Throw momma from the bus

Let's play a game. Complete the following statements:

1. Energy costs are: (a) going down each year, or, (b) going up each year.
2. Health care costs due to heart- and lung-related diseases are: (a) decreasing each year, or (b) increasing each year.
3. Quick, regular and affordable mass transit makes a city: (a) less attractive to employers and workers, or, (b) more attractive to employers and workers.
4. Pricing out your biggest, most reliable customer is: (a) good for business, or, (b) bad for business.

If you answered (b) in all cases, you're right! If you answered (a) in all cases, you're Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker.

Walker announced this week that his proposed 2008 county budget would end 13 Milwaukee County Transit System bus routes and shorten 13 more. It also would end door-to-door Transit Plus service for the elderly and disabled, replacing it with service limited to areas close to the remaining general bus routes. Meanwhile the proposal would raise regular fares from $1.75 to $2 and Transit Plus fares from $3.25 to $4.

The proposals shouldn't be surprising coming from a man who a few months ago told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board that he wants "to have a system that serves the needs of people who are dependent on mass transit. But ideally, I'd like to build an economy in this county and this city that means that fewer people are dependent on mass transit."

But what if mass transit is the right thing to do? Each of my four questions at the start of this post highlights a big problem with Walker's approach. Regarding the answers to questions 1-3: Quick, regular, and affordable mass transit makes a city more attractive to employers and workers, reduces asthma- and heart attack-producing air pollution, and decreases our reliance on expensive and politically risky foreign oil. As for question 4: Milwaukee Public Schools is the county transit system's biggest customer by a long shot. Last year we figured out that if W…


Last one out, turn off the lights

I give up. I'm moving to Canada.

Ha! Just joking, but just barely. I'm feeling pretty demoralized by our government this week, and that's saying a lot given how consistently, mind-numbingly messed up government affairs seem these days. But it took the psy-ops special forces in the state assembly passing their budget this week to nearly break me.

Wisconsin State Assembly Leader Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) trumpeted the Republican budget as one that puts "Families First," but as usual the big elephant's capacity for irony exceeds mine by at least a trunk-length. Families first?

In addition to defunding public education at the K-12 and university levels, giving unregulated handouts to fly-by-night private schools through an expanded voucher program in Milwaukee and Racine counties, gouging the state's commitment to health insurance for children, and dishing out more tax breaks to special corporate buddies, the Republican budget eliminates the homestead tax credit for single people under the age of 65.

The state's homestead tax credit gives some money back to taxpayers who make less than $24,000 a year, whether they own or rent their home. The Assembly budget cuts out $89.6 million in tax relief for 81,000 of these lower-income residents simply on the basis of their marital status and their age.

These state reps probably think they're axing the stereo fund of overindulged college students, but it's clearly just another random act of cluelessness about the real nature of Wisconsin's families. Putting Wisconsin families first would mean acknowledging the many families headed by single parents who could use that tax credit and accepting that many of those parents are single because of circumstances outside of their control.

Putting Wisconsin families first would also mean allowing single, lower-income LGBT taxpayers to continue to claim the homestead tax credit. Since the state last year made it unconstitutional for gay couples to get married, I gue…


Boston marriage

Tina and I just got back from a week-long conference in Cambridge, Mass. We were at a Peaceable Schools and Communities Institute, learning about creating school environments that are anti-racist and anti-oppression, and about ways to support students and staff in finding resolutions to conflict that strengthen the school community rather than break it apart.

Just being emotionally and intellectually present for nine hours every day was exhausting, not to mention that the institute's faculty filled our days with activities that made us wrestle with societal forces so much bigger than us.

So, it was no surprise that the evenings after the conference found us wandering around Cambridge and Boston, dazed by the blistering heat and with no particular agenda. We straggled through Back Bay, and South End, and North End, and Boston Common, and Downtown Crossing, but it was in Beacon Hill where something in our neighborhood meandering clicked with something from the conference. "Boston marriages!" I said to Tina, as if I had just remembered someone's name from high school.

It was in high school, through Henry James' 1886 novel The Bostonians, that I was introduced to the 19th century convention of long-term, committed, same-sex partnerships among women that became commonly known as "Boston marriage." There's great debate about whether some of these relationships weren't sexual, but in the Victorian mindset of the time it seemed right that women who weren't interested in getting married and having children should settle down together to keep each other company and ensure each other's virtue.

Many of the women in these relationships were feminists, active in political movements and intellectual realms. Some of them became the first women in their professions in the U.S., or were prominent writers, artists, or teachers. Boston marriage offered women a mostly socially acceptable way to subvert the oppressive gender roles of the day. It's no accident that Massac…