Sunday, September 30, 2007

OK for chief interviews to be private, but...

The Kenosha News issued a dart to the Police and Fire Commission which plans to conduct its final interviews with the three finalists for police chief in private.

In this case, the commission is right and the newspaper is wrong.

The commission believes -- and rightfuly so -- that having separate open interviews could lead to contamination of the interview process.

It would be easier to swallow this explanation had the commission been more receptive to public input instead. On that issue, the newspaper has been more than a day late and a dollar short.

I have an idea.

What if the commission follows up on the private interviews with a public interview -- at night when people can attend? All three candidates would be given the opportunity to address questions from the commission and, hopefully, the public.

Although it's possible that some chaff could enter in this process, the commission should be smart enough to separate it from the wheat.

Communicating in public and with the public and is an important part of being a police chief. The commission should recognize that.

Friday, September 28, 2007

GOP "Big Four" Turns Back on Voters of Color

They were conspicuous by their absence at the Republican presidential hopefuls debate at Morgan State University in Baltimore.

The four no-shows — former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Sen. Fred Thompson, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — cited scheduling conflicts when saying they could not attend the debate at the historically black school.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering joining the race for the GOP nomination, called the decision to avoid the event an "enormous error" and "fundamentally wrong," and said the scheduling excuses were "baloney."Ken Mehlman, a former party chairman, had urged the candidates to reconsider. And former vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp had said their decisions make it seem as though Republicans do not want black votes.

Newt and Jack are again right on target. The failure of the "big four" GOP hopefuls to show up is a disgrace to our party and an affront to all voters. It's another example of how many modern Republicans are the real RINO's because they reject our party's rich heritage at being at the forefront of advocating equal rights under law.

Shame on them. Shame.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Let's take a leak at the Urinal-Sentinel

Just when you thought TV's nitwitness newsies occupied the bottom of the reportorial barrel we see a so-called "story" in the Urinal-Sentinel about how the mayor of Burlington does business with the city.

Now this non-story was so shocking that the urinalists who run the snoozepaper put it in the "Public Investigator" column so as if to say that the mayor is doing something sinister or, worse, illegal.

But, even when you read the piece, it says that the mayor did less than $15,000 per year in business with the city and thus he broke no laws.

Important fact here folks: he broke no laws.

So, then why is this news?

Maybe the pipsqueak instigator's little urinalist is too stupid to know why there's that $15,000 exemption.

The reason isn't to benefit local government officials.

That law exists to help small municipalities. For example, suppose the person who owns the only hardware store in town is on the city council or village or town board. What if the fire department needs some repair parts -- in a hurry, no less -- and the official's store is the only game in town? Without the exemption the hardware person would have to hose the fire chief or face possible criminal charges.

The exemption exists to make it easier for small towns to function more efficiently and represents a great deal of common sense.

Of course, if common sense was common, then every urinalist would have it.

Memo: There already IS independent review of police shootings

Legendary Kenosha News columnist Bill Guida misses the mark when he writes that Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth's findings that a shooting by police and deputies was justified suggests more strongly than ever the need for independent review.

Listen up, Bill. There already is an independent review process in place.

First, the local practice in this county is to turn the investigation over to another police agency. That's not required by law but done routinely here to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. It's also the smart and professional thing to do.

Second, the District Attorney conducts his own review.

Third, any citizen who feels that an officer has acted inappropriately can file a complaint with the local police and fire commission or, in the case of the sheriff's department, the county civil service commission.

Anyone who knows the history of District Attorney Bob Zapf knows that he isn't a rubber stamp for law enforcement. Don't believe me? Just ask former sheriff Fred Ekornaas. The two butted heads on more than one occasion.

Plus, a district attorney has the legal duty to be fiercely independent. As the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote: "A prosecutor, although subject to little control by other state officers of the decisions within his discretion, is nevertheless periodically answerable to the people. For a limited time he is the trustee of the public's law enforcement conscience. It is his duty to refrain from instituting criminal charges unconscionably or unnecessarily. In the exercise of that public conscience he is neither the puppet of the law enforcement authorities nor of the courts."

As it stands, there are at least three available layers of independent review:

  • Investigation by an outside agency.
  • Review by District Attorney for potential criminal misconduct.
  • Review by police and fire or civil service commission available upon complaint to determine if any rules and procedures were violated.

And that's just for starters.

If a district attorney feels that something is fishy, he or she can call an inquest, convene a John Doe investigation, ask for assistance from the state attorney general and/or the United States Attorney or all four of these additional options. A citizen can't convene an inquest or a John Doe probe, but he or she can petition a judge to hold a John Doe investigation and certainly can bring the matter to the attention of state and federal authorities.

But Bill Guida and the Kenosha News apparently aren't interested in the facts. If you doubt this, just read the headline for today's column: "Sheriff Beth's finding argues for more credible review of police shootings."

Guida tries to dance around offending the sheriff's integrity by trying to say that it's the credibility of the process that he's questioning but it sure doesn't sound like it. The headline alone suggests that the sheriff isn't credible.

I haven't always seen eye to eye with the sheriff -- nor he with me -- but I have no reason to believe that he would tolerate anything less than a credible review.

Further, Guida insults Bob Zapf and the 70 other district attorneys in Wisconsin by suggesting that they are incapble of conducting an independent review despite the fact that it's their duty under state law to do so.

Police officers have to make life-and-death decisions -- sometimes in a fraction of a second -- that others already will spend weeks and months reviewing at their leisure. It's not an easy task and the people who do it have done nothing to suggest that they are anything less than credible.

The process in place may not please everyone but it's far more than many other jurisdictions and provides options for aggrieved persons to pursue additional review if they're not satisfied.

If there's anything that needs to be more credible, maybe it's the newspaper itself.

Yes, in fact, maybe there ought to be an independent review panel of journalists and readers to review complaints that articles are inaccurate or biased. After all, if, in the opinion of the Kenosha News, it's good enough for our police agencies, then it ought to be good enough for the newspaper.

What's wrong with this picture?

A key witness in a Milwaukee shooting case was shot and killed in front of his house this weekend.

Maurice Pulley had become yet another victim of retaliation for agreeing to cooperate with authorities.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department’s Witness Protection Unit was disbanded a few years ago due to state budget cuts. Other counties had no such units at all.

But, on the flip side, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue had to shell out nearly $1 million dollars in interest and overtime costs because of the latest in a series of state government computer snafus. (Hat tip to Kathy Carpenter for picking up on that one.)

We have a very fragile system of justice in this state that is overburdened, overworked and underfunded yet the state can waste money on snafus and unnecessary spending while the basic functions of government get the short end of the stick.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quick quiz: Which is the legislature and which is the taxpayer?



No comment.

Larry Craig: Slut a lyin' wheezeball!

Larry Craig can't make up his mind.

First, he says he's resigning from the Senate following his guilty plea to disorderly conduct after that celebrated incident in a Minneapolis airport restroom.

Now he says he's putting that on hold pending a decision on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea which was heard by a judge in Edina, Minn., today.

Craig didn't attend the hearing.

The Idaho Republican said he didn't know what he was doing and didn't have the advice of counsel when he entered his guilty plea.

If he's lying, that's bad. If he's telling the truth, that's worse.

This is a veteran United States Senator who deals every day with the world's critical problems and yet he can't figure out a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge? Yeah, right.

This wasn't a case of an overworked prosecutor cutting a quick deal with a defendant and telling him to "sign here."

Instead, the plea agreement was customized to the specific facts here and on its face represents what appears to have been some significant conversation with the prosecutor. Read it for yourself: http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2007/images/08/28/craig.guilty.plea.080807.pdf

The real kicker is that Craig admits in the plea agreement that he's pleading guilty because he is guilty.

Now he says he isn't.

It's hard to know what to believe here except that "Lyin' Larry" is having a terrible time discerning the truth.

As a frequent flyer who goes through the Minneapolis airport several times a year, I discussed the Craig potty affair with fellow sky warriors there this weekend. The solid consensus was that if Craig wasn't guilty, he should have gone to trial. To a man, everyone said that they wouldn't plead guilty based on these facts http://www.foxnews.com/projects/pdf/craig_report.pdf unless they were guilty.

I'm not worried so much about whether Craig is a little weirdo but rather that he's a sleazeball whose capacity for candor could be measured in a teaspoon.

This school's name isn't the only thing that needs rethinking.

The Kenosha Unified School Board may be rethinking what to name the new grade school on the old American Brass site.

Originally they came up with the banal name of Brass Community School. Maybe that's because they're consolidating two old grade schools -- Lincoln and Durkee -- into one new one.

Now some people in the community want it to be named after educator Mildred Brown.

Well, if rethinking is going to happen, maybe it should start with the location of the new school.

First, Durkee is a small school but located east of Sheridan Road, a busy and dangerous throughfare, especially for young children. But there are only two grade schools east of Sheridan Road and the other -- Southport -- is south of 75th Street on the city's south side.

If Durkee was to be rebuilt, it's only common sense that it should be east of Sheridan Road.

But that's if common sense prevailed. It hasn't.

The new school is southeast of Lincoln, another old, small school. If common sense prevailed, the school board would take a look at consolidating another old, small school -- Columbus -- with Lincoln. Consolidating Lincoln and Durkee doesn't resolve the problem of what to do with Columbus school.

Now here's the ultimate manifestation of idiocy in this process: the new school is directly across from the Kenosha Correctional Center, a fenceless state prison.

Reality check time.

Kenosha is the same city kicking around a proposed ordinance which, in its original form, would have consigned convicted sexual predators to a small sliver of the city. While the proposal is flawed, it's horrendous hypocrisy to be alarmed at sexual predators in the city and then build a new grade school across from a state prison.

I won't waste my time wondering if the people pushing this are idiots, morons or both. It doesn't matter. The whole thing needs an immediate injection of common sense, something which apparently isn't very common at city hall and the Educational Support Center.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Iranian President's UN speech begs questions.

The United Nation speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clearly gave the world community a look at this dangerous nut case -- so much so that leaders of France, Germany and the United States uniformly denounced him and the things he stands for.

One can only wonder if a byproduct of that speech is a solidified awareness by the world community of the danger that Iran poses.

Secondly, you also have to wonder if there are people in other nations asking why the United States is screwing around in Iraq when the greater threat is next door in Iran.

It's a good question.

Unlike Iraq, Iran participated in a direct attack on this nation when our embassy in Tehran was invaded on Nov. 4, 1979 and Americans held hostage for 444 days. Our failure to intervene then only fed the monster.

Stop the presses! NAACP leader gets what the Journal-Sentinel doesn't!

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel -- long the state's most prolific enabler of the "victim menality" in racial matters -- must be in a tizzy over a black community leader's refusal to buy into newspaper's sinister disparity du jour.

The rebuff comes in a story about how fourth-and-eighth-grade black students in Wisconsin have reading levels at the bottom of the heap nationwide while the "reading achievement gap" between black and white students continues to be the widest in the country.

Par for the course, the Journal-Sentinel doesn't say much about why the disparities exist and conducted no inquiry in its own. The newspaper did, however, try to round up comments from the usual sources. The one that said something substantive is an official of the Milwaukee NAACP:

Wendell Harris, chairman of the education committee of the Milwaukee chapter of
the NAACP, said, "I know we've got to do better in school, there's no question
about that."


But, he said, "really, from my standpoint, (it's) families. . . .We can't keep making excuses for parents."


Harris said many parents live amid difficult circumstances, but "we have to do our best to try to get our children educated whatever our own circumstances are."


He added, "We have to become more willing to hold everyone accountable and not just the teachers."



Mr. Harris understands what the Journal-Sentinel's purveyors of the "victim mentality" cannot or do not want to comprehend: improving conditions in Milwaukee is an initiative that begins person-by-person, house-by-house, block-by-block and so on. Mr. Harris gets it. The do-gooder whiners at the state's largest newspaper don't.

Hard to believe it was once one of the nation's top newspapers.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel continues its track record for banal editorial writing:

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=667194

True, the writer points out that there's merit to listening to your enemies but glosses over the other crucial issue: curtailing freedom of expression here would make us no better than the Iranian government. The Journal-Sentinel glosses over the fact that the best counter measure against terrorism is the vigorous exercise of our freedoms.

Too bad. It could have been a great editorial.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He came to Columbia University to experience what he cannot at home: freedom of speech

The late William Allen White, the iconic Kansas newspaper publisher, once wrote: "Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."

This struck me in the heart and soul as I read the various attacks on Columbia University for inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, to speak. That supposedly patriotic Americans would vilify this fine educational institution on that basis is profoundly unpatriotic.

Yes, I believe Ahmadinejad is a dangerous moron adrift in a sea of kindred spirits in a part of the world where peace, freedom and liberty are beyond the grasp of the common person.

The world of repression Ahmadinejad represents is contrary to the very fabric of American life and his self-serving diatribes only reinforce that he is another source of world terror and unrest.

Nonetheless, Columbia University did absolutely nothing wrong by inviting him to speak and, in fact, by doing so it upheld the quintessential integrity of higher education. As stated in the 1910 Republican Party of Wisconsin platform: "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe that the great state of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."

When Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia, he got what he could never have experienced in Iran: a hostile, diverse audience led by Columbia's president who minced no words in calling Ahmadinejad "a petty and cruel dictator." He got to see what freedom of speech is really like.

If you love liberty and this nation, you must be willing to extend our freedoms even to those with whom we are sickened for not to do so cheapens the sacrifices of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms.

In fact, the greatest antidote for terrorism is celebration of freedom. It's a shame that the post-9/11 manta of our government has been to restrict freedom. And it's not just the Bush administration.

Here in Kenosha, a former Nazi soldier was invited to speak at the Kenosha Military Academy to students who were studying military history. The acting school superintendent, Joseph Hentges, had a hissy fit. He was wrong.

It was in Hitler's Germany that books were burned and freedoms extinguished. These students had the opportunity to hear first-hand (under their teacher's supervision) from someone who fought Hitler's battles -- perhaps a chance to ask him why he would do such a thing -- and more important, to fulfil the reality that if you want to understand your enemy, you must study him.

I thought then that nothing smacked more of Hitler's suppression of free inquiry than Hentges' response. I think the same about those who complain about Ahmadinejad speaking at Columbia.

Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom only for the speech you like. Freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom to worship only your religion. Freedom of the press doesn't mean freedom only for the views you want disseminated. The true test of American patriotism is to defend those rights for people whose beliefs and practices we oppose with every waking breath.

Publisher White wrote: "You say that freedom of utterance is not for time of stress, and I reply with the sad truth that only in time of stress is freedom of utterance in danger… Only when free utterance is suppressed is it needed, and when it is needed it is most vital to justice."

And I remind you that our forefathers never promised us a rose garden, only a constitution.

First snowfall of the season in Yellowstone


The first snowfall of the fall was just a dusting but it made things dreary in Yellowstone today. Back home tomorrow night.

Not the most productive photography trip but it's a privilege to be here nonetheless.

On vacation in Yellowstone




Time to kick back and relax a bit. This young elk cow took time away from the elk rut rituals for some personal business.


The weather is very wet and we could see some snow tonight but it's not expected to stick to the ground.


This morning a coyote darted out in front of me but unfortunately too quickly for me to stop and grab a shot.


The rut seems delayed a bit. The bulls are around but the bugling seems to be a bit less than in past years.


At the Madison River the bull above stood for a moment inspecting his herd but things were pretty laid back. Most ruts are more intense events.


Not much scenery to photograph due to the wet weather.
You're invited to view more images at http://www.pbase.com/dickg




Saturday, September 22, 2007

Montana's Governor has an idea worth considering

I met Brian Schwitzer a couple of years ago, about nine months or so after he took office as Montana's governor.

At that time he was pushing for study and implemention of coal gasification technology.

Gov. Schweitzer may be the chief executive of a state with just under a million people spread out over a gazillion square miles. but he sure has a downtown idea that's worth considering.

According to Gov. Schweitzer, we could cleanly and efficiently convert coal to synthetic fuels and its byproducts -- once an environmental nightmare -- into other products. He figures we could get gasoline down to a buck a gallon and significantly reduce the dependence on foreign oil.

It's rare to get anything more than fluff from politicians these days but Gov. Schweitzer is ahead of the curve on this issue. If he's right, who cares if the idea came from a moderate Democrat?

Here's more:

http://governor.mt.gov/hottopics/faqsynthetic.asp

If kindness is contagious, some people are immune

Greetings from Yellowstone National Park.

Yesterday was a miserable day for flyers in the midwest.

Storms caused a number of flight delays and cancellations. The last Northwest flight from Milwaukee to Detroit was delayed several hours due to a line of thunderstorms stranding many travelers in Milwaukee.

My own flight to Minneapolis was delayed a little more than an hour due to bad weather and then we flew a long route via Green Bay to get around some storms. Late but I made it in time to catch my flight to Bozeman, Montana.

The flight to Bozeman was supposed to leave at 9:07 p.m. It didn't.

First, a flight attendant's inbound connecting flight was late by a few minutes.

Then, unbeknownst to some on the plane, an ambulance was in the path of the aircraft.

And there were many passengers whose inbound flights to Minneapolis were delayed.

So we waited.

The boarding door finally closed but due to the emergency activity the plane could not leave the gate.

Knock, knock.

A late incoming passenger was knocking at the door and was admitted to the plane.

This scene repeated itself about a half dozen times, much to the vocal chagrin of the lead flight attendant, who kept complaining about it, and several impatient passengers who apparently were unaware that the plane also couldn't leave the gate area until the emergency vehicles cleared.

When the final late passenger was boarded, the door was closed again and someone yelled out, "Are we going to leave now?"

I've seen several instances where Northwest flights, particularly from Detroit, have left early stranding passengers connecting from late inbound flights who were in the airport and en route to the gate and the flight was the last one of the day. So it was nice Northwest doing the right thing for a change.

I am one of the least patient people in the world, but give me a break. How would you feel if the connecting plane was still at the gate, you ran from the other end of the airport because your inbound flight was late and you knocked on the door and were not allowed to board?

It's not uncommon for airlines to be a bit more flexible when it's the last flight of the day. And once in Milwaukee we had a nice twist on a Delta flight to Atlanta where the captain told us that a Midwest Express flight had been cancelled and several passengers would be stranded if they couldn't board the Delta flight. He said it would take 10-15 minutes to get them on board and asked us to vote whether we should stay or leave. We voted -- unanimously -- to wait.

I'm sure those Atlanta-bound passengers were quite happy to get home for the weekend rather than be stranded.

On the flip side, today I was at the West Yellowstone post office wrapping a package to be sent home. Another fellow was busying paying bills. The service windows were closed but several people came in with problems -- a very frustrated woman who couldn't get the stamp machine to work, another woman who couldn't get the key to work in her post office box, German and Dutch tourists who wanted to know how much it would cost to send a postcard home and somebody who needed to find internet access.

We paused to help each of them and then each other. The local fellow, who runs an auto body shop, said to one person who thanked us, "It's no problem. Helping a neighbor is the Montana way."

It's amazing in life how we remember the kindnesses and never forget the rudeness that occasionally comes our way. There's some folks who were on my flight to Bozeman last night who could use a new learning curve.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Jena Six Update: They all don't get it.

The long-awaited protest march arrived in Jena, Louisiana, highlighted by a number of celebrities who buzz in from exotic places like New York and Chicago:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/J/JENA_SIX_PROTEST?SITE=WIMIL&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

But "Free The Jena Six" isn't justice if, in fact, they are guilty. If so, they need to be held accountable. The local district attorney, whose own conduct threw gasoline on the fire, made one valid point this weekend when he asked where the concern was for the victim of this inexcusable attack.

Meanwhile, the Jena newspaper (the link may does not archive but is valid as of today) dismisses, as do many local whites, the situation with a , "What problem?" attitude. You have to read this to get the true flavor:

http://www.thejenatimes.net/home_page_graphics/home.html

Yes, Jena, you DO have a problem. But not only don't you get it, Jesse, Al and the other usual figureheads don't get it, either.

First, there is no right to "Free The Jena Six" but rather the protest should have focused on whether they will receive due process of law. This is an aggravated battery and disorderly conduct, period. It should be approached that way and, if any of the six are guilty, they should be held accountable.

Now back to the local mess.

The Jena Times account shows they are more part of the problem than the solution. There IS a problem in Jena.

That problem stems from the the fact that there was a "whites only" shade tree at the high school.

The problem is that in this century a black student had to ask whether it was permissible for himself and other black students to avail themselves of the tree's benefits.

The problem is that when hangman's ropes in the school's colors appeared after black students used the tree the community should have been outraged. The message should not have been that this is just a prank but that it was morally wrong and would not be tolerated. The message should have been that the perpetrators would be held accountable by the school, the community and the law. That message should have been immediate, strong and unanimous.

The problem is that many people in Jena don't think there is a problem.

The "Jena Six" would never have been a cause if the community had done the right thing. The welcome mat for bigotry and racism should have been pulled away decades ago.

There was an opportunity here -- a real chance -- for the community in Jena to come together. The appearance of the ropes could have been an opportunity for the citizens there to unite in moral outrage because it was absolutely morally outrageous and could never be justified.

All the marching and protests from the outside won't change a thing unless the people in Jena -- ALL of the community -- first admits that there IS a problem and then unites to implement a solution.

Sheboygan Press takes judge to woodshed

The Sheboygan Press, which had been relatively quiet during the firestorm directed at Sheboygan County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Van Akkeren over his controversial decision to overturn a jury's conviction of a child molester just minutes after a verdict, awoke like a disturbed grizzly bear:

http://www.sheboyganpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070919/SHE06/709190544/1883


The newspaper nailed it: Judge Van Akkeren's decision lacked common sense. About the only things the editorial didn't address are (1) the need to remove this judge at the first available recall opportunity and (2) the need for the public -- and the press -- to keep a more watchful eye on the courts.

While this judge's action was outrageous, it isn't the only time a judge in this state has done something devoid of common sense. Rarely does the public catch wind of these incidents because people don't generally spend time watching court proceedings and the news media usually sits in only on high profile cases.

Thus, when a judge fines someone $100 after fighting with the arresting police officer instead of sending that person to jail, there's a 99.44% chance you'll never know about it.

The Sheboygan incident should serve as a wakeup call that the public needs to keep a better -- and more frequent -- eye on the courts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When an ambulance can't be heard.

If you were expecting intense commentary about the state budget gridlock, that'll wait for another day. I apologize but today I'm going to share a pet peeve.

I've been in law enforcement for over 30 years and nothing frosts me more than when, for example, a city will spend a couple of hundred grand for an ambulance or even more for a fire truck and then equip them with two-bit sirens.

Late this afternoon I was approaching an intersection and thought I heard a siren. I rolled down the window to confirm that but the sound was fairly weak. Even as the Kenosha Fire Department EMS unit (ambulance in the old days) flew through the intersection the sound was pretty feeble.

There's no excuse for this. We put emergency lights and siren on police cars, fire trucks and ambulances so that they can be seen and heard.

Truth be told, we probably have advanced beyond reality with respect to emergency lights. Today's police cars with their high tech strobes and flashing headlights have almost gone too far in that a motorist's attention at night could be blinded by so much distracting light. (Heck, I remember when we though it was cool that we had two rotating lights on our light bars in the early 1970's!)

But the siren technology is definitely lacking.

Emergency vehicles have a difficult time being heard as it is due to air conditioned vehicles, loud music, surround sound on wheels, whatever.

You'd think when big bucks are shelled out for one of these behemoth ambulances or fire trucks that they'd at least spend a few bucks on a decent siren. You'd think.

But it's the proverbial bean counters who rule the roost -- the guys who spend two dollars to save one. Protecting their investment -- both in terms of equipment and the people who operate it -- should be a high priority along with public safety.

It doesn't have to be that way, of course.

My first trip to New York City in 1974 was interesting for several reasons, including being in Manhattan traffic when a fire truck came up behind me. That rig's siren sure was loud! So much so I though the truck would be plowing right through the middle of my car.

Now if New York City could find some decent sirens more than 30 years ago, you'd think they could be purchased here. You'd think.

Of course, if you think, you'd be thinking.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The "joys" of fatherhood

The phone rang at 7:30 last night.

My 19-year-old college freshman daughter announces that she's been in an accident en route home from school and the police are at the scene. She denies that she's hurt -- but then says her neck is sore -- and refuses an offer to come to the scene and drive her home.

She made it home. Minor damage to both cars but maybe some strain and pain.

A dad goes through a myriad of emotions and expressions at a time like this.

"You know you should have been more careful."
"Your insurance is going to skyrocket."
"Metal can be fixed. Lives can't."
"We love you anyway."

There's the alternation between upset and grief, concern and relief -- and every feeling is utterly valid.

The first ticket, the first accident, being the "dumper" or the "dumped" in young love are all parts of the rites of passage into adulthood -- events at which the old man becomes more of a spectator/cheerleader and less of the handyman.

It's not a lot of fun. Dads are supposed to be able to fix things. But as life becomes more complicated we learn that there are fewer things that we can fix and sometimes some that we shouldn't because they need to walk that walk on their own.

On their own, but not necessarily alone.

It's a bit frustrating at times. I mean, for those of us baby boomers, the dads we saw on the little screen -- Jim Anderson, Ward Cleaver, Ozzie and the like -- seemed to be always right and always able to keep their cool. Unwittingly they set a bar far too high for mere mortals to meet.

Then the writers "flipped the script" and all of the sudden dad went from "Father Knows Best" to an incompetent, blabbering boob, an insult with incalculable injury.

The most realistic of the lot was probably Howard Cunningham on "Happy Days."

"Mr. C" was sometimes right, sometimes wrong, sometimes cool, sometimes enraged but always loyal and loving. Even when he made the wrong call he usually tried to do the right thing. Sometimes he ate humble pie but not necessarily in a humiliating way.

Unfortunately for our young people there are precious few role models to ease the transition from childhood, where you are owed everything, to adulthood, where you are owed nothing. It's often a cruel shock. They want so much to be treated like adults but have no clue what that really means.

Would that I could turn pain into joy, frustration into opportunity, effort into success and rename every path "Easy Street." But that would be wrong.

It seems that in the sake of temporarily preserving self-esteem at all costs we've forgotten that there is a time and place to kick some butt. As the wall mural said when I was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, "More sweat in training, less blood in combat."

One of the other pitfalls of parenthood is the reality that I'm not there to be your best bud, even though it would be nice if I was. By seeking to insulate our kids from failures we may have unwittingly greased the way for them to fail. Whatever happened to learning from your mistakes?

One of the best things we can do for our children isn't to solve all their problems but to help them learn the skills to do so -- assuming, of course, they're amenable to learning. (Sometimes the only way a person becomes open minded is when they crack their skull!)

Nonetheless, despite all the "correct" theory, I still wish I could fix everything.

Darn.

Monday, September 17, 2007

In good company: List of federal judgeship finalists announced

The list of applicants to fill the vacancy created by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa's move to senior status has been narrowed to these finalists: Michael B. Brennan, J. Mac Davis, Timothy G. Dugan, Gerald P. Ptacek, James L. Santelle and Maxine Aldridge White, according to a news release.

There are a number of heavy-hitters in that list. Judge Brennan is a legal scholar, an expert on Wisconsin sentencing laws and even-handed. He's also been mentioned as a possible State Supreme Court candidate. Judge Davis is a former legislator. Judge Ptacek served previously as District Attorney in Racine County. Judge White is well known in Milwaukee County.

Asking me which one of this group should get the nod will send my head spinning because there are so many qualified candidates. If I had to choose one, I think it would be Judge Ptacek who is smart, low-key and is not from either Milwaukee or Waukesha Counties. The Eastern District of Wisconsin encompasses a lot of territory and it would be nice to have someone from outside of Wisconsin's version of the Beltway.

I also think Judge Brennan, with his working knowledge of Wisconsin law, would be a great choice for State Supreme Court. I'd hate to see that talent wasted on the federal bench.

The new Attorney General nominee: third time could be the charm

President Bush may have scored a hit.

Former federal judge Michael Mukasey, picked by t Bush to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, appears unlikely to face a nastyconfirmation battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Mukasey handled high-profile terrorism cases as chief judge of the federal courthouse in Manhattan for six years.

Mukasey, 66, currently serves as a judicial adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.
The New York native has received endorsements in the past from liberals and while some legal conservatives have expressed reservations about his record on the federal bench, other conservatives are happy about the decision.

All of this begs the question of why Bush couldn't have come up with a choice like this the first time around.

Kudos to Kenosha firefighters

A nasty fire Saturday morning gutted The Barn, a tavern at 2114 52nd Street and threatened area businesses.

The fire was knocked down without injury or death.

Firefighters did their best to minimize damage to the adjoining businesses, including removing valuables from Aiello Midtown Florist.

Nice work!

(And a hat tip to area fire departments who helped over the city.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

THIS JUST IN: The moment 78% of adult American women have been waiting for...

The winner of this year's HGTV "Design Star" competition is.....




KIM




Now back to our regularly scheduled political sniping.

Eugene Kane: Slut a wheezeball!

Eugene Kane, Milwaukee's leading "victim mentality" proponent, is at it again, this time coming up with an oddball comparison of Iraq and Milwaukee's central city:

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=662290

Of particular note is this Kane comment:

Most people seem more willing to accept the complexity involved in solving the conflict in a place like Iraq than to accept the difficult nature of solving problems of crime and violence in Milwaukee. As a consequence, the good people on the front lines of violence in Milwaukee's central city never get as much credit - or as much support - in their struggle as ordinary citizens in Iraq have received from the U.S. government.

The good people in Iraq don't get blamed for not being able to eliminate the violence all by themselves; instead, for four years now we've tried to give them all the help they needed to get a handle on the problem.

Perhaps that's something we should start trying to do for our own freedom fighters over here.

In case he's missed it, almost every time there's a murder or some other act of nonsense in the central city, the TV stations have interviews with neighbors lamenting the rise of crime in their community. These folks are good people trying to do the right thing.

In case he's missed it, people have been trying to help but the real help must come from within.

Where Eugene is wrong is that he fails to recognize that just as the United States can't solve Iraq's internal problems nobody can do as good of a job of cleaning up the central city of Milwaukee as the people who live there

I've repeatedly said it here: this is an initiative that starts person-by-person, house-by-house, block-by-block. Maybe things will change when thousands of central city residents band together and send the visible message that crime is no longer welcome in the neighborhood. Maybe things will change when they march on city hall and demand action. Maybe things will change when they stop making excuses for such slimeballs as the Michael McGees and others who seek to play the race card for their own profit and demand accountability from these politicians.

People could send me dozens of free health club memberships but I won't lose any weight unless I diet and exercise. The rest of the community can't do that for me.

Pouring money and resources on a problem doesn't necessarily solve it -- that's the lesson we should have learned from Iraq. The change has to start from within.

But that reality -- among others -- escapes Eugene Kane and other purveyors of the "victim mentality."

Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

The hypocrite sheriff

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke likes to look and sound tough on crime -- especially when there's a camera or microphone around.

But at the end of the day, Sheriff Ego-that's-wider-than-Lake-Michigan is pretty much a wuss.

Witness reports today that 50 Milwaukee County inmates were sent home early to make room for new inmates, the price of the Milwaukee Police Department's pricey strategy to finally start cracking down on crime, something the sheriff has long advocated.

The inmates released early were placed on electronic monitoring which means they're pretty much free to drink and deal and use drugs as long as they stay at home or within the confines of their employment.

We all know that talking-the-talk and walking-the-walk are two different things. Well, must of us know that.

In the same news story about the early inmate releases, Sheriff Clarke says: "As long as we have the high crime rate like we do in the city of Milwaukee, we better have that jail full."

This guy wants to give Buford Pusser a run for his money. In fact, if they do another "Walking Tall" sequel, I'd bet Sheriff Clarke would volunteer for the lead role.

But walking-the-walk is another story.

In Kenosha County, when the 1982 county jail reached its capacity, the county built a detention center and a pretrial detention facility.

But before the new facilities opened the county sent prisoners elsewhere -- to Racine, Ozaukee and any other county that had extra jail space, even if it was in northern Wisconsin.

To be fair, Kenosha County had its own blunder when the 1924 jail was decommissioned, doors ripped off the cells and toilets removed. Had the county continued to operate the old jail when the new one opened in 1982 it would have been "grandfathered." (Ah, hindsight is 20-20.)

Nonetheless, Kenosha County didn't reward criminals with get out of jail free cards. (In fact, in an ironic twist, one Kenosha inmate in the Ozaukee County Jail actually asked if he could stay a few more days so that he could finish his GED testing.)

But walking-the-walk isn't Sheriff Clark's forte -- unless there's a TV news camera along for the stroll.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Not all the loons are on the lake...

This one's in the legislature: http://www.jsonline.com/graphics/news/img/sep07/griffin916.pdf

Yes, this is the same wacko who proposed that teachers and principals carry guns and who think the best way to stop lawsuits is to stop funding the University of Wisconsin-Law School.

It's must be embarrassing to Republicans in Madison to admit that he holds office as a Republican. He certainly doesn't reflect party values.

For the record, the school district will respond and tell Assemblyman Lasee that the allegations are unfounded. They probably should also tell him a few other things but my guess is that they'd be pearls before swine.

Assemblyman Lasee's letterhead says that he's "committed." His wacky stunts suggest that maybe he should be committed.

Time for tax laws that reward growing our economy

I'm a believer in the often-maligned "trickle down" theory.

Under this theory, embraced by Ronald Reagan, when businesses have more money to invest in creating jobs, the money from those profits and those jobs will turn around and trickle down to creating more profits and more jobs. Thus, our economic and tax policy should reward investment and job growth.

The problem is that in the last two decades we've seen corporate greed and incompetence rewarded instead.

When another company gobbles up a competitor, it takes money to do so. That money is taken out of the economy and chances are there will be a loss of jobs rather than job creation.

When a company closes down a plant in the United States and has shirts made in Bangladesh, that creates more jobs in Bangladesh and fewer here.

So this begs the question of whether our economic and tax policies should actually reward the companies who grow from the ground up and those who create jobs. Conversely, shouldn't favorable tax treatment be denied when money is removed from the economy and jobs are sent to other countries?

Maybe we need to start providing disincentives to those businesses who'd rather have toys made with lead based paint in China than paying people to make them here.

And while we're on the subject of equity, Congress needs to play fair with employees who can't fully deduct their reasonable job expenses. Own a business and you can deduct almost anything you spend in order to make money. Work as an employee and the deductions for reasonable job expenses are subject to all kinds of limitations.

We need fair tax laws -- especially those that reward economic growth in this country.

Who wins with more foreclosures?

Chalk up another one for hypocrisy in the print media.

Wednesday's Kenosha News carried a lengthy article about the growing number of real estate foreclosures.

Of course, a lot of overly-priced homes were sold to people who couldn't turn them around in the declining housing market nor could they continue to afford the high payments on mortgages that probably they shouldn't have been given.

Another dose of reality comes, though, in the back pages of the newspaper: two full pages of fine print foreclosure notices (most of them, ironically, from one Milwaukee law firm).

That's right. The same newspaper that laments the rising number of foreclosures is profiting from them!

Yes, I know that legal notices have to be published somewhere, but the real story comes from the sheer number of them and the fact that the newspapers and certain speciality law firms profit from this.

As for the core problem, it's another example of we have met the enemy and he is us.

A home was always thought of as a man's castle.

The American Dream was to own your own home. Look at the number of reasonably priced Cape Cod homes sold across the country to veterans after World War II.

What's wrong with this picture is that a home became considered as a marketable commodity as opposed to a family's place of residence.

As real estate speculation went unchecked, the price of housing reached unconscionable levels and even the downfall in the marketplace still leaves many, many people with affordable housing out of reach.

The current scheme of things doesn't always see people living the dream of paying off a mortgage by years of hard work but instead some people just pay the interest on a loan and hope they can sell a home at enough profit to cover the mortgage and a new home.

My own home -- built 12 years ago -- is valued at more than twice what it actually cost to build. This house was built as our castle, not as a commodity.

Of course, things like a sense of community are among the values diminishing in this nation.

We used to say that housing should consume no more than 25% of your income.

So, someone getting $7.50 per hour -- about $15,600 per year -- should be able to afford a $60,000 home. Tell me where you're going to find one of them?

Of course, McDonalds could pay more but then people wouldn't be likely to embrace $12 Big Mac's.

Contract policing: Worth a look in unincorporated Kenosha County

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth's plan for contract policing in Pleasant Prairie laid an egg a couple of years ago.

Not only is the performance of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department at the top of the heap but the staffing level and cost are among the lowest in the state and, in fact, the nation. By all standards the village police department is actually understaffed.

The proposal for contract policing in Pleasant Prairie was the wrong idea at the wrong time. The sheriff's proposal would have had fewer officers dedicated to the village based in downtown Kenosha with supervision and investigative services provided by existing sheriff's personnel. For many reasons it wasn't the best deal for the village and the village board, despite its disrespectful treatment of the sheriff, wisely turned it down.

That said, there are places where contract policing would make sense.

All of Kenosha County is experiencing population growth and that means more demands for police services. The only municipalities with police departments in Kenosha County are the City of Kenosha and Villages of Pleasant Prairie, Silver Lake and Twin Lakes. Paddock Lake contracts with the sheriff for 16 hours a day of dedicated patrol coverage.

The Paddock Lake model is something that towns like Salem, Bristol and Somers should consider. While the sheriff's department will respond to calls in unincorporated areas, these growing towns should consider having deputies dedicated to patrolling within them who would not leave the community except to assist in an emergency.

Unlike Pleasant Prairie, which has a well-established police department, the towns do not. The cost to start up a police department -- something that would likely need to be done at some point -- is considerable and contracting with the county for dedicated service might be the most efficient and cost-effective option.

The three towns mentioned would do well to invite the sheriff to sit down and explore, in a collaborative manner, the feasibility of contracts for dedicated patrol services.

Further, Randall should also consider contracting for dedicated patrol services but should consider whether these services would best be provided by the county or the Village of Twin Lakes, which has a long-established police department in a new facility capable of expansion.

While contract policing wasn't the right fit for Pleasant Prairie, it's worth considering elsewhere.

Sheyboygan Press: Asleep at the switch

The furor over Sheboygan County Circuit Judge Timothy Van Akkeren's blunderous ruling to set aside a child molester's conviction just minutes after the jury found him guilty was ignored in today's Sheboygan Press.

The front page on www.sheboyganpress.com contains not one word tonight about this judicial incompetence. Nor has there been any editorial comment (although the Sheboygan newspaper did find time to comment about the contract won by city firefighters).

It's true that I don't spend a lot of time in Sheboygan but I don't think it's that much different than any other Wisconsin city. I'll bet most people would be more fired up about turning a child molester loose minutes after a jury found him guilty than about pay and perks of firefighters.

Where are the stories about this judge's prior rulings? That newspaper is owned by Gannett, hardly a poor company. Can't Gannett spare an investigatve reporter or two?

Of course, the newspaper may be waiting to do something on Sunday. But then again maybe the newspaper is too timid to fully challenge this judge whose brother is a state legislator.

Not only do the citizens of Sheboygan County deserve competent public officials, they deserve a competent newspaper.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sheboygan voters: Time for a recall

Wisconsin law allows voters to petition for the recall of an elected official.

Sometimes the law is abused by those with petty grudges.

And then sometimes invoking that law is a "no-brainer." Here's a good example: http://www.sheboygan-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070914/SHE0101/709140482/1062/SHEnews

I'm sure there's at least a couple of civic minded attorneys in Sheboygan County who'd volunteer to assist anyone who wants to get the recall ball going.

If not, shoot me an E-mail. I'll make the trip.

And while you're at it, shoot a letter to a legislator. This judge just started his new term in April which means a one-year wait from then for a recall. That one-year waiting period has to go. This is a good example of why.

Memo to Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee Common Council: Time for a field trip

Tom,

It's been a long time since UW-Madison (you were a semester ahead of me) and your career took you to the state legislature, congress and now you're the mayor of Milwaukee.

I knew you were politically inclined and upwardly mobile but never thought of you as a masochist who'd take on the task of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But, as someone has to do the dirty work, and the last real mayor Milwaukee had, Henry Maier, is dead and gone, it's about time you got some help.

I suggest that you take a field trip down to Kenosha. And bring the Common Council, too. (Well, except for one guy who is presently tied up with another pressing commitment.)

Why Kenosha?

20 years ago Kenosha was just beginning to get its head out of the sand and work toward diversifying the economy away from American Motors Corporation but those baby steps were amplified once Chrysler, which bought out AMC, announced it was pulling the plug on making cars in Kenosha, something that had been done here since 1902.

In the AMC days we were used to the disease that when AMC caught a cold, Kenosha got pneumonia. That was common in the auto industry and, as a result, the city didn't make much progess back then nor did many people see it as a necessity.

That changed when pneumonia was the least of the city's worries.

Just when things started to look up the city got its coronary and was put very quickly on life support.

Compounding the problem was the fact that Kenosha had become the gateway to the Wisconsin welfare magnet which led to a burgeoning population of the poor, racial division so deep that a mayor once publicly referred to Rev. Jesse Jackson as a "spear chucker" and a crime rate fueled by the migration north of Chicago gangs.

There were some things that worked in Kenosha's favor.

The community never had an "our you-know-what doesn't stink" mentality so it was a bit easier to secure consensus that changes had to be made (Racine is still debating whether there's a crime problem in the Belle City). That became easier when the city's economic condition moved from critical to grave.

High housing and energy costs in Chicago and Northern Illinois forced many businesses and home buyers north. Creation of industrial parks in the city and Pleasant Prairie and outlet mall traffic couldn't have happened at a better time.

The state had a governor interested in welfare reform and the city a police chief who realized that it was critical to get a handle on gang activity.

Forced kicking and screaming into the 20th century, Kenosha began to pull forward. New jobs were created but most of the community shifted to working elsewhere, mainly northern Illinois. Chrysler stabilized and slightly grew its engine production. Workers were retrained. The "factory town" mentality was broken. The lakefront was slowly -- too slowly -- redeveloped. New residential and commercial development in the western part of the city and Pleasant Prairie took off. The welfare migration slowed and with more affordable housing, a new migration from Illinois of quality workers and home buyers began moving into the suburban areas. We now have a growing middle class black population that is welcomed by most of the community. Although there is still room for improvement crime has been managed and criminals held accountable.

All of this, however, is relatively meaningless if all that happened was westward expansion while the central city was ignored. This is where Kenosha really shines.

Mayor John Antaramian, a former legislator who is not without some controversy, nonetheless earned significant stripes by realizing that you can't turn your back on the central city. As a result new homes were built, schools were remodeled and replaced, infested city blocks were removed and recreated, blighted housing rehabilitated, graffiti removed and, as a crowning accomplishment, a new suburban style grocery store was built on the old American Brass site, the first grocery store to serve that area in three decades. Two banks -- one inside the new Pick-N-Save and the other in a free-standing building -- followed. Additional construction is underway.

What happened in Kenosha isn't perfect but definitely worth studying. The central city is being redeveloped despite westward expansion. Crime and gangs are relatively under control. Some new jobs were created. Public transportation has been somewhat expanded. Welfare checks are being replaced with paychecks (though housing costs have skyrocketed with a correction long overdue). Slowly the downtown area is being somewhat revitalized although more needs to be done.

The moral of the story is that you can't fiddle while the city burns and thus you can't neglect the central city in spite of more glitzy development and expansion away from it. You have to attack the cancer or the central city will become diseased and that disease will spread -- just as it has in Milwaukee. And you can't put a $400 suit on an alcoholic and cure him. You have to attack the disease at its source.

So, Tom, it's only a 40-45 minute drive and about the only thing you might have to worry about is whether the police might stop an alderman's car and discover an outstanding warrant. (Another note: Kenosha didn't have aldermen on the take and none were ever indicted, period, let alone for any of the shenanigans some of your council members pulled). Let us know you're coming and we'll take you to Wendy's or maybe even over to Mangia's to break some bread (by the way, we took the plunge on smoke-free dining more than five years ago while Milwaukee still fumbles the ball).

It's your call, Tom. Do you have the brains -- and the guts -- to make the trip?

Help pick a new "liberal" blog link

It's time to make a couple of changes here.

I added a hit counter (thanks for the suggestion) and Kathy Carpenter's blog as a local conservative blog.

The problem is that I need a new representative "liberal" blog -- one that seldom makes any real sense but represents the real left -- now that I deleted "Milwaukee Rising."

The main reason that blog was eliminated was its indifference to rational discussion and distorted views.

For example, Milwaukee Rising raised the question of whether Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walter is soft on crime: http://milwaukeerising.blogspot.com/2007/09/scott-walker-soft-on-crime.html

This blog raised the same point -- although from a different perspective -- and it was the same perspective from which "Milwaukee Rising" appeared to invite feedback.

So I responded in a condensed version of my blog post which was also critical of Walker. That comment never saw the light of day on "Milwaukee Rising."

That's one of the problems of the some of the left: they like to dish is out but can only see things their way and thus "Milwaukee Rising" got the delete button here.

Also, it was a bit too geographically limited and didn't look at the broader metro area and the state as a whole.

So I need to come up with a more representative "liberal" sample that is also an honorable one.

I'm having a hard time. Some of the left blogs are a little too mainstream in that they occasionally tilt toward the mainstream and make a little sense. Or they are too parochial (like almost exclusively local to Madison). I considered Paul Soglin but he's either far left, out in the ozone or, on a rare occasion, right on the money, and much of his stuff is too-Madison specific for those of us in southeast Wisconsin.

So, I'll mull over the "liberal" link and accept your suggestions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pleasant Prairie: A good idea needs a little tweaking.

Pleasant Prairie gadfly Bob Babcock laments in a letter to the Kenosha News the Pleasant Prairie Village Board's decision to move comments by board members to the end of the meeting agenda.

It's something that should have been done long ago.

For two years the raucous nature of village board meetings and political oneupsmanship games often meant that too much precious time was being taken up at the beginning of board meetings with trustees banging up on each other. That doesn't happen in the City of Kenosha where aldermen's comments are at the end of the agenda.

The people's views and the people's business should come first.

What needs tweaking, however, is that it shouldn't be inappropriate for a board member to respond to a specific point raised by a citizen at the beginning of a meeting.

Often people will come in to inform the board about specific problems. It shouldn't be inappropriate for a board member to ask some brief questions to clarify the issue or to respond, even if it's with a pledge to "look into it."

The key word is "brief."

As long as it isn't used as a bully pulpit, there's nothing wrong with brief interaction when it serves the public's interest.

Take no prisoners when it comes to inept, corrupt government

This blog is born out of Main Street Republicanism -- not the kind fueled to extremes by special interests, including the so-called "religous right."

Today's Republican Party has strayed far from its original principles and cherished history. (So, too, have the Democrats.)

It's time to bring the GOP home.

"Now, certainly, simple honesty is not too much to demand of men in government," Barry Goldwater said in his speech accepting the 1964 Republican presidential nomination.

Senator Goldwater continued that Republicans must demand honesty from all in power: "They demand it from everyone no matter how exalted or protected his position might be. The growing menace in our country tonight, to personal safety, to life, to limb and property, in homes, in churches, on the playgrounds, and places of business, particularly in our great cities, is the mounting concern, or should be, of every thoughtful citizen in the United States. "

He continued with this warning: "Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism."

And so it is that we must insist that the GOP return to its roots and ferret out those among us who blaspheme our party's core principles and cherished history, even if that person occupies (or wants to occupy) the Oval Office.

That's why the Bush administration and its cronies will get no pass here. Nor will legislators or local officials.

Until we clean up our own house we can't go around trying to clean up others -- and maybe we shouldn't.

Slut a wheezeball: Sneaky Scott trying to get other counties to bail him out

Since we're paying attention to Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, further examination shows that he's not only slimy but sneaky, too.

Walker came out with a transit plan which would dramatically curtail Milwaukee County transit routes. It itself that's nothing new. Many urban transit systems have financial woes.

But an added twist is that Walker says there ought to be a regional transit authority combining public transit in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha Counties.

At first blush, not such a bad idea.

On second thought, why not Ozaukee and Washington counties, or are they chopped liver?

On third thought, what on earth is this guy smoking?

Obviously Slimy Scott hasn't been reading that boring stuff like commuter demographics.

If he did, he'd find that 30% of Kenosha County's workforce -- and more than two-thirds of Kenosha County's commuters -- work in Illinois. In fact, more Kenosha County residents work in Cook County, Illinois than in Milwaukee County!

But Slimy Scott is also Sneaky Scott for what he really wants is to have the other counties pour in cash to bail out his bankrupt government.

If Kenosha County is going to join a regional transit authority, it should be the one where most Kenosha County residents work.

But don't confuse Sneaky Scott with the facts.

Slut a wheezeball!

Turn 'em loose Scott Walker

Slimy Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County Executive, has another lame idea under the guise of saving money.

He wants to close the county work release facility and turn out up to 350 inmates who are supposed to be serving sentences with electronic GPS monitoring.

What's wrong with this picture?

First, these inmates are supposed to be serving sentences. Punishment, you know?

Slimy Scott wants to be the criminal's best friend, allowing them to lounge around at home with their favorite beverages and whatever dope or other illicit drugs they can have delivered. or maybe they can deal drugs from their homes -- all the electronic monitoring (whether it's the old-fashioned kind or the high-tech GPS stuff he proposes) tells you is where the person is, period.

Yep, let's have the criminals sitting at home with their big screens and boom boxes instead of doing time like they are supposed to be doing.

But Slimy Scott doesn't care about punishment. He's also not much of a student of history.

Wisconsin pioneered the "Huber Law" decades ago which allows select county jail inmates a chance at keeping their jobs by allowing them time out of jail to go to work. If they violate the rules, they lose work release. When they go back to the jail they're checked to see if they've been drinking or possessing or using drugs.

Some progressive jails also have literacy and substance abuse treatment opportunities to help fill the idle hours.

But Slimy Scott will have none of that. He wants to forget that the county jail and related facilities are a county's responsibility. Just wire 'em up and turn 'em loose, he says.

Ahhh, this is punishment. Sitting in front of the LCD with a brewski and toking it up.

Thank you, Scott Walker. You're another example of how Milwaukee's burning while the politicians continue to fiddle. (Or, if the Capitol Steps had a Milwaukee version, they'd probably say, "Slut a wheezeball.")

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Exposing the fraud in the felon voter fraud law.

The law in Wisconsin is pretty clear: convicted felons whose civil rights have not been restored (i.e., who haven't completed their sentences) cannot legally vote.

Despite the law, many do and that rightfully angers a lot of law-abiding citizens.

So here's what our legislators and esteemed governor did about this -- they passed another law.

This law says the the computers over at the elections board and the department of corrections are supposed to talk to each other and if they think a convicted felon illegally voted, the elections board is supposed to notify the district attorney in the county where the alleged illegal voting occurred.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

The sound and reality are two different things.

The truth is that the legislature never set up or funded any mechanism for investigating these possible incidents of illegal voting. It's like buying a car without an engine and gas tank: looks good on the outside but isn't going anyway.

A case in point are the three names of convicted felons who alleged voted illegally that the elections board sent to the Kenosha County District Attorney's office earlier this year.

The first name was withdrawn by the elections board shortly after it was submitted -- their mistake.

The second name and address couldn't be verified.

The third name was of a woman who discharged her sentence in 1997 thus making two of the three alleged incidents unfounded.

More important, however, is that all the district attorney's office received was three names and addresses. Missing was any attempt at an investigation which, at a minimum, would be needed to show:

1. Where did the crime occur?
2. Who witnessed it?
3. Can the perpetrator be positively identified?
4. If so, who can identify the perpetrator and on what is the identification based?
5. Statements from the witnesses as to what they saw.
6. The alleged perpetrator's side of the story.
7. Physical evidence.

The above list isn't high tech police work, folks. It's the bare minimum the police would have to bring to the prosecutor in, say, a bad check case. As it stands, the information the elections board presents not only wouldn't sustain a criminal prosecution, it wouldn't even support a parking ticket. The newest rookie on any police department would know better.

But hey, the legislature and governor can say that they cracked down on felons who illegally vote. The elections board can say that they did something about it. But what they won't tell you is all they did is pass a law without funding any enforcement mechanism.

Illegal voting is wrong. But if it's really so serious, why did the legislature and governor fail to provide any vehicle for investigation of these alleged incidents?

I'll tell you why.

It's the same governor and legislature who have failed to fund the state prosecution system which, by the state's own figures is down 117 prosecutors. They want to sound tough about crime but at the end of the day they're really a bunch of ninnies.

And while they may be ninnies, they aren't necessarily dumb ninnies.

If the state actually properly funded criminal investigation and prosecution, there actually might be time and resources to look at corrupt politicians and those who fund them.

But, if you keep police and prosecutors barefoot and pregnant, they won't have much time or energy to do more than respond to the most serious violent crimes.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. The legislature passes lots of laws it never really intends to have enforced because, if it did, they'd also provide the resources to do so.

But the average Joe doesn't know this. All they see is the governor or some legislator chest thumping about how tough they are on crime.

Yeah, right. And I'm the new poster child for Jenny Craig.

Negotiation, Taliaban style

From The Globe and Mail comes this story on how the Taliaban is open to negotiating an end to the armed conflict in Afghanistan -- if you call virtual surrender to their demands negotiation:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20070912.wafghanmain12/BNStory/Afghanistan/home

Testing, testing. Is this thing on?

A lot of work goes into this blog -- and a lot of heart, too.

One of the down sides is wondering whether anyone (except Dad29) really reads it.

The only way for us to know is by the comments and feedback you provide.

My mother and Iraq.

My late mother used to stress certain things, such as honesty and consistency.

One of her favorite stories was The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

In short, if you cry "Wolf!" too often and no wolf is found, you may get ignored the time when the wolf really is there. (The story, by the way, gives wolves a bad rap. Wolves rarely attack humans.)

So, too, do we have the credibility gaps of not only the Bush administration but the Clinton White House as well. (I'll only talk about the former since the latter is history.)

We entered Iraq with high hopes but we never found the weapons of mass destruction that were claimed to be there. So what.

We got Saddam Hussein out of power and achieved that goal. We brought free elections to Iraq. Saddam Hussein was found and accorded what amounts to Iraqi due process.

What we haven't done is ferret out all the terrorists in the world because, frankly, it's a neverending story played out in many places besides Iraq. Plus we can never ensure domestic tranquility in an a region where historically that's never happened.

Plus, the Bush administration repeatedly has demonstrated a lack of candor with the American people to the extent that even when the White House may be telling the truth it's hard to believe them. That was the first mistake.

While legitimate national security interests dictate that you can't "tell all" there is still the reality that if you want support, you must demonstrate credibility. Both the White House and Congress have an irretrievably broken relationship with the American people on that score.

We've also failed the men and women on the front lines. Early reports indicated a lack of proper equipment. The quality of care received by the returning wounded is a national scandal that has yet to be fixed. No amount of canned speeches will fix these problems. We owe our troops and veterans the very best, nothing less.

And that brings us to General David Petraeus and his performance in this week's congressional hearings.

Folks, time for a reality check.

First, for the most part, these hearings are carefully scripted dog-and-pony shows. Regardless of the issue involved, they are seldom "working hearings" with meaty questions and a "how do we make it work" attitude. At best, hearings are usually "p.r. opportunities" and, at worst, witch hunts. Don't expect much from them.

The second is that you really don't ask a barber whether you need a haircut. While I don't know if General Petraeus is lying -- I don't think he'd set out to do that -- I do know that it's just common-sense that neither he or Ambassador Ryan Crocker are likely to speak against the commander-in-chief. I would not expect the CEO of Ford to say, "We build crappy cars."

So the current hearings really amount to one grand dog-and-pony show. I can tell you from experience that REAL hearings are working sessions where everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets down to business.

For the most part, everyone is on script. Most Democrats are going to find ways to make the White House look bad. They don't have to work very hard but you can still sense the overkill in their rhetoric.

Many Republicans are on the limb. They know the public is frustrated and are trying as delicately as possible to send that message back up the food chain lest the voters have their heads at the next election.

So don't expect much from these hearings.

At the end of the day, I suspect, as is most often the case, the truth is in the middle.

We've made some progress but the cost has been high. There are places where we should have been that we've ignored because of the troop buildup in Iraq. We desperately need to adequately staff and fund regular forces and get the National Guard back to where it belongs: here at home. Plus, after six years, bin Laden is still around and thumbing his nose at us.

It's long past the time for the Iraqi people to take ownership of their own country and their own affairs. It's also high time for the United States to turn up the heat elsewhere.

I suspect we'll need to maintain a strong presence in the middle east but we can't do it alone nor can we referee the affairs of sovereign nations. We need to turn up the heat on the terrorists everywhere and to let them know that we'll no longer play with one hand tied behind our backs.

But Iraq stands as an albatross we need to shed. The time to bring our troops home is now, not next year or the year after but now.

Then we need to develop and implement a collaborative allied strategy to turn up the heat on terrorists everywhere. This isn't just a military effort but one that involves international banking and other initiatives to freeze out the terrorists and their supporters. It may involve shutting off foreign aid and trade with nations that harbor terrorists, freezing assets, military blockades and whatever else it takes.

But we can never do it without a unified, honest message coming from Washington. You can't use a war for political purposes no matter who you are, which party you belong to, whatever. We can't expect anyone to trust us when our leaders are not to be trusted.

Next year's elections will be a critical turning point for this country. Even if we pull our troops out of Iraq, as we should, that doesn't end the story. Look at the list of presidential and congressional wannabes. As you go down the names, ask yourself -- honestly -- if these are the people who really want running the show when the you-kn0w-what hits the fan?

I've looked at that list many, many times. No name surfaces as a clear choice.

Meanwhile, on this day following the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, it's itting to close with the words of Abraham Lincoln:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In many ways, the terrorists already won.

The aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 demonstrated both the best and worst of America. Regrettably, it's no secret that in many ways the terrorists won.

The attacks brought Americans together in unprecedented unity. Even foes such as Cuba and China vigorously defended our right to defend our nation from terrorist attacks.

We saw thousands upon thousands of selfless acts by Americans who gave their money, their blood, their lives. Firefighters and rescue workers who went to New York City on their own to help their beleaguered brethren. Businesses in Montana with signs honoring the victims and the brave public safety workers. A crepe paper American flag woven in a fence at a low-income housing project in Fairbanks, Alaska.

We experienced shock, anger, disbelief and, for a time, unified resolve. As the legendary folk artists The Weavers sang, "We were all just Americans."

I was on one of the first airline flights after the ground stop order was lifted by the Federal Aviation Administration.

That flight between Minneapolis and Bozeman, Montana felt like a tomb of silence until people began to speak. Despite their grief and anger there was one common thread: We are not going to let the terrorists win by giving up our freedoms and, as painful as it is, we will honor those who died by carrying on.

To his credit, then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani became a de facto spokesman for the city and the nation. While President Bush made perfunctory speeches after he emerged from hiding in Nebraska, Giuliani spoke to the heart and soul of America. He also encouraged Americans to do one thing in particular to honor those who died: spend money. Carry on with your lives. Don't let the terrorists win.

For the most part we -- and especially the Bush administration and Congress -- failed miserably.

It is often said that success is the best revenge and thus when people refused to fly, airlines took an economic hit that is only just beginning to reverse itself. The culture of fear replaced the culture of resolve.

All of the sudden dozens upon dozens of new security measures popped up. Grandmothers lost their knitting needles if they wanted to fly. People could no longer walk into government buildings that they as taxpayers own without going through a myriad of security hoops. Canadian friends who have been crossing our border seamlessly for decades were told they now needed passports to do so. Congress acquiesced to the White House and passed bill after bill with dubious names such as "The Patriot Act" which did nothing but curtail our freedoms. We were told like blind sheep not to question anything -- it's for "national security."

For all the new bureaucracy, wasteful spending and curtailment of our freedoms, are we really more secure? Osama bin Laden, the self-confessed 9/11 mastermind, is still a free man. The post 9/11 economic fallout has not fully healed. More and more "security measures" have been piled on without any thought to their efficacy and overall impact. In short, we gave the terrorists more than they could ever have hoped for.

Bullies thrive by the ability to intimidate. So when we cowered we actually enabled our enemies. Had we only continued to carry on, to fly, to spend money -- to do those things Americans did as an expression of our freedoms -- we would have sent a powerful middle finger extended to the forces of terrorism and evil in this world.

Instead, we responded like a bunch of ninnies. For every freedom we curtailed, the terrorists scored another victory. As the comic strip character Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The truth, folks, is that freedom isn't free. It's not always without sacrifice. Our forefathers never promised us a rose garden, only a Constitution. As Ben Franklin said in 1755, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

The truth is that our government played right into the hands of the terrorists. Every long line at the airport, every time you have to go to the window at the post office to mail a package over one pound, every time you pay the surcharge on an airline ticket, every time you show a passport to cross the world's longest unfortified border, that's an instance where we have given in to the terrorists. How soon we forget the warning of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

And another sad truth is that it started happening long before 9/11.

We allowed our military presence -- recognized by President Reagan as essential to preserving and growing freedom -- to dwindle. No longer are we feared around the world. When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi we were unprepared and ill-equipped which led no less an expert than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, hardly a voice of the left, to question whether this nation is, in fact, prepared to address another terrorist attack.

We have 170,000 American troops in Iraq and have lost more than 3,000 lives after we brought down the tyrant Saddam Hussein. Years later the war goes on against an unidentifiable target who does not play by any recognized rules. Further, we have sent the National Guard to a foreign land for what is still a relatively small military engagement. We never sent Guardsmen to Vietnam. You don't have to be a military expert to figure out what's wrong with that picture.

We have a president who is a master at raising the mantra of "national security" and "war on terror" whenever his actions are questioned as if it is traitorous to do so. We have an opposition party so corrupt that while it basks in bashing the White House it has failed to present the best, brightest and most honorable alternatives. Make no mistake about it: as bad as the Bush administration has been, the Democrats have not offered a better alternative. In so doing they have abdicated their moral duty to the American people for the sake of political opportunism.

We failed by complicating a simple truism that success is the best revenge and that nothing overcomes totalitarianism more than the blessings of freedom. Instead of standing firm and resolute, we cowered and caved in. No bomb, no missile, no hijacked aircraft could do more damage.

On that flight to Bozeman there was a sense that while we were unable to celebrate with joy at a time when many of our countrymen were hurting there was also a duty to carry on -- to send forth a message that we'll be damned if we let the terrorists infringe upon our freedoms.

The terrorists didn't have to. We did it outselves.

The time has long passed for Americans to take back our country from the inept and corrupt politicians and opportunists who have squandered our liberties and have given us neither freedom or security. Despite the compelling need to do so we have a collection of ninnies of both political stripes who obfuscate hard realities for political opportunism. Neither political party has a leg up here for both are equally guilty.

Despite the billions upon billions of dollars we've squandered for "national security" the terrorists have had to expend very little. They don't need to. They have us.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Britney is many things. Fat isn't one of them.

The media is abuzz over whether flaky ex-teen star Britney Spears was too fat to wear the skimy outfit she wore at the Video Music Awards last night.

Even Charie Sykes got into the fray.

Gimme a break! In fact, give us all a break -- a break from even paying scant attention to the "entertainer" whose 15 minutes of fame should have expired long ago.

Yet for some reason the media gets all gushy over the antics of Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richey, Janet Jackson and their lot -- floozies who even give bimbos a bad name.

Why the constant attention on a bunch of spoiled, whacked out, irrelevant people? Why ignore the millions of women whose day-to-day accomplishments go unrecognized and often simply taken for granted?

Last month I wrote about Capt. Shanna Hanson of the Minneapolis Fire Department who donned a wet suit and foraged the Mississippi River under the collapsed I35W bridge in hopes of finding survivors: "In a few days humble Shanna Hanson will slip back into relative obscurity. She'll continue to do the job she's done for the last 16 years. The popular media, however, will continue to talk about the antics of such irrelevant people as Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and Nicole Richey. The world, however, will remember Shanna Hanson as the unidentified female firefighter searching submerged cars in the river, her only lifeline being a simple length of yellow rope."

Did anyone write about -- or even care about -- whether Shanna Hanson was or is too fat?

The most beautiful women in the world usually aren't the ones on the covers of glitzy magazines. They're the people who are the glue of society, the people who help make things work. They're the career women who fought to be taken seriously in the workplace. Or the mothers who neglect themselves in order to provide for the children. They're the women who make a difference.

True, a few of them are even famous.

Take Cindy Crawford. The supermodel darling of the 1980's and 1990's was ten years old in 1976 when her little brother lost his battle with cancer at the University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital. To this day the UW pediatric oncology department benefits not only from the money she donates (she personally delivers her checks) but from her time and talent as well.

Or Kathy Mattea, the outspoken Nashville star who invests heavily in AIDS research.

Or Dolly Parton, who parlayed her classic endowed appearance into being a multimillionaire businesswoman. Dolly invested her money into her home town, helping put Pigeon Forge and Sevier County, Tennessee on the map, providing jobs for thousands and personally devoting herself to child literacy and pushing high school kids into college careers.

It's high time the media pay attention to real American women -- the ones who make a difference.

Guest comment: Put the money where the mouths are

A recent state audit revealed that Wisconsin has 117 fewer prosecutors than it needs to handle the increasing number of criminal cases referred to district attorneys by local police. The audit showed that between 2002 and 2006, the number of prosecutors in the state dropped 4.4% while the number of prosecutions filed increased 11.5%. It concluded that Wisconsin has 27% fewer assistant district attorneys than it needs and that 63 of our 72 counties are understaffed.


This finding is one more sign of a chronically underfunded criminal justice system in Wisconsin affecting not just prosecutors but court operations and public defenders. This leads to longer delays for justice, serious crimes not getting the attention they deserve and potential outcomes that fail to advance the goal of promoting justice and protecting public safety.


For well over a decade, public officials have loudly waved the anti-crime banner: calling for (and often delivering) dramatically increased maximum criminal penalties, new minimum mandatory sentences for certain crimes and criminalizing behavior that once was legal. Yet the voices of these same crusaders often fall silent when it comes to paying the costs associated with these initiatives.


Prison funding stands out as the one component of the justice system that has increased substantially, rising 267% between 1992 and 2004 (as our prison population tripled from 7,500 to almost 22,000). Yet throughout this crackdown on crime, the Legislature has failed to adequately fund the system responsible for bringing criminals to justice and protecting the rights of crime victims and the innocent. That system is now straining under the burden of new crimes, longer sentences and inadequate resources.


In addition to prosecutors, the circuit court system and the state public defender's office have felt this strain. A weighted caseload study completed by the National Center for State Courts found that Wisconsin needs some 18 additional judges and support staff (e.g., clerks and court reporters) to handle the increasing caseload.


Several indicators underscore the underfunding of public defenders. To be determined poor enough to qualify for a public defender, a Wisconsin resident must meet the eligibility standards for the AFDC welfare program, standards that were last adjusted in 1987. The result is that only those living in abject poverty qualify for a public defender in Wisconsin.


In addition, the state can only pay private attorneys who take public defender cases $40 per hour, a rate that has not been increased since 1992. In 1978, the state paid these attorneys $35 per hour; if it had increased payments at just the rate of inflation, the amount would be above $106 per hour today. By comparison, the state pays contract occupational safety consultants as much as $145 per hour and contract photographers as much as $200 per hour.


The Legislature must acknowledge the justice system funding crisis it has helped to create and must include sufficient resources in the 2007-'09 state budget to begin to meet those needs.
We can all agree that justice is priceless, but we also must recognize that it's not free. To protect the rights of all Wisconsin citizens, we must meet our obligation to adequately fund the state's entire criminal justice system, including prosecutors, courts and public defenders.


Tom Basting is president of the State Bar of Wisconsin