High Capacity Wells And Farming In Hancock, Wisconsin

I rarely think about The Agriculturalist, a publication aimed at the farming community.  Other than a relative recently talking about how Grandpa Schwarz read it, which brought back memories of seeing it in their rural farmhouse, I had not thought about it for decades.  But this week someone who knows about my interest in groundwater issues in the Hancock area, the place I grew up, made me aware of a story about farming and irrigation in that long-forgotten source for farming information.  

The story centered on Jim Bacon who farms 6,050 owned and rented acres with his family near Hancock in central Wisconsin.  There is no need to remind readers why farmers are an essential sector of our economy. I have long championed farmers for the part they serve with international relations as their products are very much a part of diplomatic underpinnings with other nations through, as an example, massive grain and beef sales. But farmers also have a deep responsibility for the land and the groundwater which allows them success and profits.

Farmers in the Central Sands rely heavily on irrigation to grow crops on very sandy soils. One hundred percent of the land the Bacons farm is irrigated with 60 center pivots.

Bacon is grateful for irrigation, adding, “We need the water to farm, and we need to manage it properly for future generations.”

I was truly pleased that Bacon added that managing water for future generations is important. Because it is!  I would have liked to know more about his thinking and what practices he undertakes to meet his desires for the future. That would have seemed a logical progression of the news story. But the reporter/writer for The Agriculturalist did not seem to inquire of Bacon what that type of managing entails or write one line about the negative impact of high-capacity wells. 

There is another side to this story from Fran O’Leary, of course, and it deals with the overuse of irrigation for the profits of large farming businesses.

In the area where I grew up the conversation about high-capacity irrigation wells has taken on a louder and more robust tone over the past decade.  It is pitting farmers against those who wish for more considerate and wise use of natural resources.  The numbers speak for themselves when looking at the menacing side of these wells.  In the early 1950s, there were fewer than 100 high-capacity wells in the Central Sands, while today there are more than 3,000.  That is 40% of the state’s total — in just a six-county area!

In 2021, I was very pleased with the truly tremendous victory from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court for science, the environment, and the authority of experts in state agencies to craft rules (that was not a small victory, mind you) that work for all residents when they strongly affirmed the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to place permit restrictions on high-capacity wells in order to protect the state’s water.  The Court had also ruled that same day about having the power to regulate through rulemaking huge livestock enterprises which pollute groundwater. 

The majority Court decision, written by Justice Jill Karofsky, found the DNR “had the explicit authority” to impose both permit conditions in order to “assure compliance” with limitations on discharged waste and groundwater protection standards. Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the state Legislature “has granted the DNR the broad but explicit authority to consider the environmental effects of a proposed high capacity well.”

My concern about water issues has been a decades-long journey.  I still recall the woman, in the 1990s, holding the jar of cloudy and unappealing-looking water taken from her kitchen tap in Kewaunee County prior to driving to the Madison office of her state assemblyman. What she made clear to Representative Lary Swoboda was the harmful impact the water would have on her children.  She offered to leave it on my desk so I would not forget her plight.

I fondly recall biking again and again to a local lake in Hancock as a teenager, and though not knowing how to swim, loving to wade about and cool off. As an adult, it became clear that the groundwater concerns from locals were not just irrational fears but were coming from first-hand accounts of new homeowners needing to go deeper and deeper when digging a well. My dad, Royce Humphrey, had a second well, located near our garden plot near County KK, go dry when I was a young adult.

While the past two years have allowed for Hancock lakes to be very full, that does not diminish the long-term data about the groundwater and the impact of high-capacity wells in the area. The need to better regulate the permits is a necessity, given that such wells can withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water a day from the ground.

Dad and Lary had passed away by the time the Court ruled, but I knew how pleased they would be with the rulings. Dad served 40 years as a Hancock Town Supervisor, trying to press in his low-key style the need to be mindful of natural resources. Lary, who served for 24 years in the Assembly, had wished for a more forceful ability to constrain farm runoffs into local streams. What they both understood and knew very well to be true was that wise and judicious use of the groundwater is something that requires continued vigilance.

I am glad that Bacon alluded to that idea in his statement to The Agriculturalist and only wish the reporter would have written an article that was aimed to allow for a better understanding of the issues surrounding irrigation.

Bar Lowered For What Passes As Political Maturity, Concession Speeches Should Be Our Norm

I noted many times on Election Night and the days afterward that news reporters and those offering analysis or explaining vote counts from those states still not having concluded the process so to ascertain a winner used cautionary remarks for the public. On the night of voting reporters on CBS, CNN, and MSNBC advised viewers, in their own words and way, that vote counting could take days in some cases and that was not in any a nefarious or under-handed approach to dealing with voters’ intentions at the polls.  While I understood the need to say such things considering the persistent Big Lie pushed by Donald Trump and a huge segment of the Republican party, it also served as a notice about how much of a gut-punch democracy has suffered from a segment of the electorate.

Treating the public in such an elementary way was noticeable to the folks who gathered at our home to watch the returns and were met with the dismaying comment of “we have come to this in our land”. Feeling a need to tamp down the unhinged elements in our nation was clearly a broad-based assessment in newsrooms, especially following the danger posed to the country on January 6th, 2021.

In the days that followed, I noticed another verbal gold star that got affixed to some top-name Republican candidates who floundered with the voters and needed to concede their races after the voters rendered their judgment.  For simply doing that gracious and time-honored custom of the concession statement or speech they were applauded and patted on the back.  We truly are in an odd time when everyone gets a participation prize and is allowed to wear an honor cord, whether it is meritorious, or not. That is how we are constructing our society these days. Needing to praise a loser on Election Night for not being churlish does seem a step too far.

I noted how the Washington Post wrote of the matter of concession speeches in an analysis article. They noted the damage not making one can play in our democracy.

That’s a key reason concessions matter. They help democracy move forward. A study of the 2020 electorate found that a strong majority of voters who cast ballots for Donald Trump would have accepted the result as legitimate had Trump conceded.

I noted that it was Democratic candidate Tim Ryan when conceding to Republican J.D. Vance in Ohio who even stated it was a ”privilege to concede”. Ryan said that to do anything other than taking that route would be a slap to democracy. The fact we have been lowered in this nation to the place that an explanation, though brief and to the point needs to be said about conceding, is truly a testament to the shaky place we find ourselves in America.

Our elections are not rigged and there are no throngs of illegal votes or rampant fraud.  That can all be demonstrated with the data from every state and polling location. The same people who champion such wild-eyed conspiracies are the ones who also gave us the boorish behavior of not conceding when voters in their calm manner cast a ballot.  Arizona was treated to the third-grade verbal tantrum of Kari Lake who tweeted a curse upon learning she was rejected at the ballot box. As the Washington Post might say hers was not “a grace note” in this election cycle.

Over the years I have been able to see in real-time how a concession is handled, while more often reading or watching such a happening through the media.  But in each case, a concession following a hard-fought campaign shows the mettle of a person perhaps better than any other facet of seeking office.

I found it troubling a few years ago when then Wisconsin State Assemblyman Adam Jarchow was reported to have tweeted his concession to the victorious Patty Schachtner following the special state senate election. I grasp the fact that everything these days is seemingly done on the gadgets people carry around like aged smokers with their oxygen tanks.  But when it comes to concessions there is a need to be personal and more connected.  Surely the phone number for the opposing campaign was available.  Call me old-fashioned but just pick up the phone and place the call!

The morning following the 1988 election victory of State Representative Lary Swboda the phone rang in his Kewaunee County home.  I had worked in the district often that fall on the campaign and as I stood in the kitchen as Lary answered the call I was privy to one of the gracious acts of politics.  Bob Papke, then Door County Clerk, had run, up to that time, the most expensive race for the state assembly.  He had been condescending and rather mean-spirited during the months leading to Election Day.  But on the phone, as Papke spoke to Lary there was a gentlemanly quality to the conversation and though the two would never be friends, an air of good sportsmanship was most apparent.

That is how election outcomes once were handled. May it totally revert to that fashion again.

UW-Madison Professor Places Gun Culture Roots In Post-Civil War South

The first thing I ever wrote to be published was a Letter to the Editor of my county newspaper lamenting the lack of gun control. I was a high school teenager who found it hard to fathom the stunning number of handgun deaths in the nation.  Several decades later and the search for an understanding of our gun culture continues to vex me.  I still am not able to square the tens of thousands of lives killed each year due to guns with a legislative process impotent to enacting meaningful corrective measures.  

How the culture for gun madness was born and how it took root in such a powerful way has intrigued me since I used a Smith Corona to type (or was that pecking) my letter to the Waushara Argus. On Sunday, an insightful and thought-provoking article from Nick Buttrick, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison, was published in the Wisconsin State Journal which demonstrates from a data-loaded historical perspective how and where our national gun culture took birth.

The South was a very dangerous place after the war. More than half a million men, with their weapons, returned to what rapidly became one of the most heavily armed societies in the world, and one of the most violent: The murder rate in the South during the 1870s was an estimated 18 times higher than in New England — largely driven by white men killing each other.

Elite white Southerners considered the empowerment of the previously enslaved population an existential threat and worked to repress Black political power as completely as possible.

As part of that project, white Southern leaders explicitly anchored the protection of their way of life in the private ownership of firearms, arguing that guns protected white people from an illegitimate government unwilling to keep them safe. The huge supply of firearms from the war made this argument salient.

Using data from the 1860 census, nationally representative survey data from more than 3.5 million Americans, and records of every death in the U.S. from 1996 to 2016, we found that the higher the rate of enslavement in a county in 1860 — i.e., where nascent Black political power was more threatening to post-Civil War white elites — the higher the rate of gun ownership today.

In other words, counties with a historical prevalence of slavery had both the most guns and the tightest link between guns and feelings of safety. These are the places where contemporary American gun culture took root.

Mass shootings and obituaries from gun violence are now part of the fabric of daily life in this country. While it is important to place our current dilemma into a historical construct the lay of the land does not allow one to think it leads toward an enlightened and credible congressional majority that works in concert with needed gun control measures.

There was no way as a teenager to imagine that mass murder from high-powered military-type rifles of the kind used in Las Vegas when 58 people were killed could ever occur. When I sat at our family kitchen table and typed out the newspaper letter it would have been hard for me to believe that, Telemachus Orfanos, a man who escaped with his life from that mass shooting would die in another mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. The fact that a person can find themselves in the midst of two separate mass shootings in America underscores where the gun culture born in the South has placed our nation.

A Weekend Read Of History And News Reporters, Harold Holzer Delights (Again)

Looking for a weekend read that is timely, filled with history and press relations galore? Governing on the one hand is very important while understanding at the same time the absolute necessity of having a Fourth Estate as the ultimate “guarantor of freedom”.

President George Washington had the nation’s longest honeymoon in the White House, but with his second term the press, in part, turned their ink towards him in ways that stunned and scarred. He mostly stayed above the fray, above the articles, as opposed to how later presidents, who were even more thin-skinned would rebuke reporters and snarl on camera at them, such as with President Richard Nixon. “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

The press was rash and fresh in 1792 and just as the executive branch took root and gained power and federal reckoning over the decades, so too did the journalism profession mature and strengthen into what can only be correctly termed, as the British do, the Fourth Estate. I am finding the book perfect as I have a long and deep interest in the dual rise of the American presidency and the media that shaped it. As I am reading it I just know that Bill Safire, the wordsmith and media-oriented writer, would thrill to the book. There is no way not to feel drawn back into the time when Abraham Lincoln made use of the new “instant communication” technology of telegraphy. No way not to smile and read on and just warm to the narrative.

If you know Harold Holzer from his Abe Lincoln and Civil War books you are most aware of his keen intellect, a research knack that shows in his works, and a narrative style that draws a reader into the pages. I very much think for the history and media types who are readers of this page The Presidents vs. The Press will be a real delight.

Republicans Stunned At Polls, Voters Not Willing To Swallow Donald Trump Or His Trashy Candidates

The midterm elections were going to be a red wave akin to something we had not seen in decades, or so we were told by conservatives who were measuring curtains for new offices and lining up impeachment proceedings while shining up their gavels for new committee chairmanships. Some even were tossing out the word tsunami when making their predictions about the outcome following the counting of the ballots. But come the light of Wednesday morning many GOPers were experiencing the walk of shame. Oh, they were screwed all right, having spent huge amounts of cash for the experience of being rejected by the voters in congressional districts and states coast-to-coast. A form of sadomasochism on a national scale that made the majority of the nation feel good. Thus, it was a good night for democratic politicos, but a better night for the nation and democracy, itself.

Early this morning the boorish and vacuous Wisconsin Republican nominee for governor, Tim Michels, conceded his race to Governor Tony Evers. Without any actual governing experience and clearly not able to articulate a policy proposal or add any meat about pertinent issues asked of him, Michels thought bombast and reckless regard for our democracy would carry him over the finish line. I asked myself over and over during the race who exactly schooled him on the issues or offered coherent responses to questions. Clearly, Michels is not a good student. Meanwhile, voters are not policy wonks, but they sure know an empty suit when one is presented to them.  Michels proved to be the epitome of a weaselly candidate that sought out any crevice—state–that he could crawl into and seek power.   

What happened to Michels was also what Mehmet Oz was dealt by the voters and Dan Bolduc and Tudor Dixon and Paul LePage, and the list goes on and on and on and….. Complete bottom dwellers who proved to be short on policy but long-winded on right-wing crazy rhetoric or angry white male lingo while demonstrating a severe lack of regard for democracy.

Late last night and all-out today reasoned Republican Party voices—and there are some within even that debacle of a political party—stated with clarity what happened to the national wet dream of conservatives.

A former speechwriter for George W. Bush, conservative Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, did not hold back on Fox News Tuesday night, as the Republicans failed to produce the outcome they thought they had conned their voters to produce. He said what the majority of the nation has been warning Republicans about for years. The rubes have aped Donald Trump, but the nation just decided to flush the toilet in many cases.

“That is a searing indictment of the Republican Party,” he said. “That is a searing indictment of the message that we have been sending to the voters. They’ve looked at all of that, and looked at Republican alternative and said no thanks. That is–the Republican party needs to do a really deep introspection look in the mirror right now because this is an absolute disaster for the Republican Party and we need to turn back.”

That means the Republican Party will need to cut the cord with Orange Mussolini. Or keep being rebuked by the vast majority of voters.

Jacqui Heinrich, Fox News correspondent reported a GOP source told her following a very bad night for Republicans at the ballot box, “if it wasn’t clear before it should be now. We have a Trump problem”

This morning National Review lanced the Trump boil on the Republican Party.

“No excuses, Republicans. Everyone thought you had just about the ideal issue environment for a midterm election, and the exit polls verified it. Seven in ten Americans said they were ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘angry’ about the state of the country. Around three-quarters of voters nationally characterized the state of the economy as ‘poor’ or ‘not good,’ and the same amount said that inflation has caused them severe or moderate hardship. About two-thirds said that gas prices have been causing them hardship. You had parents livid about the learning loss in schools because of the long closures for Covid-19 and inappropriate materials in the curriculum. You had an unpopular president, who was such a liability that Democrats couldn’t let him go anywhere near a swing state.”

“And the nation, deeply dissatisfied with the way the Democrats were running things, looked at what the GOP offered as the alternative and concluded, ‘Nope, I’ll stick with what the Democrats are giving me’ in a lot of key places.”

The nation is rightly concerned that the Republicans ginned up the Tea Party crowd and egged on, for their partisan benefit, the Sarah Palin types which then softened the terrain for the ilk of Donald Trump to swamp the party. Vile, nasty, no real education, coarse, not ready in most cases for polite society. It was expected the nation was just supposed to accept this rush into the ditch with a smile. The political landscape should have offered the opposition on Tuesday one of the most fertile cycles in decades. But that nation was instead offered by the Republicans trashy candidates, empty platforms, and just plain bad manners. And we said to them, NO!

Morning After Elections, Time Congress Gets Back To Work, Pass Respect for Marriage Act

The counting of the ballots continues this Wednesday morning as the nation slips past a mind-numbing election season. While the bombast and high volume of television advertisements cease there is now the realization with seven weeks left in this congressional session some more work needs to be completed.  I suspect, given the usual playbook for political antics, some needless theatrics will occur over the debt ceiling and perhaps another funding measure. But given the political landscape following the outcome of the races on the ballot Tuesday, I firmly believe that it is imperative the Respect for Marriage Act now passes the Senate. There must be no wiggle room allowed for fuzzy thinking or attempts to squirrel this measure into the pile of bills that do not get concluded this year.

The legislation would require states to recognize same-sex unions.  What we witnessed with the Supreme Court not adhering to precedent when they overturned abortion rights in the Dobbs decision, ending a fundamental right for women’s health care and marking the first time in our history that the Court stripped away a fundamental right, showcases what is at stake for gay marriage rights. The threats to privacy, as it relates to constitutional law when the conservative justices consider future cases, make this matter of marriage great import to families around this nation.

I am reminded, over and over, how Republican presidents who lost the popular vote have placed very conservative justices on the bench, who then often place their ideological preferences ahead of the concept of a living Constitution.  I am also very mindful that Democrats had ample opportunities to bring the Marriage Act to the floor in the summer months, but waffled and failed to just get the job done. The majority of the citizenry–in every state–strongly supports these rights for gay families in the nation. With such national backing, it does beg the question of why the Senate has not found the resolve to pass the measure. When the public desires passage of an issue that does face potential restrictions due to written Court threats, as evidenced by the words of Justice Clarence Thomas in this year’s overturn of Roe, it is easy to see why there is concern about the slow walk. While I can spin the tired lines that Democratic leaders just desired to get Republicans on board with their concerns about religious liberties, I can also assure my readers that gay couples are really not interested, yet again, in being the expendable issue on a negotiating table.

The House, under the able leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. passed the bill in July—and did so with the support of 47 Republicans.  With the various levers that can be employed for Senate passage, I do not care if the chamber inserts the language into a must-pass funding measure or if they pass the bill as a stand-alone measure.  I cannot adequately express how tired it feels to always be asking others to simply allow for the basic rights and dignity to be afforded to gay people, and in this case, married gay couples.

I would hope that for the next few weeks the culture war hysteria can be tamped down so this meaningful and necessary legislation can be passed.  I fully am aware that the various issues facing the LGBT community have been weaponized by conservatives over the past months. It is time now for Democrats to push home the Marriage Act and ensure that the Court cannot erode one more fundamental right in the nation on a whim.

The elections are over, and it is time for Democrats to finish their workload.

Election Day Tradition In The Oven: Country Jam Cake

There is an Election Day tradition at our home, other than voting of course, and that is making Grandma’s Country Jam Cake.

Monday afternoon I proved my capabilities in the kitchen as I measured and mixed and upon noticing I had no buttermilk…..which is the only time I yelled “James”….OK, the second time as the first was not being able to locate measuring spoons. James wings cooking with no such devices, but I am old school.

He made buttermilk the way Grandma might have done had she needed some, too. Or she would have thoroughly read the recipe beforehand!! Details, details.

The cake started to be our traditional election dessert in 2004, and it has never failed to bring smiles, even if the returns are grim. Now the cake is in the oven and I can still hear Mom tell me to go outside and do my jumping around so the cake will not ‘fall’. Aw, yes, traditions never grow old.

Yes, We Should Pay Taxes

Let’s talk for a moment about the lack of responsibility some Americans feel toward paying their taxes. I read this morning an online comment that strongly inferred taxes should be voluntary….so as not to be “coerced” by the government into paying them.

There were people like that in the 1780s, too. They teach us a lesson as to the long-held folly of not wishing to pay taxes. Many at the time did not want to pay their share of the debt for the Revolutionary War, contending in some cases that a state had met the burden and should not need to contribute to another state not having the ability or inclination to meet their financial responsibility. Others did not want to pay for military preparedness. In short order, some were shunning the idea of paying for national improvements and even arguing over whether such improvements should be a national concern.

On April 8, 1789–three weeks before George Washington will be sworn into office for the first time–James Madison stood up in the House of Representatives and introduced a tax bill. It was the first bill ever introduced under the new form of government outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

The very first order of business, in the very first session of Congress, was a bill to make sure that the economy was placed on a more sure-footed path, and that manufacturing would be promoted. The means to do that were duties, and tariffs on a whole range of products from rum, beer, molasses, sugar cocoa, and coffee. There was a clear sense of the need for revenue, and while there was a lively debate about the taxes, the bill passed.

I could go through history making the case as to why taxes being levied and paid matter. From the Louisiana Purchase to Henry Clay and his American System, to Eisenhower and interstate highway, to JFK and moon trips, and now to the national war on fighting cancer. The same frame of mind has always existed about moving forward and marshaling the resources of a nation for the projects that enrich society, and aid in the lifting of its people.

I walk my talk, too. I advocated for a wheel tax in both Dane County and Madison, where I live. I pay both units of government for the car I own. I applaud elected officials who are honest about the need for more tax revenues. There are only so many ways that our local government can find the revenues which are required to make sure the needed services can be supplied. State legislative leaders may find glee in starving government funds, but at the local level, where the tire meets the road, we know it takes leadership to make government work. The idea that there is never to be any new tax hikes or ways to reap revenue is a most absurd and untenable position from which to govern.