Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Interracial Dialogue

I had an interesting conversation with a black man the other day. We were talking about the difficulties and challanges facing the black community in Racine and what could be done about things. It was an interesting conversation and I hope we will meet again.

I began to think about interracial dialogue. Most formal efforts to promote interracial dialogue tend to follow a script that goes something like this: The problems in the black community (income discrepencies, violence, unemployment, underperformance in school etc...) are caused primarily by white racism. The reason for the dialogue is to educate white people such that they understand their role in the problems facing black people. Successful dialogue will result in white people acknowledging their inner racist and resolving to overcome it so that racism and racist structures will be eliminated. At which time the problems in the black community will simply fade away.

I reject this analysis of the problems facing the black community. But by no means do I reject the importance of interracial dialogue. I would love to meet with any black people concerned about the issues facing the black community, so long as I am not required to follow the script.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ethnic Insensitivity at the Journal Times

WARNING!! The following news may be distressing for those of Welsh heritage. The culturally insensitive editorial writers at the Journal Times have just insulted all people of Welsh ancestry in a most egregious manner. In describing the Washington County Board's efforts to renege (sounds racially insensitive but isn't) on a promise, they instead used the very hurtful word "welsh" instead. The "county board two weeks ago welshed on a promise it made to pay $4 million to Cabela's Inc..." wrote the insensitive folks over at the JT.

The Washington County Board broke their promise to a company. What that has to do with the proud and decent people from Wales, I will never know.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. This from etymology.com: Welch: 1857, racing slang, "to refuse or avoid payment of money laid as a bet," probably a disparaging use of the national name Welsh.

Now the only remaining question is what punishment should be meted out to the Journal Times. Should they be shut down? Should they meet with local Welsh people to apologize? Should they attend sensitivity classes? Should FreeRacine readers picket outside the JT, carrying signs that read "I AM WELSH AND I KEEP MY PROMISES!!!"

Beware of "Savings"

Many have asked the question. If the PBCG consultants have saved $20 million, why do we need a referendum? Mystery solved.

Today's article in the JT inadvertantly provides the answer. The savings from changing health insurance providers went directly into teacher salaries. Thus, "savings" are not savings at all, at least not in the way ordinary people understand the word. "Savings" are merely transfers. The only difference is that now transfers cost taxpayers an additional 20%.

So, Unified could eliminate spending on textbooks, transfer the "savings" into an upgraded teachers lounge, and charge the taxpayers an additional 20%.

Thus, if the alleged "savings" of $20 million identified by PBCG is in fact merely a transfer of funds with a 20% surcharge, then the cost of the "savings" to taxpayers is $4 million.

Please Unified, we can no longer afford your "savings".

Republican Regulators Return

Hardly a week goes by before another business is targeted for more regulations by Republicans among our city council. So far, money lenders (Payday Loans), traders (pawn shops), landlords, and especially alcohol related businesses have been targeted for increased regulation. This week its round two, or three, or four against liquor license holders. Alderman David Mack, playing catch-up with fellow Republican regulator Greg Helding, has proposed mandating a camera system for all establishments that sell alcohol.

Alderman QA Shakoor (not a Republican) said "I don't want to see this put a burden on our businesses. Then again, what is the price of being in business?"

Though perhaps intended as a rhetorical question, I will nonetheless attempt an answer. The price of being in business is high in Racine and getting higher. Historically speaking, we can safely blame liberal Democrats for the high taxes and heavy regulatory burdens that have driven away many of our businesses. But increasingly, we can point to our liberal Republicans who continually shackle our businesses with more regulations.

Just once I would like to see one of our Republicans, or Democrats, seek to reduce the burden on businesses in Racine. I won't hold my breath

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Test Score Spin

The JT's headline that reads "Unified students show gains in math scores" is not a lie. But it hardly conveys the real story. Unified students continue to lag behind their peers in the state by a wide margin. Even more disturbing is that the test results indicate that the longer you stay in Unified, the less likely you are to be proficient or advanced in math or English. Maybe our truants are smarter than we think.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Business Lessons From 1954

Last summer I found a book at a garage sale entitled "Industries In Racine". It was written in 1954 by Alice Sankey, a public school teacher in Racine. The book was written for Racine's public school children.

One chapter, called Our Best Resources, focuses on manpower. The author cites a comparitive study of Racine's industrial output relative to other cities its size. The study concluded that "the quality of management shares with labor the credit for the high product-value rating (of Racine businesses), because the contribution of each is not seperable." Sankey continues "In other words, the skilled worker alone cannot make a success of an industry. Planners or leaders are needed to figure out the business end of the work, how to handle the money invested, spent, and taken in, and how to build up the business and make it grow and prosper."

The book provides a balanced look at the contributions of workers, management as well as lenders. This is important stuff for children to learn. I wonder what lessons are being taught about business today in our public schools. My guess is that their is a bias in favor of the worker and against management, owners and lenders.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ethical Dilemma

A women made a purchase at my store the other day. As per usual, the items were put in a bag and dressed up with colored tissue and ribbon, and our customer was on her way. About an hour later, the woman calls to tell us that some of the items that she purchased were not in the bag. We were unable to find the items in our store. What to do?

Question to Ponder

Which would be worse, to be hated or hate-filled, or to rephrase the question, to be a hatee or a hater? I will provide my own answer, hopefully after some readers will offer their own thoughts on the subject.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Official Hate Speech

It looks like Kay of blueracine.blogspot.com is giving Micheal McGee a run for his money. Here is an excerpt of her latest, a comment on the death of evangelist Jerry Falwell: "All's well that ends Falwell." Normally it would be best to ignore the hate-filled rantings on the blogs, but in this case it is important to note that Kay apparantly holds a statewide position with the Democratic Party. If I have read here blog correctly, she is the secretary for the first congressional district. If the Dems had any sense, they would remove her from office.

Praising Democrats

I went to the city council meeting last night for the hell of it. The only issue that generated debate was a proposal to lower or eliminate the fees for the use of Horlick Field by a mostly adult baseball team.

Apparently, the actual cost of maintaining Horlick Field has been estimated, by the city parks department, to be $168 per game. During last years budget wrangling, it was decided that adult teams would pay $80 per game (lights extra) and that junior teams would play for free. The $80 was a steep increase from previous years.

The initial proposal to waive or reduce the fee for one team only was, thankfully, shot down, but only by a narrow majority. And three Democrats, Mayor Becker, QA Shakoor, and Alderman Shields offered the most coherent arguments in favor of keeping a standard fee for all adult teams.

In the end, I believe they reduced the fee across the board to $30 per team, so you, dear reader, have just agreed to subsidize baseball even more than you were before.

On a related note, I wish someone had asked why it costs $168 per game to line the fields and cut the grass. I suspect that jobs like those could be put out for bid and considerable savings could be had.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Problem Avoidance

If you want to beautify a facade, find a good artist. If the facade is falling off the building, the artist can wait. Find an engineer.

Mayor Becker's idea of luring artists to Racine, at taxpayer expense, perfectly illustrates our self imposed political problem, that is, our refusal to confront real problems.

Would Racine need to pay artists to take up residence in Racine, for example, if Racine had a crime rate of zero? No, of course not.

So Racine and its political leaders continue avoid the real problems. Real problems are difficult to solve. It is not easy, politically or otherwise, to address the rot behind the facade. But we must, if we care about Racine.

Plot Thickens

Many bloggers are hailing Mark Lucas as a hero for exposing the rot that is Racine Unified. Not so fast, I say. Today's article in the JT suggests the possibility of a not so noble motive for his recent actions. It seems that Mr. Lucas and his best friend Bill Levin were about to be downsized out of their jobs. Mr Lucas failed to mention this when he wrote "I have no motivation in doing this other than to protect the district and community from what I believe to be unethical practices on the part of PBCG..." Hmmm.

My point here is not to trash Mr. Lucas. Perhaps his caims are entirely accurate. Perhaps his motivation is pure. But his failure to mention that a byproduct of his recent activism just might be to save his own behind, well, does little to enhance his credibility in my mind.

But I now must issue a disclaimer. My skepticism of Mr. Lucas is based entirely on an article written in the JT. The JT is an agenda driven newspaper. Who knows in what manner they are trying to manipulate their readers. If I have made unfair or mistaken judgements about Mr Lucas, I will be sure to apologize for them in the future.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Funding KRM

KRM (Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee) train advocates will tell you that the projects initial investment and the projected annual operating losses are nonetheless worth it because Racine will be a more wonderful place to live and therefore property values will rise and we will all be richer and happier as a result. Perhaps there is a way to allow KRM supporters to bet on their assumptions.

Suppose we allowed KRM supporters to agree to fund the project with an initial increase in THEIR property taxes. Once the project is paid off with their taxes, they could recoup their investment with their increased property values. To sweeten the pot, their property could be taxed at their pre-KRM value until their initial tax investment is paid off. Heck, we could even allow them to profit even further, as it is they who would be taking the risk.

Meanwhile, those who opt out of the voluntary KRM tax would not get a free ride. They would pay the full amount of taxes on their increasing housing values. They would have to pay the full fair for KRM usage (as opposed to the self-subsidized price for KRM investors), and they would be denied the additional profits that might accrue through tax breaks on increasing property values.

What I am proposing, absent the details, is a quasi-privatized train system, or to use a favorite local term, a public-private partnership. I understand that the notion of allowing individuals the option of selecting or rejecting government programs is both unusual (if not unheard of) and potentially troublesome. Our local peaceniks would love the option of not paying for military protection, for example.

The idea is perhaps a bit nutty. But is it any nuttier than thinking that one small industry, car rental companies, can foot the bill for this enormously expensive undertaking?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Harassing Landlords 2

According to US census data from 1960 onward, Racine's population maxed out in 1970 at 95,000 residents and has been in decline ever since. By 1980 we were down to 85,000, by 1990 we were down to 84,000, and we lost another 3,000 by 2000. Estimated population for 2005 was 79,000, meaning we have lost 16,000 residents since 1970.

The decline in residents has resulted in a surplus of housing. This in turn puts downward pressure on housing values. So we now have abundant amounts of cheap housing relative to the surrounding area. But the lure of low cost housing is still not enough to stop our population decline.

So we continue to have more houses than we have homeowners willing to live in them. This in turn leads to one of four less desireable outcomes. Either the excess homes will be abandoned, or they will be purchased by hopeful landlords, or the government will get in the housing business, or they will be razed. Of the four options for the surlus housing, landlord ownership seems least objectionable.

As such, it is not a wise strategy to blame landlords (and make their lives difficult) for the housing surplus in Racine. If we chase away landlords, we will not magically increase the numbers of owner-occupied homes in Racine. There is already ample opportunity for people to choose to buy a home in Racine and live in it. But as we see from the census data, more people are preferring to leave Racine than relocate here. Landlords are not the cause of this phenomenon, they are merely a symptom of it.

Racine is ideally located on Lake Michigan between two major cities. People are nonetheless voting with their feet and residing elsewhere. Rather than address the real reasons for this phenomenon, our local politicians prefer to scapegoat landlords, all the while ignoring their policy choices that are pushing our residents out the door.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Harassing Landlords

Alderman Helding is floating an idea to require an occupancy permit each time a new tenant moves into a rental unit in the city of Racine. I think this is a bad idea.

Like many proposals for more government, Alderman Heldings idea is well intentioned I am sure. But good intentions are insufficient. Good results are what is needed. So let us predict the likely consequences of Heldings proposal.

First, let us acknowledge that the quality of some rental units are obviously subpar. As such, interior inspections will likely find numerous code violations from chipped paint, leaky roofs, faulty wiring, etc... in some of these units. Correcting these deficiences will cost money. In many cases, they will cost alot of money, depending on the condition of the unit and the degree of enforcement sought by the city. And it would be wonderful if all of our housing was terrific inside and out. But I refuse to live in a fantasy world.

In the real world, and in some parts of our city, it is unlikely that a substantial investment in property will pay off for the landlord. If a landlord is required to spend $30,000 upgrading a unit, but the rents max out at $400 per month, what do you think will happen? If owning property in certain parts of our city becomes a losing venture, you can be sure that these landords will simply walk away from these properties. This policy proposal will result in a decline in the quality of our housing.

There are more problems with this proposal. The JT article on the subject notes that there are between 12,000 and 14,000 rental units in the city with a 30 to 40% turnover each year. Inspecting and reinspecting these units will require several more city employees. City employees salaries, health insurance and lifetime pension obligations are already a serious threat to our area. Adding more employees would compound our fiscal problems.

And finally, this proposal would just be another nuisance for honest business people. I know it is fashionable to insult landlords. Indeed the term landlord is hardly used any more, replaced more often that not with the derogatory "slumlord" moniker. Landlords are providing a service to our community. In general and at least, they are responsible for the maintanance of buildings that in many cases would otherwise be totally abandoned.

Harrassing landlords may be a wise political strategy for Alderman Helding and others, but it will ultimately harm the quality of housing in Racine.