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Friday, June 23, 2006

Language is the flashpoint in the immigration debate

Second only to the war in Iraq, immigration is shaping up as a defining issue in the November national elections.
In Wisconsin, we’re about as far away from the Mexican border as you can get without being in Canada, but that doesn’t mean we’re detached from the debate.

One of the flash points of the immigration debate is where the Spanish language fits in American culture. It’s a topic that most people have an opinion about.

I’m reminded of that each month when we include Vista magazine in The Week in selected communities.
The insert is included in many of our papers this Sunday. Vista is a monthly national newspaper magazine of Hispanic news and culture.

We include it as part of our mission to bring news and information to as many of our readers as possible. The Hispanic market continues to be one of the fastest-growing segments in Walworth County.
The more people who read and are engaged by The Week, the better vehicle it is for our advertisers who depend on us to get the word out about their businesses. And because The Week is delivered free, it’s the advertisers who in effect pay for each subscription to The Week.

Last month, for example, I received a call from a vendor who will be at the Taste of Whitewater over the Fourth of July. They thought adding Vista attracted just the kind of consumers they were looking to reach.
But not all the calls I receive are positive. Many feel a publication like Vista has no place in The Week.
One phone caller said, “We shouldn’t print Mexican and put it in a general newspaper. It should be English.
“If you don’t have enough respect to learn the language of this country, maybe you shouldn’t be here,” the caller continued.

“It’s not helping people. If people want to do more than just stand out in front of Home Depot waiting for a job, they should learn to speak the language. It’s not doing anything for the immigration cause when you’re putting out Mexican instead of English in an English newspaper.”

The e-mail bag brought these responses:

“I am a former teacher. Illiteracy in America is a very important topic to me. Your circulation of Vista magazine only contributes to the problem of functional illiteracy.

“If you cannot read and write English in America, you are functionally illiterate. This is not a racist or judgmental statement. It is a fact. If you are in America, you need to speak and read English. If you do not, you will miss out on many opportunities.

“If you moved to France, would you expect the entire country to change its official language to English, just for you? Of course not.”

My view is that we’re not promoting Spanish as our national language, nor are we promoting illiteracy.

I think everyone agrees on the importance of knowing English to function in our society. It’s a requirement of citizenship. In fact, Walworth County is one of the few counties nationwide who has passed a resolution declaring English as the official language of county government.

If I did move to France, I’d certainly learn the language and would not demand that the French speak English just for me. All I’d ask is that I could still read The Week, even though it was in English.

In any case, we’ll be hearing more about these issues in the months ahead. We’re interested in your opinions as well.

You can comment online at www.theweekextra.com or send a letter to the editor at theweek@theweekextra.com.
~Dan Plutchak, editor

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Links to story on controversial memorial

Donna Lenz Wright's original story on the Hitler memorial built by Ted Junker is here, with links for comments.

The follow-up story on the cancellation of the grand opening is here.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Grand opening cancelled, and other stories from The Week

As you've read, the grand opening for the Nazi memorial near Millard has been cancelled.

We'll have more information in Sunday's edition. Feel free to add your comments here.

I'll use a moderated format for this blog posting to encourage comments directly related to how we've covered the news or how the news affects us here in Walworth County. (You can also let me know about this moderated format.)

I'll publish selected comments beginning Monday.

~Dan Plutchak, editor

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Comments on Hitler's memorial

Add your comments on the memorial to Hitler and Nazi Germany being dedicated in Millard ...

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After 61 years, still fighting Hitler's War

Ted Junker is an affable man.

He’s a kidder, with a twinkle in his eye, like many a retired guy around Walworth County.

But Ted Junker is not like most retired guys around Walworth County.

As Donna Lenz Wright reports in this week’s cover story, Junker thinks the world has gotten Hitler all wrong. And he’s built a memorial in the grassy hills behind his home near Millard in Hitler’s honor.

We found out about Mr. Junker the way we do many of our stories. Junker has been making the rounds of civic groups in Whitewater talking about his project. One of our readers called to tell us about him and to say he’d make an interesting story.

From the outset, I wondered why a man who describes himself as a former German SS officer would even want to draw attention to himself.

His beliefs will obviously offend many, especially those families who fought or had loved ones die in World War II.
There are plenty of people with unpopular and offensive opinions in the world, but in this country, you have the right to believe what you want to believe. Just because a person holds contrary opinions doesn’t mean they’re worth writing a story about.

But Ted Junker doesn’t just have his opinions. He wants to convince us that what we’ve known about World War II is all wrong. And he’s holding a public event at the memorial to publicize his cause.

I don’t think this is the type of story Fox had in mind when the came up with their “fair and balanced’ slogan. It’s like giving equal weight to the Flat Earth Society of those who deny we’ve been to the moon.

But in this case, we’ve decided to publish this story because Junker wants to make his beliefs public.

In some ways, Junker’s spin on history isn’t that far off. It is true that Hitler pulled Germany out of the social turmoil that gripped the country between the wars. And yes, Hitler’s book ‘Mein Kampf” did provide direction for the country.

But how Hitler accomplished all this is what lead to war and the holocaust.

In other instances, Junker simply disputes the historical record. His assertion that the deaths in the concentration camps were fabricated is impossible to believe.

As we were looking into it, we found there is a whole Holocaust denial movement. Lenz-Wright contacted several Jewish studies and history organizations for comment on the notion of dismissing the worst atrocities of World War II. In each case however, she found them hesitant for fear of being drawn into an endless debate.

In any case, Junker does have one thing right. In this country you can say and believe what you will.

Whether or not he’ll be able to convince anyone else is something you can judge for yourself.

~Dan Plutchak, editor

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Friday, June 02, 2006

Faith at work in Walworth County

Faith has many faces. Faith and religion have become a powerful force in politics. Faith and worship are an integral part of community life.

But after weekly church services let out, and after organized interest groups have influenced the political process, the real work of faith begins.

Ideas, policies and plans are one thing, but putting one's money-or faith in this case-where one's mouth is turns concepts into reality.

Sunday's cover story, written by reporter Mike Heine and photographed by Terry Mayer, is one such example. We're tough on criminals-a reflection of what society deems appropriate consequences or criminal actions.

Incarceration, however, is the easy solution. The nagging question is: How do we prevent crime in the first place, or at least keep people from going back?

That idea is behind the work of Jail Chaplain Mike Dale who, with a group of volunteers, seeks a spiritual path to turning lives around.

"We're not here to accuse them or condemn them," Dale tells Heine. "We're here to show them there is a way."

So people like Mike Dale remain undeterred, tackling society's most difficult and vexing problems.

Even an atheist would agree that the work that comes from faith is a powerful force for making our communities strong and keeping them healthy.

Faith at Work is a theme we've been pursuing over the past year, and today's cover story is just one more example.

It's a theme that pops up over and over again as we tell the stories of our communities each week.

What makes them unique is that these stories aren't simply about people spreading their faith, but about people trying improve the lives of people in their communities.

A few examples over the past few months include:

Charlotte Huntley's profile of a group of East Troy women who gather once a week to pray for their children's schools. Their prayer is just one aspect of their involvement and commitment to the schools that their children attend.

Huntley also wrote about a group from Calvary Community Church in Williams Bay that traveled to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to help with reconstruction. While federal and state agencies were agonizingly slow in getting help to those who needed it. Church groups quickly mobilized to provide direct and lasting help.

In the midst of winter, Donna Lenz Wright reported on area churches that banded together to provide shelter for the homeless. The shelter rotated among churches in Lake Geneva, Delavan and Elkhorn.

We'll continue to cover how our friends and neighbors, motivated by their faith, are an important institution in the life and health of our communities.

If you know of an example worth covering, e-mail us at theweek@theweekextra.com, or comment on the blog at www.theweekextra.com/blogs/editor.

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