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Proposal: Revoke licenses for repeat drunken drivers

Wanggaard

MADISON — Wisconsin lawmakers will soon consider a bill that would strip repeat drunken drivers of their licenses for at least a decade. The Assembly passed the bill last session but it didn’t get a floor vote in the Senate. Some key things to know about the legislation:

What’s the problem?

State Department of Transportation data shows that one-third of the state’s drunk-driving convictions in 2015 — the most recent data available — were repeat offenders. Put another way, the 221,576 repeat offenders were more than twice the population of Green Bay.

About 52,000 convictions were for a third offense. Nearly 2,800 were for a seventh offense or more.

Why here?

Alcohol is ingrained in the state’s heritage and traditions. After all, Milwaukee’s major league baseball team is nicknamed the Brewers after that city’s brewing history. The state’s drunken driving laws are relatively lax; Wisconsin is the only state, for example, that treats a first offense as a traffic ticket rather than a criminal transgression. Efforts to toughen drunken driving laws have largely failed amid concerns about increasing court and incarceration costs and pushback from the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin.

Isn’t revocation already available?

Yes, but only for limited periods that generally range from several months to three years.

What would the bill do?

The DOT would be required to permanently revoke the license of anyone caught driving drunk four or more times. The agency also would have to permanently revoke the license of anyone who commits two or more drunken driving offenses and two or more convictions for serious crimes involving a vehicle. People who lose their license would have to wait 10 years before they could apply for a new one.

What happened last session?

The last bill instituted permanent revocation at five or more offenses. No groups registered against it, the Wisconsin Tavern League supported it and the Assembly passed it on a voice vote, a procedure used for noncontroversial legislation. The Senate’s transportation committee passed the proposal but it never got a floor vote in that chamber. GOP Sen. Van Wanggaard, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor then, is trying again.

The pros

Wanggaard says the state has to do something to curb repeat drunken driving and he doesn’t know what else to try “short of locking them up and throwing the key away.” He says drunken drivers must face consequences for their actions because “it doesn’t take much and somebody’s dead.”

The bill’s prospects

It’s up for a public hearing in the Senate judiciary committee on Tuesday. Wanggaard chairs that panel, and a hearing signals progress. The City of Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and the Wisconsin Troopers Association all have registered in favor of the bill. No groups have registered against it. Tavern league lobbyist Scott Stenger said he hadn’t seen the bill but the league supports any legislation to curb repeat offenses. It’s unclear what Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate think about it, though. Aides for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who could have brought last session’s bill to the floor but didn’t, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos didn’t reply to email messages.

Other ideas

Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. Jim Ott have introduced bills to create a five-year minimum prison sentence for homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle; raise the minimum incarceration period for fifth and sixth offenses from six months to 18 months; and prohibit all repeat offenders and first-timers with a blood-alcohol percentage of 0.15 or greater from driving without an ignition interlock device, which prevents a car from starting if it detects a certain alcohol level in a driver. The interlock bill passed the Assembly in May. All three measures are up for a public hearing in Wanggaard’s judiciary committee on Tuesday as well.


UW-La Crosse's Nick Holcomb attempts to bring down a long pass against Luther College's Damon Stroup during Saturday's game at Veterans Memorial Field. Stroup was called for pass interference.


What is North Korea's Kim Jong Un trying prove with H-bomb?

TOKYO — North Korea put on an extraordinary two-part show of its nuclear ambitions Sunday, releasing photos of leader Kim Jong Un next to what it described as a H-bomb for an ICBM, then actually detonating a device in its sixth and by far most powerful nuclear test to date.

The underground test, a major nose-thumb at Washington, Beijing and all of the North’s neighbors, follows an intense few months that have seen Kim launching missiles at record clip and in ways that are much more provocative than usual.

It was almost certainly intended to get under the skin of one man in particular: U.S. President Donald Trump, whose first salvo back, in a tweet, was: “North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”

Indeed.

Here’s a closer look at what the North did Sunday, and some of the possible reasons why.

The morning teaser

Bright and early, North Korea’s state media started posting photos of Kim visiting the country’s Nuclear Weapons Institute to see what state media described as “a signal turn in nuclear weaponization.”

A front-page story in the ruling-party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried photos of Kim watching a shiny, peanut-shaped device it said was a hydrogen bomb designed to be mounted into the North’s new “Hwasong-14” intercontinental ballistic missile. The North’s official news agency, KCNA, also released the photos, which were clearly intended to be seen by a global audience.

Whether the North can make a nuclear warhead small and light enough to put on top of a long-range missile has long been a matter of heated debate among foreign experts. This was clearly an attempt to address those doubts. The North in July had demonstrated for the first time that it has — or is very close to having — an operational ICBM, though experts still believe it could at best reach Chicago and will probably require another year or two to perfect.

The photos created a stir among missile and nuclear weapons experts on Twitter, with the general consensus being that the design appeared to look about right for a sophisticated thermonuclear warhead. The peanut shape is created by two rounded “stages” within the device that give it an extra boost and a far higher yield than simpler nuclear bombs.

The state media reports stressed that the bomb was made with domestic parts and workmanship, suggesting that more could be made without outside experts or imports.

Biggest blast yet

Before North Korea watchers had a chance to digest that photo dump, the seismographs started recording a big tremor at about 12:30 p.m. North Korea time.

Ground motion is a great indicator of an underground nuclear test, and sometimes the only one. North Korea has proven itself adept at masking other telltale signs, such as the leakage of radioactive materials. The power of the blast, its location at the North’s nuclear testing site and the shallow epicenter left little doubt.

North Korea has repeatedly stated that it will continue to pursue nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. because it sees that strategy as its only protection against what it believes is a hostile superpower bent on regime change or possibly outright invasion.

To that end, it must test its weapons to both perfect technologies and dispel doubts. Sunday’s test went a long way toward doing that.

Although it doesn’t prove a nuclear warhead can be fitted onto the Hwasong-14, thermonuclear devices can be lightweight and still produce tremendously high yields. The device that was detonated on Sunday is believed to have a much bigger yield than anything the North has ever demonstrated before — possibly 70 kilotons according to Japan’s defense minister.

That’s far more than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima (15 kilotons) and Nagasaki (around 20).

A curtain raiser

Starting with the launches of two ICBMs in July that are believed to have the range to strike the U.S. mainland, North Korea has been far more aggressive in its military activities over the past few months than usual.

It’s possible Kim Jong Un — feeling either threatened or emboldened by Trump — has decided to hurry to get that nuclear deterrent his country is after.

But tensions on the Korean Peninsula rise every year in the spring and late summer, when the U.S. and South Korea hold annual military exercises.

North Korea has stated it is, at least in part, responding to Washington’s decision to hold the exercises, which ended last week. It has also protested a new round of sanctions recently approved by the U.N. and the repeated dispatch of B-1B bombers from the island of Guam to the skies of South Korea — a show of force from Washington to reassure allies in Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korea’s state media reported that Kim said the launch of an intermediate range missile over Japan just a week ago was a “curtain-raiser” for more activity ahead.

Sunday’s test would certainly fit that bill.

But it will almost certainly raise the curtain on something else — a tougher response, either in sanctions, diplomatic isolation or a bolstered U.S. military presence — that Kim and his top lieutenants will have to take into consideration as well.


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World Services of La Crosse to bow out, hoping network thrives

Even if Sandra McCormick and Mary Anderson actually follow through on their second retirements — a dubious proposition, given their abject failure to do so the first time they retired, from the health care field — they will depend on citizen diplomats to fill their shoes.

McCormick

Anderson

That is their intent as they fold the tent of World Services of La Crosse Inc., amid diminishing grant funding and a federal budget that proposes substantial funding cuts for the U.S. State Department.

The nonprofit organization plans to phase itself out of existence by early next year.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in 16 years, having strengthened thousands of communities, improved the quality of life for countless people, increased international understanding and promoted peace around the world,” said McCormick, president and CEO of World Services since she and Anderson co-founded the organization in 2001.

Those accomplishments include hosting and arranging study tours throughout the United States for people from 15 foreign countries — most of them onetime members of the former Soviet Union. The organization fostered consulting programs and enlisted volunteer professionals from the Coulee Region to travel to those countries and demonstrate techniques as they worked alongside their residents.

Thousands of people in 20 countries

World Services, which has administered about $16 million in government and private grants and donations, has coordinated programs for more than 500 foreign groups involving more than 4,000 people from more than 20 countries, also relying heavily on local families who have served as hosts.

The funds also have provided for more than 300 international trips for local volunteers to share skills and knowledge with hundreds of colleagues abroad.

“You hope that what you’ve planted will grow,” said the 80-year-old McCormick, who retired in 2000 as a vice president at what then was Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center.

She also had been project director of the La Crosse International Health Project, writing grants, coordinating health partnerships and making international connections since 1992.

“We’ll keep working from our houses,” said the 77-year-old Anderson, treasurer and nursing consultant for World Services, who had retired from her job as associate nursing administrator at Gundersen Lutheran.

“It will be more comfortable,” the Onalaska woman said with a gentle smile.

Working from home in comfortable clothes will be a change from the small, spartan offices they and a smattering of other workers and volunteers have occupied in Central States Warehouse’s office complex on La Crosse’s North Side since the outset.

“It is really cold in the winter,” Anderson said.

With third co-founder and now board vice president David Allen, World Services evolved from the La Crosse Dubna Health Partnership, a joint project of Gundersen Lutheran and what then was Franciscan Skemp Healthcare in tandem with La Crosse’s sister city of Dubna, Russia.

The diminutive McCormick, who has traveled to more than 50 countries, became a familiar figure who walked tall in the halls of Washington, D.C, and foreign cities ranging from capitals to remote villages.

‘Doors open when Sandy calls’

The Rev. Mark Jolivette, a World Services board member, said, “She won’t say this, but doors in Washington open when Sandy calls. Both Mary and Sandy are masters of detail. When they promise, they deliver. They speak the truth.”

Such dependability has been essential in developing the credibility needed to create opportunities to serve, McCormick said.

“You have to be persistent, patient, determined and passionate,” she said.

One also has to be adept at the art of dealing with foreign governments, she said.

“Our work has had to stand even in meetings with the KGB,” she said. “We had to negotiate with the system without implying that our way is a better way. When we leave, it is part of their system and no longer ours.

“To do what we’ve done, the government has to be involved,” she said.

World Services eschews the traditional mission model, in which groups often swoop into a foreign land and provide services without passing on their knowledge, in favor of the empowerment prototype in which World Services staffers and volunteers teach residents how to carry on the work.

World Services’ footprint is visible in improved medical and nursing techniques, women’s health and birthing centers, diabetes care, renal dialysis, pediatric and cardiac care and rehabilitation, emergency medicine, alcohol treatment and other services.

New York Times salutes La Crosse efforts

Gundersen Lutheran’s and Franciscan Skemp’s development of health services in Dubna was so successful that The New York Times pointed to the city in 2000 as a beacon of hope in former Soviet Union countries where health care had devolved to a miserable state.

After the Soviet Union broke up in 1992, the La Crosse International Health Project was able to obtain funding to buy hospital equipment to create clinics to provide primary care.

Health care quality improved so vastly that hospital stays plunged from an average of two to three weeks for even basic treatments to two to three days, McCormick said.

“The Russian government considered that the biggest program growing in Washington,” she said.

Anderson underscored the La Crosse initiative’s success in putting clinics in rural areas where people simply had no health care previously. They were able to put 200 rural clinics in a single Russian state.

In many instances, they collected data on everyone in the community to record health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes to be able to track progress, she said.

In one village, for instance, nearly every resident had high blood pressure, so they taught everyone how to control the condition through medication, diet and exercise. A year later, high blood pressure incidence had diminished, McCormick said.

World Services also created learning resource centers with computers and other technology so people could learn about illnesses and help restore their health.

Youth smoking slashed

“I still have a smoking cessation program in Georgia,” a country bordered by Russia to the north and Armenia and Turkey to the south, Anderson said.

“Smoking among seventh-graders has declined from 77 percent to 17 percent,” she said.

One of McCormick’s most vivid memories is of a woman in Russia who lacked awareness of medical advances to heal or at least control illnesses.

“The mother came in with tears in her eyes and said her 7-year-old son had diabetes, and she thought that was a death sentence,” McCormick recalled.

The facts not only that diabetics can thrive with treatment and monitoring but also can learn to do it largely by themselves changed the lives of the woman and her son, she said.

Abortion as birth control

Life experiences have been extremely limited in some of the countries where they have worked, McCormick said, citing as an example that the major form of birth control in some former Soviet regions was abortion.

As a result, the average woman had had as many as nine abortions, she said.

“The women had to go to an ob-gyn or the abortionists,” Anderson said, and the abortionists “kept referring women to us, because they didn’t want to do them, either.”

As World Services phases out, McCormick said, “We’ve given La Crosse and the people practicing health care here a lot of visibility. It’s not me, and not just World Services, but the whole community.

“Tons of volunteers have helped by going to these countries, and with money and resources to host people,” she said.

One of World Services’ founding principles has been what McCormick refers to as “citizen diplomacy,” a concept that everyone has a role in international relations.

“Our hope — our belief — is that, by instilling that notion into the hearts of thousands of people over these last many years, World Services’ work will continue, in perpetuity, in each of us: one life, one relationship, one humanity, touching another and another.

“People can do what governments can’t,” McCormick said. “It’s all about one handshake at a time.”