WI Newspaper Uncovered Deaths Of Migrant Workers, Chicago Tribune Faces Hedge Fund Owner

This is one of those days when the news, and news of the ones who provide that information make for a timely, but sad, post.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel undertook an investigation into the deaths of migrant workers in Northern Wisconsin from COVID. They discovered that 1 in 14 migrant workers at a green bean plant died of COVID. The investigation also shows that the deaths occurred after company officials along with government regulators failed to take critical measures to protect employees during a pandemic.

Before I go forward with the story about the migrants I want it noted that a newspaper did the investigation. It underscores another reason why that profession matters. Very much.

The Journal Sentinel investigation shows that neither Seneca Foods nor local health officials tested all workers—even those living in company barracks — or interviewed them to do contact tracing. That is simply appalling, given the ferocity of the virus and the science behind both testing and tracing. As if that all is not enough it was also reported that the company did not monitor for obvious symptoms or isolate all those who became ill.

To top off the indefensible actions of one of America’s largest packaged vegetable companies, which produces Green Valley and Libby’s brand green beans it was reported that many of the affected workers were in their 60s or 70s.

That newspaper investigation demonstrates why reporters and journalists in that profession matter so much to our society. Information and background that we otherwise would not be aware of, and insight into the workings of a large corporation during a pandemic.

But as that news was being published in Wisconsin there was another news story taking place across the Illinois border.

Tribune Publishing, owner of some of the biggest metropolitan newspapers in the United States, including the famed Chicago Tribune, is poised to be acquired by a hedge fund with a reputation for slashing costs and cutting jobs after the company’s shareholders voted to approve the deal.

That news is simply awful.

Hedge funds are akin to those who once sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. It also should come as no shock Alden has done great harm to other papers around the nation. Chopped them up after purchasing for the all-consuming zeal to make money.

But there is also a more fundamental issue to consider with the amassing of properties in large media companies. When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down.

The Tribune newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30% since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs, but news reporters who head around neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers.

Today we can see why newspapers matter. And also why we need to be very concerned about their future health.

27,000 Pages Of Emails Outline Politics In Scott Walker’s World

This is the day that many have been waiting for, and in the hours to come more details will be made known about the inner workings of the political operation that took place when Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive.

A Wisconsin state appeals court has now released 27,000 pages of emails and hundreds of other previously sealed documents collected during a criminal investigation into a former aide to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.  The documents include emails Kelly Rindfleisch sent while working as Walker’s deputy chief of staff in Milwaukee.  Rindfleisch was convicted of a felony for doing campaign work on government time, and that also mean on the taxpayer’s dime, for Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis.

There is no way to know what will be found in the documents, or what political harm might take place as a result.  But there are nuggets of interest for people of all political stripes.

We also need to be mindful that Walker faces an additional inquiry from state prosecutors, who are believed to be looking into whether his successful 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with independent conservative groups.

The day before Scott Walker was elected governor in 2010, a judge expanded the secret investigation to four more of his top aides, thousands of pages of documents released Wednesday show.

The documents reveal Nov. 1, 2010, was a busy day for investigators and prosecutors in the case.

They conducted raids at Walker’s Milwaukee County executive office, his campaign office and the homes of several of his aides, including Kelly Rindfleisch. Those details spilled out Wednesday after a Court of Appeals judge ordered the unsealing of about 27,000 emails to and from Rindfleisch, as well as 434 pages of search warrants, affidavits and a hearing transcript.

At the request of Milwaukee County prosecutors, John Doe Judge Neal Nettesheim enlarged the probe that day to include Rindfleisch, his deputy chief of staff, and three other top aides in the Milwaukee County executive’s office — Tom Nardelli, his chief of staff; Fran McLaughlin, his spokeswoman; and Dorothy Moore, his scheduler.

Which State Legislative Leader Is Subject Of New John Doe Probe?

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Just when it looked like the dust was settling comes news that there is a continuing probe into political chicanery.

A former top-level assistant U.S. attorney has been appointed a special  prosecutor in a burgeoning, secret investigation into a wide variety of state  issues, including possible campaign violations during the recent recall  elections, multiple sources said.

Francis Schmitz — who spent nearly 30 years as a federal prosecutor  and was once a finalist for U.S. attorney in Milwaukee — is leading  the widespread John Doe probe, according to sources.

Overseeing the case is Kenosha County Circuit Judge Barbara A.  Kluka, who has been used by Milwaukee County judicial officials in past John  Doe cases.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, whose  office initiated the probe, declined to answer questions about the John Doe on  Friday. Insiders said the investigation covers several jurisdictions, including  Dane County. Police and prosecutors in these other counties have been lending a  helping hand.

“It’s now spread to at least five counties,” said a source familiar with the  probe, adding that Landgraf has been investigating “all over the place.”

It appears the state-related case opened in February 2012, meaning it was  active at the same time as the one focusing on Walker’s county aides.

However, several sources said they became aware of the newer probe only in  the past month and that much of the recent activity has taken place in  Madison.

Sources familiar with the probe told the Journal Sentinel that it was  scrutinizing a wide variety of state-related issues, including the recall races.  Sources suggested the probe is looking at a current legislative leader and the  governor’s contest.

“This is activity that occurred since the 2010 election,” said a source.

The legislative leader did not return calls on Sunday.

Emily Mills, Madison Freelance Writer, Starts Column In Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

I am really pleased to know that Emily Mills, a well-known and much-respected Madison writer is now able to see her ideas published in a major Wisconsin newspaper.  How cool is that?!  Her writings will appear on the opinion page of the paper.

In Mills’ first column she nailed the issue of health care, and in part wrote the following.

How can we, as Americans, call ourselves a developed nation when millions of  our citizens still can’t afford even basic levels of care? The current model of  for-profit health insurance automatically spells disaster for too many people,  and not even just those in the lowest income brackets. For instance, my family  was once bankrupted by medical bills even though we had a fairly standard  insurance plan and a solid middle-class life. The edge is scarily close for most  folks, and it’s growing closer all the time.

And we’re stuck dealing with leaders such as Gov. Scott Walker  (R-Presidential hopeful), who opted to turn down about $4.4 billion (through  2020) in federal funds for a Medicaid expansion, deciding instead to go for a  hybrid approach that tightened income requirements for the state-run system and  left everyone else to the private exchange market. That means that a family of  four with a yearly income of just $23,550 is no longer eligible for low-to-no  cost coverage under state programs. They will instead need to buy insurance on  the exchanges and hope that the associated federal subsidies will be enough to  make them affordable.

I’m trying to imagine supporting a family of four on so little money, let  alone factoring in health insurance costs. It’s difficult enough for an  individual making that much money to support themselves, let alone three other  people. Contrary to what certain big fast food chains seem to think, simply not  paying your heat bill isn’t really an option.

So what do you do?

Wisconsin now holds the rather dubious distinction of leading the nation in  the number of low-income people it’s kicking off its Medicaid rolls.

This isn’t just a moral issue, though I’d argue that is the most important  consideration. The seemingly visceral hatred by some on the right for anything 

Tea Party Should Sink Teeth Into Wisconsin’s Scott Jensen Mess

The Tea Party in Wisconsin has their hands full these days while working to take control of Congress this fall, repealing the health care bill, and finding  a candidate that will be able to replace President Obama in 2012.  Given all those tasks ahead of them it is not fair for me to request they add another item to their agenda.  But I must ask with all sincerity for help from the Tea Party since neither the Democratic or Republican Party has been able to energize the state citizens about the never-ending quest for justice when it comes to Scott Jensen.  If there has ever been an example where both parties dropped the ball in demanding justice it has occurred with the Jensen matter.  No one wants to dig that issue up and remind the voters of what takes place at the Statehouse.  That lack of candor is not how it should be, and that is why the Tea Party can play a positive role.

Let me be clear about this.  I am sincere.  While I have had less than cheerful things to say about the Tea Party in the past, I have had even less patience for the political hi-jinks and legal back-flips of Scott Jensen, the former Republican Speaker of the Assembly.  Everyone should be upset after reading the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this weekend.  The lead paragraph should just rankle the voters.

More than seven years after former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen was charged with misconduct in office, it is unclear who will prosecute him – and when.

How many in the state could be so lucky?  How many have a war chest to fend off the law?  How many have access to the legal levers and those who know how to pull them?  Is this the way the civics class you took in high school presented the political culture? Why should a political official accused of crimes have access to greater resources in order to delay his day in court?

The problem is that no one seems to care about the Scott Jensen case.  Every now and then a lone article will surface in a newspaper about Jensen, and the failure of justice to be conducted in a timely fashion.  A couple blogs write on the topic, some talk about it over a beer after work near the Capitol.  But there is no mention of Jensen in political campaigns as no candidate wants to remind the voters of the corrupt system that swirled under the Capitol dome, and where rumors tell of it still existing in spite of ‘reforms’.  The culture that allowed for Scott Jensen to operate freely while in office seems also to be the one that allows for his serene life to continue after some serious charges were filed against him….seven years ago!

Which leads me to the Tea Party.  Let me admit that whatever else I have said about this group of people they know how to make headlines. They have made that very clear over the past year.   That is why I want them to latch onto the issue of Scott Jensen and help educate the state about the illegal political activities he engaged in, his use of taxpayer paid staff to create an unfair advantage for his party, and his artful use of the legal system to escape justice.

The Tea Party has proven they can use tough-guy talk against issues in Washington, but the Scott Jensen case that is lodged in Wisconsin between failed politics and legal stretches screams to be righted, and so needs their voice.  While the legal safeguards are in place to ensure that a defendant has the right to pursue all the routes for a fair trial and due legal process, there is also the need for the state to see justice not perverted by legal slickness.   If there is truth to the claim that those in the Tea Party think common sense should be applied again to the political process than Scott Jensen is the issue  to work on in Wisconsin.

If the Tea Party wants to sink their teeth into something that truly merits political anger it is the Scott Jensen mess in Wisconsin.

Gun Crimes Will Continue Thanks To Feds Soft Touch For Badger Guns In West Milwaukee

This story is simply unbelievable.   Last year I posted on the crimes and problems that resulted from Badger Guns in West Milwaukee.  There was one simple remedy for the problem.  Shut the business down that had caused the wounding of police officers, and numerous other killings and crimes.  Instead of closing Badger Guns for all the rational reasons that most of my readers can understand given the history involved, there was a series of  smooth moves by the owners that allows gun crimes and deaths to continue.  After reading this news story I know you will agree that there are some loop-holes in the laws and regulations that need tightening.  How many more wounded police officers will be needed before society says to Badger Guns ‘enough is enough’?

Federal investigators recommended revoking the license of Badger Outdoors gun shop after a 2006 inspection – a rare move that could have closed the West Milwaukee business, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

But there was no revocation and the store remains open, operating as Badger Guns. Federal records show the license recommended for revocation was voluntarily relinquished, the players inside the operation took on new roles and a new license was issued, creating what one federal official called a “clean slate” for the store.

Badger Guns came under intense scrutiny in the past year after two Milwaukee officers were shot with a gun purchased there. Over the past two years, six Milwaukee officers in all were wounded by people using guns purchased from Badger Guns or Badger Outdoors.

Badger Outdoors and later Badger Guns have sold the bulk of crime guns recovered by police in Milwaukee for at least the past decade, according to records obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

And federal court records since 2004 for eastern Wisconsin show three-quarters of straw buyer criminal cases – where someone with a clean record buys a gun for a felon – involved purchases from Badger Guns or Badger Outdoors.

Following the 2006 inspection, after which revocation was recommended, several changes were made, according to federal documents and officials.

They included:

• Milton “Mick” Beatovic, 63, vice president and co-owner of Badger Outdoors, told officials during the November 2006 inspection that he was retiring. He gave up the license the following year. A corporation controlled by Beatovic still owns the building and is the landlord, receiving rent payments from the business.

• Walter Allan, 56, the president and other owner of Badger Outdoors, became an employee at Badger Guns.

• Adam Allan, a longtime Badger Outdoors employee and son of Walter Allan, took out a new license. Federal documents show the 28-year-old had little knowledge of the store’s management prior to the changeover. The store name became Badger Guns, but little else changed at the operation on S. 43rd St. Badger Guns pays rent to Beatovic’s corporation.

The moves not only halted the revocation process but also erased violations found by federal regulators over 17 years at Badger Outdoors – which had been the top seller of crime guns not just in Milwaukee but the nation in 2005 with 537 such guns, according to records from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act.

The rankings revealed that a tiny percentage of gun dealers sell a majority of crime guns. Congress then sharply restricted release of the information behind the rankings. Congress also forbade ATF from revealing what violations it finds at gun stores. (See related story, 1A.)

In the case of Badger Outdoors, all the violations found by ATF over the years were blacked out in 400 pages of documents released to the newspaper.

But in an interview, a top ATF official said inspectors found “inventory discrepancies” during the November 2006 inspection and added that his agency doesn’t recommend revocation for minor violations.

ATF inspectors treat problems in a gun store’s inventory records seriously because those records are their tool for tracking guns, according to experts and a federal judge, who recently upheld the revocation of a Washington state gun dealer.

“This is a serious problem because those weapons are not accounted for,” wrote U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez of that gun store’s inventory record problems.

In the instance of Badger Outdoors, Beatovic said his decision to give up the license, sell the business and retire to Arizona had nothing to do with the problems found in the November 2006 inspection, which he called “paperwork stuff.” He said he knew nothing about the recommended revocation.

Sarah Palin Speech Habits Studied By University Of Wisconsin

I was away for part of the weekend, and so missed this story on Saturday.  Our friend Henry Dudek would have loved to read this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  In March 2006 he wrote about the over-all topic in this email to us.

EVERYONE has an accent.  It’s just a question of what it is.  The fact that it might be the most widely used dialect of American Standard English –the usual standard for broadcast media — doesn’t mean that it’s not a particular accent.  Every speaker has his own idiolect, shares a dialect/accent with others, and has certain basic traits in common with all other (American) English speakers.  I remember how my relatives in Detroit always laughed at our “accent” when they came to visit, while we laughed at theirs!  Everyone thinks his own usage is “English” and everyone else’s is an accent.

With that in mind comes the article from over the weekend.

When Sarah Palin burst onto the national political stage, there was a lot of talk about her distinctive way of talkin’, you betcha.

Heck, she moved to Alaska when she was too young to speak and grew up in the small town of Wasilla, but doggone it, why did she talk like someone from the movie “Fargo”?

Three University of Wisconsin linguists tackled the conundrum in a research article to be published in the Journal of English Linguistics next month. The answer lies in something that happened in the 1930s.

During the presidential campaign, almost every aspect of Palin’s life, including how she talked, was dissected by everyone from curious voters to political pundits. Many noted that for someone who grew up in Alaska, she talked a lot like she had been raised in Michigan, Wisconsin or Minnesota.

The UW researchers said people living in Alaska’s Matanuska and Susitna valleys, where Wasilla is located, are largely descendants of farmers who moved there in the 1930s from the Upper Midwest. More than 200 farm families moved to the Wasilla area in 1935 as part of a government program to start a new farming community.

“Everybody’s ear was basically right, but there’s a little complexity there that you don’t get until you go through and hack through it systematically,” said Joe Salmons, director of UW’s Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures. He wrote the paper along with UW linguistics professors Thomas Purnell and Eric Raimy after they parsed the 7,640 words Palin spoke during the 2008 vice presidential debate.

While Palin has the expected Upper Midwestern speech patterns, she also has what Salmons called “screaming hallmarks of western speech.”

For example, Palin pronounces the word “feel” like “fill” and “peel” like “pill.” They found that she dropped the -ing at the end of words nearly 12% of the time, said the words “darn” and “heck” two times each, referred to her grandmother as “gramma” and offered a “shout out” to a third-grade class in Alaska.

That type of informal speech is jarring to listeners attuned to hearing formal political talk and led many to question whether Palin was doing it for effect, Purnell said.

“This is a situation where you really expect someone to be using the most formal grammar,” Salmons said.


Badger Guns In West Milwaukee Should Be Forced Out Of Business

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a shocker of a statement as a lead-in to their story on guns.  “Sales often tied to crime.”  Who would ever have thought that possible from a store that sells guns?  I am not chiding the newspaper, as the story they write is accurate, and timely.  The idea however that we are still needing to have these type of stories reported is what I find disturbing.  The gun culture is very much alive and deadly as ever in Wisconsin, and part of the reason for that are those who make blood money by selling weapons. 

When you read the following I am confident that will feel some anger.  Be mindful that there is nothing wrong with righteous anger. 

What is allowed to happen with Badger Guns impacts our society as a whole.  If there was raw sewage being thrown into the streets by this business steps would be taken to remedy the matter.  If an outbreak of a deadly communicable disease occurred within their doors the city would step in and act immediately.  Therefore there is no reason that the public should need to endure the blood and pain that is caused by this business through their gun sales anymore.  Enough is enough!

Badger Guns, and its predecessor, Badger Outdoors, have accounted for roughly one-third of all crime guns traced by Milwaukee police in the past four years, the data shows. No other store in the state comes close to that figure. The next closest, The Shooters Shop in West Allis, accounted for less than 3% of guns traced by Milwaukee police during the same period.

A total of 1,880 crime guns recovered in Milwaukee were linked to Badger between January 2006 and Sept. 1 – or more than one a day, according to a Journal Sentinel analysis.

Badger isn’t just the biggest seller of crime guns in Milwaukee, but among the biggest in the nation. Badger Outdoors was one of the top sellers a decade ago and was No. 1 as of 2005, according to federal data. Congress has since forbidden the release of such rankings.

Badger Outdoors went out of business in 2007 but was reopened as Badger Guns in August of that year by a longtime employee of Badger Outdoors. Besides the name change, the operation remains largely the same at the gun shop on S. 43rd St.

The department’s operation at Badger kicked off two days after Milwaukee police Officers Graham Kunisch and Bryan Norberg were shot in June. The gun used to shoot the officers was purchased at Badger Guns a month earlier by a straw buyer, according to prosecutors. That shooting came less than two years after a different pair of officers were shot in November 2007 with a gun from Badger Outdoors.

During the 11-week operation, Milwaukee police:

• Discovered felons use Badger’s shooting range for target practice. In one case, store employees rented a gun to a felon to shoot. Another felon had a shooting “range pass card” in his pocket showing he had shot at Badger previously. Store employees check driver’s licenses but not criminal histories of shooters.

• Seized 12 guns from felons and others leaving the store. They arrested nine felons for possessing guns, seven for carrying a concealed weapon and four on drug charges. Eight people have been charged so far as a result of the sweep.

• Spotted felons frequently going in the store or waiting outside. Felons are banned from possessing guns, but probation agents do not routinely require felons to stay out of gun stores such as Badger. Police and prosecutors say that should change.

Police Chief Edward Flynn said he learned how many guns from Badger were ending up in violent crimes when he became chief nearly two years ago. After the officers were shot, Flynn ordered up a plan to target illegal gun buys at Badger.

“I had an enough-is-enough moment,” Flynn said. “They know to whom they are selling, they know what is happening with their product, they know citizens in Milwaukee are dying, and they don’t care.”