Friday, February 29, 2008

Pandering Obama, Hillary risk international trade war

It would be a blunder for the next White House to reopen the North American free-trade agreement, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned in a blunt response to vows by Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton to rewrite or scrap the deal.

Both Democratic presidential rivals pledged this week to cancel NAFTA if they cannot secure significant changes but Harper cautioned that future presidents would be opening a can of worms if they moved to renegotiate the deal because Canada would want changes, too.

"If any American government ever chose to make the mistake of opening [NAFTA], we would have some things we would want to talk about as well," Harper said.

While Harper didn't elaborate, International Trade Minister David Emerson warned a day earlier that privileged U.S. access to Canada's energy riches could be disrupted if NAFTA is reopened or scrapped.

"There's no doubt if NAFTA were to be reopened we would want to have our list of priorities," he said.

"Knowledgeable observers would have to take note of the fact that we are the largest supplier of energy to the United States, and NAFTA has been kind of a foundation of integrating the North American energy market," Emerson added.

Emerson called the Democratic candidates' NAFTA vow political posturing aimed at party voters, but he said he's nevertheless worried about a rising tide of protectionism in the United States.

"It's been getting more strident; it's permeating congress ... and it's not just the heat of the presidential campaign that is causing concern, it's the whole congressional system."

During the final Democratic candidates' debate before next week's Texas and Ohio primaries, Mrs/ Clinton said Tuesday she would demand new environmental and labor provisions in NAFTA as well as a new dispute-resolution mechanism.

And she'd eliminate the right of foreign firms to sue Washington for enacting measures to protect its workers. Obama agreed.

But Emerson said reopening the deal would open a can of worms, with new demands for changes from all countries. He said one beef Canada would have is the deal's dispute-resolution mechanism, which failed to solve the long-running softwood trade war between Ottawa and Washington.

"If you reopen [NAFTA] for one or two issues, you cannot avoid reopening it across a range of issues," he said.

He scoffed at the Democrats' suggestions that they want to toughen labor and environmental provisions, saying: "I don't think the United States has got anything to teach Canada about labor and the environment."

Separately, the Canadian embassy in Washington and Obama's election team denied a CTV report that a senior Obama adviser called Canadian Ambassador Michael Wilson within the past month to warn him that Obama would criticize NAFTA, and to assure him it was "just campaign rhetoric."

However, CTV News stood by its story, saying that high-level sources in the Harper government confirmed its version of events.

U.S. unions have blamed the deal for the disappearance of thousands of jobs, but studies have repeatedly shown that trade has thrived and all three NAFTA signatories have benefited since the deal took effect in 1994.

The barrage of NAFTA attacks launched by Obama and Hillary show their utter lack of knowledge of and appreciation for the delicate relationship between the U.S. and Canada.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nitwitness news isn't confined to American soil


Britain's Prince Harry, one of the world's most eligible bachelors, has a penchant for wanting to be a regular guy and so it turns out that he's serving with British forces on the front lines in Afghanistan.


What makes that news is that it wasn't supposed to be news because of an understanding between the British military and world news organizations that revealing the prince's whereabouts might additionally endanger his fellow troops.


A German newspaper and an Australian magazine leaked the information and now the British military is assessing whether to relocate the prince, who is taking it all in stride.


"It's nice just to be here with all the guys and just mucking in as one of the lads," he said , who had expressed bitter disappointment when he was banned from going to Iraq with his battalion last year. Army chiefs said publicity surrounding his deployment could put him and his unit at risk.


Administration's smoke signals cloud Kenosha casino

The Bush Administration may be sounding the death knell for the Kenosha casino project following its denial of 22 similar applications for off-reservation Indian gaming projects.

The common thread in the denials is extended distance from the reservation.

Assistant Interior Secretary Carl Artman testified at a congressional hearing that the Bureau of Indian Affairs "is used to dealing with requests for land 20, 30 or 50 miles away from a tribe's reservation. The BIA is not accustomed to assessing applications for land 100, 200 or 1,500 miles away from a tribe's reservation."

The committee chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., called the implications of the decision "disturbing," and suggested the administration may be advocating a policy "to keep Indians on the reservation."

I side with the Bush administration on this one.

Building casinos on the reservation comports with federal law permitting such operations in places where ordinarily state law would prohibit gambling parlors. Plus, it would bring tourism to economically depressed reservation land prompting direct improvements. Finally, it would end the charade of designating off-reservation properties as reservation land solely for the pujrpose of building a casino.

That said, I have no qualms with allowing casinos a reasonable distance from reservations, such as the close proximity of the Oneida complex in Brown County to the tribe's reservation.

But here it's nearly 200 miles from the Menomonee reservation to Kenosha and several times that distance to Connecticut where the eastern tribe that would actually run the Kenosha casino is headquartered.

And Rahall is blowing smoke in his attacks on the BIA. Confining Indian gambling operations to land either on or near reservations provides a strong incentive to improve reservation conditions plus provide employment opportunities for tribal residents. Far from being evil, it's a solid policy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beaner's, er, Biggby: Taking perceived political correctness to a new low

If you haven't noticed, the Beaner's coffee place on 75th Street is now called Biggby's as the Michigan-based corporate franchise parent decided it didn't want to offend Latinos who may consider "beaner" a derogatory term.

I'm against racism and all for cultural sensitivity but this is utterly absurd. There's a rational relationship between coffee -- the coffee beans -- and the business of selling gourmet coffee blends. There was never any intent -- or even any credible claim -- that the company maligned Latinos.

It would be a different story if it was "Beaner's Mexican Restaurant" or "Dago's Pizza." Should "Cracker Jack" be renamed because "cracker" is sometimes used as a derogatory term to describe white people? What about "Spic and Span" floor cleaner?

Sensitivity is one thing. Stupidity is another.

I wonder what comedian Carlos Mencia -- who proudly calls himself a "beaner" -- would say about this?

Poll: Will Favre return for the next season?

Mike Murphy, the new Green Bay Packers, Inc. head honcho, says he thinks quarterback Brett Favre will be back for another season.

That's what I predicted, too.

Favre ended the last season in such an uninspiring playoff game that he really needs to go out on his terms. But Favre is Favre and we'll just have to wait and see what he says.

My suggestion is that if Favre does return that it's a good opportunity for backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers to get more playing time under Favre's watchful eye and sound advice. Certainly Favre's value to the Packers could be extended this way.

Just for fun, let's have a poll on the right.

Kenosha Mayoral Race: Is there a "lesser of evils?"

The race for Kenosha’s mayor became more defined -- and probably more boring -- after last week’s primary that eliminated four of the six contenders including two of the most colorful, talk show host and insurance man Scott Barter and Michael Bell, whose mission to avenge his son’s death in an altercation with police turned into a pricey self-funded mayoral campaign that ultimately fizzled.

The race will become more boring because the two candidates still standing -- former Mayor Pat Moran and former Alderman Keith Bosman -- are hardly exciting and seem to have done their best to avoid a real discussion of the city’s real issues.

Moran’s deficiencies have been written about extensively here, notably his repudiation of the very course he set in motion when he was mayor and an ill-defined pledge of a “new direction” which appears to be backward.

Bosman has been accurately described as lacking excitement and banking his campaign on just promising to continue doing what outgoing Mayor John Antaramian has been doing. But Bosman isn’t Antaramian and his campaign deserves much greater scrutiny now that he’s going down to the wire.

Bosman’s campaign is only slightly more defined than Moran’s. In candidate forums he gives stock answers and fumbles and ducks when asked a tough question. Moran isn’t much better. Although reasoned responses are better than shooting from the hip, one who can shoot from the hip with a reasoned response scores big points here.

You don’t need to look very far for a good example of their evasiveness as neither Bosman or Moran have seriously addressed the deplorable job the present city administration has done in handling this winter’s record snowfall. In this context Bosman’s promise to be Antaramian II becomes scary and Moran’s silence on one of a few issues where he can legitimately blast Antaramian is curious, to say the least.

It’s been said that the mark of a good politician is the ability to conceal jealousy when accusing an opponent of deceiving the public. In this sense both Bosman and Moran have performed marvelously.

New York Times (sort of) admits inept journalism

The New York Times came about as close to a “mea culpa” as it can when its ombudsman conceded that the newspaper journalistically botched its attempted hatchet job on John McCain.

The ombudsman -- an editor whose job it is to referee complaints about the newspaper’s journalistic practices -- said that the Times failed to do adequate homework when it ran a story implying that the Arizona senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee may have had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. The story conceded there’s no evidence that the two had any type of affair nor was it able to show any inappropriate exercise of senatorial discretion.

The main thrust of the story is a contention that some McCain staffers told the lobbyist to chill out after they caught wind that she was claiming to have good access to McCain. If that’s true, the senator’s aides did exactly as they should to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Lobbyists live or die by their ability to have access to politicians -- that’s why former legislator Bill Broydrick is one of Madison’s busiest lobbyists. He’s been there and done that unlike lobbyists who can only guess what it’s like to be inside the legislature.

Every lobbyist, tho, wants prospective clients to believe that they have special access because that’s what the client wants. For McCain, who chided Barack Obama when the freshman senator backed out of a promise to back proposed lobbying legislation, the speculation is inconsistent with his voting record. It’s a miracle that he didn’t explode when the flawed Times story broke.

The Times ombudsman nailed it when he wrote that the newspaper should have done more homework before trying to make a story out of rumors and speculation. It’s not a full apology but a major journalistic mea culpa nonetheless.

As for McCain, the story seems to have helped rather than hurt him. In the wake of the story his contributions are up and some right-wing Republicans who haven’t been warm to his campaign all of the sudden are taking his side against the “liberal” newspaper.
My take is that I agree with the ombudsman: You don’t take on a senator (or anyone else for that matter) if you haven’t done your homework. The newspaper really does owe McCain a full apology.

Back -- in one piece

Back from Alaska but it sure was cold at the Minneapolis and Milwaukee airports today! Brrr!

It was nice to run into a couple of people at the airport and on the plane (many of the passengers and crew on the flight are regulars) who helped me when I was injured exactly one year ago. Never really got a chance to thank them at the time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Greetings from balmy Anchorage!

Getting off the plane a couple of minutes ago felt like summer in the jetway...39 degrees! Woo-hoo!

Going somewhere warm

We'll be on semi-hiatus for a few days as I go to Alaska to warm up (Wednesday night it was 39 degrees in Homer, Alaska).

Of course, last year I busted up some ribs, hurt my back and was in general pain after a nasty fall on ice about 70 miles south of Anchorage.

But last night I tried to get to my mother-in-law's home in Kenosha and couldn't risk it. The street was so icy -- with inches of caked ice with water on top -- that I couldn't safely navigate it on car or foot.

Grrrrr.

So behave yourselves when I'm gone.

What a choice Kenosha voters have

The race for Kenosha's next mayor has been narrowed to two candidates.

One, former Alderman Keith Bosman, appears to want to leave the city on auto pilot and whatever John Antaramian, the current mayor, does, he'll do. Interesting that in Wednesday's Kenosha News he's shown on the front page with casino mouthpiece Eric Olson whose tax and spend school board history is legendary.

The other choice is former mayor Pat Moran who walked away from the job and seems to want to repudiate the very course he set in motion when he was mayor. Moran promises a new direction but doesn't define what it will be (of course, Bosman hasn't defined himself either) and has ties to the tavern industry.

Some choice -- and neither of them has said a peep about the deplorable condition of city streets.

Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Grandstanding or altruism?

Former Pleasant Prairie village board member Alex Tiahnybok banged the drum again this week for village board meetings to be televised, a position I don't necessarily oppose.

Besides making comments at the Monday night's village board meeting, Tiahnybok repeated his call today over at his blog.

There are, however, several problems with Tiahnybok's rant.

First, there's the cost factor. It costs money to acquire equipment, personnel and cabling to enable this. That money isn't in the village budget. Tiahnybok seems to bring up this idea a day late and a dollar short -- after the budget process has been finalized -- and as a trustee he never introduced any formal legislation to televise the meetings.

The legislative process requires much more than saying, "I think we should ... " but rather includes research, getting cost figures and preparing and introducing the proper legislation.

To do this outside the budget process -- and mind you, Tiahnybok has never done his homework and come up with a specific plan, either when he was on the board or now -- would require that the village take money from the contingency fund.

With one of the worst winters in recent memory and increased costs for snow removal and ice control, I think most people would agree that the contingency reserves are better utilized for public health and safety such as keeping the streets safe. That's a "no brainer."

I commend Tiahnybok for his citizen journalist efforts in placing video recordings of village board proceedings on You Tube but the reality is that these delayed broadcasts don't have the same value as a live broadcast. Plus, there doesn't appear to be a strong interest in the delayed broadcasts.

If Tiahnybok is really serious about this, he'll do his homework and come up with a sound, workable proposal including cost estimates. He should then work with the village board to see that this gets considered in the next budget cycle. But just floating the trial balloon without any substance doesn't cut it.

In fairness, it's been my position that an intermediate solution that could be done quickly and with little cost would be a live webcast of the audio portion of the meeting. But if given the choice between having the streets clean this winter and telecasting village board meetings, I'll support clean streets.

Editor's note: I fully anticipate comments supporting and bashing Alex Tiahnybok and will moderate them heavily. This is because those comments are likely to generate more heat than light. We've talked about this subject before and the record here speaks for itself.

Jensen verdict

First, congratulations to prosecutors Bob Jambois and Angie Gabriele for an outstanding job along with Det. Lt. Paul Ratzburg of the Pleasant Prairie Police Department and Kenosha County Medical Examiner Mary Mainland, M.D.

A peculiar twist of events was unfolding at 5 p.m. when Jambois wanted to proceed immediately to sentencing but for scheduling a parole eligibility date. Judge Bruce E. Schroeder originally balked at that but then defense attorney Craig Albee said that Jensen is willing to waive a presentence investigation report. Schroeder then seemed willing to move the sentencing up, perhaps as early as next week.

Schroeder should proceed with caution here.

A defendant as a right to be sentenced on the basis of accurate information and, even though his attorney may be willing to waive a presentence investigation, if I were the judge I'd want to hear that from the defendant personally after a colloquy explaining that potential risks associated with that decision.

You'd hate to see a case go up on appeal, as this one undoubtedly will, with that issue on the plate. Schroeder would be well advised to order the presentence investigation anyway.

Justice for Julie Jensen: MARK JENSEN FOUND GUILTY

Shortly before 5 p.m. a Walworth County Jury found Mark Jensen guilty of the murder of his wife, Julie Jensen, capping three days of deliberations.

Cooperation in the face of tragedy

An overnight fire destroyed Victoria's Nautical Inn in uptown Kenosha.

The raging fire caused the roof of the old building to collapse but, fortunately, there was no loss of life.

Also fortunate is the cooperation neighboring fire departments provided. This mutual assistance is critical in an emergency.

I also can't help but note that the fire scene was a stone's throw from the uptown fire station, one of the fire stations the city administration wants to close and relocate.

Remember last month's tornado on the city's north side? What if the northside fire station had been closed as proposed?

It's a shame that tragedy has to illustrate folly but, in this case, it's a good idea that it did so while the ending can still be happy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rush Limbaugh (correctly) sets Michele Obama straight

RUSH: Here is Michelle Obama. This is yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, at a Barack Obama campaign event, a portion of her remarks.

MRS. OBAMA: What we've learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback, and let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic, common issues, and it's made me proud.

RUSH: Now, this, folks, is unhinged. I mean, I have had heard some female commentators today, "I totally understand what she's talking about. She's black; she's African-American." Let's see, "for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country."

She and her husband are in the upper 1% of wage earners in this country. Where did she go to school? She went to, I think, Harvard, Yale or whatever. They went to private schools. They are millionaires. They live in the suburbs. I don't think he marched at Selma. I don't think he got beat upside the head. I don't think Bull Connor turned the fire hose on him. I don't think dogs were unleashed on Barack Obama.

She, Mrs. Obama did not experience any of the 1950 segregation. To say something like that and to get a complete pass; people acting as though this is something unique and revelatory, that this is some special couple. Did she not feel proud about the Berlin Wall coming down? Has she not felt proud about the way we came together after 9/11? It is unbelievable to me that -- and this goes to the root, I think, of some of the things we discuss here frequently, and that is people taking this country for granted, not having any understanding what it took to get this country where it is.

Here are two relatively young people, who grew up after a road had been paved for them. They have nothing in the world to be miserable about. He is running for the presidency of the United States. He ran for the Senate and made it. They have nothing in the world to be miserable or unhappy about or embarrassed about when it comes to this country. It is just outrageous for this kind of thing to be stated. The sad thing is it's going to resonate with a lot of people because over the years many Americans have been told from grade school on up how unfair, how unjust, how racist, how sexist, how bigoted this country is.

Look at Oprah Winfrey. Does Oprah not make her proud? Oprah's success, the movies, the TV show, how can that not make her proud? Oprah is a black woman as is Michelle Obama. By the way, there's something else I had in the stack yesterday, didn't have a chance to get to it so I saved it for today, and it has to do with the fact that she said, "Only Barack Obama can fix America's soul. Only Barack Obama can fix America's broken soul." Now, Michelle Malkin had a great reaction to this. Can you imagine if Huckabee or if Mitt Romney or if McCain, or any Republican presidential candidate came out and said, "America's soul is broken, and only Huckabee can fix it, or only McCain can"?

There would be an outcry from the separation of church and state crowd. And of course the soul, whether you people want to admit this or not, is a religious concept in many ways and in most ways. So now we're getting religion mixed into all of this from Barack Obama, and his wife says this is the first time in her life she has been proud of this country. Doesn't it just grate on you that liberals in general are not proud of their country, period? Doesn't it grate on you that they're embarrassed; that they hate the country; that they dislike it, and now she comes out with this kind of comment and all these people sitting around and hoping for whatever, are swooning and fainting?

Jeopardy: "Slip Sliding' Away"

A. What would be John Antaramian's campaign song if he ran for another term as mayor of Kenosha?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jensen jury sent home at 11:26 p.m.

11:22 p.m. - Jensen jurors are called back into the courtroom to be sent home for the evening. They are warned not to discuss the case with anyone, even each other, outside of the jury room.

Deliberations resume Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Jurors too tired to drive home may stay at area hotels compliments of Kenosha County.

11:12 p.m. - Jensen jury asks to go home

The jury says they're tired and want to go home. The attorneys concur and Judge Schroeder is working out the logistics.

McCain has a lot of work to do

I've said before that John McCain is in a Catch-22: Republican right-wingers don't think he's conservative enough while the independents and moderates who liked McCain in 2000 feel sold out as McCain tried to embrace the right wing.

But McCain's problems are far worse.

The WTMJ poll tonight showed 43% of Wisconsin Republicans saying the economy was the top issue, not far behind the response by Democrats to the same question.

McCain, though, sticks with the "commander-in-chief" mantra, apparently slow to learn from Mitt Romney that the economy is an issue.

Plus McCain needs energy -- not his campaign, but him.

Barack Obama is offering young people challenge and hope. McCain skews old -- and needs to find a way to appeal to younger voters.

State GOP Chairman Praises McCain

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, is praising John McCain's solid victory in today's Wisconsin primary.

Priebus said that McCain's "independent streak played well with Wisconsin voters" but also pointed out McCain "is a conservative who has never voted for a tax increase."

"He will be a good commander in chief."

10:29 P.M. - Angry judge refuses to send Jensen jury home

Judge Bruce Schroeder began shouting at Mark Jensen's lawyer, Craig Albee, over Albee's request to send the jurors home.

"No! Period!," exclaimed Schroeder.

That prompted Albee to argue further with Schroeder. Prosecutor Robert Jambois chimed in that the jury hasn't asked to go home and the issue shouldn't even be considered until they do.

"They'll tell us what they want when they want it," Jambois said.

Regaining his composure, Schroeder rejected Albee's plea that keeping the jury at the Walworth County Courthouse any longer tonight would be "coercive."

10:24 P.M. - JENSEN'S LAWYER WANTS JURY TO GO HOME

Late word from Elkhorn...Mark Jensen's lawyer, Craig Albee, is asking Judge Bruce Schroeder, to send the jurors home. Judge Schroeder is reluctant to do so as he would then have to discharge the alternate jurors.

10:27 p.m. -- Schroeder notes jurors haven't asked to go home and won't send them home...yet.

Local blogger stays in aldermanic race

Kathy Carpenter, local Republican activist and blogger, came in second in the three-way primary for alderman in Kenosha's fifth district:

Incumbent Kurt Sinclair garnered 45% of the votes (765) with 31.6% going (537) for Kathy. Third place finisher JoEllyn M. Storz had 23% of the votes (390) and was eliminated.

10 PM UPDATE: Mark Jensen jury wants to work late

Earlier today the Walworth County jury deciding the fate of accused murderer Mark Jensen said they wanted dinner brought in and would work until 8 p.m.

8 p.m. came and went with the jury still on a roll with frequent requests to see exhibits.

Judge Bruce Schroeder says he's likely to let the jury go as late as they want.

While the jury's decision hasn't been made, the straw poll here closed with 76% believing Jensen will be found guilty with 16% predicting a hung jury.

Calling local races

KENOSHA MAYOR: Bosman and Moran. Michael Bell got the message he can't buy the election.

SCHOOL REFERENDA: Both winning.

Score one for the good guys!

A shotgun weilding teenager tried to rob a young ex-Marine in an Atlanta suburb.

The ex-Marine is also a police recruit who drew his pistol and blew away the little dirtbag.

Oh, yes, the dearly departed scumbag was the prime suspect in a shotgun robbery of a synagogue.

I have no sympathy for violent criminals who meet their match. Just an occupational hazard!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rock (salt) on, Pleasant Prairie!

Pleasant Prairie administrator Mike Pollocoff made an excellent presentation at tonight's village board meeting about the economics of snow plowing and ice control, the bottom line being prudence and stewardship will likely get the village through the winter without having to seriously sacrafice public safety or the quality of the village's response to winter weather.

The village right now can stockpile 7,000 tons of salt and was able to meet this year's burden by leftover salt from previous winters that were much milder and by buying 2,000 tons this year on the state bid with an option for another 500 tons in reserve.

With luck, the village will not have to dangerously curtail its response to ice and snow. The performance of village crews even drew applause from critic-in-residence Alex Tiahnybok.

Pollocoff's presentation put the situation in easily understood perspective and correctly assessed the village's responsibilities vs. the City of Kenosha's response that people will need to be "more patient" and put up with significantly reduced ice control.

I've said it before and will say it again: When the village retires its old 1988 snow plow later this year, it should be given to the city as a gift -- complete with instructions on how to use it.

Kenosha Unified: "Yes" for high school, "No" to increased taxes

Over the weekend I set forth again the argument about how the Kenosha Unified School Board and its administrators seriously flunked the stewardship test but now want taxpayers to ante up for a new high school.

The school flaks are pushing the concept that they won't have to up taxes for the new building because of debt restructuring but there's a second referendum question to increase taxes to staff the school.

Despite blatant mismanagement and failure to plan, there's no way to get around the need for a high school. It's not going to go away or get any cheaper. (And, by the way, it's not really a new high school as it'll be an addition onto Indian Trail Academy, a specialty high school where parents justifiably worry that expanding it to a comprehensive facility will destroy its unique character.)

But voters can send the tax and spend school board and their hired guns a message by voting "no" to the operations tax increase. Maybe then the school board will get the message about fiscal stewardship. Maybe.

Bristol a village?

Things are buzzing in the Town of Bristol as work is underway aimed at allowing the town -- or at least a chunk of it -- to incorporate as a village.

It's a long row to hoe and there's no guarantee that an incorporation bid will clear all the hurdles but there's an understandable clash here.

Incorporation supporters correctly point out that town governments have limited powers that can inhibit the ability to foster growth and progress. On the other hand, there are legitimate fears that the "town way of life" will fall by the wayside.

I understand both arguments.

Truth be told, I have a soft spot for Bristol. I treasure the friends and support I've had there for so many years. Many of these folks governed with their hearts as much as their heads and, right or wrong, treated the town as their own home and family.

But times change and I wouldn't be caught alive in my old powder blue leisure suit with white patent leather belt and matching shoes.

Still, incorporation is a complicated and expensive move with a ton of unanswered questions.

Bristol's incorporation would, of course, impact its neighbors and Pleasant Prairie officials have been studying what type of boundary agreement would protect Pleasant Prairie's interests.

To the village board's credit, an open working session was held last Thursday and I encourage them to allow as much openness as possible into the process and, if an agreement is reached, to allow a reasonable time for the public to study and react. The agreement, if reached, could profoundly impact both communities and should be approached with great care.

Things have changed a lot in Bristol since civic minded stalwarts like Noel Elfering and Russ Horton were on the town board. Many, but not all, of those changes are for the better.

Tuesday is election day!

I generally don't get into the shouting and screaming that permeates some other blogs, but election day is different.

As one of my favorite old ties says:

DIDN'T VOTE?
DON'T BITCH!

Mike Huckabee: The pro-life fraud

Mike Huckabee is a pro-life fraud. Big time.

The Baptist preacher who pounds the shoe against abortion as Governor of Arkansas presided over 16 executions.

Now I'm no fan of criminals -- especially those who kill people -- and if one gets blown away during or fleeing from the commission of the crime, that's an occupational hazard voluntarily undertaken.

But the state-sanctioned controlled execution of another human being -- a process rejected here in Wisconsin in 1853 after the 1851 hanging of John McCaffry in Kenosha -- is another story.

A caveat: this is not -- and will not be -- a forum on the death penalty. I'm very happy to debate that on many levels but this isn't the time or place. What is at issue is how one under Christian auspices opposes abortion under the belief in the sanctity of life and then switches gears and not only supports but enables capital punishment.

Huckabee's moral inconsistency was well-chronicled by Arkansas newspaper columnist Gene Lyons who wrote:

"On the eve of Arkansas' recent triple execution, Huckabee made an appearance on an AETN call-in program broadcast statewide. A caller confronted him with a touchy question: How, how, as a minister of the Gospel, could he justify the state-sanctioned taking of life given the Bible's many injunctions against slaughter and in favor of the Christian virtue of forgiveness?
Huckabee responded almost flippantly. First he cited Genesis to the effect that those who do violence will have violence done to them. Next he claimed that there exist both Old and New Testament passages that support capital punishment, although he failed to cite any."


It gets worse.

"Interestingly enough," Huckabee allowed, "If there was ever an occasion for someone to have argued against the death penalty, I think Jesus could have done so on the cross and said, 'This is an unjust punishment and I deserve clemency'."

But Jesus, Huckabee implied, didn't quibble. He took his crucifixion like a man, thereby signifying that he personally had no problem at all with the death penalty. And if Jesus himself went along, who was the mere governor of Arkansas to argue?

And this duplicid huckster wants to be the next commander-in-chief?

Now there are many folks who honestly favor capital punishment. They are entitled to their opinion. So is Mike Huckabee.

But when you hold yourself out as a man of the cloth who invokes moral authority to say that repealing Roe v. Wade is the nation's highest priority and aggressivly pander to the pro-life voters, then you must be held accountable for your immoral inconsistency.

Mike Huckabee has about as much authority to call himself pro-life as the inventor of the Burker King Whopper would have claiming to be pro-nutrition.

And, for the record, I think Roe v. Wade is flawed legal logic and abortion a sign of societal failure. I also believe capital punishment is morally wrong on many levels and likewise a societal and legal failure.

But you can't invoke the sanctity of human life selectively or flippantly. Huckabee has and that makes him a pro-life fraud. And if you don't like my opinion, too bad.

Say what? Let's go to the North Pole to warm up!

The electric sign on Bank of Kenosha read: -196F!

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!

Casinogate: Connecting the dots

Real Debate Wisconsin made an interesting effort to connect the dots in the Casinogate scandal, something the mainstream news media hasn't quite done. It was put together before the indictment last week of Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl but still an interesting and provocative read.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fun poll: The Mark Jensen trial

Now that the Mark Jensen murder trial is wrapping up with final arguments expected on Monday, what's your prediction of the jury's verdict?

Vote at the right.

Stuck in the desert

President George W. Bush was delivering a speech at a meeting of conservative Christians when he saw a man he thought was Moses.

"Moses! Moses!," he called out.

But the man did not answer.

The president turned to a Secret Service agent and said, "I think that man is Moses."

The bewildered agent volunteered, "Would you like me to have the guys check it out?"

"Go for it," Bush replied.

So the agent radioed to one of his counterparts to accost the old man.

"Sir," the agent asked, "Are you Moses?"

"Yes, I am," the old man replied.

"The president wants to speak to you," the agent said.

"I know," said the old man.

"Then why are you ignoring him?," the agent asked.

Moses replied, "LOOK, THE LAST TIME I LISTENED TO A BUSH I SPENT 40 YEARS IN A HOSTILE DESERT!"

*Where* did the chicken cross the road?

Had to be in Pleasant Prairie because it's too dangerous in Kenosha!

Made-ya-look! :)

NIU Tragedy: The more we look for answers, the fewer we find

Last week's campus shooting spree by a deranged young man at Northern Illinois University understandably -- and predictably -- raised a lot of questions and, also quite understandably and predictably, there are few answers.

History is all too often littered with the stories of deranged people who arm themselves and kill others. In major urban areas, such as Milwaukee, that history repeats itself every few days in the local newspapers.

Despite the best risk assessment tools available, the truth is that there is no solid way to predict if or when some nut job is going to go off the deep end and take the lives of innocent people. Understandably we'd like to change that but it's doubtful that we can.

That doesn't mean that there aren't any truisms in this which, under the right circumstances, could avoid or minimize a tragedy.

For example, the campus police were on the scene in two minutes -- a very good response time (in Chicago ten minutes is considered an "acceptable" response time to a "shots fired" call which is utterly bizarre). But two minutes was enough for the crazed gunman to kill and wound a multitude of people before turning the gun on himself.

Yet, had an armed campus police officer been fortunate enough to encounter this nut job earlier, perhaps the tables would have been turned. We'll never know.

What we do know is that three decades ago then University of Wisconsin-Parkside chancellor Alan Guskin disarmed the campus police here, a moronic move by a left-wing goofball. That stayed in place for more than two decades until Jack Keating, the son of a Seattle policeman, became chancellor.

Last year when Deputy Sheriff Frank Fabiano encountered a suspected drunken driver who wouldn't pull over, Parkside Officer Jimmy Spino, who happened to see this, pulled his patrol car behind the deputy's.

When the motorist finally stopped and Deputy Fabiano got out of his patrol car, there was gunfire that mortally wounded Fabiano. Officer Spino returned fire and, while unable to bring down the gunman, at least he was able to return fire.

The community owes a debt of gratitude to Officer Spino -- and Jack Keating.

Kenosha's snow job

Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian is lucky he isn't running for another term because voters could justifiably turn him out on his ear over the city's lame performance this winter in snow removal and ice control -- and his patronizing indifference.

Yes, we've had one of the worst winters in recent memory.

Yes, salt used for ice control is in short supply.

Yes, snow removal and ice control is taxing municipal budgets.

But that's not the whole story.

Antamarian, interviewed by the Kenosha News, called for city residents to "be patient" and now that the city is about out of salt, says only a fraction of intersections will be salted (and then it'll be mixed with sand).

For a guy who was in the legislature and served 16 years as mayor, Antaramian should know that politicians take the credit when things go well (even if they weren't responsible, as in the case of Bill Clinton basking in Ronald Reagan's economy) and get the heat when they don't. Of course, they duck and deceive when the latter wolf appears at their doorstep. So let's howl out the rest of the story.

This isn't the worst winter we've had. There have been a lot of snowfalls but we've had worse, especially in years where there were blizzards with massive blowing and drifting snow.

Even in other bad winters the city has done a better job -- and so have surrounding municipalities. Apart from the potholes, Milwaukee's streets are generally nowhere near as bad as Kenosha's. Wauwatosa's are virtually pristine, including bare pavement on side streets. It can be done.

As for the thin salt supply and drained budgets, the flip side to those stories is that we had numerous unusually mild winters for several years in which only a fraction of the allocated budget was spent for snow removal and ice control. While the salt may have been used up, what happened to the surplus money?

In other words, there should have been money left over from prior years to ease the financial burden of this winter. (And the city has reserves for a rainy -- er, snowy -- day!)

Other communities seem to be able to make it through the winter -- and even some that are having trouble are at least trying to do so.

Gurnee, for example, ordered more salt but the barge it's on is stuck in the frozen Illinois River. Kenosha could get more salt from Ohio, and, there's nothing necessarily wrong with mixing it with sand to make it last longer. What we haven't seen is a concerted effort by the mayor and city administration to address the problem.

True, even on a good day the Kenosha's performance with snow removal and ice control lags far behind most neighboring communities. But the latest snow job from city hall insults the intelligence of Kenoshans and evades the responsibility of elected and appointed officials to provide good service.

Even more disturbing is the silence of the mayoral candidates on this issue. In particular Pat Moran, a former mayor, would justifiably have an arsenal of cannon fodder here and he hasn't said a peep. He can flap his jaws and spew hot air when city hall is doing the right thing but is remarkably silent when it isn't. Amazing.

High school referendum: force Unified to be fiscally responsible

What's the saying? Poor planning on your part does not necessarily create an emergency on mine?

The self-labeled "high school overcrowding" referendum in the Kenosha Unified School District seeks to once again bail out a severely mismanaged school district.

Just for grins, what if voters approved the new high school but defeated the tax levy increase? Would that send a message to the inept school board?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Journal-Sentinel editors go off deep end -- endorse Obama because he's more exciting

I kid you not. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel finds both Hillary Rodman Clinton and Barack Obama, the latter having only three years experience in the United States Senate, equally qualified to be the next president but gives its endorsement to Obama because he's more exciting and offers a greater chance for change? Read it for yourself.

What on earth is this? People magazine? The Oprah show? In a time of war and a massive downturn in the economy is that the best the newspaper can come up with? I'll bet Jessica McBride will have a field day with that.

On the Republican side, the endorsement of John McCain is much more plausible and well-reasoned, although Charlie Sykes says McCain is more conservative that the newspaper's editors give him credit for.

Texas newspapers: Time for GOP to rally 'round John McCain

Two Texas newspapers make an eloquent case for Republicans -- and, indeed, the country -- to rally around John McCain.

Houston Chronicle
Bested rival Mitt Romney said of Sen. John McCain, "This is a man capable of leading our country at a dangerous hour."

The Houston Chronicle agrees and recommends that Texas Republicans vote March 4 to make the senator from Arizona their party's candidate for president of the United States.

As a naval aviator and prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict, McCain proved his courage, honor and resolve beyond question. If years of deprivation and torture could not break him, the stress and challenge of an international crisis are not likely to.

Most Republican candidates these days try to claim the mantel of the late President Ronald Reagan. McCain was actually Reagan's friend and supporter. McCain closely resembles Reagan in at least this regard: Most Americans disagreed with one or more of Reagan's policies, yet they trusted his sincerity. The same can be said for McCain. His well-known disdain for popularity-seeking has won him the support of establishment Republicans, independents and swing voters.
McCain's reputation as a maverick is well-deserved, but voting one's conscience should not be regarded as radically unorthodox. McCain simply does not let party dogma interfere with effective policy-making.

A prominent example is McCain's effort to craft reasonable immigration reform legislation. The bill he co-authored would have increased security on our borders but offered a path to legal status for the millions of undocumented workers in the United States -- many of them living and working in the Houston region.

Primary elections attract the parties' true believers, who tend to be less centrist in their views. McCain has had to maneuver and trim his sails to attract in sufficient numbers the votes of the Republican Party's base.

However, should McCain win the Republican presidential election, as seems likely, he will be well-suited to work beneficially with a Congress almost surely in Democratic hands.

Criticism from talk show hosts and other commentators that McCain is not sufficiently conservative to lead the party is baseless and absurd. McCain opposes the right to choose abortion; he is a hawk on Iraq; his long voting record consistently matches mainstream conservative thought; he opposes changing the Constitution for trivial reasons. Some critics fault McCain for opposing President Bush's income tax cuts, but McCain's opposition to the resulting runaway deficits is classically conservative.

Of all the candidates who sought the GOP presidential nomination this year, McCain is the most experienced and stands the best chance to attract the swing voters he needs to keep the White House in his party's control.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, is in trouble with the right wing of the Republican Party for his alleged apostasy on some major issues. The Caller-Times Editorial Board likes him for all the reasons why he is in trouble with that base. Consider the Arizona Republican's recent record.

We know now that McCain was right when he predicted that invading Iraq with too few troops could lead to a debacle. The situation would be far different in Iraq today if President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republican neo-cons had listened to McCain's advice before launching the invasion of Iraq.

Events in Iraq have confirmed that McCain was right when he pushed for a "surge" of additional troops and a change of counter-insurgency strategy. Once again, he was right when he urged President Bush to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who seemed incapable of changing course or modifying his entrenched beliefs on a failing strategy. The job that has been done by Robert Gates has shown that McCain was right to push for Rumsfeld's replacement.

There are other issues that are not so clear-cut, but which we believe that McCain has been right about.

He has steadfastly opposed the use of torture against terrorism suspects, arguing that its use will put American servicemen at risk when they are captured. No other candidate knows first-hand what it is like to be tortured. McCain, a former Navy flier, was a prisoner of war tortured by his North Vietnamese captors at a POW camp called "The Plantation" in Hanoi during the Vietnam War. He was a POW for 5½ years but refused to be freed unless his fellow POWs were freed with him.

McCain has stood up for the humane treatment of prisoners not because he is overly concerned about the well-being of terrorists in our custody, but because he is concerned about what it says about America and its values. He also knows from his own experience that information extracted by torture is rarely reliable.

McCain was right, we believe, to oppose President George W. Bush's tax cuts. In 2001, McCain was one of only two Republican senators to vote against the first Bush tax cut. He voted against the Bush tax cut in 2003, arguing that it didn't make sense to cut taxes in a time of war. The growing deficit and the troubled state of the economy confirm that McCain was right. He has promised that, as president, he would veto pork-barrel spending; he's one of the few Republicans these days who can legitimately claim to be a fiscal hawk.

Among the presidential candidates, only McCain has been comfortable enough in his own skin to admit that he knows little about economics. That admission is refreshing. A president can't be expected to be an expert in every field of study; but he does need to choose good advisers and, when faced with making a decision, have the good judgement to be able to make the right call.

McCain is right, we believe, when he says we have to tackle global warming; this will be a critical issue for the next president. This is another stance that has hurt McCain with the Republican base, but it should make him more attractive to independents and cross-over Democrats. He was right on immigration reform to favor a compromise that would offer the country's 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to legalized status and, eventually, citizenship.

Many of these positions have put McCain at odds with his own party's right wing. For that reason, he is known as a maverick. But that's just a euphemism for being an independent thinker, for being able to follow his own judgment. By political philosophy, McCain is a conservative and his voting record will bear that out. But he can be pragmatic and flexible. He can cross the aisle and reach compromises with Democrats.

People across the country yearn for leaders in the White House and in Congress who can get things done, who can move beyond the partisan rancor that has split the nation's capital into warring camps. McCain can remember the days when the Senate was a place of shared values and comity when senators of both parties could set aside differences and work together. That's why McCain could work with Sen. Edward Kennedy on immigration reform and with Russ Feingold on campaign-finance reform. For the party's true believers, however, his semi-detached status has always been an irritant.

He deserves some slack here. McCain has earned the nation's respect for his service in Vietnam. And he earned the country's respect for his demonstrated integrity in holding to his beliefs, even when others in his party were vilifying him for not following the official party line. But McCain says what he thinks, sticks to his beliefs, and refuses to trim his sails to fit whichever political wind is blowing.

There are two other candidates still in contention on the Republican ballot in Texas on March 4: Texas' own congressman Ron Paul, who can't win the nomination but is soldiering on to spread his quixotic message. And Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, the former Baptist minister, who has been an entertaining stump speaker and has gained support from the anybody-but-McCain forces within the party. But he has no chance of winning the nomination, either.

For Republican voters, there is really only one plausible candidate -- John McCain. And the Republican Party is lucky that McCain will be the nominee. After seven years of George W. Bush's presidency, Republicans entered this political year with almost no chance of holding on to the White House. But McCain gives the party a strong chance. This is no time for Republicans to be booing the one candidate who has broad enough appeal to take them down the road to victory in November.

Obama's sound byte campaign slimes along

Here in Kenosha today, Hillary Rodham Clinton again threw down the gauntlet, saying she'll debate Barack Obama anywhere in the state.

"I would underscore the necessity, in my view, of letting the people of Wisconsin hear from both of us and compare and contrast us," she said after a campaign rally at the Brat Stop.

"People of Wisconsin deserve to have answers to their questions."

Obama has said he prefers to use his time in the state meeting voters and has aired ads countering Clinton's debate challenge, noting that he's debated her 18 times so far.

Clinton said Obama's only debated her once, one-on-one.

"It's a real disservice to the people of Wisconsin that you haven't had a chance to see the tough questions answered," she said.

On the other end of the state, Obama peppered his remarks to an audience at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with regurgitated excerpts from his current campaign ad.

"When CEOS are making more in 10 minutes than workers and the CEOs get the tax breaks and workers are left holding the bag, something is wrong," he said.

A walk through the ocean of that soul would scarecely get your feet wet.

"Public servant" remark a cheap shot

Blogger Alex Tiahnyok, a former Pleasant Prairie village board member, makes an interesting, albeit vitriolic, point about municipal property assessments in the wake of declining values.

After making his point, however, Alex continues (emphasis as in the original): "MAKE SURE YOUR local ASSESSOR'S OFFICE knows about this. KEEP REMINDING THEM THAT THE SAME JUSTIFICATION USED TO JACK UP YOUR ASSESSMENTS NOW MUST BE USED IN REVERSE DIRECTION!"

I'm not making this up. That's the exact comment and emphasis he uses. Then he gives village assessor's name, address, telephone number and E-mail address followed by (again, emphasis in the original): "DON'T BE HESITANT TO CALL. HE AND HIS TEAM ARE NOT AFRAID TO GO INTO YOUR HOME AND POKE AROUND, SO WHY SHOULD YOU HESITATE TO CALL HIM AT HIS WORKPLACE. AFTERALL, HE IS A PUBLIC SERVANT.I AM TALKING ABOUT YOUR MONEY FROM YOUR POCKET -- DEMAND CHANGE!!!"

Let's parse this out.

First, the question is good. But Alex could have called Rocco Vita, the village assessor, for an answer himself and, by all means, post his comments and perhaps even a critque of the response. Here he appears to launch a condemnation of Rocco Vita without any foundation for his attack.

Second, there's nothing necessarily wrong about calling, writing or E-mailing Rocco. Several years ago his office was next to mine and, I'll tell you this, if you ask Rocco a question, you'll get an answer. It may not always be the answer that you or I may like to hear, but he'll give you one -- and usually in great detail. Rocco is a true professional who knows his stuff.

Third, there's the bit, though, about calling Rocco "a public servant" who "pokes around" your home.

Folks, slavery was outlawed in 1862. Rocco is a public employee, not a servant. Yes, public employees serve the public and, yes, they are accountable for their actions, but the tenor of the comment is vitriolic and insulting. Plus, in order to make a fair assessment, the assessors need to inspect the property. That cuts both ways, too. A property that may look great on the outside may only be in fair condition inside (and vice versa).

Finally, the exhortation "DEMAND CHANGE" is insulting because it intimates that there is something that needs to be changed. Alex may be right -- change may be needed. But since he didn't bother to state the full case before going off, how does he know that there won't be a revision of property values as he suggests? In that case, what change would he propose?

The basic premise Alex made -- shouldn't property assessments be reduced if property values fall -- is appropriate. But that question then launches into an attack without foundation. If Rocco (who, by the way, I haven't always agreed with) said there's no way assessments will be adjusted, then Alex would have a valid criticism. But how do you bum rap the guy or demand change when you haven't done your homework?

And yes, the assessor is answerable to the village administrator and village board. If there are concerns to be shared or reminders to be made, the village board is the place to start.

An offer to the candidates...

I propose that there be a debate between all of the remaining major presidential candidates in the Wisconsin primary -- Clinton, Obama, McCain, Huckabee and Paul -- at the same time and place. I'll offer to moderate.

Let's see them sqiurm out of my questions.

Legislature should fix the law

Notwithstanding his arguable lack of altruism discussed below, County Board Chairman Terry Rose had a plausible point in suggesting that indicted County Executive Allan Kehl should step aisde, a recommendation he changed to urging Kehl's resignation after learning that state law only allows county executives to take a leave of absence in case of mental or physical disability.

The Kenosha News aptly questioned Kehl's ability to fully carry out his duties while defending himself against federal conspiracy charges, although the newspaper once again failed to do its homework when it didn't immediately research the legal quandry that prevents Kehl from stepping aside as it editorially urged. (The newspaper subsequently reported on this but it should have done its homework first before suggesting the impossible.)

What the newspaper didn't argue -- and should have -- is that the law which prohibits Kehl from taking a leave of absence under these circumstances needs to be changed -- pronto. (The legislature is still in session, folks.)

It makes no sense that, say, a deputy sheriff accused of serious misconduct can be suspended with pay pending resolution of the allegation but the county's chief executive can't (even if he's willing do so).

This obviously need fixing.

KRM: Blame Moran?

The blame for the KRM mess can be laid directly on Kenosha's former mayor, Pat Moran, who is trying to get back the job he walked away from more than 16 years ago.

Moran was mayor when Dairyland Greyhound Park opened amidst a slew of unfulfilled promised aimed at getting the track license, one of which was building an Amtrak station that would have added high-speed rail access and obviated the later need for KRM.

But Moran never held Dairyland's feet to the fire on that promise. And today?

"We need to enhance the trains here," Moran said. "I think the critical piece we're missing in the city is transportation. Some kind of regional system has to be established."

And that need didn't exist when he was mayor? Yeah, right.

But it gets worse.

"I would support the system, but I think it has to be done through the sales tax," Moran said. That means Moran wants US to pay more taxes! On top of that, Kenosha could have had an Amtrak station had he forced Dairyland to keep its promise.

Moran apparently wants voters to forget about his past tenure as mayor and many aren't old enough to remember much about it. But the Kenosha News has a library and its reporters and editors ought to use it.

Resignation: It's Kehl's call

Kenosha County Board Chairman Terry Rose wants indicted County Executive Allan Kehl to resign.

Maybe Kehl should, maybe he shouldn't. But the last person he ought to be taking advice from is Rose, whose self-professed altruism may have deeper and darker meaning.

First, as he occasionally does when he appears on behalf of accused criminals, Rose, a well-heeled criminal defense lawyer and Democratic party activist, spouted off without first checking the law. He said that Kehl should take a leave of absence.

But state law only recognizes a temporary vacancy due to "the inability of the county executive to serve because of mental or physical disease." That's not the case so Rose's idea, however plausible it might seem, is legally dead on arrival. You'd think such an experienced lawyer would bother to open the state statutes before his mouth. You'd also think he'd give more than just lip service to the notion that Kehl is presumed innocent.

It gets worse -- much worse.

When Corporation Counsel Frank Volpintesta apparently didn't give Rose the answer he wanted to hear about Kehl taking a leave of absence, Rose wanted Volpintesta to get a second opinion from the attorney general.

Sometimes that's a good idea. But in this case Volpintesta didn't have to travel far for an unequivocal answer -- it's right in the state statutes which are on his desk. See Wis. Stat. s. 59.17(7) and (8). You don't have to spend $70,000 for a 70 cent answer, folks.

In plain English, here's what the law says -- and how Rose is knee deep in the muck.

Under Wisconsin law, only the governor can remove Kehl and then only for cause. That's not likely to happen because an indictment is just an accusation and Kehl, as noted, is presumed innocent.

The other rub is that state law only recognizes a temporary vacancy due to "mental or physical disease" which isn't the case here.

But, if that was the case, guess who would get to be the acting county executive?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

Guess who also would become acting county executive should the office become vacant and serve until a successor is appointed and then confirmed by the county board?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

And who gets to appoint the successor to serve out the balance of Kehl's term, subject to county board confirmation?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

Rose cloaked his call for Kehl to step aside under the label of "integrity" but duplicity could also be argued, especially when Rose fails to give more than lip service to the notion of "presumed innocent." As a defense lawyer he's perfectly capable of and well-versed in banging that drum -- if you're paying him to do so.

Kehl didn't retain Rose.

No doubt about it, if the accusations against Kehl are even slightly true, it stinks. But so does Rose's call for Kehl to step down. That has about as much credibility as Bill Clinton preaching against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cowardly Obama: hot air and not much else

Hate to say it but Hillary Rodham Clinton has a point: Barack Obama should debate her in Wisconsin.

But the Illinois Senator appears afraid to tackle hard issues in a one-on-one forum. In so doing he insults Wisconsin voters, especially those who've been taken in with slick talk.

Time for Obama to put up or shut up.

If he's such a coward that he can't face Hillary, how can Obama stand up to Osama?

Time for Huck to give it up

Mike Huckabee doesn't have to give up his quest for the Republican presidential nomination -- but he probably should.

The reason for this is that he's made his point that he can appeal to the Republican right-wing and maybe John McCain should consider him as a potential running mate. His continued campaigning would only serve as a distraction and fuel the opposition.

Huckabee has done some scary things these days which, if he continues, may tarnish his viability. For example, he called repeal of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision his "number one" priority.

Roe v. Wade was a horrendous abortion of years of legal precedent. But the ultimate decisionmaker in a crisis pregnancy isn't a judge or legislator and there are many other priorities more important to the nation as a whole. The economy, for one. Iraq, for another. Rebuilding our national defense, too. And, yes, securing our borders.

Mike Huckabee is a likeable guy and he's been very careful not to bash McCain. But even Mitt Romney has seen the light.

As McCain works to secure the party base, Huckabee will go from an attraction to an annoyance to a liability.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hell freezes over: Mitt Romney endorses John McCain

"Even when the contest was close and our disagreements were debated, the caliber of the man was apparent," the former Massachusetts governor said, standing alongside his one-time rival at his now-defunct campaign's headquarters. "This is a man capable of leading our country at a dangerous hour."

"Primaries are tough," said McCain, referring to their earlier rancor. "We know it was a hard campaign and now we move forward, we move forward together for the good of our party and the nation."

Carole Meekins: Twitwitnews newsie gives Obama a pass

WTMJ-TV's Carole Meekins did a sweetheart interview with Barack Obama, one that was billed as "exclusive" (meaning no other people were in the room at the time, I guess).

It was cream-puff stuff all the way. She never asked the tough questions, such as why in the three years he's been a United States Senator he hasn't introduced legislation to address the very things he's campaigning for (i.e., health care, education, more jobs at home). It's like they all get mesmerized by his rhetoric and are afraid to pin him down on why he's done nothing.

The same can be said for Hillary Clinton. Talks a good talk but what has she done about it?

Those are questions real journalists would ask. But Milwaukee hasn't seen many of them lately.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Casino politics shameful

Anyone familiar with the classic flick Casablanca is bound to remember the scene where the police inspector is "shocked" that there's gambling going on at Rick's, a revelation followed by him receiving his winnings.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that the smell of money was so enticing that we have our own casino scandal replete with admissions by Dennis Troha and two associates that they were involved in illegal campaign contributions which ostensibly were made to curry favor with the casino project.

This has been consistently perplexing. If the casino project is so beneficial to Kenosha and Wisconsin, why did Troha and his buddies feel it necessary to grease the skids? A project this beneficial should curry the favor of politicians gratis.

It simply doesn't make sense. But then we are poor students of history.

Back around 1990 the folks who won the license for Dairyland Greyhound Park -- a process fraught with allegations of corruption -- promised untold riches for the community. Few promises were ever kept.

A remarkably similar litany of virtues has been extolled for the casino project but if the past is any prediction of the future, those promises are likely to be largely unfulfilled.

Also remarkable is how well this community has progressed without the casino, a sure sign that we can get along nicely without one.

As for greedy politicians, we can also get along nicely without them.

Obama: Sleaze at any speed

Barack Obama's meteroic rise from rookie senator to presidential hopeful is like a made for TV movie -- perhaps just what the Democrats were hoping for.

He's a master at stiring up people with his rousing speeches but why is it that the media fails to hold this fraud accountable?

Here's just one example.

Obama is tugging at our heart strings by using his mother's death at the age of 53 for his political advantage, saying that in her last days she worried more about how she would pay for medical care than on anything else.

Yes, it's a sad story and he has my sympathy. But that stops quickly when Obama follows this with the "I have a plan to fix this which I'll try if you elect me."

Whoa, Nellie!

In case you don't know it, Obama is one of 100 members of the United States Senate, the most exclusive club in the nation. He's been there since January 4, 2005 and yet he never introduced any legislation incorporating this "plan." Ditto for the eight years he spent as a state legislator in Illinois.

So Obama is just another sack of poop as far as I'm concerned -- using his mother's death to forward his fraudulent agenda. Barack, baby, you are one of 100 senators. If your health care plan is so good, you don't have to wait. You can introduce the legislation now.

Does Chairman Rose want to become County Executive Rose?

Kenosha County Board Chairman Terry W. Rose says Allan Kehl, the county executive indicted by a federal grand jury this week as the latest domino in the Dennis Troha political influence scandal, should take a leave of absence until the matter is resolved.

At first blush it sounds like a plausible idea but let's take a closer look.

Under Wisconsin law, only the governor can remove Kehl and then only for cause. That's not likely to happen because an indictment is just an accusation and Kehl is presumed innocent.

The other rub is that state law only recognizes a temporary vacancy due to "the inability of the county executive to serve because of mental or physical disease." That's not the case so Rose's brainstorm is sinking faster than the housing market.

But, if that was the case, guess who would get to be the acting county executive?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

And if that doesn't set your mind spinning, guess who also would become acting county executive should the office become vacant and serve until a successor is appointed and then confirmed by the county board?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

And who gets to appoint the successor, subject to county board confirmation?

The county board chairman -- none other than Terry Rose.

Any questions?

Failure to identify "mystery candidate" case unfortunately casts shadow over local politicians

The federal indictment charging Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl refers to a "mystery candidate" on whose behalf Kehl allegedly obtained a $5,000 contribution from trucking magnate and casino promoter Dennis Troha.

The indictment, prepared by the United States Attorney's Office in Milwaukee, does not identify the candidate but says he or she was a candidate in 2006.

This has created a flurry of speculation, anxiety and angst as people wonder who is this "mystery candidate" from 2006 and, in the absence of identification, everyone who was has been painted with a cloud of suspicion.

That's not fair to the honest folks who serve or hope to serve in public office. While it's not always possible to name names in a criminal investigation, the Kehl case is one where time was not so much of the essence that the indictment couldn't have been drafted more artfully and/or delayed until the "mystery candidate" can be identified.

Let's hope that United States Attorney Steven Biskupic clears this up -- pronto.

Kehl indictment news release

Here is the news release on the Kehl indictment from the United States Attorney's office.

As noted, an indictment is only a charge and there has been no finding of guilt.

There is an interesting part to this in that there is a plea for people who have information to contact the FBI.

Museums vs. the casino

So a lot of wags are flapping their tongues bum rapping Kenosha's museums, claiming that it costs too much taxpayer money to run them.

That's a fair debate and can be sustained by a response that they enhance the community's cultural standing and help bring in tourist revenue. But that debate can wait for another day.

Let's try this one on instead...

How much money has the proposed casino brought into Kenosha?

How much money have the museums brought into Kenosha?

How many people have been indicted in connection with the museums?

Case closed.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Say it isn't so: Allan Kehl indicted

The news that a federal grand jury returned a conspiracy indictment against Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl is stunning.

According to news reports, the indictment says Kehl received $15,000 to $20,000 from trucking magnate Dennis Troha who ostensibly has been cooperating with federal investigators looking into Troha's campaign contributions.

Troha was the driving force behind the current Kenosha casino proposal before he got into hot water with the feds.

Details are still sketchy at this time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Prediction: Huckabee could take Wisconsin

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is no slouch and his planned three-day campaign sweep through Wisconsin gives him a good shot at upsetting front-runner John McCain.

That shot could be even better when you consider that some Republicans, knowing McCain is virtually the nominee, could opt to tamper with the Democratic primary and vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen as the weaker candidate versus McCain.

Plus it would give the right-wing Republicans the perverse satisfaction of not voting for McCain. Yet.

Fractured Democrats have one thing going for them: Right-wing Republicans

San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Ruben Navarette, jr., scores a grand slam for this analysis on how right-wing Republicans are aiding and abetting the Democrats. It's a great read:

Democrats do have one thing working in their favor -- Republicans.

With their nominating process all but wrapped up and with a head start over squabbling Democrats who are going to spend the coming months destroying one another while the GOP can concentrate on unifying the party for the big show in the fall, you'd think Republicans would be celebrating. Instead, they're suicidal. Or at least that's the case with the loud and radical fringe that has declared John McCain unacceptable because he's a free thinker they can't control.

What if they could control him? So what? Where would they lead him -- to victory? C'mon. This bunch only knows how to lose. What good did the right-wingers do for their candidate, the cashmere chameleon Mitt Romney, who managed to run several campaigns at once, telling different groups of voters what they wanted to hear? Romney, in all his incarnations, washed out.

McCain carried 13 states, won about 5 million votes, and racked up more than 700 delegates. And, all along, he represented the best chance that Republicans have to stay competitive in this election.

A recent CNN poll, conducted by the Opinion Research Corp., shows Clinton 3 percentage points ahead of McCain, 50-47, in a hypothetical matchup. That's within the poll's margin of error, so it's a tie. In the same poll, Obama leads McCain by just 8 percentage points, 52-44. This was always going to be a tough year for the Republican nominee no matter who he was, but McCain keeps it close.

McCain's trouble on the right reminds one of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here you have someone at odds with members of his own party who are eager to school him on how to be a real conservative -- on guns, gays, health care, immigration, abortion, and other issues where Schwarzenegger is too liberal for their taste.

And California Republicans have plenty of time to teach class because many don't have jobs. They've been voted out of office. And when they run for new offices, they get wiped out. All Schwarzenegger has done is win two statewide elections and earn a favorability rating of more than 60 percent. So who should be learning from whom?

Who is Schwarzenegger's choice for president? Oh look. It's John McCain.

Bloggers against Red China

Someone much further to the right than yours truly unsuccesfully tried to get that topic off the ground and running but nonetheless I must confess to some intrigue.

A couple of years ago I was discussing foreign affairs with a friend who was a Canadian government official and is admittedly to my left. A couple good points:

  • "I don't understand why the U.S. is screwing around with so many troops in Iraq when there are real threats in places like Afghanistan where the troops are seriously needed."
  • "And why is everybody sucking up to China? With them it's all take and no give."

Interesting indeed.

Integrity in the media

The old journalist in me bristled when I read how a planned Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel series on sexual abuse by priests was apparently killed off several years ago after archdiocesan officials lobbied the newspaper's top brass when the editor refused to budge. The series never ran and the reporter who worked on it somehow was reassigned to lesser duties.

This came as a huge letdown at many levels, the obvious being the continued manifestation of a coverup by church officials, some of whom I suspect are still around. With all the revelations over the past decade or so we've perhaps become a bit accustomed to the "collar club" circling the wagons. But the media is another story.

The Journal Company, as the owners were once called, touted often the code of ethics for its employees -- standards designed to ensure impartiality in journalism.

Journalists take this stuff seriously, especially since in smaller markets it's not uncommon for advertisers to pressure owners to kill or soften potentially adverse stories. One of the "perks" of reaching the major markets was that more affluent media owners would resist such pressure. So, just as the church scandal disheartened many people, the media's lack of integrity is another erosion of trust.

This waxes very personal for me at many levels.

I am, as a Catholic, obviously saddened and enraged by clergy sexual abuse and the coverup. Pope John Paul II put it succintly when he called it "criminal" and an "appalling sin." It was also an erosion of trust. (By contrast, when a law enforcement officer here was accused of receiving a sexual favor from someone he was supposed to arrest, he was out the door within a day. It can be done.)

The media complicity is equally troubling. How can you triumph a code of ethics publicly and privately do the proverbial "one-eighty?" It, too, doesn't have to be that way.

More than three decades ago a young small market journalist got a big break by getting hired by Storer Broadcasting at its flagship station, WSPD in Toledo. (The company, which also owned WITI-TV in Milwaukee, gave me a choice of Detroit, Toledo or Cleveland. Some choice!)

It was a major shift from the small markets, including paid overtime, talent fees, tuition reimbursement, company car, etc. But when I broke a story that a major reality firm was about to be indicted for blockbusting, I couldn't help but be nervous about whether I'd catch flak because the company was an advertiser.

My fears gained credibility when I was summoned to see the "big boss" who had a couple of Storer honchos in his office when I arrived.

After explaining the interest in my story, I was asked one question: "How accurate is your information?"

"Very accurate," I replied.

"Good," he said. "Let us know when the indictment comes down so we can pull their advertising as it would offend Storer's broadcast standards."

What a difference -- and that wasn't the last time Kent Slocum stood up for integrity, carrying it to an unusual extreme.

As we were having morning donuts in the break room, I overheard the broadcast of an editorial which our editorial director based on inaccurate information. I was visually aghast.

Kent asked what was wrong and I explained that I had just done a series of stories a week earlier which were contrary to the editorial's premise. He replied, "Why don't you prepare and deliver a response?"

I was even more aghast at the thought of a young reporter publicly contradicting senior management but, as Kent explained, "If we're wrong, we're wrong."

Sadly, those days are gone. Long gone.

Beloit's new way of ice control worth a look

In Beloit, the salt truck spewing rock salt crystals into one lane is being replaced by a chemical spray that can cover up to three lanes, according to the Beloit Daily News. The liquid spray is augmented in colder temperatures with beet juice to increase its effectiveness as reported in this morning's Wisconsin State Journal.

Kenosha ought to give this new technology a serious look. Can't help but feel that almost anything would be an improvement over the status quo. Many city streets today are globs of thick, slippery ice -- a very dangerous situation, especially 10th Avenue near two schools. If they can't salt, then sanding would be in order. (Some communities mix salt and sand to save on salt.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Want to save taxpayer dollars? Dump the mayor and trim the bloated city council.

The current campaign for mayor in Kenosha suggests that it's high time the city scrapped the mayor-council form of government and go back to the council-manager form that was abandoned 50 years ago. (The switch to a city manager was made in the 1920's.)

More than half of the nation's cities over 10,000 population employ the city manager form of government.

City managers are hired professionals -- municipal CEO's -- instead of whoever is left standing after a political battle. City council's in manager communities tend to be smaller and focused on the overall good of the community.

With all the talk of city priorities -- like improving public safety -- it's amazing that none of the six candidates for mayor and the minions of aldermanic hopefuls haven't suggested saving taxpayer dollars by scrapping the mayor and downsizing the city council.

Of course they won't. They're politicians and the number one rule of politics is to protect your own hide.

That's too bad because the same people who bellyache over municipal spending have clearly overlooked one alternative that deserves a fair shot.

Screw my #$%^&! stimulus rebate!!! Take care of our vets instead.

If the government can spare the money for a "feel good" gesture, why not take that money and use it to help our veterans and their families who need medical care, shelter and other assistance.

The way this nation treats our veterans is pitiful and inexcusable.

This isn't a Republican thing, a Democrat thing, a liberal thing or a conservative thing. It's an American thing. It's the right thing. And it should be done -- now.

It's not just what would Jesus do but how would he do it

Right-wing Catholics, empowered by clergy of their ilk, often appear to argue that Vatican II liturgical reforms should be rolled back to the Good Old Plastic Jesus days.

I've never bought into this and, instead, argue that the church of MBA priests and CEO bishops isn't doing enough to spread -- and live -- God's word in these contemporary times.

Today I came across a newspaper column by Billy Graham, hardly a liberal, that speaks to the soul of how Jesus would spread his message if alive today:

"If Jesus were living on the earth today, I have no doubt that His methods would be just as up-to-date as possible.

Newspapers, magazines, television, the Internet, satellites—I think He would use them all to get across His message.

The Bible says we should "make the most of every opportunity" to spread the Gospel (Colossians 4:5). But Jesus' message would not change!

Yes, the world has changed greatly in the last 2,000 years—but the human heart has not changed, and we still need to be forgiven of our sins and be reconciled to God.

In spite of our education and our technological advances, we still need God, and we still need the new life that only Christ can give us. The Gospel is just as relevant today as it was after Jesus' death and resurrection."

Billy Graham's words mirror those of the late Pope John XXIII who pointed out that the church doesn't change but evolves.

There are many available vehicles to spread God's word and the church's teachings. We should cherish all of them.

Footnote: I remember years ago when a young priest read an announcement for an upcoming Latin Mass in Latin on the theory that folks who understand Latin would understand what he said and appreciate the opportunity to participate in the Latin Mass.

Columnist says newspaper executives conspired with Archbishop Weakland to cover up priest sex scandal

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel appears to be a late convert to telling the story of clergy sex abuse in Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Former Journal-Sentinel writer Joel McNally, now a columnist for The Capital Times, writes that reporter Marie Rohde wrote a lengthy series on the subject which then Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland sought to suppress. When Weakland didn't succeed woth Rodhe's editor, he apparenly went to friends in high places.

The series was tanked and Rodhe reassigned.

Little did we know then that Weakland would have his own little sex scandal, one that cost the archdiocese nearly $500,000 in "hush money."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

McCain's chances?

I'm not quite this optimistic.

Pleasant Prairie: Happiness is a good snow job

On my side street, the village plow went through a few minutes ago. On a side street.

John Steinbrink, jr., and crew deserve kudos.

As for the county, well, there's no excuse. None.

Kenosha County: Where's the plow?

Coming back from Milwaukee tonight, I got off the dangerous interstate and onto Highway 38 to County H to County C and then Green Bay Road.

Racine County plows and salt trucks were out and the streets were in reasonably safe winter driving conditions.

Not so when you got to Kenosha County where nothing was done and no salts trucks were visible. The wet Green Bay road turned into ice and there were several multicar accidents north of County JR and another accident at Highway E.

Interesting how Racine County can have wet and safe roads and Kenosha County's are ice covered and dangerous -- especially after a significant tax increase this year.

This performance is inexcusable. County Executive Al Kehl is smart and savvy and hopefully he'll make sure this doesn't happen again. I'm sure he remembers the story of Michael Bilandic.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Downtown Kenosha street scene


The above picture was taken tonight on 56th Street west of Sheridan Road in downtown Kenosha, a major street in front of the courthouse that carries significant vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The condition of this major street nearly two days after the end of the storm speaks volumes.
And yet there are other city streets in much better shape and the worst street in Pleasant Prairie rivals some of the best in the city.
The hard work of public works crews cannot be understated. It's grueling. But in the above instance, not only didn't the city keep up with the storm, it didn't do anything meaningful in terms of a cleanup.

Time to clean up before the next wave

The next wave is on the way, according to the National Weather Service:

Today: Snow likely, mainly after noon. Cloudy, with a high near 32. South wind around 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Total daytime snow accumulation of less than a half inch possible.

Tonight: Snow likely, mainly before midnight. Cloudy, with a low around 25. Southwest wind between 9 and 11 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 2 inches possible.

Saturday: Areas of blowing snow and a chance of snow. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 31. West wind between 14 and 21 mph, with gusts as high as 33 mph. Chance of precipitation is 40%.

Saturday Night: Widespread blowing snow and scattered flurries before midnight, then areas of blowing snow after midnight. Partly cloudy, with a low around 0. Wind chill values between -8 and -18. Breezy, with a west wind between 23 and 25 mph, with gusts as high as 38 mph. Chance of precipitation is 10%.

Sunday: Mostly sunny and cold, with a high near 10. West wind between 16 and 23 mph, with gusts as high as 33 mph.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 3.


This news would seeminly behoove public works officials to get the streets clears and in good shape before it's too windy and cold to make much of a difference.

Many city streets in Kenosha are barely passable with snow and slush on top of snow and ice, and this includes some arterial streets (56th being one) and streets around schools. The storm has been over and a good cleanup effort is overdue.

Pleasant Prairie's streets are in better shape. Though not their typical bare pavement, village streets are open and can be navigated.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Romney finds class

Mitt Romney suspended his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Thursday, a campaign noted for his trying to reinvent himself as a right-wing candidate and peppered with acid shots at John McCain.

The sudden darling of the Republican right stunned supporters with the announcement which was delivered with considerable class. It was precisely the tone Romney should have taken throughout his campaign.

If McCain should become the GOP nominee -- still an "if" at this point -- then he'll need a running mate. The Chicago Sun-Times threw Romney's name on the table but the breach between him and McCain may be too wide to heal. The Chicago Tribune thinks Romney would be a good Secretary of the Treasury. The Trib may have a point.

My dream choice for the second spot is Elizabeth Dole. She's competent -- a United States senator, former cabinet secretary in two administrations and former president of the American Red Cross. Most people like her and polarization isn't an issue. Plus she's from the south.

That diversity and balance could be a key to a GOP victory in November.

500 posts (501 now) and over 11,000 hits -- thanks

Just a note of thanks for your stopping by and participating here. It is appreciated.

Funeral for a friend

In the journalism business -- more specifically, the print journalism business -- the death of a daily newspaper takes on the aura of a funeral.

I remember about 27 years ago being in the office of Milwaukee Journal editor Dick Leonard when the news came that the Washington Star was folding. It was a moment of deep sadness, especially as Dick pondered the fate of the then afternoon Journal. He lamented the demise of so many afternoon publications as another nail in the coffin.

And so today comes word from Madison that The Capital Times will become a twice-weekly tabloid inserted in the rival Wisconsin State Journal. The newspaper will also move from print to electronic journalism, offering a beefed up internet news presence.

The latter may be cutting edge but the former is a moment of grief.

I've always had a soft spot for The Capital Times even though politically I'm more likely to be on the opposite side of the scrappy liberal publication. That's because the newspaper isn't a knee-jerk liberal mouthpiece but rather one born out of early 20th century populism. Along with the liberal tradition was a progressive tradition honed by founder William T. Evjue whose motto of "Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it" still rings loud and clear in the soul of this former journalist.

Bill Evjue didn't just carry that message in print -- he broadcast it around the state in his "On, Wisconsin" radio broadcasts. His scrappy little newspaper wasn't afraid to take on the establishment, the money barons and even the Democratic party which former chief Miles McMillan once labeled as "fat and arrogant."

I only met Mr. Evjue once or twice as a very young man but later, after his death, I did free-lance work for the newspaper and WIBA, its radio station. Those checks helped finance my education and for that I am very grateful.

Even though the circulation dwindled to just over 17,000 daily readers, Madison was fortunate to have two competing daily newspapers -- a rarity these days. Yes, the newspapers had a joint printing agreement and shared the Madison Newspapers, Inc., offices, but they were editorially distinct.

The death of so many newspaper voices -- particularly independent local ones -- leaves the country poorer. Maybe The Capital Times will continue to be the scrappy voice for those whose voices might otherwise be muffled but slipping a tabloid inside the "enemy" newspaper twice a week just doesn't seem the same.

Old news is now hot news: McCain chides Obama BEFORE they were candidates

Check this out. This happened before either of them were announced candidates or working on their campaigns.

In a credibility tussle over this, McCain wins hands down. And should be become the GOP candidate and Obama get the Democrats' nod, this will be huge.

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't

John McCain is in the proverbial "Catch-22" situation.

Lately the Arizona Republicans seems to be pandering to the far right wing of the Republican party to ensure that they understand he has a solid conservative voting record and will be with them on all the key issues.

But this pandering, while perhaps necessary, comes with a price -- and that is the moderates and independents who were enamored with McCain's "straight talk" and "maverick" streak when he was a presidential candidate in 2000 may rightly worry if he's sold them out and gone too far to the right.

It's a tough situation but McCain will need to figure out how to deal with it -- and soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Running a government like a business

For decades well-intentioned citizens have complained that government should be run more like a business (ostensibly meaning less like a bureaucracy) but sometimes when governments heed that challenge they're often chastised by the uninformed.

So it is with former Pleasant Prairie village trustee Alex Tiahnybok who complains that since he left the village board last year there have been only a couple of board votes that weren't unanimous. He believes that's a problem and there are those who are perfectly willing to jump on that bandwagon.

That argument turns out to be a mirage.

You remember what a mirage is? Travelers in the desert were reputed to see things in the distance which appeared distinct and clear but, the closer they got to them, they got more fuzzy and when they were reached they disappear. The unanimous vote diatribe has the same dissolving quality.

In the village's case, it's a fair question but a bum rap.

The biggest problem with the complainers is that they don't understand the structure of the village government. In municipal-speak, it's a council-manager government in that while there is an elected village board of a president and four trustees, the village is run by a professional manager, Michael Pollocoff.

While more than half of America's municipalities over 10,000 are council-manager governments, in Wisconsin that form isn't as widely used in its "pure form."

For example, the City of Kenosha has an elected mayor, who is the chief executive, but also an appointed administrator to assist in day-to-day operations. The city administrator in Kenosha is more like the mayor's "right hand man."

In the traditional council-manager form, the manager, like a chief executive officer in the business world, pretty much runs things which, in some communities, even includes hiring and firing department heads. While the manager is answerable to the council, which can set policy and has the final say in disputes, in practice the manager is the CEO and the council the board of directors.

This is a substantially different relationship. A good manager will have things running smoothly, efficiently and professionally. When that's the case there isn't really all that much for the council to do differently than, say, a corporation's board of directors. The council (which is usually smaller in council-manager communities) may adopt ordinances and resolutions, approve the budget and make broad policy decisions but in a well-run municipality the manager will have researched the issues, presented recommendations and, just as in the business world, the council will likely follow them with little or no intervention.

Although it isn't written in any statute or ordinance or, for that matter, a city management textbook, you can kind of think of this like a pinball machine where the council gets to activate the "flippers" if the ball starts to get out of hand. In a well-run city, however, that isn't done much because it isn't necessary.

So when Alex and others suggest that a dearth of dissenting votes is a sign of a problem it may well be that the exact opposite is true: it's the sign of a well-run government that doesn't need village board fiddling with the "flippers."

Further, the "unanimous vote" analysis is pragmatically flawed because it implies that there are no questions and no dissent. That's simply not true.

First, many of the issues that come before the village board may have been vetted in some detail by village staff and, quite often, the plan commission. If something needs to be tweaked, that's often done before it gets to the board for a vote.

Second, the board, when it appears that there are problems with an issue that may not result in consensus, will likely defer a vote so that the village staff can go back and attempt to address the concerns. If that's done, then it stands to reason that the vote will likely be unanimous.

That's not to say that there aren't times when questions need to be asked or complaints aired. (I'm sure John Steinbrink, jr., won't be happy to read below that I'm less than thrilled with snow and ice control in the latest storm but most of the time I have nothing but well-deserved praise for John and his crew. I'd have little credibility if I didn't also recognize the occasional lapse.) But to blindly equate a "no vote" with a well-run government and unaniminity with a poorly run one is utterly disingenuous.