Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker continues his magical mystery tour statewide.
And contributing to the Bizarro World reality that is Scott Walker's - - where disinterest equates to leadership, and failure leads to a sought-after-promotion: where would Walker be had the federal stimulus, which he opposed, had not already directed $67 million into the county's coffers?
With the feds being asked for another $130 million in stimulus dollars only because the County Board overrode Walker to make the application possible?
Friday, July 31, 2009
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker continues his magical mystery tour statewide.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
A Wisconsin columnist throws cold water on stories about contaminated fish and the people who are concerned.
There is information about fish contamination right here in Wisconsin that didn't make it into the Wisconsin column.
I know that the columnist is offering opinion, not straight reporting about the issue, but why not offer what is available in our home state, so that local readers can make some informed choices?
In the spirit of straight reporting, let me provide here a link to a website from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, complete with maps, that offers data and recommendations about where fish with known contaminants might indeed be present, and what the health risks might be.
In fact, the Wisconsin State Journal recently reported that all Wisconsin lakes are under an advisory because of mercury contamination, with testing showing one-third the fish samples exceeding safe limits.
With information in hand, have a safe and tasty Fish Fry!
Posted by James Rowen at 10:54 PM
A federal court jury has said, in effect, "hold on," so a judge will rule soon on whether South Milwaukee can tear down one of the few housing complexes in the metro area outside of the City of Milwaukee that serves minorities and low-income tenants.
Finally, there's an official determination somewhere in the region on behalf of the poor, and against clustering them in the City of Milwaukee.
This is what the fights about highways vs. rail, and affordable housing vs. exclusionary zoning are all about: the region disproportionately, by law, tradition or code economically segregates the region.
And, in turn, distorts and stunts the economy, as well as limits individual choices, opportunity and eventual wealth.
Will South Milwaukee get the message and work to maintain this housing option?
Or will the judge have to implement the wishes of the jury, so that this tawdry, nine-year and costly effort comes to a halt.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:07 AM
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I was grousing to a younger person today about the difficulties getting the climate control bill approved, as well as the diminishing of the health care reform bill, and he reminded me that it's the same old story: powerful special interests block real change in the Congress.
It caught me off-guard - - hearing the truth from a guy almost 30 years my junior.
I suspect that some form of health care reform will get approved, and there will be some benefit to both uninsureds and everyone else, but not the dramatic shift we need towards a single-payer system.
Same with the climate change effort. There will be some environmental improvements, but not the substantial break from all that carbon-based pollution that is melting the polar ice.
I am happy for the first steps that seem to be coming, and I don't want a return to the bad old days of George W. Bush.
But I'm disappointed, because I believe things will get worse before they get better, meaning there will be damage and loss that could have been stemmed if more Democrats - - forget the Republicans and their woeful marginalization - - were willing to stand up and lead.
As Mr. Vonnegut observed: So it goes...
Posted by James Rowen at 10:17 PM
Tar sand oil is still scheduled to move to Superior. Details, here.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:57 AM
This is a weird story: a leading conservative advocacy organization told Fed Ex it would support its position in a labor and legislative issue - - for a $2+ million fee - - and when the payment demand was rebuffed - - sided with competitor UPS instead.
Is this how political consulting at the national level really works?
Hat tip: One Wisconsin Now. [Disclosure: I am on one of OWN's boards.]
Posted by James Rowen at 5:17 AM
Many months have elapsed since Wisconsin approved the Great Lakes Compact, yet the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources shows no inclination to begin the rule-making process spelling out how a Wisconsin municipality would go about writing an application for a Great Lakes diversion under the Compact.
This is a rather big question, as Waukesha has announced its intention to apply before the end of the year for a diversion.
Without the rules in place, it is not clear what should be in the application.
No doubt there will be information in the application, along with water conservation plans and goals, but it is up to the DNR to decide whether the application is complete - - yet without rules in place, it's a gamble that those plans, goals and pledges meet best practices.
And Wisconsin law.
Why the hesitancy?
Politics - - pure and simple - - at two levels.
Internally, some DNR staffers believe they can act on the application without guiding rules in place. This is the gut theory of administrative behavior in full view:
"We know best."
Externally, the DNR wants to be seen as an ally to Waukesha, not an impediment.
So no need to slow the application down - - though that is confusing a way to refine an application so it can pass widespread muster with mere delay.
The result will be an ephemeral, ad hoc application-drafting-and-reviewing-process for what will set a precedent across Wisconsin and the other seven Great Lakes states: that's some precedent.
And that lack of a process is sure to stir resentment and even rejection in other Great Lakes states: any one state can veto an application, which would leave Waukesha back behind the eight-state eight ball, no doubt wishing the DNR had rationalized the process from the beginning.
Putting the DNR Secretary appointment closer to the public, and somewhat insulated from politicking would have made rule-making more likely.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:09 AM
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
First it was rising water rates. Now it's parking meter fees and other Milwaukee charges.
Later in the year, it will be mill rate.
This is what happens when property values fall, but city expenses are relatively fixed, including in-place salaries and benefits for people we want on the job, like firefighters, police officers, health officials and others.
Without much taxing authority granted by the state, cities have to nickel-and-dime their residents.
Layoffs will be a reality this year, so get ready for that, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:04 PM
I feel badly for my former colleagues at the Journal Sentinel as they face today's buyout deadline, and the reality that many fine journalists will be leaving a proud but diminished newspaper.
Besides my best wishes and hopes for everyone in this difficult position, I can only offer my own experience, having left the newspaper in 1996, and recognizing that I left freely - - there is plenty of rewarding work outside the newsroom, and reporting skills translate well into many other circumstances.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:02 PM
A year ago it was a killing spree in a Tennessee Unitarian church.
Steve McNair - - the retired Tennessee Titans NFL quarterback was later killed by a girlfriend with an illegally-purchased handgun - - had been buried just a few days when news came in this weekend about another mass murder spree by gunfire in Tennessee and just across the Alabama border.
Some will no doubt say that guns don't kill people - - it's people that kill people - - but doesn't the easy access to firearms make all that killing easier to carry out?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:45 AM
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Dan Egan at the Journal Sentinel ferrets out the latest data about Great Lakes water losses from a channel's erosion and puts it into context, here.
The data throws into bold relief why Great Lakes restoration work is so important and why any effort to divert water away from the Great lakes basin must be carefully vetted and justified.
Posted by James Rowen at 7:15 AM
I am not getting my hopes up, given the power of the highway lobby - - and that includes state Departments of Transportation - - but Sean Ryan of the Daily Reporter does a good job explaining why the Obama administration at least give rail passenger projects access to greater funding.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:37 AM
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Let's stow the faux outrage:
Posted by James Rowen at 5:56 PM
Michael Savage is now free to travel to England.
All the kerfuffle did was give the rightie motormouth a nosier platform.
You can hear his homophobic, anti-foreigner, anti-affirmative action diatribes in the late, low-rating hours on AM620 WTMJ.
Silencing people is stupid and counter-productive. Let Savage go to England, where all but the anti-immigrant crowd will ignore him.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:31 AM
Friday, July 24, 2009
A Canadian friend - - well, a former Madisonian now living in Alberta - - was kind enough to send along this "Walk Score" web calculator.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:12 PM
Here's a must-read blog for people interested in transportation issues and developments worldwide.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:09 AM
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Enough US Senators stood firm against the National Rifle Association to turn aside a back-door national concealed carry scheme.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:27 PM
Way back in another life, I wrote a series for the old Milwaukee Journal about alcohol's often unacknowledged role in mayhem other than vehicle crashes.
I worked with Medical Examiner records and other documents, and I recall that the year I researched - - 1986 - - every fatal fire in Milwaukee, for example, killed a person with a blood alcohol level above legal intoxication.
Same for the snowmobiler deaths, and drownings, and some odd falls or home 'accidents.'
Pretty revelatory, I discovered.
So when I see stories like that of the alleged gang rape of a UW-Madison coed in a frat house, or the senseless beatings inflicted at a southside bar-closing time in Milwaukee that injured several men and killed a father of five, it reminds me that intoxication is an underlying issue where it may not get the headline.
This is not a broadside in favor of Prohibition II. Just a note to raise a little awareness.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:49 AM
Usually those knocking Wisconsin's business climate say it's because of the tax picture, or an anti-business environment, but in this case it appears to be something else - - productivity.
And that's not a rap at the Wisconsin workers.
It's a recognition that relocations take place for a host of reasons. Internal issues can trump outside realities.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:31 AM
More evidence that the Bush administration had catastrophic consequences far and wide.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:16 AM
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Posted by James Rowen at 10:46 PM
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is correct in saying that there is waste and duplication in county government.
But his status as a declared candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination undermines the credibility and sincerity of the proposal.
Walker could have made downsizing and redefining county government a serious proposal years ago, and been working closely with the City of Milwaukee and other units of government on demonstration projects and service transfers year-after year.
But that's not what has happened.
In the context of the campaign - - which is how everything that a candidate says and does is inevitably judged after the formal announcement - - the Walker proposal looks self-serving, superficial, and basically too-cute-by-half.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 PM
A new ferry at Cassville for $1.8 million is terrific for that Mississippi River community.
The more these dollars roll out, the better for the economy, and Wisconsin.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:37 AM
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
And groundbreaking is the right word for this outstanding project - - pushed by the City of Milwaukee and hatched by the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, and partners - - that will re-create the Villard Avenue Library with a valuable senior housing component, too.
Mixed use development, par excellence!
Tuesday it sailed through the city's Zoning and Development Committee.
Unanimously, as it had earlier at the Plan Commission.
I enjoy touting this project because it is great for the city and the Northwest Side, where unemployment is high and development has lagged.
And because my son Sam has been involved with this project since its inception as the NWCDC's Director of Development.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:34 PM
I get to Madison so infrequently these days that I can't even call myself a tourist there.
But I do know that cities, including Madison, are losing tax base and people to sprawl in all directions ( I was in Spring Green not long ago, an hour from Madison, and people there regularly commute to the capital city), so whatever the City of Madison can do to take advantage of its locale and existing density - - within reason, and you know the citizen participation piece there will be extensive - - is the way it will prosper.
Consider these proposals to expand hotel and commercial space close to the Monona Terrace complex.
I understand that there is controversy about the developments, and that there is a balancing to be done between expansion and preservation.
Both come into play when talking about development on a narrow Isthmus, obviously.
But if done right, these developments would be a revenue boon to the City, and could put the brakes on some sprawl at the edges, and beyond, of a fast-growing city.
That's really the choice for cities; the same tension is evident in Milwaukee when it comes to growth in and near its downtown.
Sprawl, or density, and you can't be against both.
For cities, the choice is density. It's a no-brainer.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:36 PM
The big water bottler wins the right to keep on shipping Great Lakes water away from the basin, exploiting a deliberate loophole inserted in the Great Lakes Compact to keep businesses happy.
More information, here. And here, with regard to a Congressional hearing into the bottled water issue, thanks to Dave Dempsey, The Great Lakes Blogger and long-time regional activist and author.
The eight-state Compact allows companies to remove an unlimited of water as long as it is shipped in containers no larger than those big 5.7 gallon jugs that sit in office water dispensers.
And of course, in the many millions of smaller bottles you see in grocery stores, service stations and vending machines.
Environmentalists won a partial victory, getting Michigan regulators to reduce the amount of "Ice Mountain" (sic) water taken, but the loss to the basin is still more than 300,000 gallons a day.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:30 AM
The Dinosaur Party is sped towards its demise as a national, credible party by its cringe-worthy condescension of US Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Though ratings were small, cable television coverage and YouTube will ensure that the Republican senators' worst behavior is archived.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:13 AM
Pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and other dangerous drugs are showing up in drinking water supplies, and most treatment plants can't find and remove them.
Some originates in, well, the urine flushed into the waste treatment system by people taking medications. Other trace amounts begin with old prescriptions fkushed down the toilet.
Some more attention is being to this issue, and locally, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission sponsors drug collections as an alternative to thoughtless flushings, but there's a lot more to do.
Research into better prevention and detection of drinking water contamination should be at the top of the list for agencies involved in water quality.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:46 AM
Monday, July 20, 2009
You don't usually see the word "infiltrated" in a story about water processing plants relating to anything other than leaky pipes.
Which makes it interesting that Journal Sentinel city hall reporter Larry Sandler could put it in a eyebrow-raising story about exactly what an employee working at a firm that partnered in a submission during the now-dead Milwaukee Water Works privatization study was doing during the process inside the Water Works' Linnwood Treatment Plant.
Especially when the terms of the process forbade contacts between bidders and city staff, including water works personnel.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:38 PM
Licensing of gun owners doesn't necessarily protect other people, and the police, a study finds: 51 recent slayings, including seven killed police officers.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:38 PM
The Journal Sentinel's in-house conservative columnist recently worried that technology indeed might someday make it impossible to start one's car if one had been drinking alcohol.
Now another column about how Illinois state troopers can use radar-and-camera rigs to nail speeders in construction zones.
I see a pattern here.
Why are some people afraid that technology could be deployed to deter law-breaking and dangerous behavior by motorists who would abuse the privilege of licensed driving?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:16 AM
From the grassroots, a new vision for Milwaukee County is emerging.
As county services are stressed by budget problems and a chief executive more interested in chasing after the Governor's office, the timing and goal is perfect.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:25 AM
A Wisconsin Department of Transportation spokeswoman tells the Daily Reporter that comments on the Zoo Interchange really matter in the design of the $2.3 billion project.
The spokeswoman is one of two WisDOT officials who called the State Fair coppers to make sure sure some citizen opponents were not allowed to pass out literature at the most recent public meeting on the project held in a building on the State Fairgrounds, according to one of the citizens.
[A bit of history: The citizens who were told by the State Fair police to hand out their leaflets at vehicle entrances blocks from the meeting room first got organized - - and their first taste of the public comment process - - about a decade ago. That's when they urged officials not to allow WisDOT to widen, from two lanes to four, a 13-mile stretch of State Highway 164 in exurban and rural Waukesha and Washington Counties. They presented the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission during its review of the widening plan with 7,000 signatures in opposition. Those petitions were reviewed, but the advice in them was not accepted.]
Two calls I made to WisDOT headquarters about the incident at State Fair Park - - I was directed there by WisDOT's regional office in Waukesha - - were never answered.
I believe the correct term for that variation of comment "review and dismiss" is stonewalling.
Which is about the same thing I'm getting from the Federal Highway Administration.
Emails and a call to its Madison office over the last couple of weeks for information about the status of the quadrennial performance review the agency was/is? conducting of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission have gone unanswered.
Back in March, after a delay ascribed to the pressures of stimulus funding deadlines, the agency said we could expect the release of the report in May.
My calendar says August is approaching, the comment period ended more than eight months ago on November 10th, and still no inking of the report - - a key piece in a process (sic) that began with both SEWRPC and the feds trying - - and failing - - to turn the review's traditional public hearing into a more informal, tepid, community Kumbaya session of sorts.
Highway engineers and bureaucrats like the way smoothed for letting contracts and laying concrete.
Messy stuff like hearings...public input...and comments from plain ol' citizens to be reviewed, or actually studied, absorbed and implemented?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Polling shows three-quarters of the US population wants strong regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.
That's a consensus, and in the face of concerned industry and rignt-wing talk radio assaults, remarkable.
Which means Democrats need to show backbone to get this bill through the Congress.
The bill has passed the House.
Call your US Senator.
Herb Kohl: 1-202-224-5653.
Russ Feingold: 1-202-224-5323.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:47 PM
Posted by James Rowen at 3:44 PM
Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway is proposing structural changes in government there, including eliminating the position of County Executive.
Set aside the ongoing war for control between Holloway and incumbent exec Scott Walker, and the overall power struggle between the board and the executive.
Others have suggested major changes in the county government, ranging from business leader Sheldon Lubar to former Mayor John Norquist.
And a new grassroots organization - - Milwaukee County First - - wants to redo County government with public purposes in mind. Check it out, here.
There is duplication galore between city and county services, including police and sheriff duties, parks and street construction, management and maintenance, health-related services, economic development, and more.
The county's inability to quickly package its share of the Park East Freeway corridor property, rather than turn it all over to the city's Department of Development, and Redevelopment Authority shows what duplication or inattention produces.
I remember when ( was working for Mayor John Norquist) Milwaukee County spent $6 million to widen Lincoln Memorial Drive a few years ago - - over the objections of the city.
When I asked a key supervisor on the county's parks commission why the county was so hell-bent to do a project that would remove some trees and park land (the roadway, bordering Lake Park, was county land), the response was:
"You [city] guys always get to build things. We never get to."
The county is in perpetual financial crisis due to its disastrous pension deals, and shrinking property values county-wide, along with diminished state shared revenue, will put more and more pressure on the county to rein in spending.
The Public Policy Forum has discussed and research this issue dispassionately, and at length.
Every county government function should be carefully examined, and starting at the top, rather at the bottom, is a good idea.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:23 PM
I've become a fan of the television series "Whale Wars," wherein film crews accompany anti-whaling activists on hair-raising confrontations designed to stymie Japanese whaling ships from harpooning whales.
Yeah, old English grad students once immersed in Moby Dick never really recover.
But back to Whale Wars: Part of the tension in the episodes comes from the ethical questions playing out on the screen: is it right to kill whales, is it right to interrupt the whalers and put livelihoods and human lives at risk, and so forth?
And other questions pop up in your mind as the programs unfold: Are the intervenors idealists, or fools? Vandals or heroes?
Some answers and perspective emerge in the cover story in last Sunday's New York Times magazine.
The story says scientists know that whales have complex brains and social structures similar to ours, and, in fact, may be initiating fresh contacts with people as the whale slaughter recedes worldwide.
The piece is definitely worth a read, and makes me wish those anti-whaling activists out on the Antarctic Ocean all the best.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:22 AM
Foreign species invading and damaging the Great Lakes is not a myth.
Zebra mussels rode into the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ocean-going freighters: now these tiny invaders filter Lake Michigan water by the billions, over-cleaning the shallow waters near the shoreline.
That allows an a surplus of sunlight to reach the bottom, spurring algae growth, which dies and rots and smells to high heaven.
[Note to talk radio: that's not anything the fault of one of your favorite scapegoats, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission. In fact, the MMSD is an important partner cleaning up Milwaukee County's stormwater contamination of Bradford Beach.]
You can smell the mussel-caused stench on the East side blocks from the lake, along Lake Drive, down Lincoln Memorial hill and all the way to the newly-restored Bradford Beach.
Zebra mussels, just one of scores of invaders harming the water quality, the fishing and the Great Lakes majesty, plain stink up the Milwaukee lakefront every summer.
So here's an idea:
Have the EPA's Great Lakes Restoration hearings that kick off in Milwaukee on Tuesday open early at the lakeshore on the soccer field next to the Linnwood Water Treatment plant for a first-hand smell test.
Everyone bring a sandwich.
Then go to hearing at the Doubletree Hotel Milwaukee City Center, Wisconsin Room, 611 W. Wisconsin Ave., on Tuesday, from 5 to 7 p.m., and demand a) tough laws prohibiting ocean-going ships from carrying out ballast water flushing in the Great Lakes, and b) a real budget for Great Lakes restoration - - oft-promised...not yet met.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:01 AM
Saturday, July 18, 2009
You may remember that the conservative blogger and Milwaukee Public Television pundit Kevin Fischer landed in the middle of a blog swarm last week - - see The Chief blog, where all the response began, for an interesting update - - when he used the weird phrase "matzo-skinned lefties" in a blog posting (actually on more than one site) to describe liberal activists.
You can find his posting, my response and some links and comments here.
I noticed today that, as the beat goes on, there is an exchange drenched in too many ironies to track on Fischer's blog between its author - - Fischer - - and the Waukesha-based conservative blogger and activist James Wigderson.
Notice in the exchange just how thin-skinned Fischer becomes after Wigderson opens with a light-hearted line, which is usually his writing style, and then asks Fischer a question about the intent of the matzo remark.
Let's pick up the comment thread where Fischer responds to the blogger Michael Horne, with whom Fischer had spoken:
Thursday Jul 16, 2009 11:46 AM
Kevin Fischer explains what he means by "Matzo-skinned lefties" in my Milwaukeeworld column. Not what I thought at first! http://bit.ly/gbB2r
Thursday Jul 16, 2009 12:37 PM
I think some people by their wild reaction and incredible stretch are proving my point.
Thursday Jul 16, 2009 10:24 PM
I like to think of myself as round as a matzo ball. By why the uncomfortable reference to Jews?
Thursday Jul 16, 2009 11:20 PM
Gee, Jim, why are you making that reference? I wasn't. I was referring to the thinness of the matzo. Maybe you'd feel better if you went outside and burned a few flags.
Thursday Jul 16, 2009 11:32 PM
Jim Wigderson: Earlier tonight, before you posted here, you posted this excerpt on Jim Rowen's blog:"I think he honestly meant thin, but I gotta admit there is no way I would've made the connection."Well, if you said publicly that you think I meant thin, then why the hell do you come here a half hour later asking me what I meant? And if you wouldn't have made the same connection, then I can only assume you're not that bright. Jim, from day one that I've been blogging, you've had a bug up your posterior about it. I know, because you blogged about it. You made the erroneous comment that you thought legislative aides were banned from blogging. And you've mentioned you have a problem with me being on radio and TV.I've never met you or talked to you but you've got issues. Please, don't play your stupid games here on my blog. You're just another one of those conservatives (phony?)who likes to suck up to hateful lefties.Do it somewhere else, not here.
Friday Jul 17, 2009 12:51 PM
That's "James" actually. I'll repeat, I think you honestly meant thin, but why the Jewish reference? My "issue" Kevin is that I tend to be concerned about matters of anti-Semitism. As an apparent regular reader of mine you should be aware of that. My "issue" this time is that the matzo reference, aside from missing the comedic mark, was completely gratuitous given the context. The temptation is to believe that you were ascribing an ethnic character to leftwing politics. I don't want to believe it, but after my comment at Rowen's blog I thought I would ask anyway. As long as you're referencing my comment at Jim Rowen's blog, you might also note that I said your attempt at humor would make most readers uncomfortable. As for burning flags, I was at a very nice flag retirement ceremony the other night. Very moving. Given how personal you took my disagreement with your boss (whom I treated very respectfully) on that issue, I suggest it might be you that has "issues". I have nothing personal against you Kevin, and have even gone out of my way to make that clear. I think I have even linked to your blog positively at times. But I do think there are legitimate issues about media companies offering platforms to legislators and their staffers, and I also believe there are problems with legislative staffers taking stands on issues that may be of direct concern to the elected officials for whom they work. Gruffly complaining about my criticisms and trying to pretend they're somehow personal or the result of some character flaw does not make them go away.As for liking "to suck up to hateful lefties", I love everybody. I'm like a warm giant matzo ball of love.
Friday Jul 17, 2009 1:29 PM
So I'm not allowed to say yes if a media outlet wants my services because I'm a legislative aide? I'm not allowed to be an independent thinker because I'm a legislative aide? Sorry, but I didn't check my 1st Amendment rights or my mind at the door when I took a job with the state of Wisconsin. JAMES, you, like the usual assortment of lefty nutjobs, took one word out of a nearly 600-word blog and are agonizingly trying make a big deal out of it. By the way, your flag burning article was the quintessential argument in favor of flag burning that I'm sure made liberals proud. No one, including you, wants to address the actual substance of my blog. I take offense to your quaint comments here where you try to be cute and funny after you more or less accuse me of anti-Semitism which is complete and utter garbage.I 've never written one word about you, though I could have, and we've never met, yet somehow you think you know me and the intent of every word I write. If you're tempted to believe I was ascribing an ethic character to leftwing politics, that's quite a leap given that matzo isn't a person but an inanimate object. For a supposed conservative, you sure sound like a liberal more often than you should.
Friday Jul 17, 2009 3:05 PM
You forgot to mention I put ketchup on my hotdogs. I'm practically a Communist.
Friday Jul 17, 2009 4:10 PM Now that was funny.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:37 PM
One of the good guys in Wisconsin politics and the environmental movement gets a key federal post.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:01 AM
Friday, July 17, 2009
Gov. Jim Doyle pulls off a political coup - - bringing to Wisconsin a Spanish company to assemble and maintain high-speed rail trains for in-and-out-of- state systems.
Which puts Wisconsin and the entire Midwest on the cusp of a multi-billion-dollar regional system - - sure to bring along economic development and tourism, too - - that could compete with the airlines for medium-length trips and certainly offer travelers a modern option to heavily-polluting, congestion-plagued automobile travel.
Who might think this is a terrible idea?
I'm looking at you, State Sen. Glenn Grothman, (R-West Bend).
People like Grothman and his talk radio enablers see trains and go bananas.
For reasons known only to Republican shrinks, righties hate trains.
The way the rest of us might hate swine flu.
Apparently the our suburban opinion-makers prefer the eight years of congestion already underway on the drive from Milwaukee towards Illinois and into freeway widening hell, or the separate period on the drawing board for a good four-to-eight more years when the Zoo Interchange - - the state's busiest crossroads - - is headed for rebuilding.
Neither corridor has any rail service: Waukesha killed light rail in the late 1990's that could have easily been running from New Berlin and Brookfield by now, and the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail line is on planning life support as we speak.
And let's not claim that opposition to rail is about fiscal restraint!
The I-94 reconstruction to Illinois is budgeted at $1.9 billion.
The Zoo Interchange may exceed $2.3 billion.
That's $4.2 billion on two segments of Interstate Highway just in Southeastern Wisconsin alone, and there are other segments galore in the unfunded plan only a gleam in the planners' eyes - - I-43 south through Walworth County, I-43 north all the way through Ozaukee County, I-94 past Miller Park, perhaps on a giant elevated span, plus widenings to I-894, State Highway 45, and so on.
If we had truth in budgeting and planners language, someone would take the word "free" out of "freeway."
This pathological and often partisan reaction to train service in southeastern Wisconsin in favor of every freeway (sic) expansion imaginable gathered steam in the 90's, when Milwaukee was close to a light rail system.
In reaction, conservative politicians and talk show hosts discovered there were voters and listeners you could set on edge - - hence, ratings and re-elections - - by suggesting to white flightees that urban riders might ride into the suburbs.
Failed Milwaukee mayoral candidate George Watts made his famous "strangers" remark - - the threat was to suburbanites' property and children - - quote and history here - - the phone lines lit up, and power brokers in the 'burbs had found their issue.
Now a dozen years later, anything on a rail is anathema, mockable and ripe for demagogy - - but Doyle figured out a way to marry modern rail transit with desperately needed job development, leaving Republicans like Grothman in the dust.
Or is at the station?
Posted by James Rowen at 8:03 PM
And that's fair:
Water sales could and should help the city with its expenses and service provision: right now, water doesn't cost much more than the electricity and staff time to deliver it to our faucets.
And the city is in the preliminary stages of seeking consultant advice on how to price water with its full or comprehensive value in mind.
The consultant's findings could stimulate conservation, focus everyone on stemming water leaks, and establish a relevant, real-world formula through which water could be sold to a community like Waukesha, which wants a diversion from Lake Michigan supplied by Milwaukee.
If water stimulates growth, and increases tax base and employment in a purchasing community, there should be some reflection of those fresh benefits in the rates.
New Berlin got away with a one-time payment for a diversion from Milwaukee of $1.5 million as added compensation for 20 years water service piped to an area in the middle of New Berlin that could see $1 billion in development, along with much new housing units and jobs.
For a variety of reasons - - some good and some bad - - Milwaukee took the deal.
Milwaukee cannot afford to take the same short-sighted and one-dimensional approach with Waukesha, as that city wants at least four times more water than New Berlin, and has more ambitious annexation and growth agendas, too.
There are many reasons for Milwaukee to raise and otherwise adjust its water rates; hats off to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council for heading in that direction - - and away from this spring's ill-fated effort to move towards turning the city water works to a private firm.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:26 PM
Great to see UW-Milwaukee researchers involved in advancing wind power technology.
Milwaukee's industrial base fits nicely with a green economy and alternative power generation.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:52 PM
AM 620 WTMJ talker Charlie Sykes mocked Gov. Jim Doyle's scheduled Friday announcement about High-Speed Rail as just another "choo-choo" train proposal as jobs are being lost in the state.
I guess Charlie thought he knew what was coming and offered the stock rightie 'analysis' when it comes to trains.
Then Doyle made his announcement - - a Spanish firm that makes state-of-the-art train equipment used in the US and worldwide will be opening assembly and maintenance facilities in Wisconsin, and will supply the equipment for passenger rail upgrades in the state too.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:42 AM
The Road to Sprawlville in this fresh chapter cataloguing the desecration of Wisconsin's disappearing landscape extends west into rural Dane County, where if a relatively new landowner doesn't get an exhorbitant price, houses will be built on glacial lands intended as a crucial link in the Ice Age Trail.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:37 AM
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee - - perhaps listening to their growing Latino constituencies, perhaps even listening to Sonia Sotomayor's answers - - are discovering that the Supreme Court nominee is good enough to confirm.
Or at least good enough to step aside for a quick vote, since her confirmation, which was always going to happen, is now a guaranteed win.
Sotomayor is - - contrary to reflexive early dieseling by Rush Limbaugh - - a moderate, and a scholar.
Not an ideologue, but a Constitutionalist, which is what one would expect from the President, Barack Obama, who taught Constitutional Law.
The Right tried and failed to make a political mountain out of Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remark.
She'll join the court. She'll probably vote with the liberal bloc 50-to-60% of the time.
But won't be doctrinaire or addicted to predictable templaces, as, say, are Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.
Some ill-informed conservatives think Sotomayor was trying to fool the committee by pretending to be conservative, or had a 'conversion' away from radicalism, but these people fooled themselves into thinking she was on far left - - so keep missing the point.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:53 PM
The AG's office will try to get tougher charges reinstated against the bad eggs who ran down deer with snowmobiles.
A so-called cruelty exception for hunters should not have been applied by a trial judge who reduced the more serious charges.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:31 PM
John Norquist, long a proponent of tearing down useless freeways , removing so-called unnatural concrete channelizations of urban rivers and adding back riverwalks and other amenities for people, has been pushing these ideas for years.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:21 PM
I was impressed with the outspoken stance of State Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) in favor of more unity by local legislators on behalf of Milwaukee.
Gene Kane gets into the issue here.
The bigger picture is the dearth of an urban agenda statewide.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:49 PM
Scott Walker is dismantling Milwaukee County's basic services.
One Wisconsin Now is offering an online method of trying to stop it.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:21 PM
You have to read Dave Dempsey at Great Lakes Blogger to stay informed about regional water issues.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:46 AM
A national water treatment organization has chosen as its president Kevin Shafer, the executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission.
Other local CEO's should take a page from Shafer's mnagement style: collegial, low-key, substantive.
He's done a great job, through outreach and innovation, to turn the MMSD into a leader and partner on regional environmental and watershed protection.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:35 AM
There he goes again.
Kevin Fischer, the Milwaukee public television pundit and high-profile conservative aide to State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), calls liberals "matzo-skinned lefties.
His remark is towards the end of this posting. [Regretably, I had a bad link posted earlier. The correct link takes you to Fischer's Journal Communications community bloggers' website at FranklinNow.]
But why Matzo - - the traditional Jewish food eaten at ritual Passover dinners (Seders) to honor the flight for survival from Egypt - - with an army in hot pursuit?
[Update: People react to Fischer, and he does not like the heat. Might he be the thin-skinned one?]
The remark comes in a critique of certain politically-active liberals.
Fischer says these liberals are hypocritical and arrogant.
You know what?
Liberals also often call their conservative opponents hypocritical and arrogant.
It's not an original observation.
In fact, people in arguments always engage in this kind of mutual projection:
"No - - you're more arrogant!"
And so on.
Good debaters avoid or dismiss the name-calling to focus on the issues and the substance.
Kevin is still at starting gate:
Remember his earlier attack on the Department of Natural Resources as Nazis?
Advice to Kevin:
Don't come back with something about ultra-clever, fine-tuned wordsmithing about matzo, an unleavened, hence thin item, thus suggesting you offered up a clever synonym for "thin-skinned."
Another blogger, The Chief, analyzed the metaphor and found no justification for it.
I am very familiar with matzo. I eat it every Passover, along with others at the table, and darned if most of them aren't liberals.
Hat tip also to John Michig: fine use of Facebook today.
[Update: Blogger Michael Horne gets the predictable and predicted "thin-skinned" excuse from Fischer - - here - - with Fischer stumbling again when he tells Horne not to make anything "racial" out of the remark. Kevin: Judaism is a religion, not a race. You have got to understand the difference.]
Posted by James Rowen at 9:36 AM
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
London policy and administrative leader tapped to run the biggest system in the US.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:10 PM
US Sen. Jeff Sessions, (R-Alabama), himself once-upon-a-time also a judicial nominee, stumbles in his effort to discredit Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Dont forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
Posted by James Rowen at 3:50 PM
Seems there's an increased resistance around the Great Lakes to water withdrawals that don't live up to the conservation and efficiency standards laid down in the Great Lakes Compact.
I assume Wisconsin regulators and all communities thinking of fresh in-basin withdrawals, or out-of-basin diversions, are reading these stories.
Posted by James Rowen at 2:08 PM
Most states, including Wisconsin, do not spend their growing amount of federal highway funds from the stimulus program on the longest-lasting pavement, knowledgeable sources tell me.
To date, more than $529,000,000 of stimulus funding has been committed to state highway projects, with about $100 million earmarked for I-94 between Milwaukee and the Illinois state line.
[See the state stimulus spending chart, here.]
Wouldn't it make sense to build highways with this one-time money on pavement that would last the longest - - up to double the US norm of about 20 years, according to this industry report.
Shouldn't we spend our highway dollars without building obselence and waste into the pavement?
European countries routinely use pavement mixes and known road construction techniques that can achieve even a 50-year highway useful life, one source told me.
That estimate is backed up by a comprehensive report and posting by the US Federal Highway Administration from studies and scans of data that explain and document the benefits of the European methods - - here.
From the Federal Highway Administration site, here are a few key paragraphs:
"Safety and mitigation of congestion are two of the most important strategic goals of the U.S. highway community. Long-life concrete pavements require less frequent repair, rehabilitation, and reconstruction, and therefore contribute to improving highway safety and mitigating congestion.
"Experience with long-life concrete pavements, including examples of concrete pavements that have remained in service for more than 40 years, has been noted in previous scans of European countries.
"Information about these long-lasting pavements and the design and construction practices that produced them will be valuable to those involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of concrete pavements in the United States.
"In the United States, the typical design life for pavements in the past was 20 years, although a number of States use longer design lives. Major rehabilitation and reconstruction of pavements are difficult and expensive to accomplish, especially in urban areas. The next generation of portland cement concrete (PCC) pavements in the United States must be designed and constructed to achieve longer service life.
"The purpose of this scan is to identify design philosophies, materials requirements, construction practices, and maintenance strategies (including winter maintenance strategies), used by selected European and other countries to construct and operate portland cement concrete pavements with life expectancies of 40 years or more, that differ from U.S. practices and would be applicable in the United States."
Here is some simpler background on the different methodologies, with information about one demonstration project on I-70 in Kansas.
If Wisconsin wanted to really steward and shepherd its stimulus funding, as well as all the highway funds it collects and spends from taxpayers, it would aggressively implement these longer-lasting construction methods - - starting now.
Let's at least get the biggest bang for the buck, since highway building is still getting far more of the stimulus transportation pot than transit.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:40 PM
Rightie talker Charlie Sykes tells his audience right off the bat this morning that Barack Obama and the Congress are getting set to "nationalize health care" - - which is wildly inaccurate, as there would be some sort of a public option along with private plans continued - - and that the program would "kill the golden goose" and ruin the economy.
This was the same GOP talking point about the Climate Change bill that cleared the House of Representatives: the American economy will die as a result.
Here's the truth: We need fundamental reform of the way our health care system - - such as it is - - is operating, and we also need systematic controls over greenhouse gas emissions combined with renewable energy research and production.
Both are affordable and both will help people and the economy.
The world for the Sykes and Limbaughs and the other AM radio Chicken Littles changed when Obama was elected and many of the old-boy networks were reduced in influence.
The Right is still reeling from the 2008 presidential election - - that's all.
I'm heading out to meetings: I'll bet I don't get hit on the head by some falling sky.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:41 AM
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I remember hearing during the just-concluded state budget discussions that a rumor was sweeping the State Capitol - - imagine that! A rumor at the Capitol!! - - that had Gov. Jim Doyle leaving for the Peace Corps directorship when the budget was done.
AM620 WTMJ radio morning host Charlie Sykes put it out there - - as a rumor that he hadn't confirmed - - and at the time I thought: what a load of bull.
The story was obviously nothing more than GOP sabotage from the Politics 101 playbook - - undermine an opponent with a rumor that makes the opponent look disinterested.
The New York Times has the details of whom President Barack Obama has nominated, and it's not Gov. Doyle.
Sure - - Doyle and Jessica Doyle were Peace Corps volunteers, but that was hardly enough of a hook to make the scenario credible or the rumor believable.
Both the Doyles have a lot in their resumes that would make either a worthy appointee in an Obama administration, but there never was anything to the Peace Corps story.
Except a little right-wing meddling that was political juvenile.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:42 PM
Hats off to the Northwest Side Community Development Corporation, the City of Milwaukee and a Madison-area developer for thinking big: a mixed use public library and housing for seniors who are caregivers for children - - all located in a new, energy-efficient structure.
The project won city Plan Commission approval Monday: Assuming it wins full Common Council approval also, there's great stability ahead for this key neighborhood and Villard Ave.
My son Sam is Development Director at the community development corporation. and long-time community advocate Howard Snyder is its Executive Director.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:10 AM
Monday, July 13, 2009
Transparency Sought On Great Lakes Water Level Study: Why Not The Same Tough Approach On Diversion Planning?
The Journal Sentinel continues to pound away on the secrecy that surrounds an important study about why water levels in the Great Lakes have fallen.
This is real public interest reporting, and one of the reasons why we need daily papers to succeed: only full-scale newsrooms have the resources and credibility to carry out this scale of journalism.
I would love to see the same energy expended by the paper's local news reporters to learn why there is such a dearth of information about the City of Waukesha's plan to divert water from Lake Michigan and return treated water to the Lake via a tributary - - Underwood Creek.Waukesha and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission are both saying that Underwood Creek will be able to handle the added nine million gallons per day - - a number sure to increase as Waukesha grows and annexes more water-demanding land for development - - or that the diversion planning is moving ahead smoothly with a cooperative Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and so forth.
But where's the data?
The preliminary plans?
The science with regard to the biochemical changes that the returned treated water will bring to the Creek or to its fish populations?
The capacity of the Creek's banks to hold the added water, or the capacity of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission to handle the added flow during rain events?
The fiscal projections for the costs to Waukesha, or Wauwatosa, where the new piping will flow into the Creek, or the new tax burden to the MMSD, etc., etc.
I am sure some of these issues have been on the table when the Waukesha Water Utility so frequently went into closed session that a James Bouman, a citizen activist, has brought an Open Meetings complaint to a Waukesha County Judge.
If secrecy is undermining the public interest when Great Lakes water levels are being studied, isn't it also a problem when so little has been disclosed about a precedent-setting plan underway by a community outside the Great Lakes basin for the first diversion of Great Lakes water under the new Great Lakes Compact?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:57 PM
I expect that we will be hearing from Republican US Senators that Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotormayor should not be confirmed because she is out of the mainstream.
In some regards, she is certainly outside of the mainstream, since in the country's entire history, there have been exactly two female Supreme Court Justices - - Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg - - and none with Spanish-surnames.
Set aside the two African-American justices - - Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas - - and all the remaining justices have been white males.
So she's definitely outside the mainstream - - and it's about time.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:32 PM
It's been a while since we explored the magical mystery tour that also passes for a Journal Communications blog on several suburban news sites that has State Sen. Mary Lazich's name on it.
But let's note that the New Berlin Republican first said she didn't like the federal stimulus plan because it might "hurt Wisconsin" by making us too dependent on guvmint aid - - this posting - - but then complained that the money Wisconsin is getting is, unfairly, too little - - this posting.
If the problem is that federal stimulus aid makes us a dependent, would less money, or no money be better, so as to minimize our dependency?
Senator? Bueller? Anyone?
Posted by James Rowen at 12:32 AM
Sunday, July 12, 2009
A piece in Salon.com (that link might require a registering or wading through some advertising) argues that IKEA has many of the same flaws as does Wal-Mart.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:02 PM
The Journal Sentinel spent huge amounts of staff time, money and space in a shrinking paper last year to lay out the need for greater awareness and action about Wisconsin's serious drinking-and-driving culture.
Here is a link to perhaps the paper's most extensive series - - ever - - that featured at least one story from each of Wisconsin's 72 counties.
Few would think that there is an "other side" to this problem, but in the Sunday Crossroads section, the paper's in-house conservative, anti-Big Government columnist contorted himself into supporting some level of drinking and driving.
Granted, it's a column, so it's an opinion, and bless the paper for printing a variety of opinions, regardless of how intellectually challenged or downright goofy they may be.
The argument made is there may be automatic OWI detection equipment built into new cars down the line, and to err on the safer, less litigious side, that equipment might he set to block legal driving not quite at 0.08.
Here's the link.
(Wisconsin's typically American legal limit, at 0.08 BAC, is more generous that in other countries, so we already get a break - - but, really, why would we celebrate it? - - that other more thoughtful folk deem unacceptable. Examples - - in Hungary, Brazil and the Czech Republic, the BAC is 0.00; in Norway and Sweden, 0.02; Japan, 0.03; portions of Canada, 0.05.)
And consider that people who fly airplanes are not allowed to take the controls within eight hours of having any alcohol, and are considered legally-impaired if they were to test at 0.04 BAC - - because alcohol slows down reflexes and muddles judgement.
If we had to abide by those standards, drunk driving crashes would pretty much disappear.
OK - - you say driving and flying are too different to be compared. But take a head-on hit on the highway from a drunk driver, and the differences are suddenly negligible.
If you are on foot, or a motorcycle, the damage inflicted by a motorist at 0.04 can be fatal at 20 miles per hour, even less.
And how about this - - that same federal government that the Journal Sentinel columnist frets about has already established a national limit of 0.04 BAC as establishing legal intoxication for commercial truck drivers.
And 0.05 BAC shows up in laboratory tests establishing significant intoxication for motorists.
Begin to get the picture: 0.08 BAC is already pretty damn enabling.
But oh, baby: imagine the uproar if somehow Wisconsin's legislators freed themselves from the headlock they so eagerly allow the state's alcohol industries' lobbyists to apply and began merely discussing a state BAC legal impairment level for motorists at 0.04.
Or even 0.06.
And we'd see and hear all sorts of phony arguments about Prohibition II. - - which I can guarantee will come into this blog in comments from people who are not reading this carefully.
So here's what I think:
Just as government can establish speed limits and enforce them with radar that can fail electronically, so, too, should government mandate and enforce OWI statutes even if the emerging technology might sometimes suffer a hiccup.
Alcohol is a legal drug, but it is known to impair judgement, motor skills and reflexes, and I'd rather miss encounters with motorists who were really truly at 0.079, but their ignition devices had blocked the car's movement by mistakenly reading 0.08.
Besides: there is a way to get to the same, safer point on the roads without government action.
Truly responsible drinkers outside of their homes can find a designated or sober driver, and should have no problem with setting aside that pleasant glass or two of wine, cold beers or cocktails with their meals for ice tea of a soda instead.
People in other countries and often in this country do this routinely. It's easier than you might think - - a momentary and transitory bit of self-denial.
Think about the number of times you've passed on dessert at the end of a meal, for example. Maybe you really wanted a piece of pie or a sundae, but found any number of reasons to say "no."
Driving and drinking at so-called safe levels is inherently risky because it jeopardizes drivers' lives and limbs, and those of other motorists and pedestrians, too.
This is not a matter of defending the merits and appeal of social drinking, or building a case against Big Government as did the newspaper's columnist that is rhetorically inflated, and artificially paranoid.
It's a matter of being socially responsible, and if you can't or won't be enough of an adult to do it on your own, publicly-minded regulation will help get you there.
For your sake and mine. Your loved ones' sake, and mine, too.
Because driving and drinking do not mix.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:07 PM
Pass the organic veggies, please - - Canadian experts find many Great Lakes fish unfit for human consumption.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:37 AM
Saturday, July 11, 2009
You knew him as the long-time Milwaukee Journal and Journal Sentinel medical reporter: Sunday in Crossroads, from the North Woods, he is Neil Rosenberg, wildlife expert and social commentator.
The subject: why we don't need wolf hunting in Wisconsin, and I agree with his argument.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:56 PM
The cops in Crivitz, along with the local county DA, seized a flag on July 4th being flown upside down - - on private property - - by a US Iraq war veteran.
An upside down flag is a sign of distress: the flag owner was using the flag to signal his feelings of distress about his local government.
Hat tip to the Reasonable Progressive blogger - - a person unknown to me.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:38 AM
The coverup of mass executions of prisoners in Afghanistan.
Revelations of greater post-9/11 warrantless wiretapping and surveillance - - on dubious legal grounds - - than previously disclosed, though the programs' architects in the Bush administration are still refusing to tell investigators what they know.
The unraveling of the Bush government's secret policies, and their consequences, is going to take years, and the outcome will not be pretty.
The true face of the Compassionate Conservative's White House is an Abu Ghraib torture hood.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:21 AM
Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin explains how and why cities are good for the environment, and that means downtown development with transit connections.
This same battle is underway in Milwaukee, where bus service is failing, light rail or trolley service is blocked by an anti-urban alliance of suburban leaders and conservative talk radio hosts, and sprawl development and interstate highway expansion keeps moving people and resources farther from the downtown.
One of these days there will be a political agenda at the State Capitol that puts downtowns and cities at the top of a state political, environmental and employment agenda: which is another way of saying "Not Scott Walker."
[Disclosure: for the umpteenth time, I worked for both Madison Mayor Soglin (as administrative assistant, equivalent to Chief of Staff, and for former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, in several capacities, including Chief of Staff. I did not work for both Mayors at the same time, however.]
Posted by James Rowen at 4:52 AM
Friday, July 10, 2009
Some environmentalists are upset with Pres. Barack Obama and some congressional Democrats over compromises made to get the Climate Change bill (barely) through the House of Representatives.
Obviously, it's not a perfect bill, nor was it a perfect process, but the bill is a lot better than a do-nothing, Bush-era status quo.
And it will set down a foundation for additional legislation in the future.
You have to start somewhere; in this case, the half-to-60% of a loaf is a huge improvement and victory - - so since it's unclear whether even that can be approved in the Senate, people should work towards Senate passage instead of complaining that the win is not big enough.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:21 PM
A transit coalition believes the new state budget moves transit forward in Southeastern Wisconsin.
Though by the coalition's own admission, the budget includes a rental car fee to finance proposed commuter rail in the region that might not be acceptable to federal authorities reviewing the funding mechanism.
That could derail the three-county commuter line.
And the coalition acknowledges the Governor vetoed a separate Milwaukee County fractional sales tax - - approved in a countywide referendum - - designed to get a failing bus system off property tax life support.
On transit and regional cooperation needed to sustain and promote transit?
I think the opposite is true.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:48 PM
As a young undergrad in an earlier century at the UW-Madison, I flirted with a psychology major after taking a fascinating course in behavior taught by Prof. Harry Harlowe, founder of the UW Primate Lab.
After ten credits, I gave up on psych - - I had made good grades, but, alas, too much math loomed - - settled on Poli Sci, then English in a Master's program, but never forgot the late Prof. Harlowe and the long-term behavioral research he and his staff were and are doing.
I'm aware that not everyone thinks the Primate Lab is doing important, or even ethical work - - I want to acknowledge that animal rights' controversy without delving into it here - - but I am impressed with the release of findings today from the lab about the relationship of diet and calorie intake to longevity and disease prevention.
This is a huge issue: With a country and health care system sagging under the financial burden of epidemic diabetes and obesity - - especially in an the estimated 30% of US children born after 2000 headed into disease and early death - - the research should spur far more attention to diet as a fundamental preventative health measure and need.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:15 PM
More evidence that we have been trashing the world's largest supply of fresh surface water.
Posted by James Rowen at 5:00 AM
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Looking for political advantage in his quest to be the next Wisconsin Governor, and instead of trying to seriously participate in ongoing contract talks, Milwaukee County Exec Scott Walker has suddenly decided to propose a two-year wage freeze, reports the Journal Sentinel.
After first supporting wage increases.
Before he tried to impose a 12.5% wage cut in the form of a mandatory 35-hour work week.
This isn't serious and professional labor negotiation. It's monkey-wrenching.
It's not bargaining. It's spin, and there's more coming out of Walker and his office than you'd see at some State Fair rides.
Let's face it: Walker is as disinterested in governing Milwaukee County as was Sarah Palin in governing Alaska.
He wants out, but unlike Palin the Quitter, Walker wants a promotion.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:21 PM
Apparently this brand of activist insists on producing opinions that are just too darned detailed.
It seems she studies and reads and does all sorts of brainiac things that judges shouldn't be doing.
Couldn't Obama have found a nominee more like that wacky word warrior and thinkifier George W. Bush?
Posted by James Rowen at 10:08 PM
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) took great and public umbrage a little while ago when several environmental and civic organizations said SEWRPC's guiding Land Use Plan was outdated and inefficient.
Among the criticisms: the groups said the plan had enabled sprawl in the region, and because SEWRPC's draft water supply study was based on the Land Use Plan, the water supply study was similarly flawed, alleged the groups.
SEWRPC's website contains a four-page summary of the recommendations in the most recent iteration of the Land Use Plan. Here is a link.
Read through it, and answer me this:
What is the value of a set of policy recommendations about land use, environmental and ag land preservation, housing patterns, development and density and other related issues if the final document makes not one suggestion about getting the recommendations implemented other than to say that kind of work is up to other units of government.
In other words: SEWRPC has no plan or strategy or inclination to enlist the public to a) embrace the recommendations, and b)push for its recommendations' approval.
That, in fact, would require real, grassroots participation in setting SEWRPC's work plans, agendas, schedules and output - - and that is not where SEWRPC is coming from.
It works with a small group of consultants, advisory committees with many repeat members, and closed processes (no video or audio recordings, no streaming even) that leave the public out - - until the studies are completed, and pro forma comment sessions are tacked on at the end.
No: SEWRPC does not get involved in the heavy lifting of policy creation and approval.
It defines itself as a think tank, a two-story ivory tower tucked away in a Pewaukee office park, with real-world political (not partisan, but political) and organizing and outreach and public relations efforts left to others.
Ideas can be nice.
Studies done earnestly, over years, can have merit, too - - but without a plan to involve the public in a meaningful way from the beginning and then to get studies and reports off the shelves and into ordinance, statute or budgetary formats - - it's all just so much cotton candy.
Posted by James Rowen at 9:23 PM
This was the perfect day for light rail transit in Milwaukee.
There was an afternoon ballgame at Miller Park that ended during the rush hour.
More folks were coming east on I-94 to the lakefront to see the circus wagons.
Others were pouring in from all directions to the opening of Bastille Days, a street festival east of city hall at Cathedral Square.
But without light rail to get and among these destinations, people were forced either onto the bus, or into the cars.
I drove south on Highway 41 past Miller Park on my way to the East side at about 5:30 p.m. today, and the traffic moving west towards Waukesha County was a solid crawl.
The radio traffic news reporter said there were no accidents, but the travel time from the Marquette Interchange west to Moreland Rd. was a very slow 46 minutes.
And there was a long line exiting onto I-794 towards the lakefront, or towards Cathedral Square.
No light rail ride to any of these locations for anyone.
In 1997, conservatives-without-a-vision led by our brace of anti-city talk radio jocks, then-Waukesha County Executive Daniel Finley, and George Watts, the Milwaukee merchant who feared light rail would transport "strangers" to the suburbs, vetoed any more light rail study even though all stops in Waukesha County were removed from the plan.
So there is no light rail to move people in Milwaukee County (Waukesha riders could have parked at remote lots and ridden into the downtown or the stadium, too) through the city.
And here's the kicker for Waukesha County:
There is no light rail in place to mitigate the even worse traffic congestion that is scheduled from approximately 2012 through 2025 when I-94 is widened from Miller Park/Story Hill, through the Zoo Interchange and west across the rest of Waukesha County to the Jefferson County line.
That's because all that short-sighted, small-minded, anti-urban thinking cost everyone in Milwaukee County a modern transit choice, and prevented Waukesha commuters from a sleek ride in and out of town.
You prefer orange barrels and lane closures?
And the coming increases in state borrowings, probable tolls and other new "revenue enhancers" to pay the needed billions to support all this unsustainable road-building?
You'll be having it all.
For a longggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg time.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:37 PM
The insanity continues.
Wisconsin keeps on spending money on highways it doesn't need and can't afford - - like the $1.9 billion I-94 freeway widening and rebuilding from Milwaukee to Illinois that is not justified by traffic counts - - so the debt the state has just keeps on growing.
Like drug addicts trying to manage their illnesses by switching substances, or finding cheaper dealers, legislators and lobbyists are trying to find the magic formula to get their hands on new billions of dollars while avoiding the inevitable political backlash their schemes - - tolls, higher fees, new taxes, fresh borrowings - - will provoke.
I'm waiting for one bold politician to stand up to the highway lobby, and on behalf of our heavily-taxed populace say there will be a moratorium on new major road projects.
And that every project on the books will be reexamined, by outside accountants and experts if need be, to sort out what is needed and affordable.
Federal stimulus financing in the hundreds of millions of one-time aid has kept some projects afloat, but like the one-time tobacco settlement that the state blew a few years ago, the stimulus money will come and go.
But the state's debt burden will not.
So let's start by saying:
1. Every small town in Wisconsin the size of Mineral Point does not need a broad multi-million-dollar bypass.
2. Pabst Farms does not need that absurd $25 million full-diamond interchange to serve a glorified strip mall and a few new Homes 'R Us big boxes - - none of which may ever be built.
3. I-43 south through Walworth County does need to be widened to six lanes.
The most hypocritical of the state's binge spenders on concrete are so-called conservatives in the legislature.
They talk a good game about cutting taxes and trimming spending, but when it comes to the state highway budget, they work hand-in-glove with lobbyists and contractors to ship more tax money for roads in and near their districts.
Remember Assembly Majority Leader John Gard, (R-Peshtigo)? Big-time conservative - - except when it came to his pet project, the widening of State Highway 41 through his rural northeastern state district, which he demanded be put in the state budget.
Same for State Senator Ted Kanavas, (R-Brookfield). Huge, outspoken fiscal conservative - - except for his pet project, the hurried widening and rebuilding of the Zoo Interchange, which is going to break the bank at $2.3 billion.
If these legislators were serious about fiscal discipline, they would turn off the spigot and inject sanity into a state budget process that is splashing more and more red ink onto future generations because no one has the courage and common sense to say "no" to the concrete lobby.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:10 PM
How that squares under any logic - - see the fourth line from the bottom of this chart - - with Milwaukee's dying bus system is beyond me.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:06 PM
More news on the regional wind power front - - involving a Wisconsin utility's plan to build a 122-turbine wind farm in Minnesota.
Update: Wisconsin's Public Service Commission gave its approval Thursday afternoon to the proposal by Alliant Energy's Wisconsin Power & Light subsidiary.
The deal is expected to win approval in Minnesota.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:25 PM
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I posted an interesting paper yesterday by a UW-M grad student and Public Policy Forum Fellow about how tax incremental financing is being used and abused in southeastern Wisconsin.
Too much of the specialized borrowing authority is being sopped up in upscale suburbs, like Oconomowoc, where TIF dollars are not being spent on blighted land (e.g., Pabst Farms) - - with negative consequences in the form of job and capital migration away from genuinely-underdeveloped property in Milwaukee.
On the other hand, word comes today that the City of Milwaukee has finally made a deal to acquire and redevelop the virtually-dormant former Tower Automotive site on the city's low-income near North side.
After the property's acquisition, a TIF district will be created around the 84-acre parcel, with increased tax collections on neighboring sites and the Tower property itself resulting from new public investment being used to pay back the TIF/redevelopment lending.
That is precisely what TIF was intended to do, and where it was supposed to work - - in cities, and in low-income areas, and certainly on blighted property - - capturing the TIF-generated tax base growth and creating jobs.
So kudos to the city and the property owners - - working out the deal was a long slog to be sure, and certainly there will be an extended developmental timeline, too, because the property needs much amelioration - - but in a city that is land-locked by law and unable to expand through annexation, this sort of reinvestment through stragetic use of TIF is beyond crucial for the city's economic success.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:41 PM
WISN 1130-AM rightie talker Mark Belling was weighing in on wind power Wednesday afternoon.
Down-playing its value as opposed to nuclear energy and fossil fuels, (no mention of conservation), opined Mark - - but then he got all aesthetical and artsy-fartsy with his audience, declaring wind turbines to be "brutally ugly...as ugly as sin."
Really? I think they are majestic. Futuristic. Sleek.
And he poked fun at "lefties" whom Mark predicted would object if turbines were placed on Madison's "beautiful lakes."
All this from a guy who thought that the Potowatomi Casino should have been built on Milwaukee's lakefront.
I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though consistency gives pleasure, too.
Posted by James Rowen at 6:32 PM
This isn't your father's WMC, I suspect.
Posted by James Rowen at 3:38 PM
Something of a fare war is underway between Lake Express and the SS Badger, according to Michigan media.
The Badger, still burning coal, has been given three years by the EPA to switch fuels. The news that the Badger has switched to cleaner coal may not satisfy the EPA, which wants an end to flushing the ship's boilers into Lake Michigan.
The Badger's operators have said they do not think the procedure is bad for the lake.
Posted by James Rowen at 1:40 PM
Looks like people are beginning to see through the light rail opponent Randal O'Toole.
It's thinking like his that keeps modern rail transit upgrades off the table in Milwaukee, contributing to a stunted local economy, dirty air, traffic congestion and overall regional stagnation.
Posted by James Rowen at 12:32 PM
Mark Benson writes to radio station AM620 to express sorrow and remorse for the high-profile triple homicide car crash he caused in Oconomowoc - - but is still raising doubts about whether he was intoxicated and says others could have prevented the crash.
That undercuts his statements of remorse and responsibility - - denial being an awfully strong internal directive in the face of such grievous negligence.
Here is the text of his letter.
The bigger picture: will Wisconsin lawmakers grasp the horror of that crash and scores like it that happen routinely in our state, and institute law enforcement, treatment and education reforms to try and reduce drunk driving and alcohol abuse in Wisconsin?
So far, the alcohol lobbies and inertia are winning this battle, as legislators spin and parse proposals so as not to offend the offenders.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:28 AM
Hospitals reach a money-saving deal with The White House, as did drug companies earlier.
These deals should mean more support for a public health care option; saying these deals constitute enough reform is flawed thinking and bad policy.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:15 AM
You can sound off a listening session on the state budget and our city and region's public transit tonight, Wednesday July 8, from 6-8 PM, at South Shore Park Pavilion, 2900 South Shore Drive.
Posted by James Rowen at 8:45 AM
Even a pause in rising global temperatures does not contradict the trend: still important to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
I heard Mark Belling jibjabbering as El Rushbo's fill-in host Monday saying that conservatives need to block climate change legislation to prove that Obama's agenda can be thwarted, so after climate change lawmaking is blocked, it's on to health care, etc.
This raw-edged rhetorical obstructionism does nothing for the country except get the Right cranked up.
And who needs that?
Posted by James Rowen at 4:58 AM
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Midwest Environmental Advocates, a public interest law firm, has raised several objections to an air quality permit under consideration by state environmental regulators for the Pabst Farms shopping mall (delayed, and once-cancelled, fyi), pointing out that it is impossible to predict the traffic and resulting air pollution to be generated because the mall planners have yet to announce which stores will be mall tenants.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Well, not really, say the experts, citing the reliability of a computer model and some old-fashioned jargony mumbo-jumbo.
More information - - here.
The MEA raised other objections and questions, but I am predicting that the permit will be issued under the state agency's review-and-dismiss operating procedure.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:20 PM
Tax incremental financing has been a useful, but sometimes controversial and even badly focused development tool in Wisconsin: For example, look no farther than the $24 million in public TIF dollars spent to turn productive farmland in Oconomowoc into the planned, and now floundering community and commercial center known as Pabst Farms.
Now comes a new report issued by the Public Policy Forum on the subject showing that while TIF can add value, it can also pull resources out of a city like Milwaukee.
Reminds me of the problems with water transfers from one watershed to another: what also gets transferred are water management problems, too.
Another interesting finding: what was designed as a development aid to help struggling communities is now getting heavy use in growing successful municipalities, too.
Could TIF often amount to just another gob of corporate welfare?
Details here, and the full, eminently readable report - - something of a rarity given the technical nature of the subject matter - - is here.
Posted by James Rowen at 10:50 PM
The Journal Sentinel discloses that Wisconsin offered GM a $200 million aid package to reopen the Janesville assembly line for new, smaller car production.
But Wisconsin lacks the tax incentives that Michigan could offer, so the new plant went there - - and since Michigan is home to GM and some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, it is not a huge surprise that GM picked Michigan over competing states.
Posted by James Rowen at 4:49 PM
Nothing is more enervating than a trip to the Milwaukee County Courthouse - - once a premier piece of public space and architecture in these parts that is now shabby and forlorn.
The building's magnificent eastern face is a now a closed, locked entrance: security routes visitors to the southern doors facing Wells St. - -past a dry fountain and the clutch of smokers in front of the "smoke-free building signs."
But back to the closed area: a few years ago the Indian community in Milwaukee paid for a beautiful bronze statue of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi near the now-closed entrance, and there is a little India-America mini-park by the statue.
But the grass on the India-America park is as weedy and cigarette-butt littered as is the rest of the 'grassy' areas on the courthouse/public safety civic plaza.
It's a foreboding square block with an empty reflecting pool and crumbling pavement so completely barren that former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist joked that it would be the appropriate spot for executions if were ever legalized in Wisconsin.
Even the Gandhi statue, like the rest of the grounds, is covered with bird poop.
Facing the trashed statue and the locked doors, the courthouse - - a public building that we own - - looks abandoned.
Like much of its maintenance, dignity and spirit.
Posted by James Rowen at 11:06 AM
With relatives in South Dakota, I've made the drive there from Wisconsin for decades, and in recent years watched the addition of wind turbines along I-90 across Minnesota.
Just returned from July 4th festivities in South Dakota, and the growth in wind machines dotting the landscape across Minnesota north and south of the interstate highway is nothing short of phenomenal.
In each of the scores of turbines visible from the highway, I see more than renewable energy being fed into the grid, which in itself is proof that green power generation is achievable, now.
I see manufacturing, installation and maintenance employment, too.
Makes me wonder why our neighbors to the northwest are so far ahead of Wisconsin in getting so much of this new industry into the ground, and people onto the payrolls, too.
Is it the tax structure, or is it a can-do attitude about energy and the economy, or both?
One industry source says Minnesota leads the states in electricity generated by wind power - - 7% of Minnesota's total, and growing.
In a relatively new industry - - not bad.
And just as Americans are getting serious about climate change, cleaner air and trimming foreign oil purchases - - awfully prescient.
Minnesota is also years - - light years, I am tempted to say - - ahead of Wisconsin in electrified transit, too, as Minnesota light rail is up and running in the Twin Cities.
Another 11 miles of new rail is just getting underway, according to Minnesota Public Broadcasting.
The Twin Cities new sports stadium in downtown Minneapolis will be served by light rail.
While our Miller Park does have bus service, there is no light rail to Milwaukee's ballpark because light planning was killed in 1997, setting up more traffic congestion to and from Miller Park on 81 home game dates each and every year.
We laugh along with Garrison Keillor about Minnesotans, rag on their football team and say their weather is worse than ours, but when it comes to public policy, we could learn a thing or two from Minnesota.
Update: Maybe the Texan T. Boone Pickens is out savior?]
Posted by James Rowen at 6:35 AM