February 9, 2008

898-BEEF is new anti-gang number to call

Feb. 11 (2/11) is known across the country as 2-1-1 Day. Like 9-1-1, the emergency telephone number for life threatening crises, 2-1-1 is the number to call for help with human services such as food, clothing, shelter and more.

2-1-1 Racine is using the date to announce the launch of a new service: 898-BEEF (262-898-2333). The new telephone line will coordinate gang prevention and intervention efforts within the Racine Unified School District. The use of the term “BEEF” is to capitalize on the current vogue in hip-hop culture where parties in a dispute are referred to as having a “beef.”

The initiative is underwritten by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The new line is staffed by an operator on duty primarily during school hours. However, the line will be answered by 2-1-1 Racine operators when the 898-BEEF operator is not on duty.

Operators will have the ability to dispatch Gang/Crime Diversion Task Force and SAFE Streets personnel to address potentially unsafe situations. These personnel have training and experience specific to street issues and are already employed by SAFE Haven, which operates 2-1-1 Racine.

The line is expected to be used by students who feel threatened by gang-related or other potential criminal activity. Youth who fear physical aggression at or near school can call to request an escort. Gang/Crime and SAFE Streets personnel carry mobile phones.

Crisis situations that require intervention by law enforcement will be coordinated by a three-way call among the caller, 2-1-1 and 9-1-1.

SAFE Haven plans to ramp up promotion of the service through the spring with an intensive effort during April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The Department of Justice funding is also supporting other efforts, such as arranging for the release of runaway reports to SAFE Haven personnel who could assist in locating missing youth, and for sharing gang intelligence data.

The 898-BEEF line is using the same telephone hardware and software that supports the 2-1-1 Racine program. However, callers will be automatically routed to the specialized operator.

In January, 2-1-1 Racine operators responded to 1,999 calls. On Jan. 7, SAFE Haven staff responded to over 180 calls. In January, most calls were related to mental health issues, followed by financial issues. Abuse, health, disabilities and aging issues come next.

SAFE Haven is holding a special promotion on Monday, Feb. 11: the 211th caller will win a prize package including a SAFE Haven coffee mug, umbrella, flashlight and other items.

2-1-1 Racine is a collaborative effort of the Racine County Human Services Department, SAFE Haven and the United Way of Racine County. 2-1-1 Racine is just one of five programs operated by SAFE Haven of Racine, which also operates the Gang/Crime Diversion Task Force, the SAFE Passage transitional living facility for homeless young adults, the SAFE Streets street outreach program and the Youth Shelter for homeless and abused children.

Top 10 List (if Letterman commuted from Racine)

As the state moves forward on its plans to spend nearly $2 billion to expand I-94 in southeast Wisconsin, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin has developed a top ten list of reasons to oppose the plan.

“Wisconsin is facing a budget shortfall that will require all state agencies to trim spending plans. The state Department of Transportation should set an example for all agencies by cutting back on wasteful spending. At the same time, the Transportation Department could help reduce the causes of global warming and help build stronger communities,” said Steve Hiniker, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

The Madison organization was created in 1996 "to protect and enhance Wisconsin's urban and rural landscapes by providing citizens with the inspiration, information and tools they need to effectively participate in the decisions that have the greatest impact on community health: where we live, work, learn, play and how we get from one place to another." The organization works for the reform of land use policies at the state and local levels.

Among the Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the I-94 Expansion:
1) It's not needed
2) We can't afford it
3) It will increase property taxes
4) It will add to the problems of global warming
For the complete list, go HERE.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates and the Great Waters Group of the Sierra Club in criticizing the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared to address the impacts of the project in southeast Wisconsin. The detailed document they submitted is HERE.

(Disclaimer: The real Dave Letterman had nothing to do with this post or with the amazingly lifelike picture above.)

Feingold's efforts to limit U.S. spying on us rejected

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, had a bad day last Thursday, as two of his amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) were rejected by the Senate. In debate on the Senate floor, Feingold took on some heavy hitters from the Administration -- and gave as good as he got, as you'll see on the video, HERE.

The legislation, which will overhaul electronic surveillance laws and determine how much spying the administration can do -- balancing the right of Americans to privacy against the government's ability to wiretap suspected terrorists -- comes up for Senate passage this week.

One of Feingold's amendments would have given the FISA court, which oversees government eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mail of people within the United States, the choice to block the government from using information about a U.S. citizen if that information had been collected illegally. That provision was rejected 56-40; Sen. Herb Kohl voted with Feingold in the minority.

Feingold's second amendment would have prevented "reverse targeting" -- stopping the government from wiretapping a foreigner communicating with someone in the United States when the real target is the person in the U.S. Feingold's amendment would have required a FISA court order whenever the intent of the surveillance is to monitor an American inside the U.S. This one failed 57-38, again with both Feingold and Kohl in the minority.

A complete story about the FISA debate appeared in Congressional Quarterly, and can be found HERE.

During the debate Thursday, Feingold took on what he called the "tired accusations" of Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Director of National Intelligence J.M. McConnell and Sen. Kit Bond, R-MO, vice chairman of the select committee on intelligence. "Let's worry less about the alleged feelings of a secret court and worry more about the rights and privacy of perfectly innocent Americans," Feingold said. Watch for yourself: Here's Feingold's response, on VIDEO

A transcript of what Feingold said about listening in on Osama bin Laden can be found on the Empty Wheel blog.

February 8, 2008

How to survive this weekend's bitter cold

This weekend's predicted deep freeze -- wind chills between 30 below and 45 below zero, 1-3 inches of new snow, and strong winds causing hazardous driving conditions -- has prompted the following safety warning from Wisconsin Emergency Management:

Frostbite of exposed skin can occur in only minutes. Below are some of the health and safety concerns everyone needs to be aware of as the thermometer continues to drop.

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of –20° Fahrenheit could cause frostbite in just 15 minutes or less. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, eartips or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected seek medical care immediately!

Hypothermia is a condition that develops when the body temperature drops below 95°F. It is very deadly. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech and drowsiness. Seek medical care immediately!

Overexertion is dangerous. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart.

Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make an existing medical condition worse.

Pets also need extra care when the temperatures fall. They should be brought inside during this bitter weather. Dogs and cats can get frost-bitten ears, nose and feet if left outside during bitter cold weather. Chemicals used to melt snow and ice can also irritate pets’ paws and be sure to keep anti-freeze, salt and other poisons away from pets as well.

For more information about winter weather, contact the Racine emergency management office or the state..

County gets $450,000 for prisoner reentry program

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is giving Racine County $450,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice to start a prisoner reentry program. And if the U.S. Department of Labor comes through, there'll be another $130,000.

The money will be used to mentor newly-released prisoners, arrange for their education, provide work employment skills, mentoring and case management.

So far, 30 per cent of the initial grant has been awarded to Zimmerman Consulting Inc. of Racine. Zimmerman will also get the Department of Labor funds, if they come through. Other community or faith-based organizations will be selected to provide services under the remaining 70% of the DOJ grant.

More information from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections is HERE.

February 7, 2008

Kohl, Ryan explain their stimulus votes

Both houses of Congress today passed the economic stimulus program that will provide tax rebates for most of us, and all three Wisconsin congressmen voted 'yes.' Here's what Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, had to say about their votes:

Herb Kohl:
“When Congress began working on a stimulus package, I urged a swift process to provide real relief for middle-income families struggling as the economy teeters.

“I am proud to say today we have done just that. By passing this economic stimulus plan in the Senate, we are ensuring that families whose household budgets are stretched thin, Social Security recipients and disabled veterans can get these rebates in the coming months.”

Paul Ryan:
“Allowing American families to keep more of their own hard-earned money is a good policy. Americans are already overburdened by taxes and are facing the threat of outrageous tax hikes. I firmly believe that increasing personal economic freedom is good for our economy. Businesses will benefit from the incentives included in this bill.

“Yet I can not stand behind the idea that tax rebates will add any lasting strength to our economy. Growth of a strong free market economy is not founded on government rebates, but in policy rooted in lower taxes and an inviting atmosphere for business. Real economic growth will come from low tax rates on workers and business owners alike. I supported this bill because working men and women, who are simply trying to keep up with the cost of living, deserve to have more control over their own money.”


OK, we're using hyperbole here. The President didn't really tell Wisconsin to drop dead. Still, our recycling of the famous New York Daily News headline from 1975 is based on facts.

The President's $3.1 trillion budget has the same effect on Wisconsin that President Ford's refusal to provide emergency aid had on New York City all those years ago. Wisconsin would lose millions from the federal funds we now receive and thousands of Wisconsin citizens would lose services they now depend on if Bush's budget were to become law.

According to a detailed analysis prepared this week by Sen. Herb Kohl's staff -- looking at the budget from a uniquely Wisconsin perspective -- the result could be devastating. We're not talking about the fallout from the $407 billion deficit, but rather specific program cuts that would affect specific Wisconsin citizens.

Not that Sen. Kohl, D-WI, thinks it's at all likely that Bush's budget will pass as presented. "Congress can and will do better at addressing the challenges Americans face on education, health care, job creation, crime prevention and high energy costs," he said.

Nonetheless, here are some of the ills Wisconsin would suffer if the President's budget became law:

--Community Development Block Grants
create jobs, spur economic development and create affordable housing. The level of funding proposed would give Wisconsin $12 million less in FY2009 than in FY2008.

--Section 8, Housing Vouchers
: Cuts of $740 million to the program nationwide would leave about 900 families in Wisconsin without housing assistance.

--Manufacturing Extension Partnership: Last year, MEP helped 435 Wisconsin manufacturers produce $135 million and saved or retained 855 jobs. In five years, Wisconsin MEP has helped 1,200 manufacturers achieve $839 million in economic impact, and created or saved 8,000 jobs. Bush, in his FY2009 budget, eliminates the MEP program.

--No Child Left Behind: President Bush proposes to fund this at $14.7 billion below the authorized levels; meanwhile, Title 1 funding for disadvantaged schools is funded at $10.7 billion below the authorized level. Wisconsin schools would get $198 million in Title 1 funds, rather than the $348 million authorized by Congress, meaning 41,407 Wisconsin children will be denied services.

--Rural DevelopmentPrograms: the budget would eliminate several USDA programs that provided rural communities in Wisconsin $8.7 million in 2007.

--Clean Water State Revolving Fund
provides low-interest loans to help communities update wastewater systems. Under the President's FY20098 budget, Wisconsin would receive $3.6 million less than in FY2008.

--Aid for Wisconsin's College Students: The president's budget eliminates funding for Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which assist students with exceptional financial need. Wisconsin college students would lose $16.1 million in FY2009.

--Commodity Supplemental Food Program, provides food assistance to the low-income people, many of whom are elderly. Elimination of the program, proposed in Bush's budget, would affect 5,000 Wisconsin recipients.

--Medicare provides health benefits to 754,000 Wisconsin residents. The President's budget cuts $105 billion from Medicare over the next five years: the American Hospital Association projects that over the next five years hospital reimbursements would be cut by $1.3 billion in Wisconsin alone, and $89.8 billion nationally.

--Rural Hospitality Flexibility Grants provided Wisconsin $615,000 last year, to support 60 rural hospitals. Bush's budget eliminates the program.

--Community Oriented Policing Service, has put 1,353 cops on the beat in Wisconsin, and spent more than $113 million on law enforcement in the state since 1994, funding technology, bullet-proof vests, DNA initiatives, etc. In FY2009, the President proposes to eliminate the program.

--Amtrak: Nearly 600,000 passengers utilized the Hiawatha line between Milwaukee and Chicago. The President's budget proposed $800 million for Amtrak, a $500 million reduction from FY2008, passing more costs onto the states.

--Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program gave eligible Wisconsin residents $69.7 million in FY2007. Under the FY2009 budget, the state would lose $10 million.

And so it goes ... that was about half of the items Kohl's staff came up with, in what they called an "instant analysis," issued just three days after the budget was released. The full report is HERE.

It's the Year of the Rat at Roots and Legends

The rats have taken up residence in the window of Roots and Legends, the oriental medical clinic at 3209 Washington Ave., Uptown.

However, there's no cause for alarm.

Today is the Chinese New Year, and this is the Year of the Rat, one of the 12 animals of Chinese astrology. (The others are ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.)

Each year, Roots and Legends commissions a local artist to create the animal and fill their front window. Kate Remingon is this year's artist, and her medium is a cement-like sculpture material. The rats look quite friendly and inviting.

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, says that rat astrological sign is associated with "a time of hard work and renewal in many ways" that marks "a good year to begin a new job, get married, launch a product or make a fresh start."

There oughta be a law ...

There oughta be a law requiring merchants to clear the snow off the sidewalks in front of their stores.

Oh, yeah, there is.

Then these pictures couldn't have been taken near noon today, on Main Street (top) and Uptown (below).

P.S. Kudos to all the highway crews. Roads around town were amazingly clear this morning. A truly fine job everywhere.

Dear candidate, please stop in when you're in Racine...

Cindy Gross surrounded by political placards

Political placards representing a host of competing presidential candidates are up all over the walls of The Grounds Keeper coffee shop at 327 Main Street, and owner Cindy Gross has high hopes one or more of the candidates themselves will visit.

An Iowa native with deep and personal familial roots in politics, Gross bought the Grounds Keeper two and one-half years ago. This is the first year she's missed participating in the Iowa caucuses, but she's brought a little of that political excitement here.

And, hopefully, a candidate or two will follow.

Gross wrote all the presidential candidates a few months ago, inviting them to stop in at the shop when / if they campaign in Racine. There were 18 at the time she wrote; when we spoke this morning only five were left: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.

"I've heard from three of the five top candidates," she told me -- not wishing to disclose whose campaign staff had indicated a willingness to stop in. But she did reveal that the two who had not responded were Huckabee and Romney. (And, as we both learned later in the morning, Romney dropped out of the race today ... so he definitely won't be coming.)

Gross expects to hear ahead of time before any candidate shows up; certainly, the Secret Service will pay a visit first. "Unlike in Iowa, where the candidates just walk in," she said.

I wondered what she wrote to the candidates, to entice them to visit. Turns out, Cindy Gross comes from a family with interesting political connections, that she told the candidates about: An aunt dated Ronald Reagan when he was a radio announcer in Des Moines. Her grandmother made a home-cooked meal for John F. Kennedy. And her step-uncle is Carl Pohlad, owner of the Minnesota Twins and a big Democratic contributor.

While she waits for candidates to call -- and campaign visits to the state from all remain a strong possibility now that Wisconsin's Feb. 19 primary and our 92 delegates have gained in importance -- Gross continues to conduct a coffee bean caucus, an idea she's borrowed from Iowa City's Hamburg Inn #2. Each customer is allowed to put a single coffee bean in the jar of his or her favored candidate ... results to be counted right before the state votes in earnest. (If you want to know now, that's Obama's jar on the left, Hillary's on the right. Enlarge the picture and count away.)

Gross, diplomatically, refused to state which candidate, or even which political party, she prefers, although she concedes, "both of my grandmothers were straight Democratic; that's how they were brought up." She's participated in both party's caucuses at one time or another in Iowa, and says, "I look at who has the best values; who has the best morals."

February 6, 2008

The storm in pictures

If you've got pictures you'd like to see here, email them to us!

It started slowly, shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday

What we awoke to Wednesday morning

Lake Avenue at 1 p.m. Wednesday

Wisconsin Avenue, about 2 p.m. Wednesday

... I know my garden is under here, somewhere

The UPS Lady drove a 40-mile route Wednesday

A jogger by the Y after lunchtime

South Main Street at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday

Moonlit peace: 10:30 p.m. at Hansche Pond

Racine Kiosk

If you haven't had a chance to visit Racine Kiosk, give it a look. It's our newest site in the growing RacinePost media empire, and it's actually going very well.

Of course, we're going to say that, but hear me out. The idea of the Kiosk is we wanted one place to put all of the events we were being emailed by readers and local organizations. Truth is, there's a lot going on in Racine and we were getting buried trying to sift through what to put on the main site and blog. The solution? Create another website.

What I like about Racine Kiosk is that it's fully searchable. Use the Google bar on top of the site to sift through everything by month, date, subject and so on. We're also tagging entries by month and organization (like YPR, library, etc.), and created a nifty widget for the main page that automatically updates the last 25 items we added to the blog.

It's not a perfect system. We'd love to have a fully functional calendar organized by date, but I haven't found one that works well (at least for a two-person staff trying to keep up on local news). But it's what we got. So, please, give it a shot. And, send us your local events ... the more the merrier. Our blogs are getting indexed by Google, so if nothing else, we're hoping the events will pop up on Google searches.

Also, if you have ideas to make RacinePost or Racine Kiosk better, let us know. We're always looking for help.

What can you say about Winter? Plenty!

The snow is still falling. I had to snowblow my driveway to get out to Rotary, and then I had to snowblow it again, two hours later, to get the car back into the garage.

Main Street was all-but deserted, with just a few hardy (masochistic?) businesses open. Can't imagine they had any walk-in traffic today. Commiserated with one gallery owner who was smart enough to close her gallery for the day at noon (but not smart enough to extend her Florida vacation). Sent an email whining about the snow to a friend who edits a newspaper in Vermont. His reply: "Six to ten inches today; six to ten on Saturday. Forty-one miles of ski trails are open."

Bring it on, in other words.

So, what exactly can you say about winter? Here are some quotes found on the internet this morning. At least a few should give you a smile, or something to think about:
"I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood." -- Bill Watterson.

"For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned it is the season of the harvest." -- The Talmud.

"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." --Ann Bradstreet

"To shorten winter, borrow some money due in spring." W.J. Vogel.

"Summer makes me drowsy. Autumn makes me sing. Winter's pretty lousy, but I hate Spring." --Dorothy Parker.

"People don't notice whether it's winter or sumer when they're happy." --Anton Chekhov.

"Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat."

"Too bad Lassie didn't know how to ice skate, because then if she was in Holland on vacation in winter, and someone said, 'Lassie, go skate for help,' she could do it." -- Jack Handy.

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours.' " --Robert Byrn.

"Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough." --Earl Wilson.

"One kind word can warm three winter months." --Japanese Proverb.

La Nina to blame for snow

Looking out the window, I can't help wondering when we moved to the North Pole? Not that I need to tell you about the weather ... it's brutal, lots of shoveling, everything is closed, etc.

What's interesting is that today's storm actually started a few thousand miles away in the Pacific Ocean along the equator. Known as La Nina (the opposite of El Nino) The water there is unseasonably cold, and that sets in motion a weather pattern that, historically, means a wet winter for us.

It also sets the stage for violent weather, like today's tragic tornadoes in the South (and the January tornadoes in Kenosha County).

(Here's a story I wrote with more background on La Nina, plus the Wikipedia page with more info.)

Snow closes Regency Mall

Today's brutal snow closed schools, canceled events and ... shutdown Regency Mall. That's right, even the mall is closed by the relentless snow. Kohl's is also closing today from at least noon to 2 p.m., and the big Milwaukee malls are shutdown, as well.

The one exception so far are the outlet malls in Pleasant Prairie, but that could be changing. If you're heading to the Banana Republic Outlet store today, call ahead.

Here's a list of closings compiled by TMJ.

February 5, 2008

Want to design a sidewalk? Here's your chance

The City of Racine, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, are finalizing plans for the reconstruction of 6th Street between Main Street and Grand Avenue. Utility work will begin March 3 with the roadway construction starting in the spring of 2009.

The reconstruction of 6th Street will include new brick sidewalks decorated with large granite tiles to reinforce the unique identity of downtown and the historic district.

The Downtown Racine Corporation is seeking creative designs for the 2' x 2' granite inserts.

Design packets may be picked up at the DRC office at 425 Main Street. All designs must be submitted by 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18. A committee will recommend images to the city and selected designs will be installed by 2009.

For additional information, email Devin Sutherland or call 634-6002.

Feingold/Ryan earmarks provision predated Bush's

(How the game is played in Washington. Sotto voce: "I love you, too, Senator, now buzz off.")

During a Senate Budget Committee hearing today, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, urged the administration to endorse legislation he introduced in April with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, to help cut wasteful spending.

During questioning of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jim Nussle, Feingold suggested the Feingold-Ryan legislation falls in line with President Bush’s efforts to rein in unauthorized earmarks.

Here's a transcript of Senator Feingold’s exchange with Nussle.

FEINGOLD: Mr. Director, it may come as a surprise to some that on occasion I actually agree with the administration. For one, I strongly endorse your efforts to reign in unauthorized earmarks. I think it’s been a little late in coming, but I certainly welcome those efforts and along these lines I hope you’ll consider endorsing a bill I’ve introduced with my colleague from Wisconsin, and a former colleague of yours, Congressman Paul Ryan. Namely, a line-item veto measure that applies specifically to earmarks. It targets the abuse everyone says is the real reason a line-item veto is needed, namely to go after earmark spending. Have you had a chance to look at the proposal at all?

NUSSLE: I have not Senator, but I will and the president obviously continues to support the legislative line-item veto and would probably look favorably on anything that would provide some control on not only earmarks, but in general excessive spending.

FEINGOLD: Well, I appreciate that. I hope you’ll give it a good look. I know it may not be everything this president or any president would want. I voted for the previous line-item veto that was struck down by the Supreme Court. What we’re trying to do here is find something that would pass muster with the Supreme Court and still give the President the ability to help us get rid of some of these unfortunate provisions.

More information on the Feingold-Ryan bill is available HERE. Audio of the exchange is available HERE.

JT bloggers hard at work...

There was a time not long ago when the JT wrote 20+ blog entries a day and the biggest problem was how to keep news from disappearing off the site before people could read it (and we were doing that with a bare bones staff). Now, we're lucky to get a handful of stories and blog posts a day. I know internally what happened, but it's been months since the switch over to the new system. Isn't time to get back to reporting news throughout the day?

p.s. Do you really want this on your site?

February 4, 2008

The story behind a Main Street store's happy face

That childlike smiley face to the left (his name is Jake), and those three little words, "Life is good," add up to a big business.

$100 million big. Who knew?

A few years ago, when Mary Osterman opened her Main Street hat, shirt and scarf shop, I had no idea it was part of a much bigger story. Turns out the "Life is good." line of friendly, optimistic wearables that Copacetic sells has a great backstory, one that began with two brothers selling t-shirts out of the back of a battered van.

How they grew from those humble beginnings into a successful brand selling goods in 4,500 stores like Copacetic appeared Monday in the St. Petersburg (FL) Times, and in the New York Times. If you've ever wondered how to grow one of your ideas into a big business, click on the image below and read the story.

Copacetic, by the way, began because Mary's husband, Monte, wanted a hat, but couldn't find one for sale. So they opened their own store, and picked up parts of the "Life is good" line, among others. (We told some of their story before, HERE.

And a really charming column about cancer patients passing along a "Life is good" hat from one to another -- they call it the Chemo Hat, and it apparently has healing properties -- is HERE. Read it and feel good yourself.

Becker, Mason holding Obama party on Super Tuesday

State Rep. Cory Mason and Racine Mayor Gary Becker are holding a Barack Obama watching party Tuesday as results come in from primary elections across the country.

The two local leaders will be watching the results at Buckets Pub, 2301 Lathrop Ave., from 7 p.m. into the night.

"State Representative Cory Mason and Mayor Gary Becker invite you to watch as the returns come in and Barack Obama makes history on Super Tuesday," read the announcement sent out Monday.

Sen. Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are expected to split the 24 states up for election on Tuesday. Obama has been surging in recent days, and he's expected to do well. But Clinton remains the front-runner in a number of states, it's likely the Democrats' primary won't be decided for a couple of weeks.

That's at least interesting news for Wisconsin voters, who will head to the polls on Feb. 19 to vote in the presidential primary and local elections.

RacinePost poll

If you haven't seen the poll results in the upper right corner, Obama was the runaway winner among our readers for president. He nabbed twice as many votes as Hillary in our highly scientific and researched poll. On the Republican side, it's Romney over McCain by 3.

A federal budget only its mother could love?

President Bush unveiled the nation's first budget to top $3 trillion today, a $3.1-trillion behemoth that he won't be in office to oversee.

The first bullet points I heard included:
-- $407 billion deficit in 2009.
-- Pentagon gets $515 billion, a 7.5% increase
-- Medicare will be cut by $178 billion
-- Medicaid will be cut by $17 billion
-- Other "social programs" also cut
-- A return to a "surplus" in 2012 (if you believe in the Tooth Fairy)
The LA Times reported, with a straight face: "In a cost-saving gesture, the government for the first time did not provide free copies of the four-volume proposal to Congress, instead releasing it online and charging $200 per printed copy ordered through the Government Printing Office." Oh, yeah, that'll help. Here's the LINK, if you want to read the budget's fine print for free.

Democrats immediately pronounced the budget "irresponsible," but I was most interested to hear what Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, had to say. I'm guessing that he must be conflicted: torn between his support of the President while at the same time upended by the budget's overall fiscal irresponsibility -- another $800 billion in deficits over two years, anyone? Um, maybe not ...

After the break, read what Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, had to say. Also, below that, Sen. Herb Kohl weighs in.
“The President's budget achieves the important goal of balancing the budget in the near term – without raising taxes – through fiscal policies that promote economic growth, and limit federal spending to realistic levels.

“The President's budget also recognizes that our nation's challenges go well beyond the next few years. This budget takes a significant, critical step toward addressing the greatest threat to our nation's future strength and prosperity -- the unsustainable growth of our largest entitlement programs. While acknowledging it doesn't 'fix' the entitlement problem in one fell swoop, this budget proposes reforms that would reduce Medicare's long-term unfunded liability by nearly one third.

“Last year, this Congress adopted a budget that called for massive increases in the already-unsustainable rate of federal spending -- all to be financed by the largest tax increase in our nation's history. It also failed to propose critical entitlement reforms – instead choosing to further expand these programs that we know, today, cannot keep their promises as currently structured. With each year Congress fails to address the entitlement crisis, the worse the problems, and more difficult the solutions, become.

“There are two key goals Congress must keep in mind as it crafts this year's budget: first, to keep taxes low and spending in check; and second, to set a sustainable path for our nation's future.”
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, said this about Bush's budget:
“The President proposed a three-trillion-dollar budget with record deficits and the biggest defense expenditure since World War II. It squeezes Medicare and Medicaid, sacrificing families’ access to medical care. It puts college tuition further out of reach, and cuts assistance to Americans struggling with energy bills, especially at a time when the economy is limping and family household budgets are stretched thin.

“This budget is not going to get the job done. Congress can and will do better in addressing the problems of real people on education and health care, creating new jobs, preventing crime in our communities, and bringing down energy costs. I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans alike in passing a plan that puts the priorities of the American people first.”

A new look at City Hall

There's a new look at City Hall. No, not the Extreme Makeover kind, but rather the not-shaving, let's-see-what-develops kind of new look.

When I stopped in to see Mayor Gary Becker last week, I thought he'd just put down the razor for a few days. Hey, in the dead of winter, who hasn't done that for a week or so, until the wife's nagging gets to us?

But when I saw Hizzoner this morning, wearing a Packers sweater, it was clear that he has a purpose in mind ... although, unlike David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, he's not growing a beard in support of the striking writers.

"Just keeping 'em guessing," the mayor said, in response to a direct question. Last year, with no opposition in the election, he lost 30 pounds. This year, he says he's getting into shape by playing in city league basketball (he insists the refs cut him no slack) and hopes to lose another 5-10 pounds.

I thought he looked pretty good ... but, hey, some of us remember when he had a ponytail!

Dear Journal Times,

Please stop running national stories on the top of your website. We know the Giants won the Super Bowl. Everybody knows the Giants won the Super Bowl (especially by 9:15 a.m. Monday when the above screen capture was taken).

You're a local news organization, so lead your website with local news. Here are three possible local stories you could go with right now:

1. Rep. Robin Vos' landlord bill. It's right there under local stories - just bump it up.

2. If you need a football fix, lead with the Raiders naming a new head coach. I don't see that story on your site, but the Raiders have a nice press release on their site you can borrow.

3. The Parkside award-winning play story is interesting ... how about that? Or the local campaign donation story in the presidential race. They're both right under your local news column, too.

So there are some suggestions, we hope you take one of them. Running national wire stories about events we all know about is just painful to see, almost like there's no one there paying any attention to local online readers. Hopefully, that's not the case.

Sincerely, -RacinePost

p.s. To Gery Woelfel: We thought the Patriots were going to win, too.

February 3, 2008

PROPERTY TRANSFERS: AW Flow Meters building sells for $1.4 million

A property at 8809 Industrial Drive in Franksville sold for $1.4 million last month. The property is listed as a home for AW Flow Meters. Here's the listings:

Guess who's coming to dinner ...

Keep those bird feeders full...

...because sometimes there's a full house...

...or unwelcome visitors from his side of the family

And then there were four against Ryan?

We've barely gotten to know the two new candidates (HERE and HERE) for Rep. Paul Ryan's 1st District Congressional seat (plus the last eight years' old news of Jeff Thomas' never-ending story), when what should we run into but a fourth candidate holding a finger into the wind.

Reminded us of Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil, who stuck his head out of the burrow Saturday and decided we'd have six more weeks of winter. (On the other hand, Tumbleweed, one of Chicago's Brookfield Zoo groundhogs, stuck her nose out and didn't see any shadow, indicating an early spring.) But this isn't a yarn about ignorant creatures predicting the future, as the old joke goes; it's about politicians... Ba-da bing.

Anyway, it appears there are now four Democratic candidates running for the dubious opportunity to compete against Republican Ryan and his heretofore unnecessary war chest of more than $1.5 million.

Besides Thomas, a Janesville surgeon who lost to Ryan in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 ("A pattern begins to emerge, eh, Watson?"), we already knew about Paulette Garin, a Kenosha music teacher and newly-minted CPA; and Marge Krupp, a Racinian and former SC Johnson chemical engineer who now lives in Pleasant Prairie. Krupp recently reported collecting more than $50,000 in campaign donations.

The fourth candidate is Mike Hebert of Kenosha. Nope, I never heard of him either... but apparently I haven't been paying attention: He came in second in the Democratic Primary in 2006, garnering 6,206 votes to Thomas' 7,111.

Here's what his brother, Bill, his campaign manager, told us about Mike:
-- he's a 30-year Ocean Spray plant operator;
-- he's been a union member for 30 years; (Unions may have a tough time picking among these candidates: Garin, too, has been a union member and is the daughter of a long-time union leader. Garin has been endorsed by Teamsters Local No. 43 Retirees Club of Kenosha and Racine, and Krupp by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 39 Pleasant Prairie.)
-- "He's not your typical Democrat. He's got a commonsense approach to government: a fiscal conservative with moderate social leanings."
-- he's not married;
-- "He came in second to Thomas in 2006, by less than 1,000 votes, after only 45 days of campaigning."
-- "He's running the old Bill Proxmire campaign -- Proxmire's claim to fame was a handshake. When he was representing the state, you saw him all over, shaking hands." (Funny to hear Proxmire's name again this week! Why, just last Thursday, it was invoked by none other than Paul Ryan, as he issued his own "homage" to Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards. Coincidence?)
-- and finally, Mike Hebert will be financing his own campaign; he's not seeking donations from anyone. (Can Ryan get any luckier?)
All four candidates will debate on Saturday, Feb. 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. before Walworth County Democrats at the Sprague Theater, 15 Walworth Ave., Elkhorn.

Each will have two minutes to outline his or her reasons for running, and objectives. Questions posed by the audience will be asked by moderator Steve Hay of Delevan. The program will be introduced by Dr. Kate Harrod of Genoa City, Chair of the Walworth County Democrats.