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On Thursday, March 28, two members of the DeForest Area Progressives drove 2 & 1/2 hours north to Whitehall WI, pop. 1558, the county seat of Trempeleau county. The purpose of this visit was to show solidarity with a group of concerned citizens who were seeking a moratorium on sand mining in the county, which is now home to 25% of Wisconsin's permitted sand mines.

One of us spoke at the public meeting and explained that we had come as concerned citizens of a county that also contained sandstone worth mining who were also concerned about the environment and the impact that the economics of mining would have on the relationships within a community. After a break, one of the farmers who had sold his land came over and said that he was now having second thoughts because many of his neighbors were reacting in ways that he had not expected.

One of the speakers represented the mining company. He described himself as "a sand miner from Michigan." Based on his command of his subject matter and his speaking style, I would guess that he was both a public relations person and a graduate of a mining degree program rather than JUST any old sand miner from Michigan. His presentation SEEMED to answer many of the questions that would have been raised, such as: how will the Trempeleau river be protected from storm runoff; how will the land be reclaimed after the mining is done; how many trucks per day will use the highway, etc.

During the public statement part of the meeting, Heather Andersen, of the Save the Hills group in Chippewa county, spoke on the subject of mining company "promises." She said that her group had received photographs of mining pond leaks and storm overflows from hikers; that mining companies had routinely been fined for drilling too many high capacity wells and/or pumping too much water per hour; that mining companies had also been fined for additional air and water quality issues, especially regarding dust from the sand that was too fine to be used in fracking.

All in all, the trip was both educational and depressing. I highly recommend that every progressive in the southern third of Wisconsin or Minnesota take the time to search out sand mines to the north of you, even if only on the web. These things are erupting like measles or small pox on the face of the land and are turning neighbor against neighbor. And what is worse: the miners are moving south.

One can paraphrase the words of Pastor Niemöller: First they mined in Barron county, but I didn't speak out because I wasn't a farmer and I did not live there. Then they mined in Chippewa county and I didn't speak out because I lived three hours south. Then they mined in Trempeleau county, and I didn't speak out because I lived over 2 hours south. Then they came to mine Dane county, and there was no one left to speak for me because the rest of the state was a devastated wasteland.

I sincerely hope that it does not come to the miners ripping at Castle Rock or the Dells before we get our act together and start putting pressure on the legislature to force some state regulation of non-metallic (aka sand) mining!

- Karen Edson


Last July, alert elections officials in the Miami-Dade jurisdiction noticed a puzzling pattern in requests for absentee ballots and discovered the first case of electronic election fraud to get some serious, if not timely, mainstream media attention. NBC News, the Miami Herald, and the Huffington Post, among others, are reporting that thousands of absentee ballots were being requested...

...for Democratic voters, but that many of those requests were coming from just a few Internet addresses in India, the UK, and--it was revealed after the investigation closed--a few addresses within Florida. The officials began rejecting the suspect requests and eventually the requests stopped. If the alert civil servants had not acted to refuse the requests, it would have made voting difficult or impossible for those voters when they arrived at the polls.

While the news reports are stressing that the incident is the “first known cyberattack” on an election, I like it that NBC also lets its readers know that “other experts… noted that there are so many local elections systems in use that it's possible that similar attempts have gone unnoticed.”

This paragraph, however, bothers me: “There have been allegations of election system hacking before in the US, but investigations of irregularities have found only software glitches, voting machine failures, voter error or inconclusive evidence. Where there has been evidence of a computer security breach -- such as a 2006 incident in Sarasota, Fla., in which a computer worm that had been around for years raised havoc with the county elections voter database -- it was unclear whether the worm's appearance was timed to interfere with the election.”

That seems to imply that NBC isn't interested when our elections are messed up by accident or incompetence. It has to be a crime story to get their interest.

Like investigations into previous incidents, the investigation into this fraud was closed before the culprits were identified and brought to justice, although the Miami Herald is staying on the case. And, of course, some are calling not for rigorous investigation and prosecution of the criminals, but for additional requirements that will make it harder for absentee voters (signing in the presence of a witness).

So, it's one more reminder that we've got our work cut out for us: We need to keep demanding effective investigations into electronic election fraud; we need to increase awareness that electronic spoiling of elections is unacceptable to voters regardless of its cause, and we need to work with our local elections officials to be just as vigilant as the heroes who caught this attempt at fraud and nipped it in the bud.

- Karen McKim

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(originally posted on our website - Feb. 4, 2013)

In 2010, the US Bureau of the Census conducted the decennial census of population, as required by the US Constitution. This was the second Census that I worked on. Despite running into people who did not realize that the first such census occurred in 1790, it was a real pleasure to participate in this process. What came after, however, was different.

Once the Bureau published the population numbers (not "personally identifiable"), the politicians in all 50 states got to work redrawing congressional district (and other political unit) boundaries. In Wisconsin, this task was delegated to a private law firm meeting in secret, with the latest in geographic information systems, so they could draw boundaries at the census tract level. This is the lowest level at which census data is available and is the reason that a map of Wisconsin's Assembly and Congressional Districts looks like some of them grew warts.

As it seems, the private firm had some outside assistance. Please refer to the following blog from our Teamster brethren:

- Karen Edson

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(originally posted on our website - March 28, 2013)

One of the hardest things, I think, about being a good citizen is to pay attention and work for improvements when there is no immediate crisis. There are just so many other d**ned crises to work on!

Every ten years, Wisconsin citizens are disgusted with our highly politicized process of redrawing legislative district boundaries in response to the decennial census, and every ten years we let it slide. Because we did not pay enough attention to the issue of our state's redistricting procedures a decade ago, Wisconsin currently has a legislature and a congressional delegation that reflect the will of the Republican Party more than they reflect the will of the electorate.

It's time to stop this madness.  Jay Heck, of Common Cause,
writes in today's (March 28, 2013) Wisconsin State Journal,

"Redistricting reform must pass and be enacted into law soon for it to be in place for 2021. The closer we draw to 2021, the more incumbent legislators will view reform as a threat to re-election. If we further delay redistricting reform, the odds that the Legislature will reform itself diminish daily, so time is of the essence."

"Wisconsin’s last redistricting process, in 2011, was among the most secretive, hyper-partisan and unfair in the nation and the worst in Wisconsin’s history. Adding insult to injury, it has cost state taxpayers almost $2 million thus far to pay lawyers to work behind closed doors devising noncompetitive congressional and state legislative districts without public input or scrutiny," Heck wrote.

This is, however, a problem with a solution. Heck explains: "Very soon, a new redistricting reform measure will be introduced in the Legislature. It is based on the method Iowa has been using since 1980. There, a nonpartisan legislative agency is charged with redrawing congressional and state legislative district lines after every census without political or partisan consideration and with the responsibility of drawing compact districts that keep communities of interest intact. The Legislature can only vote yes or no on the plan produced by the nonpartisan entity.

"The result is astonishing. Iowa has far more competitive elections for both the Legislature and Congress than Wisconsin and the cost to the taxpayers in Iowa for redistricting is virtually nothing. Iowans have confidence in the system, and now that they have become used to it, so do Iowa’s legislators. It works in Iowa and would work in Wisconsin."

I plan on getting in touch with Common Cause to ask how we can help. Who is with me?

- Karen McKim

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