Friday, December 28, 2007

Did bin Laden shoot himself in the foot?

The Pakistani government says it has evidence that al-Qaeda and the Taliban were responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Benasir Bhutto, claiming it intercepted an al-Qaeda leader's message of congratulation for the assassination.

If so, Osama bin Laden may have finally tripped. As the former prime minister pointed out, assauting a woman is an affront to Islam. If that holds true with her murder, then one can only wonder if this would prompt a backlash from Islamic fundamentalists.

The assassination further shows how volatile the Middle East truly is.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Time for city hall to honor Kenosha's history.

The Kenosha News Thursday did a marvelous story (the online version has more than in print) on the retirement of Kenosha's last Peter Pirsch fire engine.

For those who don't know, Pirsch was considered the Calillac of fire trucks -- hand built and built to last.

Like so many other historic Kenosha industries, Pirsch is gone. The retirement of Kenosha's last fire engine really is news.

More significant than another nail in the coffin of Kenosha's industrial heritage is what the city has done with and to the last two Pirsch fire trucks. They were stripped and mothballed.

That's not just sad -- it's insane.

Here we have a city willing to shell out big bucks for a generic civil war museum and yet it is letting a major part of the city's history go to seed -- in fact, not just letting it but enabling it. How crazy is that?

The city could -- and should -- have preserved these fire engines as living monuments to a major part of Kenosha's history (did you know that in the 1930's the Chicago Fire Department called for help from Kenosha because Pirsch had the most advanced equipment?).

But maybe we shouldn't expect too much from a city government that compromised public safety by shutting down a fire station (and plans to close more) and endangers motorists and pedestrians by horrendous snow and ice removal.

Stripping these fire engines and letting them go to seed is another nose thumbing at the men and women who gave their city its identity. Shame on city hall. Shame.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Remembering Juan

Tonight I attended the funeral visitation for Juan Oviedo who was killed last week when the trench in which he was working collapsed and trapped him inside. Rescuers came close to saving him but the unstable ground below caved in.

Juan Oviedo was working on construction related to the new Wal-Mart complex in Somers.

A good man, Juan Oviedo provided for his family. He worked hard -- and honorably. He was 52.

In our ever technical world we often lose sight of those whose hands turn and till the earth or otherwise make what we need or use. Folks like Juan Oviedo do the work most of us would rather not do. We owe them.

When the new Wal-Mart and Sam's Club open, please take a moment to remember Juan Oviedo.

More nitwitness news

Today's Kenosha News carries a lengthy feature about how the mothers of two young men who were shot to death by police officers -- deaths ruled justifiable -- cope with their loss.

It's hard to pick a bone with a grieving mother but the facts in each case strongly support the findings that the shootings were justifiable. No ruling can ever replace a mother's loss.

The problem, though, is the one-sided journalism that has become an ever increasing hallmark of the local newspaper. As one reader asked this morning, "Where's the story about how the Fabiano family made it through Christmas without Frank?" (Referring to Deputy Sheriff Frank Fabiano, jr., who was gunned down in a traffic stop last May and is survived by his wife and young daughter.)

Good point.

The Bell and Combs families are entitled to their feelings but they've had plenty of media attention. Today's article, at best, is old news.

Then again, reporting (or rehashing) old news is another hallmark of the daily newspaper.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Journal-Sentinel editorial board weighs in on Midwest Airlines buyout

Eight days ago concerns about the TPG Capital buyout of Midwest Airlines was discussed here, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel essentially confirms the skepticism in a Wednesday editorial.

Let's hope the Justice Department puts some strong restrictions on what role Northwest Airlines can play as the "minority" owner of Midwest. Top on the list should be a requiement that Northwest has no say so in Midwest operations nor can it ever buy a controlling interest, period.

This is only the first day of Christmas!

The twelve days of Christmas isn't capitalized here because it's not a song title but a reference to the day of Christ's birth (celebrated on December 25) and the Epiphany on January 6 in celebration of the coming of the Magi.

It seems in our contemporary secular society that there's really a 30 or so days before Christmas in which to engage in shopping frenzy, a three or so days before Christmas to fonish the wrapping and baking and a few hours to relax before the world resumes at breakneck speed on Wednesday.

How sad.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. The twelve days of Christmas should be the real time to celebrate Christ's birth, not in the commercial sense but in a spirit of personal reflection and service.

It's not too late to write a letter to a friend, donate service or resources to those in need, visit the ill or infirm or even write a Christmas card. This is only the first day of Christmas.

The shopping (except for exchanges and buying next year's wrapping paper at 50% off) is over. Now can we focus on the real reason for the season?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dan Wade: Even-keel police chief

I've racked my brain for months trying to think of what to say about Dan Wade who ends a competent 35-year law enforcement career at the end of the month when he steps down as Kenosha's Chief of Police.

Retiring at the end of a good career usually means the usual accolades will be uttered and most everyone will smile, shake hands and trade one-liners.

That's not bad. Many police chiefs don't retire to accolades or smiles.

The law enforcement community will extend its best wishes to Dan Friday with cake and refreshments but Dan will share the honors with several others long-time Kenosha officers who are likewise retiring.

That's the kind of guy he is. Low-key. Even-keel.

Don't for one minute equate low-key or even-keel with aloofness or inaccessibility. To the contrary, Dan was one of the most accessible and involved police chiefs in the city's history. It's just that he's never been flashy about it.

Competent, pragmatic, methodical, compassionate. Those were hallmarks of Dan's style that served him well and should serve as benchmarks for John Morrissey, the incoming chief.

If there was a problem, you could talk to Dan about it. You could also share a joke, a story, an experience. It was not beneath the highest ranking member of the department to spend some time getting to know the lowest. Dan Wade was indeed articulate but never dwelled in an ivory tower.

When John Morrissey takes over the helm there will likely be new challenges to be met, issues to be resolved and crimes to solve. But there will likely be fewer of them thanks to the even-keel leadership of his predecessor.

Good luck, Dan. I'll miss you.

Note: A few months ago the Kenosha News did what amounted to an "exit interview" with Dan. It's great reading.

Why McCain's stock is going up

The sudden interest in John McCain as both the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and President of the United States is completely understandable.

Think of it like dating. You play around with a lot of interesting and fun people but when it comes time to settle down most sane people prefer a partner who is solid and well-grounded. The girl (or guy) next door whom you took for granted in the past all of the sudden becomes very attractive.

So it is with John McCain.

There are lots of reasons why people have bones to pick with the Arizona Senator. He doesn't always rub people the right way and, although he has a solid conservative voting record, isn't far enough to the right for some Republicans whose quest for ideological purity usually winds up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Liberal and moderate Republicans may have qualms that he aligned himself too closely with President Bush despite the Bush money machine's hatchet job on McCain in the 2000 primaries.

That said, the New Hampshire newspapers that have endorsed McCain have thoroughly examined his record and concluded that he's been solid, honest, consistent and correctly pegged the problems with our Iraq occupation.

They also note that he has the military experience tested under five years of fire as a prisoner of war that not only puts him head and shoulders about the rest of the competition but also, as a former POW, should mean that he'd be less likely to commit our military to losing ventures.

True, not everyone likes where McCain is coming from, but the beauty is that you always have known where he's coming from. It hasn't changed from year to year or from audience to audience even though it may cost him votes.

I was one of the "undecideds" but the editorial analysis from the New Hampshire press topped by the summaries of the rest of the competition compiled by the Des Moines Register made it very clear that the best choice was here all along. Sure, you may want to party with Barack, schmooze with Fred, argue with Hillary or debate religion with Mitt and/or Mike but at the end of the day we want and need a strong and capable leader.

Five years of North Vietnamese torture didn't bend or break John McCain. That's exactly the strength this nation needs right now -- and, hindsight being 20-20, desparately should have had in 2000.

A couple of decades late

The Milwaukee County Board voted 16-3 today to completely ban smoking Mitchell Fieldl Airport and the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The three opponents were chairman Lee Holloway and supervisors Toni Clark and ,Peggy West, the wheezeball who won our November Darwin award.

Clark and West said the airport restrictions might hurt business at the airport although no credible evidence supported their claims. (All of the airports within a three-hour drive of Milwaukee are smoke-free.)

Smoking lounges at the airport and the courthouse cafeteria will be closed and lighting up outdoors within 30 feet of all entrances and exits at the airport and all county buildings will be outlawed. The ban also applies to smoking in county-owned vehicles.

The tougher ban was proposed by County Executive Scott Walker, hardly a fan of more government intervention. But sometimes a poilitician has to do what's right -- a point lost on Holloway, Clark and West. Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Good news from Pleasant Prairie

The potential Abbott development in Pleasant Prairie moved a lot closer to fruition with action tonight by the Pleasant Prairie Community Development Authority, Plan Commission and Village Board.

While much work remains to be done, it looks as if some of the preliminary work will be underway in 2008. The plans so far are a somewhat open to allow for development of ancillary businesses.

This is very good news for the village and a salute to the planning staff. While development specifics are still in the works, any development along the lines of what is possible there will be significant.

The board also wisely injected common sense into the great snowblower debate. If it snows and has to removed at night, village residents won't have to worry about running afoul of the village noise ordinance unless they do something really obnoxious or boneheaded. That's a smart decision and should signal to the few crybabies out there that they should get a life.

Another good move came from Trustee Mike Serpe who suggested that in the coming year the village would be open to mending fences with the Kenosha News. Relations between the village board and the newspaper have been icy since a story inaccurately hinted that trustees may have violated the Open Meetings Law by being in their common office minutes before a village board meeting.

Hopefully the audio recording from tonight's meeting will be on the village website soon. Unfortunately, village residents won't be able to watch the board meeting on YouTube as citizen journalist Alex Tiahnybok, who has been taping board meetings and putting the recordings up on YouTube, was not present.

Breaking news: Major action anticipated on proposed Abbott development in Pleasant Prairie

The Pleasant Prairie village website is abuzz with tidbits about moving forward with the massive Abbott development at a special village board meeting to be held at 6:30 tonight:

The special village board meeting will follow a 4:00 p.m. Community Development Authority meeting.

Although the meeting notice and website post doesn't mention Abbott, it's a good bet that's what the notice pertains to. If so, it's great news for the village.

Also on the agenda for the special village board meeting will be the tabled amendment to the village noise ordinance relating to snowblowers. Hopefully common sense will prevail.

What a great holiday event for the village. I'm looking forward to being there. If you can't make it, I'm sure it'll be videotaped for later viewing on YouTube or the audio put up on the village website.

Shakeup at Snap-on?

The board of directors at Snap-on Inc., has elected Nicholas Pinchuk as president and chief executive officer.

Pinchuk, currently president and chief operating officer, replaces Jack Michaels, who will remain board chairman.

Pinchuk joined Snap-on in 2002 as senior vice president and president of the company's worldwide commercial and industrial group. He was named president and chief operating officer in April, when he joined the board of directors.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Memo to city hall: How about obeying your own ordinance?

Like many communities, Kenosha has a city ordinance requiring removal of snow and ice from sidewalks.

The reasons for such an ordinance are obvious.

But just as city crews are inept at removing snow and ice from city streets, they're also lagging at removing snow and ice from city-owned sidewalks.

It's time for the city to obey its own ordinance.

Antitrust concerns cloud Midwest buyout

Growing -- and understandable -- antitrust concerns could doom the planned buyout of Midwest Airlines by TPG Capital.

The problem is that TPG would wind up owning 53% of Midwest with the other 47% owned by Northwest Airlines which not all that long ago mounted a thinly-veiled but unsuccessful campaign to bury Midwest.

In a classic the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend move, Midwest got in bed with Northwest and TPG when AirTran made a hostile takeover attempt.

Northwest understandably would want to keep AirTran out of Milwaukee where Northwest is the number two carrier.

However, Northwest also snubbed Milwaukee passengers. While it increased service briefly in an attempt to kill off ailing Midwest, when that effort failed it reduced Milwaukee service to less than what it was before that aborted plan.

Northwest supposedly will have no say so in how Midwest is run. Supposedly.

47% is a huge chunk and Northwest has an option to eventually buy out TPG. That's good reason for antitrust regulators to blow the whistle on the deal and, at a minimum, reduce the Northwest ownership with no option for an eventual Northwest buyout. Northwest also needs to increase its Milwaukee service.

AirTran wasn't the right "fit" for Midwest but neither is anything that would reduce competition.

More on the story here.

New Hampshire newspapers make the case for McCain

Arizona Senator John McCain won the endorsements of the state's two most influential newspapers -- the Portsmouth Herald and the conservative Manchester Union-Leader.

These endorsements make compelling arguments as to why McCain should be our next president.

Portsmouth Herald
U.S. Sen. John McCain will tell you the truth, even if it costs him the election.
He has a very clear-eyed view of the truth having spent his life fighting for our country and leading the U.S. Senate for the past 20 years on virtually every critical issue facing our nation.
In our view, John McCain stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Republican field and deserves the support of those voting in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary Jan. 8.

We were deeply moved at a forum here at Seacoast Media Group Dec. 6 when the senator spoke soothing words to a disabled veteran so despondent over his injuries, he asked whether he had a right to go on living. McCain's answer was kind and sincere, emphasizing his belief in the value of all life and the hope that medical advances would someday allow this good man to recover some of what he had lost.

McCain is pro-life, but his views are broad in this area. He also believes in federal funding of embryonic stem cell research because in his view life is also sacred after you have left the womb.

This kindness and pragmatism also guided his thinking on immigration. McCain's state of Arizona borders Mexico and is on the front line of America's struggle with illegal immigration. His position is that we need to tighten our borders and enforce the laws already on the books, but we also need to create a path to citizenship for good, honest, hardworking families who make a real contribution to this country.

His principled stance on immigration has made enemies in his own party and has hurt him in Iowa where this is a major issue.

McCain also angered Republicans with his bipartisan McCain-Feingold legislation that tried to even the playing field to restore the power of one person, one vote, that had been replaced by a million dollars, a million votes. That legislation clearly had some flaws as we have seen special interest groups like and Swift Boat Veterans For Truth pouring limitless amounts of money into campaigns on behalf of their candidates and causes, but his efforts to reform campaign finances show that McCain's first priority is putting power in the hands of the people and that he can work in a bipartisan way to make it happen.

If McCain is president, nobody would have to write him a memo about whether it is legal to use torture. As a former prisoner of war who was denied medical care and beaten by the North Vietnamese, McCain understands at the deepest level that torturing helpless prisoners who may or may not have some information of value to our national security is a losing strategy in the long run, putting our own soldiers at greater risk for torture and lowering our nation's moral authority in the world.

On Iraq, McCain provides a compelling critique of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's mistakes and paints a positive picture of where we would be if we had gone into the country with a sufficient number of troops who were properly trained and equipped. He says the success of the current surge supports his position. There are some on our editorial board who strongly disagree with McCain's position on Iraq, but ultimately history will be the judge of whether he is right or wrong.

McCain is willing to speak the truth about massive spending and the debt we have piled on ourselves. The Republicans have become the party of big spenders, he says. And he can say that because he has spent decades fighting pork-barrel projects proposed by his congressional colleagues.

McCain has been a leader on energy independence and global climate change. He is the only top-tier Republican candidate who agrees that global climate change is real and that it needs to be addressed immediately. He would make sustainable energy a top priority.

John McCain has been leading the country from his seat in the U.S. Senate for 20 years. He is a man of integrity and honor who would help the Republicans rid themselves of the stench of Jack Abramoff and other lobbyists and allow the GOP to reclaim its status as the party of fiscal restraint. He is a strong military man prepared from day one to defend our nation against its enemies. Of all the Republicans running, he is by far the best qualified to lead our country.

We hope voters in the Republican primary will support John McCain.

Manchester Union-Leader
On Jan. 8, New Hampshire Republicans will make one of the most important choices for their party and nation in the history of our presidential primary. Their choice ought to be John McCain.

We don't agree with him on every issue. We disagree with him strongly on campaign finance reform. What is most compelling about McCain, however, is that his record, his character, and his courage show him to be the most trustworthy, competent, and conservative of all those seeking the nomination. Simply put, McCain can be trusted to make informed decisions based on the best interests of his country, come hell or high water.
Competence, courage, and conviction are enormously important for our next President to possess. No one has a better understanding of U.S. interests and dangers right now than does McCain. He was right on the mistakes made by the Bush administration in prosecuting the Islamic terrorist war in Iraq and he is being proved right on the way forward both there and worldwide.

McCain is pro-life. Always has been. He fights against special-interest and pork-barrel spending, and high spending in general, which ticks off liberals and many in the GOP who have wallowed at the public trough. Yet he also has the proven ability, unique among the contenders, to work across the political divide that has led our government into petty bickering when important problems need to be solved.

We have known John McCain for many years. We will write more about him in the days ahead. For now, we leave you with this to ponder:

When McCain was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, he was repeatedly beaten. When his captors discovered that his father was a top U.S. admiral, they ordered him released for propaganda purposes. But McCain refused, insisting that longer-held prisoners be released before him. So they beat him some more. He never gave in then, and he won't give in to our enemies now.

Rethinking John McCain

Renewed interest seems to be sparking Republican hopeful John McCain's campaign as the Arizona senator and former prisoner of war garnered endorsements from the liberal Boston Globe, moderate Des Moines Register and conservative Manchester Union-Leader.

That Republicans may be taking a second look at McCain on the eve of the Iowa caucuses is fitting because, at the end of the day, it isn't about ideological purity but rather who can win the whole enchildada.

Those who dismiss McCain as too liberal forget that his American Conservative Union rating is over 80%. The Des Moines Register pegged it right when it said that he has the experience to do the job even though the newspaper doesn't always agree with him.

It may well be that McCain is the devil we know as opposed to the one we don't.

Of the possibilities, Rudy Giuliani has a chunk of support but, like McCain, a number of enemies, too. McCain, however, has experience outside of New York City.

Mitt Romney, the once front-runner in Iowa, is being seen as too conservative by some, too wishy-washy by others and his speech on religion and politics seemed to muddy the waters rather than clear the issue. Nobody ever successfully accused McCain of being wishy-washy.

The 11th hour right-wing darling, Fred Thompson, may have to grapple with Ron Paul for the fringe vote. At least Paul had the integrity to enter the campaign early and with well-defined positions instead of "I'll get back to you on that." Thompson is too much of an actor and, having known Ronald Reagan, I can assure you that Fred Thompson is no Ronald Reagan (no matter how hard he tries). Thompson is no dummy, to be sure, but you have to have a broader base of support and range of policies in order to win the big one. The "Shiite wing" of the Republican party has long failed to recognize this.

With either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama the likely Democratic nominee, the question really is who among the Republican field stands the best chance of fighting off the left-wing. On that basis alone it may well boil down to either (pro-life) McCain or (pro-choice) Giuliani.

There's a few things I don't like about McCain but at the end of the day his military experience, senatorial experience and willingness to engage in straight talk may well be what this country needs.

“That government is best which governs least.”

Thomas Paine's wisdom was not lost on the Pleasant Prairie Village Board Monday when it tabled proposed restrictions on when residents can use their snowblowers.

Trustees Monica Yuhas and Mike Serpe correctly -- and wisely -- noted that the proposed amendment to the village noise ordinance would make it difficult for persons with varying work schedules while Trustee Clyde Allen pointed out it could it difficult for stores and businesses to keep their premises safe for employees and visitors.

All of that is common sense which is in uncommonly short supply.

Village Administrator Mike Pollocoff suggests that snow blowers should be specifically excluded from the village noise ordinance. Probably a good idea but the problem isn't with snowblowers but with either a few overly sensitive people who are suffering from rectal-cranial inversion or a couple of nitwits who might intentionally offend a neighbor. Ordinances should address village-wide issues, not isolated flareups.

That any sane person in Wisconsin would have their undies in a bundle over someone trying to get the snow out of the driveway so they can get to or from work or to make the sidewalks safe is utterly inconceivable -- or is it?

After all, there are numerous stories in Wisconsin of people moving from the city to the country and then complaining about the things attendant to country living, such as the sweet smell of manure. Excuse me but the farms were there first. In other words, get a life.

In this context, it's Wisconsin. We get winter. We get snow. Deal with it even if you lose a little sleep a few nights out of the year.

The village has more important issues to deal with. Unless someone is being a jerk or an idiot with a snowblower, this should not be one of them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Back from Iowa: Caucus Fever pitches high

January 3 isn't that far away and the holiday shopping bustle in Iowa is intertwined with last-minute political endeavors as candidates hope for a good showing in the Iowa caucuses.

While some people have flatly made up their minds, I was not that surprised to find many Iowans I know still undecided. No particular candidate stood out as the best and the brightest.

The Des Moines Register, an important editorial voice in Iowa and the U.S., this weekend endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and John McCain for the Republicans. The paper said the next president must have two "essential qualities": competence, and readiness to lead.

"Americans want their government to work again" and "to do great things again," the Register said. "They'll regain trust in their government when they see a president make that happen."

The paper said that Sen. Clinton of New York is "best prepared" in the party "to confront the enormous challenges the nation faces -- from ending the Iraq war to shoring up America's middle class to confronting global climate change."

The paper had endorsed John Edwards of North Carolina in 2004. But this time around, "[we] too seldom saw the `positive, optimistic' campaign we found appealing" three years ago. "His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change," the Register said.

Clinton, the paper said, gets high marks for bipartisanship, working well with her Republican colleagues.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois "inspired our imaginations. But it was Clinton who inspired our confidence," the paper said.

Within the GOP, the candidates "present an intriguing mix of priorities, personalities and life stories," the Register wrote. But none of them "can offer the tested leadership, in matters foreign and domestic, of" Sen. McCain of Arizona.

Noting McCain's valiant service as a naval aviator and prisoner of war in Vietnam, the Register said he went on to build "an unconventional political career by taking stands based on principle, not party dogma, and frequently pursuing bipartisanship."

On the downside, the Register said, McCain "can be hot-tempered, a trait that's not helpful" in diplomacy. And the paper disagrees with his opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage, among other issues.

But with McCain, "Americans would know what they're getting," the paper wrote. "He doesn't parse words. And on tough calls, he usually lands on the side of goodness - of compassion for illegal immigrants, of concern for the environment for future generations."

This endorsement was probably a surprise for McCain who didn't focus much of his campaign on Iowa where ultra conservative candidates seem to have drawn more interest. It may cause him to rethink that strategy, particularly since Iowa isn't all that conservative.

However, McCain may have trouble in that many McCain 2000 folks who looked to him for inspiration feel betrayed in the sense that they expected him to be more of a thorn in the Bush Administration's side. Add that to the fact that the right-wing Republicans never liked him and McCain may be a hard sell.

As for Obama, Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and United Nations ambassador, said maybe in 2016 but not now. Young believes that Obama lacks sufficient experience and maturity and ascending to the presidency prematurely would be an exercise in failure.

No matter who you like, the Des Moines airport gift shop is ready for you. There are T-shirts and bumper stickers for all the candidates but only one stood out: a white T-shirt with a picture of Bill Clinton that reads: "Bill Clinton for First Lady."

Only one thing's for certain at this point. On January 4 Iowa will go back to hiberation for another three years until the 2012 presidential election draws near.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Why we're so anal about snow removal

Few things get taxpayers as riled up as when the streets aren't cleared of snow and ice in a timely manner.

It's not inappropriate, of course, and very understandable.

Gender, race, economic status and the like don't matter. As taxpayers we pay for this service and when it's not done right, we get mad. Period.

It's like the metric system. Tell us we need to spend billions to change highway signs from miles to kilometers and we'll tell you to take a hike (but not so nicely). It's the kind of issue that unites liberals and conservatives and those in between.

Public officials everywhere would do well to heed the wrath of constituents angry about slippery and snow coverered streets.

If they need to know why, just ask former Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic.

Yawn. The Mitchell Report is out.

It seems like the news media is having more of a field day with the Mitchell Report than the fans -- and understandably so.

The report on alleged steroid use in baseball ostensibly confirms what many people probably already thought and pretty much had resigned themselves to. (It was nice, though, not to see Sammy Sosa's name in there.)

Perhaps the somewhat attenuated response has something to do with the fact that this is just another sign of why many of us gave up on these overpaid crybabies a long time ago.

It's hard to say when it started. Maybe when players thought their annual salary should be more than the cost of building a new school. Or when a working person could no longer afford to take the kids to a ball game. Or when perfectly good stadiums had to be replaced because there weren't enough luxury suites.

Those of us baby boomers who grew up around here remember the likes of Hank Aaron, Warren Spann, Joe Adcock, Del Crandall, Nelson Fox, Minnie Minoso, Early Wynn, Luis Aparicio, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley and many others who were paid less (Spann used to point out that in the early days players didn't even have health insurance!) and performed better. They didn't need to be on steroids and they weren't crybabies because someone else got a better contract because they had a better agent.

Professional sports lost whatever semblance of innocence it had a long, long time ago.

And, we, too, have some of the blame for our continued acceptance of deviant behavior.

Some 20 years ago when I was being interviewed for a federal security clearance some wacky FBI agent kept pressing me about drug use in college, saying he didn't think it was possible for anyone to have gone to the University of Wisconsin in Madison without doing drugs.

Wrong. There were a lot of us. And I read this bozo the riot act about that b.s.

What was equally insulting, though, was his comment that: "It doesn't matter if you did some stuff in college. We just need to know about it. If we couldn't hire anyone who smoked pot while they were in school, we'd have trouble finding people."

So we lower the bar...and lower...and lower...until it's down to the gutter.

What a country.

From the "duh" department: You have reached... (Yeah, right.)

From the "duh" department (or maybe the "please think before opening mouth")...

Why do so many people start their voice mail message, "You have reached George W. Bush, director of intelligence..." when in fact you have not "reached" that person but only that person's voice mail.

If I really reached you, chances are I'd be talking to you, not some stupid machine.


A responsible plan to limit taser use

With nearly 300 deaths following the use of tasers -- electric stun guns -- by police in the United States and Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police internal watchdog panel this week came up with a reasonable and responsible plan to curb taser use.

The RCMP should immediately restrict the use of tasers to only the most serious encounters with people who are combative or pose a risk of “death or grievous bodily harm,” the head of the force's public complaints commission says.

The recommendation is among ten made by commission chairman Paul Kennedy in an interim report released Wednesday. The interm report comes on the heels of the use of the electric stun gun after the death of Polish citizen Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport on Oct. 14.

Among the recommendations:

• Reclassify the taser as an “impact weapon” rather than an “intermediate” device such as pepper spray, which changes how officers use it according to the RCMP's use of force model. In other words, the taser should only be used in situations where a person is being “combative” or poses a risk of “death or grievous bodily harm” to the officer, themselves or the general public.

• Change the RCMP's taser training program to reflect its status as an impact weapon.

• Require recertification in taser use every two years.

• Require and enforce stricter reporting requirements every time a taser is used.

• Creation of an “use-of-force” co-ordinator to oversee policies, techniques and equipment.

“The most powerful asset in a police officer's arsenal is public support. Anything that erodes that support reduces the ability of officers to successfully perform their duties on behalf of the public,” Kennedy said.

He nailed it on the head. Let's hope police administrators have the brains -- and the morals -- to immediately heed these common-sense recommendations.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shock of shocks, Batman! Convicted felons hunt with firearms!

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel makes a big spash about convicted felons hunting with firearms and how a computer cross-match between hunting licenses and probation and parole clients led to 19 arrests.

In northern Wisconsin where hunting is a way of life probation agents have known for years that convicted felons go deer hunting and, unless there was an incident, they generally looked the other way. Fortunately the incidents were few and far between.

The law prohibits convicted felons from possessing firearms without a pardon or special dispensation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

I never thought it made sense for probation agents to look the other way -- the you-know-what would hit the fan pretty quickly if there was an incident -- and the Journal-Sentinel deserves credit for blowing the whistle on an inept system that allows felons to buy hunting licenses with no background check.

And that's just the beginning, folks.

The "Brady bill" mandating background checks for gun purchasers -- at least those who visit authorized dealers as opposed to gun shows where they can buy an arsenal with no questions asked -- isn't worth much more than the paper it's written on.

That's because conviction data is so incomplete and inaccurate that it's easy for convicted felons -- even murderers -- to buy guns because the conviction didn't get into the computer.

I've worked with "rap sheets" for decades and can tell you first hand that there can be pages of arrests but no convictions because the courts in a particular jurisdiction never bothered to send in a disposition report. No disposition reported, no conviction on the "rap sheet" and, voila, here's your gun, sir.

Some states -- Michigan being one of them -- do a very good job of reporting conviction data. Wisconsin doesn't have much to brag about -- although it's getting better -- while Illinois criminal histories are notoriously incomplete.

Of course, the nitwitness newsies at the Journal-Sentinel and other media outlets are too inept to pick up on the real story. They only scratched the surface here. Real reporters would have uncovered the "Brady bill" scandal.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Milwaukee's Fire and Police Commission: A corrupt cop's best friend?

Former Milwaukee police chief Nanette Hegarty may have done some dumb things during her stint at the helm of the seemingly rudderless ship but she wasn't always wrong.

Hegarty did the right thing when she fired Officer Alex Ayala for covering up that his younger brother falsely assumed the identity of a dead cousin to work as a Milwaukee police officer.

Specifically, she accused Alex of lying to federal agents who were investigating his brother, Oscar, by saying that Oscar lived in Mexico when, in fact, Oscar, also a Milwaukee officer, was using the assumed identity of Jose Morales.

Oscar, an illegal immigrant, was later successfully prosecuted for falsely representing himself as a U.S. citizen. He received one year federal probation and was ordered deported.

As harsh as it might seem to some, the chief did the right thing by canning Alex. The Fire and Police Commission, however, reversed the chief and ordered a ten-day suspension.

Ten day suspension? That's not even a slap on the wrist. It's a tickle.

While it's hard not to feel a little sympathy for the Ayala family, the problem isn't just about one brother trying to cover up for the other. It's not that simple. It's not about sympathy.

What Alex did was compromise his ability to be an effective police officer, period.

The duties of a police officer include not just suppressing -- or trying to suppress -- crime on the streets but cooperating in the prosecution of accused lawbreakers and that means testifying in court.

Every time Alex is called to the witness stand the law allows him to be impeached by his untruthfulness, and, in the vast majority of arrests, the evidence boils down to the word of the officer vesus the accused.

Think about it. Routinely an officer might testify that he or she saw a driver cross the center line, or speed, or that a suspect orally confessed or gave permission for a search. In many, many cases there will be no corroborative evidence so it's the word of the officer vs. the accused who claims that he wasn't speeding or didn't cross the center line or she didn't confess to beating her child or giving permission to search her car for drugs. When that officer has a demonstrated history of untruthfulness -- especially in the context of a criminal investigation -- then who should the jury believe?

In our criminal justice system, an accused criminal does not have to prove that he or she is innocent. The burden is on the state. Further, juries are instructed that if they can reconcile the evidence with any reasonable hypothesis consistent with the defendant's innocence, they should do so and return a verdict of not guilty. When the arresting officer has a documented history of untruthfulness a jury is within its rights to disregard all or part of uncorroborated testimony.

True, Alex didn't beat Frank Jude or allow Dahmer to go along his merry way. But he nonetheless destroyed his own credibilty and with it his ability to be an effective police officer. As such he does not belong on any police department.

But the nitwits on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission are either too dumb and/or corrupt to understand this so they put a lying cop back on the job -- one that he can't effectively perform.

At a time when this state's largest city under siege by criminals and the police department has been hit with the tarnish of highly publicized cases of police misconduct, one would think that the Fire and Police Commission would set the proper tone that corruption at any level won't be tolerated.

But they didn't. Milwaukee continues to burn because those who are running the show are either too inept or too corrupt or both.

Clinton and Obama: Sleaze at any speed.

Bill Shaheen, a co-chair of Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign, took heat because he said much of rival Barack Obama's background is unknown and could be a problem if he is the Democratic nominee.

Shaheen said Republicans would work hard to discover new aspects of Obama's admittedly spotty youth."It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?'" said Shaheen. "There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome," Shaheen said.

After Obama's flaks called Shaheen's remarks a cheap shot, the Clinton's campaign said it had nothing to do with his comments, and Shaheen wimped out by saying that he regretted them.

Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

Shaheen was right on the money the first time. Like it or not, Obama's drug use is an issue. Voters are free to give it whatever weight we individually think but it's still a valid issue.

Obama wrote about his teenage drug use in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father." His rivals have largely remained silent on the subject.

"Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final fatal role of the young would-be black man," Obama wrote. Mostly he smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, he wrote, but occasionally he would snort cocaine when he could afford it.

Speaking to Manchester high school students earlier this month, Obama said he was hardly a model student and had experimented with drugs and alcohol.

"You know, I made some bad decisions that I've actually written about. You know, got into drinking. I experimented with drugs," he said. "There was a whole stretch of time that I didn't really apply myself a lot. It wasn't until I got out of high school and went to college that I started realizing, 'Man, I wasted a lot of time.'"

By making those comments, folks, Obama himself put his prior drug use into play as an issue -- and legitimately so. Some people may hold it against him while others may find it appealing that he ostensibly was able to pull himself out of his errant ways and, like President Bush's acknowledgement of being a reformed alcoholic, that candor could be viewed as a sign of hope.

But Obama earns the cheap scumbag politician stripes by trying to have it both ways -- as does Hillary. Criminal behavior is a relevant issue. And there's nothing wrong with Hillary's campaign raising it.

What is wrong with the Hillary campaign is when they raise the trial balloon and Obama cried "Ouch!" that they tried to stuff the genie in the bottle and offer a faint apology.

Yeah, right. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the Clinton campaign discussing Obama's drug use. If there was any doubt as to its legitimacy, Obama himself resolved that by putting it on the table.

As a voter, I will decide -- as any voter -- what issues I think are relevant. That's the absolute right of any and every voter and we don't need any candidate -- whether it's Barack Obama about his criminal and drug past or Mitt Romney's self-serving diatribe on religion -- defining for us what the issues are.

While the sniping between the Clinton and Obama camps is reminiscent of a cat fight between hookers arguing over who is the bigger whore, this all too frequent misconduct by candidates of disrespecting the absolute province of every voter is utterly insulting and repugnant to our electoral process.

Some voters may hold Obama's drug use against him. Some may find his ability to put it behind him and exhort youth not to repeat his sins as a positive. Others may not be fazed at all. But how to assess this is our exclusive right as voters and something no candidate or campaign has any right whatsoever to violate.

If Obama and Clinton can't respect the sacred province of the electorate, neither is worthy of any public office. Period.

Can you say Stupid-valu?

A few years ago Jewel made a big splash about returning to southeastern Wisconsin, opening grocery and Osco Drug Stores in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha.

The stores did well -- especially the Kenosha store as Jewel is the "home town store" for Illinois transplants.

But funny things happen in the grocery business.

Jewel was bought by Albertson's which kept Jewel-Osco intact. (Once when a prescription was stolen from my checked luggage I was able to get it immediately replaced at an Osco store inside an Albertson's in Bozeman, Montana. That's good service!)

Albertson's was later bought out by Super-Valu which decided to close the Wisconsin Jewel stores and Osco pharmacies. The corporate flaks at Super-Valu came out with the usually male bovine excrement to cover this idiotic decision. CVS took over the free-standing Osco pharmacies while the Kenosha and Racine Jewel stores were sold to Albrecht's, a Wisconsin grocer, to be reopened as Sentry stores (ironically stocked by Super-Valu).

So here's what happened in Kenosha.

The first dumb move was to close the Kenosha Jewel-Osco store. It was profitable and could easily have been stocked by Jewel's Chicago area warehouse (just as Jewel-Osco is in Zion). That was corporate rectal-cranial inversion at its finest. Or was it?

The even dumber move was not just to close the Kenosha Jewel-Osco store but to make the new owner change brands. Stupid-Valu could have seamlessly transferred the grocery store and pharmacy to the new owners and kept stocking it. It could have been run as a Jewel-Osco without any interruption of business. But, hey, it's not Stupid-Valu without a reason, right?

So, Jewel-Osco spent several weeks doing a massive cleanout of the store's inventory. It was like attending a funeral for days on end. Nobody was happy to see Jewel-Osco close.

Then adding even more layers of stupidity the store had to be closed to restock it as a Sentry store which had zero brand identity with Illinois transplants (of which there are many in Kenosha).

When it finally reopened (and the pharmacy became an Aurora pharmacy, a regional operation with limited hours) the customers predictably didn't come back. The familiar brands and services were gone. The new store stocked less and never even looked as if the remodeling was completed. I predicted it would close within a year.

Yesterday Albrecht's said the Sentry store would close in February. They're looking for a buyer, of course, but folks, it's damaged goods. Aurora Pharmacy will close, too.

About the only think that might work would be if Stupid-Valu came to its senses and realized how stupid they were and bought the store and pharmacy back. A Jewel-Osco at that location would still work but only if Stupid-Valu was smart enough to make an immediate transition.

But we all know how eager corporate poo-bahs are when it comes to admitting they screwed up. I'm more likely to be the new poster child for Jenny Craig.

Man bites dog? Really.

It's said that when a dog bites a man it isn't news but when a man bites a dog it is.

The usual fine job Pleasant Prairie crews do with snow removal and ice control wasn't noticeable on the glazed ice streets in my neighborhood late last night and this morning. Cars were spinning out because they hadn't been salted.

On the flip side, these streets were still a lot cleaner than their city counterparts. Kind of like comparing a paper cut to a gunshot wound. Still, the village didn't do it's usual fine job.

Sometimes even a good student can get a D.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pleasant Prairie Village Board audio now online

The Pleasant Prairie village board made good on its unanimous promise to post audio recordings of its meetings on the village web site.

The first MP3 file from the December 3 meeting is now online. The audio quality is very good.

Ultimately it would be nice to have a live audio stream but this nonetheless is a good start.

Wisconsin Supreme Court: Trying to put the genie back into the bottle?

All seven justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote the governor and the state Legislature supporting "the concept of realistic, meaningful public financing" for Supreme Court elections.

"A cornerstone of our state is that the judiciary is fair, neutral, impartial and non-partisan," wrote Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson and the six other justices.

"The risk inherent in any non-publicly funded judicial election for this Court is that the public may inaccurately perceive a justice as beholden to individuals or groups that contribute to his or her campaign. Judges must not only be fair, neutral, impartial and non-partisan but also should be so perceived by the public."

The justices stopped short of endorsing any particular legislation on public financing. They also said their support for public financing for Supreme Court races does not mean that they necessarily support the same for other offices.

The recent nasty Supreme Court race between Justice Annette Ziegler and Madison attorney Linda Clifford broke spending records. Some $5.8 million was spent on the campaign, most of it by outside groups.

The massive mudslinging between Ziegler and Clifford prompted the State Bar of Wisconsin to form a bipartisan judicial campaign watchdog committee.

In addition to educating the public about the unique roles and responsibilities of judges, the committee will actively and publicly seek pledges from candidates to adhere to the Judicial Code of Conduct (adopted by the state Supreme Court), which defines permissible judicial campaign activities. The committee will also review judicial campaign materials produced by candidates and their supporters, either on complaint or their own initiative, to determine if any such materials violate the code by, for example:
  • Partisan political activity;
  • Conduct that undermines the integrity and independence of the judiciary;
  • Promises and commitments that are inconsistent with impartial justice; or
  • Knowingly misrepresenting facts concerning a candidate or opponent.
Let's hope these initiatives aren't "a day late and a dollar short." Based on their conduct in the last election, the thought of calling Ziegler or Clifford "honorable" is nauseating.

A truckload of moose droppings...

...on Peter MacKay, Canada's defense minister, for not allowing care packages to be sent to "Any Canadian Forces Member" in Afghanistan.

More than 1,700 care packages collected in the Montreal area destined for Canadian troops in Afghanistan have been grounded after the military said they could not be sent overseas.

Citing security concerns and a lack of space on transport aircraft, the Canadian Forces has informed the members of the Royal Canadian Legion that they cannot accept the packages. Parcels must be addressed to a specific soldier, the military said.

Organizers are understandably devastated.

There comes a time when common sense and the humanitarian spirit should prevail.

Incidentally, one of the reasons cited for not allowing the packages was the cost.

Yeah, right. The Canadian government has a huge surplus. The bureaucratic geniuses that came up with this excrement obviously suffer from severe rectal-cranial inversion.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dad29's pick for Miss America? Or is she Owen and Jed's?

Miss Utah: Sgt. Jill Stevens, Utah National Guard

What can you say about the Packers?

38-7 tarring of Oakland.

Clinching NFC North title.

Way to go!!!

Does Oprah's backing help Obama?

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's no-so-secret weapon joined him on the campaign trail this weekend in Iowa and South Carolina.

Talk show host Oprah Winfrey told a large crowd in Des Moines that she didn't want to tell them what to think but rather to encourage them to think. According to the Des Moines Register:

Winfrey told the screaming crowd that she has voted for as many Republicans
in her life as Democrats. She added that Saturday marked the first time in her
career that she has officially endorsed and campaigned for any candidate,
because "if we continue to do the same things over and over and over again, I
know that you get the same results.

"We don't know what the future holds, so we must respond to the
pressures and the fortunes of history when the moment strikes, and Iowa, I
believe that moment is now," Winfrey said.

Winfrey, a talk show host, is viewed as one of the most influential
entertainers in the world. But her influence on politics is untested and it
doesn't guarantee a windfall of support for Obama.In general, political experts
agree that celebrity endorsements have little influence upon voters.

The exception, however, may be the size of crowds drawn by Winfrey's
appearance who, in turn, hear Obama speak.

But the key question remains if those people will transform into

A USA Today-Gallup Poll released in October found 8 percent of adults said
Winfrey's endorsement made them more likely to support Obama, while 10 percent
said it would make them less likely to back him.

How do you feel? I still think the freshman Senator doesn't have enough experience to be president, a claim Winfrey doesn't buy:

She said, "experience in the hallways of government isn't as important to
me as the experience on the pathway of life.

"So I challenge you to see through those people who try and convince you
that experience in politics as usual is more valuable than wisdom won from years
of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.," she said.

While that may be stirring, we need only think back to 1976 when an inexperienced Jimmy Carter bemoaned Washington-ways and then spent his four years as president learning on the job. It's a bipartisan rap. Some would also argue that the current president wasn't all that experienced and it, too, shows.

My take is that Oprah's views are entitled to no more credence than anyone else's.

High schooler's prank doesn't amuse paranoid White House

A 16-year-old high school student in Iceland decided to play a telephone prank and called the White House pretending to be Iceland's president.

The boy, who said he just wanted to talk to President Bush and invite him to Iceland, dialed up one of the Oval Office's private line. He said he eventually got through to Bush's secretary who said that Bush wasn't available but would try to arrange a return call to Iceland's "president."

The humorless White House reached out to Icelandic police who brought the boy down to the police station for several hours of question about how he acquired the private number. The boy, who says he can't remember, was eventually released without charges.

"Hello, do you have Prince Dubya in a can?"

The White House needs to get a life. Sheesh.

Breaking news: "Canada's Dahmer" found guilty of lesser crimes

A jury in British Columbia acquitted hog farmer Robert Pickton on six counts of first degree murder but then found him guilty of second degree murder in each case.

The jury deliberated for more than one week and apparently compromised by convicting Pickton of the lesser crime. It's a bizarre verdict.

In Canada, murder is classified as first or second degree. First degree murder is a murder which is either (1) planned and deliberate, (2) contracted, (3) where the victim is an identified police officer (4) in the furtherance of another serious criminal offence (kidnapping, robbery, harassment, terrorist activity, or using explosives within criminal organizations, etc.).
Second degree murder is all murder which is not first degree.

The six counts are the first wave of prosecution of Pickton who faces as many as 20 additional counts of first degree murder.

Unfortunately, American media rarely pays attention to what happens north of the 49th parallel but Pickton is likely one of North America's worst mass murderers.

Prosecutors contend that Pickton lured the victims -- mostly considered to be drug additcts and/or sex-trade workers -- to his hog farm by offers of drugs and money.

Here's why the verdict was so bizarre.

During the trial, one witness testified that she came upon Pickton, who was covered in blood, in the farm slaughterhouse while he was in the process of butchering one of the women.

And Pickton appeared to admit to the murders several times — without making a clear confession — during a police interrogation and jail cell conversations. He said that he was "so close" to killing an even 50 women, but got sloppy and was caught. Once he complained to police: "You're making me out to be more of a mass murderer than I am."

Despite the apparent leniency, Pickton faces automatic life sentences on each of the six convictions and could be eligible for parole in as little as ten years. Immediately after the verdicts were announced the jury went back to the jury room to decide if they had a recommendation on how long Pickton should have to wait to be eligible for parole. The range is ten to 25 years.

UPDATE: The jury came back with no recommendation.

Keith Bosman should be pi_ _ed.

Former Kenosha alderman Keith Bosman is running for mayor and, while it's been noted here that he's hardly Mr. Excitement, I'll bet Bosman's blood pressure is elevated over this headline on the Kenosha News web site: "Readers react to column, recent sexual assault."

Beneath that headline is a story about Bosman picking up some endorsements from construction workers and contractor groups.

That headline was corrected several hours later.

Bosman certainly couldn't be blamed if he thinks that with friends like the Kenosha News who needs enemies?

"Tis the season to control junk mail

It starts in September or October when the first few holiday catalogs arrive. A month or so later it picks up to as many as six unsolicited catalogs in the mail each day.

And that's just catalogs.

There's also targeted mailings, postcards and a boatload of solicitations from various charities.

Most of this junk mail goes where junk should go: in the trash (or, where appropriate, the recycling bin).

This is not to suggest that I'm a Scrooge when it comes to supporting charities. To the contrary, I believe in supporting various charitable causes throughout the year. I prefer to do so as quietly as I can. But please forgive my consternation when I get an envelope and solicitation letter from the Shalom Center, a worthwhile organization that gets a quarterly donation. Why are they sending me this letter and envelope in December?

I used the Shalom Center by way of illustration and not limitation as there are many others who do the same thing and while I often write out additional checks to charities toward the end of the year I can pretty much guarantee any place that hits me up about now will find their letter tossed out.

I know all too well that charities depend on us to help them continue their good work but at some point enough is enough.

The same for those catalogs. (I love online shopping.)

There you have my rant. Now where did I leave that envelope for the Goodfellows?

"Clean Water" story is as murky as the issue

The Sunday Kenosha News reports on Pleasant Prairie's controversial clean water fee, suggesting that the village's interpretation of state laws and rules may be wrong by exempting agricultural land, a move that ostensibly benefits village president John P. Steinbrink, sr.

The article concedes that the matter is "subject to interpretation" and the underlying regulations deeply complicated. (Having heard explanations of the fee structure several months ago I will also concede that it is very complex.)

But here's the real problem.

If Steinbrink is unlawfully getting a sweetheart deal, that's news. But there's a world of difference between "may be" and "is" and the article does little to actually resolve the issue.

For example, the online story doesn't say what similar communities around the state have done with respect to agricultural land. It would certainly have bolstered the online story's credibility had this information been included. There was a story in the print version and, upon reading it, it says that the approach to agricultural land varies widely among the mentioned communities. (In Mount Pleasant, for example, agricultural land pays a flat annual $19 fee per parcel which, when you take into account the cost of collection, probably amounts to a wash.)

The print story doesn't mention any other Pleasant Prairie landowners who aren't paying clean water fees on land exempt because of agricultural use. The print story would have greater credibility if it could be shown that the exemption only benefits Steinbrink and his family.

Had Steinbrink used his official position to engineer a benefit for himself, that would be news. But the newspaper, while raising that inference, never established any wrongdoing.

So the way the story reads, Steinbrink may be wrongly benefitting from the village's clean water assessment formula but the newspaper isn't sure whether he actually is and concedes that the matter is subject to interpretation.

About the only thing that's clear is shoddy journalism.

Steinbrink's friends will cry foul and say that the newspaper was simply trying to do a hatchet job. Maybe that's true -- and maybe it's something that's subject to interpretation.

UPDATE: Since the story was posted early this morning the newspaper has now added a comparison chart of other village properties, a memo concerning clean water fees and a link to how they are calculated in the village. According to the memo, the village is not prohibited from excluding agricultural land and that the factors used in the village's formula are legitimate.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Soglin critics need to chill out

Paul Soglin, Madison's former hippie mayor, has been catching flak about his rant against moronic bicyclists who venture out during massive snowstorms.

Now it's true that I've suggested on occasion that Paul is so full of it that maybe he should be licensed as a sewage treatment plant. On the flip side, as mayor he was one of the best friends business ever had in Madison although his recent rants about cable competion are puzzling.

But I know that Paul does have a keen sense of humor (such as when after announcing he would not run for another term he showed up at a city council meeting wearing a duck costume and holding crutches because he was a "lame duck") which may not be appreciated by all.

Should bicyclists who venture out in nasty snowstorms be shot? I don't know. Maybe just run over by a Madison metro bus. Or forced to ride around Kenosha all day on a trolley.

But all of you who are giving Paul heat, lighten up. Otherwise, you're proving Lee Dreyfus' argument that Madison really is an isthmus surrounded by reality.

Merry Christmas, the tax bills cometh. Yeah, right.

The tax bills are coming! The tax bills are coming!

Well, mine is here and there is little reason for joy. The entire bill is up 4.4% -- too much, I think. The main culprit: The Kenosha Unified School District.

Let's take a look at what the drunken spending style school board has done.

The tax rate is up 5.1%. That's bad enough. But there are other numbers, such as the entire levy amount of $80.5 million vs. $74.7 million last year. That's a big hike.

You might not know it but KUSD is the third largest school district in Wisconsin in terms of enrollment in the state with 22,482 students -- 2,273 less than Madison and 786 more than Racine and 2,412 more than Green Bay.

So, Racine's enrollment is 96.5% of Kenosha's figure. But the Racine tax levy is $63.8 million and that district's tax rate actually went down this year! In other words, Racine taxpayers are shelling out $2,942 per student vs. $3,581 in Kenosha.

The legislature is both the hero and villian in terms of the property tax bill. The Kenosha school tax rate was ameliorated by a more than $1.8 million in additional state aid. The flip side, though, is that state aid decreased to the Gateway Technical College district and the Village of Pleasant Prairie. Kenosha County's state aid was essentially the same as last year. The lottery credit was down a few dollars.

In the end, the big culprit is the Kenosha Unified School District and it's high time the state legislature put real brakes on tax increases. That's easily said but just passing local levy limits -- which sure didn't help taxpayers this year -- isn't enough. The governor and legislature have a nasty habit of cost-shifting -- reducing state payments which means municipalities must pick up the slack.

Improving funding for schools to reduce the burden on the property tax is a great idea. It's been talked about for decades but nobody does anything about it. That said, we need to start putting the brakes on reckless school spending and it starts here at home.

The Kenosha area exists! It really does!

Just ask the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Nice to see the newspaper take note of things to do here besides shop but there are more restaurants than Mangia's and Franks' Diner and more things to do than ride the trolley and go to the dinosaur museum. Sheesh.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Memo to Mitt: Religion can be a legitimate issue. Get over it.

Mitt Romney is confused these days.

His attempt to one-up John F. Kennedy's pledge to put his country first falls flat because it fails to recognize the difference between the American right to freedom of religion and whether one's religious beliefs could or should be assessed in determining fitness for public office.

How dare he confuse the two.

The First Amendment (brought home to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment and individual state constitutions) prohibits enactment of laws that would infringe on religious freedom. You cannot outlaw, say, a Muslim from running for public office or require that any candidate vow to support Christianity. You can't compel an atheist (or anyone else) to swear under oath "so help me God" nor can there be a state religion.

The First Amendment is a restraint on government interference with religious freedom and a wise one at that.

However, just as having the freedom of speech does not absolve someone of the consequences of his or her words, freedom of religion does not wipe one's religious beliefs and practices off the slate.

In The Prophet Khalil Gibran wrote: "Who can separate his faith from his actions, or his belief from his occupations? Who can spread his hours before him, saying, 'This for God and this for myself; This for my soul, and this other for my body?'"

So, while a candidate may pledge to separate religion from occupation, it may not always be so easy to do that and, in any event, that pledge does not necessarily take the issue from the table.

There are many fine tenets in Mormonism which square with what most folks would consider American values. In fact, some aspects are indeed admirable, such as the focus on family.

On the flip side, if I was black I might be nervous about a religion that not all that long ago considered me not as worthy as a white person. The same could be said by a woman who would speculate whether, for example, a Catholic candidate would share her position on abortion.

While Mitt Romney's pledge was noteworthy, it doesn't end the issue. That may not always be fair but life isn't always fair and politics rarely is.

And, you really can't have it both ways. How many candidates suck up to religious groups seeking their support? (In 2000 Wisconsin Right to Life did a mailing endorsing George W, Bush even though his primary opponent, John McCain, had a strong pro-life voting record.) Can you really get away with saying to one audience, "I can separate my religion from my official actions?" and then on another day court voters based in whole or part on those beliefs?

This is not to single Mitt Romney out by any means although he did open the door by talking about the issue earlier this week. Other candidates may face similar scrutiny and it's not necessarily inappropriate.

While JFK 45 years ago vowed not to take marching orders from the Vatican, today right-wing Catholic bishops are suggesting that Catholic politicians who don't toe the church's line might be penalized by the church. Most Catholic politicians have blown off that threat but it's still out there.

So, Mitt, whether you like it or not, your religious beliefs and practices, for better or worse, can be a legitimate issue. I agree it shouldn't be the only one but it is something that voters can give as much weight as they want when deciding which candidate has earned their votes.

Breaking news: Could that water bottle make you sick?

News reports from Canada today say that Mountain Equipment Co-op, Canada’s largest specialty outdoor-goods retailer (Canadian equivalent of REI), says it’s has pulled most food and beverage containers made of polycarbonate plastic from its shelves, citing concern over possible health risks.

The Vancouver-based firm been one of the largest sellers of such products as polycarbonate Nalgene water bottles.

The plastic in question is made mostly from bisphenol A, which mimics estrogen and is derived from petrochemicals. It has been linked in dozens of independent research studies to illnesses that could be caused by hormone disruption. However, manufacturers of bisphenol A say their research shows the material to be harmless.

Health Canada is conducting an assessment of bisphenol A and trying to sort out the conflicting evidence. It expects to issue preliminary results of its review next spring, and a final report on the safety of the chemical in 2009. The Ontario government is also looking at the chemical.
Mountain Equipment said it will keep polycarbonate products out of stores, pending results of the federal review.

A spokesman for Nalgene's manufacturer, Nalge Nunc International Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., said it believes Mountain Equipment is the first major retailer in North America to pull its polycarbonate bottles based on health worries.

“From our perspective, it's certainly unfortunate because we feel there is a body of evidence” supporting the safety of the product, Eric Hanson said. He added that the retailer's action won't affect all of its products because the company also markets containers that do not contain bisphenol A.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Supervisor Peggy West: Dim bulb, corrupt politician or both?

Milwaukee County Supervisor Peggy West is the latest Darwin award candidate for her bizarre comments to the Milwaukee County Board's Transportation Committee which is considering a proposal from County Executive Scott Walker (hardly a fan of big government) to ditch the smoking lounge at Mitchell Field.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "Supervisor Peggy West, who is not a member of the committee, testified against the measure, saying that abolishing the airport smoking lounge would hurt Milwaukee's ability to attract business."

Where's the data to back that up? Virtually every study of communities and states that enacted smoke free dining shows no loss of business across the board and, in fact, increased business in some communities. That type of moronic comment is ignorant and corrupt.

Then there's another rocket scientist, Kelly Wirth, a Midwest Airlines employee, who presented supervisors with some 2,000 signatures she gathered at the airport lounge in opposition to eliminating the smoking room. She claims smokers would avoid flying through Mitchell if the smoking lounge was cut and try to sneak a smoke in restrooms and stairwells.

Hmmm. Apparently the best care in the air isn't good enough for her and the nicotine nitwits. Let's examine that claim a bit more carefully. Just where would these passengers go? Chicago? Nope. Airports there have been smoke free for years -- and it is enforced. Madison? Hardly. How about South Bend? Not inside the building (but there are two outdoor smoking huts for the truly addicted).

The interesting thing about the tobacco lobby and their surrogate smurfs is that their arguments resemble mirages. At first they might look like something but as you get closer to the facts their logic gets more fuzzy and, when you reach them, it disappears.

Listen up, crybabies. There is no constitutional right to smoke in a public facilility or premises held out to the public. Get over it. And if you want to gripe about it, at least tell the truth.

And, by the way, Supervisor West likes to tout that she's the first Latino elected to the county board (it's on her web page). Given that the tobacco companies target Latinos and other minorities, and minority youth in particular, you'd think she wouldn't be in bed with the tobacco lobby. Either this politician is plain stupid or is willing to sell out her own community.

I tawt I taw a city plow!

I did. I did see a city plow. It was at 39th Avenue and Roosevelt Road in Kenosha at 9:25 p.m.

The plow went right through the intersection southbound on 39th Avenue -- with the blade up (although it did drop some salt on the snow covered road).

From downtown Kenosha the roads were snow covered and slippery. I'm glad to know it isn't just me who thinks that plowing and salting isn't what it used to be.

It's a skill but not rocket science: you simply have to keep up with the storm. That shouldn't be so difficult since the National Weather Service issues pinpoint short-term forecasts which are fairly accurate.

It's Wisconsin. It's winter. These crews should be out there dealing with it.

To telecast or not to telecast, that is the question

The Pleasant Prairie village board Monday agreed to put audio recordings of its meetings on the village web site.

While that's a start, it would be easier (and perhaps cheaper) just to stream the live audio. A delayed recording may not be as useful as a live broadcast.

The cost for a live audio stream is minimal. The board ought to consider it.

The board talked about whether meetings should be telecast on the village cable channel but took no action due to the cost. Various figures have been tossed out and, while it won't be cheap, it probably won't exceed $100,000 to get started and I'd guess about $400-500 per meeting to cover personnel and expenses.

The job is tricker and pricier as the village's cable access point is several miles away from the village hall so lines would have to be run.

Equipment would also be necessary, i.e., a couple of broadcast grade cameras (about $5,000, give or take, each with accessories), cables, a switcher, console, racks, stands and cabinets. The color balance in the auditorium is off and lighting would need to be upgraded. For public safety provisions would need to be made to conceal cables so that someone doesn't trip on one. There's also a need for recording equipment and storage media.

Two camera operators, a console/switcher operator and someone back at the control center would likely be needed during the telecasts.

I point this out because doing the job correctly requires a chunk of change to get started and there are ongoing expenses. While I support telecasting if funds are available, I have to agree that there are higher priorities for village spending. If someone wanted to donate the hardware, that would be nice.

Former trustee Alex Tiahnybok's YouTube experiment shows that it's possible to get a video and audio image out to the public but YouTube is cumbersome and the video is awful. Plus it's a delayed broacast and the number of "hits" reveals that not that many people want to watch it. Nonetheless, Alex showed that it can be done. The real question is the cost to do it properly.

A live audio stream, however, is cheap and gives village residents and others a chance to hear what's going on at board meetings as it happens. Someone who can't make a meeting could simply log on the village website and listen in.

The Kenosha News editorially applauded the village board for making the audio recordings available. It's really a backhanded compliment. Nowhere did the newspaper chide other the vast majority of other governmental entities in the county that don't do so. It's not fair to single out the Pleasant Prairie village board without pointing out the number of other town, village and school boards that do less.

A local question with broader impact

Pleasant Prairie resident John Braig, who chairs the village's Board of Review and sits on the Plan Commission, complained Monday night about how long trains block grade crossings in the village.

His frustration is understandable and the law offers little relief.

Here's what Wisconsin law says: "192.292 Trains obstructing highways. It shall be unlawful to stop any railroad train, locomotive or car upon or across any highway or street crossing, outside of cities, or leave the same standing upon such crossing longer than 10 minutes, except in cases of accident; and any railroad company that shall violate this section shall be liable to a fine of not more than $500 or any officer of such company responsible for the violation shall be liable to imprisonment of not more than 15 days."

So, while this law applies in the village, it only covers trains that stop or are left standing. Further, an attempt by the Village of Sturtevant to enact a stricter ordinance was shot down by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals which said that only the state may regulate this area of law.

The legislature, of course, can change this, if it wants, and with Assemblyman John P. Steinbrink, sr., as village president, maybe some relief from Madison is in order. The law needs to read that a train can't obstruct any highway grade crossing anywhere in the state for more than ten minutes and the penalty needs to be revised to a civil forfeiture of no less than $1,000. Plus the law should be put in the traffic code so police can issue citations on the spot (which makes for easier enforcement).

For a look at how other states deal with this, the Federal Railroad Administration complied this list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Oh where,oh were did our snow plow go? Oh where, oh where can it be?

What a difference a boundary makes.

Pleasant Prairie's thoroughfares were in good winter driving condition -- at worst -- while the City of Kenosha's streets were, as usual, snow covered, slippery and in horrible shape.

After 15 minutes of driving I finally saw the city's snow plow -- with its blade up!

This is one of the few area where Mayor John Antaramian lays an egg. How dare the city seek more tax money from property owners when it can't properly use what it already collects.

Of course, why should the mayor care? He's a lame duck.

A mayor who should care, however, is Milwaukee's Tom Barrett.

By all accounts city plows and salters did a terrible job with last Saturday's storm -- and they had several days advance notice, including an accurate projection of when the storm would hit the city.

There was a time when these services were executed consistently well. No more.

Perhaps these politicians should venture south to Chicago and ask what happened to Michael Bilandic.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A very sad day for Kenosha

The new owner of G. LeBlanc will put the final nails in the coffin of its Kenosha manufacturing facility next year. 100 people will lose their jobs when Conn-Semler moves the remaining band instrument production to Indiana.

Despite promises to the contrary, Conn-Semler had been downgrading the Kenosha operation since it bought it in 2004.

It itself the loss of 100 jobs -- especially with the news coming at this time of the year -- is depressing enough.

But the loss is more than just jobs. It's the progressive erosion of Kenosha's identity.

Despite Kenosha's fortunate ability to morph itself into a bedroom suburb, the bedrock of this community was its manufacturing workforce.

The biggest, and most noticeable loss, of course, was American Motors cars. It's been nearly 20 years since an automobile rolled off an assembly line in Kenosha. Yes, Chrysler still makes engines here, but it isn't the same.

That goes for Jockey and Snap-On, too. Both international companies are headquartered here but it's been many long years since Jockey made any clothing In Kenosha and Snap-On shut down its manufacturing here about four years ago.

MacWhyte wire rope is gone. Ditto for Dynamatic. And let's not forget Peter Pirsch, once the "Cadillac of fire engines." Or Simmons. Or Frost. Or American Brass. There are others.

All of these companies provided good jobs for Kenoshans who in turn built good homes and good schools. They quite literally helped build the foundation of this community.

They also gave our community a sense of pride. An AMC worker could be anywhere in the country and point at a Rambler with a smile and say, "I helped make that."

But no more -- and our community is not necessarily the better for this.

While we mourn another loss, let's also not forget that this didn't happen overnight. Our political leaders -- especially at the state level -- simply didn't do enough at times to keep jobs here. They still don't do enough to grow new job opportunities. They'd rather bicker and backstab than work for the best interests of Wisconsin.

Miss Forward must be sobbing.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mistrust of Islam isn't always misplaced

Whenever a seemingly “knee jerk” reaction bum raps anything Islamic in nature there comes the countervailing force that says that not all Muslims are dangerous wackos and thus shouldn’t be painted with a broad brush.

That, of course, is true. But nonetheless mistrust of Islamic followers isn’t always misplaced.

Take the case of a British school teacher jailed for insulting Islam after she allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons' conviction under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law shocked Britons and many Muslims worldwide. Hard-line Muslim clerics in Sudan accused her of intentionally seeking to insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad, and the case angered some Sudanese, sparking a protest where demonstrators called for her execution.

True, her release came after two British Muslim members of the House of Lords met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir early Monday to plead for her freedom.

Gibbons also sent a written statement to al-Bashir that she did not intend to offend anyone and had great respect for Islam.

Gibbons, 54, was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation for insulting Islam because she allowed her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad - a common name among Muslim men - in a class project on animals.

Ghazi Saladdin, a senior presidential adviser, said al-Bashir insisted that Gibbons had a “fair trial” but he agreed to pardon her because of the efforts by the British Muslim delegation.

During her trial, the weeping teacher said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.

The conviction shocked many Britons – and the rest of the world.

It’s things like this that give people reason to question Islam and its followers. Regardless of the explanations, the questions are nonetheless justified and fair.

Wisconsin's legislature: Inept at any speed?

You realize, of course, that if common sense was indeed common you could buy it at Wal-Mart but nonetheless our Wisconsin legislature certainly takes the came when it comes to being out in the ozone.

Take the Interstate Compact on Nonresident Traffic Violators. That's the pact between participating states where if a motorist gets an out-of-state traffic ticket and doesn't pay it, his or her home state suspends the motorist's driver's license until it's paid. Pretty simple stuff plus it saves Wisconsin drivers from having to post cash when ticketed out-of-state.

The compact has been around for a couple of decades but Wisconsin never signed on. How dumb is that?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel calculated how dumb: about $8 million worth in unpaid traffic forfeitures.

I'd say that qualifies as really dumb.

Of course, there's more to the story and that's the scourge of uninsured and unlicensed motorists on the highways. You can blame the legislature and wimpy judges for that.

Uninsured drivers? Not a high tech situation here: no insurance, no license plates.

Unlicensed drivers? Driving after suspension or revocation? We used to put these morons in jail. Not today. Judges bend over backwards to be nice to them. Why?

Yes, we can work with someone who had some hard luck and is making a good faith effort to get a license and insurance but there comes a time when enough is enough.

And don't whine about the cost of enforcing this law. Every city and county in this state has law enforcement officers on the road every day. No license? No insurance? Seize the license plates.

Is this foolproof? Of course not. An unlicensed driver could easily drive a licensed person's car. But then there's another state law about permitting an unlicensed person to driver your car. Heaven forbid that be enforced.

You don't solve a problem by ignoring it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

No wonder we call it the Kenosha Snooze!

Sunday's Kenosha News carries an article about former Pleasant Prairie village trustee Alex Tiahnybok taping village board meetings which are then posted to a YouTube account.

Yawn. Not only is it a pretty lame story but old news which was discussed here on November 9 and 19.

The newspaper also fails to mention that on the agenda for next Monday's village board meeting is a proposal to "podcast" the audio of village board proceedings.

A live "webcast" seems like a better idea but, hey, it's a start. And it's something the Kenosha News missed.

You snooze, you don't get the news!