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Parker: Are we rushing to judgement on sexual harassment?

WASHINGTON

As the #MeToo movement gained momentum the past several weeks—and more than a dozen powerful men accused of sexual misconduct were suspended, fired or banished into the outer darkness, it was reasonable to wonder where it would all end.

On Wednesday afternoon last week, it ended for Kentucky state Rep. Dan Johnson on a remote bridge, where he shot himself with a .40-caliber handgun. In an apparent suicide note posted (briefly) on Facebook, he wrote: “GOD knows the truth, nothing is the way they make it out to be... I cannot handle it any longer... BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.”

Johnson was referring to accusations published two days earlier by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that he had fondled a 17-year-old friend of his daughter during a New Year’s Eve sleepover in 2013. According to his accuser, now 21, a drunk Johnson slipped his hand under her top and down her pants as she was sleeping on a couch. She begged him to stop, which, ultimately, he did.

Assuming the woman’s story is true, Johnson’s actions were reprehensible, made more so by the fact that the girl considered him “a second dad.” The betrayal of a trusted adult is a higher order of evil. The circumstances of the alleged event magnify the drama and invite condemnation seasoned with relish. The woman, whose identity is being protected, said the incident occurred at the “Pope’s House,” a fellowship hall next to the Heart of Fire Church where the well-known Republican was the self-anointed “pope” to his congregation.

Even with all of that, however, didn’t Johnson have a right to some sort of dispassionate hearing? It is convenient to think he was too ashamed to withstand what would lie ahead for him. Or, one could believe, as Johnson hoped people would, that things didn’t happen as described. That’s the trouble with weighing allegations of years-old behavior in the court of public opinion. Given that the statute of limitations precludes indictments in many of these recent cases, we’re left to decide for ourselves whether the accusers are telling the truth—or enough truth to be convincing.

An accusation isn’t a conviction or even an indictment, of course. Yet, the Draconian actions we’ve witnessed as each case comes to light have provided cause for concern even in the most despicable of alleged offenses. We’ve rather quickly moved away from a society that embraces the suspension of judgment pending a fair trial to one in which subjective opinion—or fear of financial repercussions—justifies harsh sentencing.

Why have a jury-trial system at all if we’re comfortable passing judgments derived primarily from common sense-based calculus. This we know about common sense: Everyone considers theirs to be of higher quality than mine or yours. During the past couple of months, we’ve all become rather expert in dispensing verdicts, which seem to go something like this:

When several women tell similar stories of sordid encounters with the same individual, then we deem the accusations true. This was the case with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who admitted to some of the charges. When only one accuser is involved, we tend to give the accused some benefit of the doubt. It’s when only three or four victims come forward with similar tales that we begin to hear terms such as “credible accusations” or “credibly accused.”

“Credible” accusations brought down Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore after The Washington Post conducted an extensive investigation into allegations against him. There’s no proof of anything, of course, but there was enough corroboration from other people interviewed to suggest a strong likelihood that the women were truthful.

Even if one believes all the women who have come forward thus far, there’s room for some self-doubt in our individual rushes to judgment, as well as our participation in social media’s ruthless, often-anonymous dispensations. We’re on new ground these days when everyone occupies a seat of infinite power. Thus, it may be impossible to mitigate the effects of a determined mob, especially given a zeitgeist poised to assume the worst of men and the best of women. This shift in the balance of power may feel justified at some level, but this, too, should give one pause.

Should every man who has ever made an unwelcome advance on a grown woman be ruined? In instances of poor judgement or reckless behavior, is there no punishment short of firing?

It is notable that “shame,” so long out of vogue, is in these most modern of times making a comeback, indeed, with a vengeance. Johnson’s suicide reminds us that the best of causes conducted without the usual rules of law can lead to disastrous, even fatal, consequences.


Other_views
Guest Views: Legislators should end 'dark store' comparisons

A move by big-chain retailers to drive down their property bills in municipalities around the state simply doesn’t make sense.

Many of these retailers are using what’s being called a “dark store” theory. It works like this: They say their taxes assessments should be based on comparable stores, even if those stores are vacant, or “dark.”

Eau Claire-based Menards used the dark store theory this year when it sued the village of Howard over its 2017 assessment. The retailer opened its Howard store in 2012 on 18.6 acres, spending $10.6 million on land and buildings. The village assessed the store and property at $12.45 million; Menard Inc. said the assessment should be $5.8 million.

The retailer based this in part by comparing the Howard site, which is open and operational, to a closed Home Depot in Beaver Dam, a closed Sears in Sheboygan, and to the former Cub Foods on Green Bay’s east side, which had been closed since 2009. (Two stores have since moved into the Cub Foods building, but it was vacant at the time of the lawsuit being filed.)

The closed Cub Foods building was assessed about $40,000 a year in taxes; the tax bill for the Menards in Howard was about $209,000 for 2017.

Menards eventually dropped its lawsuit against Howard.

Yet the claim that an open big-chain retailer should be assessed the same as a store that has been closed for eight years doesn’t make any sense. Those vacant stores aren’t earning any income for retailers, but the open stores are. The vacant stores require very little police and fire protection; operational stores are a big user of those services. Infrastructure is added in communities to get customers, employees and goods to those stores, as well as heat and electricity.

This isn’t an isolated case. A USA Today Network-Wisconsin investigation found 130 “dark store” cases filed by big-box stores since 2014 against municipalities statewide. Of those cases, 67 are open. If each of those is settled, local governments would lose about $774 million in taxable property value, our analysis determined.

In Brown County, there are two open cases—a Walmart suit against Bellevue and a Woodman’s case against Howard. A Menard’s case in Bellevue was settled in 2016.

If the Menards’ suit in Howard had gone against the village, about $111,000 in school, village and county tax payments would have been refunded, including $55,000 from Howard-Suamico schools.

The tax burden would have fallen on the very people and communities that support the store.

Two bills—Senate bills 291 and 292—would end the “dark property” comparison and clarify that lease agreements cannot be factored into property valuations.

The bills have bipartisan support in the Legislature, however, neither has been brought to the floor.

It’s time for the Legislature to protect taxpayers and homeowners.

Yes, businesses should be taxed fairly, but don’t base the tax assessment of a working store on that of a vacant, closed operation. It makes no sense.

—Green Bay Press-Gazette


Sound_off
Sound Off for Wednesday, Dec. 20

On rumors of Ryan leaving Congress: Yes, I believe Rep. Paul Ryan may leave office, instead of being voted out by the popular vote. He knows that an electoral college can’t get him into office like it did for the Trumpster.

With shots fired at a baseball practice, fake bloodied severed heads, leftist bullies at town halls and showing up at your door probably scaring your wife and kids, why wouldn’t Paul Ryan want to retire?

Mr. Ryan, maybe you should give it up because you don’t represent Janesville as you should be. Every time I go by your house, I see Secret Service and the State Patrol there, but as far as I’m concerned you don’t represent me or anybody in this town because you’re never around when you’re needed.

On study for a new Janesville ice arena (Friday, Page 1A): So we renovated only five years ago, and now we want to dump $50k on some pie-in-the-sky idea of a new building? Come on. Janesville taxpayers, take a page from the Milton area residents, band together and vote these things down and people out of office.

On Sheriff Robert Spoden: Hats off to County Board Member Rick Richard. Finally, somebody on that board stepped up to our sheriff who needs to go. If he doesn’t want to resign, they need to get with the governor and fire him. We need a real sheriff like Gary Groelle, 2018. See you Spoden.

On Friday column, “The recession is permanent in Dollar General’s America”: Peter Funt tells the real story about the Republican political agenda, so open up your eyes, middle-class citizens. Your rights and laws are being changed at your expense, to make billionaires of millionaires. Trump will be laughing all the way to the bank, and Gov. Walker will be leading Wisconsin to the poor house.

On Sunday column, “Why are so many sexual harassers on the left?”: Regarding R. Emmett Tyrrell’s column, sexual harassers are apolitical. They are nothing but power brokers who exert their power over people that they feel they can intimidate. They are neither Democrat nor Republican. They are apolitical, and they are sexual predators.

On Sunday story about town suing over extra horses: I am 100 percent in the Kettelhut’s corner. They sound like beautiful people with beautiful hearts, and I can’t imagine anybody with a soul having a problem with them nurturing these animals. They’re beautiful.

I think this is completely ridiculous what the town of Janesville is doing to these people who are trying to help these animals. They have two extra ponies, two too many, and even though she asked for two different types of permits to have these animals, the town of Janesville still denied her and don’t seem to be willing to work with her. I think they should be ashamed of themselves.

On Craig High School lunch hour: These kids aren’t given a long enough time, and all they would have to do is take two minutes off each class, which would allow them 15 minutes more to have on their lunch hour. We wouldn’t have these kids racing around town, which is quite dangerous, and coming out of the parking lot at 90 mph to try to go get something and get back in time. They cannot possibly eat in the amount of time that they have. It’s just not feasible; it’s not reasonable.

On toll roads: I drove down to DeKalb, Illinois, yesterday about 75 miles on I-90. It was practically bumper to bumper with huge semis. I think we should put in toll booths and just charge the large, heavy trucks with tolls who cause the most damage to our roads.

On man accused of scalding dog (Monday, Page 1A): I’m calling about the guy who scalded the poor 11-month-old lab retriever. I don’t know why a person like that would do that to a poor 11-months-old dog, so he needs to pay for what he’s done.

On legalizing pot: And now the move is on to legalize pot for recreational use nationwide, but one thinks of all the people who have been incarcerated over the years coupled with the staggering amounts of dollars spent and law enforcement time. Hard to fathom especially for those old enough to remember the fact and history of prohibition.

On peace: When the power of love is stronger than the love of power, we will know peace.