December 31, 2007

Tax payment burning a hole in your pocket?



So there you were Monday, check or cash in one hand, city tax bill in the other, eager (?) to fulfill your civic obligation and pay the damn taxes early for once. You and a steady stream of Racinians.

And City Hall was closed! Nor was there a drop box.

All you wanted to do was pay next year's property tax in 2007, so you can claim them on your income taxes this year, right? Well, don't despair. The flyer taped to City Hall's door says that if you bring the taxes in personally on Wednesday, they'll stamp 'em received in 2007. Doesn't sound legal to us, but maybe the city has a special working relationship with the IRS (wink, wink).

Don't try the postmark trick, though ... the city will take those at face value.
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$1 million in claims filed over accident involving medical examiner

Lawyers have filed three claims totaling $1 million against the county for an automobile accident involving the county's medical examiner.

Attorney John Becker filed claims on behalf of Jeffrey & Kristin Adam for damages resulting from an automobile accident with a Racine County employee in the amount of $250,000 each for a total of $500,000, according to the agenda for the Jan. 3 Finance and Human Resource Committee meeting.

Also, Attorney James Carney filed a $500,000 claim for Eric & Shelly Winter for damages resulting from an automobile accident with the medical examiner, according to the agenda.

Developing...

Friedel running for fifth term on City Council

Alderman Tom Friedel will seek his fifth term on the City Council this spring.

He's being challenged this election by Charli Smith. Here's Friedel's announcement:
Tom Friedel has announced his candidacy for the 10th aldermanic district in the City of Racine. First elected in April 2000, Friedel is currently chairman of the city’s Finance and Personnel committee. He serves as president of the Library Board of Trustees, president of the Water Commission and chairman of the Economic Development Committee. He is also a member of the Wastewater Commission, Community Development Committee and Executive Committee.

“Public service has been a rewarding and fulfilling way for me to give something back to the community. I look forward to the challenges and opportunities confronting our city and the tenth district and will continue to put forth the effort necessary to make knowledgeable decisions that are in the best interest of all city residents.”

Racine makes the funny pages -- but don't blink!


Here we are again: Racine makes the big time, but you have to be alert or you'll miss it.

Luann, created by Greg Evans in 1985, throws props to Racine in today's comic strip, published in more than 300 newspapers.

Poky Little Puppy, for those of you living under a rock, is a classic from Racine, published in 1942 by Western Publishing, one of the first 12 Little Golden Books. Says Wikipedia: "As of the year 2001, it was the single all-time best-selling hardcover children's book in English; according to Publisher's Weekly it had sold nearly 15 million copies."

If you've forgotten the story, a synopsis (caution: plot spoiler alert!) is HERE.

Cartoonist Evans won a Reuben award from the National Cartoonists Society for Luann in 2003 -- cartooning's highest award, also won by Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and a host of greats like Matt Groening, Will Eisner, Gary Larson and Garry Trudeau. Frankly, I don't put Evans anywhere near that pantheon -- but maybe I just don't relate to the trials and tribulations of high school girls. Give me a beagle or a stuffed tiger any day!

December 28, 2007

Racine man dies from apparent self-inflicted gunshot in parking lot

A 68-year-old man died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound Friday afternoon in the parking lot of Super Cuts on Washington Avenue. Here's the release from Mount Pleasant police:

At 1:13 PM Mt. Pleasant Police were dispatched to the back parking lot of Super Cuts 5360 Washington Ave. Employees were outside the back of the store and noticed a jacket lying on the snow next to a truck. They found a man lying on the ground and called rescue. Rescue was first on scene provided medical attention to the man who had gunshot wound to the chest. Rescue transported to St. Mary’s Hospital. The victim, “Warren R. Stinson 68yoa, of Racine.” was pronounced deceased at 2:02 PM by medical personnel. Police notified the immediate family.

Police found a handgun lying in the snow next to the man on the ground. Preliminary investigation indicates that the gun shot may have been self inflicted based on the evidence at the scene, and persons interviewed thus far. Police are continuing to investigate all aspects of the case, but as stated we do not suspect foul play at this time. Anyone with information about this death investigation is asked to call the Mt. Pleasant Police Department 262-884-0454.

Here we go again: Gas prices head back up


Don't look now, but gas prices are headed up. (That's us, represented by the blue line trending northward.) Once again, $3 a gallon fuel will seem like a good thing, thanks to the upheaval caused by the chaos in Pakistan (which also shot a hole in the stock market Thursday.)

As Roseanne Roseannadanna warned us years ago, "It's always something!"

Record prices are -- once again -- predicted for spring. More details of the bad news are HERE. Makes you sort of glad to be snowed in, eh?

How about a snow tow?


Snow? Ice? All we adults think about is how dangerous the roads are during winter storms. But if you're four years old, and your daddy has a bicycle ... well, it's a whole 'nother story.

Battle of Incumbents: Kaplan challenging Lumpkin for County Board

Jim Kaplan and Ken Lumpkin will be pulling double-duty this election season.

Kaplan, who sits on the Racine City Council, has taken out papers to challenge Lumpkin for his County Board seat.

The news comes less than a week after Lumpkin announced he was challenging Kaplan for his City Council seat.

It also sets up an interesting election for most voters in the city's Fourth Aldermanic District and the county's Fourth Supervisory District. The two districts largely overlap; map is the county district.

Voters will get to decide if one person should represent them on both elected bodies, or whether they should split their votes in hopes of both candidates winning an election.

The winner will not be the first person to serve on two bodies. Alderman and County Board Supervisor Q.A. Shakoor serves on both.

PROPERTY TRANSFERS: Wind Point home sells for $520,000

It was a Merry Christmas for the new owners of 6920 Burma Court in Waterford. The home recently sold for $555,000, according to the Racine County property transfers.

Other big sellers recorded Dec. 21-26 include:
4715 James Ave. in Wind Point for $520,000 - FirstWeber listed this Colonial home surrounded by 1.2 acres of woods for $550,000.
8505 Hollander Drive in Caledonia for $465,000 - Former home of Motor Technologies. Company owner Mike McGray died on Aug. 20.
8102 Scenic View Drive in Norway for $425,000
34 Harborview Drive for $351,000
4 Gaslight Drive for $304,800.

Here are this week's listings:


HOPE or HALO?

December 27, 2007

Racine, Mount Pleasant officials discuss border deal

UPDATE: The JT followed our tip and is on the story. They interviewed Becker and Mount Pleasant President Carolyn Milkie and found that the communities want to "straighten out" their borders. As our commenters have pointed out, the issue is more likely centered around high-crime neighborhoods that the village doesn't want to deal with any more. But at what price will Racine take on these resource-intensive areas? Perhaps the former Case plant?

Original post:

Racine Mayor Gary Becker and Mount Pleasant officials are meeting to discuss changes to the communities' borders.

Preliminary talks would "straighten out" the borders between the communities and possibly result in the city receiving more land in exchange for taking on high-crime areas that are currently in the village.

The discussions are preliminary and no decisions have been made on the borders. City Council members have been asked not to discuss the matter with the media.

UPDATE: Ghuari running for City Council

UPDATE: Ghuari is running for council, along with several other challengers to incumbents. In all, five of the eight elections for City Council are contested, so far. There are no primaries, so far. The deadline to file is Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. Here's the list:

SECOND DISTRICT
ROBERT L. ANDERSON, 1638 S. MAIN STREET,
JAMEEL GHUARI, 1700 S. WISCONSIN AVE.

FOURTH DISTRICT
JAMES E. KAPLAN, 400 KEWAUNEE STREET
KENNETH LUMPKIN, 1646 EAST STREET

SIXTH DISTRICT
SANDY J. WEIDNER, 2310 THOR AVENUE

EIGHTH DISTRICT
Q.A. SHAKOOR, 1516 W. 6TH STREET

NINTH DISTRICT
TERRENCE A. McCARTHY, 317 WEST BLVD.
TROY W. JOHNSON, 1571 MARIA STREET

TENTH DISTRICT
THOMAS FRIEDEL, 1904 DWIGHT STREET
CHARLI WALTER LEROY SMITH, JR., 2312 WEBSTER STREET

TWELFTH DISTRICT
ARON WISNESKI, 1025 ARTHUR AVENUE
JOSEPH LEGATH, 1423 HICKORY WAY

FOURTEENTH DISTRICT
RONALD D. HART, 4420 REPUBLIC AVE.
Old post:

We're hearing from people that Jameel Ghuari, head of the Bray Center in Racine, has taken out papers to run for City Council. Ghuari would run in the city's second district, which is currently represented by first-termer Robert Anderson.

December 26, 2007

What I did in Congress this year, by Russ Feingold

There's been a lot of talk this year about the "do-nothing Congress." Many are angry that the Democrats, given a mandate and a majority in 2006, didn't show much backbone and act on it to reverse President Bush's __________ (pick an adjective: disastrous, monomaniacal, misguided, idiotic, forward-thinking, inspired, Heaven-sent) foreign policy.

Others talk about the "do-nothing Congress" as a good thing. I've seen many comments grateful for Congress' lack of action ... since so much of what is "accomplished" turns out to bite us in the backside.

But those are both the views of outsiders. What does a real Congressman think was accomplished this year? Below, unedited, is U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's staff-written self-evaluation. You be the judge. (We would, of course, welcome similar reports from Sen. Herb Kohl and Congressman Paul Ryan.)

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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s 2007 list of legislative accomplishments included helping secure the extension of Wisconsin's popular SeniorCare program and the passage of landmark lobbying and ethics reform largely based on legislation Feingold authored. The extension of SeniorCare, the prescription drug coverage program for Wisconsin seniors, runs through December 31, 2009 and will provide approximately 100,000 low-income Wisconsin seniors with meaningful prescription drug coverage while saving the federal government $27 million over five years. Feingold worked closely with Senator Herb Kohl, despite opposition from the Administration, to negotiate a SeniorCare extension in the Emergency Supplemental Spending bill passed in May.

Feingold was the main architect of tough lobbying and ethics reform legislation that passed the Senate in January. The bill curbs lobbyists’ gifts and privately funded travel, slows the revolving door between Congress and lobbying groups, improves lobbying disclosure, and prohibits elaborate parties for members of Congress at conventions. More than two years after Feingold introduced the first comprehensive lobbying and ethics reform bill in the Senate in July 2005, the president signed the final version of the ethics and lobbying reform bill into law on September 14.

“I am pleased with the success in the last year of measures to provide the best drug coverage for Wisconsinites, clean up Congress, and much more,” Feingold said. “I look forward to the opportunity to work on these and other issues for Wisconsin in 2008.”

Health Care: Along with extending SeniorCare, Feingold also passed two more important measures to improve health care for Wisconsinites. A Feingold-sponsored amendment passed in December to more than double funding for dental care for people living in underserved areas. The Senate also adopted in the Farm Bill a Feingold proposal to help Congress understand the current state of, and how to improve, health care for farmers and rural communities.

Supporting American Workers: Feingold was an original cosponsor of successful legislation to increase the federal minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour over the next two years. In addition, Feingold’s Buy American reporting requirement, which requires federal agencies to report on purchases of foreign-made goods, was strengthened and extended for the next five years. The requirement now requires agencies that use an exception in the Buy American Act to specify the exact legal provision allowing them to purchase foreign-made goods.

Education: Provisions modeled on Feingold’s legislation to allow two-year colleges across the country to apply for TRIO grants were included in the Higher Education Amendments passed by the Senate. The TRIO grant program provides outreach and assistance to low-income students and underrepresented minority students to help them achieve a college education. Also included in the Higher Education Amendments was a measure cosponsored by Feingold to combat ongoing student loan abuses around the country.

Rural Opportunities: The Senate Farm Bill contained many of the provisions Feingold authored in his Rural Opportunities Act introduced in February, including improved support for organic agriculture, beginning farmers, bioenergy, rural broadband and local food systems. Several Feingold amendments were accepted to the Farm Bill on the Senate floor to require improvements in the Office of Small Farms, improved oversight of dairy markets, ginseng country-of-harvest labeling, and a report on the safety of high protein imports like gluten and milk protein concentrates. In addition, Feingold was part of an effort to restore the original payment rate of the Milk Income Loss Program, which acts as an effective safety net by targeting small and medium dairy farmers and only operating when prices are low.

Fairness for Farmers: The Senate Farm Bill also included a provision based on Feingold’s bipartisan legislation to protect farmers from being forced into mandatory arbitration agreements as part of a comprehensive package to improve the USDA’s ability to ensure fair competition. The Farm Bill also includes language from Feingold's Farmer Tax Fairness Act of 2007 to help ensure farmers and other self-employed individuals are able to remain eligible for social security and disability benefits.

Veterans and Military: In response to revelations of alarming conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Senate passed provisions based on legislation Feingold cosponsored to improve oversight of military medical facilities. Feingold also passed an amendment requiring the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress on the state of mental health care for female servicemembers and veterans, as well as legislation to ensure compensation for veterans who lose sight in both eyes as a result of service-connected injuries.

Foreign Policy: As Feingold led the fight to end the disastrous war in Iraq, he also fought to establish an inquiry into waste, fraud and abuse in wartime contracting, including violations of law by private military contractors. To protect against wasteful use of taxpayer dollars in reconstruction projects, Feingold was an original cosponsor of an amendment that created a special inspector for Afghanistan reconstruction. As the chair of the Senate’s Subcommittee on Africa, also Feingold authored a successful resolution calling on the warring parties in Northern Uganda to recommit to peace talks, cosponsored an effort to prohibit assistance to governments that use child soldiers, and two successful resolutions calling for greater action to halt the genocide in Sudan. To help address the ongoing conflict in Somalia, Feingold played a catalyst role in the appointment of a Special Envoy to that country.

Wanted: Citizen reporters to cover City Council meetings

Interested in local government? Want to get involved? We have an opportunity for you.

RacinePost is looking for ambitious volunteers to help report on Racine city government. No experience is required, but you do have to be willing to attend city meetings and write up what happened.

We'll help with the writing. Your job is to be the eyes and ears for the website to report on what's happening when our officials meet. Most city meetings have no media in attendance, so we'd like that to change.

But we need help. The hope is to build a network of reporters to cover as many city meetings as possible. The reporting will be straight forward: what happened, what were the issues discussed, how did the committee vote, etc.

If you're interested, contact Dustin (dustin.block@gmail.com) for more info.

Bringing kringle to the world outside Racine ...


There's more -- and less -- to O&H Danish Bakery's kringles than you know.

As the company nears its 60th birthday, it is going off in big -- and little -- new directions. Be prepared to relearn a lot of what you thought you knew about kringle, "this hyper-sweet, O-shaped pastry that helped put Racine on the map," according to virtualtourist.com, which this year voted Racine the "quirkiest" place to spend Christmas because of kringle.

Since its founding in 1949 by Christian Olesen, grandfather of the generation now minding the store, O&H has made its mark with the kringle we all know and love. Racinians gobble more than 5,000 O&H kringles each week. Thousands more are sent out by mail order to customers all over the U.S.

But now O&H has gotten a new groove on: It is tackling the in-store market -- supermarkets in the U.S. and Canada -- as it tries to bring kringle to people who never heard of them.

This new direction started in 2001, when O&H moved into a new production facility on Rapids Drive. (The Douglas Avenue plant still bakes O&H's doughnuts and other goodies.) At 10 p.m. each night, production of "our" kringles begins, and the finished product is driven to retail stores starting at 4 a.m. But in the morning, a new shift of bakers comes to work...

When I toured the plant last week, O&H was making chocolate-covered cherry kringles at a rate of about 1,000 an hour, all for Valentine's Day. While you were baking Christmas cookies, they were baking 7,000 kringles a day, more than 50,000 a week! for supermarket sales two months hence.

These new kringles are identical to ours in almost every way, but the differences are also significant. While ours are 24-ounce circles, the new kringles are smaller 14 ounce ovals. And while ours are sold and served fresh, these new kringles are frozen right after baking. And these new kringles are branded Olesen's Family Bakery, not O&H.

One more thing: if you want to order them, you have to order at least 1,200 at a time. These are strictly for supermarkets; O&H's largest order so far: four truckloads comprising 200,000 kringles!

The basic kringle-baking process is unchanged. It's a three-day effort that begins with flour, butter, eggs, yeast and other ingredients mixed in 450-lb. batches. The dough is then rolled, with thick slabs of butter, and refrigerated overnight. On Day 2, it is rolled again, and again refrigerated overnight. On Day 3, the dough -- now in 32 layers -- is rolled down to 1/4 inch-thick sheets, then cut into strips. Filling is placed on top, the dough is folded over, and shaped by hand into the oval shape, then placed on huge baking sheets, and onto large racks.

They are baked 160 at a time, for 20 minutes in a walk-in-sized oven at 370-degrees. After cooling,
each kringle is covered with icing, packaged and sent to the freezer.

"They're made the same way grandpa made them. We just make more of them and we're more consistent," says Eric Olesen, who runs O&H with his two brothers, Mike and Dale.

"It's a big challenge selling kringle in a market that's never heard of it," Eric says. "The consumer has to take a little risk. And you need a customer -- the supermarket -- that's excited about it, and will promote it."

Three generations: Eric, Mike, Dale, Ray and Christian (1982)

O&H is a family operation. Mike runs the stores, Dale is the facilities manager and Eric runs the overall business. They grew up in the business, working for their parents, who taught them to "be our own greatest critics; don't be afraid to find what you can do better, and acknowledge that you weren't doing it the best way before," Eric says.

About a dozen family members work at O&H. "We all started out in the bakery; you've got to touch it, feel it, taste it, know how it stretches, how it shapes," he says.

Eric went to business school at UW-Madison and came away with a new mantra, "A successful business is a growing business; a healthy business is a growing business." Out of that came the business plan to bring kringle to the masses. "It's important to have an element of challenge," he says. O&H is also working towards American Institute of Baking certification, like manufacturers' ISO certification. "It's a way to let customers know our high standards," Eric says.

Kringle 101: Everything you didn't know ...

--Kringle used to be shaped like pretzels, more of an almond-filled coffee cake, dusted with granulated sugar. "Racine bakers were geniuses to create the oval shape," Eric says. In Europe, the focus was on the pastry; here in the U.S., the focus is on the filling -- and with more filling it's harder to make the pretzel-shaped pastry. He credits the Ostergaard family -- they had a bakery in West Racine until the 1970s -- for popularizing the round kringle, which lets bakers focus on the filling: pecans, cherries, apples. "But they still have to have a light, tender pastry."

-- The most popular flavor is pecan, hands down, accounting for one-third of all the kringles sold. For the past two years, O&H has run a contest among its customers, challenging them to come up with new kringle flavors. The two winners so far have been raspberry lemonade, and French toast.

-- Calories: The government says there are 180 calories in a typical serving -- but it defines a serving as 2 ounces. By that reasoning, there are 12 servings in a kringle. Good luck with that!

-- Who's the "H" in O&H Bakery? Harvey Holtz was a bookkeeper in 1949 who found a location with ovens and suggested a partnership with Christian Olesen, a Danish baker who had come to the U.S. at age 14. Olesen would do the baking, and Holtz would be the bookkeeper. Ray Olesen, Christian's son, bought out the Holtz family interest in 1960.

-- It was Ray Olesen, and his wife, Myrna, who started the mail-order business in the 1980s. They retired in 1994.

-- O&H's best customer locally is Ruud Lighting, which sends out thank you notes accompanied by kringles in response to every order. Thousands of kringles a year.

-- Three other kringle bakers in Racine are Racine Danish Kringles, Larsen Bakery, and Bendtsen's Bakery, which claims to be the oldest family-owned bakery in Racine, having opened in 1934.

-- O&H kringles were featured in the Wall Street Journal's Catalogue Critic article last week. Go HERE for their review.

PROPERTY TRANSFER: Mount Pleasant home sells for $575,000

A Mount Pleasant home at 5109 Sheridan Road sold for $575,000 on Dec. 14. Century 21 listed the residence. It was listed at $575,000 with four bedrooms, two bathrooms.

In Caledonia, a home at 415 Bonita Lane sold for $362,500, and another home at 12620 Bluestem Road sold for $445,000.

The big seller in Racine was a condo on Gaslight Pointe for $374,000.


Lumpkin running for City Council

County Board Supervisor Kenneth Lumpkin, owner of the Insider News and a four-term Racine County supervisor, told supporters he'll run for a seat on the City Council in the upcoming April election.

Lumpkin, the owner of the Insider News, is running for the Fourth District seat currently held by incumbent Alderman Jim Kaplan. Kaplan was first elected in 2006.

Lumpkin whose business and home is located in the Fourth District said his experience in business and government makes him the perfect candidate to turn-around a waning community.

“We have watched as other areas of Racine go through a new growth while our historic district slowly declines because of the lack of attention and resources,” Lumpkin said.

He said because of so many needs in the diverse and changing community, the Fourth District couldn’t afford to spend more time training leadership. The district needs an alderman with a vision of how the neighborhoods need to look decades to come, Lumpkin said.

“My strong stand against crime in our neighborhoods, economic development for the Fourth District businesses, commitment to education and proven ability to help create jobs make me the best candidate to move the Fourth District forward,” Lumpkin said.

In a District that is 67 percent minority, Lumpkin is working with Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds to design a project that will aid small minority businesses.

He added that he worked closely with the Al Gardner and the developers to bring the new Corrine Reid-Owens Square project to the Central City.

Lumpkin said his efforts will help revitalize distressed business areas like parts of Douglas Avenue and bring affordable housing to the vacant lots in the district.

“The success of bringing change will be based on weeding crime out and seeding jobs opportunity in,” Lumpkin said.

About Lumpkin:

• Age 60

• Married, proud Father and Grandfather

• High School graduate

• 8-Years on the Racine County Board

• 20-Year Business Owner (owner Insider News)

• Member of New Omega Church

• Home and Property Owner

• Vietnam-Era Veteran

• Winner of the Ted Harris Humanitarian Award

• Winner of Gateway Humanitarian Award

• Nominated by Congressman Paul Ryan to the National Civil Rights Commission

• Member of the American Legion

• President of the Flatiron Mall Association

• A member of the City of Racine Community Block Grant Committee

December 23, 2007

Comments: Clean up your language ... or else

We've reached the moment of truth: Some of you, like Ralphie here, need to have your mouth washed out with soap.

Others do not use offensive language or w*rds 'cleverly' designed to evade profanity filters, but still lack civility and deal only in the put-down, while hiding behind anonymity.

We have these choices:
1. Cut it out! You know who you are. Let this be a place for civil discourse and discussion.
OR: 2. We'll tell your mother what you said.
OR: 3. We can require registration before anyone is permitted to post comments.
OR: 4. We can start moderating comments, which will delay their appearance on the blog.
OR: 5. We can shut off comments entirely.

We'll go with #1 first, but if that doesn't stop the abuses immediately, we'll move to something more restrictive.

This isn't a poll and the majority doesn't rule. Feel free to comment, of course, but be forewarned that we're not going to put up with the profanity and nastiness any longer.

End of an era? Main Street General Store for sale


The best-smelling store in Racine is closing.

Open the door to the Main Street General Store and your olfactory senses are overwhelmed by the mingled aromas of dozens of exotic coffee beans. You stand by the door and drink it in. After a few moments, you wander to the back of the store and read the labels on big glass jars of beans from all over the world, and try to choose among them. A half-pound of this, a pound of that... And, of course, a bag of chocolate-covered coffee beans.

The caffeine high is an extra bonus.

Enjoy it while you can. Proprietor David Azarian has put the "For Sale" signs up on his general store / gift shop. After 25 years running the store (it opened in 1976), he's ready to hang up his apron for the last time. Azarian is 64, and says simply, "I've had enough. It's time." He's not necessarily retiring (he's also an accountant), but will see what else develops.

He and his wife, Mary Kaprelian (a teacher and former Racine alderman), are not leaving the area; they've just bought and moved into a house in Caledonia.

Azarian would prefer to sell the business as a going concern, but if no future general store proprietor-wannabe steps forward, the building at 302 Main St. is listed for sale at $249,900. Azarian recently sold the building next door, and is eager to see how the new owner renovates it. "If it comes out well, it will increase the value of this building," he says.

December 22, 2007

SNL rerun had a Racine connection ... anybody know why?

Saturday Night Live dug deep into its vault this week for a 1991 episode, one with a Racine connection, albeit brief.

In the skit, Steve Martin is hosting a TV game show called Suckerpunch and Kevin Nealon is "third contestant, Bob Van Arks from Racine, Wisconsin." Blink and you would have missed it.

Bob doesn't do very well. In fact, he doesn't say or do anything, except -- you could see this coming, right? -- take a suckerpunch.

The skit was nothing to write home about. Don't take my word for it, here's a transcript. Nealon later delivered the news update; somebody should have slugged him again. (Maybe it was funny 16 years ago? Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose: There was a President Bush joke, but it referred to Poppy, not W.) Thirty-three years of SNL transcripts are HERE.

The cast in 1991 comprised some of SNL's greats, including Madison's Chris Farley, Phil Hartman (both dead within the decade), Dana Carvey, Victoria Jackson, Chris Rock, Mike Myers, Rob Schneider and Adam Sandler. Some of the other skits this week held up pretty well, and James Taylor was the musical guest. Sweet Baby James made it all worthwhile.

Playful Harley will entertain himself -- and you


Ready to add a playful addition to your home? Consider Harley, an Aussie / Lab mix. He's five years old, already housetrained. He knows (and obeys!) "sit" and "shake," and maybe some more commands that we didn't think to try. Harley is a transfer from the Kenosha shelter, which is getting full. As you can see from the picture, he also knows how to entertain himself, by choosing his own toys from the selection available.

OR, are you more interested in having a kitten for Christmas? Countryside Humane Society has some of the cutest kittens around, just waiting for new homes. The shelter will be open until 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve ...

Update, 12/22: Des, last week's dog, has found a new home for Christmas!

YWCA building sold? So sayeth the rumor mill

We've been sitting for more than a week on word that the YWCA building is in the process of being sold, and will reopen as a doctor's office and fitness/rehab/health facility. But our phone messages have gone unreturned (and the doctor's wife told us today to stop calling -- harsh!), so we've been unable to reach the people who could confirm or debunk the story.

So let's just put it out as unconfirmed chatter (this is the internet, after all!) from two former YWCA staffers that Dr. Kenneth J. Kurt, a Racine osteopath, may or may not be buying the building, which closed on Dec. 7. The building was listed for sale at $650,000.

The only information we can find online about Dr. Kurt comes from HealthGrades, a healthcare rating organization, which says: "Dr. Kurt practices Family Practice in Franklin and Racine, Wisconsin. Dr. Kenneth Kurt, a male, graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Med with a DO and has been in the profession for 48 years."

Wikipedia says the following about osteopathy:
"An osteopath is a practitioner of the approach to healthcare named osteopathy (or osteopathic medicine), which emphasises the importance of the musculoskeletal system on general health.

"Osteopaths are trained to use various healthcare interventions and technologies depending on the location of their training. In the U.S., osteopaths are trained at osteopathic medical schools. They are fully licensed physicians, with the same practice rights as physicians who carry an M. D. degree. Osteopathic physicians earn the degree of Diploma of Osteopathy or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)."

YWCA members, who are now swimming (and grumbling) at the YMCA or DeKoven pool, or trying out local health clubs, are anxiously awaiting word. If the buyer of the YW wants to retain them as customers, he ought to get the word out before they move permanently to new lockers elsewhere.

It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it ...

"What is past is prologue," Shakespeare wrote (The Tempest), so I suppose all my training led up to this night.

All those interminable candidate interviews (George Romney, Mitt's father, for Heaven's sake, in his Mormon longjohns; Richard Nixon a few days later in the same New Hampshire motel room) ... all training, preparation! for this night at the Ivanhoe.

"Celebrate Christmas the Playboy way!" the invitation read. "Drink half-priced all night if you are dressed like a Playboy bunny or Hef. Prizes for the best dressed."

Proprietor Doug Nicholson, who had the good sense not to card yours truly, said the night's theme was in honor of "Hef's birthday..." (Um, no; Hugh Hefner was born April 9, 1926.) "...or maybe the first issue of Playboy." (Possible; that undated collector's item with Marilyn Monroe on the cover -- I remember it like yesterday. -- came out in December 1953.) Does one really need a reason for a Playboy-themed party? I think not.

The place was packed (Duh!) on this foggy Friday night. The Ivanhoe was brought back from the dead five years ago (it had been vacant for 17 years) by Nicholson, a refugee from the corporate world (water purifiers, would you believe?), and it was jumping.

The semester's over, the last paper's been turned in, the college kids are back home; the late-night tube is filled with reruns of reruns thanks to the Writers' Strike, and so -- oh, what the hell: Here's the picture.


I think the gal on the left likes me!

December 21, 2007

Meet your congressman: Ryan sets listening sessions

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, will hold listening sessions in 15 communities between Jan. 8-10.

Ryan will discuss: the rising cost of health care and what can be done to lower costs while improving quality; taxes and his proposal to give taxpayers the option of a simpler alternative to the complicated income tax system; national security matters and the war in Iraq.

“These listening sessions are a great opportunity for people to share their thoughts and concerns on issues ranging from health care to jobs and the economy to our national defense. I want to hear directly from area residents about their views and interactions with government, and these meetings provide a forum to do that,” Ryan said.

His complete schedule is after the break.

Tuesday, January 8
EAST TROY: 9:00 – 10:00am, Village Hall, 2106 Church St.
MUKWONAGO: 10:30 – 11:30am, Village Hall, 440 River Crest Court
GREENFIELD: 12:00 – 1:00pm, City Hall, Council Chambers, 7325 West Forest Home Ave.
OAK CREEK: 2:00 – 3:00pm, Police Department, 301 West Ryan Rd.
RACINE: 3:30 – 5:00pm, Gateway Technical College, Racine Building, Great Lakes Room #110, 901 Pershing Drive, use parking lot D
Wednesday, January 9
DELAVAN: 9:00 – 10:00am, City Hall, 123 South 2nd St.
BURLINGTON: 10:30 – 11:30am, Gateway Technical College, Room 100, 496 McCanna Parkway
TWIN LAKES: 12:00 – 1:00pm, Village Hall, 108 East Main St.
PLEASANT PRAIRIE: 2:00 – 3:00pm, Village Hall, Auditorium, 9915 39th Ave.
KENOSHA: 3:30 – 5:00pm, Gateway Technical College, Madrigrano Center, 3520 30th Ave.

Thursday, January 10
MILTON: 9:00 – 10:00am, The Gathering Place, 715 Campus St.
ELKHORN: 10:30 – 11:30am, People’s Bank, Community Room, 837 North Wisconsin St.
LAKE GENEVA: 12:00 – 1:00pm, City Hall, Senior Center upstairs, 626 Geneva St.
CLINTON: 2:00 – 3:00pm, Village Hall, 301 Cross St.
JANESVILLE: 3:30 – 5:00pm, City Hall, Council Chambers, Room 417, 18 N. Jackson St.

Fun?

Not the best use of an abbreviation in a headline...


December 20, 2007

Rep. Mason not playing around with toxic toys

The date-rape drug in Aqua Dots.

Lead paint on Thomas the Tank Engine.

Cancer-causing drugs in plastic ducks.

In the past year alone dozens of toys have been recalled, mainly because of lead paint.

Toys are no laughing matter any more, and State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, has had enough. Mason said today he will introduce legislation to crack down on toxic toys. His bill will be similar to one in Maine that restricts the sale of children’s products with unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals.

“It’s time to do something about the toxic toys that are flooding the market. The way I see it we have two choices: hope that Chinese manufacturers will clean up their act or do something at the state level to protect our kids,” he said.

Mason’s bill seeks to remove from the market toys with chemicals that could pose risks to a child or developing fetus. It would call on the Department of Ag, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to publish a list of prohibited chemicals and require manufacturers of children’s products that contain those chemical to, where possible, replace those chemicals in their products. The bill does exempt use of chemicals for products not designed for children or expecting mothers such as chemicals used in industrial or manufacturing purposes, in transportation vehicles and components and fuels.

"Parents have enough to worry about around Christmas as it is. They shouldn't be wondering if the toys they are putting under the tree are going to harm their children," Mason said.

Mason hopes to introduce his bill in early January. The 2007-2008 legislative session reconvenes on Jan. 15.

RacinePost gets Farked

Popular website Fark.com linked to RacinePost last night, bringing thousands of people to the site to read Pete's post on the Atheist pyramid built next to the Nativity Scene on Monument Square.

There are about 100 comments so far on the post, and our site traffic is through the roof. Most readers are from out of town, and we certainly aren't trying to be the center of a debate over religion and atheism. Still, it's fun to get the attention.

Thanks to the reader who submitted our site to Fark. Much appreciated!

Federal Budget just like those TV giveway shows

You know the ones we mean: The host mentions her favorite lipstick and confides earnestly to the audience, who absolutely did not see this coming: "And you're all getting one!" (Audience cheers.) The guest mentions his new book, CD or movie and the host turns to the audience, "And you're all getting one." (Audience cheers.) And the host brings out her "favorite" Christmas gifts, baking pan, paprika extract, sausage stuffer, pantyhose, credit card... "And you're all getting one!" (Weary audience cheers.)

Hearing about the omnibus budget bill, which included funding for 214 federal departments, is a lot like that.

Here's an analysis of just the giveaway portion, from US News and World Report:
USA Today notes congressional Democrats "with the encouragement of...Bush vowed this year to seek a 50% reduction in federal budget 'earmarks' -- projects and programs inserted into spending bills by members of Congress to benefit their states or districts." Watchdog groups "such as Taxpayers for Common Sense say the reduction is closer to 25%, once all earmarks are counted. They count 11,144, for $15.3 billion." Fox News' Special Report reported that the spending bill is "thousands of pages long, and includes at least 10,000 projects. Figuring out what to do with it is a full-time job right now at the White House. ... The White House is still poring through the huge omnibus spending bill to see what the half trillion dollars would buy." Roll Call says "more than half of 'airdropped earmarks' -- provisions that had not previously been approved in either chamber -- were targeted to districts represented either by a member of the Appropriations Committee or a Member considered vulnerable for the 2008 elections."

The mind boggles, and still the "See what I did for you!" press releases pour in. After the break, we list all the headlines on releases we received from just one Senator, between 4:30 yesterday afternoon and 8:30 this morning. (Weary audience cheers.) No doubt, they'll all be online shortly, for those of you who demand specifics. (At least no trees were killed to bring us this news; all arrived via e-mail.)

1. $1.6 MILLION FOR WISCONSIN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, WORKFORCE TRAINING INCLUDED IN FEDERAL BUDGET, KOHL ANNOUNCES

2. KOHL SECURES $310,000 TO PROTECT WISCONSIN SENIORS IN FY08 FEDERAL BUDGET
Funds Boost CWAG’s Fraud Prevention Project, Disability Rights Nursing Home Transition

3. KOHL INCLUDES $181,768 FOR RURAL WISCONSIN HEALTH COOPERATIVE IN FY08 FEDERAL BUDGET

4. $196,000 FOR RACINE’S WASHINGTON AVE REDEVELOPMENT INCLUDED IN FY’08 FEDERAL BUDGET

5. KOHL INCLUDES $500,000 FOR COMMUNITY HEALTH CARE IN MILWAUKEE, KENOSHA, MENOMONIE

6. KOHL DIRECTS FUNDING TO WISCONSIN DENTAL HEALTH PROGRAMS AS PART OF FY2008 FEDERAL BUDGET

7. KOHL SECURES $2.2 MILLION FOR WISCONSIN WILD WATERWAYS PROJECT

8. KOHL SECURES $2.2 MILLION FOR WILD RIVERS LEGACY FOREST PROJECT

9. $1.3 MILLION FOR WISCONSIN=S ICE AGE TRAIL INCLUDED IN FY08 BUDGET, KOHL ANNOUNCES
Funding will support land acquisition

10. KOHL INCLUDES FUNDING FOR WISCONSIN AGRICULTURE PROJECTS IN FY2008 FEDERAL BUDGET

11. KOHL CHAMPIONS NUTRITION PROGRAMS IN FY08 FEDERAL BUDGET

12. KOHL MAKES FOOD SAFETY A PRIORITY OF FY08 FEDERAL BUDGET

(Weary audience cheers. April 15 is a long way off.)

YEAR-END VOTES: Ryan backs SCHIP extension, tax patch, troop funding

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, recently voted in favor of three bills that passed the House and went to President Bush to be signed into law.

Here's Ryan's breakdown of the bills and his reason for suppporting them:
SCHIP Extension (S. 2499)

Among its provisions, S. 2499 extends SCHIP funding through March 31, 2009. (The bill also provides a temporary update to the Medicare physician reimbursement rate through June 30, 2008.) Ryan had supported and cosponsored previous legislation to extend the existing program. He opposed flawed legislation that would have significantly expanded government-run health care through SCHIP, providing taxpayer-funded coverage for middle-income families and people who already have insurance. Today’s bill is a simple extension of funding for the existing program.
“I’m glad to see this clear-cut extension of the existing SCHIP pass,” said Ryan. “I’ve always supported an extension, but until now this Congress has insisted on expanding the program beyond its original scope and putting even greater pressure on our already unsustainable entitlement spending. Now we need to make progress on health care reform that gives everyone access to health coverage, while improving quality and making sure patients and their doctors are in charge of their medical care – not bureaucrats.”


Temporary AMT patch (Senate Amendment to H.R. 3996)

The Senate-amended version of H.R. 3996 places a clean one-year “patch” on the exemption level for the AMT to help protect middle-income taxpayers from the ever-growing reach of this illegitimate tax. When the AMT was created in 1969, it was aimed at preventing 155 wealthy taxpayers from escaping their legitimate tax obligations; however, it was not indexed for inflation and threatened to ensnare 23 million taxpayers in 2007 if Congress did not enact a fix.

Unlike legislation considered earlier this fall by the House, today’s “patch” does not try to raise taxes to prevent an AMT tax increase on middle-income Americans. Nor does it propose controlling spending to lessen the impact of this patch on revenues flowing into the federal government. Unfortunately, by delaying approval of this patch until mid-December, the Majority has likely caused unnecessary delay in the IRS’ efforts to provide tax refunds and confusion on the part of taxpayers trying to prepare their returns for 2007. Ryan voted in favor of the temporary patch, although he would rather see Congress repeal the AMT altogether to prevent the recurring problem of this unintended tax hike on middle-income taxpayers. Ryan has introduced the Taxpayer Choice Act, which repeals the AMT and gives taxpayers the option of a simpler alternative to the current income tax.

“The AMT was never intended to grow out of control and become the burden it is today for law-abiding, middle-income taxpayers,” Ryan said. “I’d rather see Congress eliminate this unfair tax altogether, but I’m glad that at least a short-term patch was finally approved – without other tax hikes that hurt our economy. I have introduced a plan to repeal the AMT once and for all and give taxpayers the choice of a simpler income tax system, and I’ll continue to push for this solution next year.”

Senate Amendment to Add Funding for Troops in Iraq to Omnibus Spending Bill (Senate Amendments to H.R. 2764)

On Monday, Congressman Ryan voted against an omnibus appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) that rolled together spending for 11 regular appropriations bills into one mammoth package. The 3,565-page bill, which stood more than a foot tall, was filed at 12:30am on Monday – giving Members of Congress less than 24 hours to examine its contents before the vote later that day. It contained over 9,000 earmarks – around 300 of which were “air-dropped” in at the end of the process, without receiving scrutiny by the House and Senate during earlier consideration of spending bills. It also included billions in emergency-designated spending, some of which was for predictable funding, such as $100 million for presidential security at political conventions, $14.5 million for Court of Appeals salaries and expenses, and $20 million for Farm Service Agency salaries and expenses. This suggests the use of the “emergency spending” designation as a budget gimmick to avoid budget restraints. On top of this, the bill on which the House voted Monday did not include funding for U.S. troops in Iraq – though it provided $31 billion in war funding for Afghanistan.

The Senate amended this sweeping spending bill to include funding for operations in Iraq, and Congressman Ryan voted today to agree to the Senate’s amendment inserting this troop funding.

“Our troops in Iraq are doing their jobs extremely well under difficult circumstances and achieving results. The security situation has been improving, and our military men and women need our support to continue their progress, so they can come home as soon as possible – leaving a more stable Iraq that’s able to defend itself. Unfortunately, the overall omnibus bill shows Congress still lacks discipline when it comes to spending. At the very least, Congress and the public should have had more of a chance to examine the contents of this huge bill before it came to a vote,” Ryan said.

December 19, 2007

Atheists' pyramid joins Nativity scene at Monument Square



There are, as any cursory drive around town will prove, scores of beautiful churches in Racine. The phone book lists more than 150.

The seasonal symbol of their belief sitting in Monument Square for a week now -- the Nativity scene recalling the birth of Christ more than 2,000 years ago -- has been joined by an 8-ft. tall, white-painted plywood pyramid, the work of fewer than a dozen Racine atheists.

"This country was founded on the principle of separation of church and state," said Al Sorenson, 70, who built the pyramid. "The Nativity Scene is a violation that doesn't belong on public property; it's an ancient superstition, based on a myth."

The pyramid's four sides each have a quote opposing the practice of religion. One side says, "There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the dark ages."

Another side says: "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." That quote, from Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, 1796, which was signed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously by the U.S. Senate, "has been a point of contention regarding the proper interpretation of the doctrine of separation of church and state, says an article on Wikipedia.

David Nelson, 81, another of the half-dozen atheists who helped set the pyramid up on the square Wednesday night -- about six feet from the Nativity Scene -- insisted, "we're trying to educate the American public. The Founding Fathers left too many loopholes in the doctrine of separation of church and state."
Al Sorenson being interviewed by WTMJ

Sorenson, pointing to the Nativity scene last night, said, "If that wasn't here, then this pyramid wouldn't be here either.

"We're fighting against people who try to force their religion on others. The Nativity scene should be on church grounds. Why don't they put it on their own property?"

A lifelong Racine native, Sorenson is aware of the controversy his pyramid will engender. In fact, he was already dealing with it before even bringing it to Monument Square: the company that did the lettering, for $235, wouldn't put its name on the pyramid, for fear of losing business. And the liability insurance the city requires cost him $703.

As for the significance of the pyramid itself: Don't bother trying to figure it out; there isn't any. Sorenson noted that there's a pyramid on the U.S. dollar bill, but said a search of the internet found little information about it. He chose the shape simply because it's very stable (it has cement blocks inside to keep it in one place) and winds won't knock it down.

$196,000 for Washington Ave. passes in HUD's budget

An appropriation of $196,000 for the City of Racine to rehabilitate and redevelop the historic buildings on Washington Avenue will be part of the FY’08 Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl announced today. Kohl is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“These funds will help breathe new life into the Washington Avenue corridor, encouraging new uses for the neglected properties along the street and bringing a new sense of community to the area,” Kohl said.

Racine will use this funding to purchase a property on Washington Avenue, rehabilitate it, and later sell the property. Proceeds from the sale will be used to purchase other properties and revitalize the area. The city plans to create commercial retail space on the ground floors of the buildings and residential space above. The project is designed to spur development and encourage people to relocate to the area.

The FY’08 Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill has passed both chambers of Congress and is ready for the President’s signature. The project amount reflects a 2% across-the-board Administration cut in funding.

The omnibus budget bill provided a total of $555 billion in funding, including $70 billion in Iraq defense spending. Opponents said it also included 700 pages of non-crucial "earmarks," like Racine's portion, raising the question: "Is that all we got?"

Eight separate press releases from Sen. Kohl's office, pointing out millions of dollars in various grants -- for food safety, Womens and Children's programs, pesticide reduction, $1.3 million for Wisconsin's Ice Age National Scenic Trail, $2.2 million for the Wild Rivers Legacy Forest, etc. -- did mention one other Racine grant: $80,567 for the Health Care Network's Dental Clinic.

Kiss that tax refund goodbye if you have unpaid warrants

Think you're getting a tax refund from the State of Wisconsin next year?

Well, think again -- if you owe any outstanding fines and forfeitures. The Racine Police Department is implementing a new program that allows it to seize your tax refund before you get it.

"Through current provisions in the tax code, various debt and delinquent fines can be seized through the Wisconsin Tax Intercept Program. Information contained in the website’s database will be sent to the State of Wisconsin Internal Revenue Service for seizure under the tax intercept program," says the department's press release.

The Police Department is directing citizens to its new website to learn more about the program -- and to check whether they have any unpaid fines or warrants. "In order to avoid delays in receiving a refund, or having the refund absorbed outright, citizens are encouraged to clear any outstanding fines prior to Dec. 31," the department suggests.

So, of course we hied over to the website to see whether all those parking tickets we'd gotten this summer had been paid. Whew! Nothing listed under our name came up. But then the fun began -- although it felt like an invasion of privacy at the same time: You can search the database for anyone's unpaid fines or warrants ... boy, there sure are a lot of them!

A few Smith warrants (first names deliberately obscured)

We started with Smith -- a bunch of Smiths owe $42,312.20, in amounts ranging from $10 (Steven and Margie, seatbelt violations) to $10,000 (Curtis, uttering; Jamie, bj-felony; and Tina, worthless check). Joe and Larry Smith each showed up in the database owing "$0.00" so they needn't be too concerned -- or maybe there are bugs in the system that need to be worked out.

The Joneses couldn't keep up with the Smiths: Joneses only owe $17,735.75.

Better luck with Johnsons: Darrel owes $5,000 on a worthless check charge; Kimberly owes $10,000 for uttering; and Lee owes $5,000 for "theft; bus setng (ho)" whatever that is. None of the SC Johnsons showed up in the list, we were happy to note. Total owed: $33,288.60.

And so it goes, down the alphabet. It'll keep you busy checking your daughter's boyfriends, the noisy neighbors, co-workers ...

This is all part of the Racine Police Department's Keep Racine Sound initiative, which started with www.keepracinesafe.org, launched in June. The site’s homepage features unsolved homicides, and provides readers with options for providing information regarding the crimes.

The website's warrant reduction initiative will permit online payment by summer, and explains how friends or relatives can pay the fines owed by others.

December 18, 2007

Gov. Doyle to draw United Way's $5,000 raffle ticket

Gov. Doyle picks winner for Dave Maurer of United Way

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle will make someone very happy this Thursday -- $5,000 happy.

The governor will be at the Racine County Food Bank to draw the winning ticket in a United Way raffle. The $5,000 prize was contributed to the United Way of Racine County by CNH, and all proceeds will go to the 2007 campaign, which raised $5.12 million this year, the most in the organization's 85-year history.

The local United Way annually is in the top 10% of all United Ways in money raised for the size of the community.

Raffle tickets, costing $20 each, are still available, with a maximum of 1,500 to be sold. Tickets must be purchased before the 4 p.m. drawing Thursday. The governor will draw the winning ticket at the Racine County Food Bank, at 2000 DeKoven Avenue. The winner need not be present to win.

Cocoa and cookies will be served at the event, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

To purchase a ticket, call Marie Hargrove, or any other United Way staff member at 632-5186 between now and 4 p.m. Thursday. Everyone is welcome at the drawing, whether you've purchased a ticket or not.

UPDATE, 12/20: And the winner is ...

Gov. Doyle drew the ticket of Dave Russell, owner of the Cornerstone Bar, located at the corner of High and Erie Streets. He wins $5,000, and the United Way wins about $4,000... proceeds of the more than 400 raffle tickets sold. The prize money was only part of CNH's United Way contribution this year: company and employees raised more than $700,000.

'Holidays' beats 'Christmas' this year, Racine company says

In the ongoing battle over whether it's better to use the term "Christmas" or "holidays," "holidays" came out the big winner in 2007.

In its fourth annual survey, GiftBasketsDeluxe.com, a major gift basket company, today announced the results of an analysis of holiday gift card messages sent through their company.

The study showed that 60 percent of holiday gift baskets sent used the politically correct term "holidays" on their gift card, as opposed to the more traditional term "Christmas."

This is a stark reversal of the previous three-year trend. Studies of gifts sent through the company in prior years show that:
* 58 percent used the term "holidays" (as opposed to "Christmas") in 2004
* 43 percent used it in 2005
* A record-low level of 27 percent used it in 2006
* A record-high 60 percent used it in 2007

"The most surprising element of this test is the huge swing from last year," said Don Crowther, president of GiftBasketsDeluxe.com. "For something to more than double in one year indicates that a major factor has changed. Perhaps it is because of the election season (note that the previous high was in 2004, a national election year), or perhaps it is due to the increasing sensitivity to other cultures and their holiday celebrations."

This type of data is more accurate than traditional poll data, because
it reports what people actually do, rather than what they tell pollsters
they do, Crowther said.

Crowther also noticed an increasing sensitivity to nationalities of recipients. "Our customer service staff has noted a large number of people asking if we could identify the nationalities of the surnames of the recipients of the gift baskets they are sending, so they can use a term that is not offensive."
The study includes gift baskets ordered between Nov. 16 and Dec. 16,
2007.

Downtown merchants plan varied 2008 activities

An ice sculpture exhibition will start Downtown Racine's year on a high note in January.

More problematic will be Sixth Street's renovation, which begins in March.

Both events, and the year's promotional calendar were unveiled this morning as the Downtown Racine Corporation met with more than three dozen retail merchants at its Downtown Connections meeting, held at Monfort's Fine Arts gallery.

Taking them in order:

Ice Carving: Mary Osterman of Copacetic is organizing Downtown Carves Its Niche, the ice sculpting exhibition, scheduled for Jan. 12. At least 10 300-lb. blocks of ice will be distributed outdoors downtown, to be carved by a traveling team of ice sculptors who work a circuit that previously has included Lake Geneva and Green Bay.

The sculptors will start about 10 a.m. and work until they're done -- using only hand tools -- probably by mid-afternoon. Sculptures will remain on the street until they melt away.

The participating artists are Joe Haas, Bob Lechtenberg, Emily Lechtenberg, Sarah Lephardt, Scott Johnson, Dick Emmerich, John Haas, Bob Langenohl, Andy Haas Schneider and Mike Lechtenberg.

Sixth Street renovation: Devin Sutherland, DRC executive director, said the Sixth Street project will include the replacement of water, sewer and gas mains in 2008, and new pavement and sidewalks in 2009. The project will start on March 3, and the contract requires a 6-day workweek of at least 10 hours per day to make it go as quickly as possible. All work is to be completed by July 3.

The first 60 days will allow work on the 200 and 300 blocks of Sixth; the second phase will work its way west. The intersection of Wisconsin and Sixth Streets will be closed for no more than 10 days, Sutherland said.

DRC also has obtained a $20,000 grant for marketing during the project: for signs indicating which stores are open, for directional signs and for very visible storefront signs -- maybe large feather flags -- for stores to display when they are open.

Merchants are anxious to avoid the kinds of frustration that developed during the Main Street renovation project, when it sometimes seemed that all work stopped while the contractors took their workers and equipment to other jobs. Sutherland said the city "has done a good job of writing its expectations into the contract" this time.

Downtown Events Calendar: Jean Garbo, DRC's marketing director, unveiled the working version of 2008's promotions calendar. From the discussion, it appears at least two dates will change: First Friday in July was initially scheduled for July 4, a date most merchants are closed; and there also were questions about holding the Downtown Holiday Open House on Dec. 6.

So, except for those dates, here's the schedule as Garbo presented it:
Jan. 12, Ice Carving
Feb. 2, Mardi Crawl
Feb. 19, Downtown Gallery Night
March 15, St. Patrick's Day Parade
April 4, First Friday
April 19, Downtown Gallery Night
May 2, First Friday
June through August: Public Art Event
June 6, First Friday
June 6 - Aug. 29, music on the Monument
June 14, Market on the Square
July 12, Market on the Square
July 19, Downtown Gallery Night
July 26, Microcars on the Monument
Aug. 1, First Fridays
Aug. 9, Market on the Square
Sept. 5, First Fridays
Sept. 13, Public Art Auction
Oct. 4, Party on the Pavement
Nov. 8, Downtown Holiday Parade
Nov. 15, Downtown Gallery Night
A couple of details: The St. Patrick's Day Parade will begin at noon, on a new route because of the Sixth Street project. It will run from State and Main to 8th Street, and then head west to Lake. Otherwise, it will be the usual family-friendly event, with dancers and floats and, hopefully, activities at Monument Square at the parade's conclusion.

The Microcar event is new, aimed at owners of truly little cars, like the original Mini Cooper, or perhaps the three-wheeled Isetta and their brethren.

Sutherland also said that Festival of Trees, held this year for the first time at the Masonic Temple was a success in many ways, especially the atmosphere and the location, although "turnout did not meet our expectations." Visitors loved the House, he said, and special events were a sell-out. "It's our goal to go back there again," he said.

December 17, 2007

New law requires schools to cover cost of AP tests

School districts will pay the cost of advanced placements exams for students eligible for free or reduced lunch under a bill Gov. Jim Doyle signed into law Wednesday.

This bill allows the Department of Public Instruction to apply for federal funds to cover the costs of these exams. AP exams help students earn college credit while still in high school.

Under previous state law, the local school district was required to pay for these exams. The U.S. Department of Education had taken the state's previous statutory language to mean that only state or local funds should pay for these exams, which has prevented the state from receiving any sort of federal assistance.

“This common-sense fix allows Wisconsin school districts to compete for federal grants to cover the cost of advanced placement exams for low-income students,” said Lehman. “Wisconsin schools have missed out on $140,000 in grants this past year alone."

Lehman noted the lost grant money would have paid for over 1500 AP exams and 95 International Baccalaureate exams.

The next round of grants will be awarded in January.

Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, helped the bill win approval.

DRC seeks Downtown Achievement Award nominees

The Downtown Racine Corporation is seeking nominations for the 2007 Downtown Racine Achievement Awards. Each year DRC recognizes individuals, businesses and organizations who have contributed to the vitality of downtown during the past year.

Seven awards will be presented:
-- Downtown Showcase Award for an exciting event or organization that has helped attract visitors and improve the overall image of downtown as an exciting, dynamic, happening place.
-- Downtown Champion Award for an individual who has been a catalyst in improving downtown; has provided service to the downtown community and has worked tirelessly to promote downtown.
-- Night Owl Award for a hotspot or event that has attracted people into downtown after dark to enhance the overall ambiance of the city for locals and visitors.
-- Fork and Spoon Award for a new or redeveloped restaurant that has captured the attention of the marketplace, enhancing the downtown dining scene.
-- Brick and Mortar Award for a building or property that has helped to revitalize the area and bring new residents downtown.
-- CPR Award for the redevelopment of a downtown building that has helped enhance the overall downtown neighborhood.
-- Corporate Citizenship Award for a business or organization that is the ultimate citizen, supporting downtown through employment, facilities and sponsorship.

People may nominate themselves or others by submitting a form available from DRC or online here. Nominations must be received by Jan. 7. Awards will be presented at DRC's annual meeeting on Jan. 21. For more information, call DRC at 262-634-6002.

'Mitten lady' has warm hands and a warm heart

Meet the mitten lady.

Pam Lewis grew up one of seven children in a Michigan household. During her first marriage, her husband often was out of work. She hasn't forgotten what it's like to be cold, to have cold children, to have no money.

Today she's a mother -- she and her husband, James, have eight children in their blended family, ages 13 to 27, five grandchildren and one more grandchild on the way. Pam handles purchasing for Horlick High, but in her off-hours she's a seamstress and crafter. She designs and makes items she sells to raise money for her family's Christmas presents.

And to help others.

Her mitten mission began two years ago, as she drove home after looking for wool at a thrift store. "I saw a mom, her two kids and baby walking down Martin Luther King Drive. It was very cold out. They had no mittens on their hands and looked like they were freezing.

"So I pulled up by them and told the mom I make really warm mittens and asked her if she would like some for herself and her children. She said yes, and I handed them all mittens. She said thank you and walked away, and I was so glad I could help."

And so began Pam's mitten mission.

Actually, let's back up a bit, to Pam's first mittens. Her mother showed her some mittens and said, "Oh, Pammy, you're going to have to make these." But -- as daughters often do when mothers make suggestions -- she didn't. Then, months later, one of Pam's co-workers at school brought in a pair of mittens she had bought. "I realized right away, those were the mittens my mother told me about.


"Well, I look at something, and I can make it," Pam says. She went home that day and on her lunch hour cut out a cardboard pattern -- she still uses it -- and made her first mitten. Wool on the outside, polar fleece on the inside.

The same as the mittens her mother had told her about, although after two years of mitten-making she's still trying to make them better. (The wool is boiled to make it tight and firm.) Pam makes mittens for adults, children, infants; uses buttons or other decorations. She and I go down into her basement craft room -- occupied by three sewing machines, a cutting table, piles of sweater remnants and a new litter of kittens -- and she pulls out one of those big plastic tote boxes, the kind you store winter clothes in over the summer.

Out pours a kaleidoscope of mittens in every imaginable color. Light, dark, striped; Green and Gold for Packers fans, Maroon for the Badgers; you name it. Even some with white fur cuffs, "for classy ladies," she says.

Pam makes a few hundred pairs of mittens each season; also dolls, bag holders, muffs, hats and so on, and sells most of them -- some have gone as far as Alaska, and Australia.

But she also makes dozens of pairs of mittens for others, taking joy in the giving: to workers in need, to teachers for needy kids, to mothers with cold kids. "I still remember when I was really poor and couldn't buy anything," she says, her voice trailing off.

So on Christmas eve, one of Pam's daughters will take a large box full of mittens -- more than 50 pairs of them -- down to the HALO homeless shelter. "My daughter still gets all emotional," she says. "It all makes my heart warm."

Ours, too.

And if you've got some old wool sweaters you've outgrown, Pam would love to recycle them into mittens for HALO. You can e-mail her HERE.

Library opens TeenSpace for winter break

The Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. believes teens need a space they can call their own. So it's converting its community meeting space into TeenSpace from Thursday, Dec. 27, until Saturday, Dec. 29.

TeenSpace will be available on Thursday and Friday from 3-5 p.m. and on Saturday from 3:30-5 p.m. Youth ages 13-17 will have access to free internet service, video games, music, popular teen reads, snacks and much more at this free and open event.

Teens interested in becoming members of the TeenSpace Leadership group are asked to meet on Saturday from 3-3:30 for a planning meeting. The Leadership group will begin planning teen events for 2008 and will discuss future TeenSpace renovation plans. Pizza and soda will be available for Leadership participants.

For more information, contact Becky at 262.619.2571.

Ryan backs torture-technique by citing earmarks

Last week, the House approved a ban on "waterboarding" as an interrogation technique for terrorists. Several people consider waterboarding akin to torture. For those unfamiliar with waterboarding, it involves submerging a person underwater and then closing off their nose and mouth to simulate drowning. The CIA uses this technique to coerce information from suspects.

With the White House threatening to veto a ban on waterboarding, it's no surprise U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, voted against the legislation. What's interesting is that in Ryan's press release on the bill (HR 2082), he never mentions waterboarding. Here are Ryan's reasons for not suporting the bill:
* Fails to provide adequate resources for human intelligence collection. America’s human intelligence collection remains inadequate – as demonstrated just last week by the startling reversal by the intelligence community of its past “high confidence” analysis on Iran. This legislation fails to provide adequate resources for the necessary expansion of human intelligence collection – while continuing to fund earmarks.

* Fails to remove earmarks. Contrary to the bipartisan instructions of the House, which passed a motion on December 4 directing conferees to strike all taxpayer-funded earmarks in the Intelligence Authorization Act, this legislation includes a list of 26 congressional earmarks totaling approximately $96 million – defying the principle that our intelligence funding should be based on its national security merits, not special interests.

* Fails to provide for long-term authority to streamline surveillance of foreign terrorist targets in foreign countries to detect and prevent potential attacks.

* Omits bipartisan House language to constrain the rapidly growing bureaucracy within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

* Directs precious intelligence resources to conduct a formal intelligence assessment of the “national security” aspects of global warming.
Notice what's not mentioned? Waterboarding. While the rest of the world media focused on the House banning torture techniques, Ryan ignored this issue and focused on earmarks. True, this has been a major issue for him since being elected to office and he has every right to rail against earmarks. But also should make his stance clear on U.S.-sponsored torture.

I emailed Ryan's press secretary to ask for our congressman's stance on waterboarding. Specifically, I asked if the bill was stripped of the earmarks and was just about waterboarding, how would Ryan vote. Her reply: "I haven't spoken with Congressman Ryan about waterboading. Our release focused on the fiscal side of the bill in light of Paul's past work to rein in earmarks and his leadership role on budget committee."

In other words, no comment on waterboarding.

December 16, 2007

SI goes back to press with Brett Favre edition

Let me see: You're not a Sports Illustrated subscriber, but you still wanted a copy of the Sportsman of the Year issue -- the one with Brett Favre on the cover?

But when you went to the newsstand ... what? They were all sold out?

Well, relax, Packer fans. Sports Illustrated -- for the first time since 2001, when Dale Earnhardt died -- has gone back to press, printing an extra 50,000 copies just for Wisconsin. They should already be on newsstands ... if you're not too late again!

But if you are too late, you can always read Sports Illustrated's article HERE.

December 15, 2007

Two Democrats ready to oppose Rep. Ryan

There we were, trollling The Internets on a snowy Saturday afternoon, when what should we find (Thanks, Kay!): not one but two websites promoting Democratic candidates set to run against Paul Ryan, Wisconsin's 1st District Republican Congressman since 1998. One website was launched in June, the other in November; guess we've been sleeping.

We haven't met either Paulette Garin or Marge Krupp, but we've got some background and campaign information from their websites, whose links you can -- and should -- check out yourselves. Looks to us as though the Jeffrey Thomas era (four tries; best effort garnering 37% of the vote) is over. Fifth time's the charm?

Paulette Garin writes: "There will never be a better time to remove our GOP incumbent than 2008. We can link him and his voting record to the failed president he has blindly chosen to follow.

"It is my plan as your future Congresswoman to fight for Universal Health Care, ensure a quality education for all of our children, and demand an accountable government. I will be relentless in my efforts to protect our precious Civil Liberties, American jobs, and the environment. I will demand that our troops be brought home. Our Republican incumbent has failed at every one of the above mentioned issues, either by voting “NO!” or failing to take any action."

Garin's blog says her campaign kickoff fundraiser will be on Jan. 6, from 3-5 p.m., at the Boat House Pub, 4917 7th Ave., Kenosha.

Paulette Garin was born May 19, 1962, in Kenosha. Her father and campaign treasurer, Walter R. Garin, served as Local 960 Treasurer for over 30 years and was president of the Kenosha Union Club.

She graduated cum laude from UW-Whitewater with a BA in music, and worked as director of marketing for an IT consulting firm, later teaching piano from her home for 17 years. She earned an MA in Education in curriculum and instruction from Loyola University, Chicago, and became the music teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School, and later at 21st Century Preparatory School in Racine. In 2005 she earned a BS in business administration and accounting from UW-Parkside, graduating magna cum laude.

Health care: "I am most in favor of a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care plan that would be modeled after Medicare and would provide coverage to all Americans."

Education: "As an educator, I have seen first hand that the current state of public education in this country is at risk of leaving every child behind. New programs to support the underperforming have often been inadequately implemented due to improper funding. In the meantime, we fall behind in producing students ready to compete in a global economy.... The 'No Child Left Behind' program as it stands now must be overhauled."

Fiscal Responsibility: "I was raised fiscally responsible. My grandfather always said, 'It does not matter how much money you made, but how much you saved.' Our current president and his followers have driven this country into unimaginable debt with their privileged class tax cuts, irresponsible budget practices, and a war tab escalating out of control... I will work diligently against unfair tax cuts."

Iraq War: "The Iraq War has surpassed being an issue. It is the most unfortunate remnant to be left behind by the current failed administration. It is what happens when we, as a nation, allow ourselves to be manipulated by the politics of war."
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Marge Krupp, who says she expects her campaign to cost $2 million, writes that Ryan "...consistently represents the privileged few at the expense of working families, and holds stubborn support for President George Bush's war in Iraq even after the voters spoke clearly in November of 2006 that we the people want a different direction. I felt so strongly I resigned my marketing job to devote my full time and talents to my campaign to defeat Paul Ryan. I decided to run for Congress because I feel a duty to my country to end the lies and half truths that President George W. Bush and Ryan stubbornly adhere to."

Marge Krupp was born on May 30, 1956, in Racine, graduating with honors from Horlick High School. In 1978, she received a BS from UW-Milwaukee in chemical process engineering, and an MBA from Northwestern University in 1983, with honors. She holds a Professional Engineer License in Wisconsin.

She worked at SC Johnson in consumer and engineering project management, and at Abbot Labs since 1990. She and her husband, Dan live in Pleasant Prairie; their son, Andrew, attends UW-Whitewater.

Ending the war in Iraq: "The choice is between Bush and Ryan's support for indefinite occupation and my demand for a real plan that will bring our troops home and strengthen our national security. While our soldiers have accomplished everything that has been asked of them, there is still no plan from Bush and Ryan to start bringing our troops home."

Working for solutions to the Health Care Crisis: "Americans are ready for an honest discussion about health care. Southeastern Wisconsin pays the most in the nation for health care. We have to approach this issue with a pragmatic, open-minded, can-do attitude. Both the health of our citizens and the health of our economy are at stake."

Supporting Working Families: "Congressman Paul Ryan refused to support a bill that provides protections for workers to form unions - Employee Free Choice Act HR 1696. Americans have died for the right to form Labor Unions. Congressman Ryan has no right to weaken what was so valiantly fought for."