Saturday, May 31, 2008

Teach or Bleach

Unified test scores continue a six year "fairly steady" decline and school officials are "scratching their heads" according to a JT article on the subject. Poverty and pigmentation are the apparent causes of the problematic test results. As such, the larger society should begin to redistribute our income and improve skin bleaching technology to improve test results. OK, that last sentence didn't come from the JT.

Or, if you find that objectionable, as I do, we can begin to question the apparent conclusion that minorities can't learn. Or, we could question whether government run schools should be the only option available to poor and or minority students. But I suspect we will are as unlikely to read about a skin bleaching program as we are to read a JT editorial advocating school vouchers. And it is minorities and the poor that are paying the greatest price.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Criticize a Child Today

In a commentary in today's Racine Journal Times, the founders of the REAL school responded to blog postings at the JT site. Neither the postings nor the subject of the postings was mentioned in the commentary.

What I found troubling about the commentary from two experienced educators was their stance on the criticism of students. "Criticism is not getting the child the help he or she needs. We need to stand up and stand by our children." And to "criticize, ridicule or stereotype is not helping to correct anything." As an aside, I would agree that ridiculing and stereotyping are not helpful. "If we expect the best from our children, we need to provide the best in terms of encouragement and reinforcement."

Is it not OK to criticize a student? Will a child be prepared for life if he or she never encounters criticism?

Sadly, education today is all about self esteem, whether warranted or not. Constant praise without firm criticism and discipline will create self absorbed, ill prepared prima donnas unable to accept or evaluate criticism from others.

Methinks some well deserved criticism might be constructive.

Leadership Needed

A few years ago, I saw in the distance a large group of people walking in my direction. They all were wearing the same tee shirt except for the lady in front who was carrying a clip board. As I got closer, I saw that the lady was wearing clothes with a Johnson Bank or other Johnson company logo on it. The people behind her were wearing Leadership Racine shirts. I was amused as I thought that these future leaders looked like dutiful followers to me.

I can agree with Leadership Racine in that we need leaders in the Racine area. But I have my doubts about this program.

Leadership Racine Advisory Board Chairman David Maack touted the program in today's Racine Journal Times. "The mission of Leadership Racine is to build community trusteeship of strong, diverse and knowledgeable leaders." This is done through a nine month program consisting of an orientation retreat, exposure to current community leaders, visits to non-profit agencies throughout the community, and group work on a sustainable project. Noteably absent from this program is any assessment, challenge, or criticism of our current leaders and or the paths they have taken thus far.

I do think that Leadership Racine participants have had some positive accomplishments, some of which were noted in the JT article. However, what is missing in my view is any evidence that the existing leaders in Racine, such as those that initiated Leadership Racine, are looking for anything other than followers to continue in their footsteps.

Racine does need leadership, that is for sure. But a leader must be willing to stand alone and to challenge the status quo. I see no evidence that Leadership Racine participants are being trained to do so.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Charity Chatter

Hardly a day goes by that I don't have someone entering my business seeking a donation for a worthy cause. If I could, I would give to large donations to everyone. But I can't.

Lately I have been responding to the unsolicited appeals for donations with unsolicited fund raising advice. For example, I tell them that I do fund raisers in hospitals, wherein I sell my wares and give a percentage to the hospital. This way I raise money for a good cause while also helping my business grow and prosper. If I just give too much away, my business will fail and both parties will suffer.

What frustrates me with local fund raising efforts is the lack of imagination. The typical formula is to hold an event for area elites, liquor them up and hope that they buy the items donated by local businesses. There is nothing wrong with this idea except that it is getting quite old and I suspect that some of our wealthier residents are probably experiencing charity fatigue.

There must be some better ideas out there. I have been wondering if I should tell donation soliciters to register their charity with my business and then send customers my way. I could keep track of their purchases and then send a percentage of the sale to the charity of their choice. Perhaps the money I lose by donating could be offset by additional customers motivated to help the cause of their choice. Maybe this could be a win win situation for my business and for local charities.

Any other ideas?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Assessing Assessments

I recently had my downtown property reassessed at $478,000, from $252,000. This seemed like a hefty increase, so I trecked down to the assessors office to look into the matter. I sat down with the assessor Ray who showed me some comparable properties and their values per square foot. Based on the comparisons he offered, I had nothing to complain about. But before leaving, I bought a list of all the Main and 6th Street property values.

So I have been walking up and down Main and 6th the last few days looking at properties. As I contemplate challenging my assessment, I find myself devaluing my own property relative to others when admittedly I would do just the opposite if I were trying to sell my building.

Anyway, though I can not be trusted to be objective here, I will nonetheless offer my observations. The thing that jumps out the most is that Jim Spodick and Mr. Choi are getting raked over the coals with their assessments. For example, the building at 515 6th Street, a three story, 20 foot wide building that houses Wilbur's, has an asseement of $454,000, while the building next door, also three stories and 20 feet wide, is valued at $190,000. Mr. Choi owns an eyesore on 6th, a vacant one story eyesore that used to be a music store, that has been valued at $348,000. Of course, if you paid $348,000 for an eyesore, it would be hard to argue that it is not worth $348,000.

On the low end of the spectrum is Porter's, though it takes up nearly the entire block, it is valued at only $560,000. Also very low is the former YMCA on 6th Street that houses the 6th Street Theatre and includes four storefronts. It is enormous yet is vauled at just $360,000. Most of the small buildings lining Main Street are modestly assessed.

My overall impression is that newly purchased buildings or newly renovated buildings are getting hammered while people who have owned property for a long time without renovating have artificially low assessments. Given what appears to be unequitable assessments, their is an incentive to hang on to properties and not update them. As usual, the city is doing things all wrong when it comes to redevelopment efforts. If anything, we should be assessing vacant decaying buildings somewhat higher, while not punishing development quite so much. I won't be holding my breath.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Carrots Please

My downtown property was just reassessed at a value of $478,000, from $252,000 a year ago. The main reason for this increase is that I invested in my building, converting a large empty space into two apartments. So starting next year, my property taxes will go nearly double to about $10,000. This increase will take a huge bite out of the profit I had hoped to gain by working and investing.

Now my point here is not merely to complain about my situation. Rather, it is to question our collective approach to development here in Racine.

If you look around Racine, you will notice a few things. You will notice areas where properties are in poor shape, ie low property value. You will also notice a near total absence of undeveloped areas, such as farms. As such, if Racine wants to increase its property tax base, it is imperative that existing properties be upgraded.

Presently, property owners who are allowing their properties to decline in value are subject to the property police, called UNIT, and their unconstitution fines masquerading as fees. Those who invest in their properties will be slammed with huge tax increases.

The city has a stick only approach to development. How about some carrots?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Predatory Taxpayers

Congratulations taxpayers. You are about to invest in the subprime commercial loan business.

County Executive Bill McRyneolds has proposed the use $250,000 or more from our reserves to "create a revolving loan fund to be used only by small businesses in Racine County." The county "would realize a return of 1.5 to 2 percent." "The borrowers may be people with poor credit histories, bankruptcies in their past or women disadvantaged by divorce" the Journal Times reports that McReynolds has said. "Naturally they're going to have defaults, but their default rate is not much bigger than a commercial bank from what I've been told."

By now we ought to know what happens when risky loans go belly up. The borrowers claim victim status and accuses the lender of predatory practices. That makes you, the taxpayer, the predatory lender.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Partisan Papers

Dustin Block at the Racine Post has written a commentary on the decline of the local newspaper and what to do about it. I won't quibble about what he has written, but I do think it is incomplete.

Dustin ignores the issue of the political ideology of the newspaper. Does this matter? I think it does.

Like it or not, there is a political divide in this country. This breaks down largely as a conservative/liberal or Democrat/Republican divide. People just see issues from different perspectives and this tends to impact a journalists work, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The vast majority of journalists for local newspapers (if the JT is any indication) tend to be liberals. The first order of business for a newspaper would be to recognize that fact and to recognize that they risk alienating or ignoring half of their potential customers. The obvious answer to this problem would be to actively seek out journalists that bring the perspective that is lacking. The JT has not done so and there is no indication that they even recognize the problem.

I suspect that Dustin also does not recognize the problem. For example, Dustin mentions health care a few times, suggesting that there should be local articles written about this national problem. Fair enough, but I have read several of Dustin's articles about health care problems and they tend to suggest that socialized medicine is the answer.

But does Dustin know that some people are greatly helped by Health Savings Accounts. Will we read that article in the Racine Post or the Racine Journal Times? I doubt it.

So I will make my story available to the Journal Times or the Racine Post. I can tell them how I save over ten thousand dollars every year. I can offer that local angle on a national issue, only it is not something that liberals like very much. Will either the Journal Times or the Racine Post put aside partisan ideology and write a story about HSA's? We shall see.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tolerate my Intolerance

Do liberals understand how silly it is to demand tolerance and acceptance? "Children should be taught tolerance and acceptance" according to JT letter writer Jennifer Feuker who was responding to previous letters concerning issues relating to homosexuality. Feuker was very critical of the sentiments, real or imagined, of letter writer Barbara Kortendick, going so far as to call Kortendick "obviously ignorant" and to suggest that Kortendick believes in a hate-filled God.

Now how exactly do I follow Feuker's tolerance and acceptance mandate? If I am to be tolerant and accepting, don't I have to tolerate and accept both Feuker and Kortendick's viewpoints?

Like most liberals, Feuker does not really believe in tolerance and acceptance. What Feuker and other liberals want is for you to tolerate and accept their viewpoints while rejecting (neither tolerating or accepting) opposing viewpoints.

I won't stand for that hypocrisy and if you have a problem with that you should learn to tolerate, accept and even celebrate my point of view.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Just Wondering

If America got what it deserved on 9-11 for its alleged terrorism, (Hiroshima etc..) what do white Americans deserve for the undeniable crimes of slavery and lynchings?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Silence No More

Park High School senior Uriel Gomez, a gay male, has been nominated for prom queen. But Park activities director says "No, don't do it."

Have we learned nothing from Horlick's day of silence? LGBT kids are getting bullied right here, right now by the patriarchal, intolerant administration at Park. If a boy wants to be a queen and his fellow students elect him queen, then so be it. Gender is just a social construct anyway, right?

Don't let them get away with this kids. Organize a march to district headquarters. Call the ACLU. How about some civil disobedience? A sit-in perhaps. Use your imagination kids, but don't be silent in the face of this discrimination.

Our current prom is exclusive, hierarchical, classist, elitist, racist, homophobic, conservative, intolerant, sexist, Eurocentric, you name it. Now is the time to change it! It is time to have a more inclusive prom court, with boy queens and girl kings and transgender, uh, keens and quings and multiple kings and queens for the bisexuals. But why stop there? We could have visiting king and queen courts to celebrate the diversity offered by our underdocumented students. How about a Green Queen? The possibilities are endless.

Go for it kids!