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Harrop: Souls versus fossil fuels

There are regions where economic stress coexists with a beloved way of life. It can be hard to make a living in parts of the rural West, northern New England and the South. But people stay put in these places for reasons other than the almighty dollar. They include community, tradition and quality of life.

The prospect of losing a way of life is the source of anger in eastern Wyoming over the Trump administration’s opening of more public lands in the Powder River Basin to coal mining. It is also behind the continuing resistance in Nebraska to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

But the issues go beyond the matter of souls vs. fossil fuels. They involve conflicts between one source of income and other sources. Both projects threaten the water supply in places where water is extremely valuable. That, in turn, threatens the farm and ranching economies on which these regions depend.

A clean environment is also essential for the recreation industry, a major employer in the rural West. Without clean water and air, hunters, anglers and hikers would have no reason to be there—nor would the outfitters whose businesses depend on them.

Ranchers can’t ranch if the water supply is fouled. Mining operations throw dust in the air that chokes the animals. They also scrape away the grasslands on which cattle feed. The U.S. Forest Service puts pasture near the mines off-limits to ranchers. Small wonder ranchers are among the most potent opponents to expanded mining on public land.

The fight is about more than environmentalism vs. fossil fuels. It’s about money vs. money. And if that’s the case, why would fossil fuel interests win over ranching, farming and recreation interests? The answer is that fossil fuels have more money and more of it goes into politicians’ pockets.

Trump’s secretary of the interior is Ryan Zinke. As a Republican rep from Montana, Zinke took campaign money from several major coal companies and the railroad that transports the coal. In June, he attended a meeting of Western governors, where he blew a lot of smoke about finding a balance between resource extraction on public lands and protecting them. Right before, he had a cozy one-on-one with a petroleum CEO.

U.S. taxpayers, meanwhile, extend billions of dollars in corporate welfare to the mining companies. The welfare comes in the form of below-market rates for the right to mine on public lands. The Obama administration took action to reduce the abuses. Trump reversed it.

So, we subsidize mining companies to sell cheap coal to China, after ravaging land belonging to the American people. The locals are left with gouged-out canyon walls, polluted strip mines and poisoned water. And for what, a few jobs in a rapidly automating industry? No, to enrich a handful of fossil fuel executives.

Ranching is not an easy livelihood. But it’s a way of life for families who do it generation after generation. Joining them in opposition are the Cheyenne. “We are wealthy in life here,” a member of the tribe told a reporter. “We don’t have money. But we have land, water and air. Snuff that out and we are gone.”

In Nebraska, TransCanada wants to take private land to build the Keystone XL pipeline. In effect, a foreign company would be using eminent domain to seize land that the farmers’ ancestors homesteaded. All with Donald Trump’s blessing.

It’s fairly easy to preserve a house that George Washington slept in. It’s hard to preserve a way of life, especially when the side that would end it can buy the politicians. But it’s sure worth trying.

Your Views: Defendant may be suffering from CTE

As Jeff McKenzie's parents, we are sincerely requesting and hoping that your newspaper staff will allow us to relay our side of Jeffrey's story in regard to the incident which resulted in a mistrial last week in Walworth County Circuit Court.

We are not in any way condoning the reasons that brought Jeffery to the court in the first place. However, we would like to make it known to the public that he has been treated by numerous physicians within the past two years for what appears to be worsening signs and symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the progressive degenerative disease which afflicts the brain of people who have suffered repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

Jeff was a running back for Whitewater High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and suffered many blows to his head, in addition to at least four known concussions that he suffered as an adolescent. At this point, we are attempting to schedule an evaluation for Jeff at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a complete neurological and psychological workup by their CTE staff of physicians.

Unfortunately, a diagnoses of CTE can only be diagnosed upon death by an autopsy of the brain. Jeffrey may not have played for the NFL, but his story is just as important to those who know and love him. What he needs right now is empathy and understanding as he battles this horrible disease. Thank you.



Our View: Make a BID to boost the downtown

The timing is finally right to create a business improvement district in downtown Janesville.

Proposals failed in 2003 and 2008, but a lot has changed since those attempts. For one, the 2008 proposal coincided with a deep recession when businesses were leery of making new investments.

But now, with the economy expanding, downtown’s prospects are improving. Residents can see the revival in progress along the west bank of the Rock River near the Court Street bridge, where construction crews are building a new town square.

As part of the downtown ARISE plan, the town square is one of several projects expected to draw more people to the area and make it more pedestrian friendly. Next in line is the reconstruction of the Milwaukee Street bridge.

The proposed business improvement district, or BID, would complement ARISE projects and allow downtown businesses to maximize ARISE’s positive effects.

Furthermore, this latest proposal strikes a compromise with businesses located farther from the downtown’s epicenter. A sticking point in the past has been disagreement among business owners about who stands to benefit most from a BID. The latest proposal won’t satisfy all critics, but it makes a sincere effort to address naysayers’ concerns by adjusting the special assessment based on a property’s proximity to central downtown.

Merchants at the heart of the district would pay $2.25 per $1,000 of assessed value, while those properties in two outlying zones would be taxed at lower rates—$1.50 and $1 per $1,000, respectively. For the record, The Gazette building would be in the $1.50 zone.

It makes sense to charge businesses along Main Street more because they would receive most of the foot traffic generated from both ARISE and BID initiatives. But to be clear, the BID would raise only a modest sum, with an annual budget of $100,000.

Businesses would realize immediate, tangible benefits by joining the district. The BID’s most important job will be to remove snow piles to make the downtown more easily accessible. The city plows the streets but leaves snow piled at the curb, which can hinder pedestrian traffic. Removing those piles in a coordinated fashion would convey a welcoming image and show that merchants take pride in the downtown’s appearance.

The district also would pay for beautification. The ARISE plan focuses on capital projects, but it won’t do the small things, such as decorating streets with flowers and banners. Think of the ARISE plan as putting up the Christmas tree. The BID would decorate that tree, and it would seem foolish to put up a Christmas tree but leave its limbs bare. Making a beautiful street counts for more than people might think. If downtown looks dour or sloppy, people will be less inclined to spend time and money there.

Another aspect of this proposal would be to create a part-time executive director to oversee district initiatives, including the creation of two events tailored to the downtown area and businesses. The director would be responsible for marketing the downtown, selling it to residents and encouraging them to visit.

We already can hear the naysayers grumbling and complaining about their hard-earned money being wasted on a BID. These property owners might circulate a petition to try to defeat it, but open-minded individuals shouldn’t fall for their gloomy sales pitch. We encourage property owners who opposed previous plans to reconsider their objections and view this new BID proposal in a new, positive light.

Other Views: International leverage isolates North Korea

The United Nations Security Council has imposed strong new economic sanctions on North Korea, notable for the unqualified participation of China. Previous Chinese government reluctance to participate was not publicly evident this time.

South Korea has also been an active participant. That is important in a complex diplomatic duel with North Korea, addressing both security and economic concerns.

Ambassador Nikki Haley, the top U.S. representative to UN, was visible in actively negotiating with China’s representative, Liu Jieyi. Presumably, this is the tip of an array of private interchange and negotiation. President Donald Trump appropriately tweeted praise for the participation of Russia and China in the vote and noted, “Very big financial impact!”

The new sanctions under Resolution 2371 impose a total ban on North Korea’s exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood. Travel is banned and assets frozen for 14 officials and four entities. This significantly ratchets up pressure on Pyongyang, which relies increasingly on black markets for desperately needed money. Monitoring and enforcement of a total ban will be easier.

Beyond Pyongyang’s fanatical and apocalyptic rhetoric, evidence is apparent that the regime is feeling great long-term strain. In May 2016, North Korea held a Communist Party Congress. Tight security control of the enormous choreographed show was utterly self-evident. The last such party congress was in 1980, an occasion for regime founder Kim Il-sung to indicate succession of power to his son Kim Jong-il.

The Communist Party Congress took place in the context of continuing tension, punctuated by occasional violence and aggressive moves regarding South Korea. In 2013, North Korea announced a “state of war” with South Korea and threatened nuclear attack.

Pyongyang abruptly abrogated the 1953 armistice agreement ending the Korean War and cut the military “hot line” communications link with the south.

Developments in recent years could have been the prelude to war, yet there is no concrete evidence that North Korea has been mobilizing to invade South Korea. Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities increase but remain rudimentary.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provides an appropriate style, firm but calm. The day after the UN vote, he and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea joined in praising the outcome at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the Philippines that included China and North Korea.

ASEAN represents a growing network of regional entities reinforcing the UN and associated global institutions. In July 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague supported the Philippines in a major maritime dispute with China.

Preparation for war is essential regarding North Korea, but there is still no need to assume war will happen. The Korean War Armistice has held for 64 years.

Arthur I. Cyr