Monday, December 31, 2007

Wisconsin Must Stop Muzzling Its Taxpayers

Wisconsin citizens are losing their right to participate in major decisions - - and it is our state government that is shutting them up.

This is a bad development, and getting worse.

It has taken the intervention of a federal agency to force Wisconsin officials to conduct a legitimate public comment period on the plan to spend nearly $2 billion to rebuild and expand I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois without a penny for a train component.

Before the Federal Highway Administration told the state to add 25 days to the comment period, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation had scheduled the comment period to run from mid-November to December 31, right in the middle of a busy holiday and vacation season.

(Comments can be sent by email:

Why should Wisconsinites have to beseech a federal agency to get Wisconsin officials to play fair and stand behind open, participatory government?

This is the second time in recent memory that a Wisconsin state agency has stifled public participation in an important policy discussion.

In the fall of 2006, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources received, then forwarded to the seven other Great Lakes states, an application from the City of New Berlin for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan.

The DNR did not disclose the existence or transmission of the application. That was done by one of the other states - - Michigan - - because it has a statute requiring such applications be disclosed.

Wisconsin has no such law, but the DNR certainly could have done so had it trusted the people with the information.

When New Berlin submitted an updated application earlier this year - - Michigan and some of the other states having trashed the initial application as inaccurate and inadequate, despite the DNR having touted it to the other states - - the DNR grudgingly scheduled a comment period, but didn't go out its way to publicize it, and didn't schedule a public hearing on either the first New Berlin application, or the second.

It put notices on its website, and let it go at that.

Granting New Berlin's diversion request could set a precedent across the Great Lakes region, destroy efforts to have all eight Great Lakes states approve a water supply and conservation Compact and adopt state laws to bring about common standards and diversion procedures.

Despite these valid concerns, the DNR is keeping public input into the diversion issue at a minimum, much the way that WisDOT is trying to shut the public out of a meaningful role in what will be the largest publicly-funded project in state history.

And one that, if handled differently, could finally integrate commuter rail and highway improvements at a time when fuel prices are rising and awareness of air pollution, climate change and disgust with dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels is peaking.

WisDOT should be encouraging this exact public debate - - not setting up comment periods that coincide with the time of the year when people are most distracted.

And the DNR needs more public participation in its policy-making, not less, as it subjects its reputation to slow-but-steady self-destruction.

Just a few days ago, the Superior Daily Telegram took a heavy shot at the DNR and Matt Frank, the agency secretary, over the release of a questionable study crucial to the prosperity of a port city on one of the Great Lakes.

Without full disclosure and public participation, good government in Wisconsin is threatened by the very agencies spending our money to preserve and protect the public interest.

That contradiction is absolutely not sustainable.

In the state that has enshrined "sifting and winnowing" in its teaching traditions, codified Open Meetings and Open Records access, given birth to the Progressive Party, and approved a constitution that requires all the state's waters held in permanent public trust, there is only one word for this trend towards governance by bureaucratic fiat:


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Another Dangerous, Dirty Air Alert For Wisconsin

More bad air in Wisconsin. Per the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, for Sunday night through Monday evening (and don't be surprised if this is extended to other counties for Monday or Tuesday):

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) effective Sunday, December 30, 2007 9:27:21 PM through Monday, December 31, 2007 7:59:59 PM for:

Barron, Brown, Chippewa, Clark, Dunn, Eau Claire, Outagamie, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Rusk, St. Croix and Taylor counties .

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.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms.

Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit
There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.

Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.
Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.
Minimize outdoor wood fires.
Conserve electricity.
For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

For more information:
Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions,
DNR's state wide air quality monitoring web page,
For local DNR air management program contacts,

The Road To Sprawlville Detours, Chapter VIII

The Road To Sprawlville in Southeastern Wisconsin, usually running straight and true with the help of surveyors and engineers, will have to detour in south western Waukesha County, thanks to one couple's legacy donation of 374 acres to the Nature Conservancy that adjoin the Kettle Moraine State Forest's southern unit.

When Republicans Go Bad

Name-calling. Accusations. Personal insults, all in the last days of a frenetic campaign.

And no, it's not your typical Democratic slugfest: it's leading GOP presidential hopefuls, down-and-dirty in the Iowa muck, sinning politically by breaking Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment - - "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" - - as they serve up one-liners sure to show up in Democratic attack ads in the general election.

Presidential Punditry

Since my vote in Iowa is worth as much as yours:

Don't count out John McCain.

For some Republicans, he ain't perfect since he doesn't believe in torture, deportation of undocumented workers and is something of an environmentalist - - but listen, you political purists:

No candidate is, and his flaws, real and perceived, should be less worrisome on election than, say, Guiliani or Romney's.

Besides: people like a comeback: it'd be a nice political story - - McCain, down and out and broke and dissed as old and irrelevant and too grouchy for the once worshipful Jon Stewart - - now a force again.

That could happen on the other side, with John Edwards, too.

Perhaps like McCain, Edwards is true enough to enough basic party principles, and familiar enough to enough party regulars to be, well, a decent and pragmatic, lower-risk choice - - with all things considered, or at least rationalized.

Campaigns rise and fall somewhat cyclically. Front-runners become targets, fall back, get lost in the pack as others become the Flavor Of The Day - - Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, - - but in a long race, you can go from first to last to first, or close to it.

It's all about timing in a fluid process, which is why you shouldn't count out either New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg or Ralph Nader as third-party or independent hopefuls.

I still think the Dems strongest candidate is Barack Obama because he brings in independents, youth, and some GOP-crossovers.

And I don't think Iowa or New Hampshire wraps it up for anyone, but it could be a done deal after the first wave of big-state, TV-based primaries.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Right-Wing Wisconsin Blog Thinks Selling Great Lakes Water Is A Great Idea

Hard to know where to begin responding to Boots and Sabers, where the fellas think selling Great Lakes water to dryer, fast-growing states is a good idea obstructed by "environmental goofs."

Maybe it's a waste of time, but I left a comment. Others may care to weigh in.

WisDOT Coming Under Increasing Fire Over One-Sided Highway Spending

The refusal of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to consider transit services in its $1.9 billion plan to rebuild and widen I-94 from Milwaukee to Illinois has led to detailed, written objections from the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works.

Since this is agency-to-agency, engineer-to-engineer, bureaucrat-to-bureaucrat disagreement over a major state project, the DPW letter has genuine significance.

Excellent posts on the subject are here, by Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, and also here by Michael Horne - - and the matter will continue to fester, as WisDOT wants to shut down the public comment period so it doesn't have to listen to anymore criticism.

(UPDATE: Federal officials have directed WisDOT to extend the public comment through January 25, 2008, after critics said that WisDOT had chosen a holiday-heavy comment period from mid-November through December 31 that discouraged broad participation.

Comments can be sent by email to:

The DPW letter comes on the heels of the adoption of a Milwaukee Common Council resolution, sponsored by downtown Ald. Bob Bauman, that called on WisDOT to reduce the cost of the I-94 project by roughly 10%, or $200 million, with those funds transferred to the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train line.

The KRM could provide a permanent alternative mode of transportation from Milwaukee to Illinois, as well as supplying crucial mitigation during the years of construction sure to tie up that portion of the I-94 corridor.

The starving of transit initiatives in the greater Milwaukee by the state has been demonstrated again and again, certainly dating back at least ten years, when it pulled the plug on its own light rail planning and moved full-steam-ahead with its $6.5 billion, zero-transit freeway expansion and rebuilding plan.

Light rail was primarily envisioned for Milwaukee, but the state backed away from a plan its consultants had produced after the predictable political objections from Waukesha County and area right-wing talk radio.

I enumerate a few other examples here, including the state's refusal to provide $100,000 to save a critical Milwaukee-to-Waukesha bus line for workers while at the same time continuing to offer $21.9 million for a highway interchange to serve a proposed, upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms in Western Waukesha County.

Milwaukee-area legislators could do the taxpayers throughout the region a big favor if they would tell WisDOT, their colleagues and the Governor that WisDOT is overspending wildly on highways in southeastern Wisconsin.

And by taking transit options off the board, WisDOT is sending low-income workers, seniors, youngsters and people without easy access to cars literally to the back of the bus.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Elderly Woman Shafted By Big Bank: Let's Submit It To The Empathy Test

A Milwaukee woman recounts how a bank took her long-dormant check from her safety deposit box - - her relatively minimal life savings of about $19,000, actually - - because banking rules said it had been there too long.

Marie Rohde tells the compelling story in The Journal Sentinel.

So where do you come down on this story? Is the bank in the right, or should it return the woman's money.

And you might want to read up on Empathy Deficit Disorder before you leave you leave a comment.

Put another way...suppose it was your grandmother?

France Joins Ireland, Italy And Other Nations That Ban Smoking

Even in the cafes.

Sacre bleu!

It's an amazing step, right up there with Irish culture surviving the ban in its pubs.

Of course, it would never work here.

Superior, WI Newspaper Editorially Slams The DNR

Given that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will soon decide whether to permit a $6 billion expansion of the Murphy Oil Co. refinery in Superior, you'd think the local paper was the last institution on earth that the DNR would possibly tick off.

But the DNR has managed to do it over a ballast water study that the Superior Daily Telegram says the DNR has misinterpreted and mis-communicated.

"DNR misled public about ballast study" is a pretty rough headline.
Ballast water treatment, rules and costs are important economic and political issues to a port city like Superior, where freighters can release harmful invasive species from their ballast water storage tanks into Lake Superior.

The DNR is going to need local support for the refinery approvals, and that won't be easy, as up to 500 acres of wetlands will be filled in and a seven-fold increase in oil refining capacity raises the risk of spills, air pollution and other problems at the bigger operation.

The last thing the DNR needs in Superior are shots at its credibility, but the Telegram aims directly at Secretary Matt Frank and what it calls "discrepancies" in the DNR's conclusions about its own departmental study of the ballast issues..

Says the editorial:

"It’s apparent Frank didn't thoroughly read the report or intentionally ignored the numerous uncertainties. His announcement was premature and clearly based on untested data.'

More tough language.

It's odd that the DNR can be its own worse enemy, mishandling public information and processes, creating ill will where none was needed.

It did this when New Berlin applied for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan, first not disclosing that an application had been made, then failing to hold a hearing, and only reluctantly sponsoring an under-publicized comment period.

And for more than a year, it continues to argue that it is not bound by an Attorney General opinion that says a 1986 federal law prohibits the DNR from approving a diversion of water away from the Great Lakes to a city like New Berlin or Waukesha without the approval of the other seven Great Lakes states' governors.

Instead, the DNR is urging New Berlin to negotiate a water sale from Milwaukee - - with several caveats - - but not the big one laid out in the AG opinion or the federal law.

When the public believes that the DNR or any public agency is not playing straight, or is above the law, it loses credibility - - but it seems that within the DNR, there is a culture that believes that it can operate as it sees fit, with less regard for public opinion and the views and mandates laid down by others.

That's a very risky strategy, especially when all the Great Lakes states are currently trying to adopt a single Compact to manage the Great Lakes, and if any one state balks, the entire agreement and its conservation standards and procedures are lost.

We already have bureaucratic insularity and narcissism institutionalized at the state Department of Transportation.

Wisconsin does not need WisDOT II.

Ed Garvey On Privatizing Milwaukee's Airport

Madison attorney and blogger Ed Garvey reads about Scott Walker's interest in turning Mitchell International Airport over to the private sector, and calls it for what it is.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Knee-Jerk Jerks Have Empathy Deficiency Disorder

I think when right-wingers post or leave their self-absorbed, often anger-fueled comments about any suggestion that our culture preserve shared resources (water) or should provide shared services (transit), I think I'll just repeat this link about empathy deficit disorder (EDD), and how to deal with it.

All This Snow Is Good For The Great Lakes

Hey - - I've with you: I'm not looking forward to more shoveling tomorrow, either - - but if you live in the Great Lakes basin (Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, but no, not you, Waukesha) I know that most of that snow is going to make its way into Lake Michigan, and that'll help restore its now-very low level.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December 26th A Grim Anniversary In American History

On December 26th, 1862, under orders from President Abraham Lincoln, 38 Dakota Indian men were hung at the same time in the main square in Mankato, Minnesota.

Christmas that year came and went, and the next day there was the largest mass execution in US history.

The account of the hangings carried in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, here, is definitely worth a read.

Big number, 38. Count off 38 people the next time you are walking down the street.

A website constructed by the University of Missouri, Kansas City, has a pretty complete account of the issues, which began with broken treaties, mass Indian expulsions, then armed conflict between Dakota Indians native to Minnesota and white settlers, and ended with the Battles of The Little Bighorn and Wounded Knee that eventually brought these conflicts to a conclusion in South Dakota 28 years later.

It's a completely sordid chapter in our history.

A Minnesota commanding general, Robert Pope, having been exiled to the west after losing the Battle of Bull Run to the Confederate Army had wanted Lincoln to hang 303 Indians.

Trials that led to the hangings were conducted in minutes, without translation, let alone attorneys.

After the hangings, pieces of hung Indians' skin were said to have been sold, and grave-robbers took cadavers.

Dr. William Mayo, co-founder of the Mayo Clinic, took the body of an Indian with whom he had had a prior confrontation, used it to teach anatomy, then kept the skeleton in an iron pot in his office for years.

What's relevant about reviewing the history of the Mankato hangings, other than the anniversary date, is that capital punishment seems on the decline in the US - - one of its last bastions on earth.

New Jersey recently abolished it, and the US Supreme Court, in striking down cases and issuing delays, has signaled that perhaps it will rule lethal injection a cruel and unusual punishment nationally.

Were that to happen, it would signal the beginning of the end of the death penalty in America.

In 1995 I spent months at the Milwaukee Journal writing about capital punishment. I learned that in the US, the death penalty had its origins in southern slavery and the lawless US west - - areas as distant from Wisconsin as their culture and history.

Texas comes to mind, as it is still the execution capital of the USA.

I came to believe that the death penalty served no useful purpose, but did waste enormous sums of money on costly trials, appeals and lengthy incarcerations that could have been better spent on crime-fighting and other related expenses.

Today, December 26th, is a better day than most to meditate on the history of the death penalty in our country, and to all its costs, then and now.

State Highway Binging Hurting Milwaukee Transit Needs

An op-ed for The Capital Times enumerates how Milwaukee and transit are taking a backseat to the state's highway-building binge.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oh, No: Light Rail Is Creating Development In Norfolk, VA

You know...light rail...can't work...isn't a development one will ride it...especially in Milwaukee (City, with about 625,000 residents, and the County with about 950,000) which doesn't have the requisite population density...

So surely it'll be a disaster in little ol' Norfolk, VA, a small conservative city of 230,000.

Nope: In advance of the ground-breaking, $220 million in residential and commercial development is taking place along the 7.5 mile starter system's routing, according to news reports.

Nah...that light one will ride one will invest along its route...I know, because Mark Belling tells me so.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gov. Doyle Needs To Save County Bus Line No. 9

With billions in transportation funding available for state projects, Gov. Jim Doyle needs to tell WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi to find $100,000 to keep Route No. 9 operating in 2008.

The department's 2007-09 budget is $5.9 billion, records show. Somewhere in that document there is a discretionary $100,000. There has to be. There's no budget that big that's that tight.

Or he needs to jawbone and force the bone-headed county executives - - Scott Walker in Milwaukee and Dan Vrakas in Waukesha - - who, along with the businesses that employ the bus riding workers declined to work out a cost-sharing agreement to keep this bus route operating.

How many of those businesses have received public subsidies, cheap government revenue bonds, taxpayer-paid amenities, like streets, lights and sewer, or other public payments?

And I'm not suggesting received them inappropriately.

It's just time to give something back.

In actuality, whether it's the M-7, or candidates' promises, or lofty editorials wish-lists, when you measure true regionalism in hard dollars, there's precious little behind all the rhetoric and gratuitous back-slapping that masquerades for regional policy-making if in actuality, $100,000 is too much to identify and commit to support 70 wage-earners.

Seventy workers and their families depend on this bus route that begins on the Northwest side of Milwaukee and delivers workers into Waukesha County, and is now scheduled to shut down January 1, 2008.

Happy New Year, you modestly-paid Milwaukee workers!

If WisDOT could find $21.9 million to commit to build an interchange to serve shoppers heading to an as-yet-to-be-approved upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms in Western Waukesha County, the state can certainly find less than one-half of one percent of that amount in the same regional transportation budgeting for a bus line to keep these everyday Milwaukeans working in eastern Waukesha County.


For at least seventy jobs.

At a time when the state is well into a $6.5 billion dollar freeway expansion and rebuilding plan, with no transit improvements, in the same overall region.

Whether you're talking about the $6.5 billion for bigger and better highways, or the $5.9 billion for state transportation spending statewide in the next two years, $100,000 amounts to mere pennies in comparison to save Route No. 9.

It's within the Governor's power to do it. From an economic and workforce retention perspective, it's the right thing to do.

Everybody wins and nobody loses.

And there is only a week left to get it done.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

State Transportation Spending Harms Milwaukee, Repeatedly

There is an increasing number of state highway projects that are damaging Milwaukee and benefiting the suburbs, explains Gretchen Schuldt on the Citizens Allied For Sane Highways (CASH) blog.

I've argued here that because transportation spending and regional water planning are intertwined - - with both subsidizing job creation and overall growth - - there should be no water diverted to Sprawlville until transit receives transportation investments in the region that equals highway spending.

Without parity, the region's suburbs and more rural counties are using state subsidies in transportation budgets to diminish and wall off the cities.

No region can succeed if it is guided by something resembling economic apartheid, and that is planned and paid for with transportation dollars belonging to all the citizens of the state.

Bottom line:

No equal access to jobs and water.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Local Holiday Shopping Touted On Campaign Blog

Urban Outfitters has opened in Milwaukee's Third Aldermanic District.

I confess that this went right past me, but then I read about it, along with a timely holiday pitch for East side shoppers to think local in the face of major-chain competition, on Sam McGovern-Rowen's campaign website,

The shopping links are part of his blog on the website. Modern-day campaigns: quite amazing.

Local shopping has any number of benefits: supporting near-by merchants and your common tax base, keeping your car and pollution off the freeway, connecting with your community.

It's the same reason that people are making an effort to buy food from local growers, linking urban folk with country neighbors.

See all the things you can learn and think about and toss out for discussion if you have a smart son running for Milwaukee's Third District Alderman?

Capital Times Endorses Strong Great Lakes Compact, Praises Legislative Initiative

State Sen. Bob Jauch, (D-Poplar), and State Rep. Cory Mason, (D-Racine), are circulating a letter among their colleagues urging action on the stalled Great Lakes Compact - - and the Madison Capital Times in a Saturday editorial praises them for their leadership.

Media and political figures in Wisconsin need to follow this lead, as the longer this crucial Great Lakes protective agreement goes without implementation by all eight of the Great Lakes states (Minnesota and Illinois have already approved it), the easier it will be for water-loss through-diversions to occur without standards or a fair, legal process.

Implementing legislation for the Compact in Wisconsin has been blocked for two years, principally by business and political interests in Waukesha County who mistakenly argue that an agreement with the other states to manage cooperatively what is a shared US-Canadian resource - - and 95% of the fresh surface water in the US - - might impede some development activities in Waukesha County.

There is a similar, narrow-minded obstructionist attitude in one far-right corner of the Ohio legislature: the other states have either adopted the Compact or are making solid progress.

This means that without strong bi-partisan leadership and alliances among conservationists and businesses in the manufacturing, shipping, food-processing and tourism sectors, our state - - even with its great legacy of resource protection, from John Muir to Aldo Leopold to Gaylord Nelson, could be the state that fails to seal Great Lakes protection across the region.

This blog was created in February to carry a pro-Compact message, with more than 200 postings to date on the Compact or related water conservation and management topics.

I'm happy to help anyone find information about the Great Lakes Compact on the Internet, or elsewhere.

I'm happy to help anyone use this blog's posted archives, as many items contain links to documents that show how the Compact has been stalled in Wisconsin, or connections to useful resources and activists in other states.

One posting with an index to resources is here, and is updated often.

Suggestions? Send comments, or email me at

Friday, December 21, 2007

City Of Milwaukee Pension System Is A Star

When I worked in Milwaukee City Hall (1996-2004), the conventional wisdom there was that city services and managers outshone their county counterparts.

Sure, there was some hubris involved, but you will remember that as the County's pension system was sinking into a swamp of debt, insider-dealing and other fiscal and political miseries, the city's pension system was buffeted only by disagreements about much of a growing surplus it could prudently distribute without destabilizing the balance sheets.

The Journal Sentinel carried an editorial brief Friday that indicated by at least one professional measurement, Milwaukee's pension fund is the best publicly-run retirement system in America.

That's good news for both beneficiaries (yes, that includes me) and for city taxpayers, who should be spared the need to contribute tax money to keep the fund solvent and productive.

It's all a tribute to the fund's board and philosophies, led by an exceedingly committed Alderman, Michael Murphy, plus a low-key staff who work efficiently for the fund's employee-owners and city taxpayers.

The next time your hear that government can't get anything right, and can't manage money, remember what you read or heard about Milwaukee's pension fund.

Here's what the paper had to say:

"The City of Milwaukee got a well-deserved early Christmas present this week when the investment advising firm of R.V. Kuhns & Associates said the city had the best-funded public retirement in the nation.

"The firm studied 83 of the nation's largest retirement systems. City Comptroller W. Martin Morics noted that the city had an annualized five-year return of 12.7%, compared to the median of 11.7%.

"Morics and Ald. Michael Murphy, chairman of the Annuity and Pension Board's Investment Committee, said the city outperformed the likes of the state systems in New York, Illinois and, yes, Wisconsin. Take a bow, Milwaukee."

Poisons Dumped Into Milwaukee Sewers: MMSD Cannot Remove Them

Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers, through Midwest Environmental Advocates, is indicating its intent to sue a Milwaukee firm alleged to be dumping toxins and carcinogens into the sewer system, but the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District cannot remove these chemicals in its treatment facilities.

Details here.

And how often does this sort of thing take place?

Chinese Air Pollution Raises Huge Questions, Contradictions

The New York Times long series on China's booming economy and its impact on the world's air, water, and natural resources adds another fascinating chapter in what will surely be an award-winning 2007 effort.

Today's Times' installment here traces the outsourcing of entire industries from former manufacturing centers in the German Ruhr Valley to China, removing jobs and wealth from Europe - - but also the pollution that once made for dirty air, too.

So German citizens have cleaner air, and are leading the fight for global warming and climate change solutions, while buying imported goods being produced in now heavily-polluted China.

And these trends are going to accelerate, even as China makes some strides towards environmental protection, because China will soon be churning out mass-produced automobiles for both the domestic and international market, and because other countries, like India, are going through similar industrial revolutions.

Pretty heady and complex stuff. And not easily resolvable, but resolving to buy compact fluorescent bulbs as stocking-stuffers means you can make your own small contribution going forward.

It has been estimated that each compact fluorescent bulb, over its lifetime, requires so little electricity generation that it keeps 1,000 pounds of cardon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Another website estimates that over the life of one typical compact fluorescent, a consumer saves more than $80, though obviously the bulb's cost and varying electric rates influence total savings.

More information about these bulbs, is here, though a Google search on the subject will produce long lists of similar sites.

There are 300 million of us in this country, so scores of millions of consumers making smart, painless choices can add up.

The alternative is somewhere between hopelessness - - "Nothing I can do will make a difference," to misplaced optimism - - "Everything will be OK: the planet will take care of itself."

Making small personal choices is a reasonable alternative, especially since many environmentally-friendly actions also save money.

What's not to like?

What Are We? Los Angeles East?

Another day, another air quality alert about unhealthy conditions for much of the state.

If you're asthmatic, have other health problems or expect to take yourself or the kids outside, think twice.

This from the Wisconsin DNR for Friday:

"The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) effective Friday, December 21, 2007 1:05:31 PM through Saturday, December 22, 2007 11:59:59 AM for 51 counties:

"Adams, Brown, Buffalo, Calumet, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Dunn, Eau Claire, Fond Du Lac, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Jefferson, Juneau, Kenosha, Kewaunee, La Crosse, Lafayette, Manitowoc, Marathon, Marquette, Milwaukee, Monroe, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Pepin, Pierce, Portage, Racine, Richland, Rock, St. Croix, Sauk, Shawano, Sheboygan, Taylor, Trempealeau, Vernon, Walworth, Washington, Waukesha, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago and Wood.

"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."

For more information (and this is the third time this week), go here:

Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions,

DNR's statewide air quality monitoring web page,

For local DNR air management program contacts,

New Urbanism Touted In TIME Feature

New Urbanism, a model for urban revival used by former Mayor John Norquist to guide city spending and projects that continue to add value in Milwaukee from Riverwest through the downtown to the near South Side, gets good ink in TIME.

My former boss at City Hall, Norquist is now CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), in Chicago.

Dropping A Workers' Bus Route Is Fail-Fail-Fail: No Transit - - No Water, Period.

Milwaukee County Public Works boss George Torres tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the inability of Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties to figure out how to share the $100,000 annual cost of a bus line that gets workers to jobs in Waukesha County is "lose-lose."

With the counties dropping the ball and killing Route 9, "fail-fail" is closer to the truth.

And since employers along the route apparently declined to kick in with an assist to the very workers coming into their plants, it's really fail-fail...and-fail.

These employers and inept county officials on both sides of the county line have proven that when it comes to actually doing something about jobs for the region- - and in this case, something relatively inexpensive - - the nicely-paid public officials and their counterparts in the private sector showed their true colors.

Miwaukee County, Waukesha County, major employers: the We Don't-Give-A-Damn Trifecta.

Especially about working people - - everyday men and women who are nowhere near the top of the hourly-wage scale, and who are blocked from living closer to Waukesha County and suburban jobs by clever zoning, big-lot expensive housing and a willful shortage of affordable apartments in Waukesha County.

Here's how one leading Waukesha County official put it to the Journal Sentinel:

'Waukesha County Public Works Director Richard Bolte said he also did not sense any strong sentiment for maintaining the service when County Board members debated and approved the 2008 budget with no money for Route No. 9.

'The route's low ridership makes it a logical candidate for elimination, Bolte said.

"I didn't push the route real hard," he said, "because I didn't think it was worth saving."

Of course, public officials in both counties want the next $1.9 billion portion of the $6.5 billion (that's before interest costs are added in, and originally calculated using 2003 dollars, too) regional freeway plan locked down, guaranteed, since highway upgrades and tax dollars for expansions are treated as the counties and business interests' entitlements.

When it comes to more highways, the debate is not about whether. It's about how soon can we get them.

Note that Waukesha County, for whom the afore-mentioned Richard Bolte works, and directs its transportation planning, managed to find $1.75 million in unexpended funds for its pledged share of the quickie-planned $25 million 'interchange to nowhere' to serve an upscale mall at Pabst Farms.

Bolte was among the Waukesha County officials touting the mall to the Journal Sentinel as the interchange funding package got put together in a bureaucratic nano-second.

Big bucks for shoppers in Western Waukesha County, thanks to the good folks out their running the government, but nothing in the cookie jar for a bus line for working people.

This is what passes for balanced publicly-funded transportation policy and spending in southeastern Wisconsin: billions for highways, millions for drivers and shoppers in upper-income, predominantly white suburbs- - and zero for transit for working people.

Hell, let 'em walk. Maybe they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps at the same time.

If this isn't discrimination against lower-income taxpayers (and I'm betting a disproportionately minority population, too) then you tell me what it is.

And remind me again why Milwaukee should make itself subservient to some perverse definition of regional cooperation and cross-border neighborliness and divert one droplet of Lake Michigan water across Sunny Slope Rd.

I hope Milwaukee officials don't lift a finger to help a hostile, walled-off, nest of discrimination in Waukesha County, because diversions of Lake Michigan water would only reinforce transportation and housing patters to keep outsiders of modest means at a distance.


If Route 9 is ended - - and this all began when Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas pulled the plug on the bus service in his 2008 budget - - then those water diversion plans should get Route Nined, too.

End of the line.

Three Presidential Candidates Call For Great Lakes Priority

It's about time.

No Republicans, so far, since their turf is the sunbelt and west, where some policy-makers in both parties would like to send Great Lakes water.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Our "Bad-For-Business" State, Three Major US Companies Paid No Income Tax in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce continues to say that Wisconsin has a negative tax climate, but a new report shows that Microsoft, Sears and Merck, with total US sales of $18 billion in 2005, were among thousands of businesses paying no corporate income tax in Wisconsin at all.

Remember that when you send in your 2007 Wisconsin state income tax payment.

Many businesses say they pay plenty of other taxes - - property and sales, for example (and so do we)- - but the WMC has a better idea:

Eliminate the corporate income tax altogether.

Related information on this blog, here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Campaign Fluidity

So Guiliani is down and Huckabee is up and Romney - - well, where is he headed, really?

On the other side, Hillary Clinton is down and Obama is up.

McCain, with Des Moines, Iowa and Boston, Massachusetts newspaper endorsements in hand, is resurrected. John Edwards makes Newsweek's cover.

So if you're down, does that mean you automatically defy political gravity and head up?

Is this a surprise, as Iowa's wacky caucuses loom and the big states' primaries are still many weeks away?

Not really. Voters and writers and activists fall in and out love with candidates faster than 10th graders logging onto Facebook.

It's a long, long campaign. Candidates declare, look sharp, stumble, disappear, find new life, bust out, wobble, fall back.

Imagine if there were Mayoral campaigns that ran close to two years, with 15 or 20 candidates at the beginning, and even instant contenders like Alan Keyes were beamed in to make cameos at debates.

In addition to the sheer confusion and complete fatigue that would set in after about six-to-eight weeks, there'd be no way to predict the winners.

And it'd be a certain impossibility to guess who might be crafty or lucky enough to peak at just the right time, or better yet, find the right chords to connect with voters who had actually managed to hear them, then freed themselves from the repetitious, daily horse-race-and-poll-stories to cast a thoughtful, consequential ballot.

When the primaries are over, two (ideally) candidates with some blend of money, charisma, experience and, for want of a better word, balance, should find themselves standing, maybe in bewilderment, that they are the winners and now have to campaign some more.

On the Democratic side, and yes, it's stupid doing this kind of prognostification, I know - - I think Obama offers Democrats, dare I say, the country, the best, most exciting option?

And on the Republican side, maybe it's Huckabee after all, because, like Obama, he's a relatively fresh face. (Put another way, he's no Fred Thompson.)

And he's got the right religious base that the right's base in the GOP needs its candidate to have.

Both of the major parties would embrace their candidates, and a relatively unexpected battle would be on - - but Obama and Huckabee wouldn't be out there as the first choices of many party regulars, donors, insiders and other king-makers.

That's not half bad, you know.

Could have the makings of a big turnout - - Democracy in action, if the voting machines are rigged.

And an election that would prove this tired old double-negative to be absolutely true:

You couldn't say when it was over that "they" didn't give you a choice.

A Guide To Some Compact Fluorescent Bulb Specs

At the risk of becoming a nanny blog - - here is one published guide to compact fluorescent light bulb costs, warranties, specs, etc.

New Energy Bill, Watered-Down, Is A Positive Step

For the first time in decades, the country has new energy conservation legislation, passed as a compromised package by such large, bi-partisan majorities that Pres. George W. Bush had little choice but to sign it.

I say, fine. The cliche about politics being the arts and crafts of compromise is true. This bill does some good things and leaves other issues on the table. So it goes.

There will be increases in vehicle fuel economies, phased in. The phase-out of the incandescent light bulb will take place over ten years, time enough for the price of replacement, energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs to come down (rebates and life-cost savings already make them attractive) and for disposal technologies to be perfected.

And if we're lucky, light emitting diode (LED) bulbs will be improved in the next few years, especially on true white lighting, and price, and compact flourescents will become antiquated, too.

Where the right and left can agree on energy issues is that technology and innovation are tremendously promising.

One political note to put the soon-to-disappear incandescent bulb into a truer light:

The country's leadership has taken other products off the market when their value has been exceeded by all their costs - - lead paint, lead hunting shot and lead-added motor fuels, for example - - and required other products, too, after the same sort of economic/broad public interest 'holistic' evaluation, such seat belts, air bags, and car seats for infants.

Sometimes regulation of what is permitted in the market is needed, and that doesn't turn us into what some call the nanny state.

The geopolitical realities of world energy demand, along with climate concerns, defines a new era.

Both the executive and legislative branch are saying that the true total costs of certain energy-consuming items, such as incandescent bulbs, outweigh their supposed value.

Don't be surprised if the same calculus gets focused on plastic shopping bags, as San Francisco is going, for example, as well as the plastic bottling industry - - certainly when it comes to bottling drinking water, as fresh water is becoming another resource to better manage.

You add up the petroleum used in bottle production, throw in the transportation ( I mean, really: Fiji water?) and land-fill or other disposal costs, and you've got a product just waiting to get the incandescent light bulb boot.

Grumpy, hyper-libertarians will try to turn this into a scare story about whether the cheeseburger or State Fair Cream Puff is next, but let's all relax: the slope is probably not that slippery.

Let's agree that saving oil (and water, too) is a smart thing, and move on.

Congress and the next President need to address gaps in the bill, notably the lack of strong requirements that utilities make faster progress on utilizing renewable energy sources.

But we finally have contemporary national policies that will reduce the power that hostile governments exert over our economy and energy usage, and maybe we can get a handle on the transfer of dollars for oil that is leaving them flush with cash and influence.

I'd say that's a good thing, so let's get to the business of problem-solving and policy implementation, so that a solid start gets even even better.

Milwaukee County Board To Consider "Strong" Great Lakes Compact Support

Momentum is growing among elected officials in southeastern Wisconsin in favor of a "strong" Great Lakes Compact.

In addition to a group of elected officials signing on to such a position countywide, the County Board will receive a resolution pushed by Supv. John Weishan, Jr., along the same lines, too.

These are good signs, as it indicates growing awareness that water conservation and diversion minimization are basic to protecting the Great Lakes.

Even On A Clear, Sunny Wintery Day, Our Air Quality Is Unhealthy

The Wisconsin DNR has issued a dirty air alert for much of state, (details below), because so-called "fine particulates" from industrial and other emissions are stuck in the atmosphere, even on a cold clear day like today, Wednesday.

UPDATE: For Thursday, too, Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Dunn, Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Pepin, Pierce, Racine, Rock, Sauk, St. Croix, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.

Despite this reality, the WMC wants clean air regulations relaxed in southeastern Wisconsin, meaning it thinks we should tolerate more dirty air.

From the DNR:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) effective Wednesday, December 19, 2007 11:20:49 AM through Wednesday, December 19, 2007 8:00:00 PM for Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Dunn, Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Pepin, Pierce, Racine, Rock, St. Croix, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.

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.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms. Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit

There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.
Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.
Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.
Minimize outdoor wood fires.
Conserve electricity.

For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

For more information:
Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions,

DNR's statewide air quality monitoring web page,
For local DNR air management program contacts,

Sen. Mary Lazich Helps Us Through The Bewildering Gift-Giving Season With Insightful Shopping, Spending Tips

Conservative Republicans are fond of bashing what they call "The Nanny State" - - usually out of anti-governmental, ideological spite.

But I agree that there are times when the amount of intrusive advice about commonsense behaviors flowing too often from government fax machines and proclamations can reach silly proportions.

Surely you have heard the term, "nanny state," used to protest a government program or suggestion that rugged individualists find patronizing, or infantalizing.

The characterization is a staple of conservative talk radio, and news releases from righty politicians, like State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), who began a recent column about mandatory cars seats for children, with this line:

"I do not like the nanny state."

Or this Lazich 2004 news release that accused Gov. Jim Doyle of "creating the nanny state" with a range of social program proposals.

Or fatty food bans in other states that spread the "nanny state" mentality that she complained about on her blog on August 19th this summer.

Yeah, enough, already, with government sticking its nose in our business. We can make our own decisions. We can take responsibility for our lives without some government official acting or preaching to us like...well...a nanny!

So imagine my disappointment when I saw that Lazich had used some of that same blog space on December 8th to pass along some advice - - about how to use - - even handle - - gift cards.

Talk about creeping nannyism:

Do we really need an online column that begins this way - - from a State Senator?

"Gift cards are extremely popular. People like to buy gift cards because they are convenient. People love to get them, too. And merchants love to sell them because they take up little shelf space and are easy to stock and display."

Drops this observation in, near the middle:

"As convenient as gift cards are, they can also be frustrating."

And ends with this strong summation:

"And whether you get or give a gift card, good advice is to spend it as quickly as possibly because the value may decrease in time. Keep it in your wallet to remind yourself to use the card."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Big Victory For Doyle, Wisconsin Education

Remember when conservative legislators bashed Gov. Jim Doyle for proposing a scholarship program designed to guarantee financial aid for successful Wisconsin students to attend colleges and universities in the Badger state.

If the first $40 million private fund didn't shut those critics up, news of this $175 million pledge reported by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pretty much does the trick:

"MONDAY, Dec. 17, 2007, 7:52 p.m.

"By Alan J. Borsuk

"$175 million donation to fund scholarships

"John P. and Tashia F. Morgridge, two of the leading philanthropists in Wisconsin history, are scheduled to announce in Green Bay on Tuesday morning that they are donating $175 million to create a permanent endowment to fund scholarships for Wisconsin high school graduates to attend colleges in the state.

"The Fund for Wisconsin Scholars will award close to 2,000 grants of $1,000 to $5,000 for the 2008-'09 school year and more than 3,000 grants annually after that, according to information released by the fund."

Monday, December 17, 2007

And, You Know, Rush Limbaugh Can Ask The Question Because He's So Doggone Good-Looking

Rush Limbaugh exceeds his usual misogynist's self when he wonders about Hillary Clinton's looks.

With Checkered History of Reassurance, Bush Reassures On The Economy

When the guy who told us "Mission Accomplished," and "the end of major combat," and FEMA's boss was doing "a heckuva job" now says the economy is going to be OK, I get worried.

Especially when he delivers this important talk at the Yak-A-Doo restaurant in a hotel in Fredericksburg, MD.

I was raised in Maryland, and I've been to Fredericksburg, and though I cannot claim to have eaten at the Yak-A-Doo, I'm afraid it won't lend much credibility to the story, let alone to Pres. Bush's image as The Prognosticator.

Waukesha Again, And Again, Forms Its Water Policies In Secret

When it comes to water policy-making, Waukesha is about as transparent as the Kremlin.

Last year, I discovered, through an open records request, two confidential applications to Gov. Jim Doyle for permission to divert up to 24 million gallons daily from Lake Michigan to Waukesha, without any requirement to return the water to the lake.

I published my findings on, with a link to the applications in pdf format. You can access the column and file, here.

The Governor did not approve the requests, which would have constituted an end-run around a 1986 federal law and a US-Canada agreement which Doyle had signed, but which Wisconsin has yet to implement.

Waukesha governmental bodies routinely go into closed session to discuss water planning - - its Water Utility did it again at its November meeting - - agenda here - - and tomorrow night, its Common Council is set to do the same thing, according to today's Waukesha Freeman:

"The common council, which will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, will be dealing with water issues, the proposed expansion of the Waukesha Public Library and looking for a better way to run its annual budget meeting.

"The council will go into closed session, Mayor Larry Nelson said, to discuss with legal counsel the radium compliance order by the state Department of Natural Resources.

"Dan Duchniak, general manager of the Waukesha Water Utility, said the city met last week with the DNR and the closed session will serve as an update for the council members on the progress the city is making to comply with radium standards."

Waukesha has spent, and continues to pay out, hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants to craft water policy planning, including a likely application for Lake Michigan water.

Sources indicate that Waukesha's thinking, shared with and vetted by the DNR, involves some return of diverted water to Lake Michigan down the Root River, and some permanent water discharge away from Lake Michigan to the Fox River and Mississippi River water shed.

It is unclear whether such a plan would win the mandatory approval of all eight Great Lakes Governors - - the procedure that the utility's confidential applications in 2005 tried to skirt.

Waukesha's stable of consultants include lawyers, scientists, and the public relations form of Martin J. Schreiber & Associates, not to mention recent contracts with a professional fundraiser to shake the Congressional money tree, and a PR firm in Washington, DC, created by by former Republican Party Chairman Haley Barbour.

A lot of public money goes into this planning, and federal funds flow back into the utility's budgets, but when it comes to telling the public what's going on, the council and utility prefer closed sessions.

Waukesha leaders have complained about what they perceive is unfair criticism in some quarters for their water planning practices and intentions, but their methods and penchant for closed-door meetings and back-door tactics raise more questions than answers.

Paul Soglin Unmasks The WMC

For years, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, representing many large Wisconsin businesses, has had a free pass to bash government and cry crocodile tears over how allegedly unfriendly is the state's attitude towards the private sector.

The WMC has had it both ways, whining about the 'bad' business climate, yet watching its massive lobbying presence in Madison win and protect sweet tax breaks.

These include exempting manufacturing and computer equipment from taxation, while promoting tax incremental financing and industrial revenue bonding used routinely to bring government subsidies to private sector projects.

All adding free money to their bottom lines.

Besides higher profits, these government welfare programs have transferred much of the state tax burden in Wisconsin from businesses to individual taxpayers and property owners.

This trend has been documented by Jack Norman, Ph.D, a former colleague of mine at The Milwaukee Journal, and who is now with the Institute for Wisconsin's Future.

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin (full disclosure: I worked for him in what seems a lifetime ago in the 1970's) has emerged as a credible spokesman telling the truth about Wisconsin's economy and unmasking the WMC's counter-productive and very partisan propaganda.

A recent sample of Soglin's exposure of the WMC in the Madison Capital Times is here, another was in this Sunday Crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, here, and more is on Soglin's Waxing America blog.

Soglin knows of what he speaks, as he has watched the WMC expand its influence from its Madison bunker just blocks from the Capitol.

And he's got the financial and political experience to unravel the truth from the WMC's increasingly partisan fulminations and communicate that knowledge to a broad audience.

One Wisconsin Now has been increasingly effective in outing WMC's partisan political work: wonder how the group feels playing on a leveling field?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Madison Blogger Includes Useful Graphics, Data, About Murphy Oil's Superior, WI Plan

Good information with graphics from Energetich20, a Madison environmental blogger, here, adding to the growing archive about Murphy Oil's Superior, WI refinery expansion.

All you wetlands and Lake Superior advocates, take note.

Noted Wisconsin Activist Dale Olen Summarizes Key Compact issues

We need more of these succinct analysts taking to the Internet and explaining the Great Lakes Compact and regional environmental issues to the broadest audience.

Thanks to Dale Olen for this posting.

Olen was also recently cited for his effective environmental activism with the prestigious Lindner Prize.

Olen has begun a separate blog here, which I have added to my blogroll, and to an index of Great Lakes blogs that I am updating and will repost soon.

UW Chancellor Pay Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

With a main campus Chancellor salary of $267,000, plus an $55,000 additional, along with a car, new house and other benefits, the UW system reinforces an elitist reputation by complaining that the out-going Madison Chancellor's salary is a problem.

What bunk.

And by the way, when did the job morph into a CEO position, propagandizing that the position is defined in private sector terms, with a commensurate salary.

A UW Foundation official is quoted at the end of this piece that he is embarrassed at the low salary.

The rest of us are embarrassed at the distortion in her head.

Water Park Approved For Drought-Ravaged Lake Lanier in Georgia

We've all read that Lake Lanier is drying up, threatening Atlanta's water supply. Some information and photos are here.

But the US Army Corp of Engineers has green-lighted a Wisconsin Dells company's plan for a new resort and water park there.

I know, I know, it all reads like news from The Onion, but I'm not making any of this up.

Before you think the water shortage must not be that acute after all, read this account of the area residents who are picking garbage off the drought-exposed lakebed.

Concealed Carry, Shots Of Liquor, Do Not Mix

Advocates of concealed carry (a/k/a The Gun Lobby) were lucky that the only shots involved in this dangerous case from Waukesha County involved Jagermeister, not bullets.

Noted Great Lakes Environmentalist Blogs To DNR: You Could Get Sued

Dave Dempsey, author, Great Lakes environmentalist and former Michigan gubernatorial advisor, has this message for Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources, should it ignore the 2006 advice of then-Wisconsin's Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager and unilaterally approve New Berlin's Lake Michigan diversion:

"Is Wisconsin DNR about to defy federal law and divert water?
It would be wrong. The law is clear. And if they go ahead, they should be sued."

The full text of Dempsey's blog item is here.

Dempsey was reacting to commentary I posted recently, detailing the dismissive approach the DNR is taking with regard to federal law - - the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that prohibits any state unilaterally from diverting Great Lakes water.

Under WRDA, diversions must have the approval of all eight US Great Lakes states. The law provides no exceptions.

I have written extensively about the dangerous game that the DNR is playing, as it suggests, hints, even claims, as this post again reprises, that the agency might indeed have the ability to divert water to communities outside of the Great Lakes basin without the approval of all the eight Great Lakes states governors.

I am reprinting here a few paragraphs from my admittedly lengthy post of December 10th to help explain Dempsey's blog posting.

What I've reprinted in italics are comments by Todd Ambs, a senior DNR official:

"Todd Ambs, the DNR's Water Division administrator, sent me this explanation when I asked by email if the Department was addressing Lautenschlager's opinion, and he said on July 17, 2007, referring to the opinion as a letter:

"...we did have a couple of conversations about this letter from Attorney General Lautenschlager but that we never actually produced any on paper legal analysis."

As you might imagine, it would be safe to say that in a letter of this length that there are parts of the letter that we agree with and parts that we don't agree with. The letter attempts to define what constitutes a diversion under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). While the Department disagrees with parts of Ms. Lautenschlager’s analysis, and with the conclusion drawn from the analysis, we do agree with her that nothing in state or federal law comes close to definitively establishing what is or is not a diversion under WRDA. Whatever interpretation is chosen runs the risk of later being found to be legally incorrect. In such a context, decisions on how to proceed are essentially decisions of policy with legal vulnerability being only one of the factors that need to be taken into consideration. Consequently, an agency like the Department, in the absence of anything resembling a definitive legal characterization of what is or is not a diversion, must focus on the larger issue of what is in the best interests of the citizens of the state.'"

"I repeat: Lautenschlager's opinion says a diversion is a diversion is a diversion, without caveats, under WRDA. Ambs ended his email by saying he considers New Berlin's case unique, its application good for the Great Lakes, and describes a communications procedure with the other states that meets the spirit of the prospective Compact standard, but falls short of the WRDA/approval standard:

"By the way, the fact sheet [DNR posted about the application] was shared with representatives of all of the other state and provincial jurisdictions in May. Each jurisdiction was also urged to review the final application on our website and to submit any comments if they would like. To date we have received no written communications from those jurisdictions."

Dempsey's opinion, like Lautenschlager's noted in the above links (and here also in complete pdf format, for your convenience), should be respected.

Dempsey, (bio here), is the author of three books about the Great Lakes, Michigan environmental history, and the life and administration of former Michigan Gov. William Milliken, an iconic progressive Midwestern Republican.

Milliken, in office as Michigan's longest-serving Governor between 1969 and 1983, is the recognized founder of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the group that created the Great Lakes Compact and pending amendments to it that would establish, for the first time, standards and procedures for Great Lakes water conservation and some diversion applications.

Milliken is still active in Michigan affairs, penning a recent op-ed on the need for greater citizen participation to bring about water preservation policies.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

US Shifts Tactics At Global Climate Change Summit, Bush Off The Hook

The World summit on Climate Change in Bali has come to a conclusion with some progress towards an international agreement to curb greenhouse emissions - - but the timetable to formulate the plan puts the nitty-gritty work on the agenda of whomever succeeds Pres. George W. Bush.

So it's a mixed conclusion, politically.

For the 187 countries that agreed to the timetable and a 2009 deadline for drafting the plan, the victory is that a timetable of any kind was established. It's less than a plan itself, but its a step forward.

For Bush, he can can claim he agreed to a timetable, but can reassure his pals in the fossil fuel industry and the Dick Cheney wing of the White House that no serious effort to abate global warming will have happened on his eight-year watch.

State Legislators Promise Great Lakes Compact Action

A group of Wisconsin legislators wrote an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pledging to draft a bill to implement the Great Lakes Compact.

The Compact would establish first-ever standards and rules for water conservation in the Great Lakes states, along with procedures to approve diversions of water beyond the Great Lakes basin boundaries in some limited circumstances.

The legislators op-ed ran on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Compact by the Great Lakes governors and Canadian provincial premiers - - and while the states of Illinois and Minnesota went ahead and passed legislation to implement it, Wisconsin has been unable in those two years to move a draft bill into the legislature for debate.

It appears that a draft bill will be introduced in early 2008: its prospects in the Assembly appear troubled, as opponents led by Waukesha County business interests have stalled earlier efforts by a joint legislators/public members' committee to draft a compromise proposal.

Milwaukee County Elected Officials, Including Scott Walker, Endorse Strong Great Lakes Compact

In a little-noticed action on November 12th, a group of Milwaukee County elected officials comprised of the mayors, village presidents and the County Executive unanimously approved a resolution in favor of Wisconsin's approval of "a strong Great Lakes Compact."

The Compact's adoption by Wisconsin has been stalled at the State Capitol by Waukesha County business and political interests who don't want an eight-state management agreement to restrict diversions from the Great Lakes.

Scott Walker's approval of the resolution is noteworthy, as Walker often sides with Waukesha County on regional issues, such as freeway expansion.

The resolution, with very tough language on the diversion question, was adopted by the Milwaukee County Intergovernmental Cooperation Council (ICC), and addressed to the Wisconsin Governor and Legislature - - reading, in part:

"Be it known with one united voice that the mayors, village presidents and the County Executive of Milwaukee County collectively representing approximately 900,000 citizens insist that every effort be exerted to protect our Great Lakes from any attempt to divert, siphon off, ship or otherwise cause harm to the Great Lakes, and...

"Let it be known that we strongly request that these legislators use their good office to put in place strict laws that will forever keep others from diverting or in any other manner making our Great Lakes' water less in volume by the diversion of such water or would make them less clean...

" means of the passage of a strong water resources compact immediately and move to persuade the United States Federal Government to pass laws that will protect the Great Lakes from diversion as well as from efforts to make these waters less clean..."

The chairman of the ICC is Franklin Mayor Thomas Taylor. The Vice-Chairman is Michael Neitzke, Mayor of Greenfield.

The resolution is another signal to editorial writers, policy-makers at the Capitol and especially in Waukesha County that it is more than City of Milwaukee office-holders or the area's environmentalists who are uniting around the theme of a "strong Compact."

It should also be as clear a message as is possible to deliver to Waukesha political and business interests that opinion across Milwaukee County's diverse municipalities - - where several potential water-sellers are located - - agrees that diverting water to Waukesha County is not in the public interest.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Local Issues Blog Changes Name...Now Is

It used to be, but now it's:
Same manager/editor, Gretchen Schuldt, and same focus - - so change yer bookmarks and carry on.

New Jersey Leads The Way, Rejecting Capital Punishment

Congratulations to the State of New Jersey for eliminating the death penalty.

It's a barbaric, wasteful practice.

The US Supreme Court has been inching closer to declaring lethal injection a cruel and unusual punishment banned by the US Constitution, leading to a de facto moratorium on executions in many states.

New Jersey's leadership should embolden other states to end the death penalty, freeing up resources to fight crime without committing state-sponsored homicides in the process.

When I was at the Milwaukee Journal in 1995, I wrote a long series on capital punishment, and witnessed what was the first execution in Texas under the new administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush.

I came away from the experience convinced that it served no good purpose other than achieving a long-delayed measure of vengeance - - hardly the sign of a modern state.

Most countries around the world have ended capital punishment, and Wisconsin's long history of banning executions is a solid piece of the state's progressive tradition.

Selig Vows To Punish Wrongdoers - - So He'll Suspend Himself?

I don't usually blog about sports, but since I am a lifelong fan, and have followed things as they led up to this public airing of Major League Baseball's bad news, I'll offer this:

Baseball drug investigator George Mitchell's report is in, and along with dozens of named players, the former US Senator and federal judge also included unnamed "commissioners" among those responsible for baseball's worst drug-abuse scandal.

Good for you, Senator. No names were needed. It was a diplomatic way to out the guy who hired you.

Interestingly, too, was that Mitchell, having negotiated peace and forgiveness among warring Irish factions a few years ago, took a similar approach with Major League Baseball's troubles by recommending against player punishment for past misdeeds - - except for egregious violators.

Yet Comish Bud Selig, always ready to sound an off-note when the conductor was orchestrating harmony, vowed publicly, after Mitchell had delivered his report, to punish wrongdoers, which, as Bud reminded us, is in his purview.

And which Selig could have been doing for some time had he not been oh-so reluctant to do much until an authority figure like Mitchell assembled facts that supported the true, conventional, denial-free wisdom.

So taken together - - Mitchell's findings, Selig's remarks - - it seems to me that Selig, boss during the Steroid Era, should exercise the disciplinary powers he said he's got - - and suspend himself for being The Number One Guy who looked the other way in the name of the almighty dollar.

As they say, in the best interests of the game.

The US Will Not Cooperate On Global Warming Initiatives

The Bush administration continues to do with proposed global warming remedies what it has done on so many international fronts:


It will take decades for the next several administrations to undo - - if we are lucky - - the damage that George W. Bush has inflicted on the environment and our stature in the world.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Michael Horne Gives Ald. Bauman His Due

Horne is right: Ald. Robert Bauman has crafted a strong Milwaukee Common Council majority against the state's plan to commit $1.9 billion to rebuild and widen I-94 from Milwaukee to the Illinois without its adding a penny to help the pending Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project get started.

I weighed in on this a couple of weeks ago, here.

Look to Aldermanic leaders like Bauman, Michael D'Amato, Michael Murphy and the all-important Common Council President Willie Hines to continue to connect transportation planning with water planning, too, since both heavily influence in the region where private development, public resources and residents are located.

Also note that a leading highway advocate predicts stalemate in the legislature if there is a rail vs. road-building battle.

That's meant to scare people into thinking that their highway projects are jeopardized by the push for a modicum of equity for rail transportation in Wisconsin.

We're not there yet, but if gas prices stay high, more travelers will demand alternatives, and commuter rail would provide a significant option in a growing market - - SE Wisconsin to the Illinois line.

You'd need a substantial makeover from the top down into lower-management at WisDOT to engineer the shift in thinking that would begin to provide transit-starved planning and implementation with real dollars to achieve real results.

That's not why Frank Busalacchi was put in charge at WisDOT.


I noticed this morning that today's posting about Wisconsin's inertia on the Great Lakes Compact - - an eight-state water conservation and management agreement - - was also the 1,000th posting on this blog since I began it on February 2nd.

A nice bit of symmetry, as posting number one called attention to New Berlin's effort to get a Lake Michigan diversion - - before the Compact's implementation in Wisconsin - - for an under-developed portion of its city that will include a water park.

As the blog developed, I began to call postings along those lines part of an occasional series, The Road To Sprawlville, as my subjects evolved into a water/land-use/transportation focus.

I will be a guest on WTDY-AM 1670 tomorrow morning at 10 AM to discuss the Compact and related issues, as my blog and persona approach multi-media status.

Anyway: enough about me. I'm bored with it, too.

Tune it, and thanks for reading/listening.


After Two Years, Wisconsin Has Not Ratified The Great Lakes Compact

Readers of this blog know that a frequent theme is the need for Wisconsin and the rest of the eight Great Lakes states to sign and implement the Great Lakes Compact.

That is an agreement among the states, with advisory partners in the two Canadian Great Lakes provinces, to create a first-ever legal framework for the approval of diversions of water from the Great Lakes - - making up 95% of the country's fresh surface water supply.

Given a warming climate, falling lake levels, damaging pressures from invasive species, pollution and development, preserving all the waters in the Great Lakes basin is an absolute necessity.

So when the Great Lakes governors and premiers signed the draft Compact in Milwaukee on December 13, 2005, there was real hope that the states would adopt and implement it so there could be a rational process for deciding if, when and where to move Great Lakes water.

Without the Compact in place, the only legal framework is a federal law that says all the eight Great Lakes states must unanimously approve a diversion, or it cannot happen - - while the Compact sets up rules, standards, conservation measures and even a lower threshold of diversion approval for a community (the home state only, not all eight) like the City of New Berlin, whose boundaries "straddle" the Great Lakes basin boundary.

In the two years since the Governors' signing, several demoralizing things have happened to stall the Compact's approval an diminish its prospects.

1. Only Illinois and Minnesota have approved it.

2. Ohio is resisting mightily.

3. Wisconsin doesn't even have a draft bill under consideration, with a state legislative study committee closing up shop this fall after property-rights' and development interests centered in Waukesha County sand-bagged the committee's consensus planning effort.

4. New Berlin's State Senator, Mary Lazich, (R), led the opposition on the study committee, along with allies in the business community and Waukesha County legislative delegation - - even though the Compact would make the diversion that New Berlin is seeking more likely to get approval.

5. Lazich and opponents in Ohio have joined forces: Lazich has said she wants to return the Compact for more negotiations (it took almost five years to produce the draft agreed to by the governors) - - a scheme that would lead the Compact to wither and die.

6. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is edging towards approving New Berlin's diversion application, undercutting the spirit of cooperation among the states upon which the pending Compact is based.

All in all, Wisconsin leaders have dropped the ball when it comes to getting the Compact legitimized, and approved.

More delay weakens the document's intent, discourages the other states from moving forward with it, undermines Wisconsin's long water conservation history, and puts the Great Lakes more and more at risk.

Two years, and we have little to show for it, except Lake Michigan and Superior hitting record lows, making diversions without justification somewhere between political folly and scientific, public-policy insanity.

Hardly the Wisconsin way.

More details here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

George Bush Again Vetoes Childen's Health Insurance, Promotes Democratic Sweep in '08

Lame duck President George Bush's plan to drive the GOP off a cliff in the '08 elections is gaining momentum: Wednesday, Bush vetoed, for a second time, a popular and bi-partisan bill to extend health insurance coverage to more American children.

More money for an unpopular war. But not for American kids. So this is what compassionate conservatism is all about!

State Supreme Court Increasingly Dysfunctional Over Donations

In what is likely to be a routine event, State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler recused herself from a case in which her big-money business donors had potentially-conflicting connections - - and the remaining justices deadlocked 3-3.

As a result, the case gets bumped down to an appellate panel, so it's not justice denied or derailed, but it is justice shunted to something of a spur.
The appellate court is certainly qualified, but it ain't the Supremes.

It was an important case - - whether Wisconsin towns can impose moratoriums on development while writing Smart Growth plans.

My esteemed colleague from the WMCS-AM 1290 "Backstory" media panel, Rick Esenberg, tells the Journal Sentinel that Ziegler's recusal and the resulting no-decision-decision illustrates that justices should hesitate from stepping away from cases.

I think that's missing the point.

Ziegler's really didn't have any choice.

She removed herself at the request of one of the parties, and given the ethical cloud she's under for failing to disclose conflicts-of-interest while on the Washington County circuit court bench, or to voluntarily remove herself from a large number of such cases, she did what she had to do.

And since she's awaiting a disciplinary slap, or worse, from the other justices for those earlier transgressions, Ziegler, for some time, will have to step aside, voluntarily or upon request, if she's taken as much as an after-dinner mint from a donor or party to any case coming before her.

She probably doesn't think this fair, but she's the poster person for lapses in judicial ethics, and since her major donors, like the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, are often in court, it may be in the interest of the justice system for Ziegler to step down from court.

And I don't say that lightly. I know she was elected statewide.

But if she's considered radioactive, the entire system is going to suffer. We can't have a Supreme Court of six full-time voting members, and one part-timer who is often conflicted-out.

And the public should use this high court dysfunctionality to demand that the legislature put Supreme Court races on a public-funding diet only.

Esenberg doesn't like that, either, and I cordially suggest that as is often the case, he needs to give it some more thought.

Ziegler is exhibit "A" for the need to drastically limit, or entirely wring the money out of Supreme Court campaigns - - but she will probably not be the only one as time goes by and other justices are held to the same standard.

You could argue that Ziegler has become a change agent for a less-conflicted court.


But instead of policy-making by unintended consequences and cascading embarrassments, how about some intentional ethical decision-making, both by Ziegler about her increasingly untenable situation, and by the legislature on the matter of urgent campaign finance reform.

Yes, It's Cold Outside...And Yes, It's Warmer In The Arctic

Climate change deniers from Rush Limbaugh to Mark Belling will never be persuaded, and around here the snowy December makes it hard to keep the big picture in mind - - but hard data indicate Arctic ice is melting at a ferocious pace and the consequences for the rest of the planet are not going to be pretty.

Besides keeping sea levels relatively constant - - meaning shorelines more or less intact - - the Arctic ice reflects sunlight that, if absorbed, make the oceans and the the air a lot warmer.

More drought, anyone, combined with shorter, heavier rainy downbursts that farmland and city storm sewer systems cannot efficiently absorb?

I'm dealing with snow and ice and shoveling like the rest of us - - but it's not distracting me from absorbing and accepting what the best scientific minds and climatological measuring devices are telling me.

I note that a group of scientists has traveled all the way to Bali to debunk global warming and the United Nations teams that have put together many recent studies.

This blog: fair and balanced.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Few More Thoughts About Huckabee

So his rivals batter him and he seems to be still standing. OK, I know it's early, but for me, the parallel is Lee Sherman Dreyfus.

Seemed to come out of nowhere. Resonated with people. Didn't get elected because voters liked his ideology, knew or cared about the fine print in his white papers. If he even had them.

He won the Governor's race in '78 because people just liked the guy. They found him authentic in a profession congested with phonies.

I'm not saying Huckabee can or should win the nomination, or the Presidency. I'm not voting for him.

I'm saying experts who are baffled by his success in this excruciatingly-long, ever-shifting campaign should not be surprised that he's rising to the top of the charts, at least this week.

Put next to a professional-grade flip-flopper like Romney, a sleepy, out-classed Ed ("Bring Back Tommy") Thompson, an over-the-hill McCain, an irrelevant Tancredo, a quirky non-factor like Ron Paul and the purported front-runner, Rudy Guiliani, a guy who seems to be treading water and who cannot possibly stay afloat on the campaign trail for another year clinging to so much scandalous personal baggage - - Mike Huckabee is beginning to look good to Republicans, by comparison.

I used to think his name hurt him. Now I think, like his mythic weight-loss, that it works to his advantage, adding homey charm to his story.

I could be wrong about all this. I observe Republicans more than I hang out with them, but I think I've seen this dynamic at play before...a phenom appears, and all the shots that the opponents take just don't seem to land because the regular laws of political physics somehow get suspended.

Which is also why Barack Obama could win the Democratic nomination.

Maybe I'll get back to that later.

CBS News Asks The Presidential Candidates About Global Warming

The answers are here.
Thanks to CBS News and Katie Couric for a coordinated discussion of an important issue.

Remember: Guns Don't Hurt People: People Hurt People

Guns had nothing to do with six people being shot at a schoolbus stop in Las Vegas.

Same for the victims in Colorado. The guns were, what...incidental?

Tim Cuprisin, Journal's Media Critic, Has A Little Fun With TV Weather 'News' Drama

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Official Weather and Barbeque Deck, Tim Curprisin braves the elements to show us the elements. Pretty funny sendup of standard weather reporting.

AIR Quality Alert...On Top Of Ice and Snow

It's a version of 'when it pours.'

This from the DNR today:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is issuing an Air Quality Advisory for Particle Pollution (Orange) effective Tuesday, December 11, 2007 10:21:17 AM through Tuesday, December 11, 2007 6:00:00 PM for Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties.

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.

The Air Quality Index is currently in the orange level, which is considered unhealthy for people in sensitive groups. People in those sensitive groups include those with heart or lung disease, asthma, older adults and children. When an orange advisory for particle pollution is issued, people in those groups are advised to reschedule or cut back on strenuous activities.

People with lung diseases such as asthma and bronchitis, and heart disease should pay attention to cardiac symptom s like chest pain and shortness of breath or respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing and discomfort when taking a breath, and consult with their physician if they have concerns or are experiencing symptoms.

Fine particle pollution deposits itself deep into the lungs and cannot easily be exhaled. People who are at risk are particularly vulnerable after several days of high particle pollution exposure.

To receive air quality advisories by e-mail, visit

There are several actions the public can take to reduce their contributions to this regional air quality problem.

Reduce driving when possible and don't leave vehicle engines idling.
Postpone activities that use small gasoline and diesel engines.

Minimize outdoor wood fires.
Conserve electricity.
For more ideas on how you can reduce your emissions today and every day visit: Do a little, save a lot!

For more information:
Federal interagency air quality web site, for information on the Air Quality Index and nationwide air quality forecasts and air quality conditions,

DNR's statewide air quality monitoring web page,
For local DNR air management program contacts,