Monday, April 30, 2007

Things Warming Up For Paul Wolfowitz

Paul Wolfowitz.

You remember him, right?

First he helped plan a bad war in Iraq and an even worse post-invasion reconstruction plan.

Then when things went south there, he deserted the war business for a soft landing at The World Bank - - where he pulled some strings to get his girlfriend a raise and cushy promotion.

Ah, those Bushies. Restoring morality and virtue to government.

Now World Bank staffers, angry at the bad war planning and peeved at the favoritism for the significant other are playing a reddish green card of sorts - - trying to drive Wolfowitz to the sidelines by confirming he was watering down Bank reports that mentioned climate change - - even though its effects are predicted to hit Bank borrowing nations the hardest.

Will Paul Wolfowitz be Climate Change's highest-ranking victim yet?

Where Climate Issues Are Already Severe: A Cautionary Tale

It's widely acknowledged that talk and study of changing climates generally takes place far from our shores - - in the Arctic, for example, or along some remote island's coastline - - so we water-rich US midwesterners tend to shrug our shoulders and give our denial full reign.

But plenty of people from around here have been to Australia, or have seen Crocodile Dundee promoting cold beer and barbecued shrimp, and might therefore be able to grasp what a prolonged drought is doing to that entire continent's economy.

Read the details here in the staid, very non-hysterical publication, The Economist.

And remember that variations of these scenarios could play out worldwide.

And by the way, farmers and consumers everywhere are asking: where have all those honeybees gone?

Waukesha Makes News In Michigan Media

It's finally getting through to media and opinion-makers in other Great Lakes states that the City of Waukesha is looking hard at a pipeline to move water out of the Lake Michigan basin.

The Muskegon Chronicle covers the story here, with one noted activist and writer describing Waukesha's potential diversion an "imminent threat" to the Great Lakes.

Patrick's Projection

In the Sunday, April 29th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, you will find on the op-ed page a lecture on city-suburban relations addressed to city officials and partisans from the paper's in-house conservative commentator Patrick McIlheran.

What I find interesting about the column is that it fixes most of the blame for the complex relationship on one party.

The City of Milwaukee.

Now I know that McIlheran doesn't hate the city.

He lives in the city, and I believe him when he says he wants it to succeed.

But you have to take that column today with a grain of salt. Like a stressed marriage or disintegrating business partnership, where each side usually projects its own shortcomings and thus the blame for the mess on the other, the suburbs get off too easy in McIlheran's review.

(I'm not trying to psychoanalyze the guy. I've only communicated with him once when he edited one of my Sunday Crossroads' op-eds, and he did so with complete professionalism.)

But if he dug deeper into the region's history and tensions, McIlheran would find, beyond the typical, dare I say, 'normal' differences between suburban and urban realities, some matters of substance omitted from today's column, including:

* Racial segregation and housing discrimination which influenced the region's development - - broadly defined - - the vestiges of which continue as potent reality today.

* Disproportionate suburban and exurban planning power centered at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, where the city doesn't have a single commissioner among the 21-member board, and where city and the minority residents clustered there are virtually unrepresented on the SEWRPC senior staff and SEWRPC advisory committees.

* Continuing freeway expansion that eats up city land and tax base, and steers development away from the city, or gives suburban development, through road-building, an unacknowledged public subsidy.

* And the biggest power play of the last decade that damaged the city's economy - - Waukesha County's veto of a light rail that would have helped improve the city and regional economies, both substantively and symbolically.

I can tie some of those notions above together with this one anecdote.

When I was Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist's chief of staff in the late 1990's, and the light rail controversy was raging, I talked to a suburban community's elected chief official and said, in effect, 'we sure could use your help on light rail, since I know you know it would be good for the city and good for the region, too.'

The suburban officials said to me, and this is a quote:

"I'd love to, but I talked to [x suburban official] and [x suburban official]said what I'm hearing: ' we don't want the [N-word plural] coming in. I wish that wasn't what we're hearing, but that's what'd we'd be up against."

I've omitted the names, and the full spelling of the N-word. You might not want to take my word for it, or don't like the way I'm conveying the story, but it's true.

(Update: I'd add that information published in Monday's Journal Sentinel indicating that Waukesha County has applied to become the first Wisconsin jurisdiction to win federal "special authorization to pursue illegal immigrants" only reinforces the belief in Milwaukee County that people of color and other minorities can and will come in for "special" treatment in some area suburbs.)

My point is that there's a larger reality, a bigger lens through which to view Milwaukee and its neighbors than the one that McIlheran uses today.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Freeway (sic) Costs Soar: Where Is The Conservative Outrage

Fiscal conservatives and small-government advocates will complain about every form of taxation and government spending in Wisconsin - - except bloated highway budgets.

From light rail to farmland preservation to health care, so-called fiscal conservatives routinely bash tax-supported programs, but when it's the addition of more interstate highway lanes, despite soaring costs and dubious justifications, fiscal conservatives suddenly go silent.

Shouldn't a projected increase of at least 60%-to-70% to rebuild and add a lane to the southeastern Wisconsin freeway system from the Illinois border to the Milwaukee County border - - an extra $450 million - - raise the hackles of every tightwad in our supposedly-overtaxed state?

That's the fiscal dynamite a few paragraphs into a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the next phase of the regional freeway construction schedule, once the Marquette Interchange project is finished in 2008:

"In 2003, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission [SEWRPC] estimated the work would cost $942 million in 2000 dollars. A Transportation Department official said in 2005 that inflation would likely push that price tag into the range of $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion by 2011."

Those are all dollars collected from the public in gasoline taxes, fees, or borrowings by the state repaid with publicly-financed principal and interest payments.

Imagine if those whopping tabs and percentage increases were presented as the reality in any other program. Conservatives would be wailing from talk radio squawk-a-thons to rallies called by Citizens for Responsible Government about tax burdens, out-of-control spending, and distorted, big guvmint priorities.

But the highway lobby gets a pass from politicians and pundits who preach fiscal restraint because business interests love highway spending and the development it pushes as sprawl into exurban and rural areas.

Public costs? Local tax increases? Spiking demands for water and other resources? Costs like those aren't even part of the highway planners' playbook or the bureaucrats' budget projections.

And politicians in both parties, from the State Capitol to the town board level take donations from road-builders and commercial highway users, creating a bi-partisan code of self-interest that helps promote silence about the real ramifications of highway spending.

Were the initial cost-estimates of $6.2 for the seven-county freeway plan deliberately low-balled?

Will any watchdog agency, public or private, take a look at the increases, and determine whether the remaining billions in costs penciled in over the next 25 years come with more financial time bombs?

Does the Legislative Fiscal Bureau or the Joint Committee on Finance have the guts to open an inquiry into the southeastern Wisconsin freeway plan?

And while you're holding your breath for those answers, count on this: there will be no relief from Wisconsin's extremely high gasoline taxes and steadily-rising transportation fees.

Nor will there be a shakeup in transportation funding that sends an unequally-large share of public dollars to highway expansion instead of upgrades to the state's mass transit systems.

In the same vein, road projects outside of southeastern Wisconsin will also take a back seat to the budget-busting demands of the regional freeway system.

Boston has its Big Dig.

Maybe we should rename our freeway system The Money Pit.

Tommy Thompson Sounding More Unpresidential

The longer that Tommy stays in the GOP primary race, the more his utterances will garner scrutiny, and is that what our former Governor really wants?

Tommy continues to tout an Iraqi strategy as innovative, and clearly he needs something new and different to explain away years of assent on the Iraq war as a loyal Bush Cabinet officer, but is leaving the American occupation up to an Iraqi referendum the way to go?

The entire notion of Tommy as US President and Commander-in-Chief is absurd on its face, but he needs to be asked if it is reasonable or rational to give life-and-death power over thousands of Americans' lives to the voting decisions of another nation halfway around the world?

We have laws and procedures for the commitment, deployment and withdrawal of US troops. That power rests with the US President and the Congress.

You can't hand that off to a third-party or foreign country.

Tommy's 'plan' is shallow campaign wordplay, nothing more, and should be dismissed along with his prance across the national stage.

Return Of The Blog, Full-Time

Been traveling a bit, so my recent posts were irregular. Much coming, beginning today, so stay tuned.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Annette Ziegler Elected to Supreme Court of Fantasy Island

What a way to start your State Supreme Court tenure: ask your colleagues to toss a case brought against you by the State Ethics Board.

Talk about setting an example for official behavior, let alone fitting in as the most junior Justice.

Ziegler is demonstrating that she has not learned from the bruising campaign and lecturing from editorial boards that laws and codes of conduct apply to everyone, and judges should lead by example, not ask for special consideration or rule by gut check.

Waukesha Legal Maneuvering, Documents In This Post

Several people, having read posts on this blog about the City of Waukesha's legal and strategic positioning on accessing Great Lakes water, have asked for simple links to the record.

Some of these questions came in the context of a blog item I posted in response to an April 17, 2007 op-ed piece by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Patrick McIlheran, and specifically to this line: "Of course Waukesha would return the water, maybe even build a wetland for treated sewage before it flows into a lake-bound river." (Italics are mine.)

This link takes you to a 2006 explanatory article, and the documents are available in that text with a link to their pdf's.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

McCain v. Giuliani: Who's The Bigger Demagogue?

There's nothing more transparent and unseemly in the political process than pre-election posturing by candidates appealing to a knuckle-dragging base.

That's what's happened in the last forty-eight hours on the GOP side of the campaign street.

First there was the newly-minted conservative Rudy Giuliani, running as fast as he can from a moderate political past that helped him win elections in normally Democratic New York City, remaking himself into a candidate possibly tougher on defense than rival John McCain.

Rudy told a New Hampshire audience that only a Republican president in 2008, preferably himself, could prevent another 9/11-type attack because Democrats would wave a white flag in the war on terrorism.

How could McCain respond, especially since his formal candidacy announcement was scheduled for the day after Rudy's fake, warrior pose?

McCain went on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart where he defended the Iraq War and joked (sic) about wanting to bomb Iran.

Both of these guys have no shame when it comes to throwing red meat to the righty GOP fringe (is that a non-sequiter?); if either wins the nomination, it'll be hard to tiptoe back towards the middle, with 65% of Americans consistently telling pollsters they oppose the war in Iraq.

From which you could also fairly infer that bombing the country next door to Iraq (Shock and Awe, II) would not be popular.

Let's hope that pandering on the war is a losing political strategy in the now-fifth year of the war in Iraq.

Belling Knifes Tommy

Right-wing radio squawker Mark Belling writes a column for The Freeman, the Waukesha daily, and in his April 25th commentary throws a knife into Tommy Thompson far deeper than any other tossed at our ex-Gov. after his recent anti-semitic blatherings at a Washington, DC event.

Belling first builds Tommy up a bit by saying that George Will calls Tommy extremely qualified as a presidential candidate.

Then suggests that some of the criticism launched after Tommy's DC blundering was unfair.

Then Belling launches the harpoon, showing just how far from grace Tommy has fallen, even among conservatives who found it convenient to prop him up when his opponents were Democrats, and GOP control of state government was first on the rightists' agenda:

"Things that were overlooked in Wisconsin won’t be ignored by opponents or the media. Thompson’s personal life, close ties to gas station magnate Darshwan Dhaliwal and his investments in ethanol plants will be dug into. Even more potentially damaging are his connections with Nick Hurtgen, his former close aide indicted in 2005 by a federal grand jury, and Hurtgen’s clone, Phil Prange. Even though the charges against Hurtgen have since been dropped, Thompson actually was still doing business with Hurtgen during the period in which Hurtgen was under indictment. Hillary Clinton may be able to get away with those kinds of relationships, but Republican voters will demand more in their candidate for president."

The gratuitous shot at Ms. Clinton aside, the spotlight Belling shines on Tommy could hurt him as much or more than his boorish DC remarks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Earth Day Continues at UW-Milwaukee With Noted Filmmaker Appearance

Earth Day 2007 events continue at UW-Milwaukee this week, including a workshop and movie screening/presentation by noted filmmaker Judith Hefland.

At 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, in the Wisconsin Room, Helfand will lead a workshop on connecting documentary filmmakers with community activists.

And at 7 p.m. in the Union Theatre, Helfand’s newest film, "Everything’s Cool," will have its Milwaukee premiere.

"Everything’s Cool" looks at the global warming movement, picking up where the Al Fore film, "An Inconvenient Truth," left off. Q&A will follow.

The Union Theater will also show two additional Hefland film's on Wednesday, April 25th.

These films are "A Healthy Baby Girl," at 7 p.m., and "Blue Vinyl," at 8:30 p.m.

Both are documentaries.

More information on all the Hefland events can be found at, or by calling 229-3111.

Michigan Takes Leadership On Great Lakes

Though some local and state officials fear Michigan may block diversions of Lake Michigan water to Waukesha County, and have whipped up anti-Michigan sentiment in recent months, look who's out front on water quality in the Great Lakes:


Officials there, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, want to ban ocean-going ships from the Great Lakes because they carry in costly and destructive invasive species.

These invasive species are degrading a water supply that is crucial to the quality of life in an eight-state, two-province (Canadian) region. That includes Waukesha, New Berlin and other communities which might someday gain access to Lake Michigan for drinking water purposes, and which already benefit from close proximity to Lake Michigan for commercial and recreational purposes.

So a hat tip to Dan Egan for another solid piece of reporting about the Great Lakes and invasive species.

And a salute to Michigan for leadership on Great Lakes issues that benefit the entire region - - while also assuring Michigan, too, of high-quality water.

There doesn't have to be a contradiction in the policy-making. It can be local and regional, too.

And don't forget, Michigan did not block the Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin diversion from Lake Michigan some years back.

So business and political officials in Waukesha County who have had nothing good to say lately about Michigan might a) turn off the criticism, and b) take a fresh look at Michigan's bi-partisan/non-partisan approach to water politics.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Global Warming Action Becoming Mainstream in US Politics

From Barack Obama to John McCain, politicians are catching up with the public, which wants action to confront and minimize global warming.

One lesson to be gleaned: Rightist talk radio, from Limbaugh down to our local squawker Mini-me's, do not represent or move opinion on this issue.

MMSD Brings Carrot, Stick To Great Lakes Water Debate

Even as legislators and business interests in Waukesha County stalled consideration of the Great Lakes Compact by a state legislative study committee, The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, with little fanfare, voted not to extend services west of the Lake Michigan basin boundary (the subcontinental divide) until the State of Wisconsin approves the Great Lakes Compact.

That action could slow or stop some development in communities hoping to pipe in Lake Michigan water, but also could spur action in the study committee to get Wisconsin's Compact approval.

The amended Compact will establish conservation standards and application procedures for diversions from the Great Lakes in an eight-state area, but needs approvals in all the states to take effect.

State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) and the Waukesha Chamber of Commerce object to provisions in the Compact that require all eight states to approve diversion applications.

They feel it gives power over development in their communities to the other states - - but ironically, some of that development may not take place, says the MMSD, until the Compact wins approval in Wisconsin.

So the MMSD's little-noticed action might encourage the Compact's opponents across Waukesha County to think again about the Compact's practical value.

On the supply side of the equation, the existing Compact and a separate federal law now require the eight-state approval.

In other words, no eight-state approval, no piping-in water across the Great Lakes basin boundary.

The MMSD's action establishes a requirement on the treatment, or return, side of the water equation for Wisconsin communities like New Berlin, Waukesha and others:

No approval in the legislature - - no new service extension to the area approved by the MMSD.

Conclusion: the longer that opponents in Waukesha County block Wisconsin's approval of the Compact in the legislature - - the study committee has not met since December - - the longer those anti-Compact forces in Waukesha County shoot themselves in the foot.

This is the language MMSD approved on February 26th, 2007:

"RESOLVED, by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, that the Executive Director is authorized to approve municipal sanitary sewer plans utilizing the 2020 Facility Plan population and land use projections, and that the Commission may consider requests to amend the sanitary sewer service area boundary east of the sub-continental divide consistent with the 2020 Facilities Plan and will not amend the sanitary sewer service area boundary west of the sub-continental divide until the Great Lakes Compact is approved by the State of Wisconsin."

(Representatives from New Berlin and Muskego spoke against the motion. Read item #9 on the MMSD agenda, in pdf format, on the MMSD website's February 26, 2007 meeting, here.)

Final thought: I have written often on this blog - - an example here - - that the biggest obstacle to diversion request applications from west of the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin is what I call an exceptionalist's view of the world held by some power-brokers in Waukesha County.

By that I mean some community leaders in the County disproportionately value their importance, role in the region, or their 'right' to resources that are held in trust across a vast, international territory.

Which explains, for instance, why Waukesha would seek Lake Michigan water from Gov. Doyle through a back-door and confidential set of proposals, or why Lazich and others could possibly think that the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially rewritten or junked altogether just so a Waukesha County community could bring in Lake Michigan water - - and the heck with the entire Great Lakes region's management of a shared resource.

But now I look at the counter-productive obstacles that Lazich and others are creating for themselves - - on top of the existing and proposed political and legal barriers already making Great Lakes diversions difficult-to-impossible - - and my conclusion is that Compact opponents in Waukesha County are knowingly headed towards blowing up the Compact.

Their step one: Gut or kill the 22-year-old agreement.

Step two: challenge and hope to void the existing federal law that makes diversions even less likely than does the Compact, regardless of the consequences on lake levels for generations to come.

All the more reason for true regionalists - - in southeastern Wisconsin and across the US-Canada Great Lakes in eight states and two provinces - - to redouble efforts to bring around the critics, and get the Compact approved.

The Compact is not about Waukesha County.

The Compact is about five lakes, eight states, and two Canadian provinces.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Karl Rove Can't Deal With Inconvenient Critics

So filmmaker Laurie David and singer Cheryl Crow try to talk to (or confront, you choose your verb) Karl Rove about global warming and King Karl goes nuts.

Turns out the guy is a crybaby.

Earth Day 2007: Mixed Report Card For Wisconsin

A fair grade for Wisconsin's Earth Day 2007 status:


On the plus side, water - - quality, quantity, management - - is on the table as an issue, certainly in southeastern Wisconsin, and to a certain extent, statewide, primarily because the Great Lakes Compact is up for discussion.

And because Lake Michigan's water level is declining, setting off alarm bells among Great Lakes shippers and the state's recreation and fishing industries.

So consciousness is up, and discussion is underway, and some water planning is taking place in some communities, and regionally.

But it's not clear if the outcomes of this debate and planning will be genuine progress towards better care and use of the water we have, or rationalizations and exceptions and excuses that will enable greater demand for water farther and farther from Lake Michigan, existing infrastructure and available workers inside the Great Lakes basin.

For every positive step taken in the last year - - Milwaukee's office of sustainability gaining credibility, Waukesha's lawn-sprinkling ordinance's first year of operation, or its city council's rejection of a subdivision and annexation too close to the Vernon Marsh - - there have been negatives: look no farther than Waukesha-area political and business opposition to proposed amendments to the Great Lakes Compact.

The Compact would establish rules and standards for assessing requests for Great Lakes diversions in eight Great Lakes states, with emphasis placed on water conservation and proven need.

The opposition, led by State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, threatens to block Compact implementation in Wisconsin and could lead to the 22-year-old Compact's collapse across the entire Great Lakes region.

Either result would be a blow to the Great Lakes; in Wisconsin, water is held in trust for the public, according to the state constitution; Wisconsin officials need to respect that heritage by stewarding the state's waters, not taking them for granted or allowing them to be mismanaged.

Earth Day, as we know, was the creation of Gaylord Nelson, Wisconsin's great environmental champion. He left his stamp on the state, the country and the world.

Wisconsin needs more of the Nelson spirit in public policy, the collective mindset and the common purpose.

In southeastern Wisconsin, the need is critical.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Waukesha's Biggest Obstacle To Lake Michigan Water Is Its Self-Professed Exceptionalism

I was a little disappointed in reading Patrick McIlheran's April 17th op-ed about Great Lakes water and the disputes about whether Waukesha will gain access to Lake Michigan water and return that water to the Great Lakes basin.

This so-called "return flow" principle is central to Great Lakes water conservation, plus Great Lakes watershed stewardship, and is a keystone element of the Great Lakes Compact - - the regional (as in Great Lakes region, not southeastern Wisconsin) water agreement that some Waukesha city, county and private sector officials are opposing.

McIlheran dismisses concerns about Waukesha's commitment to the return flow principle with this sentence:

"Of course Waukesha would return the water, maybe even build a wetland for treated sewage before it flows into a lake-bound river.

The problem with that statement is that Waukesha has not made that commitment.

What it is doing is thinking about return flow options, including the use of the Root or Menomonee Rivers, but according to my sources, for only a portion of the return flow.

The rest it would continue to send away from the Great Lakes basin.

Furthermore, Waukesha twice last year sent Gov. Doyle confidential requests for permission to divert water from Lake Michigan without any return flow activity.

And only acknowledged the existence of the requests after an open records request discovered their existence and forced Waukesha to forward those documents to a state legislative committee trying to craft legislation to implement the Compact in Wisconsin.

So the record is about 179 degrees across the compass from "Of course, Waukesha will return the water..."

Waukesha would advance farther in the debate and perhaps towards an eventual and successful diversion application review if it would:

a) Formally agree to return flow and negotiate that with downstream communities.

b) Endorse the Great Lakes Compact.

c) Establish comprehensive and measurable conservation practices that integrate land use planning with water use.

That would show that Waukesha recognizes that the Compact's reason for existence is regional water conservation and resource stewardship, and is not a document to be redrafted to guarantee any single community across the Great Lakes region access to those waters.

The longer that Waukesha takes to accept return flow and the common trust arrangement that underlies Great Lakes management (the trust principle is part of the Wisconsin Constitution, so, really, forget dropping that out of the Compact's implementation in Wisconsin), the less likely it will be that Waukesha can win the approvals it will need for a diversion.

And, paradoxically, approvals that will come either under the Compact or existing federal law that gives the other Great Lakes states even more power to veto diversion requests.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Journal Sentinel Whacks Tommy

The Editorial Board has it right: He's not presidential material. His Iowa campaign, once a mere ego trip, is now The Lost Cause Tour.

More On The Public Policy Forum Land Wealth Report

The Public Policy Forum's study about per-capita property wealth in southeastern Wisconsin that I posted about a couple of days ago also contains some more interesting tidbits about the city-suburban divide in these here parts.

And The Forum posted some followup on its blog (who knew it had a blog?) about some previous prognostications about when Waukesha County might surpass Milwaukee County in property wealth.

(Plot-spoiler. It won't.)

But back to the report.Walworth County's passing Waukesha County on the per-capita wealth scale, regardless of how much real world importance it has, will resonate across Waukesha.


Because Waukesha County prided itself on being, by this one real estate measurement, the region's wealthiest county, and dropping to #2 position could spur more water-demanding, sprawling annexations pushed by Waukesha politicians across the county who will be obsessed with returning to #1.

Converting raw land to higher tax-generating lots and subdivisions is the way to win headlines, and the real estate valuation wars with Walworth, but annexations come with political and financial costs for infrastructure that sometimes zero out the tax-base gains.

One piece of good news for Waukesha County in the report: It's still home to the region's single highest valued municipality per-capita - - the Village of Chenequa - - where each resident in that "lake country" community counts for $923,000 in real estate value, according to the study.

Little wonder. Homes there must be built on lots no smaller than two acres if they front on the Village's lakes, and on no less than five acres otherwise.

Chenequa's codes are one of the region's best examples of exclusionary zoning - - a legal method of making sure that low, medium and even some nearly-upper class people cannot afford to move in next door.

In fact, you won't see any apartment buildings in Chenequa, or, for that matter, commercial buildings of any kind; the building codes rule them out.

Chenequa's homepage is really worth a visit.

The village tells its virtual visitors (and if you drive there, don't park on the residential streets, as that is illegal) that Chenequa was founded solely for residential purposes "so as to offer its citizens the peace and quiet and restfulness unobtainable in the city."

No wonder why some residents in the City of Milwaukee, or in any city, would find regional cooperation with suburban neighbors like these such an uphill climb?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tommy Thompson's Phony Fiscal Humility Was On Display in DC, Too

Most of the reporting about Tommy Thompson's buffonish remarks to a Jewish organization in Washington, DC focused on his stereotypical thought 'process' about Jewish people.

But Michael Horne digs a little deeper into Tommy's finances and finds that our ex-Gov. has been doing better financially than he let on at the meeting.

Horne's work is relevant because the whole set up for praising Jews for being religiously-inclined to make money was some poor-mouthing Tommy did about his inability to make money before hitting private sector paydirt.

Horne reminds us about Tommy's lucrative real estate dealing while he was in Bush's cabinet, and other decent buckage our boy been taking down for some time.

Must Read Posting From The Blogger Who Heard Tommy's Blathering

Here is advice offered to our boy Tommy from the Israeli blogger who sat through Tommy's statement, and his apology.

I think, as I said previously, that Tommy needs to do more than, say, hire better advisers, but it's great that is adding links to more sources.

Major Resource Problem Discovered At Pabst Farms

When they started building a new city on Pabst Farms, right on the land through which the region's rain and snow melt is absorbed to recharge the underground water supply, people worried that the project would contribute to a shortage of water.

Today, we learn that there is a looming shortage of some liquids at Pabst Farms: Booze.

Might Pabst Farms be renamed Temperance Town?

Tommy Thompson Needs To Do More Than Apologize

To deal with the uproar he caused with his ignorant portrayal of Judaism, Tommy needs to study religious and civil history.

His Washington, DC comments, widely reported by the Associated Press this way - - "I didn't (by) any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances. ... What I was referring to ... is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion" - - indicate that Tommy doesn't understand that:

a) Historically, Jews were often forbidden legally from owning land or holding certain jobs, thus pushing or requiring them to engage in onerous money-lending or tax collecting.

b) Christians, on the other hand, were forbidden to engage in money-lending, setting up conflict with the Jews who did handle money and finance.

c) From England to Eastern Europe, these discriminatory laws and practices ostracized Jews in their communities. And resulted in violent anti-semitism, hangings, pogroms and also to the 19th century exodus from Europe by many Jewish families.

Their descendants make up much of today's American Jewish population, including many people in Wisconsin. Like me.

I am embarrassed that our former Governor doesn't have a modicum of historical understanding about how great religions and civil society and law and fear have interacted, and about how discrimination developes. and lingers today.

Tommy is never going to be President. His run for the presidency is an ego trip, on a par with retirees who go to baseball fantasy camp and put on the uniform and imagine they are in the big leagues.

But if Tommy was auditioning for the vice-presidency, or appointment to a cabinet position or a judgeship, that's now out the window.

Which would give him the free time he needs to catch up on his religious and world history, and get to know his Jewish constituents and the world he lives in a little better.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Comments On This Blog Welcomed, Again

But I get to review them first. Comment away, and I will do my best to review and get them up quickly.

Tommy Update: Apology is Another Fumble

Tommy just doesn't get it.

The AP reports that in his apology (full text below) to a Jewish audience over remarks linking being Jewish and being good at making money, Tommy steps in it again - - this time saying that earning money is one of "the accomplishments of the Jewish religion."

No, Tommy. Let me advise you, as a Jewish person:

The Jewish religion is a spiritual faith. It is not a course in finance, or business.

Tommy's statements describe caricatures and repeat stereotypes, and are just plain ignorant. Some history, here.

The full text of our former Governor and not-ready-for-prime-time presidential candidate's telling remarks and apology is below.

MONDAY, April 16, 2007, 5:24 p.m.By Associated Press
Thompson apologizes for Jewish remarks

Republican presidential candidate Tommy Thompson told a Jewish group today that earning money is "part of the Jewish tradition," a remark for which he later apologized.

"I'm in the private sector and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," the former Wisconsin governor told the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. "You know that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

Later, he added: "I just want to clarify something because I didn't (by) any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things. What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz first reported the comments. "

Additionally, Craig Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Bureau Chief, filed these details in a story posted online Monday night:

"Additional missteps

"Thompson misspoke a few other times at the conference, according to more than one person present.

"Blogging about the speech Monday, [ Shmuel]Rosner wrote that Thompson referred to "Israeli bonds" as "Jewish bonds." Another member of the audience said Thompson referred to the Jewish Defense League, a controversial militant group, when he appeared to have a more mainstream organization in mind. "

This episode, revealing Tommy's complete unsuitability for the US Presidency, hastens his withdrawal from what had been a modestly-charming vanity campaign that has now devolved into a self-inflicted and humiliation.

The initial posting follows:

"'Not that there's anything wrong with that

Did GOP presidential candidate Tommy Thompson just have his "macaca moment"?

Speaking before the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington today, the former Wisconsin governor explained his financial success after government work this way:

"I'm in the private sector, and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," Thompson reportedly said. "You know, that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

According to a report from Haarezt [an Israeli newspaper], Thompson subsequently apologized, after realizing that he'd upset some people in the audience. We're not so sure that he made things better.

"I just want to clarify something because I didn't [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," Haaretz quotes Thompson as saying. "What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."
-- Tim Grieve'

Tommy Thompson May Have Just Had His "Macaca" Moment

Well, there's our boy Tommy Thompson, sounding like a fool, according to a posting on It's a paid site, so here is the text:

Not that there's anything wrong with that, by Tim Grieve:

Did GOP presidential candidate Tommy Thompson just have his "macaca moment"?

Speaking before the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington today, the former Wisconsin governor explained his financial success after government work this way:

"I'm in the private sector, and for the first time in my life I'm earning money," Thompson reportedly said. "You know, that's sort of part of the Jewish tradition and I do not find anything wrong with that."

According to a report from Hareetz [an Israeli newspaper], Thompson subsequently apologized, after realizing that he'd upset some people in the audience. We're not so sure that he made things better.

"I just want to clarify something because I didn't [by] any means want to infer or imply anything about Jews and finances and things," Haaretz quotes Thompson as saying. "What I was referring to, ladies and gentlemen, is the accomplishments of the Jewish religion. You've been outstanding business people and I compliment you for that."

-- Tim Grieve

Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Named National Affiliate Of The Year

All the good and effective work done so consistently by the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation, which named the WWF as affiliate of the year.

Details here; Wisconsin is lucky to have such leadership and activism at the WWF.

Observations on A New Public Policy Forum Study

The Public Policy Forum has published an interesting study about growth and wealth in the seven-county southeastern Wisconsin region that is made up of Kenosha, Racine, Walworth, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington and Milwaukee Counties.

Those seven counties also make up the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.Among the study's findings is that growth and rising property values in Walworth County, fueled by an influx of Illinois residents and others looking for open land and an exurban experience, has made Walworth the richest county in the region when measured by one index - - per-capita wealth.

Though that measurement is interesting, I think it's meaning was a little overstated by Jeff Browne, the Public Policy Forum President, in his remarks to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday, 4/13. Browne said the data showed..."it's time to start paying attention to Walworth County and acknowledge that county as a key player in our region...It's not just a sleepy rural place. It's where the action is."

I knew Jeff when we both worked at the old Milwaukee Journal. He was the best editor I ever had.

And I'm not bashing the study. Far from it. It's good that the Forum is also noting that there has been dramatic growth in Milwaukee County property values, driven in part by development in Milwaukee's downtown and river districts.

But I don't agree with Browne that this one measurement shows that Walworth is where the action is or that it signals that Walworth should be elevated in political importance regionally.

It's still a small, fairly rural county, and has about the population of three Milwaukee aldermanic districts.

Nor is "action" necessarily justified in, by or for Walworth County by per-capita property wealth in the first place, as I see it.

You could argue, in fact, that the action in the region - - my definition of "action" - - should be where the per-capita wealth is not - - Racine and Milwaukee, for instance, with their higher numbers of the poor, the unemployed, aging houses, transit needs, and other challenges.

My read of the study is that it highlights why Milwaukee County should not be in a regional planning unit with Walworth County, and, for that matter, some of the other smaller counties which have so little in common with Milwaukee County other than common borders.

It's just a bad fit, with too little common ground.

Walworth has about 100,000 people, of whom more than 97% are white. And apparently, lots of wealthier people, at least measured by per-capital property wealth.

Milwaukee County has 940,000 people, of whom 66% are white, and the City of Milwaukee has about 600,000 people, of whom slightly less than half are white.

And most of the region's poorer people live in Milwaukee city and county. That's hardly a secret.

It's problematic enough that Milwaukee city and county are folded into a planning commission with Waukesha County - - counties have three seats each on the commission's board and the City of Milwaukee has none (remember, representation is by county-only), but also having small counties with virtually zero urban development, and populations, like Walworth and Ozaukee really tips the planning commission agenda far from Milwaukee's needs.

For instance, is it any surprise that the planning commission hasn't written a housing plan for the region since 1975?

Would that be perceived as a priority in Walworth County, or Waukesha County, with their top-shelf per-capita housing values?

Maybe Walworth should be paired in a planning unit with Jefferson County, and perhaps also with Waukesha or Kenosha Counties, with which there are genuine similarities in geography, land-use, population and other characteristics.

And if Dane County and the City of Madison can have their one-county planning unit, why not Milwaukee?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Xoff Radio Interview Schedule Correction: It's Tuesday, April 17th, at 9:00 A.M.

Bill Christofferson, political strategist and biographer of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, (the book is The Man From Clear Lake), will be interviewed this Tuesday, 4/17, at 9:00 A.M. on Earthbeat Radio.

Earth Day is April 22nd.

Earthbeat Radio originates in Washington, DC and can be accessed at

An earlier posting about the show carried the wrong date.

Comments Suspended

Some anonymous person decided to ventilate on the blog all morning - - all the comments were irrelevant to the previous post about Great Lakes water, and had veered off into homophobia, obscenity and road rage fantasies.

Hey: who needs to spend their sunny Sunday mornings deleting anonymous comments that pollute the blogosphere?

Maybe I'll turn the function on later.

Cure For Political Cynicism? Elect Progressives

I argue in today's Sunday Crossroads section that good things can happen politically in Wisconsin, despite campaign ugliness like that pro-Annette Ziegler ad in the Supreme Court race that suggested Linda Clifford was a werewolf.

Sideshows, Science and Politics Collide At State Water Committee

Wisconsin has a legislative study committee charged with drafting a bill to accept water conservation and diversion procedures being added to a Compact among the Great Lakes states.

The goal is to apply better stewardship to water usage in the Great Lakes region.

One committee member who opposes the Compact, State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), is touting the advice of a Colorado professor whose advice is "chucking" the whole process.

The Committee also posted a memo to Lazich from an Ohio state legislator who thinks that the Compact might remove property rights from landowners - - a fear that Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources has told the committee is of "no relevance" in Wisconsin.

But looking past these sideshows, what have been the contributions of Wisconsin water experts to the Committee's discussions?

One of the most important contributions by Wisconsin scientists to the debate was their response to a critical line of argument by the City of Waukesha - - the suggestion that Waukesha was already technically within the Great Lakes basin through underground water connections.

That would make Waukesha eligible to pipe in Lake Michigan water without all the rigmarole in the new procedures being studied by the committee.

In response to the Waukesha argument, the Wisconsin scientists sent the committee a memorandum that pointed out what they called factual errors or misinterpretations of existing studies by some of the same Wisconsin scientists.

You can read what these Wisconsin experts - - UW-M professors, employees of the US Geological Survey and others - - had to say and see for yourselves how science and politics have intersected at the committee.

And why its work has ground to a halt.

Its website is here, and other posted committee documents are discussed here.

The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh surface water, and they are under stress already.

We need to learn all we can about this unique resource so we can contribute to its best managemnt and most effective conservation, right?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Xoff On National Radio Monday, April 16th, at 9:00 A.M. - - Save The Date

Bill Christofferson, political strategist and biographer of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, (the book is The Man From Clear Lake), will be interviewed this Monday, 4/16, at 9:00 A.M. on Earthbeat Radio.

Earth Day is April 22nd.

Earthbeat Radio originates in Washington, DC and can be accessed at

State Sen. Mary Lazich has been urging the now-stalled Great Lakes legislative study committee to carefully study the writings of a Colorado professor who believes that the four-year-old effort to put conservation language and Great Lakes water diversion procedures should be scrapped.

Now there's a helpful suggestion.

This isn't the first time that Lazich asked the committee to look carefully at an out-of-state opinion that seems to have raised more questions than answers.

Lazich sent the committee a letter from an Ohio state legislator, posted on the Committee's website, that worried about all sorts of things on behalf of Wisconsin landowners.

This is the letter.

And this is a memo back to the committee from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources about the Ohio letter.

Great Lakes Water Issues' Chronology, Websites, Definitions, Documents

A good primer to work one's way through some of the context for discussing the Great Lakes water management with Canada - - "The Compact" - - is here.

Those in Waukesha County who think that scrapping the whole process is a reasonable option are not seeing the full picture.

Their self-interested exceptionalism - - (that hotlink will get you to a national news story that outed the Waukesha County deal-breakers) - - and distorted belief in their procedural entitlement to a resource shared among eight states and two Canadian provinces is...jaw-dropping.

Kevin Crawford, the Mayor of Manitowoc, is a member of the Kedzie Committee, and he had some choice words for the City of Waukesha's committee representative that have sat posted on the committee's website for months, and are among the many documents there that have yet to be covered in the traditional media.

The Manitowoc letter helps explain why I would use the term "exceptionalism" to describe some of the Waukesha spin that has helped lead the committee to its stalemate.

And let's also remember that twice last year, Waukesha tried to get Gov. Doyle, through confidential communications, to approve a diversion from Lake Michigan without going through the Great Lakes Compact or federal statuatory procedures.

Had those documents not been discovered and posted on line in a commentary I wrote for, their existence and the planning behind it might never have been made public.

Waukesha sent the documents to the Kedzie committee after they were published, and has cited them in additional materials forwarded to the committee.

Waukesha is still pushing the line that it doesn't need those permissions.

Wisconsin's Great Lakes Study Committee Shuts Down

The special committee charged with writing legislation for Wisconsin to adopt the first-ever amendments to the US-Canada Great Lakes Compact has not met since December, and I've posted several commentaries about the delay.

The amendments, four years in the making, are designed to protect the health of the Great Lakes by establishing water conservation standards across the Great Lakes region.

And they'd also ratify formal, reasonable procedures through which communities near the Great Lakes basin boundaries could obtain permission from the eight Great Lakes states for diversions of Great Lakes water.

But politicians and business leaders from Waukesha County have complained loudly that the amendents were too restrictive - - even though they provided the first procedural roadmap though which communities like Waukesha and New Berlin could apply for diversions of water from Lake Michigan.

Even though New Berlin has begun the application process, and Waukesha could be next in line, it appears as if the naysayers have carried the day:

Committee chairman Sen. Neal Kedzie has informed the committee in an April 3rd letter that the committee will not be meeting for several more months, with no date, not even a specific month, suggested.

In his letter, Kedzie says it's impossible for all members of the committee to agree on a meeting date.

Like many of you who have also served on committees and boards, I think we know that when people want to meet, and have a major task to finish, they do what they have to do to get a meeting scheduled.

Or they settle on a date which the largest number of members can make, with the rest participating by phone (I believe the conference call is a known procedure at the State Capitol) so the task at hand gets finished.

Especially if it is a matter of public policy this urgent, since the Compact amendments cannot become operational until all eight Great Lakes states approve them.

Minnesota has already done so.

My analysis: Kedzie cannot fashion a consensus on the crucial divisions among the members and does not want to preside over a public squabble, or worse, a debacle that would reverberate across the Great Lakes - - a vote on the committee, with its disproportionate Waukesha County representation, that recommends against the amendments.

A clue: Mary Lazich, New Berlin's state senator and a committee member, has spoken in support publicly of one water expert whose advice for the committee, she says, is "chucking it entirely and starting from scratch."

Paradoxically, without the new amendments, what remains as the existing process governing Great Lakes diversions is a 1986 federal statute that is very brief, but includes, in an even less favorable form, the very provision that some movers-and-shakers in Waukesha found so unreasonable in the Compact: That all eight Great Lakes states must approve any community's diversion of water beyond the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

If past practice is a guide, especially with Waukesha County leaders being so outspoken against the amendments, Michigan, at a minimum, will likely veto any effort by New Berlin or Waukesha to bring Lake Michigan water across the boundary.

Under the federal law, a vetoing state's governor doesn't even have to state a reason.

With the Kedzie committee now dead in the water, look to Gov. Doyle and perhaps other more reasonable legislators to assert leadership and set up another process that can break the logjam and help Wisconsin ratify the Compact amendments.

Another possibility - - and one that could be a so-called nuclear scenario should a community have a diversion application rejected under current federal law: A court challenge.

Knock out the law, and the free-for-all to divert Great Lakes water that brought about the Compact in 1985 in the first place (a company wanted to ship Great Lakes water by tanker to Asia!) would be underway.

If that's what certain Waukesha County interests are planning, if they could be so short-sighted, the rest of the Great Lakes region needs to get prepared.

The Great Lakes hold 20% of the world's fresh surface waters, and should not be so thoughtlessly mismanged.

Friday, April 13, 2007

From a Daily Kos Diarist - - A "Nice" Essay About Vonnegut

In text, and with the links. Either way, you gotta get to the end.
So it goes.

Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt
by: pico

Thu Apr 12, 2007 at 00:49:56 AM EDT
(A fitting tribute to a great literary light who will be missed - promoted by Nonpartisan)

The New York Times is reporting that Kurt Vonnegut, one of the very few contemporary American writers who's earned the title of "classic", passed away today at the age of 84 as the result of brain damage from a recent fall.

Vonnegut was among the favorite writers on the left, in large part because his politics were so uncompromisingly leftist.

The first of his novels I read was the now grossly underappreciated Sirens of Titan, in which he skewers religion, corporatism, militarism, and other -isms generally opposed by writers on the left.

What separates Vonnegut from the pack, besides his instantly recognizable staccato prose rhythm, is his lack of vision for a better world: in fact, Vonnegut seems to fear prescriptions for change as much as he loathes the world as it is.

Does this make him an empty misanthrope?

Hardly: the real moral crux of his novels is a deep sadness and love of the human race, despite its many failings.

A happy ending in a Vonnegut novel is not about the world becoming a better place, but about a lonely person finding a moment of peace - which makes Sirens of Titan perhaps his most representative work of fiction.

Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker's Guide fame, had this to say:

I've read The Sirens of Titan six times now, and it gets better every time. He is an influence, I must own up. Sirens of Titan is just one of those books - you read it through the first time and you think it's very loosely, casually written.

You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realise what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual

Of course, most people know him for one of three novels: Slaughterhouse Five, Cat's Cradle, and/or Breakfast of Champions, all of which are perennial assigned reading at high schools and colleges, even though the latter of those expresses pretty succinctly how much it cares about that kind of canonization:

"I am programmed at 50 to perform childishly. To give an idea of the maturity of my illustrations for this book, here is my picture of an asshole:


Vonnegut's heritage in world fiction is the merging of science fiction and social satire with a deadpan, Hemingwayesque prose efficiency. For people on the left, he also represented the artistic wing of the anti-war movement, in large part because of his damning account of the Dresden firebombing in Slaughterhouse Five.

In what could be a recurring theme on this site, Vonnegut had something many of his critics did not: actual war experience. After most of his unit was obliterated in ground combat, he was taken prisoner and witnessed the firebombing first hand.

What a powerhouse for the left: war veteran, talented writer, acerbic wit, popular acclaim... And best of all, he never hurt nobody, as far as I can tell (he'd probably consider that more worthy praise than the rest).

Oddly, in his most challenging novel, he was accused not of extreme leftism but of the exact opposite: Mother Night was seen by some as an apologia for the Nazi and fascist movements.

But even here, the real moral lesson of the novel is a firmly leftist one: we'd all like to think that we are morally stronger than the people who succumbed to the evils of Nazism or fascism, but more likely we're just lucky to have been born under different circumstances.

Mother Night imagines how easily the ideals of a young American can buy into the world of Nazi Germany, pointing the finger back at a post World War II America that lives on facile comparisons of moral superiority to Nazi Germany:

"f I'd been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snow banks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides. So it goes. "

Needless to say, it was not his most popular novel.

I'll end this with my favorite Vonnegut quote of all, although it may be hard to see what's so beautiful about this without the context:

"If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still--if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I'm grateful that so many of those moments are nice."

Those lines come from Slaughterhouse Five, after Vonnegut breaks out of the fictional narrative back into a painful, through-clenched-teeth passage about the most recent tragedies in American history (the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy) and his own life (the death of his father).

Life is a mean, petty exercise in mutual abuse, and even the hollow laughter of satire is no longer enough. But then that magic line:

"I'm grateful that so many of those moments are nice."

And the anger dissipates. Notice that Vonnegut doesn't describe these moments as "beautiful" or "wonderful" or anything that would give this line a hint of hyperbole or Romanticism - just "nice".

It's an acceptance and a resignation, but a regard that there is beauty in this world, and there is human kindness. And maybe that's enough.

New Berlin Water Park Moves Forward: Ald. Murphy's Questions Need Answers

New Berlin takes another step towards approving a huge hotel and water park complex in a part of the city to which it also wants to pipe in Lake Michigan water.

It would buy that water from the City of Milwaukee, if the other Great Lakes states approve the diversion - - but Michael Murphy, the most influential Milwaukee aldeman on these matters - - has already said that a water park is not a good use of diverted Lake Michigan water.

(Also see related post about climate and other pressures on the Great Lakes, raising more questions about New Berlin and other Waukesha County communities' planning.)

New Berlin is about ready to ask the other states for permission to divert:
Is signaling to the other states that some of that water would go for a water park (and already sharply questioned by one of Milwaukee's key decision-makers) a winning stratrgy?

And as the veteran Ald. Murphy asks:

Is it a good use of Lake Michigan water?

Great Lakes Prominence, Vulnerability, Coming Into Focus

Activists have been stressing it for years, and now international climate change studies and media coverage are emphasizing it, but it's hard to get the powers to be in some Waukesha County communities to grasp this reality:

The Great Lakes could become a contested resource if a warming climate causes water shortages, so they need protection and strong stewardship more than ever.

This is part of the reason that US and Canadian negotiators worked from 2001-2005 to hammer out a proposed new set of rules and standards that would make it difficult - - but allowable under certain conditions - - to move water away from the Great Lakes.

The goal: reasonable, regulated access and protections, as a commonsense upgrade to the two countries' Compact that has managed the Great Lakes since 1985.

And because some communities near the Great Lakes actually straddle the basin's boundaries - - such as the City of New Berlin - - the new rules would allow that city, under certain, definable situations, to divert water from the Great Lakes (Lake Michigan).

Other communities farther west, like the City of Waukesha, could apply for and receive diversion permission under a different section of the new rules and procedures.

That's what makes it so odd that some state legislators and business leaders in Waukesha County are objecting to the rules, and, in some cases, to the structure and provisions of the entire Compact.

You'd think that movers and shakers in Waukesha County would embrace the new rules, and the agreement that contains them, and in fact, should take a leading role in Madison to get the Compact ratified and implemented in Wisconsin.

That's because for the agreement's new rules and procedures to go into effect, all the eight US Great Lakes states must adopt them.

The proposed new Compact rules were approved by the Great Lakes Governors in December, 2005; Wisconsin's continuing delay in approving them, due in part to these Waukesha County-centered objections - - falls into the self-defeating political category of "letting no good deed go unpunished."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Despite Its All-White Committees, SEWPRC Says Getting White Folks Involved Has Been Tough, Too

I have written frequently about the dearth of minority representation on the advisory committees that make recommendations on transportation, housing and other important issues managed at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Announcing, finally, the creation of a new committee on economic justice, with several minority members - - designed to deal with complaints about SEWRPC's inability to be genuinely inclusive - - Commission Executive Director Phil Evenson told a reporter he's had a hell of a hard time getting white people to serve, too.

Even though five of his major current committees, according to his own records, are 98% white. You figure that out.

George Bush Again Will Restrict Stem Cell Science

The public overwhelmingly wants greater stem cell research legalized and funded.

It's poised as Wisconsin's leading academic research and development job-generator for a generation. Lives could be improved, and saved.

Perfect, right?


Standing in the way, again, is President George W. Bush, poised for a second time to veto a Congressional initiative to move stem US cell science forward.

It's sadly comical that Bush says he has a moral objection to expanding federally-funded stem cell research; moral considerations were nowhere in sight when Bush ordered Baghdad flattened with "shock and awe," or when he dawdled on vacation while thousands of people died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, or when he and his minions approved torture as acceptable.

Bush's obstinate closed-mindedness on stem cell research will make it even harder for Republicans to win in the 2008 elections, driving moderate GOP voters to the Democratic Party, or the sidelines.


Moderate GOP office-holders, too.

Even better.

That's a fair consequence for this administration's ruinous domestic and foreign policy blunders.

But January, 2009 is a long way off, and battling through another nearly two years of ideologically-rightist rule will be a long and unnecessarily wasteful slog.

Kurt Vonnegut, R.I.P.

One of the country's greatest modern novelists and public citizens has died at age 84.

The next time you want to read a good book, pick up one of his.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Don Imus Going, Going...

Pretty much gone. He's lost the MSNBC televised simulcast arrangement, and it would be hard to imagine that CBS radio, which airs the audio, won't follow suit.

I had thought that Imus would weather the storm he kicked off April 4th when he insulted the Rutgers University women's basketball team with a racist, misogynistic slur, but in subsequent days, Imus fumbled his apologizes and got greatly out-classed by the poised women he had victimized.

And when sponsors like General Motors and others began pulling their ads, Imus' show didn't have long to live.

I was never a fan. He was another loud-mouthed shock jock, often 'funny' at the expense of minorities and other less powerful groups.

Expect other radio 'personalities' to tone it down, or have a kill or delay button with a hair-trigger mechanism more at the ready in a post-Imus broadcast world.

Talk Radio Dumbs Down Climate Change Discussion

Our local AM Radio Rangers, taking their cues from lead scientist Rush Limbaugh, have been sticking their noses outside during our chilly April and declaring global warming a fraud.

That's a little like seeing Nicole Ritchie on television and announcing that obesity is a myth.

Climate change is a far more extensive phenomenon that what's happening with today's weather; experts are already pointing out that real impacts are occuring, including insect and disease proliferation in suddenly-warming zones.

You don't hear much about that on squawk radio.

You could: One of the world's leading authorities on the relationship of global warning, disease and human health is Jonathan Patz, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The big picture about a warming planet includes understanding the risks posed by rising ocean levels that could appear after fast-paced polar ice melting - - events that would present a clear-and-present danger worldwide, and on US coastlines, with their large populations and billions, trillions, perhaps in development.

And the big picture encompasses the problems inherent in rapid glacial and snowpack melt that will starve downstream communities of their drinking and irrigation water - - not only in faraway places already suffering, but in Europe and the US West, too.

Talk radio could provide a real service to their Wisconsin audiences by interviewing experts like Prof. Patz, but our Radio Rangers prefer aping Rush, their Lead Climate Change Denier and Windbag Idol.

And spending their time repeating the phrases "Democrat Party," "media template" and "Bill Clinton" at least 100 times a day.

How One State Senator Shoots Her District In Its Foot

OK, you ask: is that a proper metaphor? Can a legislator shoot her entire district in the foot, or just her own?

Well, you decide.

State Sen. Mary Lazich represents New Berlin. She also sits on a legislative study committee that has been dead in the water since its last meeting in December, unable to write a draft bill to endorse conservation standards and procedures in amendments to a US-Canadian Compact governing diversions from the Great Lakes.

Those amendments included a last-minute addition, pushed by Wisconsin's negotiators, I am told, that made it possible for communities like Waukesha, and New Berlin, to apply for and receive diverted Lake Michigan even though they lie partially or completely outside the Great Lakes basin.

Yet in large measure, the committee can't reach a consensus because Waukesha County interests think the Compact is too restrictive.

The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce has, in fact, called one key Compact provision - - unanimous approval of diversion requests by all eight Great Lakes Governors - - a deal breaker.

Lazich had circulated throughout southeastern Wisconsin a statement of her broad objections to the Compact; it was posted in various places, including in a community newspaper's blog on Monday April 9th, here.

When a copy of Lazich's objections was emailed to me (Lazich said it came as a courtesy, though it had no additional note with it) - - and you will note in her statement that she blasted me over a blog posting I had written about these issues - - I emailed her on March 17th, and asked her for an explanation.

And pointed out that the blog link she copied into her draft letter was erroneous, linking to nothing, so whatever point she was intending to make about the blog item would be lost on the readers of her statement.

No reply.

Curiously, she emailed me a copy of the same draft statement four days later, on March 21st.

Ah, ha, I thought: dialogue! So I again emailed her, asking the same questions.

No response.

I tried again on March 22nd, and again on March 23rd - - even including my home phone number.

No replies to either (Lazich says she did answer me, but I have no such emails in my inbox).

But back to the original question: how does Lazich's objection to the Compact, as amended, shoot her constituents in their collective foot/feet?

Well, note in her commentary that she says, "I cannot support a flawed document that is bad for public health, bad for the environment, bad for economic development, and generally bad public policy."

Strong language.

And she touts the analysis of a Colorado professor who suggests "chucking it [the Compact] entirely and starting from scratch."

Now stop right there: Starting over would toss out four years of negotiations among ten state and Canadian provincial jurisdictions who produced a series of proposed amendments designed to ensure that the Great Lakes are conserved, not arbitrarily diverted or otherwise mismanaged.

And - - grasp the irony here - - amendments which created for the first time special exceptions to diversion prohibitions for communities exactly like New Berlin.

In other words, the process that Lazich's Colorado expert would dump entirely included a gift to New Berlin that wasn't included in the first set of draft amendments released by the negotiators a couple of years ago.

Does Lazich think that starting over at this late stage (Minnesota has approved the amendments; other states are moving forward, too) would play well in the very states that, under the Compact, and a separate federal law, have to unanimously endorse and approve Great Lakes diversion applications from communities like New Berlin?

This is not a theoretical question.

As I reported in this blog, New Berlin has again sent a Lake Michigan diversion application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for review.

And like New Berlin's much-criticized initial application last year, this one, too, will be sent again by the DNR to the other states for their review.

Approval must be unanimous - - the very provision which business leaders in Waukesha County are calling, let me remind you, a deal-breaker .

Bottom line/flat prediction: The other states, and ultimately Wisconsin, too, regardless of Waukesha County's objections, will surely all endorse the amendments and the Compact again as the deal-maker, because without such uniform approval in each state's implementing legislation, there will be no Compact, and no stewardship for the Great Lakes.

And that would be bad...bad...bad...generally bad public policy for Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region, and the 20% of the world's fresh surface water held in trust here.

Imagine you are a water analyst or cabinet officer or Governor in Michigan, or Illinois, or one of the other Great Lakes states and provinces (the Canadians have an advisory role, but no veto), and the New Berlin application of March 7th lands on your desk.

You start asking questions as you read New Berlin's paperwork.

"New Berlin? Hmmm," say these Great Lakes diversion application reviewers.

"They're back again? What are the leading voices over there saying? Like, say, New Berlin's state senator? The one who's on that legislative study committtee? Where does she stand on the Compact, since she needs our approval?"

A simple Google search of Lazich...New Berlin...Compact will locate Lazich's April 9th condemnation of the Compact.

And her vouching for a professor from Colorado who thinks the entire Compact should be...chucked.

That's how you shoot your entire district in its collective feet.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Verbal Videoed Battle Aside, Some Interesting Information About Immigration And Crime Surfaced

The recent high-decibel near-slugfest between those two aging Fox Network superstars - - Geraldo Rivera and Bill O'Reilly - - helped trip off a more reasoned debate about crime and immigratation, and counter-intuitively, that immigrants may actually be depressing crime rates.

A decent discussion, complete with a link to the shouting match, here.

Jessica McBride Reveals Her Lack Of Depth

My friend and former workplace colleague Bill Christofferson, and his family, have been shaken by a legal and medical emergency.

And have the extra burden of dealing with it under the glare of disproportionately intense publicity - - but Jessica McBride needlessly turned up the heat by posting Monday on her WTMJ-sponsored blog a snotty and mean-spirited political observation.

I've avoided the insider/bloggers' give and take for the most part on this blog because I am trying to keep it focused on issues, but Bill and Molly are friends, and even if they weren't, I'd respond in the same way.

Politicians are fair game for bloggers. Media, too: But their children should not be, especially when the stakes are so high.

The irony is that McBride's posting tells you more about herself than the Christoffersons.

I wish Bill and Molly and their family the best.

I wish that McBride presented with more self-awareness, even empathy; that may come with maturity. Let's hope so.

One Iraq War Milestone Noted; Longer-Term Damage Grows

Four years have passed since the fall of Baghdad, and what do we have to show for it?

The Washington Post, which recently broke the news about the deplorable state of affairs at the military's Walter Reed hospital, offers another way to understand and measure the real outcome of the war: permanent brain injuries are being inflicted in record numbers, and the military's health-care system can't keep up with this, either.

Two key paragraphs from The Washington Post story, linked above, say it all:

"About 1,800 U.S. troops, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, are now suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) caused by penetrating wounds. But neurologists worry that hundreds of thousands more -- at least 30 percent of the troops who've engaged in active combat for four months or longer in Iraq and Afghanistan -- are at risk of potentially disabling neurological disorders from the blast waves of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and mortars, all without suffering a scratch.

For the first time, the U.S. military is treating more head injuries than chest or abdominal wounds, and it is ill-equipped to do so. According to a July 2005 estimate from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq who don't immediately return to duty have traumatic brain injuries."

From time to time, our local right-wing radio rangers clumsily try and minimize the impact of US combat casualties by comparing the numbers to those from other wars. The US Civil War, for example. Or World War II.

It's a stupid numbers game. War is war, and pain is pain, and the Iraq War has been excruciatingly long, unnecessary and tragic.

The suffering in store for these brain-injured soldiers and their families is another reason to remove our troops immediately.

As the author of the Post story writes: "Most of the families of our wounded that I have interviewed months, if not years, after the injury say the same thing: "Someone should have told us that with these closed-head injuries, things would not really get all that much better."

Monday, April 9, 2007

Some Offensive Talk Radio Has Consequences

As discussed earlier, radio host Don Imus has not been fired for his racial, mysognistic insults aimed at some women basketball players, but has been suspended for two weeks.

We'll see if that's the end of it. For now, probably. He'll be on super-serious probation, that is, one more really, really offensive rif could end his career.

Local rude radio rangers around here haven't quite pushed the format to the same extent, though Mark Belling's recent long tirade against nursing mothers was pretty crude.

And as Imus' remarks gave us a window into the deeper recesses of his mind, and his inability to filter things before they got to his mouth, Belling's did, too.

Ask yourself: who would have the phrase "raggy, menopausal, crabby women" at the ready to describe women whom Belling predicted would call and object to his comparing the needs of nursing mothers and their babies (and aren't those infants just so demanding!) to his right "to take a crap" when and where he wanted?

And have you ever heard anyone describe a mother nursing as "some big fat woman pull[ing} out her thing."

Her thing?

Tommy Thompson and His Former Boss Take Their Lumps on Daily Kos

Tommy's wacky run for the GOP nomination gets the major treatment on Daily Kos, here.

With 500,000 hits a day, the material from Kos will filter into Iowa, where Tommy is camped out, and where also, no doubt, the other Thompson - - Fred from Law and Order - - is probably already a more popular Thompson.

The "Procrastinaton Penalty" in Global Warming Debates

Best phrase yet in the global warming debate, "procrastination penalty," is examined at length here.

Great Lakes Compact Obstructionists Outed By The AP

Roadblocks to adoption of the amended Great Lakes Compact are finally in a national story with widespread distribution, here through the AP.

Even the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce makes the story.

The story notes last year's failed effort by New Berlin to win a diversion with an application labeled insufficient and inaccurate by several other Great Lakes states.

The story did not note New Berlin's more recent application, which has only been reported in this blog.

Boston Globe Says Bush Will "Worry About Global Warming Tomorrow"

No kidding, I thought, when I read that: Same old story. Global Warming...Bush...his signature 'later for that' mentality.

Then I read a little deeper into the story summary on-line, with the headline "US TO WORRY ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING TOMORROW," and it begins this way:

"Bush administration officials preferred not to talk about global warming this week when they unveiled plans to battle acid rain, smog and toxic emissions."

Right again, I said to myself. Same Bush media-control, science-squashing tactics at work: Say nothing while gearing up to crank out some fake industry-friendly 'clean' air proposal. (Cough, cough)

But here's the kicker - - the story was published on June 14 (Flag Day, by the way) 1989, during the administration of Bush 41, George H. W. Bush.

You know, 41 - - the good Bush, as opposed to Junior, Bush 43, Pawn of Karl Rove and the real President, Dick Cheney.

So there's your proof: Those oil-lovin' Bushies have been practicing global warming denial since the 1980's. No wonder the glaciers are melting.

Here's the entire on-line entry. I didn't buy the full story from the Globe's paid archives, cuz' I'm betting I got all I needed to know from the summary, which says:

"Published on June 14, 1989
Author(s): Larry Tye, Globe Staff

Bush administration officials preferred not to talk about global warming this week when they unveiled plans to battle acid rain, smog and toxic emissions.

In fact, analysts say, the White House plan for revising the Clean Air Act is at best neutral when it comes to the dangerous warming of the planet -- and at worst, it could speed warming, they say. That is because the acid rain cleanup does nothing to remove the carbon dioxide emissions from coal and oil plants that trap heat radiated from..."

One last thing: catch that one phrase - - "the dangerous warming of the planet..." Sorta puts into a depressing context the spate of recent stories, analyses and reports about the rapid rate of climate change.


Imagine where we'd be today if we'd faced up to those inconvenient truths two decades ago.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Dousman, WI: Home of Hot Boys and Home-based Choppers

Ah, small town America - - ideal, peaceful places where parents can safely raise their families, middle-aged folks can lounge around with a glass of wine and a good book when the kids have gone off to college, and seniors can live out their golden years in quiet, contemplative reflection.

Like the Waukesha County Village of Dousman, described this way on a website posted by the local chamber of commerce: "It's a great place to live, work and relax in the Kettle Moraine area of southeastern Wisconsin."

Right. Until your dentist neighbor revs up his helicopter.

And not to keep picking on Dousman, but I have to pass on this nugget appended to the village's description on the self-generating online encyclopedia "Wikipedia," where any knucklehead with a computer can add 'facts,' spellcheck optional.

"Dousman coutny also icludes some of the hottest country boys i have ever seen and i wouldnt mind banging any of them."

Retrieved from ""

Wisconsin Sees Its Reflection In The Georgia Thompson Case: Guest Post

My longtime friend and former Madison Mayoral staff colleague Phil Ball offers a commentary on the implications of the Georgia Thompson case:

What galls is the injustice of it. Take a close look.

The process itself led to the near-destruction of Georgia Thompson. She was a victim of supposedly seamless legal procedures and safeguards, the pride of American jurisprudence - - and also victimized by a falsified political debate and failed free press.

True, the US Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, a part of the system, made short shrift of all the nonsense that came before it, ordering Thompson freed with a single majestic assertion of street clarity; 'Bullshit!'

But here in Wisconsin, all the instruments agreed that she was guilty, beginning with 'independent' federal prosecutors, citizen grand juries, free and objective media, open trial before a jury of peers, public debate of the facts - - all of it overseen by a competent judiciary and duly reported and commented on a near daily basis.

The result; an honorable, innocent life nearly destroyed.

Compounding this travesty was the follow-on.

From the Governor on down, public figures and the usual opportunists condemned graft and corruption in general and Georgia Thompson in particular by name and by implication. Liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican - - it made no difference, before or after the fact of conviction: Georgia Thompson was stoned in the stocks on the public square.

How could this happen?

With formal safeguards exhausted or complicit in the crime, all that remained between Georgia Thompson and gross injustice was the hope for the voice of a righteous individual saying, "No. This is wrong. The judge, jury, prosecutors, grand jurors, newspapers, they are all wrong. The people are wrong."

But public leaders who knew better nonetheless censored themselves, at best. At worst, they joined the pack of jackals that perpetrated this shameful act in condemning Georgia Thompson.

Was the prosecution of Georgia Thompson orchestrated by Republicans as part of the Bush strategy nationally to politicize the whole system of federal prosecutors, and in Wisconsin, to embarrass Democrats and Gov. Jim Doyle in particular?

Could this have happened if Doyle and others who clearly knew that this was a sham prosecution had stood up at the start and said, "This is political abuse of an innocent public servant and I won't allow it. I will fight for Georgia Thompson's rights."?

I like Jim Doyle. Always have. But there are times when he is cautious to a flaw. In this instance, it cost Georgia Thompson dearly.

For the rest of us who stood by and watched - - well, it doesn't make you proud to be a Badger, does it?

Talk Radio Goes Rude, Ratings Soar

Nationally-syndicated radio talker Don Imus is in trouble over nasty, misogynistic racist remarks about African-American college basketball stars.


Will Imus be fired? No way: his show is too valuable to its corporate owners and the advertisers who sell their products there for the program to be killed.

In fact, more people will probably tune in to hear what Imus says next, attracted somewhat the way NASCAR watchers anticipate the next flaming wreck.

Remember the 2004 brouhaha over Mark Belling's on-air slur against Mexican-Americans?

Belling got hit with a week's suspension by WISN-AM's owners, but not immediately. The suspension came down only after Belling didn't apologize quickly and sincerely, giving the story and resulting protests a longer run.

It's all about the money.

Belling ratings have stayed high in the key, revenue-producing age 25-to-54 demographic (he's a real hit with the guys, apparently), even as critics, such as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin, have noted the relationship between ratings and Belling's on-air insults.

Said Cuprisin in a 2003 column describing Belling's schtick - - and it seems every bit as true today:

"Rudeness: This has developed over the years, as Mark cranks up the volume on his show to maintain listener interest. Even callers who agree with him often get yelled at for not agreeing in the right way."

So Belling is still at it, being a tasteless, rude radio money-maker, and that's why a recent segment during which, for nearly an hour, he equated a women's right to breast-feed in public with his self-declared right to "take a crap" won't get him fired.

When he's got 25-to-54-year-olds tuning in faithfully, breast-feeding can be equated with defecating and motherhood can take a back seat to making money.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Earth Day 2007 Approaches: When It Comes To Great Lakes Water, Wisconsin Will Celebrate With Inertia

Media love round-number anniversary dates - - the tenth anniversary of this, the 25th of that, and so on.

So here's a number that's worth considering, but since it's not perfect, maybe I'll construct a little on-line daily reminder box as a better marker.

Earth Day 2007, which is April 22nd (a little history about Earth Day and its founder, the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson here), is almost the 500th day exactly (actually day #495 by my count), since the eight Great Lakes state governors and two Great Lakes Canadian provincial premiers signed the amended Great Lakes Compact.

Signed it on December 13, 2005, and in Milwaukee, too, raising even further the profile of Lake Michigan, where water levels are plummeting, yet paradoxically to which fast-growing Waukesha County is looking increasingly for water diversions.

And in those nearly-500 days since the signing, only Minnesota has approved the amendment Compact, so Wisconsin has company across the region.

That's not much of an excuse: Wisconsin has been a leader in Great Lakes preservation, having led the effort in the 1980's to pass the original US-Canadian compact.

But since the much hyped 12/13/05 signing ceremony at The Pfister Hotel, Wisconsin has responded with only a legislative study committee that hasn't met for months, and is grounded due to objections from Waukesha County politicians and business leaders over their communities ease of access to the waters.

Inertia and business-as-usual by land developers seeking water for projects will not protect the Great Lakes, where the potential risks to water levels through temperature increases are being documented repeatedly in recent, major studies on climate change.

Wisconsin's best celebration of Earth Day 2007 would be the swift adoption of the amended Compact, with its strong standards and procedures governing diversions and mandating effective water conservation.

A more attainable goal this year by Earth Day, 2007 - - the 22nd of this month?

How about having State Sen. Neal Kedzie get that moribund water study committee back in gear. It hasn't met since December.