November 17, 2010

Patch joins the online local-local news landscape

This is RacinePost's 3,594th story.

And, lest we be accused of burying the lede, possibly the last.

RacinePost began on Sept. 29, 2007, with Dustin's first post: "Hi and welcome to Racine Post... let's see what happens."

It's been a good ride. In addition to the thousands of stories and photos we posted on our main site,, our ancillary blogs have carried another 3,770 or so items: Kiosk event listings, local obituaries, education, Positively Racine and business stories. Not to mention 245 local news haikus, just for fun.  Our "front page" on the web, also has linked to a wide variety of stories about Racine found in media all over the world. And now it's about to end, or at least change.

But fear not; a new alternative online local news source is on the horizon!

Dustin has accepted a great job as a regional editor for Patch, AOL's ambitious $50 million effort to establish hundreds of local news websites around the country. He officially began Monday, but he's been working for a couple of weeks to recruit editors for a dozen new websites, including one for Mount Pleasant and another for Caledonia. (Racine itself is too big for the typical one-man-band Patch website.) Patch created its 100th site in August, and expects to have 500 operating by the end of this year, each run by a full-time local editor. Here's yesterday's Milwaukee Magazine's story about the local Patch initiative.

Dustin was the originator of RacinePost. I offered him pictures from Party on the Pavement a week later, and a week after that joined his effort. We've been working together ever since, although "together" is a misnomer: we're both independent, with different ideas about what's interesting and worth covering. The only way readers can tell who wrote a story is by looking at the "Posted by..." line at the bottom of each post -- and even that sometimes has been misleading, as one or the other of us added to or revised the other's initial post. Meanwhile, Dustin did most of the underlying computer coding. It's been a satisfying partnership.

We've come a long way. Early on, Dustin wrote that RacinePost is "an independent news source dedicated to covering and sharing all news related to Racine. We don't compete with other media in a traditional way. We link to as many stories as possible that relate to Racine, no matter where they appear. If the Journal-Sentinel or Journal Times has a good story, we'll make it the lead on our site just as readily as we'll put our own news on the site. We hope to become the  definitive source for news in Racine by compiling all headlines into a single place -- and adding a few of our own along the way!"

Our first pages looked much like the Drudge Report -- no surprise, since Dustin borrowed some of Drudge's coding. Here's one of our earliest pages. (Note our lede story that day in October 2007, about Walker and commuter rail. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.) But soon we found our own look, adding more of our own pictures and stories. We still linked to stories from other media, but the focus was on original reporting whenever possible. Occasionally, we've been critical of the Journal Times -- was a murder suspect's competency hearing really worth most of Page 1 Tuesday (with two pictures... no, actually  with the same picture twice) overshadowing the school board's $100 million referendum plans? -- but that's hardly our raison d'être despite our former employment at the JT.

The real fun for us came from meeting many of you, being welcomed into your stories, your events and your lives. We've had an outpouring of support from scores of people we'd never met, and financial support from strangers who liked what we were doing. Thanks are also due to the organizations that shared their news with us, the writers and photographers who contributed their own work to the site, and the advertisers who reached out to our readers,  sometimes providing the equivalent of a paycheck to this labor of love.

For the time being -- with Dustin gone and with me unwilling to turn this into a full-time job -- will begin a partial hibernation. There'll be occasional stories added to our main blog, the Kiosk and Racine Obituaries, but not as many as before. I'm not sure what will happen to our front page; we'll see what the future brings. By all means, check in to see whether we can resist the urge to continue posting.

From both of us, thanks for being a part of RacinePost.
Pete Selkowe
Dustin Block

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November 16, 2010

A million here, a million there ... no, put it all there

Face it, folks. We're stuck in an alternate universe!

The three headlines atop RacinePost as I write this are all the proof we need.

At the top, we've got 1st District Congressman Paul Ryan introducing a bill -- with the concurrence of fellow Wisconsin Reps. Tom Petri and James Sensenbrenner -- that would give back $810 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for a high-speed rail connection between Madison and Milwaukee.They'd rather use the money to reduce the $1.6 trillion Federal deficit.  Never mind that $810 million is just a rounding error on a sum that large.

Below that, a story about Racine's Fred Young giving $11 million to help build a huge telescope in Chile.

Finally, a story about the Racine Unified School Board mulling over three plans for new schools, costing anywhere from $79 million to $100 million, one of which will be placed before the voters this Spring.

EXCUUUSE ME!  Are we not still in a recession? Isn't the jobless rate in Racine still among the highest in Wisconsin? Is this a time to be giving federal money back? A time to try to pass a $100 million referendum? (The PR firm needs to get its fee up-front, not on speculation.)

Granted, Fred Young has every right to spend his money -- earned here from Young Radiator Co. -- any way he pleases. But surely his ties to the community are at least as strong as his tie to his alma mater? Or should be: RUSD could modernize a lot of 1800s-era classrooms for $11 million. Look at all that Mitchell Middle School accomplished with just $50,000 from Pepsi. Cornell, we must point out, already has received millions from another local family's alums: it's home to the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. That didn't come cheap, either.

The fact that only one of today's three headlines will lead to anything -- Young's donation is a done deal; Ryan's proposal and the school board's plan are iffy as hell -- shouldn't matter. It's the thought that counts.

But that's just my opinion. What's yours?

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Camera Club announces competition winners

Renee by Ted Gast

The Racine Camera Club named Ted Gast and Linda Peterson the winners of its November photo competiton.

Gast won for his portrait of "Renee" at top; and Linda Peterson for "Fountain Dance," at right.

Honorable mentions were given to: Jason Madson – "The Journey"; Tom Leih – "The Door" and "Nap Time"; Brian Jensen – "Observatory By Moonlight"; Linda Peterson – Fountain Fantasy"; Marilyn Wilson – "Light That Was"; and Jim Charnon – "Coming Ashore."

There was also a "Photo of the Month" competition, which was won by Peterson's "Auburn Autumn."

Judges were Gene Dodd, Mark Wollman and Bob Fay.

A slide show of this month's competition entries is here.

More information about the Racine Camera Club, which meets on the 2nd Thursday of each month, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Racine Arts Council, 316 Sixth St., can be found on its website, here. All photographers are welcome

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Racine Unified mulls $100 million referendum

Nobody can say we weren't warned.

It was way back in March when Racine Unified laid out the broad outlines of its "reinvestment plan" --the first glimmer of a referendum proposal for new and upgraded schools that the administration hoped to bring before voters in the fall of 2010. (Here's VIDEO of the administration's proposal.)

Costing $73 million... plus $7.5 million for operations... plus...  well, final number to be provided later.

On Monday, the board moved that plan forward, slightly behind its original timetable -- but with even bigger numbers. Now the referendum is planned for Spring. And the final number could be $100 million. Or more.

Here's today's Journal Times' story from Monday night's board meeting, at which three iterations of a referendum were laid out, ranging from $79 million to upwards of $100 million. We put the link here so RacinePost readers can comment on the plan.

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November 14, 2010

Deschler announces run for Spangenberg's Council seat

Keith Deschler, who ran unsuccessfully three times this decade for the state legislature, has now set his sights on the City Council. But his Libertarian message hasn't changed: he's still campaigning for smaller government.

Deschler, 52, ran in 2002, 2004 and 2008 for the 62nd District Assembly seat now held by Rep. Cory Mason. On Sunday he announced his candidacy for the 13th District Aldermanic seat on the City Council, a seat now held by James Spangenberg.  One of Deschler's issues is the now-dead Tom Tousis plan for a West Racine grocery/gas station/restaurant that was opposed by Spangenberg. But mostly he seems to be running against Mayor John Dickert's budgets and job creation efforts and aldermen who have "marched happily along with the mayor."

Here's Deschler's campaign statement:
I am announcing my candidacy for the 13th District Aldermanic seat in the City of Racine.

Having watched the past year as one business after another has found obstacles provided by the City Council, it has become clear to me the best way to improve the City Council is run for the seat. The lack of a business-friendly attitude and bureaucracy committed to satisfying its own appetite for greater control and manipulation over the citizens of Racine is neither good for our citizens nor is it good for the potential businesses, jobs and future citizens waiting to come and become part of our community.

Many issues can and should be addressed in the upcoming election: how best to treat investors on the West Boulevard and Washington Avenue corner and the potential of attracting new business to our town not by throwing piles of money for a handful of jobs, but rather by reducing the tax burden and freeing the investors to bring jobs and opportunity to our city.  Racine needs a City Council and leadership that is taxpayer friendly, and doesn’t rely on grants and gifts bestowed upon us by crawling before federal and state government.

The American people and especially the people of southeast Wisconsin spoke in huge numbers and in a dramatic voice demanding less invasive government and lower tax burdens for all.

I have watched now for two years in a row, as Racine’s current mayor has presented budgets with no cuts in jobs, no cuts in benefits, and an increase in tax burden on the citizenry.  In each case the aldermen marched happily along with the mayor. This must stop and the time is now.

I am asking my fellow Racine taxpayers to contact all of their aldermen before Tuesday night and tell them "no" on the budget being proposed.   We must demand that they get our message that enough is enough.

If the city alderman aren't listening when the people have spoken louder than ever, when will they listen? There are alternatives to the budgets proposed and tens of thousands of dollars in savings to the taxpayers can be found.  Making Racine the lowest taxed "island" in the Midwest will bring business and citizens to our great city.

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A further defense of Fair Trade, by Mary Beth Danielson

 Why can't we all just get along? Mary Beth Danielson's post about MayaWorks, fair trade and "compassion fatigue" brought 40 comments, some of them angry, in just two days. Here's her response.

By Mary Beth Danielson
For RacinePost

I am amazed at the dialogue my writing started. Go ahead, sling verbiage; churn through the topic at hand. This conversation about the morality of our shopping choices is a conversation this country desperately needs.

Here are more thing to consider.

Free trade and Fair Trade are not the same thing.

Free trade is when governments make agreements to trade with each other without imposing too many tariffs. Consider the ramifications of CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). If a company can make gizmos more cheaply in Guatemala than they can in the US and then import them for no or very low tariffs, it “makes more sense” to close the North American factory where workers were earning $14/hr, move the whole shebang to Guatemala City where people work for $1.25/hr.

What happens when that occurs?  Well, at first there’s more cash for the Guatemalan worker - but not enough to afford a decent life.

Children have enough to eat, 
go to school, have a real childhood
when their mothers work.

Families leave the rural areas where they were desperately poor and malnourished, but they had the support systems of relatives, friends, maybe some land on which to grow a little food. Now they have to live by cash, they can’t afford housing, childcare, or enough to eat. So they live in flimsy slums where life is a misery.

Meanwhile the U.S. worker is laid off.  He or she will probably eventually get another job but in today’s economy, it will probably pay less.  Now the North American worker’s strategy for survival is to buy cheaper things at cheaper places; i.e., the cheaper gizmos from Guatemala.

What just happened here? Who got richer?  Somebody out there is now raking in $12/hr profit on each hour the Guatemalan works.

There’s a phrase for this. “The rich get richer.”

Fair Trade is a global movement to bring dialogue, transparency and respect to  international trading.
  •   The person who makes the product should earn a livable wage.
  •   Kids don’t do the work.
  •   The environment is considered and protected in work processes.
You can learn a lot and see fabulous products from around the world at Fair Trade  According to their fact sheet, Fair Trade amounts to about $4.5 billion a year in international trade.

Few of us can afford the effort or cash it would take to research every shopping choice we make.  But all of us can understand this.  When we buy a Fair Trade item – somewhere in the world a worker has more work to do tomorrow to replace the item we bought today. If that work pays a living wage and is done in decent circumstances, we have helped to make the world better for someone else.

We love to talk about our values.  For most of us, the most frequent moral choices we make are where we will spend our money.  Fair Trade shopping is one option to put our money where are values are.

I’m stumped to understand why attempting to make the world a little better for hard-pressed people in very poor nations seems so aggravating to some.

(And for those who think this is a money-making opportunity for me – I and the others in town who host these sales all do so as volunteers.  I have a full-time job, this is extra.  So is the writing for it.)

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