May 8, 2008

Ryan and Hillary agree! (On gas tax moratorium, sigh)

Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan on the same side of an issue? Who would've thunk it!

All this time we thought our home-grown Congressman, R-WI, 1st District, was angling for a VP nod from the Republican heir presumptive, John McCain ... but now it turns out he was really hoping to be on Hillary's ticket?

Just kidding. Still, it is surprising to find Ryan and Clinton in agreement -- even if it's something as ultimately inconsequential and wrong-headed as a summer federal gas tax holiday. Something, we need to point out that John McCain favors as well.

Don't these politicians realize that with the price of gas approaching $4 a gallon -- we spotted the $3.99 sign above just yesterday on Durand at the Citgo station (yes, Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, and gas in Venezuela is selling for 12 cents a gallon, last we checked) -- a "vacation" from the federal 18.4-cent gas tax won't make any substantive difference? The damage from your 20-gallon fill-up would drop from $80 to $76.40; big whoop. Two years ago, that fill-up cost about $40.

Still, Ryan is for it. Today he introduced legislation that would impose a one-year moratorium on earmarks (he really, really hates earmarks, in case anyone hadn't noticed) and "with the savings from this break in pork-barrel spending Congress would provide some relief at the pump this summer and make much needed investments in our nation's infrastructure," Ryan said. (Never mind that one Congressman's "much needed investments in infrastructure" are another's ... um, earmark and pork.)

Whatever. Ryan unveiled “The Gas Tax Relief and Earmark Moratorium Act of 2008” at a joint hearing before the House Budget Committee and House Transportation Committee, which focused on financing infrastructure investments.

The press release from Ryan's office notes:

"Ryan’s proposal would suspend the Federal 18.4-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax for the high-demand summer months. Today’s announcement coincides with news that the price of a gallon of gas in Southern Wisconsin has set new record highs, averaging roughly $3.80 per gallon in some areas. With the revenues saved from the earmark moratorium, his bill would replenish the Highway Trust Fund, a critical source of funding aimed to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure. The Gas Tax Relief and Earmark Moratorium Act would go a step further by shoring up the fund’s projected shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

"Ryan’s earmark moratorium adheres to the reform efforts of Representatives Jack Kingston and Frank Wolf. The Kingston-Wolf proposal would conduct a full study of the broken practice of earmarking, bring greater transparency to these spending projects, and bar any new earmarks until the system is fixed. Ryan’s one-year earmark moratorium would provide an estimated $14.8 billion of additional revenue, more than enough to provide Americans relief at the pump and replenish the Highway Trust Fund so that road repairs can continue. Additional earmark savings would be dedicated to reducing the deficit. Challenging his colleagues again on the scourge of pork-barrel spending, Congressman Ryan issued the following statement:

"The decisions made by Congress on taxes and spending impact the paychecks of working men and women. By clinging to this broken earmark practice, Congress is picking pork over paychecks, and pork over potholes. Simply saying no to earmarks for the remainder of the year could give folks in Wisconsin some relief at the pump this summer and fix the Highway Trust Fund’s deficit. I am hopeful that Congress will give up its addiction to pork and address the concerns of the American people,” Ryan said.

(My prediction, in case you hadn't already guessed: Sanjaya has a better chance of becoming the next American Idol and marrying Paula Abdul than this legislation has of passing.)

Finishing touches at Monument Square

The finishing touches were installed at Monument Square today, completing the $1.4 million makeover begun in 2005.

At 8 a.m. this morning, a four-man crew from Osterman Granite and Marble met a big semi from Cold Spring, Minnesota, loaded with about 60,000 pounds of Mesabi black granite from a century-old quarry.

With the help of a crane, the crew made quick work of the biggest pieces -- one of which weighs 9,000 pounds -- and installed the largest of Monument Square's new benches alongside Main Street in front of the Civil War monument. Smaller game tables -- some weighing a mere 4,000 pounds -- and art pedestals were next on the agenda. The two Civil War cannons, whose matching marble bases are still being carved, are due to be installed by Flag Day in mid-June, ending a controversy that threatened to see them exiled to the new Kenosha Civil War museum -- or worse.

It's unlikely the three largest pieces of marble installed this morning will move again for quite a while. But if they do, those who lift the large center slab will find Monte Osterman's good luck charm: a 2008 Jefferson presidential dollar. "It's not a myth, it really does bring good luck," he said, as he slid the brightly colored coin far under the bench as the crane gently lowered it into place for the last time.

May 7, 2008

The Red Cross looking for local 'heroes'

When disaster hits ... who ya gonna call?

The American Red Cross, that's who. Around here, and everywhere else in the U.S., the organization formed by Clara Barton on May 21, 1881, (and the only Congressionally chartered organization to provide aid to victims of disaster) is a familiar presence -- whether it's after a tornado in Wheatland, a gas explosion in Wauwatosa, or an apartment building conflagration in Racine.

Local Red Cross volunteers helped 297 Racine County residents recover their lives during the past year -- 31 of them from west of I-94. Walworth, Racine and Kenosha Counties are all the responsibility of Racine's Southeastern Wisconsin's Tri-County Red Cross office, which merged with Milwaukee's office 18 months ago.

More than 1,000 victims of local disasters -- house fires, floods, storms, and explosions -- were given shelter, food, financial assistance, and mental health counseling last year.

Right now, the Red Cross is looking for heroes -- people willing to help raise money for the Red Cross. The “Heroes for the American Red Cross” is a grassroots campaign in which local companies, school groups, church groups, civic clubs and individuals pledge to raise money for the local Red Cross chapter. All funds raised will be used to support Red Cross services such as disaster relief, disaster preparedness and training. "All money raised will support your neighbors in Racine County," says Debie Truckey, Community Relations Director of the American Red Cross in Southeastern Wisconsin.

The campaign will take place the last three weeks this month. Heroes have come up with fun and unique fund-raisers, so be on the lookout for them. The campaign events include:

All of May: O&H Bakery is selling "Red Cross cupcakes."

All of May: The Racine, Mt. Pleasant and Caledonia Fire Departments are offering three chances for people to win dinner and a ride with firefighters in their rig. Tickets are available from the firefighters, RAMAC, Red Cross Office, Corporate Volunteer Council, Chay’s Tae Kwon Do.

Thursday, May 8 : Noodles and Company, 5720 Washington Ave., will donate 25% of the cost of dinners purchased by guests who bring in a Red Cross flyer (copies available by calling 262-554-9997).

Saturday, May 10: Family Fest in Waterford is selling firefighter dinner tickets.

Tuesday, May 20: All McDonald's in Racine (except I-94) will donate 10 cents for every Southern Style chicken sandwich purchase.

Friday, May 23: The Mayor's Cookout, 730 Washington Ave., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., all proceeds to the Red Cross.

Saturday, May 24: Sam's Club, 6920 Regency Drive, will sell Racine On Board Monopoly for $10, or firefighter tickets for $5.

Sunday, May 25: Ivanhoe's, Ricky's and CasaBlanca in downtown Racine will hold MASH Memorial Day Madness, from 1 to 8 p.m., with bed races, character contests, specialty drinks to benefit the Red Cross.

Some companies with events planned include Johnson Diversey and Johnson Outdoors, which will hold blue jeans days; and Racine County, which is offering a casual dress week in return for employee donations.

Other companies that have signed on as corporate sponsors include: the Bank of Elmwood, Johnson Financial, M&I Bank, Sam's Club, SC Johnson, the Tavern League of Racine, Wal-Mart, Warren Industries, We Energies, WRJN, Fountain Hall and Kreuger Communications.

In addition, many downtown retailers are selling Red Cross squares for $1; purchasers' names will be posted on a square and put up on the retailers' walls. Find your square at RAMAC, Express Employment Professionals, Main Street General Store, JoJo's Toys, JavaVino, Greens and Goods, Copacetic, Common Scents.

Debie Truckey emphasizes that the Red Cross has the highest four-star rating given out by, a site that rates non-profits involved in fund-raising; fully 91 cents of every dollar donated goes into disaster relief, education and training; 3% goes into fund-raising, 3% into marketing and the rest into administration. "We emphasize and honor donor intent. For example, the Kenosha tornadoes received an outpouring of support from the community. We honored all designations. And when we received enough funds to cover our costs (which hardly ever happens!) I went back to the donors and told them we received enough money, and asked if I could put the money into our disaster pool in readiness for the next tragedy. In all cases, donors said yes."

May 5, 2008

Local Democrats want Ryan to do what?

Talk about your fool's errand: The Racine County Democratic Party is asking Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, to investigate the Bush Administration's interrogation techniques (i.e., what used to be known as "torture" when the other side did it).

Yeah, like that's gonna happen! Hell, don't the Democrats remember that in December, when the House approved a ban on waterboarding, Ryan voted against the legislation (which President Bush had threatened to veto anyway) -- somehow turning his vote into a call for more intelligence funds and fewer earmarks. (Earmarks? Yep, you read me right. See HERE.) If local Democrats wanted real action, they would have turned to Sens. Russ Feingold or Herb Kohl, D-WI, who have both spoken out against the Bush administration's use of torture in the war on terrorism. But, of course, articles of impeachment must originate in the House of Representatives, so ...

Rich Hinderholz, secretary of the Racine County Democratic Party, today sent local media a resolution passed unanimously by the party's executive committee on April 24, a resolution that Michael Shields, chairman of the party says "lays out a prima facie case indicating highest level Executive Branch officials engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors."

Shields writes Ryan: "Your position in the House of Representatives warrants your Constitutional obligation to conduct investigations into matters that may lead to impeachment. Please inform us in writing before our next general membership meeting to be held May 12, 2008, of your reaction to the resolution and your intended course of action. We anticipate your prompt attention to this serious matter."

The complete resolution after the break:

A Resolution Respectfully Requesting Congressman Paul Ryan to Conduct a Comprehensive Investigation into the President’s Decision to Permit “Harsh” Interrogation Techniques against Suspected Terrorists.

Whereas, The United States of America is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Whereas, America’s Constitution and its Amendments delineate the rights of those accused of crimes and prohibits cruel treatment.

Whereas, the nations of the world have adopted the Geneva Conventions which prohibit the cruel treatment of prisoners’ of war.

Whereas, America has signed (agreed to abide by) the Geneva Convention.

Whereas, news reports state that during 2002-03 U. S. Department of Justice employees issued a series of memos (subsequently withdrawn) justifying interrogation techniques some call torture.

Whereas, ABC News reports Vice President Cheney and the heads of the State Department, Justice Department, Department of Defense, and National Security met several times at the White House and authorized physical abuse of prisoners such as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or waterboarding.

Whereas, on April 11, 2008, President Bush told Ms. Raddatz of ABC News that he knew of Cheney’s meetings and approved the harsh interrogation techniques.

Whereas, the United States of America’s Constitution establishes three equal but separate branches of government—Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.

Whereas, said Constitution provides checks and balances between the three branches to take corrective action when one branch exceeds its authority.

Whereas, Congressman Paul Ryan has been elected to the House of Representatives to represent the citizens living in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District.

Whereas, the members of the Democratic Party of Racine County reside in said district.

Now therefore be it Resolved, in consideration of these premises, the members of the Democratic Party of Racine County do hereby respectively request their representative, Congressman Paul Ryan, to motivate his Republican and Democratic Colleagues to conduct a nonpartisan and comprehensive investigation into the treatment of suspected terrorists held by or at the request of America.

Be it further resolved, said investigation to determine the:
1. Identity of the suspected terrorists, the location where they are being held, and why they are being held.
2. Actual interrogation techniques employed.
3. Reason the Department of Justice issued and then withdrew the memos authorizing the harsh treatment.
4. Identity of the government officials who authorized the harsh treatment, and the degree of their involvement in the decision.
5. Possibility of said government officials committing violations of American or International Law.

Be it further resolved, this resolution be forwarded to Congressman Paul Ryan.

Adopted April 24, 2008

Wallaroos arrive at Racine Zoo

Two hill wallaroos have joined the Racine Zoo, arriving from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. Both are female and will be two-years-old this year. They each weigh approximately 24 lbs.

The wallaroos have completed their quarantine and are on exhibit in the Vanishing Kingdom historic building.

Wallaroos are closely related to kangaroos and wallabies. (Wallaroos fall in between the kangaroo and wallaby in terms of size, hence their name.) They are typically darker on top and have a lighter underbelly. Most wallaroos are only slightly smaller than kangaroos so differentiation can be difficult. The wallaroos at the Racine Zoo can be distinguished from the Zoo’s red kangaroos due to their shaggy grey/brown coat and large black hindquarters.

In the wild, wallaroos typically live on steep embankments, rocky hills and rainforests. They have a lifespan of approximately 15 years and weigh 45-110 lbs. fully grown. They will typically eat grasses, shrubs and herbs.

In July, the wallaroos will join kangaroos, black swans, emus and egrets in the all-new Walkabout Creek immersive exhibit now under construction. This exhibit will allow guests to walk directly through the habitat of these Australian animals.
“We are thrilled to add the wallaroos to our collection and are looking forward to the opening of the Walkabout Creek exhibit this summer. It will be the first immersive exhibit the Racine Zoo has offered and we are anxious to allow visitors such access to our exhibits and our animals,” said Jay Christie, Zoo President and CEO.

The Racine Zoo is open daily. Hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The admission price is $4 for adults, $2 for children 3-15, $3 for seniors; children under three and Zoo Members are free.

Meet Racine's seven newest police officers

(L-R: Dwight Meinholz, Ryan Smalkowski, Douglas Cecchini,
Richard Prince, Jessica Shapiro, Steve Jaskowiak and Michael Seeger

Shortly before 2:30 this afternoon, the Racine Police Department reached its full complement of 200 officers. The swearing in of seven recruits -- and the handing out of their badges, which officially marked the beginning of their law enforcement careers -- took place in the department's basement auditorium right after rollcall for the evening shift.

The seven are:

Officer Douglas Cecchini: A native of Racine, he is a graduate of Gateway Technical College with an Associate's degree in Police Science. He and his wife Sarah, have two children, Zach and Emerald.

Officer Steve Jaskowiak: He's from Milwaukee and has a Master's degree in Psychology from Marquette University. He and his wife, Kendra, have a son, Thurston.

Officer Dwight Meinholz: He's a Kansasville native and has an Associate's degree in Fire Science from Gateway Technical College. He and his wife, Renee, have three children: Austin, Taylor and Noah.

Officer Richard Prince: A Racine native, he was previously employed by the Racine County Sheriffs’ Department as a Corrections Clerk. He and his wife,Talia, have a son, Baron.

Officer Michael Seeger: A native of Mt Pleasant, he has a Bachelors’ Degree in Criminal Justice from UW-Platteville, and was employed recently with the Racine County Sheriffs’ Dept Water Patrol. His father, Wayne, is a retired Racine County Deputy Sergeant, and his brother, Nick, is a Racine Police officer.

Officer Jessica Shapiro: She is from Racine and has a Bachelors’ degree in Law Enforcement from Minnesota State - Mankato. She got the youngest start of all in law enforcement, having worked as a Police Department intern while still a student at Horlick High School.

Officer Ryan Smalkowski: He is a Caledonia native and has Bachelors’ degree in Criminal Justice and Biological Sciences from UW-Milwaukee. He and his wife, Tiffany, have a son, RJ.

They were sworn onto the police force by City Clerk Janice Johnson-Martin, after congratulatory remarks by Mayor Gary Becker and Police Chief Kurt Wahlen.

Becker noted that they are entering "a risky business," and thanked them for their service. "I'm looking forward to seeing you out in the neighborhood," he said.

Chief Wahlen emphasized the traits he wants the new recruits to bring to the force as problem solvers. "You must have compassion and integrity. You must deal professionally with everyone. You must play by the rules; shortcuts can lose cases.

"Don't lose heart," he said. "You will see things that will haunt you at night."

Police work, he said, "is all about relationships."

Lt. Jerry Baldukas, the department's training officer, explained to me some of what it took for these seven new officers to get this far. Besides a requirement that all applicants have 60 college credits, they had to pass an agility course test, a 54-page Police Officer Selection Test, drug tests, extensive background checks. (It didn't happen with this year's crop of 164 initial applicants, but Baldukas recalled one applicant who had an outstanding arrest warrant and was taken into custody during the agility test.)

In year's past, many police officers came from the military; not this time. But Baldukas isn't worried about their ability to deal with criminals: "Their gun, taser, nightstick and training -- those are the equalizer," he said.

"What we need are people who are good with other people; we can teach them the police skills," he said.

It will, however, be a long time before these new officers take to the streets. First, they have 13 weeks of training at Northeast Technical College in Green Bay, followed by two more weeks of localized training here. Then they begin five months of Field Training with other officers. They won't count for patrol strength, or handle cases on their own, in fact, until early in 2009.

"My daddy's a policeman!"
Officer Douglas Cecchini and his proud family.

Flashinski to challenge Vos for 63rd district seat

It's now official: Linda Flashinski, best known, perhaps, as a former president of the Racine Unified School Board, and later as the district's spokesperson, will run against Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, the 63rd Assembly District's two-term representative.

Here's her announcement:

"Today I am announcing my candidacy for Representative of the 63rd Assembly District because of my belief that this is a time for a new vision for the 63rd. We need a vision that focuses on the needs of those who are struggling in a weakened economy. We need reform in health care delivery so that all people receive the services they deserve at costs that are affordable. We need the increased economic development which KRM could bring to this area. We need more jobs that pay a living wage, and enough work so that young people have hope for the future. We need public education systems that are supported financially and that honor the work of our committed educators. We need protection of the Great Lakes and all of the natural resources in our beautiful state. We need all of this and so much more.

"My goal is to be a voice for the people of the 63rd Assembly District and the state of Wisconsin as we work for needed reform, and for the values that Wisconsinites hold dear. Should I be the one honored to represent the 63rd Assembly District as State Representative, I will listen to constituents, act on their behalf, and represent them well at the state level. I care about Wisconsin, and I commit to working very hard to make a difference."

Her campaign biography lists the following:

B.S. degree from UW-Madison in English Education. Moved to Racine with her husband, Stan, in 1976. She was President of Gifford Elementary PTA, and Co-President of PTA Council. a member of the RUSD Board of Education from 1993-99, and Board President from 1996-99. Some groups she's served: the Racine Heritage Museum, AAUW, PDK, the Festival of Trees, the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative, the Literacy Council, the Kids First Fund, the Wisconsin Legislative Committee for At Risk Children.

Over the years, she has worked as Director of Communication for Racine Unified, Associate Director of Family Service of Racine, Adjunct Instructor in Writing at Gateway Technical College, and teacher at Parkside’s College for Kids. For six years, she has hosted “Education Matters” and “Community Matters” on WGTD.