Thursday, May 31, 2007

Texas Assembly GOP Speaker Takes A Fall

A friend sends along a link to one of those Texas tales of political power run amuk, then aground. Worth a read.

Bush Supports Global Warming Initiative Six Years After Shredding Kyoto

So is George Bush's 11th-hour embrace of Global Warming a publicity stunt, a pre-election year ploy to help doomed GOP congressional candidates, a recognition that Global Warming is a real threat or the consummate foot-dragging by a tone deaf, lazy chief executive?

Probably a little of everything.

Bush would get more credit from other world leaders and the American public had he not suggested 18 months of talks to come up with a plan to cut greenhouse emissions - - almost to the day of the 2008 presidential elections and the effective end of his ineffective presidency.

And six years after he dismissed the Kyoto Accords as unneeded.

If he had challenged world leaders to hammer out an agreement in three-to-six months, his proposal would look far more credible.

Arizona, Running Out Of Water, Moving Towards Growth Limits

First it was Florida, where fresh water is drying up.

Now Arizona.

Here are the key paragraphs from that AP story:

"PHOENIX — Arizona lawmakers voted Thursday to expand the state's growth management efforts, approving a bipartisan bill to empower counties and cities to place new restrictions on rural development without adequate water supplies.

The House's 50-1 vote completed legislative action on the bill, which now goes to Gov. Janet Napolitano, a supporter.

The Senate approved the bill on March 8 on a 26-2 vote.

Legislative approval of the measure came a quarter-century after the 1980 enactment of a historic groundwater management law imposing new pumping and irrigation restrictions in "active management areas." Those areas include Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott.

Those urban-oriented restrictions were aimed at curbing groundwater depletion that outpaced natural replacement.

Subsequent population growth in the nation's fastest growing state has started to crowd some rural areas, leaving some straining to secure adequate water supplies. In parts of eastern and northern Arizona, residents have to truck in water. "

Think anyone in Waukesha, where communities there are drawing down the water table, but embracing every annexation that comes their way, is paying attention?

The Great Lakes may be big, but they are not infinite, and recharge at the rate of 1% a year.

Government Regulation Is Government Doing Its (Our) Job

One of the leading conservative talkers in Milwaukee today was blasting the proposed, statewide smoking ban moving to a state legislative vote.

The talker was objecting that the proposed ban would include taverns. He called it a violation of consumers' right to choose.

But government has instituted numerous public health rules and laws, all of which violate some freedom of personal choice, in favor of the public good.

You can't burn leaves and brush in many jurisdictions: imagine how much dirtier our air would be (today is the fourth consecutive day of a dirty air warning for much of southern Wisconsin) if public burning were still permitted.

You can't let your dog run loose on Bradford Beach: dogs poop in the water and sometimes attack strange people, or other animals, so your freedom to walk your dog is circumscribed by government.

You can't drive 60 m.p.h. on a residential street. You can't empty your septic tank in a trout stream. You can't throw your old asbestos roofing in your garbage cans.

You can't shout "fire" in a theater.

We have plenty of rules and laws designed to maintain public safety, and, since the industrial revolution, the health of workers and bystanders.

That's why a smoking ban in taverns and other places makes perfect sense, and arguing it on the personal freedom principle will fail.

Belling Shills For GOP, Misses The Point

Mark Belling's most recent column for The Freeman, a Waukesha daily paper, is a predictable screed against Gov. Jim Doyle's budget.

This is how it opens:

"While Gov. Jim Doyle is the one proposing a staggering $1.7 billion in new taxes, not a single penny of additional tax burden can be imposed without the votes of Republicans. How the GOP plays this will tell a lot about whether Wisconsin actually has two parties of differing philosophies."

Like the blind squirrel finding a stray acorn, Belling has hit upon something true, but he can't handle the full historical reality because it undermines his conservative ideology.

Doyle's budget funds a state government largely built during the taxing-and-spending hog feeding of the Tommy Thompson era, when Republicans wrote and passed state budgets - - without restraint.

All those new highways, new state office buildings, expanded agencies - - those were sunk deeply into state government and the taxpayers' pockets by Tommy and his crew.

And as much as conservative legislators complain about sstat spending, GOP legislators were unable to get TABOR I or II or CXV passed because their constituents liked enough of thse programs to make those controls politically unacceptable.

The GOP still controls the Assembly, but in the end, they will do what their constituents want, and reach compromise with the Dems and Doyle, because government is a middle-of-the-road operation, and not the product of talk show thinking.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bottling A California Town's Water is a Great, Great Lakes Lesson

Not content with selling Michigan spring water as "Ice Mountain" along with many other brands, Nestle has captured yet another small community's water, and plans to bottle and sell it far from the source.

As if the supply will last forever.

But don't think that Nestle's move on a faraway California town's water supply is an isolated event for the 1,400 people who live there.

The issue is national, regional and international, with echos right here in Wisconsin, a Great Lakes state.

There has been alot of publicity in Wisconsin about the need for the state to amend, then adopt, the US-Canadian agreement called the Great Lakes Compact.

One change that is needed is the closing of a loophole in that agreement that makes it easier to export, and lose, Great Lakes water.

As drafted, the Compact says that Great Lakes water can't be shipped away to communities that sit outside of the Great Lakes basin - - except under very specific procedures and circumstances.

But the bottled water loophole, written to please the private water industry, says water can be shipped out of the Great Lakes in containers smaller than 5.7 gallons without any special approvals and without limits on their quantity.

That's a pretty big loophole, and will guarantee that a great deal of water will be shipped far away from the Great Lakes by the fast-growing bottled water industry.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle and other multinationals are nailing down large segments of world fresh water resources, selling the water bottle-by-bottle at enormous markups and creating billions of plastic bottles that litter the landscape and end up in landfills.

And here we are, at the edge of Lake Michigan, where everything from invasive species to fish viruses to industrial and municipal pollution harms the Great Lakes - - and some Wisconsin politicians are playing games with the one multi-state/multi-national agreement on the books to better manage this precious and unique water resource.

State Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin is among Waukesha County government and business leaders blocking adoption, in Wisconsin, of the pending Great Lakes compact - - an agreement that:

A) Is needed for its general water conservation principles.

B) And needs amending to remove the bottled water exporting exception.

Lazich sits on the legislative study committee established last year to write Great Lakes Compact implementing legislation for Wisconsin.

But the committee has not met since December.

Lazich and the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce oppose Wisconsin's adoption of the Compact. Minnesota has passed it, and other states are moving in that direction, too.

This leaves open the possibility that should Lazich & Co. prevail, Wisconsin - - the once-proud leader in environmentalism and Great Lakes protection - - will be known in North America as the anti-Great Lakes conservation state.

Blocking the Compact's implementation in Wisconsin, or any single state, will freeze its implementation across an eight-state region, and will continue to leave the Great Lakes vulnerable to mismanagement.

We can't do much in this part of the country about Nestle walking off with a valuable supply of northern California water. (Note to progressive conference planners: Can we at least stop providing Ice Mountain and such other bottled waters?)

But we can help slam the door on the company doing the same thing in our own backyard in Michigan and any other Great Lakes state.

Sen. Lazich: Wisconsin residents and the Great Lakes watershed, need your leadership, not your obstruction.

UN Mid-East Tribunal A Good Sign

The United Nations is an easy target for right-wingers and assorted political know-nothings, but the UN is on the right track trying to bring justice to Lebanon in the wake of the 2005 assassination of Tariq al-Hariri, the popular ex-premier.

Establishing its first criminal tribunal in the Middle East, a UN Court will investigate the bombing that killed al-Hariri and 22 others, and has jurisdiction over an additional 14 criminal cases.

The UN investigated the 2005 bombing, and established the tribunal because Syria is suspected of orchestrating the anti-al-Hariri violence which had international repercussions.

This is not the first such special court that the UN has created, but in a region wracked by lawlessness, its presence makes a strong statement in favor of the rule of law.

Norquist Returns With A Simple, Common Sense Message

Former Mayor John O. Norquist gave a talk in Milwaukee this morning, offering some common sense about vehicle usage, employment and housing strategies.

Here is the local paper's coverage from its Newswatch blog:

WEDNESDAY, May 30, 2007, 10:19 a.m.
By Tom Daykin

Norquist pushes for more urban housing

The development of more urban housing would help reduce traffic and contribute to a decline in greenhouse gases, former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist told a local audience today.

Apartments, condominiums and other housing within walking distances or a short bus ride from where people work could be a key factor in reducing global warming, said Norquist, president of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism. The non-profit group promotes sustainable urban development.

"Instead of forcing everybody to not drive, how about just not driving as much?" said Norquist, speaking to around 100 people. The meeting, at the Italian Community Center, was presented by Building Owners & Managers Association of Wisconsin and the Apartment Owners & Managers Association of Greater Milwaukee.

(Disclosure: I worked for Norquist, as stated in my blog profile, fyi.)

Goodbye Goldmann's

Nothing lasts forever, but when Goldmann's is gone, so is a piece of Milwaukee history.

SEWRPC's Failed Housing Plan History

Gretchen Schuldt serves up the record on SEWRPC's 32-year-failure to update a housing plan for the region.

Can you imagine any other agency ignoring something so important for so long

New Pabst Farms Mall To Be...A Mall

I'm not a shopping mall obsessive, but I do know that the new mall at Bayshore is of the 'outdoor' variety, as opposed to the older-style, enclosed mall.

Bayshore Town Center offers the feeling of a neighborhood's retail district, with streets and streetscapes and other amenities designed to break up the boxy, old-fashioned mall where you park your car, and walk into arcades on a floor or two of stores on either side of the aisles.

For example, most of Mayfair is a giant, enclosed mall, with a few newer, stand-alone, big-name stores in or very close to the complex.

But outdoor, it ain't.

Some people apparently hoped that that the million-square-foot upscale mall at Pabst Farms would be of the newer, outdoor design, since everything is supposed to be the latest and greatest when it comes to Pabst Farms retail tenants.

But if you're looking for the trendier, outdoor mall version at Pabst Farms, all of which is being built on top of once open-space through which the underground water supply got its recharging rain and snow melt - - surely at least as important to the live-blood of the region as more subdivisions and intensified shopping - - get ready to be disappointed.

A local Waukesha County newspaper, paper, the Kettle Moraine Index, describes the mall this way:

"Plans for 110 acres at I-94 and Highway 67 include a 1,000-foot-long interior shopping mall flanked by three 140,000- to 180,000-square-foot, two-story anchor stores, two "junior" anchor stores, including a 28,000-square-foot bookstore and a separate 16-screen movie theater."

The news may make it less certain that taxpayers will rush to plunk down a fresh $20 million in taxes to pay for a spanking-new I-system interchange to get retail shoppers in and out of Pabst Farms.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Campaign Season Losing Its Scheduling Logic

With states now moving their 2008 primaries ahead of each other - - and in some cases now 10 months before the November, 2008 election - - it's only a matter of time before a state tries to schedule its '08 primary in late '07.

This is a stupid chase after media and a few bucks of advertising and campaign staff expenses, and is turning presidential campaigns into an even-greater circus.

By the time the election rolls around, the winner might be Voter Fatigue.

Waukesha Water Manager Has Milwaukee Issue In His Hands

And it has nothing to do with Lake Michigan water.

Dan Duchniak, the Waukesha Water Utility manager (annoyingly called a water "czar" by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), is on the landmark lead paint civil suit filed by the City of Milwaukee against US paint manufacturers.

This is the story from the paper's Tuesday p.m. newswatch blog:

"TUESDAY, May 29, 2007, 6:18 p.m.

Water czar now into lead paint

Dan Duchniak, Waukesha’s top water guy, will be out of position for at least six weeks. He’s a juror in the city of Milwaukee’s $85 million lawsuit against the lead paint industry. Milwaukee is seeking the money to cover the cost of abating harmful lead paint in roughly 41,000 houses in Milwaukee neighborhoods.

Although he is general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, he and his family live in Oak Creek. He was exempted from city residency rules, in part, so his kids could remain in Oak Creek schools.

Milwaukee County picked an inopportune time to pluck Duchniak from Waukesha because the city is moving ahead to seize privately owned land southwest of town for a new well field."

The item is written from the Waukesha perspective: Duchniak is out of position for Waukesha decision-making, etc.

I can't help but notice that there's just no stemming the influence Waukesha exerts over Milwaukee policies. Nothing personal regarding Dan: maybe this is just more regionalism?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tommy Thompson Addresses Crowd of Seven at New Hampshire Nursing Home

When a Presidential candidate draws a crowd of seven, but a reporter is there taking notes, there's only one question to ask about that campaign:

Is the problem the advance staff work, or is it the candidate?

Some in the crowd were New Hampshire elected officials.

Tommy's penchant for self-referencing and strange syntax comes through loud and clear, with the reporter winding up the story this way:

"That's why I'm running. I've got ideas,'' he [Thompson] told the group, adding, "I can win and be a darn good President. I'm loyal.''

That loyalty will pay off for the party, Thompson assured the group.

"A candidate has to build the party, and I'm still a legislator at heart,'' Thompson said as he prepared to leave. "If I win, I'll come back, and I will do everything to help build your party.''

Road Warrior Takes A New Route: Happy Trails

Larry Sandler, a/k/a Road Warrior, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's transportation beat reporter, is being transferred to the City Hall beat.

Larry's a pro. He's covered City Hall.

Someone else now gets the privilege of following transportation (basically, highways) issues in southeastern Wisconsin.

Oil Analyst: Wholesale Price Easy To Cut 50 Cents A Gallon


If half of American motorists used one less gallon a month, the drop in demand could cut the wholesale price of gasoline per gallon up to half-a-buck, a leading oil industry analyst says.

Here's the money quote:

"That's according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service on the East Coast. Kloza says that if just half of Americans used one single gallon less of gasoline in the month of June, demand would dip 1 percent. Wholesale gasoline prices would slide 30 cents to 50 cents.

Would that be so hard?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Faces Of Sacrifice has posted the photographs of American military personnel killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These men and woman, and their families, have paid a terrible price in our names: the best way to honor them would be adding no more names to this list.

Whither Ruby Farm? Preservation, or Pabst Farms II

Another major piece of Waukesha County - - Ruby Farm - - is being tugged in opposite directions - - development, or 'development,' or preservation.

The key paragraph in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about Ruby Farm, linked above, tells the tale:

"A road-widening project scheduled for next year will demolish part of the farmstead. The fate of the remainder lies with a developer who bought the farm and adjacent vacant land."

You'd think that at some point there would be a therapeutic shock of recognition, a bolt of awareness, an "ah-ha" moment that would put the traffic congestion, water depletion and rising taxes for local services in Waukesha County into bold view, along these lines:

The more people you cram into once-open spaces, the more the negatives outweigh the positives, including lost heritage and future sustainability.

Who knows what it will take for people to see the light?

Another $20 million in public dollars to buy the Pabst Farms mega-mall a freeway interchange?

Tens of millions of dollars to pipe in and return Lake Michigan water to communities where sprawl has made a once water-rich zone into a region of shortage?

Setting the date of the ceremony that some planner at SEWRPC (the regional planning commission) could mathematically pinpoint for Developer Victory Day in Waukesha County.

That's the date certain on which Waukesha County developers will announce the cutting of the last tree, the paving of the final quarter-acre of farmland, and draining of the last piece of wetlands - - for something more valuable: paving the County's 20,000th strip mall parking space.

Let's hope the preservationists working to save Ruby Farms prevail, and draw a line in the sand, or the meadow, saying, "after this, no more."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Bush Cuts, So GOP Can Run

The White House looks to cut US troops in Iraq during '08 by 50%.

Anyone think there's no connection to the Presidential campaign?

Anyone think this is sending Al Qaeda our plans?

Anyone think any GOP candidate will accuse Bush of cutting and running, or cutting so they can run?

Pabst Farms - - Not Taxpayers - - Can Pay For New Mall Interchange

Planning in southeastern Wisconsin has been legendarily bungled for years - - but the revelation that the vaunted regional freeway expansion plan doesn't contain funding for an interchange for Pabst Farms' shopping mall is a doozy.

Planning in Western Waukesha County has long been the nearly-private preserve of a handful of powerful interests.

A Pabst Farms' initial consultant was Ruekert & Mielke, the same firm that has done water supply studies for both fast-growing Waukesha and New Berlin, and is also managing the regional planning commission's (SEWRPC) three-year-long water supply study.

Dan Warren, Pabst Farms project manager, is the chairman of the Waukesha Water Utility commission.

And SEWRPC wrote the freeway expansion plan, much of which has been driven (lousy pun) by housing and retail projects on farm land and open space in Waukesha County.

Where the Pabst Farms project, 1,500 homes on 1,500 acres, anchored by a hospital and upscale mall, is the biggest project of them all.

You have to ask: this was just a $20 million oopsie, an oversight? Is it conceivable that the Pabst Farms designers, mall owners, government agencies and highway officials didn't discuss how shoppers were going to get in and out of a million-square-foot retail attraction?

Or did all these honchos figure that taxpayers would write the check because folks out in Waukesha County would spare no expense to get a glitzy mall closer than Mayfair?

Regionalism is the rage right now, so maybe the business and government consortium known as M 7 will define Pabst Farms as a regional asset requiring regional investment - - sticking Milwaukee County residents with the biggest share.

That's how SEWRPC's annual budget is put together, and how its heavily-suburban water study got funded, so why not pay for a spanking new highway interchange for upscale suburban mall-goers the same way?

It was questionable, certainly, when communities in Waukesha County kicked in millions in public, Tax Incremental Financing dollars to help build the Pabst Farms complex right on top of the land that provides key filtration and recharge for the region's underground water supply.

But more public financing for Pabst Farms amenities would move from questionable to outrageous - - and probably to court - - should the powers-that-be deem a $20 million freeway interchange for a shopping mall to be a public need.

Fair solution:

If Pabst Farms managers want an interchange for their mall, they can pay for it.

(UPDATE: Read about the probable demise to the developer's bulldozers of the Ruby Farm, another Waukesha County landmark, here.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bush Administration Hates Progressive Germans

Let's see now. Rumsfeld & Co. bashed old Europe when Germany and France refused to go along with our attack on Iraq.

I guess those guys preferred the old Europe, where countries would go to war with each other for decades, sending smoke spewing into the skies.

Yeah, that's the Europe we liked, the one that with two World Wars continent wide between 1918 and 1945.

Now we don't like the new Germany, either. It's too interested in clean air and efforts to stem global warming, The New York Times tells us.

Again, give us that quaint old Europe, and the older-model Germany, too.

Some of this might get fixed if the Dems win The White House in 2008, maybe, but by then, a lot of damage will have been done that extends far beyond European and American borders.

Great Lakes Problems and Wisconsin's Leadership Failures

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a cautious editorial approach today on the possible ban of ocean-going freighters on the Great Lakes proposed by 90 environmental organizations to stem the spreading fatal fish virus.

The editorial closes with an appeal for action and leadership from Wisconsin's Congressional delegation, and that kick-in-the-pants is long overdue.

But let's also note that Wisconsin state officials are also doing their own share of foot-dragging when it comes to Wisconsin and Great Lakes watershed issues.

The state still has not ratified the amended Great Lakes Compact, essentially caving into political pressures from business interests in Waukesha County.

It has been six months since the state's legislative study committee charged with drafting Compact enabling legislation has held a meeting, and the leader of the anti-Compact forces, State Sen. Mary Lazich, thinks that no agreement is better than adopting a standard-based set of rules governing Great Lakes diversions.

Gov. Jim Doyle is the chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, and needs to set in motion an alternative process to get a bill written and adopted.

And it wouldn't hurt to have his DNR show a little more transparency and assertiveness when it comes to water conservation.

Like getting tougher on developers who want to fill wetlands.

The DNR also had to be pressured to announce a public comment period as it reviews New Berlin's second application for a Great Lakes diversion. It shouldn't have waited weeks to do so, after keeping the public unaware that New Berlin had applied again for diversion permission.

There is a lack of urgency at every level of government when it comes to water and land preservation in Wisconsin.

The state used to be a national leader. Now it's just another laissez-faire jurisdiction, forgetting that it gave birth to Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson, and has a public that wants and expects leadership.

When Regulators Fail, Harm Is The Outcome/Updated

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells us that there is no consistency statewide by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources when it comes to legally preserving the state's wetlands.

The New York Times in the same news cycle media tells us that the US Federal and Drug Administration gave little or need heed for seven years to warnings that Avandia, a diabetes prescription medication, significantly raised the heart attack rate among its users.

In both cases, the agencies and their staffs failed to do their jobs. Having worked in government for years, I know that enforcement shoulder-shrugging spreads through bureaucracies where the people at the top do not demand performance and accountability.

Now, I'm not equating fatal heart attacks with dumping dirt into wetlands.

But both stories should get the attention of readers, taxpayers and legislative overseers, all of whom should demand explanations and swift fixes from senior officials on down.

And this is not a partisan matter, either.

The failure to adequately regulate Avandia with public safety as the top priority began under the Bill Clinton administration, so his people, along with Pres. George Bush and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson share equally in the need to explain themselves.

In the DNR matter, Gov. Jim Doyle and DNR Secretary Scott Hassett should explain why they cannot guarantee to the taxpayers of Wisconsin that precious Wisconsin wetlands are not being preserved by the agency charged with that very task.

As the Wisconsin Wetlands Association has noted, alot of wetlands are being filled in Wisconsin. And Mother Nature isn't making more these days.

(Note: An earlier version of this posting had a link to a news report about the Wisconsin Wetlands Association commenting on the issue. The link is no longer operating, so I have added a direct link to the WWA and its analysis of the DNR's performance.)

This isn't a question of ideology - - of onerous, unfair or nit-picky regulations being ignored because they are too burdensome, or too tough to figure out.

These are examples of basic protections for people and the environment being ignored or given too low a priority.

People they have a right to enjoy the natural environment in the common spaces, and in good health.

Waukesha Water Rate Plan Deserves Praise

This blog has had comments blasting Waukesha's water planning too numerous to cite, but when Waukesha does something positive, it needs to be noted.

Waukesha has followed through on a commitment, and won approval from the Public Service Commission to restructure city water charges.

And that's a good thing, because it begins to make some consumers pay for excessive water usage in a community with serious water issues.

I know that the plan falls short of what others want implemented. The plan does not go far enough, and advocates for conservation and smart growth are correct when they call for a stronger plan.

My experience in government tells me that new ideas and innovation are tough sells at the outset, and that change is often maddeningly incremental.

Regardless, Waukesha is on the right track.

It has lawn watering rules in place. And if it resolved its water supply questions with greater innovation, Waukesha could genuinely become a leader in the struggle to preserve the Great Lakes watershed, instead of being seen sometimes as the municipal 'bad guy' sneaking around procedures and agreements for a pipe into Lake Michigan.

But for today, good for Waukesha. Other communities should follow its lead, and the PSC should encourage water conservation pricing statewide, too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another Policy Dud From Scott Walker

Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County Executive famous for cutting the bus system, has come up with another bad idea:

Stripping out the trolley component of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's bus/rail transit upgrade - - the key element there being the rail loop aimed mainly at the downtown - - for an all-bus expansion to help the suburbs.

The Walker plan also deletes Barrett's proposed express bus extension to Mitchell Airport, indicating Walker's disinterest in the "multi-modal" linking together of various forms of transportation.

Not to mention his shrug of the shoulders at assisting the airport - - a County-run facility.

Walker's plan meets at least three of his pet political priorities:

Win praise from his shills in right wing talk radio, where anti-rail foamers lead the retrograde movement in southeastern Wisconsin keeping Milwaukee a second-tier, under-competing city.

Appear to support transit expansion, using federal funds he had nothing to do with winning for Milwaukee, for new bus routes to please his suburban base.

Be the anti-Barrett.

This is something Walker grafted on to his standard operating procedure after former Mayor John Norquist left office in 2004.

As a former Norquist staffer, I observed Walker's negativity towards Milwaukee, ranging from his opposition to programs as varied as the Milwaukee Connector to consolidation of duplicated, taxpayer-paid plant nurseries.

Express buses might be nice - - until they get caught in traffic and remind riders that a bus is a bus is a bus - - but urban trains are new, and hip.

Modern US cities are building several varieties of light rail and trolley systems, even in cities like Dallas, where there are more right wing talk show hosts per capita (or is it per square mile?) than in Milwaukee, Norquist joked.

Urban rail has come to Denver, Baltimore, San Diego, Portland, even to Kenosha, but Walker and his talk show allies are keeping Milwaukee a rail-free zone.

And rail-bashing by some AM talkers keeps the conservative, suburban base stirred up, on edge, fearing the easier movement of city residents across the region's borders.

Or as the late George Watts called them at a 1997 forum in Milwaukee - - "strangers" who'd ride the rails to menace the suburbs.

Walker says his plan is to be called SMART, for Suburban and Milwaukee Advanced Rapid Transit (actually SAMART, but let's not quibble).

Once you look at it closely, the SMART idea from Walker is actually something different: Small Minds Against Rail Transit.

Esenberg - - Soglin: Blogging Debate Worth Following

Rick Esenberg, one of my compadres on Eric Von's 1290-AM "Backstory" roundtable on Thursday afternoons (solid, professionally-run AM talk radio, by the way), has been posting on his blog a series of commentaries about urban problems.

I have found it a useful and high-minded effort, regardless of the portions with which I disagree, and so has Paul Soglin, (my former boss and political ally since the 60's) who has begun a response on his Waxing America blog.

So let me bring these two smart lawyers and thinkers a little closer, and encourage blog readers from the left, center and right to follow the discussion.

East Side Activist With Great Background Ponders Legislative Election

I couldn't imagine a better candidate for the state legislature, or a better representative than Sam Rowen, interviewed by, about the possibility of running for office.

Not just because he's my son, but because he's smart, talented, dedicated and honest.

Part of the story follows:

Sam Rowen, a legislative assistant for Milwaukee Ald. Mike D'Amato, says he's considering joining the growing field of Democratic candidates vying for the 22nd Assembly District seat being vacated by Rep. Sheldon Wasserman.

Wasserman is giving up the seat in a bid to unseat Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.

Rowen, a Shorewood native, says his knowledge of the district and his experience at City Hall would make him a good fit for the district.

“I've learned a lot about helping constituents and I enjoy that part of it greatly,” Rowen said of his work with D'Amato.

“I know the district; I know the neighborhoods,” Rowen said. “It's a great place to live and I think I fit the mold of the kind of people those neighborhoods would want to attract and retain.”

Like other candidates who have stepped forward, Rowen said health care would be a priority, but also stressed the importance of maintaining quality schools in the district.

“Schools are about the most important things to those neighborhoods, and that's what attracts people to moving there,” Rowen said.

But Rowen, a father of twin 11-month-old boys, said he's still discussing the issue with his family.

Rowen currently lives on the east side of Milwaukee and would have to move to one of the four Milwaukee wards the district covers in order to run and still allow his wife to continue working as a teacher in the Milwaukee Public School district.

Rowen graduated from UW-Madison with a degree in communications. He is the son of Jim Rowen, a blogger and former reporter who's served as a mayoral staffer in Milwaukee and Madison...

A possible Rowen bid was first reported on the Milwaukee Rising blog:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Regulators Fail, Harm Is The Outcome

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells us that there is no consistency statewide by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources when it comes to legally preserving the state's wetlands.

The New York Times in the same news cycle media tells us that the US Federal and Drug Administration gave little or need heed for seven years to warnings that Avandia, a diabetes prescription medication, significantly raised the heart attack rate among its users.

In both cases, the agencies and their staffs failed to do their jobs. Having worked in government for years, I know that enforcement shoulder-shrugging spreads through bureaucracies where the people at the top do not demand performance and accountability.

Now, I'm not equating fatal heart attacks with dumping dirt into wetlands.

But both stories should get the attention of readers, taxpayers and legislative overseers, all of whom should demand explanations and swift fixes from senior officials on down.

And this is not a partisan matter, either.

The failure to adequately regulate Avandia with public safety as the top priority began under the Bill Clinton administration, so his people, along with Pres. George Bush and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson share equally in the need to explain themselves.

In the DNR matter, Gov. Jim Doyle and DNR Secretary Scott Hassett should explain why they cannot guarantee to the taxpayers of Wisconsin that precious Wisconsin wetlands are not being preserved by the agency charged with that very task.

As the Wisconsin Wetlands Association has noted, alot of wetlands are being filled in Wisconsin. And Mother Nature isn't making more these days.

(Note: An earlier version of this posting had a link to a news report about the Wisconsin Wetlands Association commenting on the issue. The link is no longer operating, so I have added a direct link to the WWA and its analysis of the DNR's performance. I will also repost the entire item).

This isn't a question of ideology - - of onerous, unfair or nit-picky regulations being ignored because they are too burdensome, or too tough to figure out.

These are examples of basic protections for people and the environment being ignored or given too low a priority.

People they have a right to enjoy the natural environment in the common spaces, and in good health.

Saving The Milwaukee Public Museum

Milwaukee's treasured Public Museum has had a rough few years after its managers squandered its endowment, and signficance to the community, but it appears that all parties - - public, private and non-profit - - have figured out a way to right the ship.

No doubt much of the credit redounds to new Museum President Daniel Finley, former Waukesha County Executive, and whereas I have criticized him in the past when I thought he deserved it, I want to congratulate him for his leadership, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

About That Wisconsin Water "Czar"

For those of you who missed it in last Sunday's New York Times, there's a surplus of policy czars these days, a bad sign in itself, and the Times' reporter wonders whether the term can shake its rather negative historical roots?

And also wonders why American officials have gone back to Imperial Russia for role models.

These are good questions, and timely right here in the Badger State in light of the appointment of Wisconsin's apparent first water czar.

At least that's what the media seem to be calling him.

The word "coordinator" is in the czar's official title - - Water Conservation Coordinator, a position at the Public Service Commission - - but copy editors and other news types hate the word "coordinator."

It's long and bureaucratic-sounding.

Czar is sexier, but, if you think about it, it's pretty much outside of the mainstream of democratic and American traditions and office-holders.

Maybe the message gurus up at the Capitol and reporters could simply agree begin to call Mr. Jeff Ripp something simple and descriptive, like Wisconsin water policy director, or maybe even chief.

Because Wisconsin does need a water policy coordinator, director or chief. We have serious conservation programs to write and major water policy questions to address, such as:

A regional Great Lakes water agreement to approve and implement.

Wetlands to better preserve on a consistent basis, statewide.

Major groundwater protections to work out.

Dwindling streams to revive.

And a fish virus to isolate and combat because it's spreading quickly throughout the state's waters, jeopardizing commercial and recreational fishing.

So Wisconsin needs water policy creation and some real coordination of conservation and planning.

We don't need a czar.

More Bad News For Tommy Thompson - - Details About A Big-Money Dog Racing Deal Are Surfacing

Like big payments promised to political insiders. Shredded documents. And more.

It's a good bet that this is not the greatest way to break into the top tier of candidates with Iowa caucus voters.

Compare Websites: How SEWRPC's Ancient Website Defeats Public Information

I have posted more than once about how the website put up by the Southeastern Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) is not user-friendly, is barely interactive and rates about a D- on a public value scale.

SEWRPC doesn't even tape record meetings of advisory committees which are working on important, seven-county studies that will guide policy-making for the next 25-50 years.

Now compare SEWRPC's to the website of the newly-reconfigured Chicago regional (formerly Northern Illinois) planning authority.

One more time:

Chicago - - here.


No comparison, right? The Chicago site even links to news, media and community organizations. Can you imagine SEWRPC doing that? On its website?

Get my heart medication.

Like its excuse that it cannot find the money to redo the region's 1975 housing plan - - no money, it says, though there's been plenty of money to buy a $4 million headquarters, cars for key staffers and long-range studies about freeway expansion and water supplies - - I suppose SEWRPC can't find a few bucks to move its website from circa 1995 to, say, 2000?

NASA's Top Expert On Climate Change Speaks: Review His Arguments For Yourself

James Hansen, NASA's top climate change expert, found himself something of a celebrity after Bush administration officials tried to muzzle him.

His sin: speaking truth to power about climate change.

Wanna see for yourself what he has to say, in his own words? Read here.

Republicans Carve Each Other Up: Democrats Should Learn From The Moment

As Mitt Romney and John McCain tear each other to pieces, Democrats can only hope that Barack Obama, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton et al leave this negative spectacle on the GOP side of the '08 campaign.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mark Belling Helps Waukesha Parents Control Their Hip-Hop Kids

Mark Belling's current column in The Freeman, a Waukesha daily, raised warnings about Summerfest's booking Ludacris, a popular African-American hip-hop artist.

Belling, the conservative, afternoon drive-time radio talk show host on 1130 WISN-AM, says Ludacris' lyrics are too violent for an entertainment venue in the region.

"Thanks, Summerfest. This is what we really need right now," Belling writes. "Advice to the rest of us: July 1 might not be the night you want to be hanging around the lakefront."

Belling probably knows that most of the consumers of this music are white kids, making up as much as 85% of the market.

That's the figure quoted in a recent piece in The Chicago Tribune.

Good for Belling to alert his suburban readers.

Parents out that way might want to follow through and take away their kids' Ludacris CD's.

Also seize any Ludacris concert tickets they can find in their kids' rooms so the boys and girls from Waukesha won't get to the concert, get all amped on the lyrics, and tear up the lakefront.

Florida's Overuse Of Water Is A Cautionary Tale For Wisconsin

Florida, one of the wettest states in the US, is running out of water.

The columnist and author Carl Hiassen tells us how and why, here.

The local context is obvious: too many people here and across the Great Lakes think the supply in those five bodies of surface water and the surrounding watersheds are inexhaustible - - the trap that led Florida to mismanage itself into a water crisis.

An earlier post on this blog discussed data in the hands of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that predicted long-term and substantial growth in some of the very parts of our region that were already experience major sprawl and accompanying demand on water.

For example, in Waukesha County, where underground water supplies have been greatly drawn down in recent decades, there is a population increase projected by 2035 equal to the entire population of Ozaukee County.

Imagine the population of one county to the north of Milwaukee jammed into the county just to the west.

And the number of residential water users in Waukesha County served by municipal water systems - - something of a benchmark indicator showing land being filled in with housing, or city services extending beyond a city's borders (read: annexations)is projected to increase during the samer period by 104%.

Who is to say that heavily-populated areas of southeasatern Wisconsin could not mimic the troubles of water-rich Florida?

So when you read that the Little Plover dried up near Stevens Point - - again - - or that the underground supply beneath Waukesha County is dropping rapidly - - again - - or that the level of Lake Superior is near an historic low (and Lake Michigan is in decline, too - - keep Florida in mind.

Gene Mueller Is A Great Addition to WTMJ - - Wish They'd Dump Michael Savage

Confession: I listen to way too much AM radio. And it's not just for Brewers' baseball, news and traffic. Old habits are hard to break.

That said, I agree with Tim Cuprisin's analysis that moving Gene Mueller to WTMJ's morning show was a great move. Gene is a Milwaukee institution, a smart and funny guy, and while Ken Herrera did a good job, adding Mueller is a super.

Now if only the station would rid its air of the noxious "Savage Nation" show that runs from 11 p.m. - 2:00 a.m. (I'm something of a night owl, too).

Host Michael Savage is meaner and farther to the Right than Rush Limbaugh, often calling his targets "scum" and "vermin," seditious and worse. He wants the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in Iraq carpet-bombed.

America is falling apart because of feminism and gay culture, and second-language programs that help immigrants.

You get the picture.

My understanding is that the station gets the show for nothing and Savage's syndication makes ad revenue that keeps him and his station happy, but the show really stains the station.

I know, I know: AM radio is a heavily conservative medium these days, and I have a zillion choices, but it would be a real public service if WTMJ cut its ties to Savage.

Milwaukee County Board Chills Freeway Expansion Plan

At first it looked like the Milwaukee County Board was going to endorse billions in reckless spending and millions in ground-up tax base, but it has come to its senses and withheld further support for what the regional planning commission had been pushing.

Gretchen Schuldt has the details here.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

If Toll Roads Come Here, Kevin Soucie Will Say "Told You So"

The trust fund that pays for most new highway construction in Wisconsin and across the country is under stress.

Kevin Soucie - - singer, lobbyist, and former Wisconsin state legislator from Milwaukee - - has been pushing this for years.

While his arguments have not grabbed the public's attention in a state that hates toll roads because Illinois loves them, Soucie has been right about one thing consistently:

Wisconsin taxpayers cannot afford all the major highway expansion, such as the southeastern regional freeway build-out, that state government has been regularly promoting.

And which regional planners recommended without a care in the world for potential financing.

Raising the state gas tax isn't going to happen, and vehicle user fees have their limits, too, as does that pot of once-more-plentiful federal funding, data show.

Soucie's solution for Wisconsin is to urge the beginning of tolling.

Other states are moving in that direction, though there has been opposition once the reality sunk in.

A major conversion in transportation policy from highway to transit funding would be preferable for a progressive state like Wisconsin which has, paradoxically, short-changed transit for decades.

(Well, not so paradoxically, as the road-building lobby is more powerful and politically generous with donations than are groups serving transit users.)

Regardless, Soucie's a transit backer too, and his power point presentation is a very professional production that is well worth your time if it comes for a viewing to a neighborhood near yours.

Commonsense Writing About Waukesha's Water Conservation Plan

Some of the best, down-to-earth writing about conservation issues in Waukesha comes from Laurel Walker, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Waukesha columnist.

Her archive is filled with great reports: check it out, and start with her most recent piece about water conservation and new pricing plans - - all very accessible and informative.

Ah, Quaint, Old Europe: Nothing To Learn There

So Europe is outdoing the US on green development. Think anybody in the Bush-Cheney cartel cares?

Lakes' Health And The Madison-Milwaukee Divide

Farmers, government officials and activists are working together in Madison to plot a healthier future for the area's lakes, the Capital Times reports.

That's great news, because Madison's lakes add great value to the city and region, and have been abused for years, decades.

There is not the same level of cooperation in the Milwaukee area about the long-term health of the lakes and water resources here, and policy-makers should wince at the truth of the matter spoken in the Cap Times piece by this one Wisconsin official:

"It's all a matter of will," said Kurt Welke, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fisheries manager for Dane County. "We have the brains and the political traction in Dane County that they don't have in a lot of other places."

Examples from the news around here:

Communities in the region are draining each other's water.

Developers have been allowed to build right on top of open space through which rain and snow naturally replenished underground water reserves.

And the City of Waukesha tried twice in 2006 confidentially to get permission to remove up to 24 million gallons of water daily from Lake Michigan without returning a drop through treatment.

Once that plan got outed, then ignored by Doyle, Waukesha shifted its water-diversion thinking with another environmentally-dubious twist: flushing treated water towards Lake Michigan through a tributary, like the Root River, or Underwood Creek, or the Menomonee River.

Can those rivers and streams safely absorb additional millions of gallons of less-than-pure water, especially during a rainstorm, without causing flooding or damaging the banks?

But again, the issue is being defined by 'how-do-we-get-our-hands-on-more-water,' not 'what-is-the-right-thing-to-do?'

The DNR is working with Waukesha on some answers: if past practice tells us much, the public will be the last to know.

In Dane County, policy-making seems to be driven by consensus respect for the water, and proposals are talked about in the open.

In our region, policy-making is driven by behind-the-scenes maneuvering.

And money - - big fees to consultants, knee-jerk approvals for annexations of farmland for development, billions ticketed for road expansion into rural areas.

While Dane County had tolerated sprawl, allowed manure to run into the lakes and dumped weed-killers into them, too, at least now it seems as if there is movement forward to correct past mistakes.

In southeastern Wisconsin, the mistake-makers are still calling the shots.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

SEWRPC Drops The Ball On A Housing Plan Already 32 Years Late

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has yet to begin its long overdue housing plan - - the current plan hasn't been updated since 1975 - - but hasn't begun because it says it can't find the money.

SEWRPC didn't any have such shyness going after the million bucks it needed to fund its ongoing water supply study - - the highest priority for the suburban officials who lead and dominate the seven-county agency.

In fact, it dipped into a little known Milwaukee County deed transfer bank account to get $261,000 when the Milwaukee County board wouldn't quickly pony up the dough.

True story. Read all about it here.

And SEWRPC managed to find another million dollars a few years ago to write a freeway expansion plan - - again, a subject and recommendation wildly popular with the commission's prevailing suburban constituents.

More water...more highways...but a housing plan?

Housing with the public seal of approval is a low priority for SEWRPC.

Why go out and raise the money to study whether there is adequate housing for everyone in the region when in suburbia and exurbia, the private market is dictating big houses in large-lot, sprawl settings, even converting property like Pabst Farms to 1,500 single-family homes in contradiction to SEWRPC's recommendations to preserve environmental corridors.

This is another reason that Milwaukee County, where housing issues are critical, should pull its funding out of SEWRPC.

Out. Completely. Zero dollars to SEWRPC from Milwaukee County taxpayers.

Milwaukee County provides the largest annual share of the agency's property-tax funds annually, but gets little or no value for the investment.

And the City of Milwaukee makes up the heart of the county, and has the largest number of people with major housing needs - - but the City of Milwaukee has zero representation on the 21-member SEWRPC governing board.

That's taxation without representation.

New Talk Radio Rules: Shorter Leashes, Quicker Hooks

Jessica McBride's firing from 620 WTMJ-AM shows that in the post-Don Imus talk radio era, gaffes and offensive speech lead station officials to quicker action.

Tim Cuprisin, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's radio and TV critic chronicles McBride's rapid removal, and mentions also the fast indefinite suspension by Jerrel Jones of WNOV-AM's "Word Warriors" host Mike McGee.

McGee had gone on a disgusting and cruel rant about the tragic death of Katherine Sykes, the mother of rival talk show host Charlie Sykes.

I praised Jones on this blog for his swift action.

And I made this point, which relates also to why McBride was removed:

"The airwaves are already too full of intolerance and degrading talk. Let's hope that [McGee's replacement] makes use of his air time without making a sometimes nasty radio format even worse."

I've also posted about other offensive local talkers, such as WISN-AM's Mark Belling, who equated breast-feeding in a long segment with "taking a crap" (his words) in public.

But back to McBride and McGee: What is interesting about their cases is that both involved insensitive talkers using the death of innocent people to make irrelevant, politically-tinged, tone-deaf commentary when the only thing called for in that circumstance was respectful silence or expressions of condolence.

In the end, it's all about the station and not the talker.

Station managers and owners at WTMJ and WNOV made the right decisions - - because they are the ultimate arbiters of what goes on their air.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wisconsin DNR Seeks Comments On New Berlin Water Diversion Application

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had recently appeared to be moving towards an internal review only of the City of New Berlin's application for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan, but has decided to solicit public comments, according to a posting on its website.

That's a good, and overdue development, as the public needs to be heard on matters of such importance.

The posting makes clear that the DNR is also seeking comments and advice about how the state should review similar applications before the proposed Great Lakes Compact agreement, where procedures are spelled out, is implemented in Wisconsin.

That implementation is months away, at a minimum, as a legislative study committee charged with drafting that implementation has not met since December, and unless efforts are successful among members to get a meeting scheduled soon, it is possible that the committee will end in a stalemate, with no recommendation.

Holding up the committee's work are several disagreements among members that primarily concern objections from New Berlin and other Waukesha County representatives who fear that the implementing legislation will endorse strict Compact rules limiting diversions of water beyond the boundaries of Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes.

620 WTMJ Resolves McBride Problem: Fires Her

The Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin reports on his blog this evening that WTMJ fired Jessica McBride and replaced her with Dennis Miller.

Pretty quick resolution to the uproar over her tacky Jasmine Owens radio and blog item of a few days ago, in which McBride childishly used the death of a child to try and skewer Eugene Kane, one of her frequent targets.

My fellow bloggers and I raised questions about the item, and station management's role in removing the item without explanation.

I guess you could infer that the explanation has been made. The decision by management strikes me as appropriate and timely.

Case closed.

Here Is The Text Of McBride's Child-Murder Blog Item

The audio hasn't resurfaced yet, since 620 WTMJ-AM removed it, but it will probably reappear soon.

The Journal Sentinel's Tim Cuprisin takes McBride to task in his Friday column, here.

The audio McBride posted from her radio show set up a fake interview with Eugene Kane, who did not appear to be McBride's punching bag - - so she asked him a few 'tough' questions, including questions about Jasmine Owens' killing - - and all Kane's answers were chicken squawking sound effects.

As she says, this regular feature will be "tons of fun."

After which McBride and her producer chuckled on over how clever the whole thing was.

Here is the Text:

TUESDAY, May 15, 2007, 11:32 p.m.

Listen here.

This is part of a new segment I launched tonight called LEFT SIDE OF THE MOON.

I am a bit sick of hearing conservatives only invite prominent conservative guests on their programs - the usual suspects. How fun it would be, I thought, to debate a prominent liberal every now and then. The number one reason for the segment is to ask liberals the questions the media don't/won't ask them and to see if they can defend their positions under challenge.

Left Side of the Moon is a segment I created with my producer, Robert. It will run only on Tuesdays and Fridays. Not every Tuesday and Friday. I will alert you, through this blog, in advance, to the days it will run.

My first invitee was Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane.

This is not NPR. It is not going to be a "conversation." We are not going to play guitar and hold hands and roast marshmallows in the studio. It's a debate. I believe that, most of the time, the conservative viewpoint is stronger than the liberal one logically and ethically. Can the liberal viewpoint withstand the challenge?

On the days when my liberal guest refuses to come on, I may just open the phone lines to any old liberal for a half hour or so. I find them vastly entertaining a lot of the time.

Update! Someone said Kane is on vacation. Just for the record, I know that! I invited him on the radio program without a specific date. I was willing to work around his schedule, and he flat-out refused to ever come on. It's a standing invitation. I think it would be tons of fun. But anyway, you can listen to our interview above!!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

McBride and WTMJ-AM 620 Fail The Responsibility Test

If I had a dollar for every sanctimonious, preachy mention on conservative blogs and talk radio about "personal responsibility," or "taking responsibility," I'd be ever so much closer to retirement.

It's the Right's mantra, and is often hurled at a variety of liberals, poor people, bureaucrats and all the other individuals and groups that are not living up to the responsible, accountable standards of proper, upright Rightists.

Except when they cut and run the way Jessica McBride and 620 WTMJ-AM radio have done when they erased from McBride's blog all references to the insensitive audio mocking she posted earlier this week about the drive-by murder of four-year-old Jasmine Owens.

McBride and her radio producer thought they were being hilarious when they first played the bit, contained in a juvenile, fake interview with McBride nemesis Eugene Kane, the Journal Sentinel columnist. The audio featured her self-congratulatory chatter.

And she bragged about the radio bit on her blog, too, posting the audio along with more text and threw the whole thing in her podcast section, too, because she wanted readers and other bloggers to know about her handiwork - - until the heat began to come down on this blog, and elsewhere.

I hope someone has saved the audio, because the items have disappeared.

Erased, as can be done on Internet postings.

So it's gone, perhaps. But not forgotten.

For WTMJ-AM, the self-proclaimed "biggest stick in the state," it was an employer-sanctioned, 50,000 watt abuse of the public airwaves - - allowing an employee to poke a big stick in the eye of a community already appalled, but united in grief.

Save for one irresponsible blogger/talker and her employer who failed the personal responsibility test.

Rather than delete the offending items with a keystroke, both McBride and station management should step up publicly, take responsibility, and at least issue an apology.

McBride Tacky Radio Item Pulled From McBride Blog

I guess it's not OK after all to use the state's biggest radio station to mock the drive-by murder of Jasmine Owens - - clearly one of the most upsetting crimes in Milwaukee history.

Offensive audio that Jessica McBride created and aired on her AM 620 radio talk show program, and to which she linked on her blog, has been pulled.

I wrote about this on my own blog yesterday. All the relevant information is there.

And the audio link with the item built around it was pulled off her blog without explanation, so, as they say, or "whallah" - - it's as if it never happened.

Call that zero disclosure journalism.

Blogger Demagogues on Immigration

Jessica McBride says in a post on the AM 620 WTMJ website that Santa Fe's police department is considering hiring illegal immigrants, as she calls them, and cites this story.

That is not correct.

The story says Santa Fe is considering hiring Mexican immigrant police recruits who are not naturalized American citizens, but are in the country legally, and adds that the plan, under review, may not be legal under New Mexico state law.

Says one of the Santa Fe police department recruitment officers:

"Every day, we get approached by young men and women from Mexico who are in the country legally but are not naturalized," [the recruiter] said.

"There is a huge pool of people who are dedicated, hardworking and trying to become citizens of this country. They would like nothing better than to devote their time to protecting the communities that they live in," she said."

The story points out that the US military recruits non-citizen soldiers who then get preference in the path to citizenship - - so using domestic police hirings as a similar route to citizenship sounds like an idea at least worth studying.

To the blogger, and the employer that posts her writing: what's so hard about getting straight in the blog such a key point from the cited story, and why has this posting not been corrected or removed?

(Note: This is the same blogger and blog that has aroused a major controvesy in Milwaukee over her use of the drive-by murder of a four-year-old girl that caused that offensive item to be removed from her blog. Details here.)

The immigration issue is volatile enough without such blatant distortions.

Water Projects Bill, Watered Down, Moves Forward

The US Senate has adopted important water projects' spending, and while the bill forces the US Army Corps of Engineering to make better use of real science - - and who'd have thought you have to legislate it - - an amendment also requiring the Corps to include global warming forecasts into its project work was defeated.

Thanks to Gretchen Schuldt for pointing this out.

UW-Madison, Known Polluter, Drags Its Feet On Cleanup

It's been an open secret for years that the Charter St. power plant operated by the UW-Madison in the heart of the city and campus is a major air polluter.

Now the plant and its operators have been caught polluting the water, and are not moving to fix the problem.

Some example for the rest of the state.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Supreme Court Justice-To-Be Will Pay Big Settlement

Annette Ziegler heads to her swearing-in $17,000 lighter, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Wednesday evening:

WEDNESDAY, May 16, 2007, 5:07 p.m.
By Patrick Marley

Ziegler settles ethics case for $17,000

Madison - State Supreme Court-elect Annette Ziegler today agreed to pay the state about $17,000 in a settlement that she violated the state ethics code by ruling on five cases involving a bank her husband helps run.

Ziegler agreed to pay $5,000 plus attorney fees to settle the matter. The Ethics Board estimates the cost of the attorney fees to be $12,000. The settlement avoids a hearing scheduled for Thursday on the matter.

(Note: The Wisconsin Judicial Commission continues a separate investigation that could lead to formal discipline for Ziegler.)

Tacky Talk Radio: McBride Mocks The Death Of A Child

(UPDATE: The audio and blog segments referenced below were removed Thursday from Jessica McBride's blog, without explanation).

WTMJ-AM 620 rightwing talker and blogger Jessica McBride stages a fake interview with one of her frequent targets - - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel local columnist Eugene Kane - - and supplies chicken squawking sound effects as Kane's answers, since he didn't accept the interview invitation.

No surprise there, as McBride says the idea behind the kind of interview she wanted to do with Kane is to hammer a liberal on the air, so what, from the 'guest's' point of view, would be the point?

Here's her posting site, with the audio McBride supplies - - and it seems as if you going to hear another juvenile but relatively harmless political radio rip...except that McBride uses those comedic sound effects for 'Kane's' answer to a question about the recent, horrific Jasmine Owens murder.

Jasmine is the little girl killed by a bullet to the head in a Milwaukee drive-by shooting.

So is the murder of a child, and an earlier murder McBride sets up in a similar way, fair game for entertainment radio programming?

Are listeners entertained?

Would Jasmine's mother enjoy hearing her child's name bandied around on a radio program?

Would Jasmine's mother enjoy hearing the host yuk it up with the producer who collaborated on the bit with the host on the state's largest AM radio station?

(Note: The item is also NO LONGER on her podcast list on her site's right index.)

Help Move Stewardship Funding Through A Key Legislative Committee

Wisconsin's landmark land stewardship fund is up for reauthorization in 2007-'09 budget deliberations, with a key vote likely quite soon at the state legislature's Joint Committee on Finance.

The long-standing, bi-partisan program ensures that some of the best undeveloped areas in Wisconsin remain in the public domain.

Contacts to legislators in support of the program are vital: Gathering Waters, a statewide conservation organization, has posted information about whom to contact, and how.

No better time than now.

You Can Cut Your Fuel Costs

Not by finding cheaper gas at imaginary stations (though gas is cheaper in neighboring states that have lower taxes and don't artificially raises prices with stupid "minimum markup" legislation) - - but by driving the speed limit.

I went to meetings yesterday in Waukesha and New Berlin, and I'd estimate the average speed on I-94 west of Milwaukee at no less than 75 mph. Someone gave me the finger when I was accelerating too slowly for him where the speed limit increases from 55 mph to 65.

Based on his driving, that fella will have an unhappy visit to the gas pump when he needs to fuel up his Ford 150 pickup. You often see people with inefficiently-designed vehicles driving the most aggressively, then complaining the loudest in now-standard TV news interviews about pain at the pump.

It's unlikely that government will somehow lower the price of gas (though Wisconsin could if it got rid of that onerous and costly minimum markup law), or mandate a lower speed limit (imagine the mean-spirited Jimmy Carter references), but drivers could stretch a gallon of gasoline farther by slowing down.

The Internet is filled with references to fuel economy and speed: The US Department of Energy estimates that for every 5 mph you drive above 60 or 65 mph - - accounting for vehicle variables - - you need to burn 7% more fuel.

We recently drove round trip to Santa Fe, NM, in a Honda hybrid, and by driving the speed limit - - and that takes attention and some discipline, and of course, our speed sometimes went into the 70's - - we averaged 51.8 mpg according to the dashboard read out.

At roughly $3 per gallon, we figure the fuel cost us around $200.

We know we were lucky to have a hybrid vehicle to drive, and that we were not on the road with business or medical or childcare schedules to meet.

But it showed us that adhering to the speed limit does make gasoline consumption more affordable, and adds to a trip's safety, too.

The other thing I noticed about my day in Waukesha County yesterday was the total absence of speed patrols on I-94.

Drivers familiar with the tightly-enforced and reduced speed limit along Milwaukee's lakefront know that speeding there will get you a ticket these days, and traffic along Lincoln Memorial Dr. now moves along pleasantly and safely at the posted rate.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guide To Watching Tonight's GOP Presidential Candidates' Debate

Voters in 49 states will be paying close attention to Rudy Giuliani's abortion rights' statements, John McCain's anti-Bush/pro-war pronouncements, and other matters of substance.

But voters right here in Wisconsin will be on the edge of their collective Badger State seats to see whether Tommy makes it an insult and apology trifecta (first Jewish voters, then gays, and tonight...?) and if he dealt before hand with his pesky bodily functions.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Tommy is at less than 2% in a pre-debate poll.

UPDATE2: Pretty much gaffe-free, Tommy is no Cong. Ron Paul and wins a moral victory!

Wolfowitz Doing a Heckuva Job, Apparently

Uh, oh: The White House is about to throw World Bank President Paul (Iraq War Grand Master) Wolfowitz under the bus - - or at least let him get off at the curb.

He'll find another soft landing, but make no mistake about it: Wolfowitz is being replaced more over the Iraq invasion and other nations' generalized anger at the US (the war, bailing out of the Kyoto Accords, and so forth) than for violating World Bank rules and procedures regarding a promotion and pay raise for a girlfriend.

There Is a Republican Environmental Group

Some GOP members of Congress get passing grades from a Republican environmental group, and Wisconsin's Tom Petri scores rather well, all things considered.

Jim Sensensbrenner gets marks that are a bit above the average ranking, meaning that relatively little is expected and bold actions are not routine, but the most interesting finding among those keeping score is that Congressional Republicans' pro-environmental votes go up in election years.

That should point environmentalists in certain strategic directions.

Bush Sticks Consumers With High Fuel Costs

The Supreme Court told the Bush administration it had failed to curb greenhouse emissions, and to get busy legally doing its job.

So what does Bush do? Oh, so clever.

He tells the relevant federal agencies to work out a plan to require more fuel efficient vehicle engines - - by the time he leaves office.

Which means his clients in the oil industry can wring out maximum profits from consumers until January, 2009.

Has there ever been a more mean-spirited, class-conscious, greedy group of people masquerading as public servants in US history?


Blanche DuBois Takes Over Milwaukee County

The news that a Harley-Davidson motorcycle raffle and the opportunity to win other fabulous prizes is planned to sop up a little of the red ink staining and drowning the Milwaukee County Parks System leaves me shaking my head.

Though I have great respect for the Parks People - - and our family takes no back seat to Harley-Davidson loyalists anywhere, as my grandmother was driving one 90 years ago in Brooklyn, where her brothers ran a service station and bike repair shop there - - I am amazed that keeping the grass cut and the masonry from crumbling and the equipment from rusting and failing needs "the kindness of strangers," and their $5 raffle ticket purchases.

Again: no offense to good corporate citizen Harley-Davidson, or the other corporate donors, or to the Parks People. Those parks' lovers are out there pulling Mustard Garlic, and pulling their hair out looking for allies and permanent taxing shifts and other solutions to the parks dilemma.

The problem is bigger than the parks' budget, too. It reflects the continuing devolution of Milwaukee County government and credibility of the public sector situated up there in the Courthouse.

Tom Ament and his cronies, along with some selfish County Board supervisors, looted the treasury for extra helpings of pension payments. For those offenses against the public interest and treasury, recall and resignations and defeats at the polls were not punishments enough.

The fact that one and only one person associated with that organized grab of county tax dollars went to jail for his offenses was a justice system practical joke.

But Scott Walker has made a bad situation worse by starving county departments and balking at even minuscule taxation/revenue increases that could have been strategically helping the parks years before a well-intentioned citizens group and corporate donors needed to step up with what is now going to be an annual raffle.

These parks were designed by the some of the great naturalists and architects the country ever produced.

Legacy. Heritage. Birthright. All describe what the parks have meant to generations of Milwaukeans.

Now two administrations of failed leaders are to blame for throwing this wonder away, and it is unlikely that a jazzy lottery is going to save the parks, and County Government's reputation.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Conservative Blogger Rick Esenberg and I Are Having A Civil Debate

I had pledged on this blog that I wouldn't get involved in the back-and-forth, insider blogging baseball that some bloggers see as the highlights of their days (I imagine them in their PJ's, pounding away at their keyboards - - the electronic equivalent of baying at the moon...), but Rick Esenberg and I are having an entertaining debate and I am winning.

This is what started it all.

Rick and I are co-panelists on Eric Von's 1290-AM radio "Backstory" Thursday, 4:30 - 6:00 p.m. program, so I can plug that very fine alternative to the more common, rightwing squawkfests, too.

(Note: I did not mean to imply that Rick is one of those pj-bloggers, so to speak. He teaches at Marquette University, has a real, lawyerly day job.)

Water Expert, Dissed by SEWRPC, Resigns From Its Water Planning Committee

The Saturday, May 12th Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial reasonably touted regional approaches to both water quality and quantity issues for the area's entire watershed.

It rightly recognized both the work of public agencies and non-profit community groups already striving mightily to preserve and improve the region's priceless water resources.

And its suggestion that a working group on water policy spun off the non-partisan Public Policy Forum last year could be the core of a new regional water planning entity is an innovative editorial idea that is certainly worth pursuing.

Regrettably, the Public Policy Forum working group no longer has a representative on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's crucial water supply study.

The water supply study will run up to three years, costs about $1 million and could guide water policies in the region for the next 50 years.

Pat Marchese, an engineer from Ozaukee County, was the Forum's representative.

He was also formerly the executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and beings great institutional memory and seasoned pragmatism to many regional issues.

But relations between Marchese and SEWRPC deteriorated after Marchese, as had been arranged beforehand with SEWRPC, showed a power point presentation about the Forum's work at the 5/17/06 SEWRPC water supply advisory committee meeting - - after which SEWRPC deputy director Ken Yunker immediately ripped Marchese for the Forum's failure to work as closely with SEWRPC as Yunker thought was appropriate.

It was basically the airing of a turf fight over who had the right to speak for the region on water issues - - SEWRPC, or the Public Policy Forum.

Marchese had barely finished making his presentation when Yunker - - not a committee member - - twice used the word "shocking" to describe what he said was the Forum's lack of consideration of SEWRPC's water study activities, according to my notes.

Marchese responded that he thought there had been ample consideration of SEWRPC's work, which he described as more technical than the Forum's broader policy focus.

And he also told Yunker that SEWRPC needed to do a better job educating the public about its work.

The official SEWRPC summary minutes for that meeting, available here, do not include direct quotations and offer nothing of the emotion of the exchange between Marchese and Yunker.

SEWRPC does not electronically record its advisory committee meetings.

(Yunker did not follow through on a suggestion I made after the committee's second meeting on November 30, 2005, that SEWRPC use a tape recorder and video streaming equipment to make a record of this extremely important committee's meetings.

The technology is not that expensive and could help SEWRPC move its woefully inadequate, barely interactive website into the 21st century, too.)

Having attended many SEWRPC committee meetings, my observation was and remains that Yunker's criticism of a citizen volunteer committee member in front of a committee of more than 30 members, with other guests present, was irregular, to say the least.

Yunker said he was shocked at how the Forum had or hadn't interacted with SEWRPC; I was shocked to see him pounce on Marchese after SEWRPC had arranged for Marchese to make the presentation to the committee in the first place.

My impression was that the episode marginalized Marchese, whose resignation from the committee has been accepted, SEWRPC records show.

It's a significant loss to the creation of public policy. Marchese had been superbly representing the Forum working group, which has done excellent research and is correctly praised in the 5/12/07 Journal Sentinel editorial.

He had also been among a very small minority of SEWRPC committee members arguing consistently that it should expand the policy focus of its work.

If I were a betting man, I'd wager that when the water supply study is done, the committee makes three recommendations:

1) Leave everything as it is. (This is a throwaway.)

2. Recommend diverting water from Lake Michigan to thirsty Waukesha County committees. (This is a tease.)

3. Recommend diverting water from Lake Michigan to thirsty Waukesha County committees that agree to some unspecified water conservation and recycling activities - - with this new wrinkle - - everything managed by a new regional water supply agency designed by SEWRPC and aided also by SEWRPC as a contractor.

The model was the SEWRPC freeway study and final recommendations: Do nothing; make some improvements; or do what everyone knew was going to be the final, preferred recommendation: Do improvements AND add new lanes - - the most expensive proposal that more or less justified the entire planning effort in the first place.

This will pass the committee, heavy with water utility managers and public works' officials from seven area counties by somewhere between 25-7 (there are some academicians and state DNR representatives that may object to what in reality will be a regional water transfer, and 30-2.

And will pass the full commission unanimously, 21-0, completing what has been an elaborate dance with a million bucks of public money to help legitimize and facilitate transferring Lake Michigan water to Waukesha County.

So a word to the wise: SEWRPC considers water planning its territory, and others trying to get in on the action can find SEWRPC an obstacle.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Grand Old Parody

You got your Tommy Thompson.

You got your JB Van Hollen.

You got your Jim Sensenbrenner.

GOP: Grand Old Parody, don't you think?

Tommy Thompson A Big Negative Hit on Daily Kos

This major Daily Kos posting today about says it all, though I had my two cents in, too:

Tommy Thompson: A Dead Battery & A Full Bladder
by BarbinMD
Sat May 12, 2007 at 06:49:11 PM CDT
This may qualify as the worst excuse ever by a presidential candidate:

Tommy Thompson cited a dead hearing aid and an urgent need to use the bathroom in explaining on Saturday why he said at a GOP presidential debate that an employer should be allowed to fire a gay worker. [...]

"I was very sick the day of the debate. I had all of the problems with the flu and bronchitis that you have, including running to the bathroom. I was just hanging on. I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom."

Leaving aside his total lack of dignity and the apparent need to share way too much information, does anyone really want this man's finger on the button?

Permalink :: Discuss (184 comments, 184 new)

Van Hollen And The Party of God

J.B. Van Hollen tells GOP conventioneers that they are "a party of God."

Republicans have been pretty good at wordsmithing and clever framing, but our Attorney General made something of ironic stumble with that label.

See this definition of Hezbollah.

As some might say, "Whallah!"

Great Lakes Documents - - A Feb.-May 2007 Mini-Archive

Because I have recently posted documents or analyses of records relevant to the Great Lakes Compact debate, a number of people have asked if I have them all in a single archive.

Nope. But below you will find something along those lines - - a list - - so maybe that is of value. The links I am supplying come mostly from this blog, which began in February. And there is some overlap, as posts often reference earlier items.

Through April 14, 2007, this was an adequate summary with good links (NOTE: I see that the formatting below is less-than-perfect, so you'll have to copy each link. Sorry.):

The rest of the list:

(To find the Waukesha Water Utility's confidential communications to Gov. Doyle in 2006 seeking Lake Michigan diversion permission without the Great Lakes Governors' approvals:

Note: this item is often provided in the body of the links below.)

Xoff Has The Goods On Scott Walker

Bill Christofferson has the archive to remind us that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker - - getting set to run for re-election - - doesn't keep his word.

What do Tommy Thompson and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Have In Common

Both come with the "cringe factor."

With Larry David, you just flip the channel when his cluelessness gets unwatchable.

With Tommy's 'campaign,' you just want to stop the guy, but you can't - - and the statements and explanations and excuses for wierd behavior get more unbearable.

The dust had barely settled over his insults to a Jewish audience about their faith-based money-making when Tommy told a nationally-televised debate audience that it was OK for employers to fire workers for being gay.

Among his latest excuses for that poor performance: he needed a potty break.

Doesn't he have a real friend out there - - even Larry David has his manager Jeff - - who can explain to Tommy that everyday he stays in the presidential race he's doing more damage to an already shrinking legacy, and credibility?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Honda Bringing Hydrogen-Powered Car To Market In '08

Honda will sell a hydrogen-powered car in the US in 2008, which means the Japanese automakers that beat the American carmakers in the marketing of gas/electric hybrid vehicles are about to do it to GM, Ford and Chrysler, again.

And to their shareholders and workers, too.

Honda is once again underscoring the distortions in US research and development spending.

We're still number one in high-tech fighter aircraft and battlefield weaponry.

We pour fresh billions into Star Wars air defense systems, nuclear subs and automated ship-based missile systems.

But building technologically superior cars - - that customers want - - and which look like a better value everyday as gas closes in on or exceeds $4-per-gallon, and an SUV/sport truck fill-up will routinely hit $100?

Those needs are being met by Toyota and Honda, and it has been that way for decades, as the Corolla, Civic, Camry and Accord have become the US consumers' cars of choice.

What Happens to Forests, Farms And Wetlands When A Wisconsin Oil Pipeline Is Built

The new oil pipeline is to run from Superior to Delavan, but early segments are leaving farmers and landowners none too happy with the land acqusition tactics.

Sam Brownback Is A Walking/Talking Argument Against Evolution

It was shocking when US Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and two other GOP candidates raised their hands at their recent debate to affirm they didn't believe in evolution.

But when Brownback came to Lake Geneva and stumbled this badly in his speech - - maybe, in his case, he's right.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Grumpy Mark Belling

Belling is know for his on-air rants about situations that make him uncomfortable - - like being around people.

It's part of the reason he hates crowded malls and breast-feeding moms and public transit - - those other humans are just too darn close - - and underlies his preference for lecturing a faceless audience about the human condition from the isolation of locked radio or TV studios.

Belling authors a weekly column for The Freeman, a Waukesha Daily, and in his latest written meanderings, tells us why he can't stand movie theaters.

This is the heart of Mark's problem, he tells us:

"I haven’t been to a movie in five years. Between people talking, kicking the back of my chair, babies crying and having to wade through 19 minutes of ads and trailers and atrocious sound systems, I’ve given up. I wait three months and watch the movie on pay-per-view."

Kinda sad.

Rudy Giuliani High-Wire Act

Following through on speculation floated by his campaign earlier this week, GOP presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani today endorsed abortion rights and protection for civil unions (not marriages) for homosexuals, thus pushing his campaign towards the center (some in the GOP would say to the far left).

It's an interesting strategy: running away from the hard-right elements in the GOP base, and towards those more conservative Democrats who might vote for him in the early, more liberal primary states, like California, New York and others.

Giuliani had to do something to repair the indecisiveness on social issues he displayed at the recent GOP candidates' debate, so he has chosen to reaffirm his earlier beliefs - - angering some social conservatives - - rather than look to the remaining 75% of the electorate like the consummate flip--flop panderer.

Time will tell if Giuliani's remarks today are bold and successful outreach and damage control, or an oversized drink of political Kool-Aid.

Connections Among Crimes

I noticed the other day in media reports that an armed robber was sticking up pharmacies in the burbs for OxyContin.

That's the powerful, synthetic narcotic meant for people with severe pain from cancers, spinal injuries and the like.

But those patients have to use it with great caution (more about who knew what, and when, about just how much caution had to be exercised), something that seems entirely lost on teens and others who do not understand that Oxycontin is something of a perfect delivery system for addiction.

OxyContin (and I've never taken it) physically alters the brain and often sends the user into a permanent search for the drug with lifelong, irreversible and often fatal consequences.

So OxyContin dependency is not a feeling or preference that one can simply will away; something like half of the so-called recreational users - - obtaining it through theft, or from dealers, or diversion from legit patients, according to the recent HBO "Addiction" series - - will need treatment that includes expensive, "replacement" drugs to manage damage done to their brains' biochemical centers.

I don't have data on how many patients with prescriptions also become addicts.

Then make all that context for the stunning New York Times story about the management at Purdue Pharma, L.C,, the company that made, and manipulated the marketing of OxyContin.

The federal government hit the firm and three current or former top officials there with more than $600 million in fines for deliberately misleading prescribing physicians, and the general public, about the true addictiveness of the drug.

OxyContin sales produced for Perdue Pharma $2.8 billion in sales between 1995 and 2001, and at times, 90% of the firm's profits.

Bottom line:

The guilty individuals were allowed to plead to fines and misdemeanors (the company pleaded to a felony) for willfully assisting drug addiction that had become a health and justice system crisis nationally, according to US Drug Enforcement Administration officials and other experts.

A 2002 report tied OxyContin to at least 460 deaths.

What the Pharma officials did was set a new, low standard for greed, and regardless of the financial penalties, (sure they're huge, but bankrupty, insurance and personal resources will take care of most if it, and people killed by OxyContin dependency won't see a nickel), it's still a sweet deal for unspeakable offenses.

No one involved is going to jail.

And the guy robbing suburban pharmacies to get more of the stuff?

He'll probably be caught, sentenced for a felony, and go to prison.

Politican update: GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani will surely be asked in debates and interviews to explain his law firm's advisory role to the OxyContin maker.