Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How pleasant will things remain in "The Prairie?"

The next few months may be interesting ones -- politically speaking -- in Pleasant Prairie where the village board's plan for a 5% property tax hike undoubledly will cause some village residents to question what's going on at village hall.

After all, if the village is run so well, why is there a need for any tax increase? That's a good question -- and one that village officials must be prepared to honestly answer (especially if they want to save their political hides).

The 5% propery tax increase is coupled with a proposed 8% increase in village spending, a good chuck of which seems to be for capital items.

You'll recall that Pleasant Prairie voters last year overwhelmingly voted down three referendums to buy a new ambulance, snow plow and rescue equipment. Many village residents questioned then why the village didn't set aside money each year to buy these items.

On top of that, village officials have pointed out for many years that village finances are sound.

One of the answers may be that there's been so many necessary expenditures deferred for so long that they can be deferred no longer.

On the flip side, shouldn't more revenue be coming into village offers with all sorts of new development coming into the village -- such as the new Target store and other high-profile shopping opportunities -- and the massive land purchase by Abbott Laboratories? That's certainly a legitimate question.

Another one that may be a hard sell for voters is why the village is talking about a tax increase when even the Kenosha Unified School Board voted to reduce its tax levy.

Hardworking veteran trustees Steve Kumorkiewicz and Mike Serpe are up for election next year. If the proposed tax hike is approved, they'll be putting their political futures on the line -- and you can bet that their opponents will use this as fodder in the next election.

So far the usual opposition has been fairly quiet but don't expect that to last for long.

Chairman Rose wants to raid your wallets

Kenosha County Board Chairman Terry Rose can't take "no" for an answer.

The legislature turned thumbs down on the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail project -- a costly boondoggle that largely duplicates existing service.

But Rose wants to raid your wallet.

He's asking the county board to approve a resolution expressing support for this boondoggle.

But what Rose never did was press to have Dairyland Greyhound Park's owners to keep their promise to build an Amtrak station in Kenosha.

Right now Kenosha is the last stop for many Metra trains coming north from Chicago. The only reason we have this service is because it allows Metra to run trains in and out of Zion and Winthrop Harbor as most Metra North Line trains begin and end their runs at Waukegan.

As any Metra rider know, the trip to downtown Chicago is slow and clunky, to say the least.

By contrast, Amtrak runs on 79 mile per hour tracks from Chicago to Milwaukee with stops at Glenview, Illinois and at the new Amtrak stations at Sturtevant and Mitchell Field. Seven daily trains run each way (six on Sundays) with funding provided by the states of Wisconsin and Illinois.

We already have high-speed rail service that the taxpayers are already paying for. All we need is the Kenosha Amtrak station with connecting local bus service. That's a lot cheaper than the proposed KRM fleece.

KRM is also a bad deal for Kenosha County because about 30% of our workers commute to jobs in northern Illinois. More Kenosha County residents work in Cook County, Illinois than in Milwaukee County.

KRM would provide downtown-to-downtown rail service but how many businesses are located in the downtown areas?

The legislature wisely killed the funding for this crazy idea. Let's hope the Kenosha County Board isn't as wacky at its chairman.

Time for a Plan B

The Kenosha County Board's Finance Committee recommended last night putting the Emergency Services Building proposed next to the Kenosha County Center in Bristol on hold.

That recommendation needs the approval of the full board.

Questions have come up concerning the widom of the project which would include space for a sheriff's patrol substation, dispatch center, emergency government and the medical examiner.

Many of these questions are legitimate, such as whether moving the dispatch center out of the city-county Public Safety Building flies in the face of the whole concept of having the two departments and the dispatch and records functions all under one roof. The answer to that is a no-brainer: of course it does. It's a dumb idea and one that's already cost taxpayers a bundle.

There is wisdom to having a western county sheriff's patrol substation but legitimate questions can be raised as to whether Bristol is far enough west.

The Twin Lakes Police Department has a nice new facility staffed around the clock. The building was designed to be expanded. It might make sense to get together with the village of Twin Lakes to work out an expansion of their existing police station to provide space for the Sheriff's Department. Of couse, that would require intergovernmental cooperation, something the county doesn't always embrace.

The medical examiner sorely needs more room but it would make sense to find it closer to downtown Kenosha where constituent agencies are located.

These needs aren't going to go away and if the county board wants to pull the plug on expansion at the Kenosha County Center, that's fine. But they'd better have a Plan B -- pronto.

Maybe the Journal-Sentinel should try "Truth In Reporting"

David "Doofus" Doege doesn't get it.

This scribe -- one of the better ones at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel -- wrote this tripe about Wisconsin's "Truth In Sentencing Law" which obviously demonstrates that he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Let's make it simple.

Under the old law, a judge imposed an indeterminate prison sentence and the actual release date was usually up to the parole board.

For example, let's say the sentence was four years. By law the inmate must have served at least one-fourth of the term to be considered for parole and would be entitled to mandatory release on parole after serving two-thirds of the sentence. In this case, the inmate would be eligible for parole after serving one year and had to be released on parole after serving 32 months. The parole board would decide the release date.

"Truth In Sentencing" made several changes, notably:

  • Parole was replaced with extended supervision.
  • Instead of the parole board setting the release date, the sentencing judge does.
  • The judge also sets the length of extended supervision.
  • The concept of "time off for good behavior" was replaced by "additional time for bad behavior" under the theory that inmates are supposed to be on good behavior.

So, the judge in setting a four year term now might impose two years of initial confinement -- that's the time actually served in prison -- followed by two years of extended supervision.

Under the old law, if a parolee violated parole he or she could be sent back to prison for up to the remainder of his or her sentence with the length of reconfinement left up to the Department of Corrections.

Not much changed with "Truth In Sentencing." An inmate who violates extended supervision goes back to the sentencing judge to find out how long he or she will be reconfined which could be up to the entire length of the unexpired sentence.

The only real change is that it's judge -- not a bureaucrat -- who decides how long the violator will be reconfined. That point escaped Doofus Doege who tries to make hay where there's no field.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Is it time for the Pleasant Prairie Tea Party?

The Pleasant Prairie Village Board is considering a budget proposal that would result in a 5% increase in village property taxes.

That's a gutsy move, to say the least.

For years the village has run a lean -- perhaps too lean -- government without jacking up the tax rate. The village touts how the village tax rate is among the lowest in the state and compares favorably against neighboring communities (although these comparisons are somewhat skewed as they leave out garbage collection which is a separate bill in the village)

And one of the downfalls of running too lean is the failure to adequately provide for capital improvements. Trustee Michael Serpe warned for years about cutting too close to the bone.

Thus it seems that the budget proposal is, in part, a reflection of past austerity.

But village taxpayers and vocal opponents of the village government may not be so kind in their assessments. A 5% increase in the tax bill and 8% spending boost probably won't sit well with some of these folks -- especially in light of the brutal budget battle in the state legislature -- and you'd be hard pressed to blame them as nobody likes to see their taxes go up.

There may be others who'll wonder if the golden days of village expansion are over. They may question why a tax increase is needed when major new developments are getting off the ground and ostensibly should be contributing more taxes to the village coffers. The village board must be prepared to fully answer each of these questions, regardless of whether

Regardless of how appropriate the village board's answers may be to these issues taxpayers still have every right to ask questions and demand answers. Plus, they are not required to accept the answers they get. Fair or not, there may well be Hell to pay at the next couple of village elections.

As the old proverb says, "May you live in interesting times."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Autopsies for dollars: A sick thought

Kenosha County Medical Examiner Mary Mainland reported to the county board that she did some 200 autopsies last year and thus she asked for a new full-time deputy to be added to her staff to help with the workload.

Dr. Mainland's request was axed by a county board committee but wait until you hear the reason.

According to Terry Rose, a defense attorney who chairs the county board, the medical examiner isn't bringing in enough revenue.

You heard that right -- the medical examiner isn't bringing in enough revenue.

There are many reasons why cost-conscious supervisors may give budget requests a sharp look and modify them as needed but Supervisor Rose's comments stoop to a new low.

One of the oldest covenants between the sovereign and its subjects is that the sovereign will pursue justice on behalf of the dead.

But Rose thinks that the medical examiner's office should be a cash cow.

This perverse thinking is shocking but not surprising given that Rose is no friend of law enforcement.

After all, when police, prosecutors and related services are understaffed and underfunded, the quality of their work product may make it more diffcult to secure convictions -- a feather in the cap for any defense attorney.

Expecting the medical examiner to troll for dollars is a twisted notion that flies in the face of a traditional governmental responsibility.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Greetings from the Great Smoky Mountains

Enjoy Meigs Falls.

You can thank Jim Doyle for higher taxes

As if the Legislature didn't hit us enough with higher back door taxes, Governor Doyle buzzed the compromise budget he favored by selective use of his veto pen -- rearranging words and numbers -- so that property tax limits for municipalities and technical college districts will be loosened.

Wisconsin is a "line item" veto state wherein a governor doesn't have to veto an entire bill to remove an objectionable portion.

However, what The Finest Governor Money Can Buy did was to rearrange language to come up with something other than what the Legislature voted on.

That's wrong. It stinks. And Doyle needs to be held accountable.

This is a clear abuse of the governor's veto power. Sounds like it's time for a constitutional amendment to reign in this abuse. Pronto.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lord of the Flies -- Democrat style

It didn't take long for the Democrats in the State Senate to dump party leader Judy Robson of Beloit.

It happened less than 24 hours after all 18 Senate Democrats voted in favor of the compromise state budget deal.

The chief complaint seems to be that Robson didn't battle hard enough to keep some of the ground the Senate Democrats wanted.

Yet all 18 voted FOR the budget they didn't like.

As if the Demoditzs weren't enough threatre of the absurd, the Republitwits voted unanimously in the Senate to reject the budget deal that a bipartisan conference committee hammered out.

There's a lot not to like in the budget deal but it's a real slap in the face to your own conferees to turn your back on them as both the Demoditzs and Republitwits did.

But, hey, it's Madison. There must be something in the water because these two sides seem unwilling to understand or appreciate the true meaning of governance.

On top of that, one of the main culprits -- lack of economic growth in the state -- has been ignored by both parties. If the economy grows, there might not be a need for new taxes.

The budget deal is one that few should be proud of. Our state could do better if the folks we elected -- regardless of party affiliation -- sat down, shut up and did what they were elcted to do rather than goof around looking for every available opportunity to stick it to the other side.

There's blame on all sides here. There are some simplistic Republicans who boil it down to whether there's a tax increase or not.

But governing isn't always that simple. Just as we've had to pay more for gasoline, milk, bread and the like the state's routine expenses have also gone up. The problem has been the failure to grow the economy.

It's easy to ramble off at the mouth, jot off an incendiary press release and go through the motions. It's a lot harder to actually engage in governance.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

At least it wasn't billed as a "no tax increase" budget!

Get a load of these goodies in the new state budget deal:

  • $20 birth certificates (up from $12).
  • $53 for a car title (up from $28.50).
  • $75 for car license plates (up from $55).

(Read more about it:

Of course the working poor have no clout and these increases will hit them the hardest. The possibility of property tax increases seems very real, too.

At least nobody said it was a "no tax increase budget" -- a smoke and mirrors fantasy cooked up by former Gov. Patrick J. Lucey three decades ago which saw no increase in the income tax rates but new and higher user fees and miscellaneous taxes which have been growing ever since.

And some dumb ideas did get tossed -- like the hospital tax (taxing the sick is sick).

But there are reasons for concern:

  • Raiding the patient compensation fund is another sneaky smoke-and-mirrors trick.
  • While I have no qualms with upping the cigarette tax there's a reality check here. When taxes go up, fewer people (thankfully) smoke so don't count on the full projected revenue increase from this tax hike.
  • The budget does nothing to grow the economy.

Growing the economy. What a great idea! Surprised nobody in the State Capitol has moved on it?

Whew! KRM killed off.

A last-minute try to restore the KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) commuter rail project thankfully failed.

KRM was a poorly-conceived boondoggle that made little sense. I'm glad to see it go. It would have been a lot of money expended for very little benefit.

On the flip side, it's been argued here that Kenosha's Amtrak station -- promised at no cost to the taxpayers when Dairyland Greyhound Park was licensed -- needs to be built.

Right now there are seven daily round-trip Hiawatha service trains running each way between Chicago and Milwaukee (six each way on Sundays) funded primarily by the states of Wisconsin and Illinois. These trains travel on high-speed tracks (unlike the slow-poke Metra service). The run from Milwaukee to Chicago (or vice versa) is 89 minutes -- less than it takes Metra to get from Kenosha to Chicago (and back).

Adding a Kenosha stop would probably put an extra two or three minutes onto that schedule. No big deal. Connecting bus service from downtown Kenosha and Racine to the Amtrak stations at Kenosha and Sturtevant would make a lot of sense.

What doesn't make sense is having two competing train lines running on different tracks. How stupid was that?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Good morning from Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Greetings from Bryce Canyon

How do you spell boondoggle? KRM!

Just when it seemed KRM is dead it looks like an attempt could be made to revive it. How dumb.

The reason I'm so vehement in opposing the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail link is that it's a costly boondoggle -- and one that's a bad idea to boot. I've discussed that at length in the past and won't repeat everything here.

KRM isn't necessary. For better or worse, the state already helps fund Amtrak service from Chicago to Glenview, Sturtevant, Mitchell Field and downtown Milwaukee. All we need is a Kenosha station -- which Dairyland Greyhound Park promised to build -- and connecting bus service.

The other fallacy of KRM is that it's a downtown-to-downtown rail service. People need to get to their jobs and those jobs are increasingly not downtown.

In Kenosha's case, 30% of our county's workforce commutes to jobs in Illinois. More people work in Cook County, Illinois than in Milwaukee County. For Kenoshans, KRM is a waste.

This doesn't mean commuter rail service shouldn't be considered. A better idea would be to revive the old Milwaukee Road "Cannonball" from downtown Milwaukee into Waukesha County. Then folks who live in Milwaukee could get to jobs in Brookfield and Oconomowoc.

It makes no sense, though, to ante up for downtown-to-downtown KRM. It does make sense to force Dairyland Greyhold Park to make good on the promised Kenosha Amtrak station and to provide connecting bus service.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

KRM is (thankfully) dead but that doesn't mean something can't be done

The state budget deal brokered Friday excludes the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail link. Some day KRM is dead. But maybe it just needs to be reinvented as a more cost effective plan.

KRM would have extended commuter rail north from Kenosha on the Union Pacific tracks. That would have been a great plan three decades ago but isn's such a good idea now. Times have changed and there's an intermediate solution: build the promised Kenosha Amtrak station.

How soon we forget. One of the many promises the owner of the Dairyland Greyhound Park made was to build an Amtrak station. It never happened.

15 years later the poobahs wantedd to spend big bucks to build a new rail line on the Union Pacific (Chicago and North Western) tracks north to Milwaukee. That line was double tracked north of Kenosha until Amtrak rolled out in 1971 and the North Western cut out northbound passenger service.

The late Congressman Les Aspin wisely proposed that Amtrak follow the lakeshore on the North Western tracks but that idea never went anywhere. Instead, Amtrak kept rolling along on the 79 mph Milwaukee Road right of way into and out of Milwaukee.

Since that time, however, two new Amtrak stations have opened in the last couple years: Sturtevant and Mitchell Field. Thus it only makes sense that Kenosha finally get its Amtrak station -- and the Dairyland people be held to their promise to build it. That way we can forget this silly KRM mess and the taxpayers can save a huge bundle. All we need to do is extend city bus lines in Kenosha and Racine to reach Amtrak and we have a solution.

Of course, it's a simple and cost effective solution. Wisconsin already pays to subsidize Amtrak's Hiawatha service between Milwaukee and Chicago. Only makes sense to take advantage of what we're now funding.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Why not repeal the driver's license law?

Yes, why do we even bother having a law requiring motorists to have driver's licenses when so many morons just ignore it?

Take Octavis D. Murray. He was driving a car on Interstate 94 in Kenosha County Wednesday that was stopped because the license plates expired. He gave a false name to the officer because there were three warrants for him in Milwaukee County for drving after revocation of his driving privileges. But that's not the half of it.

Murray not only had three pending cases for which he failed to show up at scheduled court hearings but has TEN PRIOR CONVICTIONS for driving after revocation. Ten.

Yet, the Milwaukee County courts let this mope out on his recognizance in his pending cases there.

The ten convictions for driving after revocation are just part of an overall criminal history that is so big it almost occupies its own ZIP CODE: drunken driving, possession of marijuana with intent to deliver (twice), possession of marijuana (twice), bail jumping, operating a motor vehicle without the owner's consent, substantial battery and theft.

Instead of driving a car with expired license plates, this public enemy -- and he's on the lower end of some of the criminals in southeastern Wisconsin -- should be making license plates. But he gets a signature bond in Milwaukee County and then only a token cash bond when he appeared in court in Kenosha yesterday.

No wonder why so many young people lack respect for the law.

Just remember that when you get upset about the Octavius Murrays of this state you should also become alarmed at the people who enable them to rack up so many convictions with nary a slap on the wrist.

Maybe if we start rapping some of these dirtbags harder when they first enter the criminal justice system we won't see as many with records like this creep.

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

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Medical Examiner caught in the crossfire

A raging battle over whether to build a pricey public safety complex at Highways 45 and 50 in Bristol has caught the Kenosha County Medical Examiner, Dr. Mary Mainland, in the crossfire.

Dr. Mainland isn't a politician. She's a forensic pathologist. But her office has outgrown the old Brookside facilities on Washington Road and needs a new home.

The county's idea was to put it in a new public safety complex proposed to be build near the Kenosha County Center building at Highways 45 and 50. The new facility would also house a sheriff's substation and a new communications center to be moved from the Public Safety Building in downtown Kenosha.

The multimillion project has its share of detractors -- myself included -- who ponder not only the cost but the wisdom of moving the dispatch center from downtown.

You'll recall that the whole concept behind the Public Safety Building was to consolidate facilities and have support services working alongside the Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha County Sheriff's Department. Moving the dispatch center out of downtown frustrates the very reason why the Public Safety Building was built. It's an utterly stupid and indefensible idea which should never see the light of day.

That said, it doesn't mean that the sheriff doesn't need a western county substation nor should it deprive the medical examiner of much needed space and facilities.

In the case of the sheriff's department, there already is unused space in the Kenosha County Center. However, no elevator was ever installed when the building was built, another utterly stupid and indefensible move which means the facility isn't completely usable. It shouldn't cost all that much to put in an elevator and do some remodeling.

A better idea, however, would be to cut a deal with the Village of Twin Lakes which has a new police station in a building that was designed for ready expansion. Working with Twin Lakes to expand that facility for joint use is a smart idea that's long overdue.

The Twin Lakes facility has its own dispatch facility already staffed around the clock so there would be someone available to greet the public 24/7. Plus, that building truly is in the western part of the county which can't be said for the Kenosha County Center. And it would probably cost a lot less to negotiate with the village to add space for the sheriff's west end patrols.

This, of course, doesn't address the needs of the medical examiner.

The medical examiner's office has an acute need not only for more space but a facility that's up to professional standards. Since the medical examiner works closely with prosecutors and the courts, it only makes sense not to move the office to Bristol when the people she and her staff work with are downtown.

But the space issue is only part of the story because apparently there are some malcontents on the county board who are floating another incredibly stupid and utterly indefensible idea: eliminate the medical examiner, period. Their fuzzy logic is that if you cut out the medical examiner, there won't be any need for new facilities and thus the county saves money.


Kenosha County switched from an elected coroner to an appointed medical examiner in order to professionalize forensic investigations. This progressive move has worked well for the past two decades and continues to make sense.

If the medical examiner was eliminated, the county would go back to having an elected coroner who may or may not be experienced in death investigations. The coroner would still have to have a staff, just as the medical examiner does, plus there would be a need to hire forensic pathologists elsewhere to perform autopsies, testify in court, consult with law enforcement, etc. How this would benefit the people of Kenosha County is completely befuddling. Only a moron suffering from terminal rectal-cranial inversion or an incurable political sleazeball could find merit in this.

It's unfortunate and downright wrong that the medical examiner -- who's supposed to be a professional removed from politics -- is caught in this crossfire. The county board needs to hear this message loud, clear and immediately.

Yes, reasonable minds can disagree on how best to provide enhanced law enforcement in western Kenosha County or where the medical examiner's new facility should be located, but nobody in their right mind can argue that going back to a system we eliminated two decades ago is in the best interests of the county. The county board must stop playing politics with the medical examiner's office, period.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Let's not knee jerk on police hiring

Owen over at picked up the theme I mentioned last week [] in response to the mass murder in Crandon last week perpetrated by an off-duty sheriff's deputy:

I don't always agree with Owen but he's right on target here. There may be some value in these tests but it's not a guarantee and should never be mandated as part of an emotional knee-jerk.

Milwaukee burns, politicians fiddle. What else is new?

I came back to read that Milwaukee's unemployment rate is 8% -- second worst among the nation's 50 largest cities. Only Detroit is worse.

I've hammered about this repeatedly. Nothing will happen unless there is an impetus for change.

You can't lure business into a city that's imploding. You can't grow jobs without people working together -- and the legislature and governor seem to be fixated on doing nothing but stabbing each other in the back and the local Milwaukee politicians are all about either greasing or saving their own hineys (or both). No wonder things get worse.

At the end of the day, folks, it's all about jobs. Good jobs created good income. They provide the money to buy homes and consumer goods which in turn create other jobs.

This isn't just an indictment of "government." The people who live in Milwaukee need to take ownership of their own city. They must ask themselves, "Why would anyone want to move here?" And then, "What do we need to do to get people and good businesses to locate here?" Then they need to take action.

This also requires getting a handle on crime. You can't lure people back or intoto a crime-ridden city and you can't just dress up one part of the city while the rest is going to Hell in a handbasket.

Doing something requires leadership. But that's something that's been missing in Wisconsin for years.

This sure beats the great budget debate

This morning there wasn't much of a sunrise at Banff -- but a spectacular presunrise did occur.
Saw a T-shirt: "Definition of Canadian: Unarmed American with mediocre health insurance."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I like this better

The Kenosha News has a regular Sunday editorial of "laurels" and "darts" depending on whether they want to praise or slap you.

The Fitzhugh in Jasper, Alberta does it with more panache. They have "bear hugs" and "moose droppings."

Ahhhh...there are many politicians in Madison and Washington deserving of moose droppings!

On vacation in the Canadian Rockies

Two Jack Lake at daybreak
Banff National Park, Alberta

Saturday, October 13, 2007

If you think OUR bureaucracy is out of control, catch THIS...

Greetings from the Canadian Rockies where not all the loons are on dollar coins

Canadian Tire, a well known Canadian retailer, wants to build a store in Canmore, Alberta which would save Canmore residents an hour's drive (each way) to Calgary and the savings would be more than 80 minutes for those who live in nearby Banff.

The Canmore town bureaucrats have come up with a number of proposed obstacles but the latest one takes the cake.

Get your boots on folks, it's going to get deep.

The opponents latest beef is that Canadian Tire wants to sell...........AUTO PARTS!

Yes, these bureaucrats don't want Canadian Tire to sell auto parts in the proposed store.

I wonder if they tried to get McDonald's to not sell cheeseburgers...or Tim Horton's to skip the donuts???

Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another snub: what else is new in Kenosha?

Today's Kenosha News has a nice feature article about the Piazza Cosenza supposedly honoring this community's early immigrants, especially Italian-Americans.

The story also makes significant mention of a statute of Christopher Columbus, who already has a city park and a school named after him.

Conspicuous by its absence is any mention of a real immigrant hero of this community, Antonio Pingitore, Kenosha's first Italian-American police officer and the first Kenosha police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

On March 31, 1919 Officer Pingitore was gunned down at a service station by a group of suspected robbers who had stopped there for directions. This happened just after he received a signal from a kidnapped cab driver that the men were armed.

Although the community supported the Pingitore family at the time, it's not just a pity -- it's an inexcusable shame and snub to the Italian-American community that our city continues to trivialize Officer Pingitore's contribution. Naming a park and a school after Christopher Columbus and building a statute of him is the easy way out. Honoring a hometown hero requires a little more thinking and effort -- something that seems to be in increasing short supply.

And what's worse is that the chief drum banger in today's newspaper article is none other than Alderman G. John Ruffolo. You'd think a guy named Ruffolo would be on top of this. You'd think.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Heading to Canada Rockies for a long weekend, eh?

Yes, I am. But I'll keep an ear to what's going on back home as best I can.

Paul Ryan's right: Alternative Minimum Tax needs reform

Congressman Paul Ryan is right when he says the Alternative Minimum Tax is an increasing burden on working Americans.

Ryan is among a group of conservatives in the House pushing for a ten-year phase out of the AMT which subjects middle-income taxpayers to exorbitant tax rates while phasing out their itemized deductions.

Whether a phase out is the best idea remains to be seen. Perhaps it would be best to get the AMT back where it was intended to be: a device to keep the wealthy from evading all tax liability.

The problem is that the 40-year-old AMT hasn't been adjusted to keep up with inflation so, rather than targeting the rich, it takes dead aim on working couples and entrepreneurs. And it's appalling that liberals aren't flocking in droves to do something about it.

Let's put it in real terms.

Say two teachers are at or near the top of their pay scales and make $150,000 a year between their salaries, mutual funds, etc. (While $75,000 a year may seem like a lot to someone working at Wendy's, it's pretty modest by high income standards.)

You don't really live that high on the hog at $150,000 a year -- yes, you're not on the poverty line but what happens is that middle income taxpayers subsidize the poor and the rich. Plus there are other joys of just being middle-income such as kissing financial aid for your college bound kids goodbye. In many ways productive middle-income wager earners are becoming a new breed of working poor.

To illustrate, that $150,000 per couple in 1969 -- when the AMT took hold -- would be $825,000 in today's dollars. So maybe instead of dumping the AMT it should be automatically indexed for inflation.

So, if a couple of teachers could easily pop into AMT land, why aren't the liberals and their pals in the teacher unions working overtime to fix this mess? Good question.

And the response from elsewhere in Washington is likewise lukewarm. Cut out the AMT and you remove $840 billion a year in cold cash from the federal treasury.

Of course, if that money went back into the economy, think of the new jobs it could spin off. But somehow I think the folks who want the AMT as it is don't want to think about that. They just want to rip us off.

While I applaud Paul Ryan's enthusiasm on behalf of phasing out the AMT, I am a bit skeptical. Paul's come up with some good plans over the years but getting the rest of Congress to see things his way hasn't happened enough. We should hold Paul's feet to the fire on this one.

Time for a new acronym: CINO

We all know there's a somewhat perjorative acronym that's been floating around called "RINO" for "Republican in name only."

But more and more it seems we need another one -- CINO -- for "conservative in name only."

Those are the so-called conservatives who eschew government regulation except when it benefits them. Those are the ones who have allowed the religious right to attempt to hijack our party in derogation of traditional separation of church and state. And they're the ones who think being a conservative means saying "no" to every new idea regardless of whether it is or isn't consistent with traditional conservative values.

Sometimes being a good conservative requires sucking it up. Ronald Reagan knew that.

Once President Reagan was being lobbied to place more restrictions in imported cars but he railed back that a free market economy wouldn't tolerate that. Guess what? That forced Detroit to be more competitive and improve product quality. As a result he probably saved the American auto industry.

So those who want to banter about the conservative mantra should be well grounded in conservative principles or risk being labeled what they are -- a CINO.

Gov. Schwarzenegger takes up conservative cause: protecting children from secondhand smoke

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger carried forward conservative tradition when he signed a law banning smoking in cars with child passengers under 18.

Arkansas and Louisiana already have similar laws but the cutoff age in Arkansas is six while it's 13 in Louisiana.

The new law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

A Harvard School of Public Health report issued last year said secondhand smoke in cars can be up to 10 times more of a health risk than secondhand smoke in a home so it's understandable why such legislation is long overdue.

It's also interesting to see some so-called conservatives (CINO's is my buzz-word: conservatives in name only) give Arnie a bum rap for this. Protecting individual rights and freedoms is a core conservative value and intervention is thus justified. For example, conservatives strongly believe in protecting a child's right to life so supporting legislation consistent with that principle is well within traditional conservative values. On balance, restricting an adult's "right" (if one actually exists) to smoke in a vehicle carrying child passengers is but a momentary inconvenience versus the lifelong ramifications a child could bear by exposure to toxic secondhand smoke. Only liberals could find fault with this.

Crandon: The knee jerkers are just a bunch of jerks

It's no surprise that there's a boat load of knee-jerk reactions to the weekend's tragedy in Crandon where a rookie off-duty sheriff's deputy shot and killed six people before losing his own.

As people try to grapple with major tragedies it's not uncommon for knee-jerk reactions to pop up out of the woods like mosquitoes after a monsoon and those reactions are just about as useful.

For example, we're hearing bellyaching about why a 20-year-old is a sheriff's deputy carrying a gun.

On the surface it seems like a good question but, in reality, it's flawed out of the box.

First, from 34 years of law enforcement experience, I have known a few younger cops. Generally speaking they tend to be extremely intelligent and highly motivated young people with wisdom a bit beyond their years. If they didn't have something extra chances are they wouldn't be hired over older applicants.

That's not to say that there aren't occasional issues with immaturity but that occurs even with older officers. I knew two good officers in their 40's who commited suicide for stupid reasons. I've also seen others commit crimes and otherwise disgrace their office and none were anywhere near 20 years of age,

Moreover, we recruit and heavily arm 17-and-18-year-olds to fight in Iraq and elsewhere. Nobody has been scurrying to say that we ought to stop recruiting young men and women for military service nor has the military reported any unusual spike in lawlessness among younger troops.

Then there's the question about why this young deputy wasn't given a psychological examination as part of the hiring process.

At first blush it, too, seems like a good question but at the end of the day it's another red herring dreamed up by people with nothing better to do but look for scapegoats and phantom explanations.

There's no guarantee that a psychological exam will prevent a tragedy as such exams are of questionable reliability.

The Milwaukee Police Department has psychological screening as part of its hiring process. Did that prevent Frank Jude from getting the you-know-what beat out of him by a gang of rogue cops?

You can fill in the blanks with the names of officers involved in other acts of violence or perverse misconduct.

While many unfit officers fell through the cracks many more highly qualified and ethical officers never had to visit with a shrink before donning a badge and uniform.

Many of the finest officers ever came out of the post-war era -- solid, responsible people with a deep sense of community. None of them ever had psychological evaluations.

True, a psychological examination might have discovered that Tyler Peterson was too immature to be a cop but odds are that it wouldn't have. This isn't to say that we ought to abandon this screening but merely to illustrate its dubious value.

History is full of otherwise responsible people who suddenly flip out and do heinous things.

The problem is that whenever we have an event of magnitude there's almost always a rush to come up with $70,000 answers that may be no better than the 70 cent one at hand. It's the nature of the beast.

It's like standing on Elm Street in downtown Dallas in front of the Texas School Book Depository. The enormous tragedy of President Kennedy's assassination is quickly reduced to size when you realize that (1) Elm Street, unlike parade routes such as Michigan Avenue in Chicago or New York's Fifth Avenue, is a fairly narrow thoroughfare; (2) the school book depository building is very close to the corner with a direct bead down on where the motorcade was passing; (3) under those condititions the real question is how any marksman could have missed at that range. But for the conspiracy theory addicts among us the most plausible explanations will never be sufficient. They'll want the $70,000 answer -- right or wrong.

Crimes against the community.

A few days ago I was coming out of the new Pick-N-Save store at 1901 63rd Street in uptown Kenosha and saw some young shoplifters being questioned.

That sight flashed to mind again Wednesday when two adults who were caught shoplifting at the same store came to court.

Although these people -- a single mother in her 20's and an older man in his late 30's, both with substantial criminal records -- were charged with retail theft for stealing from Pick-N-Save the real crimes were against the community.

The uptown Pick-N-Save in Kenosha has been open for a year or so. It's a gleaming new suburban-style store on what was once a brownfield. There's a bank inside and another full-service bank at the edge of the parking lot. People who live in one of Kenosha's inner city neighborhoods have jobs at the store and the banks and a lot of neighborhood folks shop there. It's always refreshing to shop there and see how happy the employees and customers are.

They have good reason to be happy.

Until that Pick-N-Save opened, there wasn't a grocery store in the neighborhood for over a quarter century. The last drug store pulled out more than a decade ago. Same for Bank One, replaced by a proliferation of "Payday Loan" store thay prey their usury on the working poor.

In fact, Kenosha attracted national attention by luring a "real" grocery store and "real" banks back to an inner city neighborhood that many gave up on. That doesn't happen in many places.

So when these dirtbags steal from Pick-N-Save, the people who own the store aren't the only victims. The single mothers who have jobs there may suffer the loss of employment should Pick-N-Save decide they can't make a go of it because of shrinkage. The honest people in that neighborhood will suffer if their only grocery store closes, and even if it doesn't, may be viewed with more suspicion when shopping or have to pay higher prices due to the need for more security.

This isn't just idle chatter.

I lived in Benton Harbor, Michigan -- one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden cities in the country -- and saw stores leave. K-Mart pulled out specifically because of its losses from shoplifting. Sears moved to a suburban mall. Most of the car dealers are gone. One-by-one most of the factories also closed leaving a ghost town of despair with people still living there.

Of course, when people steal and commit other crimes they never really think about the impact of what they do -- not just on the immediate victim but on the community as a whole.

So it was somewhat troubling that when these two thieves appeared in court the judge didn't make any effort to impress upon them not just the wrongfulness of what they did as a crime against the laws of the state but its impact on the community.

That's too bad (and particularly surprising as this judge's family operated a business in uptown Kenosha for many years). It seems all too often Kenosha judges like to talk tough about crime but don't always walk the walk when the rubber meets the road.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chief Nanette has gone overboard

Check this out:

True, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has primary responsibility for investigating and enforcing immigration laws, but that doesn't mean local police should turn away from lawbreakers they encounter.

There are many legitimate reasons why knowing immigration status is important on a day-to-day basis. For example, when making a determination whether to release a person pending issuance of a summons or to hold them for bail because they don't have ties to the community. And that's just one ROUTINE example.

As we've said many times, Milwaukee burns while the politically-correct (or those who want to be) fiddle.

Monday, October 8, 2007

What's the point of having Lake Michigan water if you don't use it?

The Chicago Bears will probably get slaps on the back for more than beating the Packers at Lambeau Field Sunday night.

The victory over the hapless Pack might turn some sports fans away from focusing what went wrong with the Lasalle Bank Chicago Marathon.

Chicago calls itself as "the city that works" but it sure didn't work well Sunday.

For the first time in its 30-year history, the marathon shut down early as aberrant heat and humidity triggered more than 300 ailments.

Runners reported water shortages. One runner died due to a heart condition. And the International Olympic Committee, which will pick a 2016 host from seven rivals, is unlikely to make the distinction that the marathon was privately operated. In other words, Chicago's already outside chance to host the Olympics in 2016 appears even more remote.

But, as a practical matter, one has to wonder how a city sitting on so much water could have squandered it during Sunday's marathon. Yes, the heat was unusual, but changing weather is part of Chicago culture. (Remember the 62-degree Christmas Day in 1982?)

One can also wonder how long it'll take for the first lawsuits to be filed as a result of this boner.

Minnesota turned down bridge repair money

We reported this summer that Minnesota had one of the lowest fuel tax rates in the country -- a not-so-insignificant fact given the I-35W bridge collapse -- but now there's a new Minnesota transportation scandal brewing.

Government records show that Minnesota transportation officials have passed up more than $60 million in federal aid for substandard bridges since 2003, choosing instead to take federal dollars that could be spent on the state's road and bridge priorities.

This comes on top of $41 million that state officials transferred out of the federal bridge fund over the past five years.

Those funds could have been used to fix (but not replace) the endangered I-35W bridge.

The politicians in St. Paul will certainly find numerous ways to spin this around but there are at least 13 families who lost loved ones who probably won't buy it. And neither should the rest of Minnesota's voters.

"Go ahead. Make my recess."

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- High school English teacher Shirley
Katz insists she needs to take her pistol with her to work because she fears her
ex-husband could show up and try to harm her. She's also worried about a
Columbine-style attack.

But Katz's district has barred teachers from bringing
guns to school, so she is challenging the ban as unlawful, since Oregon is among
states that allow people with a permit to carry concealed weapons into public

The District of Columbia and 38 states -- but not Oregon -- have outlawed possession of firearms on school premises (except by law enforcement officers) so it'll be interesting to see how all of this plays out.

I have mixed feelings on this.

I understand the teacher's point. But I was more sympathetic before the weekend's events in Crandon where a young deputy sheriff who had firearms training and legally possessed weapons shot and killed six people. So it's a little tougher to say that someone who has had training and is licensed should be able to pack heat in school.

One of the worries that I'd have -- and a legitimate one at that -- is what if she lost possession or control of her 9mm Glock and it fell into the wrong hands? That's scary stuff.

But law enforcement doesn't exactly have an unblemished track record of protecting citizens, either.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

A bummer day for law enforcement

This weekend's events in Crandon make it difficult for law enforcement officers who, like the rest of us, ponder what could provoke a person to kill six innocent people. Even more upsetting is that it was a fellow officer.

The families of all involved deserve our condolences and support at this time. Nothing we say can make up for what they have endured or will endure.

"Who are you going to vote for?"

My newly minted college freshman daughter laid that question on me a few minutes ago.

"I really don't know," I said.

"I really can't stand any of them."

"That's what a lot of people are saying," she said.

"What about Fred Thompson? I don't want him to win because he's like 65 and his wife is like two."

"I don't know enough about Fred Thompson but I didn't like the fact that he thinks he's too good to stand with the other Republican candidates and debate. As for his wife, I should have that problem," I said.

"I'm telling mom. What about Rudy?"

"I don't know about Rudy, either. He certainly has more testoserone and maybe that's what we need but there are some right-wing Republicans who don't think he's conservative enough for them."

"As for the Democrats, I once liked Bill Richardson but he now says he wants to steal Great Lakes water. Scratch him off the list."

"Obama just got elected to the Senate. In a few years I think his day may come but I also think it'll be Hillary and Barack for the Democrats next year."

"Hillary actually has qualifications -- maybe more so than Bill did -- but I worry about who will really be calling the shots with Bill back in the White House."

"I worry about that, too," she said.

Then she asked about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

"Not much difference," I said.

"They all want to win and they'll lie and do anything to get there."

"For example, the Democrats scream about health care and education but when they were in the majority, they did nothing."

"The Republicans bellyache about lower taxes and less government but they've given us neither."

"So who are you doing to vote for?" she asked.

"How about 'none of the above.'"

The Urinal-Sentinel Takes A Leak At Health Care

The editorial writers at the Urinal-Sentinel took a long leak at the health care crisis and came up with this brilliant idea: everyone should buy health insurance.

That's right. Everyone buys health insurance. They liken it to states where every driver is supposed to buy auto insurance (but ignore the fact that many don't).

But don't let facts confuse these fleabrains.

They work out some fuzzy logic that there are a lot of younger Americans who don't have health insurance and thus, if we force them to buy it, then the cost will be spread further and should come down.

Of course, they forgot to think about why many young Americans don't have health insurance: they can't afford it.

My 19-year-old who makes $6.50 per hour working a few hours a week (if that) at a store while going to school can barely afford her auto insurance. Thankfully she still qualifies under my coverage (as long as she's a full-time student).

But for those who don't qualify under parental policies, where are they going to come up with the money? (And, of course, that assumes the parents can afford coverage.)

What about the unemployed? Underemployed?

This logic isn't just fuzzy, folks, it's blatantly corrupt.

There won't be any meaningful reform because the health care system is too corrupt.

Supposedly nonprofit hospitals turn margins that some private businesses would be green with envy. We have hospitals across the street from each other. Insurance companies keep writing checks for these bloated fees and pass the costs along. In short, they're in bed with each other.

And that includes Journal Communications, the parent company of that newspaper and a whole slew of radio and television stations.

Geez, would they bite the hand that feeds them? How much does, say, Aurora spend on advertising each year? How about the insurance companies? Do you really think Journal Communications would ever suggest meaningful cost containment, including putting a lid on expensive advertising?

Yeah, right.

Today's newspaper, tomorrow's fish wrap.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

You want to clean up crime in Milwaukee? Start by cleaning up Milwaukee law enforcement!

It seems that everyone has a take on Milwaukee's crime problem -- even folks like yours truly and Paul Soglin, Madison's former hippie mayor -- but the reality is that you can't clean up the streets of Milwaukee until law enforcement cleans up its own house.

Sure, Chief Nanette points out to the reduction in the crime rate by the overtime-fueled extra patrols this summer but that's smoke and mirrors.

The crime rate, folks, is based on eight categories developed by the FBI in the 1920's. Much of today's crime doesn't fit in those eight pigeonholes and thus politicians can play around with the crime rate and claim success. The nitwits in the news media are too stupid these days to see through that and dutifully reprint such drivel.

Yes, throw more cops on the streets and you are likely to get some results. It's only common sense, for example, that when people know where the squad car sits every day with radar that most people will slow down.

But the news is replete with examples of a corrupt and inept police department -- civil rights violations by officers, mismanagement at the top, a police union that covers up for and defends crooked cops, massive overtime spending, an internal affairs mechanism that doesn't work and a public with less than complete confidence in law enforcement.

Over at the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department there's a sheriff with an ego big enough for its own ZIP code who talks tough about crime but really is a cash-register-justice wimp. Chief Nanette chases the hookers off the street corners and Sheriff Dave's county mounties love to park on the side of I-94 around College Avenue to pick off those speeders right where the speed limit drops from 65 to 55 miles per hour -- all of this while gangs and violence go virtually unchecked and witnesses unprotected.

The not-so-humble sheriff even has his own coins that he'll sell for ten bucks. So far only 56 have been sold -- thankfully.

His traffic enforcement isn't geared toward saving lives and property -- no, it's the run up the meter.

Get a speeding ticket in Milwaukee county and you'll go to court where a deputy will ask you who wants a two-point defective speedometer ticket for about $180 or a zero-point parking ticket for $280 which goes straight to the county coffers. It's all about the money, thank you.

Cleaning up crime in Milwaukee starts from within and that means cleaning up law enforcement. You can't expect the public to support law enforcement agencies that lack credibility and the task of the new police chief (and the present sheriff, if he can stop looking at himself in the mirror) will be to clean house.

Officers and deputies need to get the message that it's the right way or the highway and no excuses will be accepted. The police union needs to decide if it's part of the solution or part of the problem and Brad, Bob and the boys sticking up for bad cops had its 15 minutes of fame long ago. The mayor and common council -- who apparently can't agree on the time of day unless there's something in it for them -- have to be willing to fight the battle to clean house, even it means sparring with the police union in court until the union gets the message.

And former Chief Harold Breier wasn't all wrong. The city needs tough -- but honest -- 1930's style policing. As Harold once said, "Every officer should be a community relations officer." (Too bad that didn't play out at the time but it's still worth repeating.)

You want to clean up crime in Milwaukee? Start with cleaning house.

Will it happen? Well, I think I have a better chance to win the lottery or at least become the new poster child for Jenny Craig.

Bill Richardson's idea must be stopped

According to the Las Vegas Sun, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of the flock of Democratic presidential hopefuls tagging behind apparent frontrunners Hillary Rodman Clinton and Barack Obama, says the way to ease the water woes in the west is to divert water from the Great Lakes.

This is big news in Las Vegas which could face a severe water shortage by 2010.

This should be even bigger news here.

Yes, we're picky about people trying to raid our water supply. After all, it's one of the few assets we have over those states that have been raiding people and jobs out of the so-called "rust belt."

Nearly 30 years ago Republican governors like Lee Sherman Dreyfus in Wisconsin and Michigan's Bill Milliken warned that midwestern states must band together to stop any plan to rob Great Lakes water. They were right then and even more so now.

The situation today is even more critical.

The Detroit News reports this week that there is growing concern over the decline of water levels in the Great Lakes. This is all the more reason that water-thieving scumbags like Bill Richardson must be turned off at the tap.

Time for a break from this political stress...

Sit back, take a few deep breaths, relax and enjoy the view of McWay Falls pouring into the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur.................
See? You're feeling better already.

ISO: Another Prox

I suppose many people today vaguely remember the late Bill Proxmire, Wisconsin's gadfly United States Senator, a fiscally conservative Democrat whose legendary "Golden Fleece" awards called out waste in government.

I remember Prox for many things but the one that immediately comes to mind was the reponse he gave when someone pointed out that poor states like Mississippi got a helluva lot more money back from Washington than Wisconsin.

Prox didn't miss a beat. He scolded the man, pointing out that Wisconsin doesn't get as much money back from Washington because we didn't need it -- our economy was a lot healthier than Alabama or Mississippi.

That was then. This is now.

Now the sunbelt states have growing economies, more jobs, more trade and we seem to have an aging infrastructure, more crime and despair.

The easy way out might be to say we need more money from Washington.

They call that "pork."

But Prox would call you out, saying you can't rail against big spending and demand pork at the same time.

The real problem is growing the economy so that more tax revenue is generated to pay for government services.

But that's not going to happen if crime runs rampant in our largest city. And it's not going to happen if the scumbags in the State Capitol continue to fiddle while the state burns.

It was once said that the mark of a good politician is the ability to conceal envy while accusing the opponent of screwing the public.

We need another Prox -- and we need him ... or her ... now.

Legislature: Throw the bums out!

That's right. Throw the bums out. All of them.

We elected our legislature to do a job and so far all they've done is embarrass the state and themselves. They are utterly incapable of setting aside politics, even momentarily, to do what they were elected to do.

Instead, we have a dysfunctional legislature postured into corners from which they appear unlikely and unwilling to emerge. The state burns while these dirtbags fiddle.

The deadline for the state budget was July 1 -- more than three months ago. The process got gummed up with Senate Democrats came out with a hastily contrived statewide health insurance plan that never had any meaningful study or public input.

Republicans also dug their heels in and there appears to be no compromise -- a stark contrast from when former Gov. Tommy Thompson would occasionally remind legislators that they have to do the people's business.

Don't look for meaningful action on the budget in the near future, though.

The latest game plan is a "scare tactic" from the Governor's office where state agencies are being asked to paint "worst case scenarios" that may result from continued stalling on a budget.

Our state law continues state operations at the last budget level until a new budget is passed. However, that can only work so long before critical state employees are laid off and services curtailed.

On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with the governor telling us this. More or less, it is the truth but it will likely have a spin on it.

The problem, though, isn't the state budget but rather the dysfunctional legislature which has become so bogged down in partisan agendas and personal egos that it's incapable of doing what it's supposed to do.

And we share the blame.

Our legislators are almost inherently two-faced. They put on one face when they're in Madison and then come home and try to convince that they're nice people looking out for our best interests and that "the other guys" are the real problem.

Bull crap.

They're ALL responsible for this mess and they all should be held accountable.

Some legislators are proposing -- ostensibly for their own political gain -- that sanctions be imposed for failing to act on a budget ranging from a Democratic plan to arrest legislators to a Republican proposal to withhold pay and per diem allowances (Iowa withholds per diem pay if a budget isn't passed by the mandated deadline). At the end of the day, though, these p.r. schemes are just more posturing.

And the problem isn't just the budget.

The dysfunctional state of the legislature means that none of the state's critical problems are being addressed because the governor and legislators are so full of themselves that they can't do what they were sent to Madison to do. Instead of arguing about taxes, what's being done to grow our economy? Nothing. And nothing will be done with the present group of scumbags.

Eventually they'll come up with some kind of budget and they'll hope we forget about what happened in between. We shouldn't.

It's time for Wisconsin voters to adopt a "We're mad as Hell and not going to take it anymore" attitude. We need to throw these bums out -- ALL of them.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Another side of the Jena Six controversy

Poor Jena, Louisiana.

The small town where nooses were hung from the "whites only tree" on the high school grounds after black students had the audacity to attempt to break the unwritten rule hasn't been getting a lot of good press these days.

Much of that is well deserved.

In the past I've presented portions of the weekly Jena Times which had a markedly different take on the events in that community and which by omission highlighted that the real problem was the fact that there was a "whites only" tree in the first place and that the community glossed over the seriousness of hanging the nooses from that tree. Had Jena rose up in collective indignation over the original incident the terrible aftermath probably would never have happened.

Nonetheless it's easy in the national media frenzy to forget that there is usually much more to the story and the Jena Times is about the only place you can get details that aren't available elsewhere. Only the current newspaper is on their web site so you can't look back at previous articles but this week's Jena Times attempts to tell the rest of the story:

I don't agree with all of what the local weekly is saying but some of it has been overlooked or misconstrued by the national media and thus Jena deserves its say, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Streetcars or at risk children: getting our priorities straight

Back-to-back news stories on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel web site paint a disturbing picture.

The first -- headlined "Is $317 a month enough to raise a child?" -- refers to the fact the reeimbursement the state pays foster parents is the fourth lowest in the nation and would have to be more than doubled just to come close to neighboring Indiana, which has the third highest foster child reimbursement in the nation. The article also calls attention to the state's critical shortage of foster parents, noting that in this state most families just can't afford to take on foster kids.

The next story is about moneybag Michal Cudahy's call for a $140 million streetcar system. That's right. Streetcars. For $ 140 million.

No doubt we have (and probably always will have) transit issues but let's get real here.

We do have a bus system. We do have Amtrak between Chicago, Glenview, Sturtevant, Mitchell Field and Milwaukee and this service is partly funded by the state. Maybe there's room for improvement but it seems that tight budget dollars are deserved more by at risk children than bringing back amode of transportation that went by the wayside nearly 70 years ago.

Michael Cudahy would serve the community better by advocating for these children and the wonderful families who take on the challenges of raising them.

Otherwise, it's like the old Milwaukee joke that Cudahy is what a cow chews. In this case -- favoring streetcars over foster kids -- it's more like what becomes of the hay that male cows consume.

The ultimate conflict of interest: Can the Wisconsin Supreme Court judge one of its own?

The last word in judicial discipline in Wisconsin comes from the State Supreme Court -- but can it fairly judge one of its own?

The state's highest court is faced with just that dilemma as charges have been laid against its newest member, former Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler, for handling cases involving a West Bend bank where her husband serves as a director.

You'd have to have been living under a rock not to know about this stuff. Ziegler's opponent feasted on the allegations during what must be the most expensive and dirtiest judicial campaign in the state's history.

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission recommended that Ziegler be publicly reprimanded. A three-judge judicial panel will make its own recommendation after a hearing next month.

Ziegler has acknowledged that she didn't properly distance herself from the apparent conflict but there's also no evidence that her judicial actions were out of line which is probably why only a reprimand is being sought.

Nonetheless, there are much larger issues afloat here: Can the state's highest court fairly judge one of its own? And speaking of conflicts, isn't this one of the most blatant?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court -- the six justices that will be able to hear these allegations -- is in a real pickle. How can it fairly judge one of its own?

For some people, the only fair resolution would be Ziegler's head on a platter. Others may think the reprimand is discipline enough. The deciding justices are caught in the bind between being perceived as too weak and possibly in cohoots with Ziegler if she gets a slap on the wrist while it may be grossly unfair to Ziegler if she gets more than that just because her colleagues don't want to appear compromised.

All of this goes to show us that the state supreme court should not be judging one of its own, especially when the allegations are that one of its members herself was involved in a potential conflict. How do you deal with a judge accused of a conflict when the six justices themselves appear to have one?

Probably the best way would be to have an independent review, perhaps by the supreme court of one of our neighboring states. It may take a legislative change to allow this but it seems to be the fair -- and wise -- thing to do.

Larry Craig: What a stroke

So now Senator Larry Craig vows to remain in office and not resign even though his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge in Hennepin County, Minnesota was rejected:

The Idaho Republican's about face on submitting his resignation follows his attempted about face on his guilty plea and suggests that this stroke is a two-faced disgrace to the Senate and the Republican Party.

Of course, what are the chances Idaho voters will send this moron back to the Senate?


Breaking news: Thanksgiving a headache for flyers

The fall airline schedules are coming out and hundreds if not thousands of flights have been cancelled on Thanksgiving day -- mostly late afternoon and evening flights.

In the case of Northwest Airlines, the no. 2 carrier at Milwaukee's Billy Mitchell Field, virtually every flight --hundreds of them -- after 6 p.m. has been scratched. Other airlines have also cancelled numerous flights although United will run a skeleton schedule out of O'Hare on Thanksgiving evening.

This is bad news for travelers who are being forced to choose between cancelling tickets they already paid for or skipping dinner at home with family in order to catch an earlier flight.

The airlines should not have booked these reservations and taken passenger money if they planned to scratch the flights. This begs for a class-action suit.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Where's our Amtrak station?

With all the flak about mass transit in southeastern Wisconsin these days -- including the bloated Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail boondoggle -- it's time for a hard question: Where's the Kenosha Amtrak station?

How soon we forget.

When Harold Ripps and his cronies were wooing the State Racing Board to get the license for Dairyland Greyhound Park, one of their many promises (and one of their many unfulfilled ones) was to build an Amtrak station.

It never happened.

Now the poobahs want to spend big bucks to build a new rail line on the Union Pacific (Chicago and North Western) tracks north to Milwaukee. That line was double tracked north of Kenosha until Amtrak rolled around in 1971 and the North Western cut out northbound passenger service.

The late Congressman Les Aspin wisely proposed that Amtrak follow the lakeshore on the North Western tracks but that idea never went anywhere. Instead, Amtrak kept rolling along on the 79 mph Milwaukee Road right of way into and out of Milwaukee.

Since that time, however, two new Amtrak stations have opened in the last couple years: Sturtevant and Mitchell Field. Thus it only makes sense that Kenosha finally get its Amtrak station -- and the Dairyland people be held to their promise to build it.

That way we can forget this silly KRM mess.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wisconsin State Patrol: What's wrong with this picture?

It's 10:10 p.m. on the interstate in rural Juneau County.

A Wisconsin State Patrol trooper on a motorcycle stops a car.

The lone trooper runs checks on the driver and passenger and discovers that there are warrants outstanding for both of them.

Wisely, the trooper waits for a sheriff's deputy in a patrol car but, before the county officer arrives, the man backs his car into the trooper and his motorcycle before the couple flees the scene.

The trooper was thrown into a ditch but was released after treatment at a Mauston hospital.

Nothing justifies the conduct of the fleeing suspects but the state patrol must share some blame here.

What on earth were they thinking with having a lone state trooper on a motorcycle out on the interstate at night?

It's bad enough that the state patrol operates one man patrol cars but a motorcycle? At night? In a rural area?

I have over 30 years law enforcement experience but you don't have to have that to figure out that it's simply asking for trouble to put a lone trooper on a motorcycle at that time of day in that location.

A lone trooper in a patrol car is bad enough but at least the patrol car offers some cover if he or she is shot at or if someone tries to ram the patrol vehicle.

A motorcycle offers much less protection.

True, motorcycles have a legitimate role in law enforcement. They can often go where cars can't and may get an officer to the scene faster.

But it makes no sense at all to unnecessarily risk the safety of our troopers as was the case here. Not only doesn't it make sense, it's utterly indefensible.

Hugs or drugs?

There's an old sarcasm that those who can do and those that can't teach.

Maybe we should add those who don't have a clue become educational administrators.

Living proof is Victoria Sharts, principal of Percy Julian Middle School in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park.

Sharts supposedly got her undies in a bundle because some of her students were late to class or blocking hallways because of -- get this -- hugging. She also worried that some of the hugs were a little too deep and a little too long.

Maintaining an orderly school is a valid concern but Sharts' response to this molehill was to come up with this mountain of an idea: ban all hugging.

That's right. No hugs at her school, period.

The real problem doesn't seem to be hugging but rather the inability of the principal and staff to maintain proper discipline at the school. The principal's response is the proverbial sledgehammer on a fly and defies common sense. Of all the problems schools face these days, you'd think she'd be kissing the ground that her worst one is hugging.

If students are obstructing the hallways, late for class or going overboard, the principal and her staff have every right -- and duty -- to prohibit and discipline these excesses. Otherwise, they should, as the saying goes, get a life.

As for Victoria Sharts, she's living proof that having a degree doesn't necessarily mean you're educated. She doesn't deserve a hug. When her contract's up, she should get the boot.

John Morrissey accepts offer to be Kenosha's new chief of police

The Kenosha Police and Fire Commission wrapped up interviewing the three finalists to be the next police chief and offered the job to Capt. John Morrissey.

Morrissey accepted the offer which must be formally acted on by the commission on Oct. 9.

Every candidate the commission considered was qualified and picking from the three finalists was almost certainly a tough task but giving the nod to Morrissey suggests that the commission expects the new chief to be visible in the community.

All three finalists were roughly equal in terms of qualifications and I considered Morrissey and Asst. Chief Thomas Genthner to be pretty much neck-and-neck. In particular, Morrissey had experience as a small-town chief in south central Wisconsin before coming to Kenosha while Genthner has been an assistant chief for several years.

Either could have worked well with the city council and community groups but Morrissey is a much "higher profile" individual. As such, the commission appears to have signalled that they expect the new chief to be more visible in the community.

The commission may also have been thinking that with Morrissey as chief the city will score a "win-win" because he'll have Genthner and Asst. Chief William Brydges, who was not a finalist, as his very well-qualified top guns.

Of course, Capt. Kristine Fonk, who was the third finalist, almost certainly has earned some capital as well as support in the community. While she didn't get the chief's job, Morrissey would do well to curry her wisdom and support.

As for me, I encourage Morrissey to move cautiously, expeditiously and collaboratively with any changes he may have in mind. He's inheriting the command of a good police department but also one that is ripe for some tweaking. He'll do well to enlist the assistance of everyone working under him to do what needs to be done -- and he'll also be wise to keep the lines of communication flowing in both directions.

Taxpayer rape alert! Kehl and Antaramian "open" to local public transit sales tax.

As if we didn't pay enough taxes and fees in southeastern Wisconsin, it comes as an additional affront to see Kenosha's mayor and county executive "open" to the notion of a local sales tax for public transit, including the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail link.

This is a silly idea made even sillier due to the demographics which the pols seem to ignore.

We already have one of the highest fuel taxes in the nation and folks like Bill McReynolds, the Racine County Executive, appropriately argue that mass transit funding should be assisted by those taxes.

We already have a one-half per cent county sales tax in Kenosha County. Milwaukee, too (plus the Miller Park tax which was also forced on Racine County taxpayers).

We already have Amtrak train service to Milwaukee with new stations in Sturtevant and at Mitchell Field. True, there's no Amtrak stop in Kenosha, but we were promised an Amtrak station when Dairyland Greyhound Park opened. That promise was never kept. It's time to enforce that promise, especially since the mayor and county executive are so gung ho to have Dairyland turn into an Indian gaming casino.

(Of course, old train fans like me will tell you that we wouldn't need to talk about the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail link had the late Congressman Les Aspin had his way and Amtrak trains would have been routed on the Chicago and North Western tracks north to Milwaukee instead of on the Milwaukee Road line. The North Western then tore out the second set of tracks north of Kenosha, another dumb move.)

What's really happening, folks, is that the Milwaukee politicians are sucking up to their buddies to pay their bills. We can't let that happen.

Besides that, Mayor Antaramian and County Executive Kehl obviouslyhaven't read boring stuff like commuter demographics.

If they did, they'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!

Kenosha County taxpayers are taxed enough. Plus, if we should be joining any type of regional transit authority, it ought to be the one where most of our people work.

Here's a novel idea: instead of raising taxes and fees, how about working to grow the economy?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Time to reform Wisconsin's costly "Point System"

If you're a Wisconsin motorist, you probably know about the "point system" where convictions for traffic violations earn demerit points and, if you accumulate 12 in one year, 18 in two or 24 in three years your license is suspended.

What you probably don't know is that the "point system" is a costly, archaic boondoggle that often has nothing to do with whether someone is a reckless or negligent driver -- the very people the point system was intended to deter.

For example, get caught speeding 10 miles over the speed limit and it's three points. But it's also three points for driving without a license or with an expired license or multiple licenses, or for failing to dim your headlamps, driving with a burned out headlight bulb, a burned out stop lamp or tail lamp and even a burned out license plate lamp!

You could be dinged two points for having excessively tinted windows.

Of course, most of these have nothing to do with whether you're a safe driver. But they are on the books and waste taxpayer money by court officials having to report convictions to the Division of Motor Vehicles and then having state employees enter them into driving records plus handle the paperwork from these citations.

Further, there are "zero point" convictions which don't rack up demerit points but are still entered onto a driving record, i.e., driving an unregistered vehicle or with expired license plates. This also costs taxpayer dollars and provides little or no useful benefit.

I'm all in favor of strict -- but fair -- traffic enforcement but assessing points for violations unrelated to dangerous driving is costly and contrary to common sense. So is keeping records of trivial "zero point" violations such as an unregistered vehicle, failure to wear a seat belt, improper license plates, littering or unnecessary use of a horn. (There are some "zero point" violations, such as failure to report an accident or falsifying an accident report, which probably should still be recorded.) There's nothing wrong with enforcing these traffic laws but the taxpayers shouldn't be penalized with the cost of unnecessary recordkeeping.

It's extreme hypocrisy for our governor and legislature to sock taxpayers with higher taxes and fees while foolishly wasting money. The "point system" should be reformed to carry out its original purpose and not unnecessarily burden Wisconsin motorists and taxpayers.