civil and criminal lawsuits to be the biggest membership benefit, Hageman said.

Now the union will have to reiterate those benefits to prevent officers from leaving. If someone opts out of the union, that person still would receive wage benefits but no longer would have access to legal protection and other services, he said.

At Janesville Fire Fighters Local 580, an affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters, President Jason Daskam said the Supreme Court ruling will affect only “fair share” members. The union has none of those.

A fair share member is someone who doesn’t pay membership dues but is charged a percentage for the union’s time spent negotiating wage increases. If the union had any fair share members, those people no longer would have to pay their portion toward contract raises, Daskam said.

The Janesville firefighters union has 88 members, not including some high-ranking department personnel or administrative staff. But like Hageman, Daskam didn’t expect membership to drop.

“I don’t foresee anything changing,” he said. “I think all our members understand the importance of being a union member and understanding where their union dues are going to is to protect their wages, working conditions and benefits.”

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, which oversees the Janesville affiliate, said police union membership is growing. More than 300 local affiliates with more than 10,000 members exist statewide, he said.

The legal services provided by the police union likely will keep those numbers steady, he said.

But Palmer, Daskam and Hageman all criticized the high court’s decision as being another attack on collective bargaining, especially in the aftermath of Act 10.

“I wouldn’t say we think it’s a favorable position, but it’s one we anticipated given the makeup of the court,” Palmer said. “It essentially allows public employees to reap the benefits that are bargained for them by a union, and they don’t have to contribute to the expenses needed to enforce those agreements.

“It does allow, generally speaking, employees to basically serve as free riders where they can enjoy the wages and benefits that’s bargained for them.”