Monday, April 28, 2008

A blog change

Jess McBride's link was removed from the main page here because it no longer works.

Jess, whose blog was the inspiration for this one, has closed her blog to public view. That's too bad but it's her call.

Voter ID ruling makes sense -- but so does the dissent

The United States Supreme Court today upheld Indiana's strict voter identification laws in a splintered 6-3 ruling.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the plurality opinion which said, "We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters."

Stevens' opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, suggests that the outcome could be different in a state where voters could provide evidence that their rights had been impaired.

Concurring opinions by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito suggest that there's nothing wrong with requiring voters to produce photo identification, period.

"The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are eminently reasonable," Scalia wrote.

"The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting'", he said.

But one of the three dissenters, Justice David Souter, said that in Indiana getting a photo identification is neither free or convenient, pointing out that in many counties voters would pay fees for birth certificates and have to travel long distances to a driver's license office to get an identification card.

Souter's dissent makes a good point. If photo identification is to be required of voters, then it must be free and widely accessible.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Archbishop Dolan to stay -- for now

Milwaukee's public relations savvy Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan is one of a half-dozen names being tossed out as the next Archbishop of New York but Dolan himself is playing down the reports, saying he'd rather be watching the Brewers at Miller Park.

Dolan has connections to Rome, is publicly charismatic and has a way with people that could earn him millions if he ever left the priesthood for a corporate career. While he says he's staying in Milwaukee, I'd qualify that with the disclaimer "for now."

Kenosha Unified School Board doesn't have exclusive rights to stupidity

Just when it's looking like the Kenosha Unified School Board's shady financial dealings are the peak of ignorance, the Bradley Center Board in Milwaukee was on the fast track to overtake it.


Well, the Bradley Center Board came up with an idea to sell naming rights to the Bradley Center. This seems a bit odd if only because the Bradley Center already has a name.

In fact, the Bradley Center was so named because it was funded by a $90 million gift from the late Jane Bradley Pettit in honor of her father, Harry Lynde Bradley.

But the center's board was looking at ways to make some additional revenue and selling the facility's name was at the top of the list. That was until Mr. Bradley's grandchilden spoke up and correctly pointed out the offensiveness of doing that which prompted the board to drop the plan.

Slut a bunch of wheezeballs!

Is Marc Hujik a fox guarding the hen house?

As the scandal brews over the Kenosha Unified School Board's risky investments, member Marc Hujik's defense of this shady dealing which could cost district taxpayers millions of dollars.

The first thing you need to understand -- in plain English -- what the problem is. So here goes.

Municipal treasurers like to tout that they made the taxpayers money when they invested tax receipts in safe short-term vehicles such as certificates of deposit or Treasury Bills. They get a pat on the back for reducing the tax bite a little while not risking taxpayer money.

What KUSD and a few other school districts did was nothing like that. KUSD actually borrowed money to invest and then put it in a risky product that smacks of investing in junk bonds.

Playing Russian Roulette with taxpayer funds is bad enough but to borrow money on top of that to make risky investments is bizarre, to say the least.

Hujik's defense of that practice is not terribly surprising. Think of it like this: When was the last time you got a newsletter from an underperforming mutual fund that confessed, "We blew it and made some bad investments." You never hear that. So Hujik's butt covering blarney holds about as much water as a strainer, period.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Media, governor and legislature ignore statewide prosecution crisis

In the waning hours of 2005 the Kenosha News seized onto sensationalism when the front page trumpeted the very public resignation of disgruntled Deputy District Attorney Susan Karaskiewicz, a moment she now regrets.

But there's been hardly a peep from the newspaper folks about a far more sensational crisis at the Kenosha County District Attorney's office: the revolving door where up and coming young talent is forced to leave public service in order to make ends meet.

There wasn't a word in the Kenosha News a couple of weeks ago when rising star Jason Rossell said his farewell to hang out his shingle. Ditto for the depature of Richard Cole a few months earlier. Or rising stars Corey Chirafisi, Tom Perlberg and Erik Monson. And nothing's been said about others who would leave if the right opportunity came along.

Why the revolving door? It's because talented young men and women across the state and nation can't afford to remain in public service with incredibly low salaries and staggering student loan debts.

Putting it into perspective, I finished law school 27 years ago with just $6700 in debt. My first full year on the job I made $24,000 -- and that was the bottom rung of a "step system." That's over $51,000 in today's dollars but today's young prosecutors make $5,000 less and have six-figure student loans to repay.

The pay crisis was so bad in the 1980's that the legislature in 1989 made all Assistant District Attorneys state employees, a move designed to encourage competence and professionalism and provide a career path for those lawyers interested in public service. State prosecutors were then ranked in a "step system" grid according to their experience and much needed substantial pay raises.

But the "step system" was abandoned a couple of years later creating a disparity between us "old geezers" and new prosecutors who receive no longevity pay. As it stands today, they start at $46,000 and go nowhere in terms of pay progression. That means some new graduates make as much as prosecutors with five years or more on the job which explains why so many are leaving.

How bad is it?

Every district attorney's office in the state is understaffed, overworked and this comes at the expense of serving victims and protecting our citizens. In the past six years, we have lost 180 experienced prosecutors from service statewide due to the absence of pay progression ("step system"). That's a 50% turnover in just the last six years. The impact this is having on public safety is alarming. The risk to the justice system attributable to the lack of experience is aggravated by the caseload that each prosecutor is expected to carry.

The Legislative Audit Bureau Audit of Prosecutors (2007) revealed the State is over 132 prosecutors short. Here in Kenosha we're about 50% understaffed. The current crisis, intensified by the upcoming loss of 21 federally funded positions statewide should frighten and shock the public. If the state does not allocate resources to adequately fund, and retain prosecutors, we will continue to lose experienced criminal prosecutors and our ability to convict defendants accused of serious crimes will be severely disadvantaged.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. The very reason the state took over the prosecution system was to foster professionalism, competence and longevity and end the revolving door. The governor and legislators have turned their backs on this promise and the public is largely unaware of the situation or its consequences.

A prosecutor's temper tantrum on her last day on the job makes the front page but the greater crisis is shrouded by media silence. Shame on them.

Racist? Elitist? What will be Obama's next insult?

Much has been made about Senator John McCain's temper, which the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has done a good job of keeping in check, but check out what's happening on the other side.

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama admits that comments he made privately last week about bitter working class voters who "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them" were ill chosen. Obama was explaining troubles that he has winning over that group of people. Meanwhile, rival Hillary Clinton calls his comments "elitist and out of touch."

Maybe if Obama's slip of the tongue was a one-shot affair this wouldn't be news, but look at what else he's said.

Following his speech on race at the National Constitution Center in which he referenced his own white grandmother and her prejudice, Obama told an interviewer, "The point I was making was not that my grandmother harbors any racial animosity, but that she is a typical white person. If she sees somebody on the street that she doesn't know - there's a reaction in her that's been bred into our experiences that don't go away and sometimes come out in the wrong way and that's just the nature of race in our society. We have to break through it. What makes me optimistic is you see each generation feeling less like that. And that's pretty powerful stuff."

The "typical white person" may have been taken out of context but nonetheless the fact he makes an assumption about a "typical white person" begs the question of what would happen if Senator McCain or Hillary Rodham Clinton uttered "typical black person?"

In Johnstown, Pa., Obama made the following comment in regards to sexual education: "I've got two daughters, nine years old and six years old. I'm going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." That's right - his grandchildren would be a punishment. This is what happens when the goes off the teleprompter and starts speaking by himself. Off the prompter, we get a little window into his mind and how he really sees America.

And then there's Obama indefensible defense of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the extreme racist bigot who until recently was pastor of Obama's church.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Barack Obama should be judged not on the color of his skin but on his qualifications, including the content of his character.

The more you look at the content of Obama's character, the emptier it looks.

Watch this amazing video -- and then contribute to the cure

Check this out (video is toward the bottom of the page).

Amazing kids, amazing cause.

Pleasant Prairie School District would face uphill battle to be approved

Mike Renner forwarded this information which shows it's extremely difficult, as a practical matter, to create a new school district in Wisconsin.

This suggests that legislative change may be in order which would be an interesting undertaking for State Representative John P. Steinbrink, sr., who is also the village president.

Friday, April 11, 2008

To my Pleasant Prairie friends (and foes)

This is the spring nature photography season and that means I'll be taking a lot of vacation time over the next couple of months. That means I'm conspicuous by my absence. And sorry, YouTube isn''t my "thang."

Pleasant Prairie School District worth a look

For the past few months a "brainstorm" has been brewing to create a Pleasant Prairie School District but some recent developments have taken this notion from the realm of "brainstorm" to an idea worthy of serious study.

The initial attraction of a village school district was tax equity. You may recall the county-wide tax equity study which suggested that municipalities pay more to the county than they get back. No such study was ever done, though, to determine whether village taxpayers are getting their money's worth from the Kenosha Unified School District.

What moved this idea up the ladder was recent news that the school board literally borrowed money to put it in risky investments which could cost district taxpayers $8 million to avoid defaulting on nearly $29 million. That's serious stuff and, according to some financial experts, a risk that was, at a minimum, improperly assessed.

Frankly, I know many municipal and county treasurers who take pride -- and political advantage -- by investing taxpayer funds in safe, short-term vehicles to raise some extra cash from interest income. There are two operative concepts here: safe and short-term.

But complex, risky financial wheeling-and-dealing isn't exactly the best stewardship of taxpayer money and Kenosha Unified's fiscal management isn't the only thing under scrutiny. Add to it dropout rates, test scores, minority achievement and a few other problems and there's reason for village parents to wonder if there's a better way.

As this notion gets fleshed out, it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't just about money. Village residents aren't just taxed more than our fair share but are also represented less. Further, the opportunity to build a winning school district from scratch -- one that would be less bureaucratic and more responsive to parents and voters -- could be enticing. And an outstanding school district could attract additional tax base.

On top of that, this is an idea which is being embraced by many factions in the village (which shows we don't disagree with each other on everything).

Am I ready to say, "Go for it!" Not quite. But it's time for this to go from "brainstorm" to serious study.

Perhaps the legal and financial obstracles would be insurmountable but we won't know without a blue-ribbon study. Even if the idea doesn't get off the ground, it might just make the school board and administrator take the village more seriously.

I suggest that the best and brightest talent in the village be gathered to form a committee to give the feasability of a Pleasant Prairie district a thorough examination. The time is now.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kehl plea bargain shows wrong priorities

The Kenosha News is reported that former Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl has agreed to plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to receive improper payments, and, in exchange, the United States attorney has agreed to recommend a two-year prison sentence.

The maximum prison term for the charge is five years.

In the plea agreement filed today, Kehl admitted to wrongfully receiving $15,000 in cash from Kenosha businessman Dennis Troha -- $10,000 in 2005 while at Troha’s office and $5,000 in 2006 while the two stood in Troha’s garage.

Folks, I think Kehl, if this is true, deserves punishment but two years in prison punishes the taxpayers more than it does Kehl.

There are violent criminals who do far less time than someone with no prior criminal history.

I believe a short jail stint as an object lesson is appropriate for Kehl coupled with probation and a very significant fine.

Further, it's amazing that the ringleader, Dennis Troha, never spent a day in jail.

This whole thing is a black mark on Kenosha but putting Kehl in a "Club Fed" for two years is a horrible and stupid waste of resources.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The George W. Bush legacy: Over 4,000 dead and gas over $4 per gallon. Are you better off than you were four -- make that eight -- years ago?

The number don't lie.

At the end of March there were 4,001 American military personnel who lost their lives in Iraq.

This morning outside my hotel near the San Francisco airport gasoline sold for $4.099 per gallon.

Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential debates asked, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"

When President George W. Bush took office on January 20, 2001, the national average gas price was $1.46 per gallon. Six and a half years later, on August 27, 2007, the national average gas price had jumped to $2.76, roughly 89% higher. Compounded annually, this represents about a 10% jump each year Bush has been in office. The national average Monday was $3.32 per gallon but in Wisconsin it's $3.45 and even higher in our area.

Now, let’s compare the numbers over the same time period for President Bill Clinton.

When Clinton took office on January 20, 1993, the national average gas price was $1.06 per gallon. six and a half years later, the national average gas price had jumped to $1.22, roughly 15% higher. Compounded annually, this represents about a 2% jump each year.

Even when you compare all of Clinton’s term (38% jump overall) against the first six and a half years of Bush’s term, the overall jump in gas prices between the two presidents isn’t even close. In order to meet Clinton’s “numbers” gas prices would have to fall to $2.02 per gallon - or roughly 36%.

The price rise of 26 cents a gallon over the past month in Wisconsin follows the rising cost of crude oil, which reached an all-time high of $111 a barrel last week and traded around $109 today.

Here's what doesn't make sense.

The crude oil price has been the foundation for gas prices that otherwise defy market forces: decreasing demand for gasoline and surplus inventory. Right now, though, demand is down and supplies are strong which should mean lower gas prices.

This is superimposed on our Iraq boondoggle and indicates that we have a weak White House and an even weaker Congress.

President Richard M. Nixon had the intestinal fortitude to impose a wage-price freeze. Maybe such a widespread edict isn't needed now, but it's time to reign in gas prices which are fueling costlier grocieries and consumer goods.

But Bush has been in bed with his oil baron buddies and doesn't give a rat's behind about how this impacts average Americans, especially with low-paying jobs.

When gasoline prices fell during his tenure, Ronald Reagan once asked, "Isn't it nice to see the gallons adding up faster than the dollars?"

Yes, it would be nice to see that again.

It would also be nice to see a strong United States with a strong military that no nation would ever think of messing with. We had that before the Bush-Clinton presidencies.

I dare say that regardless of how inept Barack Obama is -- and I believe he's the likely Democratic nominee -- Republican candidates will feel the wrath of the voters in November.

And well they should.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hoeksema the huckster?

Tim Hoeksema, the CEO of Midwest Airlines since Midwest Express was formed in 1984, may have sold Midwest stockholders and the community a bill of goods when he was seeking support to take the company private in the wake of a takeover bid from AirTran.

One of the selling points Midwest hammered was AirTran would dilute the "hometown" airline yet look what Hoeksema has done since the sale to TPG Capital (of which Northwest Airlines has a 47% stake) went through.

Yesterday was the last day of operation for Skyway Airlines, Midwest's wholly-owned commuter carrier operating as Midwest Connect. 380 Skyway employees lost their jobs including pilots who received not one penny in severance pay.

Midwest Connect service will now be contracted to SkyWest, a St. George, Utah based regional carrier that operates flights for several carriers, including United and Delta.

I have nothing against SkyWest. As commuter carriers go they're one of the best. But Hoeksema's hucksterism is rallying the community around Midwest only to see it dump the careers of 380 people is appalling.

Yes, there are decisions any business must make which may be unpopular, but why was it necessary to wait until after Midwest stockholders okayed the TPG deal to drop the bomb? And certainly Hoeksema, a former pilot, could have ameliorated things had he insisted that the Skyway employees be hired by SkyWest.

As it stands, it's looking more and more that Hoeksema was merely the huckster for a hoax on Midwest stockholders and the Milwaukee area community.

Kenosha News hyprocrisy is befuddling

The Kenosha News has an editorial policy so inconsistent that it's mind boggling. Today is a good example.

Here's what the newspaper says: "DART - To former County Executive Allan Kehl, whose alleged transgressions will prove costly to county taxpayers. Kehl, who resigned after being charged with campaign fund-raising violations, is innocent until proven guilty, and we sincerely hope he is ultimately found innocent in a court of law. But however the case is resolved, county residents are being forced to shell out some $200,000 for a special election to replace Kehl. That's a shame, but it has to be done. We agree with County Supervisor Jennifer Jackson, who said of the unanticipated expense, 'I'd love to see it build a new bike trail. I'd like to see it fill the potholes that everybody's talking about.' Instead, it will be used to find a successor to a man whose alleged actions abused the public trust."

Let's look at this more closely.

The Kenosha News is berating former County Executive Allan Kehl because his resignation means that taxpayers may have to shell out as much as $200,000 for a special election to pick a successor.

On the surface, that's plausible, but wasn't it the Kenosha News that editorially called for Kehl to step aside? And it's the same newspaper that says in the same breath that Kehl is presumed innocent at this point but then drops the other shoe.

I agree that the lure of money and casino politics put an indelible taint on this community and, if true, Kehl's acceptance of illegal campaign contributions is another nail in the coffin of public integrity in Wisconsin.

But the Kenosha News was also one of the casino project's biggest and blindest backers. The newspaper repeatedly failed to search its own archives to tell readers about how many grandiose promises were made 18 years ago when Dairyland Greyhound Park was licensed.

Those promises seem to be the same lure being spread by the casino project's backers yet the newspaper never called them to task over it.

It was a cheap shot to profess belief in the constitutional presumption of innocence and then denigrate Kehl because he didn't step aside and an even cheaper one to berate him when he did.

Integrity isn't something that should be maintained by public officials. It should also be upheld and practiced by public institutions, such as a daily newspaper.

Greetings from Yosemite National Park

Gasoline just outside the park at El Portal, California sells at $4.59 per gallon -- a mere 90 cents more than the "bargain" prices up the road in Midpines and Mariposa!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The wrong way to go about the right thing

The Kenosha News had an interesting story -- accompanied by the obligatory smiling photograph -- of a meeting between Keith Bosman, Kenosha’s mayor-elect, Acting County Executive Mark Wisnefski and Terry W. Rose, outgoing county board chairman.

The theme of the story -- getting intergovernmental cooperation off to the right start -- is laudable until you realize that the county’s second largest municipality was conspicuous by its absence.

With nearly 20,000 residents, the Lakeview Corporate Park and Prime Outlets plus a WEPCO power generating plant, you’d think Pleasant Prairie is a long ways from being seated at the kid’s table.

Apparently not.

It’s a good idea for the city to develop good working relationships with the county and its metropolitan neighbors. Pleasant Prairie and the Town of Somers belonged at that meeting. Metropolitan problems demand metropolitan cooperation toward metropolitan solutions.

Instead of congratulating Bosman, Wisnefski and Rose I say shame on them. This type of insult is ignorant, inexcusable and should never happen again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Kumorkiewicz tops Serpe in Pleasant Prairie voting

Incumbent Pleasant Prairie trustee Steve Kumorkiewicz garnered 1301 votes, 15 more than fellow incumbent Michael Serpe.

Interesting that for all the griping and sniping from dissident factions in the village, Serpe and Kumorkiewicz had no opposition.

Kenosha voters reject Moran's negative campaigning

Keith Bosman scored 69% of the vote to win election as Kenosha's next mayor. It was a stunning defeat of former mayor Pat Moran who ran a negative and bitter campaign.

Moran raised a few good issues, such as public safety, but his pledge of a "new direction" was correctly perceived as going backward plus his mudslinging got to be too much.

Bosman would do well to pay attention to the legitimate concerns Moran raised. And Kenosha voters deserve kudos for rejecting negative politics of the past.

Bosman has every right to celebrate. Moran should be ashamed of himself.

Congrats to Kathy Carpenter!

Blogger Kathy Carpenter handily defeated incumbent Kenosha Alderman Kurt Sinclair. Her hard work in her campaign paid off.

In a bit of a surprise, Ron Frederick, a council bedrock, was defeated by newcomer Anthony Nudo by just six votes. Expect a recount.

Ralph Nudi stirred up a lot of mud in an effort to unseat north side incumbent G. John Ruffolo. It didn't work. Nudi was trounced.

Best wishes to Terry Rose

On his three days as Acting Interim County Executive.

Today is election day!

Don't forget to vote. It's your right--and duty!