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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Statewide Smoking Ban Still Popular

Bars remain the sticking point

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Although the statewide smoking ban was held up in the state Legislature this past session, it still seems to be popular among voters. A just-released survey from Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and St. Norbert College found that 41% of respondents want a complete ban, now.

Another 11% want a complete ban, but say that bars should be exempted for two years after the ban is implemented; 16% say bars should be permanently exempted. The smoking status of taverns appears to be the main reason for opposition to the ban. Of the 30% of respondents who said that a smoking ban should not be passed at all, nine out of 10 cited taverns as the reason why. Yet a full 70% of ban opponents would support nonsmoking public buildings.

Obama Still Leads in Wisconsin:
The same WPR/St. Norbert poll found that Sen. Barack Obama is still strong in the state. He beat Sen. Hillary Clinton 58%- 41% in the Feb. 19 primary. According to the survey, he beats Sen. John McCain in a head-to-head matchup 46%-42%. Yet McCain beats Clinton by the same margin. The survey sampled 400 respondents between March 25 and April 5.

Catholic Church in Crisis:
Just before Pope Benedict arrived in the United States and apologized for the child sex abuse scandal, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was still contending with the financial impact of the crisis. The Business Journal reported that the archdiocese would lay off about 24 employees beginning May 2. The paper said the vicar for local Hispanic parishioners, the director of the John Paul II Center and the priest overseeing the prison ministry will be cut, among others. Church officials said they hope that volunteers and current staffers will fill the gap. The archdiocese is also hoping to sell its headquarters, the Cousins Center in St. Francis, to help pay its bills.

Smile, You’re on YouTube:
YouTube isn’t just for toilet-flushing cats anymore. The Milwaukee Police Department is now uploading surveillance videos to allow anyone with Internet access to help them identify criminals. The MPD has posted a Mobil gas station robbery, from beginning to end. To check it out, go to www.youtube.com/milwaukeepolice.

Another Reason to Conserve Energy:
We Energies raised its electric rates again because of the high cost of fuel, including natural gas and diesel. The utility raised rates at the beginning of 2008 to account for higher fuel costs and the expenses incurred while doing business, including expanding the coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek. The newest rate hike will add another $2.24 to the average individual’s bill each month. Too bad we can’t pass along this cost to someone else…

Bonobo Update:
The Milwaukee Zoological Society’s Dr. Gay Reinartz is currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo to conduct more research on the elusive bonobo, the great ape that’s threatened by poachers and loss of its natural habitat. She and her crew are collecting data with the hope of expanding their research area. They’re also delivering school supplies to the literacy school at Etate, their research station, and checking out the progress of a U.S. Embassy-supported agricultural co-op program in the area. The trip is going well, and we’re happy to report that flooding isn’t as bad as it was during her trip last fall, which Reinartz documented in her popular “Dispatches from the Congo” series in the Shepherd.

Parks Celebration:
The Milwaukee County Parks system is combining Earth Day and Arbor Day in this weekend’s “In Celebration of Trees” in Whitnall Park. Festivities include guided hikes between Boerner Botanical Gardens and the Wehr Nature Center, and free native shrubs are available while supplies last. The celebration will be held Saturday, April 19, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday, April 20, from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, go to www.boernerbotanicalgardens.org.

Random Digits:
On the heels of computer security lapses by government offices, Gov. Jim Doyle is mandating that state agencies stop using Social Security numbers to identify individuals (unless those numbers are mandated by federal or state law). Instead, the state will develop random ID numbers to safeguard one’s identity.

In 2008 alone, almost 300,000 people had their Social Security numbers mistakenly disclosed due to security lapses by a private contractor connected to Medicaid and the state Department of Revenue.

National Day of Action for Immigration:
Pro-immigration marches stunned Milwaukee—and the rest of the world—in two enormous May 1 marches in 2007 and 2006 to call for sane, comprehensive immigration reform. Those efforts died in the U.S. Congress, thanks to some hard-liners like Rep. James Sensenbrenner.

This year’s May 1 march will also draw huge numbers, we predict. The 2008 rally will call on the presidential candidates to make good on their promises to solve the immigration problem in a way that’s fair to families, employers and workers from all countries. Representatives from immigrants groups, labor and employers will be on hand to explain how the federal government’s “no-match” letters adversely impact workers and employers. They’ll also call for an end to workplace raids and racial profiling. For more information, go to www.vdlf.org.

Human Rights Torch Relay:
Human rights supporters have been trying to interfere with the Olympic flame’s global tour. The worldwide headlines have helped to boost awareness of China’s poor track record on human rights, especially in Tibet. But there’s an alternative way to show your support for Tibetans and others who are suffering under Chinese repression—the Human Rights Torch Relay, a “global grassroots” campaign developed to raise awareness of China’s crackdown in Tibet, arrest of 1,878 Falun Gong followers, persecution of Christians and support of corrupt regimes in Myanmar and the Darfur region of Sudan.

On Saturday, April 19, at 11 a.m., the torch will be in Madison. Olympian Casey FitzRandolph, state Rep. Joe Parisi and members of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, Wisconsin Tibetan Association, Falun Gong and Students for a Free Tibet will participate. For more information, go to www.humanrightstorch.org.

Iraq Moratorium:
Help to end the Iraq war by taking action on Friday, April 18, as part of the nationwide Iraq Moratorium. Gather from 5 to 6 p.m. at the corner of Water Street and Wisconsin Avenue to make your voice heard.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

Photo: SKELLY’S RESTAURANT By Alessandra Klck

"I've always enjoyed the slowly deteriorating advertisements painted on the outside of some of the older buildings in Milwaukee. This photograph was taken in downtown Milwaukee and is a prime example of one that has weathered fairly well."

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