Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cancer: This time it's not Nitwitness News

In the good old days of broadcast journalism we didn't have nitwit reporters riding tricycles. We didn't cover a bunch of drunks yelling at the TV during a football game as a news story. While we wrote for the ear we didn't stoop to the gutter slang of, say, today's WITI-TV ("these guys" and "the cops"). We covered the hard news. We covered the city council, the police beat, the school board, the state legislature and the farm report. We didn't have all of the fancy technology that exists today (for the most part that's a good thing as some of that technology actually bogs down good reporting). We had "beats" and often knew a little something about what we were reporting about instead of being "hit and run" journalists.

There were some things we didn't cover well.

A woman was never raped -- she was criminally assaulted. We kept the details to a minimum. Same with child molesters -- they were always some seedy dudes hanging around playgrounds, not a family member or a clergyman. And we didn't talk about things like breast and prostate cancer. We were wrong.

We didn't legitimize women and children who were victims of violent crime. We hid the truth.

We didn't use the power of the microphone and camera to fight against many dreaded diseases because they were too personal to speak of.

When First Lady Betty Ford dropped the bombshells about her battles with substance addiction and breast cancer we no longer were silent.

Suddenly we began to talk about treatment. We told women about the need for things like mammograms and pap smears. Today our successors bring to the forefront their own battles to become cancer survivors. It's hard to predict how many lives have been saved because now it's OK to talk about such things.

As the American Cancer Society runs its annual Relay for Life in cities and towns across America we should take a moment to pay attention to the warning signs and also to say, "Thank you, Mrs. Ford."

Breaking News Analysis: Midwest Airlines buyout?

The news release this morning said that Midwest Airlines will be setting up a committee to talk with AirTran about AirTran's buyout offer. No great shakes there.

But the announcement intimates that there are other suitors and Midwest will be talking with them. That is news -- although it was overlooked by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel which apparently dismisses it as "boilerplate."

Not so fast.

It could well be that Northwest Airlines is Midwest's "Secret Santa." Here's why.

  • Recently profitable Northwest is the #2 carrier in Milwaukee. Acquiring Midwest would give it three-fourths of the market.
  • There are few overlapping routes so Northwest could essentially run Midwest as a standalone subsidiary which would allow Midwest to continue to offer premium service and even the chocolate chip cookies.
  • Adding Midwest would increase Northwest's capacity and Milwaukee could become a true mini-hub.
  • Northwest is known for predatory competitive practices and cornering the Milwaukee market will essentially put up the moat against invasion of low-cost carriers.
  • While local hostitlity toward AirTran is intense, it may not be the same with Northwest, i.e., the devil you know vs. the one you don't.
  • There is precedent for AirTran losing bidding wars. Remember that Southwest outbid AirTran for ATA.
  • There is no "downside" to Northwest going after Midwest.
  • Even if AirTran was the successful bidder, Northwest, if it can hire more pilots, can literally pull aircraft out of the desert and bury AirTran at Milwaukee.

This could be exciting -- especially for those of us who bought Midwest stock when it was selling at $17.

Midwest Airlines talking with Air Tran -- and others

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel breaks news that Midwest Airlines will begin talks with AirTran over a possible sale of the Milwaukee-based airline: "AirTran Holdings Inc.'s (AAI) hostile takeover bid for Midwest Air Group Inc. (MEH) took a big step forward today, with Midwest Air announcing the formation of a committee that will begin discussions with AirTran, and will explore 'strategic and financial alternatives' - corporate jargon used by companies that are considering a sale."

The story rails on about the history of the hostile takeover bid by Air-Tran but misses a key part of the story which, surprisingly, is in the third paragraph of the story: "Additionally, the committee intends to hold discussions with other strategic and financial parties that have recently expressed interest in pursuing a transaction with Midwest. The committee intends to execute confidentiality agreements with each of the interested parties that will enable them to conduct due diligence investigations. There is no assurance that this process will result in a transaction with AirTran or any other party."

Translated: There are other bidders interested in Midwest Airlines -- a key point the Journal-Sentinel glosses over.

Goes to show us that not all the nitwitness newsies work for television stations.

Payday Loans: Update

I forwarded the blog post http://ragdujour.blogspot.com/2007/07/payday-loans-call-for-action.html to State Representative John Steinbrink. I'll keep you posted about his reponse, if any.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A column Eugene Kane never wrote

I admit that Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane is a lightning rod. A lot of folks dimiss everything he writes just because he's been the purveyor of "victim mentality" for so long that they don't give him credit when he does hit it on the mark.

Nonetheless, here's a column Eugene Kane didn't write -- but should have: http://www.cleveland.com/plaindealer/stories/index.ssf?/base/opinion-0/1185352551235720.xml&coll=2

You can read the councilman's letter in the post below this one. Do you think Alderman Michael McGee, jr. (or his father, for that matter) would have the integrity to dress down the thugs in his neighborhood? Of course not. He's too busy either trying to save his own butt or blaming everyone else for conditions that the McGees have done little to remedy.

This isn't a racial thing, folks. Thugs are thugs regardless of race, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, religion (or lack thereof) or economic status. The Cleveland columnist points out that his feedback from the black community is running 10-1 in support of the councilman's tough stance. Amen! Praise the Lord!

I've said it before and will continue to say that the only way to change a community is person by person, house by house, block by block and so on. Apparently the McGees and their ilk didn't get that memo.

Holy politics, Batman! A local politician who tells it like it is!

A veteran Cleveland city councilman has had enough with the folks who bring down his neighborhood as shown in this actual letter to an accused drug dealer:
Strong words -- but necessary ones.
The boy's mother is crying foul, accusing the councilman of threatening her son. However, following the letters to the editor on the Cleveland Plain-Dealer blog shows that most writers are sympathetic to the councilman and believe that mom needs to ponder whether she's part of the solution or part of the problem.
That said, when will the day ever come that politicians in this area will have the cajones to stick up for constituents as this Cleveland councilman did?
Milwaukee's mayor, Tom Barrett, rode along with police over the weekend and got to see his city from a different perspective -- something he probably should have done long ago. Yet, we haven't heard him tell it like it is.
The first step toward solving a problem is to fully recognize and admit that it exists. Toward that end many of our politicians here are scared of their own shadows.

Sorry, folks.

I had to activate the "alphabet soup" comment verification because the blog got attacked by a spammer today.

Your comments are still welcome -- in fact, encouraged -- but you'll have to type the few extra letters to get them posted.

Tragedy, yes -- but it's his own fault.

A widow is entitled to her grief and, as such, we rightfully cut them some slack. Anyone of us could find ourselves in that place in a New York minute.

But that doesn't excuse the news media's blathering about how poor David Estes was just a mentally ill regular guy and shouldn't have been shot by the police.

So here's a brief recap of the facts:

  • Mrs. Estes calls 911 to report that David was involved in an argument and left their home armed with four guns and threatening to kill himself.
  • About 30 minutes later a deputy sheriff sees David's red pickup truck in Paddock Lake.
  • The deputy and other officers try to stop the pickup truck.
  • David doesn't stop and leads police on a chase.
  • Several attempts to stop the truck using stop strips (devices with spikes that can be put on the road to cause flat tires) failed becauseDavid avoided them.
  • Finally David drove over a strip and his truck stopped about 9:40 p.m. near Highway C west of Highway 83.
  • For the next two-and-one-half hours police tried to talk him into surrendering, at one point even firing a less-than-lethal beanbag round at David.
  • At 12:15 a.m. David made a threatening movement with a rifle toward the officers at which time he was shot.

Contrary to the whining reported in the news media, the officers exercised extreme restraint and tried to resolve the matter without bloodshed. It was David who chose to escalate things. Regardless of whether his intention was "suicide by cop" the fact is that if you point a gun at the police they have every right -- and duty -- to use fatal force.

Yes, it's tragic that David had a history of mental health problems but he also had a criminal history. One can even be severely mentally ill and still not be a criminal.

It's like an alcoholic. They can drink themselves to death at home but, get behind a wheel of a vehicle and drive, and then it's our business. Should we not go after drunken drivers because they're alcoholics?

The nitwitness newsies, such as those at Channel 12 which showed us video of the grieving widow complete with all kinds of pictures depiciting David as a regular family man, do the public a disservice by enabling such rubbish.

None of the police officers involved in this incident went to work Saturday night thinking, "I'm bored. Maybe we can shoot David Estes today for a little excitement."

The only person to blame for David's fate is David. Period.

A smoke-free casino? Steve Casey has an idea.

Kenosha Alderman Steve Casey raises an interesting point: Why are casinos exempt from the proposed statewide clean indoor air provisions?

He answers his own question by pointing out that Indian gaming exists on the theory that the casinos are part of a sovereign Indian nation and thus state and local laws don't apply.

Nonetheless, he has a point. If second-hand smoke is a danger for employees and customers in other businesses, it should be that way for casino workers.

Then Casey answers himself again.

He says that it's all about the money. If smoking customers take a break to smoke outside, that's less money being spent inside the casino. Holy rocket science, Batman! Replay that quote: "It's all about the money." Yep, that's a casino for you.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Payday Loans: A call for action

Oregon's governor and legislature have effectively cut the knees off of the usurious payday loan store industry.

A new law went into effect this month in Oregon which limits interest rates to 30 points above prime or roughly 36.5%. That's a far cry from the effective 520% gouge routinely charged by payday loan lenders.

According to the Portland Oregonian:

  • Since June 1 at least 60 payday loan stores have turned in their licenses.
  • Check 'n Go will close its 21 Oregon stores.
  • Advance America, the nation's largest payday loan company, is evaluating whether it can keep its 45 Oregon stores open.
  • Northwestern Title has stopped making car title loans in its 17 Oregon stores, which it is preparing to close.

  • Within the last year or so the city councils in Kenosha and Racine and the Pleasant Prairie Village Board acted to place geographical and other restrictions on "convenience cash" businesses but these actions, while commendable, amount to too little, too late.

    Pleasant Prairie Village Board President John Steinbrink said there's little interest in Madison to clamp down on this legalized loansharking.

    One reason for this may be that while no bank would get away with charging 520% interest, many commercial banks have behind-the-scenes financial arrangements with payday lenders.

    Another may be that the legislature and governor -- who has been conspicuous by his absence of leadership on this issue -- is so embroiled in political battles that they can't focus on what's in the best interests of the state.

    Oregon's law needs to become Wisconsin's law. Assemblyman John Steinbrink, who worked quickly to shepherd the Pleasant Prairie restrictions through the village board, could demonstrate real leadership by bringing this battle to the floor of the legislature.

    The time is now.

    Out of the mouths of blondes

    My daughter was lamenting about her best friend going away to some small college at some place in the middle of nowhere.

    I don't blame her for feeling bummed. Leaving high school is a tough time, especially when those who were close to you are moving far away.

    Anyway, to try to make my kid feel better, I pointed out that deciding to go to college in Podunkville was her friend's choice. Then I said, "I mean, here in Wisconsin we have one of the finest university systems in the world."

    My daughter then asks, "Which one?"

    Of course, my kid (who is darn good most of the time) listens to me about as much as any teenager listens to a parent. If she did, she'd take my somewhat serious advice that she should become a comedienne and headline her own one-woman show called, "I'm blonde. What's your excuse?"

    Author's note: My kid dared me to write this. Of course, at my age, tomorrow could be my last day, so it's easier to be daring. Besides, it's not an embarrassing baby picture taken in a tub. :)

    I'm happy to be blessed with a kid who has a good sense of humor.

    Time to level the smoke-free playing field

    Six years ago the Kenosha Common Council adopted a compromise smoke-free dining ordinance which banned smoking in most restaurants. While watered down from the original proposal, it still was a commendable effort to improve public health and safety.

    Notably, there are over 30 communities in Wisconsin with smoke-free ordinances. Surprisingly, Milwaukee and Racine aren't among them. (Maybe it's not so surprising given that it seems politicians in Racine can only agree on one thing: to be disagreeable.)

    The Kenosha ordinance contains two glaring exceptions: (1) a segregated, separately-ventilated smoking room and (2) restaurants where more than 33% of the sales are from alcohol. These exceptions were put into place to appease ordinance opponents. It's time to remove them.

    The original proposal was modeled after the Eau Claire city ordinance where there are no "smoking rooms" allowed and the cut-off point for alcohol sales is 50%.

    The former is a no-brainer. You don't promote public health and safety with "smoking rooms" (and even the people who make the ventilation systems will tell you they don't work). You also create disparity between restaurants that can afford the separate facilities and those that can't.

    The 50% cutoff was also logical because that's the dividing line between whether an establishment is considered a "restaurant" or a "tavern" in other laws. For example, persons under 21 aren't allowed on premises where more than 50% of the business is from alcohol sales, i.e., taverns, unless accompanied by an adult.

    Whatever juice flowed to the aldermen at the time the ordinance was enacted should have dried up by now. In fact, there's strong public demand for 100% smoke-free legislation, an idea whose time has also come. Plus, the dire predictions six years ago by opponents of restaurants dyring off like flies in a Raid test laboratory didn't come true.

    But while the aldermen try to summon up the courage to deal with the greater battle, they should at least fix the loopholes they created six years ago.

    And while they're at it, the Pleasant Prairie Village Board needs to step up to the plate.

    The village board, after witnessing the dog and pony show tobacco industry shills presented to the city council, decided they'd take a novel approach: grandfather the establishments that already allowed smoking and prohibit it in the future everywhere else. It was a gutsy move then but it's pretty long in the tooth now.

    Hillary-Barack '08?

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich predicts Senator Hillary Clinton will be the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee with Senator Barack Obama as her running mate.

    Gingrich believes Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson will duke it out to be the Republican nominee.

    Hmmm....Hillary-Barack in '08. Why not Elizabeth Dole and Colin Powell for the GOP? Now that would be some ticket!

    Salem: Gunman shot -- UPDATE

    A man who led officers on a chase through western Kenosha County was shot by a tactical officer early this morning during a standoff on CTH C west of STH 83 in the Town of Salem. The man reportedly raised a firearm in a threatening manner toward one of the officers. The Kenosha News had details on its web site but as of 5 p.m. Sunday the link no longer worked.

    WTMJ-TV had a short video but few details this morning.

    The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is now identifying the gunman as David Estes who has a history of runins with the law:


    Saturday, July 28, 2007

    Please--take the time to read this

    Thanks to Dad29 for sharing:


    Why nothing will be done about the statewide prosecution crisis

    The headlines earlier this week spelled it out: the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau says the state is short 117 prosecutors. At least.

    The report says the district attorney's office in rapidly growing Kenosha County is short 4.45 positions. It's actually 6.45 because the report counted as regular staff two grant funded positions, one of which will expire soon. Walworth County, also fast growing, is nearly 2.5 prosecutor positions short -- and hasn't had any added staff since 1989.

    The problem began in 1990 when the state took over funding district attorneys' officers statewide. The idea was to improve pay to increase professionalism and retention. The reality has been just the opposite.

    Now, when a county district attorney needs more help, a begathon is held over a period of years which is likely to be ignored because that request is lumped together with the entire state which goes before a legislature and governor not known for being friendly to prosecutors.

    Why should they be? If prosecution was fully funded, then maybe there might be some time to prosecute more corrupt politicians.

    The shortfall -- the state admits to 117 positions, so you can imagine it's likely to be even higher -- didn't just happen overnight. A few years ago the governor cut 15 prosecution positions from the budget, fired another 15 prosecutors, refused to accept federally funded Byrne grant prosecution positions and gave all state prosecutors a four-day layoff. In all fairness, the governor didn't do this alone. The legislature went along with it and hasn't done anything since to fix the mess.

    When prosecutors are kept barefoot and pregnant it means that attention can only be given to the most serious cases. The public suffers.

    A prosecutor's caseload could consist of 20, 30 or even more jury trials scheduled for the same time in front of the same judge on any given Monday with pages upon pages of other cases on the court calendar for the rest of the week. Now we know you can't try or even hope to prepare that many cases but that's the reality the public suffers. When people, including some judges, complain about plea bargaining they ought to look in the mirror because they helped create the mess.

    Not only are prosecutors overworked and burned out but way underfunded.

    Last year starting prosecutors got a raise -- to something like $46,000 a year. To someone earning $38,000 a year that seems like a lot of money. Not quite so for someone who spent seven years in college and may have over $100,000 in student loans to repay. In Kenosha County there are paralegals who make more than the prosecutors they work for. A former deputy sheriff who went to law school and became a prosecutor would be paid more had he stayed on the sheriff's department. Go figure.

    The low starting salary isn't the worst part. A few years ago the state abolished the "step system" which grants increases based on seniority and experience. Most public employees, such as teachers, police officers and firefighters, have pay progression. Not the state's prosecutors. Not only is the starting pay low, it doesn't go anywhere. Many talented young prosecutors leave because they can't make ends meet.

    On top of this, the legislature, while ignoring the prosecution crisis, wants to appear tough on crime so it passes new laws, often without input from the prosecutors who are left to enforce them. Talking tough about crime sounds good but when you don't fund what you enact it's a strong measure of hypocrisy. There's no free lunch.

    If you want law enforcement -- one of government's basic responsibilities and the sovereign's basic duty to all citizens -- then you have to pay for it. You can't go into McDonald's and say, "I'd like a Big Mac Extra Value Meal" and then not pay for it. This is not rocket science. It doesn't take years of study or whatever.

    What it takes to solve this problem are politicians who have the integrity to carry out the basic responsibilities of government. Anyone know where we can find one?

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    Television's 2008 dream tickets

    Republican Fred Thompson vs. Democrat Geena Davis. Whaddya say? :)

    Priest shortage: What's a pope to do?

    The story is all to familiar in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

    While the Catholic population increases, the number of active priests continues to dwindle. Parishes are shut down or merged. Fewer masses are performed. In some places, even a Sunday mass is the exception rather than the rule.

    The priest shortage won't be solved overnight -- if at all -- but there's one possibility for some relief while possible solutions are studied.

    Right now there's still a talent pool of former priests, many of whom were forced out of the active clergy when they married. While the church has some good reasons to continue its present rule forbidding most priests from marrying, there's nothing wrong with utilizing former active priests on a part-time basis to say masses, administer sacraments, help administer parishes and otherwise provide backup to full-time active priests. To a man every former priest I know would jump at the chance.

    It's not a perfect and certainly not a permanent solution but nonetheless one that should be explored.

    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    An idea whose time has come

    Many years ago then city administrator John Serpe had an interesting idea: put retired police officers back to work part-time at the station. He envisioned retirees taking care of administrative functions to free up other officers to go out and fight crime. The retirees would work a limited number of hours so as not to mess up their pensions.

    The idea never got off the ground here but it's high time for another look.

    In the past few years we've lost many good law enforcement officers to early retirement. Changes in the county insurance plans suggest that within the next year we'll lose several experienced deputy sheriffs in a department that's already sorely in need of more personnel.

    Right now a few retired officers work as "trip officers" for the sheriff''s department which means they transport prisoners to and from state institutions. Many of these venerable retirees have been away from the street for many years.

    By tapping into a fairly large pool of recent healthy retirees the sheriff -- and the city police department, too -- could take advantage of well-trained personnel who wouldn't need retraining. The recent retirees could, for example, escort jail inmates to and from court, serve civil process, help out with administrative duties and even occasionally relieve road deputies and detectives when additional help is needed. Plus, the voice of experience could be there to mentor new hires.

    It seems utterly foolish not to put this talent to work.

    Of course, it may take more than just one person to think outside the box. The unions may have to agree to modifying collective bargaining agreements and maybe some pension rules would have to be fixed. At the end of the day, though, it should be a win-win. The public gets the benefit of highly-trained, experienced officers who, in turn, can earn some extra money while working pretty much on their own terms.

    A final note. John Serpe may have been ahead of his time. So tight is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's personnel crunch that the RCMP has been getting relief help from retired members. There's no reason it can't be tried here.

    McCann slam is pure BS

    Blogger Owen at Boots and Sabres -- BS for short (and for real) -- erroneously slams retired Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann because a state court jury acquitted Milwaukee police officers accused in the beating of Frank Jude.

    According to BS: "Apparently McCann feels no shame for botching his prosecution of these thugs."

    Excuuuuuuse me!

    E. Michael McCann didn't get to serve 38 years as district attorney by being an idiot.

    In addition to being one of the most respected prosecutors in the nation, McCann is a former chair of the American Bar Association's Criminal Justice Section and was awarded the ABA's Minister of Justice award based on his track record of engaging in courageous and ethical prosecutions to defend the rights of others. McCann is the guy who successfully prosecuted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

    The Dahmer case may have been McCann’s most famous. But another had the greatest impact on the largest number of people: he secured homicide convictions against Chem-Bio Corporation for recklessly failing to detect cancers which caused the death of two women. This was a landmark prosecution. McCann isn't some incompent backwoods lawyer who doesn't know his way around a courtroom.

    Any trial lawyer with even a small amount of experience will tell you that juries are inherently unpredictable and will frequently acquit in seemingly "slam dunk" cases and sometimes convict when everyone in the courtroom thinks the prosecution doesn't have a prayer. Need proof? Look no further than a Kenosha jury's refusal to find a man guilty of attempted murder even when he's caught on video firing several shots at a Kenosha police officer making a traffic stop http://ragdujour.blogspot.com/2007/07/this-jury-sure-wasnt-right-but-it-sure.html.

    The federal and state prosecutions are based on vastly different theories of prosecution. Even with an arguably easier case to prove, the federal jury still deliberated several days and convicted three of the four officers charged. Several officers reached plea agreements (ostensibly because the federal charges should be more difficult to beat at trial).

    Mike McCann may not be infallible but he's regarded throughout the nation as a model prosecutor. He doesn't deserve this unwarranted slam. In the vernacular, it's pure BS.

    Justice served

    After days of deliberation, three Milwaukee police officers were convicted by a jury of federal civil rights violations in the beating of Frank Jude. Another officer was acquitted. Based on what I've seen of the evidence in the case, the jury's verdicts seem right on target.

    "The system" doesn't always work but in this case it did. Congratulations to United States Atty. Steve Biskupic and his staff.

    Wednesday, July 25, 2007

    Think one person can't make a difference? Think again.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    I can think of no greater conservative value than ensuring the civil rights of all Americans, a concept embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

    In the last decade or so new attention has been focused on the rich and vibrant history of the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. There are many well known heroes. Martin Luther King, jr., obviously is one of them. Rosa Parks is another. Ditto for the Little Rock Eight. And the list goes on, including white civil rights workers such as James Cheney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner whose murders were the subject of the poignant film “Mississippi Burning.”

    There are also many unsung heroes. Two of my favorites are Diane Nash and Ben West.

    In 1960 Diane Nash was a college student at Fisk University in Nashville. She organized student sit-ins at local lunch counters that refused to service blacks. The sit-ins escalated to boycotting the stores that housed the lunch counters that refused them service. On April 19, 1960 the home of a black attorney, Z. Alexander Looby, who counseled the student demonstrators, was destroyed by dynamite. In protest 4,000 students and their supporters marched silently to city hall whereDiane Nash had a stunning confrontation with Mayor Ben West. In their words:

    DIANE NASH: We needed him to say, "Integrate the counters," or to tell Nashville to do what Nashville knows it should have done a long time ago, like about 95 years ago after the Civil War. So I asked the mayor, "First of all, Mayor West, do you feel that it's wrong to discriminate against a person solely on the basis of his race or color?"

    BEN WEST: They asked me some pretty soul-searching questions. And one that was addressed to me as a man, and I tried as best I could to answer it frankly and honestly, that I could not agree that it was morally right for someone to sell them merchandise and refuse them service. And I had to answer it just exactly that way.

    Of course, I received considerable criticism for it, but had I to answer it again, I would answer it in the same way again because it was a moral question and it was one that a man has to answer and not a politician.

    DIANE NASH: I have a lot of respect for the way he responded. He didn't have to respond the way he did. He said that he felt like it was wrong for citizens of Nashville to be discriminated against at the lunch counter solely on the basis of the color of their skin. And I think that was the turning point.

    The lunch counters were integrated. The boycott ended. Diane Nash went on to battle for civil rights throughout the south. Ben West served as mayor until 1963. He died in 1974.

    If you don’t think one person can make a difference, think again.

    Tuesday, July 24, 2007

    Old news...unfortunately

    MADISON-- A Legislative Audit Bureau report confirms that statewide 117 more full-time positions are needed. The staffing shortfall -- 6.45 positions in Kenosha County alone (making two grant positions permanent plus 4.45 additional positions) means longer prosecutions, backlogs of less serious crimes and more out-of-court settlements resulting in lighter penalties, auditors found after visiting prosecutors in 16 district attorneys' offices.

    Of course, if the legislature fully funded needed prosecutor positions, then those prosecutors might have some time to go after corrupt polticians. Heaven forbid!
    And the biggest opponent to adding prosecutorial staff is none other than Governor Doyle, who, despite the massive shortfall, cut 15 positions statewide.

    The Billary Factor

    Isn't it amazing that most of the news media steers clear of one of the most significant questions if Sen. Hillary Rodman Clinton becomes president: What about Bill?

    Does Bill's presence in the White House inspire fear or confidence? Hillary has said she'd make him a roving ambassador which suggests that maybe she'd rather have Bill away from home. On the other hand, considering that Bill might well be the First Ladies' Man. perhaps having Bill on the road isn't such a good idea.

    I think Bill would be more of a distraction but that's just my opinion. What really needs to happen is that the nation needs to have a serious dialogue on this issue. Maybe Hillary does, too.

    Myspace a safe place? Think again.

    According to the North Carolina Attorney General, there are 29,000 registered sex offenders who have myspace.com accounts. As blogger Dad29 points out, those are just the sex offenders who used their real names.

    The North Carolina Attorney General is pushing for a law to require parental consent before web sites such as myspace.com could open accounts for minors. The concept seems approproate but I suspect enforcement would be difficult.

    Thanks to Dad29 for this bone-chilling news.

    The Super Bowl isn't the only place

    When we think of compelling advertising the first thought is likely to be the Super Bowl where elaborate, expensive and, almost always, funny ads compete with each other.
    Then there's the magazine ad at the left for the "Rosa Parks bus" exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum near Detroit.
    The ad didn't need a lot of copy. The images alone are compelling.
    Far too often today young people are disconnected with history. Many have little or no knowledge of the sacrafices others made -- sometimes even paying with their lives -- for the freedom and opportunities enjoyed today.
    And the greatest gift of recognition we can give to those who fought and suffered in the past is to take full advantage of every opportunity today. This ad says that -- and a whole lot more.

    Sunday, July 22, 2007


    Last year I had a discussion with a professor from the University of Oregon which turned to why many Oregon schools seem to be in disrepair. The analysis I got was that the lumberjacks weren't terribly supportive of education.

    That conversation came to mind this morning as I drove past a warning sign on US 30 near St. Helens, Oregon. It read: "CAUSION -- WATER ON ROAD."

    Maybe my friend had it pegged all along.

    Saturday, July 21, 2007

    In Praise of (gulp) HGTV

    Truth be told, I think the real reason the V-chip exists is HGTV.

    Home and Garden Television (the cable network's formal name) would probably paint the White House red if they could get away with it. Their programs come up with a gazillion ways to spend hard-earned money on projects that, for the most part, are highly discretionary. I mean, do most people really need a $3,000 refrigerator in their kitchen?

    And why does anybody in their right mind watch a half-hour program on someone else shopping for a new home?

    Worse, they provide very little information on how projects are actually done. Candice Olson, host of Divine Design, says the network makes projects look way too simple to the extent that viewers think something that took weeks, maybe months, to accomplish can be done in a single weekend.

    Having said all the above -- and I barely got started -- the only thing I give HGTV brownie points for is their real commitment toward diversity in their programming.

    Through HGTV we've met home owners of all different races, background and even sexual orientation. In HGTV-land, we're all equal -- all sharing the same experiences whether it's buying a home, going through a remodeling project or getting your property ready for sale.

    Other networks often fake diversity but with HGTV it's all real people in real cities and towns with the same real-life experiences. To that extent HGTV helps in its own way to bring us closer together.

    Nonetheless, HGTV is still a very good reason for the V-chip.

    Harry Potter: A home run for reading

    Long ago I tried watching one of the Harry Potter movies. It was only slightly more interesting to me than watching a car rust. But to each his own.

    That said I found the last couple of book releases in the Harry Potter series to be positively uplifting.

    Just after midnight this morning I drove past Powell's, a locally-owned book store in Portland, Oregon. I didn't go to the mammoth Powell's in downtown Portland but rather to a small neighborhood branch.

    The line snaking to the store was almost three blocks long. Nobody appeared bored, however, as there was live music to entertain the Potterites.

    Some of those who got the latest Harry Potter book couldn't wait to get home. I saw some people actually trying to read their copies under the street lights.

    A couple of years ago I was un Edmonton, Alberta where Audrey's, a locally-owned book store there, was also open at midnight (a rarity for Canada). Employees and customers dressed in Harry Potter genre costumes and the atmosphere was most festival. (Party pooper that I am, I bought a photography book written by a friend.)

    What's so cool about all of this is to see the excitement that so many young Harry Potter fans have for reading. Dare I say that for many kids today telling them to "go read a book" is likely to be perceived as cruel and unusual punishment. So, if it takes Harry Potter to get young people fired up about reading, we should all be wild about Harry.

    Friday, July 20, 2007

    Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain

    The daily digest from the federal court trial of Milwaukee police officers involved in the beating of Frank Jude (admittedly not the state's most upstanding citizen) just makes me sick.

    What were these officers thinking? And what were other "dirty" cops thinking in Chicago or elsewhere when they lie, exceed their authority or disgrace their badge?

    When you were a child and dreamed of being a police officer, wasn't it because you wanted to help people and your community? Did you ever think it would be cool to stomp on someone's head without legal authority? To lie in court? To disgrace your badge by dishonorable conduct?

    These things make this ex-cop sick.

    Yes, we select police officers from the human race and with that comes the fact that none of us are perfect. But imperfection is not the same thing as corruption.

    These pathetic excuses not only broke the law, violated their oath of office and dishonored their badge, they also disgraced the reputation of the vast majority of police officers who are honest, decent and try to do the right thing.

    Yes, it also makes me sick when I see judges and juries pooh-pooh assaults on officers, forgetting that on the streets citizens have the duty to obey lawful police commands and, if they are aggrieved, they can take that dispute to court. When someone assaults an officer they are not just directing their contempt at the individual but every law abiding citizen of the state. Too many judges and juries forget that.

    Nonetheless, every citizen -- every police officer -- should have sub-zero tolerance for corrupt cops.

    When I was an officer in Iowa my badge had in the center the great seal of the state. That seal includes the Iowa state motto, "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain."

    Perhaps that seal and that motto should be on every cop's badge as a reminder of what it's all about.

    Thursday, July 19, 2007

    Putting the cart before the horse

    Suppose the fire chief came to the city council and said, "We're having a lot more fires this year. I need 50 more firefighters and five new fire trucks."

    Then the next year, "We keep having more fires. I need another 50 people and five more trucks."

    And each year it was the same old story.

    Eventually the city council would start thinking, "It's costing a lot of money to put out all these fires. Why can't we do something to reduce the number of fires so we wouldn't have to spend so much to put them out?"

    It's a lot like this with the health care initiative proposed by Democrats in Madison.

    The notion of providing access to medical care for the uninsured or underinsured, particularly the working poor, is laudable. The problem is that the proposed approach of one-size-fits-all insurance for everyone is more like just throwing money at the problem. It makes little sense to keep stoking the fire of unconscionably expensive health care without first putting the brakes on escalating medical care costs. If we don't, then we just keep feeding the monster and both health care and insurance costs continue to skyrocket.

    If the legislature wants to attack health care problems, it needs to take a well-studied look at availability and accessibility to services statewide and also at waste and duplication. Then it needs to contain costs. That's a mammoth task that must be completed before any type of universal insurance is even considered.

    This is news?

    WTMJ-TV (Today's TMJ 4 by their own calling) struck another new journalistic low.

    Tonight they microwaved a story from last night and turned it into a lead. It has to do with well-known lobbyist and former WIsconsin legislator Bill Broydrick's phone number showing up in the telephone records of a purported Washington, D.C. "madam."

    The three calls or so were all under one minute.

    Charles Benson, once a decent reporter but now just another "Nitwitness Newsie", tried to make hay with Broydrick's unwillingness to comment on the situation which earns from the RAG a big, "So what?"

    The fact Broydrick's phone number appears three times for less than one minute in many pages of phone records doesn't really prove who made the calls or why. With the length of the calls being so short one could plausibly wonder if any hanky-panky really did go on. It would seem that if there was a regular "arrangement" for the lobbyist or one or more of his clients, the calls would be more frequent. If the "arrangement" wasn't a recurring event, it would seem that the calls would be longer.

    It would be a different story if there was more proof that Broydrick did in fact do something wrong but right now it's just a bare suspicion. You don't beat up on a person's reputation without solid proof. Plus, it's been many years since Broydrick has been in the legislature. If he was an elected official it would also be another story. But that's not the case.

    There are so many things a good reporter could uncover and report -- things that make a difference -- but the media chooses cheap titillation over responsible journalism. And, unfortunately, that really is old news.

    The McCain train loses steam

    If you've been following the news lately you'd have noticed that Senator John McCain's political stock has been crashing and his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination is in disarray.

    Is anyone really surprised?

    Let's go back to 2000 when Senator McCain, then a moderate Republican, tried to woo voters with "Straight Talk America." It worked in New Hampshire.

    But then the right-wing special interests put the bullseye on McCain, targeting him for attacks even from antiabortion groups who dismissed the fact that McCain has a perfect pro-life voting record. But George W. Bush was their boy and he got their money -- lots of it -- and McCain 2000 fizzled.

    While John McCain didn't win the 2000 nomination of his party, he did win the right to be the loyal opposition. Unfortunately he squandered that opportunity.

    Perhaps in an effort to win over the right wing -- which never did or will like him -- McCain drifted away from his core positions and began to sound like Dubya's best buddy. The idealists who waited for McCain to charge forward with straight talk and fresh air were left shaking their heads in disbelief.

    McCain never won the hearts (and the money) of the right-wingers and he strayed away from his previous constituency (which might have been his only hope in 2008) to the extent that they're not wowed, either. No wonder his campaign train is running out of steam.

    Police enforcing the law? Isn't that what they do?

    Police officers have two basic functions: preserve the peace and bring to justice those who violate the law. That's hardly news or rocket science.

    So the flak over the Waukegan Police Department's efforts to have its officers cross designated as immigration enforcement agents seems way out of line.

    First, we need to clear the distorted air over aliens. There are basically two types: those legally in a country and those who aren't. Much of the media frenzy these days focuses only on illegal aliens who by their very presence here are committing a crime. Immigration enforcement is more than that. It also covers investigation of crimes by legal aliens who by law could be subject to exclusion if they are convicted of certain serious offenses. That's not news -- it's been the law for a long time.

    The media frenzy, including this morning's editorial comment by Kenosha News staffer Steve Lund, miss that critical point: All the police are seeking to do is to enforce the law.

    The truth is that police officers everywhere already have the ability to notify federal immigration officials about aliens who commit crimes regardless of the alien's immigration status. That's time consuming. Cross-designating local officers is a more efficient use of police manpower. Plus the additional training should help ensure against possible mistakes by an untrained officer.

    Cross-designation essentially allows the local officer to initiate the immigration "hold" rather than wait for a federal officer to do so. The feds, however, still have to process the case and the alien still has the same due process rights under our immigration laws.

    Of course, the only aliens -- legal or illegal -- who are likely to be reported and/or detained are those who break the law (otherwise they wouldn't ordinarily come to the attention of the police). Cross-designation means local officers won't have to wait for a federal officer which makes for more efficient and cost-effective police work.

    Police officers enforcing the law? What's next? Firefighters putting out fires?

    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Jess must be really special

    Jessica McBride http://mcbridesmediamatters.blogspot.com must be really special.

    Jess, who is somewhat further to the right than the RAG, has an entire blog devoted to attacking her: http://whallah.blogspot.com/. I guess if one person creates a blog just to flame one other person it shows that all the loons aren't on the lake.

    Michael McGee: A legend in his own mind

    I couldn't have said it better than Jeff Wagner: http://www.620wtmj.com/shows/jeffwagner/8530482.html

    The sad thing is that federal court proceedings are essentially secret with no television or radio coverage allowed. Too bad. The Milwaukee community needs to see and hear all of the evidence so that people can evaluate for themselves. The sooner the better.

    Monday, July 16, 2007

    What's happening in Pleasant Prairie?

    In case you missed it, Pleasant Prairie is the happening place. It seems that hardly a week goes by without announcement of some new business and/or development being planned. I never cease to be amazed at how the village's outstanding planner, Jean Werbie, stays on top of all of it.

    But while Pleasant Prairie may be the happening place, it's sometimes difficult to find out just what's happening -- or more appropriately -- about to happen.

    The village's web site -- http://www.pleasantprairieonline.com/ -- does a darn good job of posting the agendas and minutes of village board and commission meetings, no doubt the handiwork of a very sharp village clerk, Jane Romanowski, and her experienced deputy, Vesna Savic.

    Nonetheless, unless you're really into the lingo of village government, the agendas at times might as well be written in Greek. While most likely legally sufficient, these notices nonetheless don't present the full picture.

    There's more out there -- specifically what's called a "meeting packet" which contains much more detailed information about the items to be considered at any given meeting. Unfortunately, this information is almost exclusively in the hands of the people who serve on the board or commission.

    It doesn't -- and shouldn't -- have to be this way.

    With contemporary technology these documents can be rapidly scanned and saved to a portable document file (PDF) that almost anyone with a modern computer can access, read and print out as desired. What's more, village board members could be armed with laptop computers at a total cost of just over $2,000. Not only would this be a move toward more efficient "paperless government" but then board members could also have village E-mail addresses to improve communication with constituents.

    The cost to do this is minimal and I suspect there could be some savings by the clerk's staff only having to scan this material one time. The benefits to the village goverment and the people of the community are certainly significant when compared to the trivial cost. It's clearly a win-win situation that should be promptly adopted. In other words, it's a "no brainer."

    Sunday, July 15, 2007

    Another example of what's wrong with the Milwaukee Police Department

    Today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that a man and a woman out walking were accosted by two thugs, one of whom asked for a cigarette.

    The request for a smoke turned into a struggle for the woman's purse during which one of the thugs pulled out a gun.

    The woman's companion pulled out a knife and stabbed the gunman in the stomach. Now he's being sought by the Milwaukee police.

    Another fine example of how the Brew City is burning while the people in charge fiddle.

    Saturday, July 14, 2007

    If you speak Latin, go for it

    Benedict XVI -- the Pope Hell-bent on rolling back Vatican II and propelling the Catholic Church back to the 16th century -- came up with another doozie: encouraging the Tridentine (Latin) Mass.

    I highly doubt Jesus celebrated the Last Supper in Latin and what made sense then seems to still make sense today. Nonetheless, there may be artistic value in the Latin tradition. So, if you speak Latin, you should find the Tridentine Mass delightful and inspirational. Go for it.

    For the rest of us, it seems that the Pope must be oblivious to other issues affecting the Catholic Church today, such as sexually-abusive priests and the bishops who protected them.

    Just this weekend it's reported that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay out over $600 million to survivors of clergy sexual abuse. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-priests15jul15,0,7511378.story?coll=la-home-center The Archdiocese of Milwaukee settled its litigation earlier. http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=489857

    Why should we who are Catholics provide financial support to an institution which has squandered out stewardship by its tolerance for conduct which Pope John Paul II himself called "criminal."

    Friday, July 13, 2007

    Kenosha: Time for a casino reality check

    It's hard to find a real world view of the Kenosha casino project.

    Propopents tout job creation and economic benefits to the community. Opponents fear more crime and problem gambling.

    Experience suggests that the casino -- if it ever opens -- is likely to be neither as good as its backers claim or as bad as the foes predict.

    Will the 3,000 jobs casino backers envision materialize? Will they be real jobs or mostly part-time gigs with no benefits? What will the impact be on other employers?

    These are all unanswered questions.

    It's a safe bet that the casino will be a self-contained money maker for its investors. If you happen to own a nearby convenience store you might garner some collateral benefit but don't plan on a huge spillover effect. The nature of a casino project is to be self-contained.

    It's not improper to be skeptical about promises. Those of us who remember when Dairyland Greyhound Park opened recall the many glowing promises that were made. Now Dairyland is on the financial skids and, nearly 20 years later, many of the promises remain unfulfilled (i.e., where's the Amtrak station we were promised?).

    The casino's location benefits from nearby and easy freeway access and we probably won't see a bump in the crime rate as casino patrons will likely stream in and out without spending time in the community. You can bet on problem gamblers but time will tell how many there will be or how they will be handled.

    The casino will compete with other businesses for workers which could cause some friction. If the casino does open, what would happen if, say, one opens in Waukegan which would siphon off Chicago area business? There are only so many gambling dollars to go around.

    While I neither support or oppose the casino project, I am becoming more convinced that the community has prospered without it and the wait is becoming counterproductive -- like an engagement that needs to either result in a wedding or a split.

    Blogs of interest

    Added some blogs of interest on the lower right side of the screen.

    There's Jessica McBride (whose blog inspired this one) on the conservative side, Gretchen Schuldt for the liberals and the Wisconsin Blognet News to search Wisconsin blogs. Also eclectic Paul Soglin, the one-time "hippie" mayor of Madison who was also called one of the best friends the Chamber of Commerce ever had. Happy surfing.

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Milwaukee Crime: How much space do you have?

    The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel welcomes readers who have an idea for reducing the city's murder rate to write letters to the editor.

    How much space do they have? Will they write about family breakdown? How about infighting among city politicians who, like Nero, fiddle while the city burns? What about the newspaper's own contribution to the problem? Or the failure of citizens in high crime areas to unequivocally demand accountability?

    The causes and solutions are myriad but I'll offer one thought: Nothing much will change until several thousand central city residents march on city hall and demand action. Nothing much will change until the dead wood and corruption are excised from the Milwaukee Police Department which is incapable of policing itself.

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007

    Bigger isn't always better--neither is smaller

    Buried in other news today -- for places outside Walworth County -- is how the Walworth County Board, without public explanation , summarily dumped the county board chairperson.

    Word is that the defrocking was in retaliation for her supporting the successful attempt to cut the board from 25 to 11 members.

    If a board can behave like this with 25 members, imagine what it will be like with 11 where the power will be concentrated in fewer supervisors.

    A bloated board may be inefficient but a body that's too small could lead in frequent power squabbles. The blanket party in Walworth County is not an encouraging sign of what's to come.

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007

    Dressed for success

    This morning I was in a courtroom in Racine where I saw a young man waiting for his case to be called.

    The young man was dressed in a T-shirt that proclaimed, "I drink my dreams and smoke my bud."

    (For those who think of "Bud" as a fermented malt beverage made by the Busch family, the "bud" with a small "b" means marijuana.)

    Just what was this young man thinking? That the judge would be impressed? Or, more likely, he was not thinking at all!

    He wasn't alone. The courtroom was filled with several other defendants of varying ages who displayed little cognizance of the importance of their court appearance.

    I'd say this is a "no brainer" except that those who need to get the message apparently have no brains.

    Monday, July 9, 2007

    Nitwitness news

    For television’s first three decades in this area we got the news from distinguished journalists such as Carl Zimmerman, John McCullough, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings. None of them felt it necessary to refer on the air to people as “some guys” and to have drum rolls, sound effects and what have you in the middle of reporting a news story. They also didn’t believe it was necessary to do such things as go to a bar and film a bunch of drunks cheering at a Packer game because a bunch of drunks in a bar cheering a football team wasn’t news.

    Technology today is light years ahead of what is was in that era but the quality of reporting seems to have inversely declined to the point where maybe we should call it “Foxy 6 Tabloid” or “Today’s TMJ4 Nitwitness News.”

    Shame on them.

    Why I don't use "liberal" as a perjorative term

    Interesting how people who think they know something like to bash others by stupid labels – “liberal” senator, “conservative” talk show host, etc. I’m rarely comfortable doing that because the truth is often somewhere in between and, as a practical matter, who defines “conservative” or “liberal” or whatever.

    For example, the late Senator Barry Goldwater, the author of “Conscience of a Conservative” who was trounced as a right-wing reactionary during his unsuccessful 1964 presidential race, remarked in the 1990’s that he’s likely be thought of as a “flaming liberal” by today’s standards.
    From time to time I like to read Senator Goldwater’s speech when he accepted the Republican nomination. He called for such things as integrity in government, strong defense and respect for the rights of others. While there ostensibly are still core conservative values, they are not necessarily exclusive to any particular group.

    If someone favors the Equal Rights Amendment, does that make him or her a conservative or a liberal? There are many people labeled “liberals” who support the ERA but the same can be said for folks labeled as “conservatives.” Ensuring the rights of individuals seems to be a core conservative value.

    Take civil rights. Rush Limbaugh, the controversial self-proclaimed “conservative” talk show host, once remarked, quite firmly, that racial discrimination is morally wrong, legally wrong and should be severely punished. While Rush Limbaugh and others will fiercely disagree on how racial discrimination should be attacked, his core position seems to square with those who profess “liberal” ideology. But foremost it’s also a core conservative value – more importantly, a core Republican value – that some latter-day Republicans seem to have difficulty embracing.

    When President Kennedy originally proposed civil rights legislation, many congressional Republicans attacked it as too weak and vowed to rewrite it. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 would never have seen the light of day had Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois not marshaled most Republican senators to terminate the Dixiecrat filibuster aimed at killing the bill. Former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador Andrew Young, jr., notes that the federal judges appointed by President Eisenhower were, in the pre-Civil Rights Act days, often the only recourse available to blacks during their struggle for equality. There are times when some people who profess to represent my party – the party of Lincoln – for inexplicable and inexcusable reasons seem to reject our rich civil rights heritage and, in so doing, have fueled a misimpression that the Democratic party exclusively is on the side of African-Americans.

    Morris Dees, the courageous leader of the Southern Poverty Law Center, wrote that in one particularly intense legal battle, his best ally was a United States Attorney, Sam Curran, who was appointed by President Reagan. Attorney Dees said that while the two men had different political affiliations, he was stunned by Mr. Curran’s commitment to justice and concluded that “labels don’t mean a damn thing.”

    That was echoed by my friend from Michigan, Coco, who, sensing that she was the victim of racial profiling at an airport, retorted, “I’m against Affirmative Action, I voted for Reagan and I think O.J. was guilty. How dare you think you know who I am!”

    The truth is that most of us probably hold views on issues that could be labeled “conservative” in some instances and “liberal” in others. To use these labels as pejoratives insults us because we should examine the views and track records of our politicians and determine if they are appropriate in our view, not rely on someone else to make that call for us.

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I’m against all labels. As the mythical Forrest Gump said, “Stupid is as stupid does.” No political party has the corner on wackos or idiotic ideas. Period.

    Sunday, July 8, 2007

    Another dart...

    ...to the Kenosha News for remaining silent about the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission affording the public a sole chance to provide input on selecting a new police chief at an 8 a.m. meeting on July 17.

    An 8 a.m. weekday meeting hardly affords the majority of the public a fair chance to attend and participate. Further, as I wrote previously, there are people in Pleasant Prairie who wonder whether the newspaper would demonstrate such restraint if it was the Pleasant Prairie Police and Fire Commission holding a public meeting at such an inaccessible time.

    The Chicago Tribune for many years published its credo that a newspaper is "an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has been able to provide."

    In the case of the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission, where is that check?

    Saturday, July 7, 2007

    This jury sure wasn't right, but it sure was final

    When Don Jewell was Chief Deputy of the Berrien County (Mich.) Sheriff's Department, he reacted to the stunning acquittal of a bail bondsman accused of trying to bribe an officer by saying, "Juries aren't always right, but they sure are final."

    Thus it's with great caution that those within the criminal justice system voice criticism of jury verdicts. There are, however, times when a jury's verdict is so lame that it warrants public comment.

    The trial of Robert J. Brown for attempted first degree intentional homicide in Kenosha County is one of those cases.

    Brown fired several shots from a pistol at Officer Brian Miller of the Kenosha Police Department as the officer stopped Brown's vehicle for minor traffic infractions. A squad car video recording shows that Brown began firing at the officer even before Brown got out of his still-moving car. One shot hit Miller's patrol car while two others passed by him and hit a building. During his trial Brown had no explanation for why he shot at Officer Miller.

    To convict Brown of the original charge of attempted first degree intentional homicide the jury would need to find that Brown attempted to kill Officer Miller. The presiding judge, however, also instructed the jury on a lesser-included offense of first degree recklessly endangering safety. Brown was found guilty of the lesser offense and also for being a felon in possession of a handgun.

    Juries in Wisconsin are, in fact, instructed that if they can reconcile the evidence with any reasonable hypothesis consistent with the defendant's innocence, they should do so and find him or her not guilty.

    So, to let Brown off the hook for the attempted murder charge, the jury would have had to conclude that he didn't intend to kill Officer Miller. That hardly is a reasonable hypothesis. What were those gunshots, which began while his car was still moving? Clearly they weren't an invitation from the Welcome Wagon.

    No doubt Brown's actions were, at a minimum, reckless and indifferent to human life. But this wasn't just a case of a reckless driver speeding down a crowded highway. This is a case of a felon -- who wasn't supposed to have a gun in the first place -- opening fire on a police officer. The natural and probable consequences of firing a gun at another human being are unthinkable. So, too, is the verdict returned by this jury.

    Thursday, July 5, 2007

    The new police chief

    The Kenosha Police and Fire Commission faces a daunting task in picking a new police chief. The task will be made easier if the commission first decides what is desired from the new chief which should make the job of deciding who will get the nod much easier.

    The selection process is inhibited by the fact that the finalists are all qualified command officers with years of service on the department. I know and respect and them all. When asked who I think should be the new chief I'm quick to point out that, for me, it's like asking which child you love the most.

    The city now has over 93,000 residents and is experiencing rapid population as well as geographic growth and increasing diversity. Kenosha is a hybrid community -- a growing suburb with urban challenges. There are about two officers per 1,000 population, a ratio that is very close to the bone. While the department presently does a good job in its traditional constituencies, it is challenged by manpower, facilities and geography to serve the newly populated neighborhoods far removed from downtown. The new chief will be challenged to secure the necessary resources to serve a growing city as well as to enhance that which is already done well.

    In no particular order, I note that, first, bear in mind that the job of management is get work done by others and the duty of management is to secure the necessary resources and support to make that happen. Just as the best baseball players don't always make the best managers, it follows that simply being a good cop doesn't make one a good chief. Nonetheless, a good chief must have the soul of a good cop -- an understanding of the challenges subordinates face and an appreciation of the work they do. Jack Miller, founder of the Quill Corporation, once told me that he doesn't put his customers first but rather he puts his employees first because then they will put the customers first. In an agency this size we wouldn't expect the chief to handle a burglary call (unless he or she happens to be in the vicinity) but the chief must know what is needed to carry out the task and must secure the necessary resources to ensure that it's done.

    While the urban chief need not necessarily be the most proficient or decorated cop, it's also folly to believe that all that's needed is for him or her to be a good "administrator." The department already has a lot of administrators and cops. It needs an exceptional -- and certainly a visible --leader.

    The chief must lead by example. Pettiness in rules or procedures stifle efficiency. Officers must be empowered to the fullest extent possible to carry out their mission however the chief must also ensure that the highest professional standards are always expected. There should be subzero tolerance for misconduct and bad apples must be promptly and publicly tossed out. Good officers -- the vast majority -- need affirmation that their excellence will be appreciated.

    A good chief will be responsive to the community at large and the community within. He or she will instill in all employees the notion that this is not about "us" and "them" but rather that the department exists to serve and protect the community. Any department that thinks it can succeed without the consent and collaboration of the community is doomed for failure. The taxpayers are the stockholders of the department while the city council and police and fire commission serve as the board of directors.

    Similarly doomed for failure is the chief who thinks he or she knows it all or that the fountain of knowledge is accessible to only a select few. The newest rookie, the counter clerk or someone you meet in a restaurant may have a fantasic idea you've never thought of. A good chief is a good listener who inspires creativity from everyone. The dumbest person is the one who can't recognize and learn from their mistakes. The smartest is one who knows how dumb he or she really is and works aggressively not to exceed his or her limitations.

    While a good chief will be above politics the reality is that the chief must be politically savvy. The reality is that the folks who provide the resources for the department are all elected. The chief must know how to communicate with them to ensure that the department will get what it needs to carry out its mission. A chief who can't do this, no matter how stellar his or her other qualifications, will never achieve success.

    A good chief knows that regionalism is local power and will not hesitate to collaborate with others to carry out the department's mission. A good chief will embrace necessary change.

    The list could go on but I think you get the picture. The commission's first task must be to define the qualities expected of the new chief and then work from there. To them I say, "Good luck. You'll need it."

    Another credibility gap

    There's a saying in Iowa that if you don't like farmers, you shouldn't talk with a full mouth.

    A lot of Democrats who've been caught in a credibility gap should have heeded that advice.

    Predictably, moments after President Bush's inept commutation of pal "Scooter" Libby's 30-month prison sentence, the Democrat's put the mud machine in motion.

    They conveniently forgot January 20, 2001 -- Bill Clinton's last day on the job in which he granted 140 pardons, including one to half-brother Roger Clinton on a drug charge and a full pardon to fugitive tax cheat Marc Rich, a Clinton administration crony who also was involved in business dealings with Iran while Americans were held hostage there. Also pardoned that day were crooked Illinois Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat, and Whitewater scandal figure Susan McDougal.

    I believe the Iowa saying was predated by one that said that people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Here, Democrats have no business bum rapping Bush while trying to reinvent history to obliterate the sins of the Clinton administration.

    I guess in one way they're right when they say that it's different with Bush. That's true. Libby didn't get a full pardon, only a commutation of prison time, His felony conviction and $250,000 fine remain of record. Also, the commutation didn't occur in the obscurity of the last few minutes of the Bush presidency.

    It's a sick irony that two of the loudest complainers today are Bill and Hillary Clinton. (Other ironies about the Marc Rich case are that the prosecutor was Rudy Giuliani and Rich was defended by none other than Lewis "Scooter" Libby.)

    A whipping isn't enough for this moron, eh?

    EDMONTON — An Alberta judge appeared to lament the demise of corporal punishment as he sentenced a man Wednesday for terrorizing his family and raping his former girlfriend in front of their two-year-old son.

    “If I had my way ... I would ask the Parliament of Canada to bring back whipping,” provincial court Judge Michael Stevens-Guille said as he handed James Jacobs a five-year prison sentence.

    Mr. Jacobs, 45, pleaded guilty to five charges that included sexual assault, unlawful confinement and uttering death threats for a June 14, 2006, attack that sent Edmonton's police tactical unit to a house where the victim lived with her three sons, who were 2, 7 and 10 at the time.

    But what floored the judge was when Mr. Jacobs got up in the prisoner's box and tried to blame his ex-girlfriend for his terrifying behaviour, saying she knew he was a crack addict when they got together. He also accused her of repeatedly lying in the past.

    After an incredulous Justice Stevens-Guille pressed Mr. Jacobs on whether he was sorry, he finally said: “Yes I am. I'm sorry for what I done. Sorry to my kids.” He then sat down and sobbed.

    Crown prosecutor Shelley Bykewich told court the victim had just sent her two older sons out the door to school when she heard a distressed cry and discovered Mr. Jacobs waiting outside. He pushed himself into the home and brandished a sharp weapon described as a five-point painting tool.

    Court heard the victim was so afraid she wet her pants and fell backwards to the ground, with Mr. Jacobs on top of her, as the two boys watched in terror. She suffered a five-centimetre gash to her hand.

    The boys obeyed their mother's frantic orders to run to a neighbour's place and call 911.
    At one point, Mr. Jacobs picked up the couple's two-year-old son in one arm and a kitchen knife in the other and threatened to throw the toddler out the window. He also ordered his girlfriend to stand in front of the window so that police officers, who by this time had amassed outside, couldn't get a clear shot.

    Mr. Jacobs took the woman to the master bedroom and told her he wanted sex because he was going to jail and wouldn't be having sex for a long time. Ms. Bykewich said the woman refused repeatedly but Mr. Jacobs forced himself on her. The two-year-old boy had come upstairs in the meantime and witnessed the assault.

    Throughout the ordeal Mr. Jacobs threatened to kill both the victim and the little boy. He also placed 911 calls threatening to kill the mother and son if police came to the house.

    Eventually the woman managed to grab her son and run outside.

    In a victim impact statement, the woman, whose name is under a publication ban, said all three of her sons still have flashbacks and she is scared to be in Edmonton.

    “I have immense fear about being attacked in public by (Jacobs) if he is released at any point in time.”

    Wednesday, July 4, 2007

    What a way to waste a career

    On Friday former Kenosha County Deputy Sheriff Ryan Schabo was placed on three years probation with six months in jail as a condition as a result of his conviction for misconduct in public office, specifically engaging in a sexual act with a reputed stripper while on duty.

    Things like this don't make it easy for good law enforcement officers who must absorb some of the public indignation over misconduct like this. The former deputy's actions not only ruined his career but soiled the reputation of law enforcement as a whole.

    The flip side of this is Sheriff David Beth and his command staff acted quickly, decisively and appropriately in response. The initial victim contacts by Sgts. Marc Levin and Robert Hallisy, jr. were carried out with dispatch and integrity. The full investigation was turned over to the Kenosha Police Department to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Sheriff Beth promptly took disciplinary action. All of this is to their credit and stands as a positive sign of integrity and professionalism.

    Monday, July 2, 2007


    President Bush's commutation of "Scooter" Libby's 30-month prison sentence is, rather predictably, generating a great deal of partisan heat: Democrats (ignoring that Libby's conduct isn't that far removed from Bill Clinton's own lack of candor to a grand jury) are beating up on the president and Bush apoligists are lining up to defend what in some respects is indefensible.

    At a minimum the president's action created the appearance of impropriety. No doubt Senators Clinton and Obama are gleeful while the Republicans seeking to succeed Bush must think it's a nail in their political coffins.

    As I detest any attempt to be sucked into the vortex of cheap partisan politics, I will try to parse this out in a neutral way.

    President Bush said that Libby's 30-month prison sentence was excessive in light of the crime itself, the absence of a prior criminal history, Libby's otherwise exemplary behavior and the fact that other punishments -- a $250,000 fine, two years probation and the disabilities concurrent with a felony conviction -- are more than adequate.

    That's certainly plausible and well within the criminal justice standards of the American Bar Association. On the merits a plausible case can be made that Libby's prison sentence should be commuted. On the flip side, the manner in which it was done set the president up for criticism that that he rewarded a political crony, an attack from which he can't defend himself.

    Here in Wisconsin, a person seeking executive clemency files an application with the Governor's pardon advisory board. The applicant must publicly advertise his or her petition as well as notify the prosecutor and sentencing judge whose comments are solicited. The public is also allowed to offer input before the board makes a recommendation. These procedures ensure that clemency applications are dealt with publicly and minimize the potential for abuse.

    Had President Bush followed a similar procedure he would have been able to offer a credible defense. As it stands, at a minimum he again demonstrated indisputable ineptness while leaving himself completely vulnerable to a plausible attack that his action was corrupt.

    Blogger Jessica McBride aptly notes that Bush isn't the only president whose exercise of executive clemency has come under attack [http://mcbridesmediamatters.blogspot.com/2007/07/bush-commutes-scooter-libbys-prison.html], specifically noting Bill Clinton's 11th hour full pardon of tax evader Marc Rich. She's right but that's old news. The problem today is that this president may have done the right thing but in an inexcusably wrong way.


    DART to the Kenosha News for not issuing a dart to the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission which is affording the public a chance to comment on who should be the city's next police chief at a meeting to be held on a weekday at 8 a.m.

    The Pleasant Prairie Village Board was justifiably criticized a couple of years ago for meeting at 5 p.m. because it was a time when many citizens would not likely be able to attend. The village board now meets at 6:30 p.m.

    I know there are some folks in Pleasant Prairie who believe that the newspaper would go ballistic if an 8 a.m. meeting on something this important was attempted in the village. Their concerns would not be unjustified.

    Sunday, July 1, 2007


    On July 1st we acknowledge our neighbours to the north with whom we have shared the longest unfortified border in the world. Happy Canada Day.


    For many this is a long Fourth of July weekend (maybe “weekend” isn’t the best choice of words as Independence Day is on a Wednesday this year).

    Again this year we are a nation at war. Many of our fine men and women in uniform will pay the ultimate sacrifice and not be here to celebrate Independence Day next year or in any year after that.

    So, how do we celebrate Independence Day? Fireworks? Cookouts? Family gatherings? All of these have become traditions in their own right.

    But perhaps the real way to celebrate Independence Day is to celebrate independence for to do so is the ultimate honor of the men and women who gave their lives so that we could.

    How do we do that?

    Take a stand – maybe even an unpopular one. Have the courage to voice your opinion – responsibly, of course. Write a letter to the editor. Call the owner of a radio station and ask why they don’t report local news (or, if they do, why they don’t do a better job). Sign a petition – and then work either for or against what you said you’re either for or against. Join an organization to fight for something worthwhile. Call your alderman, village trustee or town board member. Send an E-mail to your congressman or senator and, if you get the usual “canned fluff” response, go to one of their “town meetings” and, respectfully, stare them down and demand a substantive answer. Don’t be kooky but likewise don’t be afraid to risk being unpopular.

    We have a society today in which we’ve relegated anger to a dirty word that should be “managed.” The truth is that this nation was created out of righteous anger and defended in like manner. Abusive or mishandled anger is, of course, inappropriate but we need to reclaim our right to be angry and to properly express it. (Alaska Senator Ted Stevens says it best: “I don’t lose my temper. I use my temper.”) Freedom isn’t free and America is not a nation for wimps.

    Fireworks, cookouts and gathering with friends are legitimate ways to have fun and enjoy the blessings of liberty. But celebrating our independence and the sacrifice of the men and women who paid for it with their blood, sweat and tears requires a lot more.


    A couple of years ago my Northwest flight to Anchorage was delayed to the point where there was less than ten minutes to make a connection to an Alaska Airlines flight – the last of the day to King Salmon, Alaska.

    The lead flight attendant, Vivia Daniels, provided excellent, attentive service to our part of the plane – among the best I’ve ever seen on any airline (well above the norm). When she finally took a few moments to relax, most of them were spent reading her Bible. On top of all this, when she became aware that many passengers had extremely tight connections that were in jeopardy, she was proactive in seeing that this information was communicated and also encouraging passengers without tight connections to stay seated so that the others could try to catch their flights.

    I made it to the gate for the Alaska Airlines flight about six minutes before the scheduled departure, the first of eight passengers on the same flight who were also on the delayed Northwest plane. The plane was held for the remaining passengers and we all made it to King Salmon on time.
    We wrote Northwest in praise of the exemplary service we received and were told that our compliments would be passed on to Ms. Daniels. A few months later I saw her in the Minneapolis airport (kind of hard to miss the flight attendant carrying a Bible whom everyone seems to stop to talk to) and asked if she ever received a copy of our letter. She hadn’t although learning that we did write one brought a few tears to her eyes.

    This weekend I again saw Ms. Daniels walking, with her Bible in hand, through the Minneapolis airport. Several people, including fellow employees, had stopped to chat with her and I felt awkward about interrupting.

    I’m telling this story now because Northwest took a well-deserved big hit in the past week about incredibly bad service. Nonetheless, there still are Northwest people who care and deserve praise.