Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stop the presses! UAW and WEAC endorse Democrat!

Newcomer Steve Brown, college professor and radio geek, is waging a feisty campaign to unseat Republican incumbent Samantha Kerkman in the 66th district Assembly race.

Like any candidate, especially a newcomer, Brown obviously wants to get his name out as much as possible and his campaign keeps on cranking out news releases, many of which hammer at Kerkman's voting record.  Some are becoming a little repetitive, to say the least, but the two most recent are hardly show stoppers.

Brown wants you to know he's pleased that the United Auto Workers and Wisconsin Education Association Council have endorsed his campaign.  That news is hardly equivalent to walking into a microwave cookoff wearing a pacemaker. 

There's an old saying in journalism:  If a dog bites a man, that's hardly news but if a man bites a dog, that's news.

If the UAW and WEAC endorsed a Republican in a contested election that would be news.  But for now, it's just a big yawn.

Don't look for Brown to be yawning much, though.  His repetitiveness may be narrow and myopic but it's not inappropriate to question Kerkman's voting record.  For all we know, Kerkman may have good reasons why she voted the way Brown says she did on the issues that matter to him.  Hopefully she'll step up to the plate and tell her side of the story.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let's kill all the lawyers.

I received a peculiar comment to the preceding commentary. It came from a well-known self-described “conservative” who ordinarily argues against government intrusion into individual rights. Yet, when it comes to the proposed Cordoba Center, the controversial Islamic cultural center planned a couple of blocks from the downed World Trade Center in New York City, this is what he wrote:

“And common sense, or sensitivity, is a law which ALSO should be equally distributed. The Constitution does not condone ‘up your ass!’ positions. That is, what is legal is not necessarily right. Only lawyers would believe otherwise.”

My correspondent is correct in saying that what is legal is not necessarily right. For example, many would argue that the civil law permits abortions contrary to moral law. But he’s dead wrong that the Constitution does not condone “up your ass” positions.

The civil rights movement was founded on moral authority but certainly whenever those who sought to enforce segregation were challenged they must have felt he protestors were taking an “up your ass” position. In fact the First Amendment guarantees those who wish to peacefully protest the right to advocate “up your ass” positions.

My correspondent also wrote that New York’s governor made the magnanimous gesture of offering to find another location for the cultural center. In no way, shape or form does this make the situation any better.

What if the members of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, which was blown up Ku Klux Klansmen in 1963, killing four girls inside the ladies room, wanted to rebuild it across from the courthouse. What if the city fathers told them, “We don’t want you to build it here” but offered to find another location? Would that be religious freedom?

And the lament that “only lawyers would believe otherwise” is a curious but all too typical knee-jerk reaction. At least it’s a little bit original and not the usual quote from Shakespeare vowing the “kill all the lawyers.”

“Let’s kill all the lawyers.”

Lay people and comics like to use this gag line. More often than not this Shakespearian “sound byte” is uttered without a basic understanding of the context or meaning of the quote. It’s like selectively quoting scripture. For instance, by selectively piecing quotes together, we can find biblical authority for committing suicide -- “And Judas went out and hanged himself . . . and Jesus said, go ye and do likewise.”

As we review Shakespeare’s Henry VI, part two, we find at this juncture in the story Jack Cade’s rebellion was picking up steam. Dick, the butcher, was a member of this rebellion. As Dick utters the famous words “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” he was referring to ways that the rebellion might be successful. They recognized that to succeed, they must get rid of those who knew and enforced a system of laws. They did not want any learned and informed opposition to the rebellion they had planned against the government. This makes sense.

If you are tempted to create anarchy through rebellion, the first objectives will be to get rid of legal process, individual rights, and the truth. The members of the rebellion realized it would be the lawyers that would stand up and identify how individual rights were being abused and due process was not being afforded. It was the lawyers who would recognize that rebellion sought to take away freedoms rather than grant them. This concept that the lawyers would recognize was later put in context by Daniel Webster who stated, “liberty exists in proportion to wholesome restraint.”

Regrettably, lawyers have not aided in the proper interpretation, particularly those hired guns who promise they’ll win your personal injury case. Lawyers, however, occupy a very important position in our society. As officers of the court, it is a lawyer’s responsibility to uphold the Constitution and be instrumental in ensuring our system of justice is efficient and effective. Without that kind of leadership, lawyers cannot live up to the accolade which Dick, the butcher, gave to the profession when he said, “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” I say accolade because it was recognized that the law and those that were sworn to uphold it were direct obstacles and impediments to those who would seek to take away our freedoms and liberties.

As Americans we have the same responsibilities as a part of the stewardship of our citizenship. As Thomas Paine stated, “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must like men undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

As a nation, we have adopted and applied the rule of law as the foundation of our system of government and the vehicle through which individual rights are protected. We all have the responsibility of ensuring its continued existence.

So, the next time you hear someone offhandedly quote Shakespeare (maybe the only quote they know of Shakespeare) as stating “the first thing we do, is kill all the lawyers,” take the time to provide them the context of the statement and fill in with the rest of the story. And, give thanks when someone challenges the application of the law because that is a part of the meaning of freedom in this great nation.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

We are better than that, aren't we?

Plans to built an Islamic cultural center, including a mosque, two blocks from the former World Trade Center attracted national attention.  Despite the broad controversy -- with even President Obama weighing in -- it's important to recognize that it's first a local matter -- not exclusively a local matter, but primarily one.

City government cleared the way, appropriately, recognizing that despite opposition to the project being built so close to Ground Zero, the Constitution nonetheless would be meaningless if the freedom to worship was curtailed.  Actually, I should have said Constitutions in the plural.

As a local issue first, the primary guidance comes from Article I, Section 3 of the New York Constitution which begins: "The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind."  State constitutions are often overlooked but they are actually our primary sources of freedom.  The New York Constitution is more emphatic in many respects than the United States Constitution.  The First Amendment begins, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The phrase "without discrimination of preference" in the New York Constitution is instructive.  It's the state's policy that one religion should never hold preference over another nor should the state sponsor discrimination against any religion.  Further, the free exercise and enjoyment of religious worship "shall forever be alllowed in [New York] to all humankind." 

This left the city no choice but to approve plans for the Islamic Cultural Center so long as it complied with all other zoning and building code requirements.  As Americans we can have it no other way without sacraficing our own liberties. And if we do, then terrorism won.

William Allen White, the sage of Emporia, said it best: "Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."  The fact that one of our great cities will not stand in the way of an Islamic Cultural Center two blocks from Ground Zero shows the world that we are better than those who will not grant the same freedom to others.

Quick, where is the Buddhist shrine in Baghdad?  The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Tehran?  The Mormon Temple in Damascus?  The Unitarian Meeting House in Kandahar?

That an Islamic Cultural Center would be built two blocks from Ground Zero shows the world two things:  First, we are better than that.  The beacon of hope this nation was for oppressed people shines as much today as it has for more than two centuries.  Our forefathers came here seeking religious freedom. Is it any wonder that the first part of the First Amendment addresses freedom of religion?

Second, the greatest antidote to terrorism is freedom.  Freedom, freedom, freedom -- more, not less.  When freedom is curtailed -- and when fear and prejudice gain dominion over us -- terrorism wins.

By granting freedom to those we may not like we gain more for ourselves.  William Allen White was right: Liberty is the only thing we cannot have unless we are willing to give it to others.

And when we do, we show the world -- including those who would love nothing better than for there to be no religious freedom -- that we are better than that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Welcome, Dr. Hancock

Michelle Hancock has been on the job for a month or so as the new superintendent of the Kenosha Unifed School District.  So far she appears to be doing a decent job and every district resident and staff member should be enthusiastic about helping her.

This was the place where Kenosha learned that there was controversy surrounding Dr Hancock when she was a school administrator in Rochester, New York which our school board (and local news media)  failed to uncover in its vetting process leaving many potential questions unanswered.  Nonetheless Dr. Hancock is here and things seem to be going well.

We're all aware of the rtetorical question of whether the glass is half empty or half full.  Unless and until proven otherwise, let's wish her well and hope that maybe part of the reason she came here is to get away from the controversy surrounding management of the Rochester district (which has a high graduation rate of 46%, far less than Kenosha's 84.1%). 

Of Walgreen's, an indifferent city management and downtown Kenosha

Walgreen's has been a fixture in downtown Kenosha for much longer than 1962 as the Kenosha News reported (1962 is when it moved to its present location).  The mammoth drug store chain plans to shutter the cramped store in September, offering up a lame excuse that the new Walgreen store at 75th Street and Sheridan Road will better serve the area. 

Who are they kidding?  And why isn't city hall reacting?

A lot of folks are working hard to breathe new life into downtown Kenosha.  Bistros, galleries, shops, condos are adding some life into the otherwise moribund patient.  Add the museums, trolley and lakefront and it's curious why our city fathers -- and the school district, for that matter -- aren't more concerned.

Walgreen's was the last general retail establishment in downtown Kenosha.  It's more than a pharmacy, as are most Walgreen stores around the country, but in an area with no other sources for a loaf of bread, cough syrup, Kleenex or panty hose you'd think Walgreen's would be looking to expand, especially with new residential development.  Shame on them.

And city hall?  They probably need to buy another ream of paper to keep up with the list of shuttered storefronts in this city.  Shame on them, too.

If city hall hasn't been on the phone with CVS, what's taking so long?  The downtown area needs a modern drug store, among other things.  Or will the old Walgreen's become an unwelcome city landamark: another shuttered storefront?