The Capital Times, Jan. 8

Make no apologies for opposing war with Iran

Robert M. La Follette, the great anti-war senator from Wisconsin, was often asked after World War I about his opposition to U.S. involvement in the conflict. Questioners imagined that they were giving the senator and 1924 presidential contender an opportunity to distance himself from the militant positions he had taken.

But La Follette did nothing of the sort. He made a point of recounting his opposition to imperialism and militarism in general, to the U.S. entry into what was inaccurately described as “the war to end all wars,” and to future demands that the United States might enter into conflicts that “originated in the selfish ambition and cruel greed of a comparatively few men in each government who saw the war as an opportunity for profit and power for themselves, and who were wholly indifferent to the awful suffering they knew that the war would bring the masses.”

Making no apologies, La Follette declared, “I would not change my record on the war with any man in the United States Senate.”

Like La Follette, Barack Obama made no apologies for his opposition to the war in Iraq, a stance that helped to distinguish him from the early front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, who as a U.S. senator had voted to authorize the use of military force by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Making no apologies, Obama declared in a critical January 2008 debate — after which a Politico headline declared, “Obama beats Hillary over head with Iraq …” — that “I was opposed to Iraq from the start, and I say that not just to look backwards, but also to look forwards, because I think what the next president has to show is the kind of judgment that will ensure that we are using our military power wisely.”

As the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination enters a critical stage, the candidates are again confronted with the question of where they stand on issues of war and peace. And one candidate in particular, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is distinguishing himself by highlighting his long record of opposing the U.S. military interventions that have come back to haunt the country.

Last year, Sanders said in a video: "Recently I've been criticized a bit because of my opposition to war. So let me be very clear: I make no apologies to anybody that when I was a young man, before I was elected to anything, I opposed the war in Vietnam. And I know what that war did to my generation. I'm going to do everything that I can to prevent a war with Iran, because if you think the war in Iraq was a disaster, my guess is that war in Iran would be even worse.”

Now that President Trump has brought the U.S. to the brink of a new war with Iran, Sanders is amplifying his “no apologies” message. Last week, after Trump escalated tensions throughout the region by ordering the assassination of Iran's Gen. Qassem Soleimani and other Iranian and Iraqi military leaders, Sanders tweeted: “I was right about Vietnam. I was right about Iraq. I will do everything in my power to prevent a war with Iran. I apologize to no one.”

Sanders was right in the past. And he is right now to propose legislation that would prohibit any funding for offensive military force in or against Iran without prior congressional authorization. The measure, which is being sponsored in the House by a Sanders ally, California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, renews a restriction that the House attempted to include in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020. That measure, which was approved with a strong bipartisan vote in the House, was stripped from the NDAA before it was finally approved by Congress in December.

Declaring that “war must be the last recourse in our international relations,” Sanders and Khanna said in announcing their plan, “We know that it will ultimately be the children of working-class families who will have to fight and die in a new Middle East conflict — not the children of the billionaire class. At a time when we face the urgent need to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, to build the housing we desperately need, and to address the existential crisis of climate change, we as a nation must get our priorities right. The House and Senate should pass our legislation immediately and uphold our constitutional responsibilities. We must invest in the needs of the American people, not spend trillions more on endless wars.”

Bob La Follette would undoubtedly approve. And, as the newspaper that was founded to support La Follette and to carry his legacy forward, The Capital Times recognizes the vital importance of taking a “no apologies” stance when it comes to opposing a new war in the Middle East.

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Kenosha News, Jan. 9

Let's keep ‘forever chemicals’ out of our water supply

Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, are called “forever” chemicals because they don’t break down in the environment.

How much of one of those would you like in your glass of water?

Gov. Tony Evers has directed the DNR to propose standards in drinking water, groundwater and surface water, but that’s a two- to three-year process. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is working on national standards but has been criticized by environmental groups for its slow pace in this area.

Hopefully, more government agencies and private companies will follow the example of the Madison Fire Department, which announced Dec. 16 that it is no longer using firefighting foam containing PFAS.

All Madison fire trucks are now equipped with a foam that has been independently verified as PFAS-free, and it has contracted with a licensed disposal company to destroy its existing stock of fluorinated foam, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Knockdown brand foam can be used in most situations, including many house fires, where water would be ineffective, Fire Department spokeswoman Cynthia Schuster said.

“You don’t want to be splashing water on a grease fire,” Schuster said. “That’s why foam is such an essential element to our firefighting process.”

The department previously stocked a product known as FireAde that could be used on all types of fires and was deployed in July when an electrical transformer exploded at a downtown substation. Elevated levels of PFAS were later found in Lake Monona.

The decision comes amid growing concern about the prevalence of PFAS, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems and have been found in surface and groundwater across the state, including in 14 of Madison’s 23 municipal wells.

An earlier DHS study found compounds flowing into Oak Creek and Wilson Park Creek, suggesting they are making their way to Lake Michigan.

Early testing found high PFAS levels at some sites where firefighting foam has been used by the airport, Air National Guard 128th Air Refueling wing and the 440th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve. The 440th left Milwaukee in 2007. According to the DNR, it is not yet known whether the military or the airport, or both, are responsible for the contamination.

Wisconsin is among a majority of states that have not set enforceable standards for PFAS in water, although Minnesota has limits in place and Michigan officials say new requirements will be in place next year.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has directed the DNR to propose standards in drinking water, groundwater and surface water — a process that will take two to three years.

Groups like Clean Wisconsin, an environmental group, have been supportive of a Democrat bill that would speed up the regulation of at least six PFAS compounds. The bill has yet to get a hearing in the Republican-controlled state Legislature.

We need state and national standards on PFAS as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, we urge companies and government agencies to take a close look at the chemicals they’re using and consider more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as the Madison Fire Department has done.

If we can’t count on PFAS to break down, we can’t count on them staying out of our water supply.

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Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Jan. 12

Census must lead to fair voting maps in Wisconsin

Wisconsin definitely needs fair voting districts following this year’s important census.

A pair of Democratic lawmakers last week proposed a state constitutional amendment that would assign the task of drawing legislative and congressional districts to a nonpartisan state agency following the once-every-decade count of Wisconsin’s population.

That’s a fine idea. But adopting such an amendment will take years to accomplish, even if support in the Legislature is strong.

The better option, at least for now, is to stick with a bipartisan bill to accomplish the same goal by next year, when voting districts across Wisconsin will be redrawn to reflect increases and shifts in where people live.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board has been decrying gerrymandering — the devious practice of shaping voting districts for partisan advantage — since before the last census in 2010. We pushed for Iowa’s good-government model for nonpartisan redistricting when Democrats were in charge of Wisconsin government. And we continued to demand it while Republicans held a lock on power.

Now state government is split, which is a ripe opportunity for adopting a neutral process. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers supports Iowa’s proven method of assigning a nonpartisan state agency to redraw voting districts so they are compact and follow established municipal and county lines. Unfortunately, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, stubbornly oppose a fair system, as do most of their GOP colleagues.

But that’s starting to change, thanks to public pressure. At least two Republican state lawmakers — Reps. Todd Novak of Dodgeville, and Travis Tranel of Cuba City — have joined Democrats in co-sponsoring Assembly Bill 303, which would take the politics out of redrawing district lines next year. Rep. Jon Plumer, R-Lodi, also supports the bill, and other Republicans have expressed interest.

More than two-thirds of Wisconsin’s counties have passed resolutions opposing partisan gerrymandering. Good citizens, regardless of their political leanings, understand that letting the politicians shape their own districts only leads to incumbents protecting themselves from voters.

That’s not how our democracy — which is by and for the people — is supposed to work.

Iowa has demonstrated a better way for decades. The law in Iowa assigns the task of redrawing legislative and congressional districts to a state agency that’s insulated from politics. The agency must draw districts compact and contiguous without considering the impact on politicians or parties.

The Iowa Legislature still approves the maps but can’t amend them. And if Iowa lawmakers want revisions, they must state in writing their concerns, which guards against shenanigans.

Adopting the Iowa model as a constitutional amendment would make it harder for either partisan side to undermine fair maps. That’s because constitutional amendments require two consecutive legislatures to adopt the same proposal, followed by a binding public referendum.

But with the latest decennial census already here, Wisconsin needs to move fast. Passing a bill that requires a nonpartisan process such as Iowa’s is best.

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