Thursday, May 14, 2009

RIP: Chrysler

Chrysler Corporation died Thursday following a long period of neglect.

The post-mortem examination established suicide as the cause.

The end came as the company fired one-fourth of its 3200 dealers leaving many areas without a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealer.

18 of those dealerships are in Wisconsin ranging from Dodge City in Milwaukee to Quinn Motors in Ellsworth.

Nearly 40,000 people work at the 789 dealers which as of June 9 will no longer sell Chrysler products. The troubled automaker refused to buy cars, tools and parts back from the terminated dealers.

The loss of so many dealers will mean lost sales, property and income tax dollars in the affected communities as well as a decline in charitable contributions.

As for customers, Chrysler's attempts to mollify them probably won't work.

Here's a good example.

Take St. George, a fast-growing community in southern Utah about two hours north of Las Vegas.

There's one Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealer in town Sun Country, established in 1945 and known as southern Utah's number one Dodge dealer. Until now.

Sun Country is closing, leaving Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep owners with nowhere to go -- not even 50 miles up the road to Cedar City which has its Chrysler dealers on the hit list.

With no reasonably accessible product support in your area, why would you want to buy a Chrysler product?

No doubt that question will be on the minds of a lot of prospective Chrysler owners -- and you can't blame them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In memory of Ralph Fox

The Kenosha News today carries the obituary of Ralph Fox.

If you're under 50, give or take, you won't likely remember Capt. Fox but he was the original "Officer Friendly" of the Kenosha Police Department who visited schools, worked with "patrol boys" and crossing guards, spoke to community groups, etc. He was the guy who told you not to take rides from strangers and how to witness a possible abduction and report it to the police.

Law enforcement has changed in the 34 years since Ralph retired and, in some respects, not for the better.

Ralph was one of the World War II veterans who successfully and honorably transitioned into law enforcement at a time when cops were more peace officers than law enforcement officers. He will be missed but his legacy lives on in much more formal ways.

Gas prices

Today's Kenosha gas price: $2.50 per gallon.

Yesterday in California (which usually has higher prices): $2.38 per gallon.

Grrrrr.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Long overdue...and still long overdue...

After sleeping on the issue for years, a fire was lit in Madison this week and the legislature appears ready to enhance Wisconsin's weak Clean Indoor Air law to match that of most of our surrounding states, ending our dubious title of Ashtray of the Midwest.

The best analysis comes from our old sparring partner, Eugene Kane. It's well-written and comes from Eugene's heart.

Surprisingly, Eugene missed an important point in the struggle and that is the targeting cigarette companies did to trap minority customers. I can tell you that some of the strongest support for smoking restrictions comes from groups such as NAACP and the Urban League -- and for good reason.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

To chase or not to chase...

...that is the question buzzing around Kenosha since a drunken driver decided not to stop for a deputy sheriff and plowed into an innocent man's car on Kenosha's north side.

That innocent family man -- Anibal Tellez -- was just on his way home from work. He lost his life. His family lost a husband and father.

The buzz, of course, is predictable. Some folks are questioning why the deputy had to chase the drunk in the first place. Others say they understand why and feel sorry for the Tellez family. Reaction is emotional and predictable -- it happens like this anywhere in the country.

Having been a police officer and having been in a few chases, let me set the record straight on a few things.

First, if you think cops "get off" on the thrill of a chase, think again.

When we put on the lights and siren and the motorist speeds up instead of pulling over, we don't know why. Is it a frightened kid? An illegal immigrant without a driver's license? A dangerous felon who abducted someone? A drunk and dangerous driver? All of the above?

Truth is, we usually don't know. Also true is that if you've never been behind the wheel of a squad car during a chase, you can't possibly understand the dynamics. If you think it's fun, you're sick.

Every car you see coming up to a stop sign on a side road causes another lump in your throat? Will that car stop? Slow down for that stop sign! Stop! Please stop! Stay stopped! Don't pull out!

Those are some of the things that run through your mind in a chase. The greatest fear is that some innocent person will get in the way and become a victim.

Why not radio ahead? Cops do -- but seldom will there be other squad cars in position to be effective?

Stop strips? Didn't have those in my day -- but they still take time to put down, time that often doesn't exist.

During a chase an officer has to balance many competing exigencies -- protecting his or her safety, accurate radio transmissions on the progress of the chase (in Iowa I once got into a chase on roads without names -- imagine that feeling of helplessness), calculating what to do defensively if some motorist or pedestrian pulls out in front of your squad car and so forth.

Fun? No way. And the sad reality is that no matter what the officer does, the officer will be damned if he or she does and damned if he or she doesn't chase. And regardless of the outcome, there will be Monday morning quarterbacking by well intentioned people with no clue of what it's really like.

I've been there and done that and, no, I didn't always chase.

I once stopped a guy because his license was revoked. When I got up to his car and asked to see his driver's license, I noticed that he reeked of alcohol. "Fuck you, pig. I don't have to show you my goddamn fucking driver's license." He drove off -- fortunately not at a high rate of speed.

Do I chase him? If I did, he might speed up and the risk of carnage increases exponentially. Backup? The nearest officer was 13 miles away -- in the wrong direction.

Do I not chase him? If he gets into a crash and there's a victim injured or killed, that decision will be microscopically reviewed.

In this case, I opted to follow from a distance. Fortunately he made it home safe, slept it off and had a surprise visit at lunch from myself and two state troopers. Less than 24 hours after the incident he was sentenced to 90 days in jail with the admonition, "Next time an officer asks to see your license, you stay there and show it."

The ultimate insult here may well come in the courtroom where many of our judges soft pedal their sentences for knowingly fleeing an officer. Unlike the Iowa judge they, for the most part, fail to send the right message and actually enable more chases in the process. The news media rarely reports on these irresponsible sentences and the judges who handed them out are never held accountable.

I will not trivialize the death of Anibal Tellez by saying something trite like "it's unfortunate." Of course it is. All that and a lot worse.

Don't forget that the person responsible for this death is the drunken moron that wouldn't stop -- not the deputy.

And if you want to play Monday morning quarterback, well, if you haven't been in the officer's shoes, you probably won't know what you're talking about.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Note to Brett Favre: Character STILL matters

Here we go again.

"Broadway Brett" Favre just said he's through with football and has no plans to return to the NFL next season.

Now come word that the just-released Jets quarterback will be talking with the Minnesota Vikings.

You'll recall that in March 2008 Favre gave that teary-eyed emotional farewell to football speech in Green Bay and wished his successor, Aaron Rogers, all the best.

Then Favre did an about face and demanded his old job back.

But when the Packers said Favre could rejoin the tea, but they would honor their contractural and moral commitments to Rogers, Favre threw a hissy fit right at general manager Ted Thompson.

The whiny Favre then finagled his way out of the Packers organization -- which said it would still welcome him after his playing days ended -- and wound up as a New York Jet. (Favre later conceded it was done as a way to spite Thompson.)

I was in New York that August day when the town was abuzz with Favre fever. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in welcoming Favre, told him he could have the key to the city after he brought a championship to New York.

Broadway Brett was the darling of Gotham City until his performance waned and that early enthusiam turned to disappointment and angst.

The injured Favre said this time his retirement announcement was for good and the Jets dutifully released him.

The ink was barely dry on that paperwork when news broke out that Favre will be talking with the Vikings.

Certainly Favre's legendary on-the-gridiron performance is something that can never be taken from him. He earned it.

But also certain is that Favre's lack of good character. He's shown that he's not a man of his word. He also showed us that he's a crass cry baby who thinks of nobody but himself.

We're taught in Luke that the person who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself or herself will be exalted. Favre must have skipped out on Sunday school the day that was brought up.

Here's a guy who should have respected the fact that the Packers waited for him to resolve his annual "will I play" soap opera before moving on and offering the starting quarterback job to Rogers. When he changed his mind and demanded his old job back, Favre in essence wanted the Packers to go back on their word to Rogers.

The Packers wouldn't bite -- and rightfully so -- but offered Favre a chance to rejoin the team where he could have mentored and backed up Rogers.

That wasn't good enough for Favre. After his "180" he felt he was entitled to waltz up Lombardi Avenue and tell the Packers how things were going to be done.

Unlike Packer fans, who mostly forgave Favre, Jets fans turned on him in a New York minute when his performance went south. It may well be that the New Yorkers had Favre pegged correctly.

Of course, Favre has the right to do what he wants but will the Vikings want this troublemaker on their roster?

That said, there may be good news if Favre puts on a purple uniform. That may be just what the Packers need to energize them into a powerful football team.

From the "no comment" department: The Barney Frank Tea Party


Thanks to Doug Snow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

GOP: Whining away toward another defeat

The big kick in the Republican party since last November is to bum rap John McCain and publicly disavow any merit to the notion that the party ought to be a "big tent" which can hold a vast range of differing social beliefs.

In other words, these numbskulls blame the Obama victory on McCain not being conservative enough.

Truth be told, many of these people skewered McCain before the convention and then, when he became the nominee, supported him mainly because he wasn't "the other guy."

It's high time these rectal-cranial inverts got a huge reality check enema.

First, the GOP was pretty much doomed in November by the stumbling and bumbling of one our most unpopular presidents who did zip to help Republican chances of keeping the White House.

Second, the Democrats were not only aided by the national spirit of discontent, but they also had an extremely charismatic candidate who appealed to a broad section of Americans with his promise of change. Barack Obama also stood out as a beacon of hope for African-Americans and his support among black voters was to be expected.

Third, John McCain's biggest enemy wasn't ideology: it was John McCain who came off as a progressively stumbling and bumbling candidate. Ronald Reagan -- who originally proferred the "big tent" theory -- wasn't a spring chicken when he ran for president in 1980 but he didn't seem terribly old.

Yes, McCain did Leno and Letterman, but, at a minimum, his speech and demeanor, especially compared to the charismatic Obama, was that of a confused old guy.

McCain, for the most part, did lousy in the debates. I would rather have seen his famous acerbic temper because what we saw didn't exude confidence in his skills.

And then there was McCain's flip-flops. Maybe the 2000 version of John McCain stood a chance of beating Obama but the 2008 incarnation didn't.

There was no Ross Perot spoiler on the ballot in 2008. I highly doubt many Republicans voted for Obama because they couldn't stand McCain or wanted a more conservative candidate. Obama's margin of victory game imprimatur to his approach.

And so we fast forward to those Republicans who now skewer McCain and reject the notion that the GOP ought to have a more moderate and progressive approach. In their myopic view, the fact a call for a bigger tent didn't work in 2008, it won't work down the road.

The reality check is that unless he could essentially out-Obama Obama, McCain didn't stand much of a chance. And it wasn't McCain who adulterated the conservative message -- the prime perpetrator for that was George W. Bush.

Yes, the GOP needed a much more consistent message and still needs it today. John McCain lost that election for many reasons. Being too far to the center wasn't one of them.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Only in San Francisco

Well, actually South San Francisco.

I was at a Target store tonight -- a nice two-story store complete with escalators for shopping carts.

Anyway, I stopped in the men's room, opened the door to the stall and saw on the floor the remnants of a used condom.

Slut a couple of wheezeballs!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Don't bash factory workers

Let’s not bash Kenosha

Even though Bosmo and the 17 rocket scientists are utterly incapable of filling potholes with anything other than bicycles, motorcycles and subcompacts, it’s important to point out that now is not the time to bash Kenosha and, more specifically, Chrysler workers.

I say this because I was particularly disturbed by a comment posted on the Kenosha News website which essentially said good riddance to Chrysler because now Kenosha might be able to shed its factory-town mentality.

How insulting.

No doubt Kenosha was less than progressive in the years following the Great Depression and American Motors, an absentee corporation at that, controlled much of everyday life in this area. We all know that when AMC caught a cold, Kenosha got pneumonia and we rode that roller coaster for decades.

It was also an especially hard hit in 1988 when Chrysler pulled the plug on auto production here because the city had just begun to diversify its economic and social fabric and a more orderly transition would have been more favorable. Nonetheless, eventually Kenosha was dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century.

The posters who bash our factory workers and factories overlooked the benefits these people and institutons bestowed on us.

First, money turned around in the local economy. Kenosha had nice homes, good schools and beautiful parks. These things wouldn’t have occurred without the good paying jobs and benefits that AMC workers enjoyed.

Yes, we did bemoan on more than one occasion how Kenosha may have been backward, but it turns out that our conservatism saved this community.

When financial institutions overextended themselves with risky lending and foolish ventures, Kenosha’s banks and savings and loans would have nothing of it. As a result Kenosha Savings and Loan and First National Bank were among the soundest financial institutions in the nation.

The fact that we didn’t do a lot of goofy things (notable exception: the ill-fated downtown “mall”) turned out to be good because when the time came, we were also to do things right.

Just look at the most recent industrial and commercial development in the greater Kenosha area. This couldn’t have happened in the old days. Waiting turned out to be a plus.

In addition, Kenosha did something quite unusual because the suburban-style expansion was coupled with inner city redevelopment. Kenosha is a national model, folks. Who among us would have thought that 20 or 30 years ago?

Those factory workers were our fathers, uncles and grandfathers who built nice homes, paid high takes and sent a not-so-subtle message to us baby boomers that went something like this: “I lived through the Depression and when World War II came was drafted. When I got out I came home and worked at American Motors. I never got a chance to finish school. But you -- you’re going to go to school and make something of yourself.”

Folks, those factory workers some belittle made a lot of themselves -- and us -- and we owe them our respect and gratitude. These are the folks who made it possible for us to succeed.

When auto production ended in Kenosha, it wasn’t just a plant closing. It was stealing this community’s soul and identity. Even in the worst days of this city you could go almost anywhere in the country and as soon as Kenosha was mentioned you’d hear, “That’s where they make Ramblers.”

For better or worse, we had an identity -- and a not so bad one at that. Now we are a nice bedroom suburb. Nice, but not the same.

Instead of belittling the factory workers who were the bedrock of this community, we ought to be thanking them and remembering in meaningful ways what they gave all of us.

Deja vu all over again

Déjà vu all over again

Yes, folks, when it comes to Chrysler and Kenosha, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Part of me feels that Chrysler’s plan to close the Kenosha engine plant should come as no surprise. We’ve been there before -- more than once.

In case you forgot -- or you were too young to remember -- Chrysler ceased auto production in Kenosha in 1988, just a couple of years after it bought out American Motors.

Before that time there was great optimism that Chrysler and AMC were a great fit. Kenosha’s AMC workers turned out a quality product and it was stunning when Chrysler pulled the plug on making cars here, keeping only a smaller work force at the engine plant.

Chrysler, of course, kept the plum of the AMC takeover: the Jeep line. And, to Chrysler’s credit, the Kenosha engine plant was modernized, well-run and had good labor relations.

Yet we should forgive anyone if they feel that Chrysler may not have been playing with a full deck when it spent the last three years wooing union concessions in order to make Kenosha an attractive place to manufacture its new Phoenix engine line.

And this week -- just one day after Chrysler workers voted to grant the company more concessions -- Chrysler put itself into bankruptcy and in its filing announced eight plants, including Kenosha, are slated for closure.

Skepticism, too, should be forgiven. This bankruptcy filing didn’t just happen overnight. The paperwork had to be in preparation for days and weeks, perhaps months. They didn’t just pull this out of thin air and run it over to the federal courthouse the next morning.

Then there’s the Fiat connection.

Fiat was supposed to be Chrysler’s savior. Uh-huh.

An Italian automaker that turns out flashy but less than reliable products is a good fit for an American automaker that turns out flashy but less than reliable products. Uh-huh.
Wasn’t Daimler supposed to be Mopar’s savior? At least the German automaker has the ability to turn out somewhat decent products. We all know that Daimler bailed.

And did anyone forget how Renault -- a French automaker that turns out less than reliable products -- once owned a significant chunk of AMC but, at the end of the day, also failed to be a knight in shining armor.

The only thing that really seemed to work was when Lee Iacocca was at the helm and Chrysler got loan guarantees -- not a cash bailout -- from Uncle Sam.

Iacocca got Chrysler’s act together, eventually satisfied its creditors and his name became a household word. Who’s the CEO of Chrysler now? Does anyone know? Does anyone care.

I could go on and on about all the incentives the state and union gave Chrysler over the years but you get the picture. Perhaps, just perhaps, this is déjà vu all over again.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chrysler/Kenosha: More bad news

I had a funny feeling the news of Chrysler's bankruptcy filing wouldn't be good for Kenosha (even after Local 72 members agreed to significant concessions).

The company's bankruptcy filing has the Kenosha engine plant on the chopping block.

Chrysler says Kenosha workers may be offered jobs in other locations.

Outside chance this may be a ploy or a worst case scenario but I'd say plan for the worst and hope for the best -- at best.