September 12, 2008

GOP absentee ballot mailings called voter fraud

Click to enlarge. The Raintree Lane address is in Mount Pleasant.

Democratic voters in at least two Wisconsin communities have received absentee voter forms from the McCain campaign that -- if used -- could cause their votes to be ignored.

Is it a simple error? Or campaign shenanigans and voter fraud? You be the judge.

Keith Heck, a former Racine Unified School Board member who lives in Mount Pleasant, reports receiving a mailing containing two tear-out requests for an absentee ballot. The preprinted request form -- an 11x17 piece of card stock folded over twice for mailing -- is addressed to the clerk in the the village of Caledonia.

Heck says, "I spoke with the Caledonia clerk and learned if we (in Mount Pleasant) used the form and sent it to the pre-printed address they would have to forward it to the right jurisdiction (if they had the time and the people) who would then have to send out the absentee ballot. As the deadline to submit a request is Oct. 30, and the clerks have a deadline of Oct. 31, this bogus form not only gums up and overworks the process to get absentee ballots sent out, it could cause some to not even be mailed."

Inside, were two forms like this.
Click to enlarge.

The election officials Heck spoke to -- Racine County and Caledonia -- said sending the absentee ballot request to the wrong clerk would not jeopardize a voter's registration, but might result in the absentee ballot not getting sent due to overworked personnel, or the possibility of missing the deadline.

Another report comes from Jennifer Jackson, a Kenosha County supervisor. She says a friend in Middleton received similar McCain literature, containing a large post card which was an application for absentee ballot. The return address was wrong. Instead of the Middleton address for her clerk's office , it was a Madison clerk's office address. Had she filled this out and sent it back, "her vote would never have been counted," according to Jackson.

Jackson -- full disclosure requires us to note that she's a Democratic Party activist -- said: "My friend is very involved with the Obama Campaign in Middleton. She called many of her friends and found they had the same thing. They debated whether or not to send them in at McCain expense, then they realized the return address was not Middleton but in fact a Madison address."

Jackson says, "I do not for one second think this was an error on the part of the McCain side. They deliberately mailed to strong Democratic voters and deliberately tried to derail their votes."

Otherwise, she asks, "Why mail to established Democrats who have no intention of voting for McCain? Why did everyone with a Middleton address have the same mistake of a return to the Madison Clerk's office? "It is clear," she adds, "that , not trusting E-voting, many Democrats are absentee voting this year. Did the McCain camp think by mis-routing these applications their votes would not be counted? It is true, they would not have been."

Heck also subscribes to the dirty tricks theory. He notes, "I was listening to Air America Radio yesterday and today and it sounded like this was happening around Wisconsin and even in Michigan. If you received this mailer and sent in a request you may want to follow up with the clerk you mailed it to, or call the clerk for your municipality and explain to them what happened to get this corrected. You may also want to forward this to your friends to alert them to his situation. If you have the mailer, check to see if it’s to the right clerk, hold on to the form and ... let our community know how broad this problem is."

Bryan Miller, chair of the Kenosha Democratic Party, says he never received a flier from a Republican candidate in the eight years he's lived in Wisconsin. "Frankly, as I was getting the mail out of the mailbox yesterday, I about fell out of the car when I saw the McCain flier." His had the correct mailing address on it, but he said more than a million Obama supporters in Ohio received an absentee ballot from the McCain campaign that included an "extra" check box "by accident," and were thus deemed invalid.

Miller said he talked to Kyle Richardson of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, who said he received a report of someone who had moved, but got a flier with the mailing address of the municipal clerk serving their old address. "If you send the application to the wrong clerk, it will invalidate your voter registration, essentially moving your registration to the new municipality," Miller said.

Anyone receiving the flier with the wrong address is urged to call the GAB at 608-266-8005 to report it. Or, you can email the GAB with a scanned copy of the invalid portions, or file a complaint here.

September 11, 2008

Ryan wants Congressional energy action:
Drilling, refineries, nuclear and alternative energy

Just as we've been wondering why Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, is so exercised about untaxed cigarettes and the price of text messaging while the world is collapsing -- along comes Rep. Paul Ryan urging action on a real issue: energy.

With reports that the House Majority will bring an energy package to the floor next week, Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, encouraged swift action "on meaningful energy legislation."

For those who watched the Republican presidential convention last week, we think Ryan's definition includes "drill, drill, drill." Ryan's press release notes: "It remains unclear whether the House Majority’s proposal would allow for drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf, but it appears that their package would permanently lock up American energy in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the Inter-Mountain Region." That's not good, he implies. Ryan also wants action to build new refineries and nuclear power plants.

Congress adjourns on Sept. 26, so don't get your hopes up.

Ryan strongly supports H.R. 6566, the so-called American Energy Act, "which takes an all-of-the-above approach to our energy crisis." It allows "environmentally-sound domestic drilling, streamlines the permit process for new refineries, boosts incentives for conservation and energy efficiency, and promotes the use of renewable and alternative energy," he says.

Ryan issued the following statement:

“Congress must tackle our energy crisis before calling it quits for the year. With record home heating costs expected to hit Americans hard this winter, the energy crisis will continue to wreck havoc on our economy. Those I serve in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District have seen their paychecks eliminated from job losses in energy-intensive industries, while all Americans have had their paychecks stretched to limit by higher energy costs. Enough is enough.

“At a time when we send $1.5 billion a day to countries that are hostile to our interests, we must reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The American Energy Act represents a clear path toward a coherent energy policy that takes seriously our energy crisis. This bipartisan, comprehensive energy package would give our children a safer world, a stronger economy, and a cleaner environment. It is my hope that Republicans and Democrats can work together to address our nation’s most pressing energy concerns before the close of the 110th Congress.”

R.I.P., newspaper stock tables

The Journal Times' stock tables -- those pages of eyesight-straining agate type (actually 5 1/2 point) recounting thousands of stocks' closing price at the end of each trading day -- will soon disappear. Readers were told today to go the the paper's website, where even more information will be made available.

This should be no surprise to anyone. Most U.S. dailies used to print four pages of stock tables daily, Tuesday through Saturday and sometimes also on Sunday with a weekly wrap-up, to allow investors to keep track of the prior day's trading. They listed all issues traded on the major exchanges, as well as the burgeoning list of Mutual Funds. But in recent years, many newspapers cut back, reducing the number of stocks tracked and -- more importantly to their own bottom line -- reducing the number of pages of newsprint required.

At the Journal Times, which cut back daily from four pages to one years ago, (and three on Saturdays) even that single daily page will fade into history at the end of this week. Editor Steve Lovejoy told readers today -- correctly -- that internet stock tables are better than the newsprint version: For one thing, they're constantly updated throughout the day, not just at the end of the day's trading. (Which, when applied to news in general, is a mixed blessing for newspapers -- but that's another story.)

Still, Lovejoy's notice did leave out the one crucial argument behind the newspapers' decision to drop stock tables: cost. That single page of newsprint saved daily, and two more saved on Saturday, represents -- by my rough calculation of $120 per page for a paper with the Journal Times' circulation -- an annual saving of $43,000. And that's just the cost of newsprint, ignoring labor, printing plates, etc. A few years ago -- before the internet's ubiquitous stock sites made newspaper listings less necessary -- when the Journal Times was printing four pages of listings at least five days a week, that cost the paper $125,000 for newsprint alone. Here, as at most every daily newspaper, newsprint is the second largest cost, after salaries.

In truth, most readers -- especially those who follow the market closely -- won't miss the newspaper tables at all. And if you're wondering this instant how any local stock is doing, you can always go to for our constantly updated listings. Click on any of the stock symbols for even more information.

Smokey and the Bandit, redux: Kohl on the case

The email from Sen. Herb Kohl's office today carried this headline:


Tobacco Trafficking Funnels Money
to Terrorists, Short-Changes State Tax Coffers

Oh, no, I thought (after wincing at the golfing verb): more of the same kind of on-the-margin activity, like his opening salvo two days ago against the high cost of txt msgN! Lower the cost of a tank of gas, damnit! Fix the economy!

And then a second thought kicked in: Smokey and the Bandit! Remember the lyric from Jerry Reed's song (Confession: I had to look it up to get the words just right.)
East bound and down, loaded up and truckin',
we're gonna do what they say can't be done.
We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
I'm east bound, just watch ol' "Bandit" run.

Ol' Smokey's got them ears on and he's hot on your trail.

He aint gonna rest 'til you're in jail.

So you got to dodge 'im and you got to duck 'im,
you got to keep that diesel truckin'.
Just put that hammer down and give it hell.
Ol' Bandit -- in the song anyway -- was moving moonshine.

"The boys are thirsty in Atlanta
and there's beer in Texarcana.
And we'll bring it back no matter what it takes

But there were plenty of other midnight journeys with Bandit's trunk filled with untaxed cigarettes.

Who knew the profits were going to terrorists?

Sen. Kohl? "Smokey Kohl" is up in arms about it, callling for "immediate Senate consideration" of his Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act.

Kohl writes: "Large tobacco trafficking networks have been uncovered in several regions of the United States, and some of their members have been prosecuted for providing material support to Hezbollah. It is believed these individuals provided millions of dollars to this dangerous terrorist organization. Law enforcement and intelligence officials have fought hard to cut off the flow of funds from cigarette trafficking to terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, and they believe the connection between cigarette trafficking and terrorist organizations is much more widespread than the number of public cases suggest. It is also estimated that $3.8 billion of tax revenue were lost, at the federal and state level, in 2004 alone."

Who knew? This 2003 report from the World Health Organization, that's who.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Kohl’s PACT Act in May, 2007, but efforts to get it through the Senate have been blocked "by a small number of Republican Senators on behalf of special interests, such as tobacco companies and large delivery services," Kohl says.

“Cigarette trafficking, including the illegal sale of tobacco products over the Internet, costs states billions of dollars in lost tax revenue each year,” Kohl said. “As lost tobacco tax revenue lines the pockets of criminals and terrorist groups, states are being forced to raise college tuition and restrict access to other public programs.”

Hezbollah, al Qaeda and Hamas have all generated significant revenue from the sale of counterfeit cigarettes. In 1998, the ATF had six active tobacco smuggling investigations. In 2005, that number swelled to 452, the government says.

Sen. Kohl says the Internet represents a new obstacle to enforcement. Illegal tobacco vendors around the world evade detection by conducting transactions over the Internet, and then shipping their illegal products around the country to consumers. Just a few years ago, there were less than 100 vendors selling cigarettes online. Today, approximately 500 vendors sell illegal tobacco products over the Internet.

That should keep Ol' Smokey busy for a long while.

Senate committee approves $3 million for Modine

The U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee approved $25.6 million in Southeastern Wisconsin projects today, include $3 million for Racine's Modine Manufacturing Co.

The projects are part of the Senate's FY2009 Defense Appropriations Bill. To take effect, the bill must be approved by the full Appropriations Committee and then the Senate.

"Wisconsin companies are taking the lead when it comes to modernizing our military," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, a member of the committee. "I am proud that our state's research and development industries continue to innovate and expand. Their work has paved the way for this important federal investment and their efforts will make our military stronger, and the men and women who serve our country safer."

Among the Wisconsin projects, Kohl won approval for $3 million for cooling and heating of advanced tactical vehicles at Modine. The release from Kohl's office said:

This project will capitalize on prior technical breakthroughs for evaporator and condenser design to produce demonstrators that can be rapidly transitioned to active tactical vehicle programs. The program will use CO2 instead of more traditional Freon for air conditioning. This will reduce the logistics burden, protect the environment, and make it easier to repair and maintain these cooling systems. The air conditioning systems developed will also be lighter and more energy efficient, while still capable of dealing with the searing desert heat.

The complete list of projects approved by the subcommittee is here.

September 10, 2008

A cat with thousands of years of history

Times are tough in the dog adoption business. Countryside Humane Society tells us the last dog we featured, a friendly poodle named Moon Shine, did not get adopted -- only the second time that's happened. He's been transferred to the Elmbrook Humane Society where, hopefully, he will fare better.

Unfortunately, it's not just Moon Shine, either. Racine families of late are not adopting pets: Countryside transferred five animals to other shelters on Monday, and last week sent 16 cats and kittens to other shelters, hoping to give them a second chance. The animals haven't stopped coming in, Countryside says, but they sure have stopped going out. Is it the economy? The back-to-school rush?

In any case, how about a cat this week?

Agnes came to Countryside as a stray who became ill. She had a lovely temperament, so was sent to live in foster care for 60 days, whee she got better. She loves to sit inside baskets and boxes, but gladly comes out of her comfortable place to meet new people.

She is a gentle Abyssinian/brown tabby mix, a 2- or 3-year-old ready to have a home of her own.

Abyssinians come with a fascinating backstory: Their ancestors were revered by the ancient Egyptians a few thousand years ago. In the west, the breed is traced to a single female kitten called Zula, that was taken from a port in Alexandria, Egypt, by a British soldier and brought to England, where she was bred with an English tabby. (Wiki has more, here.)

Abyssinian cats are brown with dark brown and black ticking (sometimes red-brown). Tabby is the original coat pattern of cats and even solid color cats have tabby patterning underneath. There are different patterns of tabby: classic is big swirls of darker color in a lighter color; Mackerel is small stripes close together that run from the back down to the stomach (or, as most people call them, tiger cats). There is also ticked and spotted. All these patterns are still put under the title Tabby.

So what are you waiting for? Countryside Humane Society is located at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

Vos gets 95% WMC rating for pro-business votes

Wisconsin's business lobby -- the WMC, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce -- honored 32 lawmakers Wednesday for voting "time and again, 100 percent of the time" for job growth and economic development.
No, none of ours made that august winners' circle -- although Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, came within a hair's breadth of inclusion, but for a single "wrong" vote cast, according to the WMC's scorecard. Vos' 95% rating far exceeded anything else achieved by other Racine lawmakers. Rep. Scott Gunderson, R- Waterford, also scored 95%.
Three local lawmakers received dismal ratings from the WMC: Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, got a 40% rating, having voted "wrong" according to the WMC on 12 out of 20 votes tallied; Rep. Bob Turner, D-Racine, best not even show his face near the WMC: he got only four votes "right" out of the 20 tallied. In the Senate, things weren't going any better for Sen. John Lehman. Only 14 votes were tallied, and he voted "right" on just three of them, for a 21% ranking.
Complete scorecard results, vote by vote, legislator by legislator.

The one issue that tripped up Vos was Senate Bill 431, Unemployment Insurance Benefits, the last of the 20 issues WMC tallied. "This bill adjusts the taxable wage base for all Wisconsin employers and shifts revenues to the systems’ solvency fund. The bill increases the amount of time that Unemployment Insurance claimants must have worked in order to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, and also freezes UI benefit levels at current levels until 2009."

The WMC wanted a "yes" vote but Vos voted "no," ruining his perfect record. Gunderson also lost his perfect record on this issue.

“Legislators who stand up for jobs time and again – especially with a slowing economy – are the true friends of working families,” said James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations. “These legislators are stalwart defenders of jobs for our families.”

In total, 65 lawmakers will receive WMC’s “Working for Wisconsin Award” for earning a 65 percent or higher WMC voting record.

Since 2000, Wisconsin has lost nearly 100,000 manufacturing jobs, which pay high wages and provide the best benefits, Buchen said.

Last month, the Sierra Club rated lawmakers on their environmental records. The winners and losers on their scorecard tended to be the opposite from those on the WMC's.

Featured on TV, homicide suspect turns self in

A man wanted in connection with a beating death in 2006 turned himself in to Racine Police last night.

Dale M. Patterson was wanted in connection with an assault on April 22, 2006, that left Michael P. Griffith, 42, with serious head injuries in the rear lot of The Winners' Circle, 1403 Superior St. Police said witnesses saw Patterson slamming Griffith's head into the pavement,and kicking his head and face. Griffith was kept on life support for over a year, but died on Nov. 17, 2007.

Patterson, who was featured on FOX 6's Wisconsin's Most Wanted show on Saturday, turned himself in at 11 p.m. Tuesday night. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 cash bond, charged with First Degree Intentional Homicide.

Vos odd man out at forum with Flashinski, Mason

Republican Robin Vos was odd man out Tuesday at a candidate forum, sandwiched between his 63rd Assembly District opponent in November, Linda Flashinski, and Cory Mason, another Democrat, whose 62nd District opponent, Keith Deschler, did not attend.

Flashinski and Mason pretty much double-teamed Vos while answering the mostly fiscal questions posed by the Racine Taxpayers Association. "Yes" and "yes" said Flashinski and Mason, to Vos' "no." Or Vos said "yes," while Flashinski and Mason said "no." Topics ranged from Healthy Wisconsin, to school funding, from concealed carry to vouchers, from activist churches to Economics 101. The vote was two to one.

The consolation for Vos, however, is that his positions were undoubtedly more in line with the Taxpayers Association, which rarely has met a tax it likes, although the two dozen at the forum, held at the YMCA, were respectful of all the candidates.

Here's some of the Q&A:

Q: Why do you feel affordable health care is so important? (Answers quickly devolved to a discussion of Healthy Wisconsin, Gov. Doyle's failed effort to provide universal health care in the state.)

Vos: "This would have been the largest tax increase in the U.S.... run by nameless, faceless bureaucrats."
Mason: "Healthy Wisconsin was flawed and problematic for large employers. But I feel I deal with the nameless, faceless bureaucrats at my HMO."
Flashinski: "Other industrialized nations provide health care for all citizens at half the cost of the U.S....We need just three seats in the Assembly for health care reform to be addressed."

Q: Would you eliminate non-profit status for churches that engage in political activities?

Mason: "I'm not a lawyer, but there are certain guidelines. Non-profits should follow the law.
Flashinski" "It's important that churches not tell their members how to vote."
Vos: "They should get more involved, but not tell congregations how to vote."

Q: Do you believe Economics 101, which states that lower taxes improve the economy and higher taxes damage it? Would you reduce taxes?

Flashinski: "I believe what helps people is prosperity. Between 1948 and 1999, tax rates for the rich were cut 57% while yours has quadrupled. It's important to tax fairly and spend wisely. Other things are important, like creating jobs and transit."
Vos: "Yes, I believe in Eco 101. Raising taxes usually stifles economic growth. I pledge I will not vote to raise taxes. States with a low tax climate are growing."
Mason: "I would disagree with the premise that is Economics 101. There are two theories: Milton Friedman believes less government is better. John Maynard Keynes believed investing in job training and infrastructure like roads will lead to a better return on those tax dollars."

Q: Concealed carry.

Vos: "We're one of only two states without it. I was one of the co-sponsors. It died by a single vote in the Assembly, a Democrat. I am not afraid of people who have gone through the background check."
Flashinski: "I opposed it. People don't want to go to a restaurant thinking the person in the next booth might be armed. Robin Vos even opposed a bill to ban weapons on school playgrounds."
Mason: "If you live in a community with gun violence, your view is different than if you live in a rural area. I've yet to see the public policy benefit. I opposed it; my survey of 600 came up two-to-one opposed to it."

Q: School choice, vouchers.

Flashinski: "I'm very, very in favor of choice for people. The problem is that today "choice" is used for vouchers."
Vos: "Yes, I do support giving parents "scholarships" for send their children to the school they want. Imagine if there was just one restaurant, or one garage to take your car to. I believe in competition."
Mason: I do not support the voucher program nor its expansion. The program is a distraction and a disastrous one. The voucher program in Milwaukee has not closed the achievement gap."

Q. Do you support the Taxpayer Bill of Rights?

Vos: "Yes."
Mason: "No."
Flashinski: "No."

Q. Do you support the expansion of the QEO for all public employees?

Mason: "I'm in favor of repealing the QEO for teachers. I believe in collective bargaining. We need to move schools away from property taxes."
Flashinski: "The QEO is a very unfair thing, applied to just one group of workers. The QEO is not right."
Vos: "I do not support repealing the QEO."

Going to a HS football game: A lot like flying?

It's a sign of the times, but going to a football game at Racine Unified will soon be a lot like going through a U.S. airport:

No carry-ons, no liquids, bring photo ID, you're subject to search, that sort of thing. For a high school football game! Maybe they should hire some TSA inspectors?

We know: It's nothing personal and for our own safety, but still...

Here's the list of Unified's new "spectator policies"for Case, Horlick and Park High Schools:
-- Spectators may be subject to a visual search prior to entering the stadium.
-- Spectators should be ready to show a form of picture identification.
-- Large bags or backpacks are not allowed into the stadium.
-- Carry-ins of food and beverage are not allowed into the stadium.
-- Loitering on the grounds and parking lots is prohibited.
-- Once a spectator leaves the grounds, they are not allowed back in.
Ticket Sales will begin at 6 p.m. Adults and Students, $4; Non-School-Age Children and Senior Citizens, $2.

And here's Unified's final policy:

"And, of course, spectators should enjoy the game and show sportsmanship at all times."

Racine County turnout: A pathetic 6.78%

So, how low was the turnout in Racine County? Very low, indeed.

Predictions before the primary suggested about 15% of voters might vote in what was a lackluster election in most races -- an awful lot of unopposed candidates -- except for the Democrats' 1st District Congressional contest. That race started out with four candidates, and ended up with three.

Fifteen percent, it turns out, would have been great. Instead, less than half that percentage voted... even when we include the minor parties.

Racine County has 126,228 registered voters. There were 4,361 Democratic ballots cast, 3,728 Republican, 22 Wisconsin Green and 69 Libertarian -- for a total of 8,559.

In other words, 6.78% of those eligible to vote did so.


September 9, 2008

Krupp wins right to challenge Ryan in 1st District

Late results give Marge Krupp of Pleasant Prairie the victory in the Democrats' 1st Congressional District race, winning the right to oppose Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan in November.

We've updated these results through Tuesday evening. The county totals come from the various county clerks, and the overall total from WTMJ. The state won't canvass the partial totals and officially declare a winner until Sept. 20. The county totals below don't equal WTMJ's totals because precincts in Milwaukee County and Waukesha County haven't yet posted their results online.

WTMJ reports 100% of the votes tallied:
Marge Krupp 5,832
Paulette Garin 5,015
Mike Hebert 4,315
John Mogk 655
Racine County reports:
Mike Hebert 941
Paulette Garin 1,259
John Mogk 133
Marge Krupp 1,492
Complete Racine County results -- all parties, precincts and local races -- are here. The summary is here.

Rock County reports:
Paulette Garin 606
John Mogk 51
Marge Krupp 686
Mike Hebert 238
Kenosha County reports:
Mike Hebert 2,289
Marge Krupp 2,126
Paulette Garin 2,191
John Mogk 287
Walworth County reports:
Marge Krupp 329
Mike Hebert 197
Paulette Garin 262
John Mogk 25

LEE dropped from S&P Midcap 400

We've given a break to Lee Enterprises, parent company of the Racine Journal Times, in recent weeks, as the stock market has pummeled its stock.

It's been up and down: In July and August, it closed below $3 a share -- bad -- only to recover to $4 -- good. The company declared its regular dividend -- good -- but various investment funds divested their shares -- bad. Various Lee papers have been shedding staff -- most notably its Montana operations these days -- and others have been cutting newshole; the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Lee's flagship in the state, just yesterday announced it would reduce the number of sections printed daily.

More bad news came today. After the market closed, with the stock up 13 cents to $3.36 per share, Standard and Poor's dropped LEE from its S&P Midcap 400 index. Lee's market cap -- the total value of its shares -- is at $151 million, putting the company 400th in the listing. The change -- LEE will be replaced by United Therapeutics Corp. (UTHR), market cap $2.48 billion -- will take place after the close of trading Friday, and may further decrease demand for the stock, as investors and funds who buy the index divest.

Quite a comedown from Lee's $2.2 billion market cap back in 2004 before it bought Pulitzer newspapers for $1.46 billion. Ah, those were the days.

Kohl tAkz on ph compnEz ovr cost of txt msgN

Sen. Herb Kohl has called on celfne compnEz 2 justify skyrocketing txtN r8s. N 3 yrs, tx chrges av doubled 4 wyrless custs

OK, ok! That gets old quickly. Let's just translate, since this isn't Twitter, and we can take as many characters as we want.

I don't own a cell phone, so I'm not addicted to text messaging like the rest of you. Therefore, when I saw that Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, is taking on the phone companies over the rising cost of text messaging -- from 10 cents a message in 2005 up to 20 cents today OMG! OMG!-- my first thought was: Um, aren't there more important issues to worry about?

The more I think about it, that's my second and third thought, too. The war in Iraq, the economy, global warming, Caribou Barbie's true intentions, the price of Guinness, the Brewers' diminishing pennant chances, Britney Spear's latest comeback ... all concern me much more than the extra dime it would cost to send a text message banged out by my thumbs on a tiny keyboard.

But not multi-millionaire Sen. Kohl! He's taken the cost of all those text messages to heart, and is raising Cain with the four largest phone companies, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, sending them a blistering letter -- nt a sngl tx abbr incl! -- demanding to know why their rates for text messaging have risen so fast.

Here's the letter he sent:
I am writing to express my concern regarding what appear to be sharply rising rates your companies have charged to wireless phone customers for text messaging. Some industry experts contend that these increased rates do not appear to be justified by any increases in the costs associated with text messaging services, but may instead be a reflection of a decrease in competition, and an increase in market power, among your four companies.

Your four companies are the nation’s leading wireless telephone companies, collectively serving more than 90% of the nation’s wireless subscribers. Since 2005, the cost for a consumer to send or receive a text message over each of your services has increased by 100%. Text messages were commonly priced at 10 cents per message sent or received in 2005. As of the end of the month, the rate per text message will have increased to 20 cents on all four wireless carriers. Sprint was the first carrier to increase the text message rate to 20 cents last Fall, and now all of its three main competitors have matched this price increase.

What is particularly alarming about this industry-wide rate increase is that it does not appear to be justified by rising costs in delivering text messages. Text messaging files are very small, as the size of text messages are generally limited to 160 characters per message, and therefore cost carriers very little to transmit. Text messaging files are a fraction of the size of e-mails or music downloads. Also of concern is that it appears that each of companies has changed the price for text messaging at nearly the same time, with identical price increases. This conduct is hardly consistent with the vigorous price competition we hope to see in a competitive marketplace.

What has changed in recent years is the level of consolidation in the wireless telephone industry. The number of major national competitors has declined from six to four. And the large national wireless carriers continue to acquire their smaller, regional competitors, with the announced acquisition of Alltel by Verizon Wireless being just the latest example. As Chairman of the Antitrust Subcommittee, I am concerned with whether this consolidation, and increased market power by the major carriers, has contributed to this doubling of text messaging rates over the last three years.

Therefore, I specifically ask each of your companies to explain why text messaging rates have dramatically increased in recent years. Please explain the cost, technical, or any other factors that justify a 100% increase in the cost of text messaging from 2005 to 2008. Please also provide data on the utilization of text messaging during this time period. Please provide a comparison of prices charged for text messaging as compared to other services offered by your companies, such as prices per minute for voice calling, prices for sending e-mails, and prices charged for data services such as internet access over wireless devices, from 2005 to the present. Finally, please state whether your text messaging pricing structure differs in any significant respect from the pricing of your three main competitors. Please provide this information no later than Monday, October 6, 2008.

If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Jeff Miller or Seth Bloom of my Antitrust Subcommittee staff at (202) 224-3406. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
wn2 wrt yr own txt msgs? hrs a h&d transl8R. wrks both wAz, 2!

Local Girl Scouts sell Camp Singing Hills for $7.25 million

The local Girl Scouts announced today that it has sold the former Camp Singing Hills in Walworth County for $7.25 million.

Perhaps the only thing surprising about the sale is the camp hadn't been sold sooner. The Girl Scouts of Racine County went through an arduous process (click here for a sample of the letters on the issue printed in the JT - scroll down) in 2004 in deciding to sell the property. Supporters of the camp rallied to save it, but came up short. Four years later, the Girl Scouts -- Racine County is now part of Girl Scouts of Southeast Wisconsin Inc., having merged in January with the Girl Scout Council of Kenosha County, the Girl Scouts of Milwaukee Area and the Great Blue Heron Council in New Berlin -- followed through on the 2004 decision.

Here's a real estate listing for the 166-acre property (no price is listed).

Here's the official release from the Girl Scouts:

On Thursday, September 4, the Camp Singing Hills property, located in the town of LaGrange in Walworth County, was officially sold by Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, Inc. (GSWISE).

The sale marks the end of a long-range plan adopted in 2004 by the legacy council, Girl Scouts of Racine County. It also ensures that council resources are being used wisely in order to best serve its members.

Camp Singing Hills has been closed since 2003 and was originally offered up for sale in 2004 as part of a long-range plan set by GSRC’s board of directors. Research indicated that girls were more interested in adventure and travel opportunities than the rustic resident camp experiences that Camp Singing Hills could offer. More than $2 million would have been needed to make structural and mechanical upgrades to make the site more in line with girls’ needs. The declining income, resulting from substantially lower attendance, could simply not keep up with operating costs.

As part of the Core Business Strategy of the national Girl Scout organization, the four southeastern Wisconsin councils legally joined to form one high-capacity council, Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast, on January 2, 2008. The new council inherited the properties of all four southeastern Wisconsin councils, including Camp Singing Hills, which at the time, still had not been sold. GSWISE’s action of selling the property is honoring the decision made by the legacy Girl Scouts of Racine County board of directors who originally determined the need to sell the site. The reasons that led to the original decision, which were identified through a due diligence process by the legacy council, are still valid today.

"Proceeds from the sale will be safely invested until the board conducts a strategic plan and decisions are made regarding how best to invest these monies for the benefit of the girl membership. We anticipate about $800,000 will be used to pay the debt for the Trefoil Oaks Program Center building and the Girl Scout Racine Service Center building," said Joan Shafer, Board Chair for GSWISE.

Regarding the sale, Molly T. Fuller, Chief Executive Officer for GSWISE said, "We are strongly committed to using the funds from the Camp Singing Hills sale to further support quality programming for our girl members, in keeping our long-standing tradition of using resources wisely.

The sale of the property opens the door for Girl Scouting to respond to current trends and needs of girls in our council. I am proud of the fact that our council can offer such an incredible diversity of properties to meet the needs and interests of today’s girls. Owning over 1,000 acres, representing seven program centers including two resident camps, GSWISE is in the perfect position to upgrade our facilities as it becomes necessary."

September 7, 2008

Green Party's McKinney, an outsider, offers dangerous political alternative

"You're an outsider. You'll always be an outsider." 
-Billy McKinney to his daughter, Cynthia McKinney

If you've heard of Cynthia McKinney, you probably know her as the Congresswoman who got into a fight with a police officer at the U.S. Capitol. That's too bad.

McKinney, who visited Racine on Friday, is a far more interesting, accomplished and dangerous figure than the meaningless 2006 incident - which happened to occur at the same time as powerful Republican Congressman Tom DeLay was indicted for corruption. But that run-in isolated her political support and silenced her fight against what she calls "excessive government secrecy."

McKinney raised uncomfortable questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the murder of Tupac Shakoor and government surveillance of the hip-hop community.

These aren't questions asked by many people in power, and it didn't help she was an African-American woman from conservative Georgia. (While serving in the Georgia state House, she challenged long-standing rules that women legislators had to wear dresses. She wore slacks her first day.)

She paid the price for her activism. First elected to Congress in 1992, she was voted out in a 2002 primary. She was re-elected in 2004, but lost in another Democratic primary in 2006. In the second loss, 12,000 Republicans crossed over and voted against her.

Burned by the two-party system, McKinney turned to the Green Party. She's running this year as the third party's presidential candidate along with Rosa Clemente, a hip-hop activist, independent journalist and community organizer.

Cynthia McKinney outside of Waldon III School on Friday, Sept. 5 during her visit to Racine. McKinney is the Green Party candidate for president. 

It may seem like an odd pairing - two minority women - for a party most people associate with environmental issues. But in an interview on Friday, McKinney pointed out that she wasn't a member of the Green Party when social justice, grassroots democracy and peace were voted three of the party's four pillars.

The difference is McKinney and Clemente are getting the Green Party's message to a new audience. While Ralph Nader in 2000 and David Cobb in 2008 came across as white male intellectuals, this year's Green Party campaign is young, diverse and, well, hip. Check out this video for a taste:

In an interview, McKinney described the key to her life journey with the advice from her father quoted at the top of this post: "You're an outsider. You'll always be an outsider."

But the other sense you get from McKinney is things are not OK. People in power work to assure everyone that everything is fine, nothing to see here. In her stories and memories, McKinney doesn't believe that.

During her visit to Racine, she met with students at Waldon III. After holding an assembly, she went into a classroom. The first question she asked the students was: Do you know how Martin Luther King Jr. died? The students knew he was shot, but no one knew the specifics about the assassination.

McKinney's believes no one knows the specifics, and the government wants to keep it that way. The same goes for federal records that show hip hop and entertainment performers are under surveillance by the federal government, and that stories were planted in the New York Times, Miami Herald, Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers to discredit the hip-hop community.

McKinney believes it's this same collusion of government interests and corporate media that suppresses discussion of meaningful change or simply lies to the public. By McKinney's count, corporate media lied 935 times about the need to invade Iraq - lies that led to a war we're still fighting.

Here's what makes McKinney dangerous. In a change year, she and the Green Party represent real change. While they may not draw significant numbers in November, word is getting out that a legitimate third party exists. It may take a few more presidential elections, but on our current path, people are going to be disillusioned and look for an alternative.

This could be the year because Obama is galvanizing young and minority voters. If he loses, it would be the third straight loss for a Democratic Party that routinely gets beat up by the Republicans. People will be looking for an alternative, and a McKinney-led Green Party may be it.

Of course, under this scenario, the only people in danger would be the Democratic Party, a mainstream media that needs people to believe they report the truth and the keepers of government secrets.

You can bet if these groups ever feel threatened, McKinney will find herself in the middle of another scandal designed to keep her on the outside.

Local Green Party activists Pete Karas (right) and Stephan Kalmer (left) attend Cynthia McKinney's visit to Waldon III School. 

Nature, enhanced

Fair weather nature lovers -- those who need more than "just" trees to wander appreciatively in the woods -- have no better excuse than the annual Hawthorn Hollow Walk in the Woods Art Fair.

The 16th Annual Fair took place Saturday at the nature sanctuary and arboretum, and the 40 acres of trees and lush pathways were gussied up with more than 50 vendors selling hand-made crafts of all descriptions. Meanwhile, music was drifting throughout the grounds, emanating from live musicians playing in the Amphitheatre.

Joe Fonk, director of Hawthorne Hollow, invites visitors "to return on a quieter day to enjoy a walk in the woods," which is not a bad idea -- but for me it's more fun to come when dozens of talented artisans are showing off the best of their creations. So, take your pick, visit Hawthorn Hollow (located at 880 Green Bay Road, in Somers) between March 1 and Oct. 31, and Nov. 1 to Dec. 23 to commune with nature, or at the art fair to see (and buy) things like the sampling below.

Sax Fish Avenue, by Ray Foster of Kansasville, $330

Carved wooden mouse by Dewey Johnson of Racine, $25

Turned wooden bowl by Kent Mayes of Somers, $300

Birdhouse by Sue Knox of Cedarburg, $34

Field of black-eyed Susan photo by Bruce McCurdy, Kenosha, $85

Hand-woven basket by Judith and David Street, Green Lake, $52