Saturday, June 30, 2007

WMC Hits New Low: Embraces Air Pollution

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce argues in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed that Wisconsinites should breathe dirty air.

The Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency wants to impose tough clean air standards on about one-third of the state, including Milwaukee, Waukesha and Dane Counties, because our air is not healthy, yet could and should be cleaner.

And the WMC objects.

And tells us the sky is falling:

"Manufacturers, many of whom are facing intense global competition, would be forced to cut jobs to pay for the higher cost of electricity and additional regulatory burden," says the WMC's Scott Manley.

"The ozone non-attainment stigma that helped cause economic expansion to stagnate in the southeastern part of the state would spread to other counties."

Business owners of Wisconsin, who also breathe the air in this state, as do your children, friends and employees:

That is your organization talking, and exaggerating the negative state of the state to the outside world.

Here is the truth:

The sky is not falling in Wisconsin.

It just needs to be clearer, so all of us, owners and consumers alike, can breathe a little easier.

Note: The Journal Sentinel editorial board comes out on the cleaner air side, too.

Putting The Honeybee Disappearance Into Context

When a scientist as prestigious as Edward O. Wilson says we need to pay attention to the insect world, it's good to take the time to read what he's thinking.

The Washington Post hears him out.

"Sicko" Shames Health Care Coverage Deniers

I saw "Sicko," Michael Moore's latest documentary, last night, and it is a powerful film.

It's a good bet "Sicko" will do for health care reform what "An Inconvenient Truth" did for climate change: elevate and amplify the debate, and turn awareness into action.

While the health care industry complains that its side of the issue didn't get fair coverage in the film, (oh, poor Big Pharma and the managed care industries, whose commercials and political power are soooo inadequate), CNN finds that most of Moore's claims are accurate.

If nothing else, the documentary will leave viewers asking three questions:

1. How did we end up with the overly-expensive yet inefficient system we have?

2. Can we do anything about it if so many politicians take money from health insurance companies that maximize profits by routinely denying coverage?

3. And the big one, guaranteed to be the cause of churning stomachs as the film's credits roll:

I wonder if my insurance will really cover me when I need it - - or will I end up like the people in the movie who had insurance, only to have their claims denied?

Or their coverage cancelled when claims were made?

Or were even forced to refund paid claims when the health insurers auditing detectives swung into action?

Note that Massachusetts is implementing a single-state health care reform plan, which California may copy.

Republicans in our state legislature, while personally enjoying Cadillac, taxpayer-paid coverage, are calling the universal coverage plan adopted by the State Senate dead-on-arrival.

Nothing self-interested or contradictory about that! It reminds me of legislators who bloviate about 'welfare' and what they call "The Nanny State,' then pocket their $88-taxpayer-paid, tax-free per diem for driving into Madison for a meeting, then home.

Maybe there's a way to dragoon legislators into a showing of "Sicko."

Free beer and brats would get them there, though the giveaway might be counter to the movie's healthy message, and perhaps illegal.

But there'd be no more appropriate audience right now for Michael Moore's movie-making than Wisconsin legislators who are blocking health care reform, and a healthier state.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Milwaukee Not Prepared To Provide Water To New Berlin: New Berlin Not Prepared To Pay For The Equipment

Milwaukee officials admit what has been talked about behind the scenes for months: the city's water system was not engineered to easily push water out of the city and over the subcontinental divide, and upgrades will cost big money.

(The subcontinental divide is best observed as the hill on I-94 at Sunny Slope Rd. west of Milwaukee.)

For the record, I wrote about this problem in a blog posting four months ago.

But mainstream media, politicians across the region, and officials in state government have been discussing the issue as if all that was needed to ship Milwaukee water westward was the flipping of a switch.

That campaign, part propaganda and part denial, has been disingenuous, and now the facts are finally coming out:

Milwaukee's pipes and pumps cannot guarantee water delivery to western suburbs like New Berlin in Waukesha County during periods of peak demand, like hot summer days or during a fire - - the very situations that define a public water system's value.

And someone is going to have to foot the bill to make the system do what it wasn't installed to do - - meaning the financial decisions at hand are larger than what rates will be charged for water exports if a sale were ever approved.

Here's part of my posting from February 28th, written about the regional push for Milwaukee water:

"And who will pay for the additional infrastructure in both the selling and receiving communities for both the supply of water, and for its return for treatment?

"Waukesha is facing big capital costs for sure if it wins a diversion, but has anyone asked the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) if it can handle a large new influx of sewage for treatment from Waukesha, assuming that's where the sewage treatment would occur?

"And it is known in Milwaukee's City Hall that Milwaukee's water system pumps are insufficient to push water over the subcontinental divide to either New Berlin or Waukesha.

"Who will cover that projected multi-million dollar cost (the number $4-8 million has been floated) if New Berlin or Waukesha wins a diversion?Milwaukee taxpayers? New Berlin's? Waukesha's?"

New Berlin, the first Waukesha city looking for water from Milwaukee west of the divide, says it may pay part of the cost to upgrade Milwaukee's water system so it can get Milwaukee water.

Part of the cost?

And ask this question: why would the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources be inching closer to approving New Berlin's Lake Michigan diversion application, knowing that the most-likely seller - - Milwaukee Water Works - - cannot guarantee New Berlin water during the very cirsumstances that a community most needs water?

Bad enough that the DNR has been told by Wisconsin's Attorney General that it cannot administratively approve any diversion of Great Lakes water without the approval of the seven other Great Lakes states - - another fact not acknowledged by traditional media.

Bad enough again that the DNR indicates that it might approve the New Berlin diversion application without the approval of the other Great Lakes states, even though conservation and environmental organizations across the state and Great Lakes region have said that approving any diversion application before all the states have ratified the pending Great Lakes Compact is premature, and could set a devastating precedent.

But touting, or worse, approving the New Berlin application, thus suggesting implicitly that there is a reliable source for the diversion while knowing otherwise - - aside from the legal prohibitions laid down by the Wisconsin Attorney General in December - - is completely irresponsible by the DNR on multiple levels.

It's time that local and state officials, including the DNR, come clean with the public by acknowledging the real problems with the New Berlin application, and put their energies into getting the Great Lakes Compact adopted for Wisconsin.

And by implementing prudent conservation and other genuine approaches to better water management in Wisconsin, rather than pushing pipe dreams and rhetoric that add nothing to the debate except confusion, false hopes, and diminution for the Great Lakes.

Legislative Hypocrisy On Health Care Is Sickening

Republican lawmakers in the State Assembly will block adoption of universal health care proposed by Democrats in the State Senate.

Some can't even control their rhetoric..."socialized medicine...boondoggle...nightmare..."

Of course, being eligible for that Cadillac health care plan provided by state taxpayers (one of a wonderful buffet of super benefits) is no doubt fine with these same legislators while they make sure others can't get the same coverage.

I've Said I Wouldn't Vote For Mitt Romney For Dog Catcher

And look how right that was!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Waukesha Grumbles About SEWRPC Over $100,000

Waukesha County has had the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWEPC) dancing to its land use and transportation tune for decades, but is now bent out of shape over a more realistic transit funding decision that awards Milwaukee County a few more bucks?

Please!

Waukesha's agendas are front-and-center at SEWRPC when it comes to freeway expansion, water supply needs and other recommendations and decisions designed to help out a sprawl-happy county.

The Waukesha County complaint about transit dollars being shifted to Milwaukee County, which has a much larger system and transit-dependent population, is beyond frivolous.

And it makes a mockery of regional cooperation, which is the flag under which so much Waukesha County policy, development and media hype has flown.

I wrote an op-ed piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2005 on this very subject - - Waukesha County leaders are all for regional cooperation when it serves their parochial interests - - so thank you Waukesha for helping make the issue clearer.

So when a SEWRPC decision disappoints Waukesha County, it wants to pick up its ball and go home?

Fine.

If Waukesha County were to pull out of SEWRPC, so be it.

And while Waukesha County is busy trying to dismantle SEWRPC:

Move the SEWRPC offices out of Waukesha County.

Pull the plug on the water supply study that Waukesha County asked SEWRPC to fund (with the biggest share of money coming from Milwaukee County).

Pull Milwaukee County's annual property-tax supplied contribution, since it is also the largest operating contribution among the seven counties. Every year.

Wipe off the proposed maps all those demolitions and acreage losses in Milwaukee County for the widened freeway lanes in Milwaukee for the convenience of Waukesha commuters drivers.

Then reallocate the SEWRPC commissioner seats on the basis of population in the remaining six counties so we can have genuine regional planning, and taxation with representation, too.

Fireworks' Obsession Makes Displays Routine, Annonying

4th of July fireworks celebrations?

Great fun and tradition.

3rd of July fireworks celebration in Milwaukee? A local quirk, but fine, because it allows for neighborhood events the following night.

But closing the new Lakefront State Park early 16 times to accommodate every festival that wants fireworks, too?

Overkill.

And a diminution to Independence Day traditions.

Details below from today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newswatch blog:

THURSDAY, June 28, 2007, 11:50 a.m.By Tom Held

Lakeshore State Park closing early tonight

The week-old state park sculpted from the island off the Summerfest grounds will close an hour early tonight and July 3 to accommodate fireworks displays.

Clarke Johnson, superintendent of Lakeshore State Park, said the bridge to the island will be open throughout the 11-day Summerfest run and the park will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with the two fireworks exceptions.

During the summer, the park will close early a total of 16 nights for the fireworks displays launched from the island.

And You Wonder Why Congress' Approval Ratings Have Tanked?

The House approves a pay raise for itself.

Is there a bi-partisan "Defeat Me in '08" caucus?

New Berlin Lobbying For Lake Michigan Diversion

The City of New Berlin is again pressing for a Lake Michigan diversion before the state approves the pending Great Lakes Compact, or before the likely supplier, the City of Milwaukee, says it wants to sell.

And one DNR official suggests - - again, here - - his agency can approve this request without the say-so of the other Great Lakes states, something you may have read here first.

And again, just for the record: the Wisconsin Attorney General has already opined in writing that the DNR does not have that authority - - something the traditional media continues to withhold from publishing.

Get Involved In Push For Healthy Wisconsin Initiative

One Wisconsin Now points the way to citizen involvement in health care reform:

This week, the Senate Democrats introduced Healthy Wisconsin: Your Choice, Your Plan.

Healthy Wisconsin is a comprehensive health care reform bill to guarantee high-quality, affordable health care for every Wisconsin worker and every Wisconsin family.

Healthy Wisconsin is an idea whose time has come.
Healthy Wisconsin will

Allow you to choose your doctor and provider

Offer the same high-quality health care benefits as your state legislators

Provide coverage for every Wisconsin worker and every Wisconsin family
Serve as an affordable way to provide health care while asking everyone to pay their fair share

Healthy Wisconsin is currently under debate in the State Assembly. Contact your Assembly Representative and encourage him or her to support Healthy Wisconsin.

Health Care is a right, and Wisconsin families have a right to health care.
Act Now and support Healthy Wisconsin!

Please forward this on to others who you think may be interested in learning about OWN's work.

If you received this message from a friend, you can sign up for OWN Action Alerts.

(Note: I am on OWN's board.)

Taking "Broken Windows" Policing Too Far

It's a toss-up as to which party showed the poorest judgement in Wednesday's Made-For-TV 'news' stunt to show why you shouldn't leave your cellphones and iPods visible in cars at park-and-ride lots during Summerfest.

Was the worst judgement shown by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke?

It was his event, complete with scary-looking deputies dressed like bad guys, demonstrating to news crews how to smash a car window to steal items left inside.

Or was it the TV stations with goofy judgement - - here's WTMJ Channel 4 's tape and online posting that aired the stunt. (TMJ4 even disclosed the very parking lots that will not be patrolled during Summerfest)

Here's a few lines from the TMJ4 news-you-can-use-or-get-paranoid-about-piece:

"To help stop the problem, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is asking everyone to leave their valuables at home instead of leaving them inside of cars parked in the Park and Ride lots.

"They simply walk through the lots looking through windows, which makes it easy for them to determine what they can steal," Clarke said.

"Leaving valuable items at home, or locking them in your trunk or out of plain view will help prevent theft and save you a great deal of inconvenience and expense."

Good grief: Leave your valuables at home?

We need the busy sheriff of Milwaukee County to tell us that? Talk about your nanny state!

And Summerfest must have just loved the publicity. They push taking the express buses to and from the festival, and now we've got these warnings about smash-and-grab thefts, and not enough coppers to patrol all the lots?


Hey: Happy 40th Anniversary, Summerfest!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

City, County Agree On A Transit And Tax Plan...

But it's in Dane County, not Milwaukee County.

In Milwaukee County, the planning, the conversation, the coordinated effort wouldn't happen, with Scott Walker, Milwaukee County Executive, the number-one obstacle.

Walker continues to support some bus line improvements, period, with no rail or better connections to even County-run operations, like the zoo and airport.

Talk radio uses city and regional rail alternatives to stir up anti-Milwaukee sentiment in the suburbs, and Walker, being one of the talkers' pets, wins their praise by reflexively bashing rail plans that have Milwaukee at the center.

Regardless, good for Madison and Dane County for assertively seeking options, and setting in motion a process that should move the entire issue further down the track.

Maybe when Walker is off to another adventure, the Milwaukee area can make some real progress on crucial transportation issues.

Ann Coulter Continues To Help The John Edwards Campaign

Everytime she opens her mouth, Coulter helps John and Elizabeth Edwards establish their campaign's appeal.

Kedzie Study Committee On Great Lakes Water Issues To Meet In July

The state legislative study committee on Great Lakes water has scheduled a meeting for July 18th, according to a posting on the committee's website.

What's significant about the meeting is that it is the committee's first since December 15, 2006.

The committee has been unable to agree upon draft legislation that would approve and implement proposed standards, rules, and other procedures governing conservation and certain uses of water in the Great Lakes basin.

More Stewardship Purchases Increase Public Access To The Wisconsin Outdoors

Gov. Jim Doyle is on the circuit today, announcing major land purchases through the popular, bi-partisan Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, adding prime open space and wild areas for the public to enjoin in perpetuity.

Like the Lakeshore State Park in Milwaukee, tangible state actions on behalf of the public interest enhance the value and reputation of Wisconsin's natural beauty.

And minimize the sting of sprawl that has already eaten up some of the state's finest wetlands and forests and continues to threaten what remains, such as, for example, Waukesha County's Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area.

Former GOP Gov. Thompson, like Warren Knowles, were big supporters of the Stewardship Fund.

Acquiring these properties and expanding the Fund has always been bi-partisan, but in truth, is really non-partisan, because everyone benefits from the Fund's purchases.

There may be a handful of off-note critics who can't see the public policy forest for the remaining trees, but they should take off their ideological blinders and enjoy a nice walk in the woods, or along Milwaukee's now-expanded and more accessible lakefront.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Another Media Splash About Declining Great Lakes Levels

The Detroit News features the growing concern about falling levels in Lakes Superior and Michigan. This is not the first such story - - here's another example from March - - and, unfortunately, it won't be the last, because falling water levels in the Great Lakes is a big, visual, compelling story.

The coverage, however, usually fails to make the local connection - - namely that Lake Michigan is the source from which communities in Waukesha County want to divert water.

Without a strong, cooperative international Compact agreement based on conservation, and a focus on rules and standards governing diversions - - including prohibitions against the export of bottled water - - states and Canadian provinces could begin to unilaterally draw down these water with little regard for the resource.

And a strong Compact will help keep the Great Lakes from being piped, shipped or allowed to flow south to warmer, parched states.

With declining levels, invasive species and pollution from farms, waste treatment facilities and construction sites already stressing the Great Lakes, is this a good time, through inaction on the pending Great Lakes Compact, to make poor management of these waters even easier?

Or is it a good time - - for the right reasons - - to pay closer attention to the lakes' falling levels?

And then to turn that all-too-measurable reality into action by Wisconsin, and the other Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces, redefining these jurisdictions as assertive stewards of the Great Lakes watershed by their approvals of the Great Lakes Compact.

State Senate Adopts Pro-Conservation Budget, Group Says

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters sums up the Senate version of the State Budget as a pro-conservation document, with these highlights, according to the Madison-based group:

“Tonight [Tuesday] the State Senate approved measures that will benefit every Wisconsin citizen…whether they live near a landfill filled with Minnesota’s waste, whether they hunt or fish, whether they drink water or breathe air,” said Anne Sayers, Program Director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters.

"The pro-conservation budget passed by the state Senate took the following actions to protect Wisconsin ’s natural resources:

"Land Protection: The Senate version of the state budget reauthorizes the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund for another decade and restores the purchasing power of the program to allow it to contend with ever-increasing land prices.

"Out-of-State Waste Reduction: The Senate version of the state budget increases the recycling tipping fee to $10 to deter out-of-state waste, while also providing $47.4 million of the revenue needed by local entities to run recycling programs.

"Polluted Runoff Reduction: The Senate version of the state budget provides $25 million in funds to battle polluted runoff, Wisconsin ’s number one water quality problem.

"Contaminated River Clean-Up: The Senate version of the state budget provides $17 million to clean-up contaminated sediments in Milwaukee-area rivers."

Renewable Energy Loan and Grant Program Creation: The Senate version of the state budget provides $30 million for the Renewable Energy Grants and Loans program dedicated to investing in Wisconsin renewable energy technologies.

"Clean Energy Bill Protection: The Senate version of the state budget corrected an action by the Joint Finance Committee that would have undermined Wisconsin ’s prized Clean Energy Bill. The deleted provision would have encouraged Wisconsin to purchase power from Manitoba Power rather than creating jobs here by generating that power in Wisconsin.

"Voting for a pro-conservation budget were Senators Breske, Carpenter, Coggs, Decker, Erpenbach, Hansen, Jauch, Kreitlow, Lassa, Lehman, Miller, Plale, Risser, Robson, Sullivan, Taylor, Vinehout, and Wirch.

"Voting against a pro-conservation budget were Senators Cowles, Darling, Ellis, Fitzgerald, Grothman, Harsdorf, Kanavas, Kapanke, Kedzie, Lasee, Lazich, Leibham, Olsen, Roessler, and Schultz.

"The state budget will next be considered by the 99 members of the state Assembly.
#####

"The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to electing conservation leaders to the state legislature and encouraging lawmakers to champion conservation policies that effectively protect Wisconsin 's public health and natural resources."

(Note: See yesterday's post about a separate Senate action blocking freeway expansion just west of Miller Park, at the Story Hill neighborhood, which would conserve public transportation funding, precious real estate and Milwaukee County tax base, too).

Senate Dems Move To Block Freeway Expansion At Story Hill

Senate Democrats took a first step towards blocking freeway expansion west of Miller Park to Hawley Rd., a position endorsed several years ago by the Milwaukee Common Council, the Milwaukee County Board and Citizens Allied for Sane Highways.

Milwaukee freeway fighter Gretchen Schuldt offers context, here.

http://www.storyhill.net/ put it this way:

state senate moves to block freeway expansion near Story Hill
June 26 -- The State Senate voted Tuesday to block freeway expansion on I-94 near Story Hill.


The vote was part of a budget bill adopted, 18-15, along a party line vote with Democrats in the majority.

The measure would prohibit the addition of lanes on I-94 adjacent to Wood National Cemetery between Hawley Road and the Stadium Interchange.

The budget bill, including the freeway language, is a long way from becoming law.

The State Assembly, where Republicans are the majority, will adopt its own budget, then differences between the Senate and Assembly versions will be hammered out in a conference committee.

Gov. Jim Doyle also must approve the final product. The governor has broad veto over individual items contained in the bill.

Ensuring that the budget language survives upcoming negotiations, and gains Doyle's approval should be a high priority for neighborhood activists, environmental organizations and fiscal conservaties aware of the unfunded billions needed to implement the region's freeway expansion plan.

Other Senate conservation/environmental actions described here.

One Wisconsin Now Brings Reason To Health Care Debate

The Right yammers about 'socialized' medicine, and polarizes the state between health-insured "haves" and "have-nots" to distort the health care debate in Wisconsin.

And to impede progress on a vital matter for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites: health care reform for a healthier populace.

An antidote: the grassroots organization One Wisconsin Now brings some clarity to the issue.

(Note: I am on the OWN board, but have played no role in its communications on this issue.)

Taking the Global Warming Fight From Green To Red

Look for conservatives to join the fight against greenhouse emissions, now that China has officially passed the US as the #1 air polluter.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Receive Air Quality Watch Notices Via Email

That nasty grey air hanging over Milwaukee Monday presaged a warning from the Wisconsin DNR that unhealthy air is probable on Tuesday in Milwaukee and 22 counties.

That's a huge portion of Wisconsin.

Want to know if the air presents potential health risks before you head out for a morning run, or other outdoor activities?

The DNR offers a free email alert system and other related materials through this site.

Tuesday update:

The DNR Tuesday morning cut the number of effected counties to 15, but upgraded the alert level from watch to advisory, meaning there are health risks to vulnerable groups due to air poluntants, and efforts to reduce pollution, as well as exposure, are recommended.

Good dai to check the DNR website This is part of the advisory;

"The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an air quality advisory for eastern Wisconsin effective from 7:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, June 26, 2007.

"This advisory covers 15 counties, including: Outagamie, Brown, Winnebago, Calumet, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan, Dodge, Washington, Ozaukee, Jefferson, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Walworth, Racine and Kenosha.

"The advisory is being issued because of persistent elevated levels of fine particles in the air.

:These fine particles come primarily from combustion sources, such as power plants, factories and other industrial sources, vehicle exhaust, and wood fires.

" Current weather conditions leading to this advisory include a warm, humid air mass that is expected to intensify over Wisconsin today with hazy, stagnating conditions. Air quality is expected to gradually improve for the affected area beginning 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, June 26/"

Former Milwaukee Journal Editor Walks The Walk

Congratulations to Dick and Barbara Leonard for placing valuable land into conservancy on Big Muskego Lake.

There are people who dismiss sprawl as a reality, and there are people who talk about stemming sprawl - - then there are people who can actually do something about it, and follow through.

Now there will be 50 acres of open space, wetlands and even lake frontage in the public domain, and as an integral part of a prized ecosystem.

As Dick told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Darryl Enriquez:

"They're building houses out there like crazy. For that property it would be a horrible thing to do," Richard Leonard said. "It's a beautiful valley with a forest that goes to the lake. We didn't want it to be turned into half-acre lots."

I'm sure the Leonards could have made far more money selling the land in individual lots, or to subdivision builders.

Instead, they put the common purpose first.

So, again, congratulations to the Leonards.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Humanist Geography? Solid Reporting Informs

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Mark Johnson has produced a soaring piece about Yi-Fu Tuan, a fascinating, but relatively-hidden Madison scholar, and Tuan's life's work, called Humanist Geography.

You'd have to be exceedingly well-informed and even better-read to be unmoved by Tuan's work and Johnson's writing.

Grandstanding On Race And Milwaukee

There are opinion-makers at various levels out there having a field day with some serious central city issues in Milwaukee.

Theirs are not the words of good will. They are not altruistic, or offering thoughtful solutions to some of the fundamental issues roiling Milwaukee - - poverty and generations'-long racial discrimination in the region, to name two.

Instead, they are edgy, self-centered voices that are turning up the heat - - naively or deliberately - - while offering nothing constructive.

Ald. Michael McGee has become one of their major targets. Blame McGee for being a fool if he is guilty - - something the courts will decide, not bloggers or squawkers or politicians with time on their hands or agendas to serve.

Ald. McGee is in the justice system. Let it play out.

What's the value of the breathless, minute-by-minute 'coverage' on the Internet by bloggers like Patrick (Badger Blogger) essentially instant-messaging his readers with posts like this:

"Sold
by Patrick @ 6:17 pm. Filed under Home
The word is, The Alderthug, Michael McGee/Jackson Jr. has sold his home on East Burleigh St.
No details yet. "

Or take Mark Belling, the right-wing AM radio talk show host. In addition to his routine McGee-bashing, he used a recent column slot in The Waukesha Freeman, aimed at a white suburban audience, to call McGee a "thug" and a "goon," and then trashed an entire community and their many leaders this way:

'So long as the predominantly black residents of the inner city keep choosing thugs like Michael McGee Jr. as their "leaders," there is no reason to believe the social pathologies that have turned the area into a ghetto of crime will disappear."

The ugly and violent aftermath of an otherwise peaceful Juneteenth Day celebration offers an opportunity to come forward with solutions. Focus on that.

Are these commentators really interested in making Milwaukee a better city? Are they genuinely interested in guaranteeing a region and state that provides opportunities for everyone - - or are they having too much fun teeing up McGee, or foaming about race?

Talk is cheap. Rhetoric is free.

Solutions, hard work on the streets, tough decision-making among office-holders. That takes serious time, effort, and will by serious people.

It's time to separate the winners from the whiners. The activists from the amateurs. The caring from the careless.

Friday, June 22, 2007

New Lakeshore State Park A Good Start

Most of the early reviews of the new Lakeshore State Park off the Summerfest grounds were pretty positive, and rightly so.

It's also good that Bill Christofferson reminded us that the park could have been more, but isn't because while it has nice points of access, it didn't solve Summerfest's arrogant blockade of the lakefront in defiance of the state's historic Public Trust Doctrine.

Fair criticism.

Then there was this grumpy gripe from Mike Nichols, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist, who wishes the park has more of that traditional, woodsy, sit-around-the-campfire feel to it.

So Sunday morning I decided to have a closer look for myself, walked the grounds, and found it to be superbly innovative.

The view of Milwaukee it offers is spectacular, and people are showing up to check it out.

There were bikers and hikers. Families pushing strollers. Twenty-somethings on roller blades. A couple of kids fishing. Kayaking being demonstrated. Kites being flown.

There were young people. Old people. People of every race, out enjoying a new view of the city from a perch in the lake.

A new experience in the city.

I don't know what it is about Milwaukee, but people who live or work here can be our most ambivilant ambassadors.

Provide something new and it gets trashed in the media because it's, well, different.

Which is often the definition of new.

This is a park that will evolve. The prairie grasses will take root and spread. The missing amenities, like benches and trashcans - - there were a few there today - - will arrive.

People will use it for a contemplative walk during the festival season, or for a luncheon stroll from The Third Ward, and as an evening platform from which to see the lake, the downtown and east side high-rise lights on the bluff.

I'm glad it's there.

Too bad that some people went out of their way to nit-pick it.

Wisconsin Seeks Relief From Federal Clean Air Rules: Feds Want Even Tougher Enforcement

In the Bizarro World of clean air enforcement, Wisconsin officials sought relief from federal smog rules to help industry expand here...yet the feds, under the Bush/Cheney pro-growth, dirty air regime, announced that even more Wisconsin counties could fall under the smog-control rules.

Some of Wisconsin's dirty air drifts up from Chicago, so it's not entirely a Wisconsin problem.

Still, you have to wonder: did Wisconsin officials jump the gun seeking federal relief from clean air rules?

Open Meetings Ruling Will Force More Disclosure; Information About Waukesha Water Strategies Could Surface

The penchant for closed meetings by the Waukesha Common Council and the Waukesha Water Utility to hash out water supply strategies has angered activists for years, but a recent court ruling should shed more light and accountability on those and other public bodies statewide.

Waukesha blogger Jim Bouman provides some context.

Tommy Supplies Comics With More Material

His campaign earns another self-inflicted wound, this time on Wonkette, the high-traffic political news and gossip website.

Politics and campaigns, it has been noted, are not beanbag.

Tommy is finding out out that Presidential campaigning in the era of Wonkette, The Daily Show and instant electronic media is completely different than rolling through friendly Northern Wisconsin on his Harley.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Is Conservation For The Birds?

So it's the first day of summer.

Seen a sparrow lately?

A grackle?

Meadowlark?

If so, take a good look, because they are disappearing by the millions and millions.

The Audubon Society has catalogued vast declines among 20 species of American birds - - averaging 68%, the group has found - - telling us once again that human activity has a deep impact on the world around us.

You can shrug off the finding, or you can consider it in a larger context, and that would include what's happening with habitat and open space in our neck of the remaining woods in southeastern Wisconsin.

Waukesha County Executive officials indicates their county of 360,800 residents (2000 census numbers) will hit 509,000 by 2035 and is headed for 520,000, as the County's development plan is updated.

And 70% of the suburbs in the seven-county region in and around Milwaukee do not have apartment buildings.

What's the connection?

Development to house these new tens of thousands of residents is going to take place horizontally, across the land, in subdivided, relatively-spacious lots on formerly open space in Waukesha, and to similar degrees, in the other counties around Milwaukee - - Walworth, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, and Kenosha, too.

Same story up north.

And in and around Dane County, too.

And among the pressures decimating the bird populations is the loss of land, with property near streams and rivers and lakes being the developers' main delight.

We should tell the truth.

We know that we are doing harm to the natural world.

We know all these things:

We know working farms are disappearing in Waukesha County. That story has been written, and written, and written some more.

We know that subdivisions are being built across the Kettle Moraine, that efforts to help put some farm land in conservancy in the Town of Mukwonago north, and in Washington County, failed in the spring elections with the help of real estate interests.

Loss of habitat?

Another old story.

The newspapers tell us every year as deer hunting season approaches that the animals are a suburban nuisance because their former territories in Wisconsin's woodlands keep falling to the bulldozer.

And that deer-and-car/motorcycle collisions are on the upswing because of larger deer herds, on the move and looking for habitat taken by urban sprawl.

Not my term, "urban sprawl."

That's what the WisDOT guy said in the quoted story.

"Car-deer crashes are pretty much determined by the size of the deer herd and urban sprawl," Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokesman Tim McClain said.

"It's development, increased urbanization. More vehicles interacting with deer."

And we know that development can create havoc among neighbors, ranging from devastating pollution flowing from just one badly-planned signature project in exurbia, to water wars between neighboring communities.

And I'm not talking about a looming fight between the City of Waukesha, or New Berlin, and the City of Milwaukee, over Lake Michigan water.

No: For a border skirmish, look no farther than the effort by the City of Waukesha to annex 40-some acres in the bordering Town of Waukesha for some new city well sites - - with possible water draw-down influencing the health of a true regional water-dependent resource, the 4,600-acre Vernon Marsh Wildlife Area.

Land. Water. Wildlife. The quality of human life and our interaction with the natural world, and other people.

It's all connected.

Except by policy-makers, who push common sense and a true common agenda to the bottom of the list, below ideology, exercising power and electioneering.

Polls show that most people want environmental protection.

Politicians ignore the people's goals everytime they sit on commissions or in committee meetings, or behind closed doors, to rubber-stamp another annexation, more farmland conversion, new wetlands fillings' and added lanes, inviting more traffic, onto already overbuilt highways.

All that construction also creates the grist for the gossip, chatter, and wheeling-and-dealing that would make it hard to sustain a conversation during this busy political fundraising season.

(WisPolitics.com ran a news release recently cataloguing just one week's fundraisers. Peruse it here.)

Maybe the conservation message can be better heard when the birds stop singing.

Conservationists Sue To Keep Invasive Species Out Of The Great Lakes

National organizations began legal proceedings today to require that ocean-going ships rid themselves of invasive fish species they are depositing in the Great Lakes.

This is an important step that could force the US Environmental Protection Agency and shippers to do what they could already have done without a lawsuit.

And it's a real step forward in maintaining fish species native to the Great Lakes watershed.

Affordable Housing Effort To Begin In Suburbs

Some years ago, there was a proposal for each Milwaukee suburb to accept one - - only one - - subsidized single-family home as a gesture towards inclusiveness.

All the suburbs declined except Shorewood.

It is against this history - - actually decades of self-defeating economic and racial segregation in the Milwaukee region - - that a group of activists has begun an effort in Waukesha to embrace more open and fair housing.

It will be an uphill climb, with few suburban officials attending an introductory meeting, the activists found.

Note also that the regional planning commission, SEWRPC, has not written a housing plan for its seven-county region since 1975, and despite statements of good intentions, has yet to launch an update.

SEWRPC has found the money for a freeway expansion study and a water supply study, both serving the commission's suburban membership (no City of Milwaukee commission members) and vision.

No housing priority. No housing study recommendations for the region.
Was it surprising that the Public Policy Forum found five years ago that 70% of the suburbs do not even contain - - if that is the right word - - apartments?

That's the triumph of exclusionary zoning that either bars multi-family housing outright, or calls for large lots and certain kinds of subdivisions not suited for apartments - - and the perhaps low-to-moderate people that might occupy them.

I'll have more to say about the racial separation in the Milwaukee-Waukesha, two-county area in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Perth-To-Pewaukee: Higher Water Rates And Comservation Should Happen

Water woes in Pewaukee?

And Waukesha, too, where some users will begin paying a premium when their water use becomes substantial?

And check out real water woes in Australia!

Additionally, this NPR piece describes how wind-driven desalination plants are not only providing water to Australians, but doing so without adding more pollution to the air.

Could Wisconsin so cleverly link clean air with drinking water provision?

Note: The Waukesha and Pewaukee water conservation rate increases are steps in the right direction, but they don't kick in until users have really pushed it.

In Pewaukee, for example, the proposed higher rates would apply after 75,000 gallons per quarter year, which means heavy use by an underground watering system or too many refills in the backyard pool.

It's a step in the right direction, but only a baby step.

For more information about major water shortages in the US, go here.

Bringing Truthiness To The 'Activist Judges' Canard

Mike McCabe gets to the heart of the right's fiction about so-called activist judges.

Mark Belling Rips Regionalism: Says It's A Pro-Milwaukee Plot

Mark Belling rants in The Freeman that the M-7 regional collaboration will steer development away from the suburbs into the City of Milwaukee.

He starts his item with this blather:

'It’s time for Chapter 27 of my ongoing Suburban Naivete Alert. Or Chapter 44 of "How the City Rolls All Over the Suburbs."

Even for Belling, champion of Conservative Schtick, this is over-the-top.

Freeway expansion...water diversion planning...Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission recommendations, membership, staffing, contracting - - nearly all of it, has suburban, out-of-Milwaukee tone, process and outcomes.

I know if you have a newspaper column in a Waukesha paper, and a talk radio show pointed at the suburbs that you need to aim your material at your base.

But for goodness sakes, don't condescend them.

Waukesha County Population Estimates Climb

In several posts, (such as this one,) I stated that Waukesha County's population is growing substantially, with greater growth - - and water demands by new residents - - projected for decades.

Waukesha County's 2000 population was 360,800, census figures show.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) has indicated that by 2035, Waukesha County would have an estimated 446,800 people.

That increase is equal to virtually the entire 2000 population of Ozaukee County - - and any travel through Waukesha County offers easy-to-see examples of subdivisions filling-in much of the open space from Brookfield at the Milwaukee County line all the way west to Jefferson County.

There are population estimates, however, that extend beyond 2035 and come with even higher residential projections.

The office of Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas indicated by email that, by 2050, his county may have 509,000 people, according to the county's current, long-range development plan.

And in an April 24th interview on WUWM-FM (use this link, then download "Waukesha County in Great Shape"), Vrakas said Waukesha County's population "someday" could hit 520,000.

Note: Waukesha County is currently updating its county-wide long-range development plan, written in 1997, and uses State of Wisconsin population estimates for its planning that is found here.

The Waukesha County development plan updating process is described at a Waukesha County parks and land use site.

Pewaukee May Enforce Conservation, Higher Water Rates

The City of Waukesha will charge some water users higher rates to discourage consumption - - and environmentalists call the new policy only a modest beginning - - and now the City of Pewaukee may follow suit.

These efforts should be supported, and accelerated.

Pathetic Fuel Economy Standards May Get A Modest Boost

Faced with something of a circumstantial trifecta - - high gas prices, falling SUV sales and political realities conceded by both parties - - Detroit's floundering automakers are warming up to making slightly more efficient engines.

Something they had said repeatedly would absolutely ruin their sales, which, with the cooperation of pliable politicians and able lobbyists, has provided consumers with inefficient, less-appealing cars for many years.

US fuel economy standards set by the federal government hasn't been upgraded since 1983.

Think of all the wasted gasoline, and with market share disappearing to foreign companies, the missed sales and lost technological advancement for and by what's left of the Big Three.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lightening The Blog: Hillary, Bill, John Sac And A Sopranos' Spoof

You Sopranos' avoiders won't get the jokes, but the rest of you can enjoy this from the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Remember The Reagan Administration Plan to Classify Ketchup As A Vegetable? Here Is The Bush Administration Version, Regarding Endangered Species

There's just no end to the troubles this administration has caused, or the end-runs it has tried, when pandering to special interests.

It's what brought us new logging as "The Healthy Forest Restoration Act," and more air pollution under the "Clear Skies Initiative."

Surely the Bushies thought it'd be clever to get a number of salmon species in the Pacific Northwest de-listed as endangered - - at the behest of so-called "property-rights groups" - - by padding the counts with artificially-raised fish, along with truly wild fish, too.

Thank goodness there was a court to step in and say "enough."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Drained Lake, Clogged Stream, Stripped Land - - In One Planned Waukesha County Subdivision

A $140 million upscale subdivision, Stoneridge, looked like a boon to the Western Waukesha County Village of Dousman until the environmental damage and other problems began to mount.

Now the neighbors, local authorities and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources want some answers.

There is a long list of questions, according to a consultant expert hired to sort out the mess:

"...the applications filed...weren't complete and didn't address all the requirements of (village) ordinances, such as detailed traffic studies, impacts on the school district, impact on public services, marketability, storm water retention, impacts on surface and groundwater," [the consultant wrote].

"I find it hard to believe that the village approved these developments without . . . all the information being available for public comment at the hearings," reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Darryl Enriquez.

Reads like a checklist for Sprawl Avoidance 101.

Conservation A Hard Sell In Water-Deprived Florida

Having squandered its fresh water, and suffered prolonged drought, the State of Florida is not even yet fully on board with conservation and other supply alternatives, reports The New York Times.

If this isn't a cautionary tale for the Great Lakes states, then what is?

McIlheran Omits Facts In Transit Posting

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Pat McIlheran leaves out some basic facts in a posting on his blog (the entire text is at the bottom) about transportation costs.

He writes these lines:

"Roads are paid for by taxes drivers pay when they use the roads. Transit is paid for by taxes drivers pay when they don't use transit and by taxes everyone pays when they don't necessarily use it, either."

His implication: drivers are paying for transit - - something they do not use - -and somehow that's wrong.

What he leaves out is this:

While roads are partially-paid for by gas taxes, many road construction, repair, patrolling and maintenance expenses are paid through local property tax and state income tax collections.

Including contributions by taxpayers who do not drive - - the same way that drivers who do not use transit contribute to those systems. In other words, both roads and transit are paid for by the public, with some more direct contribution from users.

Drivers pay gas taxes, transit riders pay fares, and neither contribution covers the full cost of the capital and operating costs of both systems, including those systems that individuals choose not to use.

It's also why property owners without children contribute to public schools, or why healthy people support municipal health departments, and why homeowners who never set their houses on fire support the shared resource called The Fire Department.

That's how society works.

McIlheran's entire post is here.

MONDAY, June 18, 2007, 10:40 a.m.
Pay the fare, even if you don't ride

As rail transit's fans continue to say that it's a no-brainer, an utterly sensible "investment," it's worth remembering that the dividends get paid, regularly, in the opposite direction of usual investments.

That is, you have to keep "investing."

A displaced Wisconsinite now living in Chicago emails to note this news over the weekend: The suburban Chicago bus system, Pace -- that's everything outside the city limits of Chicago -- wants $23 million from the state right now or it'll cut back service on two-thirds of its routes.

Metra, the commuter train system -- that's the one that runs double-decker trains from distant suburbs into downtown -- is already talking about robbing its capital fund of $60 million to make up its operating deficits.

Otherwise, it says, it could raise fares 10% every other year and cut its weekend trains and its service after 9 p.m.

So much for working late.

In total, these two systems and the city of Chicago system, CTA, are $226 million -- that's a quarter of a billion dollars -- in the hole on operating expenses alone just for this year.

They're dunning the state for more money. Illinois' governor says he wants to give $100 million to CTA -- they're the ones who run the El trains and buses in Chicago -- but hasn't said much about the suburban lines.

This isn't to build anything new. This isn't for new tracks or more buses. This is just on top of the operating subsidies taxpayers already kick in: hundreds of millions from the state, as well as more than $700 million a year (that's a pdf) in sales taxes levied on people in six counties in northeastern Illinois.

Even this isn't enough to run the service, so Illinois lawmakers this spring proposed raising the sales tax by $280 million and imposing a new tax on real estate sales in Chicago, among other expedients.

I remind you that, as far as American cities aside from New York go, Chicago is transit paradise. It is as railed-up as a place realistically could be. Its downtown booms. Its rail infrastructure is nearly incomparable. Its park-and-rides are full.

Its commuter trains are dandy and beloved. And it's still sucking taxpayer money at a nearly unfathomable rate.

Rail advocates often respond to this by asking, rhetorically, how much taxpayers must spend to keep up roads for cars. Quite a bit, in Wisconsin, certainly.

But that's money collected specifically from drivers, who pay it via our gas tax.

In Illinois, they additionally pay it via tolls, as well as having a gas tax that, in total, is higher than ours.

Meanwhile, some of that gas tax money gets diverted into transit, as does, in Chicago, money from a sales tax and a car rental tax and another 5% tax on motor fuel sales.

Roads are paid for by taxes drivers pay when they use the roads. Transit is paid for by taxes drivers pay when they don't use transit and by taxes everyone pays when they don't necessarily use it, either.

And at least in one city long used to taking transit, it's requiring more and more taxes than ever just to keep operating the trains.

Wisconsin Attorney General Opinion On Water Policy Still Hidden From Public View

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources is still reviewing a revised application from the City of New Berlin for permission to divert water from Lake Michigan to a part of the city that is outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

A similar application last year was roughed up by several of the other Great Lakes states, to which the DNR had sent the application, because an eight-state review of diversions is required by the Great Lakes Compact.

There is an element within the DNR that believes that it can approve the diversion request without re-submitting it to the other states.

Then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager issued an opinion in December, 2006, flatly saying that all diversion applications needed the other states' approval.

The opinion is operative regardless of the election and swearing-in of a new Attorney General, J. B. Val Hollen.

Traditional media have not reported the existence of the heavily-researched 20-page opinion.

Without the opinion having been adequately published and absorbed, some in the DNR, I am told, may feel they can go ahead and approve the New Berlin application on their own.

Poking a stick in the eyes of the other states, when Great Lakes water is on the line, is 100% guaranteed to provoke an interstate lawsuit because it would undermine years of cooperation and negotiations among the states.

Those negotiations produced proposed amendments to the Great Lakes agreement (the Great Lakes Compact) that governs regional control of those waters and establishes formal standards for diversion application review and approval.

Federal law requires the eight-state approval, too, though without establishing the standards and procedures in the Compact amendments - - another good reason to adopt the Compact and bring rationality to the entire process.

Adopting the amendments in Wisconsin has been stalled in a special state legislative committee that has not met on the matter since December.

But until the amendments are approved by all the Great Lakes sates, the DNR needs to follow the Attorney General's opinion by sending New Berlin's application to the other states - - but only if it concludes that the revised application meets the objections that the other states raised a year ago.

A public hearing about the revised application would also be a good idea, so the DNR and New Berlin both can explain the proposal and any improvements made over last year's application.

Wisconsin Water Decisions Could Precipitate GOP Gains

Western Waukesha County is the major growth area in southeastern Wisconsin lying outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

It's also the exact suburban/semi-rural region that would be the major beneficiary were Lake Michigan water to be diverted into developments on agricultural land and other open space west of Brookfield to the Jefferson County line.

Water will be a key determinant of business expansion in the region, according to a must-read June 15th analysis about water issues published in The Milwaukee Business Journal.

Said the authoritative report:

"Water policy and supply will dictate if and where billions of dollars in new residential, commercial and industrial development will appear in southeastern Wisconsin."

This fact is central to statewide water policy negotiations at the State Capitol - - negotiations that for more than a year have barely been reported in the traditional statewide media.

The State Capitol discussions on water policy have been taking place in a special state committee established to draft legislation guiding Wisconsin's implementation of amendments to an international water management agreement known as the Great Lakes Compact.

Established in 1985, the amended Compact would, for the first time, require water conservation from communities seeking diversions.

That makes the 22-year-old Compact more overtly a conservation-based agreement, with withdrawals from the Great Lakes made difficult (but not impossible) if the diversion is sought by a community outside the boundaries of the Great Lakes basin.

Chaired by State Sen. Neal Kedzie, (R-Elkhorn), the legislative study committee has stalled, without meeting, since December, 2006, because politicians and business leaders from Waukesha County want to be able to access Lake Michigan water from the Great Lakes with few restraints.

Why?

To continue the rapid growth in Waukesha County - - most of which is outside of the Great Lakes basin boundary.

The Waukesha County community of New Berlin has a Lake Michigan diversion proposal before the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and the City of Waukesha has indicated it wants a supply of Lake Michigan water, too - - up to six times as much as New Berlin.

So Waukesha County is ground-zero for the state water supply debate, and will set precedents across the entire, eight-state Great Lakes region, too.

Waukesha's Growth Will Be Substantial. The Only Question Is How Much?

SEWRPC projects for Waukesha County an increase of about 80,000 new residents by 2035 (that's almost like injecting the current population of Ozaukee County into Waukesha County).

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas said during an April, WUWM-FM radio interview that the eventual increase could be 140,000 people, bringing Waukesha County's population - - now at 380,000 - - to 520,000.

How Will Those New Residents Vote?

Waukesha County already votes overwhelmingly Republican, according to official state figures compiled and published by the Wisconsin Elections Board.

The ratio of Republican votes to Democratic votes in recent elections in Waukesha County is usually in the range of 2:1 in favor of Republicans, making it the GOP's statewide base.

Here are some key statistics:

In 2004 Presidential election voting in Waukesha County, the Bush-Cheney GOP ticket out polled the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket 154,926 to 73,626, records show - - a winning margin of more than 2:1.

In the 2000 Presidential election, the totals for both parties' tickets were somewhat lower, but the margin for Bush-Cheney over Gore-Lieberman exceeded the 2:1 ratio.

Similarly, in the 2006 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, the Green- Hundertmark GOP ticket out polled the Doyle-Lawton Democratic ticket 112,243 to 61,402, records show. That margin was 64%-35% - - virtually 2:1 Republican.

In the 2002 Wisconsin gubernatorial election, the totals for both parties' tickets were lower, but the GOP victorious ratio was again more than 2:1.

The eight Great Lakes states are having similar debates (Michigan has already passed a bill).

And the states must adopt very similar versions of implementing legislation, or the Compact will evaporate and an uncontrolled rush for Great Lakes water will soak up this finite and priceless resource with little real management.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Washington County Isn't The Only Place Tangled Up In A Controversial Deal With Cabela's

You think Washington County, with it's on-again, off-again, on-again deal with outdoor supplies' giant Cabela's, put itself in a wrangle over the propriety of subsidizing a successful private company?

Look at the unfolding Cabela's/corporate welfare mess in Rapid City, at the foot of the Black Hills.

Cabela's there is being offered $2 million, 30 acres of primo real estate and a Black Hills visitors' center building estimated to be worth $6 million - - not including the value of the surrounding 30 acres.

I'm surprised Mount Rushmore wasn't thrown in.

Maybe Washington County got away cheap for only $4 million cash?

True Sopranos' Obsessives Continue In High And Intriguing Mania

I'm just passing this on. It's written by Michael Cavna, a critic at The Washington Post.

It reminded me of the academic magic carpet rides taken by some of my English Department grad studies compatriots.

But I did appreciate that he uses one earlier clue, as I did, to analyze the show's spectacular ending.

And hey: maybe the guy is right.

An Emerging Progressive Agenda?

News that statewide universal health care proposals are gaining strength in Wisconsin, while being hopeful developments on their own, are also indicators that a progressive approach to public policy in our state has a growing audience.

Elected officials and policy-makers could replicate the health care model to expand their advocacy for a broad, progressive agenda in Wisconsin - - using the health care issue because it is rooted in an effort to achieve a common good.

Promoting transit, for example, rather than the state's single-minded diversion of billions of public dollars into highway-building, is another such opportunity.

As is conserving land and water for public uses, rather than for sprawl development served by new highways paid for by our taxes.

And both connect to the push for a healthier populace because transit, land use preservation and conservation produce cleaner, healthier air and water resources, too.

Note how aggressively California is dealing with the health and environmental consequences of sprawl - - in a state run by a Republican.

And all these issues come into sharper focus as the population ages, the climate gets warmer, gasoline prices rise, and so on. The timing for coherent policy planning at all levels of government and the economy - - in the genuine public interest - - is oh, so right.

Democrats in Wisconsin are sometimes pursuing pieces of environmental opportunities, and the public's well-documented support for clean air, water and open space, such as Gov. Jim Doyle's praiseworthy expansion of the Stewardship Fund's open space purchases.

And the lack of a Democratic majority in the State Assembly is perhaps another roadblock to a more publicly-spirited state policy agenda.

But even Democrats shy away from a definitive, definable progressive agenda, fearing the wrath of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, or the powerful road-builders lobby, and other loud voices that demand private interests take priority over the public good.

That's why Milwaukee does not have modern rail transit, for instance, penalizing the city's economy, stifling its appeal to visitors and complicating access to jobs for workers.

Wisconsin's inability to endorse the Great Lakes Compact, a water conservation agreement with seven other states and two Canadian provinces, is another example.

Supporters of conservation and smarter land use planning want guarantees in the Compact legislation that conserving water will be at the heart of a Wisconsin bill - - to protect a vital Wisconsin and planetary resource.

Development interests and their allies in the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and the Republican caucus from Waukesha County, however, do not want to be part of a multi-state agreement that could restrict pipelines of Lake Michigan water to push sprawl west to the Jefferson County line.

So far, they are winning the argument by blocking a state legislative study committee from writing a strong, pro-Compact endorsement.

Democrats at the state level not used these issues to help their Milwaukee base - - the state's largest urban area: local Democrats, for the most part, have not tied the issues together with a coordinated political and media strategy, either.

It's a curious and disappointing dynamic.

But keep an eye on the health care coverage debate. It can go as far as folks want, and be used in a positive way for the good of the state, if there is the political will to do it.

Support Agent Orange Victims in Milwaukee at Monday Noon Rally

Monday is a national day of awareness about the continuing suffering of Americans and Vietnamese who were exposed to the poison Agent Orange during the War in Vietnam.

Agent Orange was a widely-used defoliant sprayed by low-flying, US aircraft to destroy forests, purportedly to deny hiding and staging areas to anti-government guerrillas and troops.

This chemical warfare tactic thus poisoned land, water and countless thousands of people, including American GI's with lingering, substantial health problems dismissed by military and government officials.

The leading producer of Agent Orange was the Dow Chemical Co., also the manufacturer of napalm; numerous protests against Dow took place nationally, and in Wisconsin, during the war.

There will be a demonstration about Agent Orange at the US Courthouse on E. Wisconsin Avenue at noon on Monday, June 18th, as part of a coordinated educational effort across the county.

Some related information is here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guest Blog: Mel Visser, Great Lakes Scientist And Author, On Great Lakes Pollution

The noted scientist and book author Mel Visser (book plug at the bottom) sent me this, which looked like an ideal guest item about something I don't know enough about. Now I know a bit more. My pleasure to post it:

I do not see much about persistent organic pollutants (POPs,) a Great Lakes subject that deeply concerns me, on your blog.

On retiring in 1995, I searched for an answer to the residual PCBs in Lake Superior. When banned in 1978, concentrations rapidly decreased to 50% of their peak ... and stayed there. This is not what would be expected, there had to be a continuing source.

I could not find the answer through voluntary efforts with the EPA and by serving on the Science Advisory Board of Michigan's Great Lakes Protection Fund.

On hearing of a study finding that Inuit above the Arctic Circle had 8X more breast milk PCBs than women in southern Canada, my search headed north.

From two trips to the Canadian High Arctic and assimilation of research done under the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, a multi- nation study, the picture came together.

Continuing megaton global use of PCBs and "banned" pesticides keeps our Great Lakes contaminated and is devastating the Arctic environment.

The 8X PCB level was only 7% of the Inuit toxic load, with the majority coming from chlordane and toxaphene.Toxaphene was virtually banned in 1982.

By 1992, its concentration in Lake Michigan had gone down, but the levels in Lake Superior went up 50% and have stayed there. Lake Trout in Lake Superior have a toxaphene concentration 10X that required to classify them as hazardous waste.

This is also 10X the PCB toxicity in those same trout. Yet ... Michigan's Fish Consumption Advisories warn against consuming large trout because of their PCB content and remain silent about toxaphene.

Before condemning Michigan, check Wisconsin's advisories. Ontario, Michigan and other states dropped toxaphene from advisories sometime before 2004.

Why does Lake Superior attract toxaphene?

The POPs (persistant organic pollutants) circle the globe and concentrate at different latitudes according to their volatility.

Lindane, very volatile, was found at 40X the concentration in the Arctic Ocean as in oceans near its use points.

PCBs spread across the continental US and diminish to the north.

Toxaphene finds the cold mountain lakes, the northern Great Lakes and the Arctic to its liking. What is the EPA doing? Nothing.

At the International Joint Commission meeting in Chicago last week, a glowing progress report was presented ... Lake Superior's toxaphene was not mentioned.

According to the EPA, POPs will exit the lakes in another 10-30 years as they remove contaminated sediments and address virtual elimination.

Good Luck!

This head-in-the-sand approach of ignoring the biggest toxicity problem in the Great Lakes ... and lying through Fish Consumption Advisories published to protect us, will only serve to keep the hard work of truly achieving a global ban on agricultural use of POPs pesticides and industrial use of PCBs from starting.

The 2001 voluntary Stockholm Agreement has done nothing but stirred up a backlash on DDT and cleaned up storehouses in Africa … efforts that the Lake Superior trout will not feel.

My search and conclusions have been published as the book Cold, Clear, and Deadly. See my web site at http://www.coldclearanddeadly.com/ for more information.

Best wishes to you and our Great Lakes.

Mel Visser

Gingrich Comes to Waukesha County, Doesn't Fail To Disappoint The Far Right

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and potential additional rightwing GOP presidential candidate made a speech before a conservative Wisconsin business group in Waukesha County on the 15th - - and surprise, surprise - - postured as another immigration hysteric to drum up support for a possible primary run.

This is the script for the right and the GOP these days, now that overt discrimination against people of color has fallen out of fashion: whip up fear and loathing towards immigrants.

For a politician on the right, this is oh, so easy. "Gratuitous" doesn't even begin to define it.

Gingrich outed himself as a confessed hypocrite not long ago when he admitted to having had a sexual relationship with a member of his House staff - - at the same time he was leading the crucifixion of Pres. Bill Clinton for the same sort of familial and workplace indiscretion with Monica Lewinsky.

Will anyone be shocked if we will learn that Gingrich has employed or benefited from the labor of undocumented immigrant workers on his private payrolls?

By the way, here is the website of the pro-Wisconsin (sic) business organization that brought Gingrich.

Note the sophomoric and partisan nature of its presentation. No wonder Wisconsin has low standing nationally in the eyes of some business leaders: the Wisconsin business community, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, is more negative about Wisconsin than any other special interest.

Brookings Institution Focuses On Wisconsin/Great Lakes Importance

John Austin, a senior fellow at the prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, returned to Wisconsin May 7th to present his major findings about the importance of the Great Lakes to a state Capitol audience.

I attended and found the information among the best I'd seen on several key economic, political, historical and everyday issues in our state and Great Lakes region.

A short video summary of his presentation about the strengths and weaknesses of the Great Lakes region, and how to deal with both halves of that equation, is here. I will later post a link to his entire, hour-long presentation, and to his Power Point.

I'll be writing more about Austin's findings as they relate to the pending Great Lakes Compact and other issues.

Expect to see more of Austin in Wisconsin and Milwaukee because he offers a neutral, non-partisan and credible analysis that supports goals often seen as contradictory: economic development and conservation, for example.

He also has data about racial separation in southeastern Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes region that is deeply disturbing, but, again, offers an opportunity for change that would be good for the entire region's economy - - if leaders here have the political will to break from the past.

Time will tell.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Red Ink Tells The Tale: Milwaukee County Budgeting Is A Farce

Milwaukee County budgets should really be written in pencil. Makes re-budgeting easier when you keep running millions short.

And Scott Walker wanted to use his County Executiveship as a basis for managing the state budget?

Southeastern Wisconsin Air Quality Still Problematic

Though Wisconsin officials are hoping that the air in southeastern Wisconsin will soon meet federal health standards and encourage easier industrial expansion, monitoring in 2007 suggests otherwise.

It's a regional problem, with smokestack pollution from as far south as Gary, IN and Chicago, IL drifting north to the greater Milwaukee area, and as far up the Lake Michigan coastline as Door County.

Two thoughts:

Are Wisconsin and local M-7 officials talking to their counterparts in Illinois and Indiana?

And what will be the impact of the expanded Oak Creek power plants on the region's job outlook and air quality?

Comment Function On This Blog Updated

The "anonymous" function has been enabled. Sorry about that.

I still am moderating comments because of a spate of vicious comments sent sometime ago that I had to delete, one-by-one as they got automatically posted, but feel free to leave anonymous comments.

I do want the blog to encourage dialogue. It is not one of those one-way, no-comment sites.

Isthmus Piece On Schools Worth A Read: Soglin Post, Too

Marc Eisen, my thoughtful former colleague at Isthmus, has a piece suggesting education reforms for Madison that are based on a Milwaukee Public Schools model.

Milwaukee readers will flinch at a stinging adjective in the lede; Madison readers will find much of the entire premise hard to swallow, so in the ongoing Milwaukee-Madison competitive dynamic - - advantage this round to Milwaukee.

Separately, Paul Soglin takes Mark Belling to task for the WISN-AM 1130 squawker's uninformed opinions about kids' performance in school and the buildings in which they attend their classes.

Belling is at his most clueless when he opining and whining about things with which he has little personal experience, whether it's foreign affairs or raising kids.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Detroit Free Press Again Calls For Action On Great Lakes Compact

Twice in six days, the Detroit Free Press has urged adoption of a strong Great Lakes Compact.

The paper's editorials are aimed primarily at Michigan's state legislature, but the message for timely and comprehensive Great Lakes protection is relevant also in Wisconsin.

That's because the state legislative study committee charged with drafting a Compact implementing bill for Wisconsin has not met since December, 2006.

Legislative leaders have said they want the committee to wrap up its work by mid-September.

That means heavy-lifting by the 18-member committee throughout the summer, with resistance from Waukesha County to the Compact's tough diversion rules being among the higher hurdles preventing the committee's drafting a genuine Great Lakes protection bill.

Study Suggests Oil Supply Disappearing

While you're celebrating that fill-up yesterday at a mere $2.99/gallon, ask yourself, what if oil was really beginning to run out?

Scare story, or a dose of reality?

You decide.

MMSD Rain Gardens Initiative Looks Like A Winner

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is announcing a Rain Gardens Initiative - - and it comes with discounts on plantings for your property that will make better use of rainwater than letting it add to system overflows.

Or how about an inexpensive rain barrel to add to your garden?

MMSD will sell you one for a mere $30 - - and they've sold 5,480 to date.

This is the kind of grassroots planning that gets results, one home and property at a time, and puts substance behind the MMSD conservation slogan, "Every Drop Counts."

USA Today Discovers The Disappearing Great Lakes

It is not news to many people in Wisconsin, nor to readers of this blog who follow Great Lakes water and diversion issues, but to USA Today, it's real news: Lake Superior's level is way down.

Dropping lake levels are among the reasons that Wisconsin needs to endorse and implement the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces to limit diversions and stimulate widespread water conservation.

The economies of the Great Lakes states depend on reliable supplies of fresh, clean water, yet there is no sense of urgency among many Wisconsin leaders to make water conservation and Great Lakes protection a high priority.

Efforts to draft Gret Lakes Compact enabling legislation for Wisconsin have stalled.

An explanation is here.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Legislator Emerges From The Swamp, Attacks Wetlands

Ok, so it's a bit of a mixed, murky metaphor, but sometimes the state legislature resembles a swampy backwater, and Rep. Frank Lasee's suggestion that Wisconsin is wasting money creating and buying swamp land suggests that maybe Lasee has been drinking that swamp water?

And what's with that graphic on those webnotes, original here?

Is Lasee, (R-Bellevue), an Xboxer, a Dungeons and Dragons dropout, or a state official helping to oversee a $58 billion enterprise?

GOP To Fight Cigarette Tax Hike; More Teen Smoking Ahead

The state GOP announces it will try and block all the tax increases in Gov. Jim Doyle's budget.

That includes a proposed boost in the per-pack tax on cigarettes from 77 cents to $2.02.

Experts have concluded that the higher the price of a pack of smokes, the fewer teens - - vital 'replacement smokers' the companies need to pick up from the older smokers who have quit or died - - will be able to afford to begin, or keep smoking.

So the Republican position in Wisconsin is to make it easier for kids and others to begin, or keep smoking, knowing that cigarettes are killers that also put a huge tax, if you will, on the public's health care bill.

Nice.

Midwest Environmental Advocates Wins Clean Water Case Against Mining Giant

Score one for MEA - - Midwest Environmental Advocates - - in court against a mining multi-national corporation, and on behalf of a northern Wisconsin tribe.

Also winning: Wisconsin's water resources.

Xoff Notes Essential Difference Between Republicans and Democrats

Writer and political consultant Bill Christofferson gets to the heart of the matter with a posting and headline worthy of The Onion.

Excellent Letter To The Editor About UW-M Research Park

Keep it in Milwaukee.

That's the conclusion of Steve Filmanowicz, a former colleague of mine in Mayor John Norquist's office, and now communications director at the Congress for the New Urbanism, about where UW-M should put its proposed research park.

Here's his June 11, 2007 letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

UWM

Put new engineering campus downtown

It's hard to imagine a better kick-off for the Milwaukee 7 partnership's plans to recharge our regional economy around technology-based manufacturing and process design than building the new engineering school and research park proposed by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee ("UWM to raise money for land," June 7).

But instead of the fields of the County Grounds, imagine the new campus joining Manpower's new headquarters downtown and serving as a gateway to the redeveloping Park East corridor.

With the Milwaukee School of Engineering just blocks away and the neighboring Milwaukee Area Technical College serving as a partner in training workers for highly skilled manufacturing jobs, UWM's new Innovation Park would be the centerpiece of Milwaukee's new "knowledge corridor."

Although there's plenty of available land in the Park East corridor, particularly west of the river, the campus would need to be reconceived in a more vertical form, with incubators and spin-off businesses taking advantage of the neighborhood's impressive talent base by locating in nearby lofts and mixed-use buildings.

Instead of asking "what if?" as we do now after having built Miller Park in a fairly isolated location, let's fully explore the benefits of better integrating UWM's new Innovation Park into the life and economy of the city.

Stephen Filmanowicz
Communications director
Congress for the New Urbanism
Milwaukee

Kedzie Committee Gets A Short Reprieve

State Sen. Neal Kedzie, (R-Elkhorn), had asked legislative leaders to give him until the end of the year to whip his Great Lakes study committee into shape.

Apparently, those bi-partisan leaders have reached something of a compromise:

Kedzie has announced that he's been given until September instead - - which means he and his 18-member committee will have to work hard through the summer to resolve deep divisions and report out a proposed bill relatively quickly.

The committee, stalled over objections from Waukesha political and business interests who want Wisconsin's endorsement of the Great Lakes Compact (a water management agreement) watered-down to permit easy diversions to sprawling Waukesha County, has not met since December.

I posted an extensive analysis of this problem, here.

To sum it up, the extension is a mistake.

Extending Kedzie's committee only guarantees further delay; That is because it is top heavy with Waukesha legislators, local officials and development executives who are putting their interests before those of an international region holding the Great Lakes in common trust.

Kedzie's announcement, reproduced on a blog posted by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on behalf of some legislators, is reproduced below:

"TUESDAY, June 12, 2007, 1:46 p.m.By Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn)

Compact would protect water, allow some diversion

Earlier today, I appeared before the Joint Legislative Council in my role as chair of the Special Committee on the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact to provide a status report on the work of the committee.

The joint council created this special committee in an effort to study the feasibility of Wisconsin joining seven other Great Lakes states to ultimately ratify the compact.

The compact was signed by the eight governors of the Great Lakes basin states in 2005, and provides -- in its simplest of terms -- a procedural mechanism for those states to provide limited diversions and withdrawals of Great Lakes water for communities in need of such water.

Each state Legislature, then, must devise a comprehensive plan to create legislation in order to implement the compact in each respective state.

The goal is to protect the resource as much as possible, while at the same time, create a reasonable process for communities with potential water shortages.

The Wisconsin Legislature is engaged in this issue through the special committee.While the committee has made significant progress over the last several months, more time will be needed to reach finality with this process and find compromise on many unresolved issues.

By their vote of approval, the Joint Legislative Council granted additional meetings for the special committee to work towards that goal, however a deadline of September 15, 2007 was set.

While I felt more time was needed, I will do all I can as chair of this special committee to work within that timeframe and bring this process to an endpoint by that date. "

Note that Kedzie's explanation to his colleagues of what the Compact (see how the Council of Great Lakes Governors describes the matter, for comparison, at the very end of this post) is puts heavy emphasis on how diversions could assist communities seeking them.

The Compact, while rationalizing diversion procedures, also contains provisions about conservation, bottled water, public participation and other coordinated water-management issues.

And it makes clear, through long checklists, that diversions are matters of last resort, because the thrust of the Compact, already in existence with Wisconsin's leadership since 1985, is conservation and stewardship by eight states and two Canadian provinces of what is a unique fresh water resource on the planet.

That is why many environmental and conservation organizations in Wisconsin want the Badger state's version of the compact to have unambiguously strong language on some key points that business and property rights' advocates want trimmed or eliminated.

One committee member, State. Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), has praised calls to send back to the table the negotiators who worked from 2001-2005 to redraft the Compact.

There's no way that should or would happen. The Great Lakes are at too much risk, and too many years have been spent to upgrade the Compact, to justify starting over. And I suspect that Lazich knows that.

And the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce has stated on more than one occasion that all eight states should not be required to approve diversion applications from communities that lie outside the Great Lakes basin - - a central provision of the Compact and in relevant federal law in place since 1986.

That's what having a cooperative Compact means - - it's a joining, not a separating or a delineating - - and it would be shocking if the Chamber doesn't understand or grasp what a Compact is or why you'd want one when you are talking about a resource that touches eight states.

A Compact with equal votes and voices - - even though New York State has more people or other of the states have more acreage - - means that Wisconsin could block harmful diversion applications from any of seven other states in order to protect Wisconsin waters.

And it's why - - and this is a central fact - - that the Kedzie Committee was told early on by Compact negotiators that substantive changes to the agreement could not be made by the eight states considering it, or the Compact's cooperative message and value would collapse.

Without the Compact's uniformity on behalf of Great Lakes preservation, a chaotic rush for withdrawals and other deleterious results could easily follow.

Some of Kedzie's district includes the very acreage in Western Waukesha County that is growing by leaps and bounds, along with other water-hungry territory in southeastern Wisconsin.

Kedzie is known for his interest in the environment, but given the committee's structure and its inevitable inertia, the committee's work is probably going to be only part of an eventual legislative solution for Wisconsin relative to the Compact, not the entire answer.






(From the Council of Great Lakes Governors, emphasis added)
Great Lakes Water Management Overview

"Through the Great Lakes Water Management Initiative, the Council of Great Lakes Governors is taking the lead in protecting the Great Lakes. We recognize that the Great Lakes are one of the most important natural resources in North America and that we must work together to protect them.

The Council assists the Governors and Premiers in coordinating activities under the Great Lakes Charter of 1985, a voluntary agreement through which the Great Lakes States and Provinces cooperatively manage the waters of the Great Lakes.
The Council also coordinates the authority granted to the Governors under the U.S. Federal Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986.
This Act requires the Governors’ unanimous approval on any proposed out-of-basin diversion or export of water from the Great Lakes Basin.
Despite these important tools, the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers of Ontario and Qu├ębec recognize that:

o There are threats to the Great Lakes Basin now, and they promise to increase in the future. We are looking ahead and taking protective steps to avoid conflicts and shortages in the future.

o The Great Lakes are critical to our economy. We must use the water wisely to help ensure that it remains at healthy levels and to maintain our region’s competitive economic advantage.

o We must preserve and protect these waters now and for future generations. That will be our legacy for our children and grandchildren.
Therefore, in order to update the regional water management system and ensure that the Great Lakes are protected, the Governors and Premiers signed the
Great Lakes Charter Annex in 2001.
Since that time, the Council of Great Lakes Governors has been working to put the Charter Annex into action. The staffs of the Governors and Premiers have been working closely with representatives of local governments, as well as agricultural, business and environmental interests.
The States and Provinces also engaged in consultation and continuing dialogue with the Tribes and First Nations.

On December 13, 2005 the Annex Implementing Agreements were signed by the Great Lakes Governors and Premiers. Once enacted, the signed agreements will provide the necessary framework to help the States and Provinces to protect the Great Lakes Basin. The Great Lakes Governors and Premiers continue to work together to ensure the sustainable use of the waters of the Great Lakes."