Category Archives: Politics

Politcal news and commentary for Central Wisconsin

Time to Eat Your Car?

So, by now you have certainly noticed the price of gasoline continuing to climb. And you may have even noticed that a few things are a bit more expensive in the grocery store. Well you are not the only one to have noticed that things are about to get out of hand.

In a nutshell, what the World Bank (and others) are noticing is that the price of oil has a wee little something to do with the price of food, in on way that is obvious to most people and one that might not be so obvious.

The obvious reason (that might not at first be so obvious) is that nothing you eat is grown or made here. See any banana trees outside your windows? Your tomato plants all nice and healthy after the snow squalls yesterday? Turns out that the average morsel of food on your plate has traveled some 1500 miles to get there. And that is the overall average for the whole country, so I am going to guess that us northerners may have it a bit worse. So, transportation costs alone will add a bit, perhaps quite a bit to your food bill. But that is not the biggest impact that transporation will have on your food budget.

Your car also is very hungry and has to be fed.

In searching for renewable energy sources we hit upon the idea of using ethanol in the place of gasoline. Which sounds fantastic. Ethanol comes from plants and plants are solar energy, right? Also, ethanol was sold to us as a boon for the farmers of America. “Fill-er-up” and save the family farm. Or something like that. Turns out that almost none of that is exactly true.

It is true that ethanol is usually made from corn and that in a sense corn is a renewable resource. Unfortunately, the way most corn is grown, it uses up tons of non-renewable resources. Those conflakes of yours are soaked in oil — not corn oil, the crude kind.

Turns out that the high price of oil is squeezing the price of food on two fronts.

First, modern agriculture requires literally tons and tons of oil. From making fertilizers to running water pumps to trucking the stuff all over the globe, agriculture consumes huge quantities of fossil fuels. The higher the price of oil, the higher the price of food. But wait there’s more!

Now as more corn is diverted from the food chain into the ethanol plants, the price of food goes higher still! Land that could have been used to say, grow broccoli (OK, more likely wheat) is given over to corn — corn which no one will ever eat. Did you just hear the price of eggs going up again? Less corn on the market means more expensive chicken feed. More expensive eggs that cost more to ship than ever. Thank goodness ethanol is such a good deal and is saving the family farm!

Sorry, wrong on both counts.

Ethanol is not a good deal by most calculations. In fact it is a terrible deal.

The most optimistic number I have seen says that for each barrel of oil needed to make and transport ethanol we get about 1.3 barrels of energy (to compare apples to apples). For crude oil currently each barrel invested in finding, extracting and transporting yields something like 20 to 200 barrels of energy. So, ethanol has a long way to go, or oil has a long way to fall.

And ethanol does not really save any family farms. As you may have already figured, ethanol favors the kind of huge, monocropped factory farm that degrades the land and generates huge profits (and subsidies) for companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

The only way out of the coming food crisis is to use less fossil fuels, both in agriculture and transporation. But fortunately there is a way to start doing that. Which we will talk about next time.


Senator Clinton Comes to Wausau

I will have much more to say later, but I thought that at least I should get the pictures up that I took today. I pulled rank and identified myself as belonging to the press at the rally today, but only got the good pictures when I went up to the seats where I probably would have been sitting anyway.

I’ll put one picture here and the rest on the Flickr site. Tomorrow, hopefully after a good night’s sleep I will post some commentary on the visit.

Hilary takes a question

Hunted Like Animals at UWMC

It is not often that a re-run is an important event, but this is one of those occaisions.

UWMC is showing again the film, “Hunted Like Animals” which is a documentary by Rebecca Sommers about the genocide of the Hmong people in Laos.  The film will be shown on October 10 at 7 pm in the college theater, and as usual, you can’t beat the price, it free.

Click for Larger ImageCheng Lee, Director at the Multicultural Resource Center at the college has arranged for Rebecca Sommers to be available by phone after the screening to discuss the film and answer any questions.  Lee said that last year when the film was show there was a panel discussion with a number of local Hmong Elders discussing the film.  That must have been fascinating, and I am very sorry to have missed that.

Most of us in Wausau are aware of the sad recent history of the Hmong people.  To make a long story short, the Hmong people sided with the US during the Vietnam War, and after US troops left Southeast Asia, the Hmong were persecuted by the governments of Laos and Vietnam.  Many Hmong people became refugees settling in Thailand, the US and other places.  But Hmong people still remain in Southeast Asia.  Their plight is still horrific according to Sommers.  Here is a quote from the press release for the film:

Over thirty years and a generation later the Hmong-in-hiding are attacked, chased, raped and killed by Laotian soldiers.  Those who surrender face an uncertain fate. “Hunted like Animals”demonstrates that the Hmong-in-hiding in the Laotian military training areas are going through.   They endure genocide, the reason why many escape to Thailand, and become refugees.  This story of human rights violations on the Hmong-in-hiding must be told. 

And for a story to be fully told, it must be listened to.  I hope that folks will make an effort to come out and see this film so that we can better understand the situation in Laos, and by extension our Hmong neighbors here.  The shared experience and the discussion period are an important part of building our community.

If you would like some previews of the film, Sommer’s site has a number of clips, which you can find here.

See you at UWMC at 7 pm in the theater.

Pub Mania

The Scott Street Pub may be gone, but apparently it is not forgotten.

Click for Larger ImageJudging from the comments here and over on the Herald forums, if nothing else the Pub does get a response, both good and bad, which is appropriate for a live music venue that got a little long in the tooth. With such a place sometimes it is hard to separate the building from the ownership from what actually happens inside. All three acquire their own mythology which intertwine.

One part of that mythology is that the Pub was not a genteel place. It may have been a peaceful place, as Tom Bergs said as the Pub was being shut down, but it was by no means some kind of upscale jazz club. Although musical groups from all across the musical spectrum played there, it definitely had a gritty rock ‘n roll atmosphere. And I am talking the axis that went from honky-tonk to punk here. At least in part, it was this mythology that lead to the police presence on Saturday night. Apparently rock remains dangerous music, even if the Pub itself was not a dangerous place.

But all that now passes into history. A history, like all histories, that deserves to be remembered and preserved. For many years the Pub was part of people lives and part of our city, and their are stories to tell and remember. I would like to do my part to see that that happens.

Pub MuralThe first way is to preserve and hopefully display the mural on the second floor. I had an opportunity to speak briefly with Tom Bergs on Saturday night and he said that he would very much like to see the mural preserved, so we will continue working on that plan and see what we can do. Preserving a mural that covers the entire wall of a 100 year old building that is slated for demolition will be no easy task, but I think that Wauvillians are up to the task. Stay tuned for that.

The second way came to mind as I made the video on Saturday night. How about a little oral history project? If you have been involved with the Pub, as a musician, employee or patron, and would like to share your memories (and mythologies) of the place with the world, shoot me an email. If you are willing, you can talk a few minutes into the camcorder, and then we can put your memories here on the Wausaublog. I know some folks with long memories are reading this, so let’s get together and save a few of those stories and share them with everyone.

Or at least hopefully share them. The camcorder I borrowed to shoot video on Saturday night used dual layer DVDs. But it turns out I don’t have a dual layer DVD drive on any of my computers, so I can’t get the video off the disc and onto the web. If anyone has a dual layer drive that can help out, fire me an email.


The Final Indignity

Click for Larger ImageTwenty years of live music at the Scott Street Pub did not end in a blaze of guitars and drums, but rather in a blue bureaucratic haze.

Before the headline band of the night, and the final act at the pub ever, could take the stage, the Pub was already closed. City police arrived in force at about 12:15 to inform Tom Bergs that his liquor license had exprired at midnight and the being in violation of the law, they were clearing the out the place and shutting down the Pub. In a bit of quick improvisation, the Pollack Inn on 3rd Street was called and asked if the finale of the Pub could be held there.

The final indignity of the Scott Street Pub is that their farewell performance had to be held in another venue. Hey thanks for 20 years of live music, Tom. One of the few positive things to come out of the incident was that there were no problems during the shutdown. A few angry words were directed at the police, but Tom Bergs quickly took the stage, and emphasized that the Pub had always been a peaceful place, and that the police were just doing their job. Within minutes the rock ‘n roll crowd of the Pub had filed quietly into the darkened streets of downtown.

What I don’t know at this point is who knew what when. Give the number of officers that showed up, the shutdown of the pub was obviously anticipated by someone at the City. It was well known that the last day of business of the Pub was June 30th, and I would suppose that the liquor license expired with the business as it were. In the bar business it would be somewhat understandable that the owners don’t think of their “business day” as ending at midnight. After all the Corpse Show Creeps were advertised as playing “June 30” even though they would not take the stage until after midnight.

It seems to me that someone from the City could have reminded folks that the day ends at midnight and that limit would be enforced. Tom and the Pub have run alcohol free shows before, and perhaps an 11:30 pm “Last Call” could have allowed the show to go on.

If the City was operating in “gotcha” mode, as it appeared they were, then Wausau has lost several thousand points on the “coolness” scale. More than 50 years after it appeared on the scene the City Fathers still think rock ‘n roll is some kind of plague? How backward is that?

The crowd at the Pub was of all ages on the last night. Twenty something “punks” mingled with people who looked old enough to be my parents. Along with the mohawks there was plenty of gray hair. The crowd was generally very well behaved, especially when the Pub was being shut down.

It is a shame that a place with such a rich tradition had to meet such an inglorious end.

Eds Note: The picture of Tom Bergs taking the stage to talk to the crowd was taken at 12:18 am. I have a picture of the band that was playing previous to that which I took at 12:11 am. I have many more pictures of the final night of the Pub which I hope to get uploaded today sometime. I had taken video of the proceedings as well, but so far the disc seems to be unreadable, so it may never see the light of day.

Mural Savings Account

My apologies for not posting at my usual rate this week, I have been a bit preoccupied by a few matters. One of the biggest seems to have become the mural at the Scott Street Pub.

Pub Mural As regular readers know, a few years ago an artist by the name of Marcus Nickel was hired by Tom Bergs to paint a mural on the wall of the second floor of the Scott Street Pub building. The upstairs room was to become another venue of the pub, either a dining room or second stage or whatever. For various reasons, the mural was completed, but the plans for the second story never came to fruition, and there the mural sat, mostly unseen, except by a few people who worked at the pub or knew someone who did.

As the Pub teetered several times on being closed and the property bought by MCDEVCO, the development arm of the county, an underground campaign was launched to see if there was some way to save the mural from the wrecking ball that almost certainly hangs over that whole block. About 6 months ago I was told of the mural and given a chance to photograph it, and the photos are here on the Flickr site of the blog. But mostly we waited to see what fate would actually bring.

But now fate has acted — along with MCDEVCO.

As most of you know, MCDEVCO has in fact bought the property and the short term plan is to raze the buildings and put up a parking lot. Well, pave one anyway. It was last week that I got the email from Dino that simply said, “Anyone want to save a mural?” And it turns out a fair number of people do.

I don’t want to start handing out public kudos yet, because the mural is not saved yet. I don’t want people to think that the people who are helping out did not do their jobs or something if the effort is ultimately unsuccessful. But I can say this.

I put out calls and emails to people I have met through doing the Wausaublog and told them the situation, and pretty much to a person, they said, “What can I do?” Mostly I didn’t know at first, but ideas went around and suddenly things started to move a bit. People started looking for technical assistance from architects and historical preservation people. People who were involved with the original project have been found. Information has been exchanged, and plans are beginning to be formulated.

We are a long way from having the mural “saved” but I think the people are in place to do so and more importantly, there is a general consensus that it should be saved. And I think that is a very good thing. It is a pretty happening city that saves a piece of its cultural heritage — and an awesomely cool city that saves that heritage even though it was the town’s best kept secret. If we can pull this off, Wausau will definitely be a cooler place.

And just for the record, here is my personsal vision of what I hope can happen. I hope that we can physically remove the mural from the Pub building and eventually put it on public display somewhere. Many ideas have been suggested to me for that, like the Pavillion in Rothschild or somewhere on Artsblock. But what I personally hope for is that the mural will be included in the plans for whatever structure goes onto that block on Scott Street. I can foresee the mural wall surrounded by some plaques that tell of the musical history of the Pub and of Wausau. It would be a great way to recognize that musical heritage and provide a nice little tourist attraction to boot.

As time goes on I am sure will be things we can all do to play our part in this. Right now I think the best thing we can do is talk up the idea so that the powers that be will see this as a worthwhile project.

In the meantime, there is one more week to go at the Pub and a lineup of “last concerts” is in the works starting at 9:30 pm tonight. Even if you have not been there often, or even if it would be your first time, come on out and fill the place up one more time. It is never too late to say “thanks” to Tom Bergs and the Pub for filling our city with music and the energy that flows from that. The venue of the Pub will be sorely missed, so come out and make sure it has a fond farewell. See you there!

More Buildings Down

Click for Larger ImageUnfortunately, I was not prepared with a pad and pen when I ran into a delightful young lady who was watching the demolition of the buildings at 6th St. and Bridge. Well, I use the word “young” advisedly as she is the wife of Gordy, and she and Gordy were the previous owners of the Pine Bar, which was housed in the block which was demolished.

And I don’t mean the most recent owners, either. She and Gordy bought the Pine Bar in 1946. It was a true saloon before that, with sawdust floors and spitoons. For almost 20 years it was just a bar, but in 1962 there was a fire, and in rebuilding after the fire, a restaurant was added. I was told that the most interesting feature of the bar (and the saloon before it) was that a creek ran right under the building, and that there was a removable concrete cover that allowed access to the creek from inside the building.

And in an indication that maybe the good old days weren’t always so good, I was told that the arrangement with the creek down below made the back room of the bar an convenient place to slaughter a cow every now and then, with the waste products being sent downstream. Slaughtering next to the kitchen? Offal in the creek? Thank goodness for the health department.

Click for Larger ImageIn the pictures you can see some advertising posters that were revealed when the brick facade on Bridge Street was pulled down. I was told that the lower level of that building was first a meat market and later a Dairyland store. The Dairyland store might have been the first “supermarket” in Wausau — for the first time you could get your own groceries right off the shelf. Now that was progress.

The buildings coming down might be older than you first think. Not only was Gordy, the bar owner born in one of the houses on that block, but his 97 year old sister was born there as well. So, the house on Bridge street was over 100 years old.

Click for Larger ImageMost people will not lament the taking down of the buildings on that block as they had been blighted considerably, especially in the last few years, but even here there was history. Ironically, I was told that the business at the bar and restaurant started to go down when the roads were widened and traffic increased. Not everything goes as planned, I guess.