Monday, March 31, 2008

One Jobs' Question At Murphy Oil

Murphy Oil Co. touts the several hundred jobs it would create at an expanded refinery in Superior.

But if Murphy's president hadn't received a 2007 total compensation increase of 26% to $8.8 million, there might be even more jobs there - - or at least something approaching salary rationality across-the-board, doncha' think?

Murphy Oil, Post-Katrina Spillage, Still Making Enemies In Louisiana

Hard to believe, but Murphy Oil Co. is still riling neighbors not recovered from the massive Katrina spill.

You folks in Superior, and at the Wisconsin DNR, taking all this in?

Butler-Gableman Contest Puts Us At A Crossroads

Wisconsin's reputation is on the line Tuesday, inextricably tied to the outcome of the ballot contest between incumbent State Supreme Court Louis Butler and challenger Burnett County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gableman.

That's because Butler, an African-American jurist, has been subjected to misleading, even racist attacks as part of the plan to remove him from the Court.

Should Gableman win, validating reprehensible tactics of sympathetic outside groups and his own campaign committee as well, Wisconsin's already thinning reputation as a fair and progressive-minded state would be erased.

I've noted the irony of the Butler-Gableman faceoff taking place in the context of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, where the US Senator from Illinois has been undercut by his own pastor, the Clintons, and former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro as he tries to conduct a ground-breaking adult national conversation about race in America.

It's painful that Gableman, who should certainly know better, had at the same time aired, then stood by his slimy race-baiting, Willie Horton-style television ad - - a commercial so misleading that even right-wing talk show Charlie Sykes, a Gableman supporter, said it should be pulled.

Though Gableman's ad played the race card, blatantly, on the offense and offensively, without provocation, the candidate stood by the ad and didn't take it down.

Many editorial writers and bloggers too numerous to list have blasted Gableman over the ad.

It was even noted by Newsweek.

The most precise of the Wisconsin critics was Isthmus' Bill Lueders who wrote that Gableman's double-embrace of the ad should be a disqualification from holding any judicial office in Wisconsin.

The documented ploys unleashed to get Gableman onto the Circuit Court bench, then into contention against the eminently-qualified Butler, by corporate attack-ad funders, have been just as cynical.

If those tactics are validated in a campaign accurately labeled "a new low" in state judicial contests by 34 Wisconsin judges - - something of an unprecedented "no confidence" decision handed down by judges statewide - - the Wisconsin Supreme Court, our justice system and the state's image will be indelibly marred.

So the State Supreme Court election on Tuesday will tell us a lot about who we are as a state.

Are we still the state with an identity forged by the La Follettes, or civil rights giants like Gaylord Nelson, Robert Kastenmeier, Percy Julian Jr, and Father James Groppi?

Or will we stand revealed to the nation as the time-warped Northern reflection of 1950's-era Mississippi, or Georgia, or Alabama, where, in 2008, Jim Crow was resurrected by some shameless corporate power brokers on the Right to boot the state's only African-American jurist off the State Supreme Court?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

One Milwaukee County Supervisor Makes Sense On Water, Other Regional Issues

4th District Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Patricia Jursik provided the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with the following outstanding letter published March 28th:

"Regional cooperation

"The March 24 article on the Great Lakes compact, "State struggles on where to draw the line," highlighted the political stakes for counties like Waukesha in the water debate, which raises another interesting issue: regional cooperation.

"Waukesha often has been a reluctant partner at best with Milwaukee County in transportation and employment.

"In Milwaukee County's last budget, Waukesha's cooperation was lost in maintaining a shared bus route to Brookfield Square, even though many employers in Waukesha County wanted this service.

"More recently, state and county leaders attended a meeting that included state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) to explore regional growth obtained through maximizing the services of Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee County.

"Waukesha cannot have regional cooperation only when it suits Waukesha County.

"The Great Lakes basin is a natural boundary first. It is only a political boundary through the efforts of politicians such as Lazich and Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford).

"When Waukesha County and other out-of-basin communities embrace true regionalism, their commitment to cooperation through conservation and respect of the natural environment will be a welcome sign of regionalism.

"Patricia Jursik
Milwaukee County Supervisor, 4th District

Why Do Some Commentators Trivialize Nazis?

And in the case of a Franklin blogger showcased at the Journal Company's site, smear Wisconsin workers at the Department of Natural Resources, and the agency itself, with the Nazi label.

Kevin Fischer, the aforementioned blogger (and fulltime staff aide to State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin) can you explain yourself?

In a discussion of water parks, what is the purpose of this line?

'The Wisconsin wing of the Nazi Party, the DNR did get involved..."

(Full text, below at bottom, fyi.)

We've heard this before over on the Right side of the radio dial, too.

Rush Limbaugh calls feminists "feminazis," and AM620-WTMJ talker Jeff Wagner calls anti-smoking activists the "anti-smoking Nazis."

Is it sick humor (sic)? Ignorance? Sheer stupidity?

Has "Nazi" become just another all-purpose political synonym for "people I don't like?"

Full text of Fischer blog posting;

This Just In...Kevin Fischer is an award-winning veteran broadcaster who has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for nearly three decades. Kevin, who is a legislative aide to state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, “INTERchange,” on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, in Franklin.

Illinois fights back in the waterpark wars

By Kevin Fischer
Friday, Mar 28 2008, 08:15 PM

In most cases pitting developers vs. obstructionists (usually environmentalists run amok) who stand in the way of business, jobs, and progress in general, I typically come down on the side of the developers who perform a common good.

Sure, they stand to make money, but they open the doors for many others to profit. It’s called capitalism, folks.

Despite previous mischaracterizations of my philosophy, I understand a certain degree of time is needed for review, negotiations, permitting, etc., but not an eternity.

Unlike the Franklin Target fiasco that became an endless protest over how often Windex would be applied, there is an honest-to-goodness developer vs. environmentalists case unfolding in Wisconsin that is truly compelling and worth debate.

By way of introduction, head south about 45 miles to Gurnee, the Brussels of the Midwest.

Last month, a new $135 million Florida-themed waterpark called KeyLime Cove opened along I-94 across from the Gurnee Mills shopping mall.

The resort has 414 rooms and suites; the waterpark is 65,000 square feet.

What is your strategy if you just put up a waterpark in Gurnee, Illinois?

You tell Illinois families to stay put.The Chicago Tribune is onboard with a recent article headlined, “Why go to Wisconsin when KeyLime Cove is just 45 minutes away from the city?”

Sure, Wisconsin Dells is the waterpark capital of the world, but Tribune reporter Chris Jones writes, “You still have to pay your tolls and drive about 200 miles. Why not jump straight in the water instead of sucking down fumes on the torturous tarmac of the jane Addams Memorial Tollway?”

The rest of Jones’ article relates the many problems he and his family encountered at a just-opened resort that hasn’t worked out all the kinks yet.

What’s my point?Our neighbor to the south, that just happens to have a much healthier business climate than we do, has just opened a sparkling, spanking brand new resort/waterpark aimed at directly competing for our customers and the dollars they spend.

Here in gigantic slide country, we have waterparks on top of waterparks, but we too are poised to open a sparkling, spanking brand new resort/waterpark, except…………….a bunch of environmentalists have filed lawsuits to try to stop it. (I swear, these people must be an absolute riot at parties).

Plans are in the works to build a $160 million condo/hotel complex, the Grand Cambrian, complete with waterparks, in Wisconsin Dells.

The location is the sticky point, in the pristine, historic lower Dells, right next to a state nature area.This isn’t about whether there will be a place to sit outside Target so I can have my latte and danish and discuss how consistently wonderful Kevin Fischer’s blog is.

We’re talking the lower Wisconsin Dells. Environmentalists reacted like the Tasmanian Devil, literally screwing themselves into the Dells turf.

One of their grievances is that the top floors of the resort will be still be visible to horrified and shocked boaters and canoeists on the Wisconsin River (And I don't think there's a support group for people subjected to this horror).

The Wisconsin wing of the Nazi Party, the DNR did get involved.

(“Now we’re getting somewhere” thought the litigious mob).

Those nasty DNR folks went and approved a permit, with some restrictions.

We’re not done, shouted the busybodies. We’ll go to the state Department of Commerce.

And on and on it goes.

No table and chairs or coffee and crullers will make them go away.Seriously, as I mentioned earlier, this particular case has some interest because it does involve some of the most beautiful natural landscaping in the entire state.

But enviros go too far, throwing themselves on the tracks of economic development.

Meanwhile, in Gurnee, you hear that sucking sound? Those are Wisconsin dollars being scooped into the Illinois coffers.Developers vs. obstructionist environmentalists?

Not even close. Mark me down again with the developers.

Wisconsin Continues To Send Mixed Message On Drunk Driving

Law enforcement officials know that first-time (as in finally-caught) drunk drivers are the largest category of arrested OWI offenders, but the state has recently ramped up the penalties for those arrested a 7th, 8th, and 9th time.

It's good to protect innocent people on the road by throwing the book at habitual offenders.

They are a menace.

But Wisconsin still gives many offenders a pass by treating their eventual, and predicatable first arrest with a ticket, not with a criminal charge.

Would we treat discharging a firearm into a crowd as a civil offense, with a ticket, and only criminalize the behavior if it happened again?

What's the difference?

In the hands of a motorist driving while intoxicated, an automobile or truck is a deadly weapon aimed, with speed and force, at unsuspecting people.

With a weak first-offenders' law, Wisconsin enables drunk drivers to put the public at major risk, with only a civil penalties - - a citation, alcohol dependency assessment and license revocation - - as the consequences when and if they get caught.

A first DWI should be criminalized.

That means mandatory jail time, a whopping fine and a lengthy license suspension - - at least a year.

Anything less doesn't get offenders' full attention or produce a lasting impact.

An accident caused by a drunk driver, first-time or otherwise, absolutely has lasting impact.

Highway 164 Update, And Another SEWRPC Story

The good folks in Waukesha and Washington Counties trying to deal with an obnoxious four-lane road expansion through their front yards and the Kettle Moraine are still in court, seeking redress.

Their coalition update is here.

Keep in mind that when the widening of Highway 164 north from I-94 was proposed, 7,000 people signed petitions against the project (the number of project opponents is now up to 15,000) and turned them into the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission.

Those signatures went into SEWRPC's reflexive 'react and dismiss' procedure, and the project was approved.

Waukesha Blogger Shares WMC Resignation Letter

Jim Bouman, blogging as Water Blogged in Waukesha, decided to protest the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's far-right policies by writing a letter of complaint to a business whose CEO and President sits on WMC's Board of Directors.

Bouman patronized the business, TDS Metrocom, as a subscribing customer.

The TDS Metrocom official is David Wittwer.

At his blog, Bouman shares the letter he got back from Wittwer disclosing his resignation from the WMC Board.

Bouman's direct action is certainly a heckuva model.

Endorsing Scott Walker, But For No Good Reason

The Journal Sentinel endorsed Scott Walker for another term as Milwaukee County Executive.

So failure is an option after all.

Too strong for some of you?

Look no farther than the ongoing breakdowns at the jail and House of Correction, in the parks, the pension system, and the transit system.

All failures, and getting worse.

Walker is not a visionary, or a leader, or a problem solver.

He's an unimaginative one-note (tax freeze) tactical politico, a willing tool of talk radio, a place-holder waiting his turn to run for F. James Sensenbrenner's Congressional seat.

He got elected in 2002, despite an undistinguished career as an anonymous GOP Assemblyman from Wauwatosa, because the Ament administration corrupted itself out of office.

But Walker has not been the breath of fresh air he promised he'd be, and basic county services, like the parks and the transit system, are worse than they were when Walker took over.

And continuing pension system malfeasance is simply unacceptable.

Little wonder that county government is living on credit, and teeters towards financial bankruptcy.

Lena Taylor is an attorney and State Senator. Her credentials are more substantial than Walker's.

She would have been a breath of fresh air, and a fresh start for the county and local politics.

The paper got this one wrong.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Huge Corporate Farms Exempted From Toxic Air Emission Rules

We city folk may not realize it, but farming operations are getting bigger and more hazardous - - and wouldn't you know it? - - state and federal regulators (sic) are exempting these mega-farms from operating and reporting rules governing toxic emissions.

Wisconsin environmental organizations are joining a national effort to mandate cleaner and more transparent farming operations so that surrounding residents can breathe cleaner air and know what the hazards are.

If you were living down the street from a chemical plant, or a business of any kind with a belching smokestack, you'd expect and receive better protection from state and federal clean air officials.

But if you live out in the country, with 7,000 dairy cattle down the road, the government is less interested in the quality of the air you breathe.

Those double-standards make little sense, and as consumers of farm production, we should help our rural neighbors in the quest for environmental justice.

Waukesha Freeman Features Shorewood River Conservationist

Ann Brummitt gets her The Freeman.

Why Does Conservation Make Some Conservatives So Mad?

What is it about conservation, done voluntarily, that gets some conservatives (note the irony in the label) so upset?

I posted a little item the other day about a worldwide effort this evening - -being carried out willingly by citizens, governments and businesses alike - - wherein people will turn off their lights for an hour to demonstrate an energy savings.

Meaning that for that one hour - - 60 minutes, tops - - a lot of natural gas, oil and other energy resources will be used somewhat more sparingly, leaving a bit more for everyone to access another day.

One blogger calls it the vomit of the day, and writes that the last fifteen minutes of that blogger's day has been spent turning on all the lights in her house.

Why all the anger? No one is forcing anyone to do anything. It's completely optional.

I don't get it.

Saturday morning update;

It's working!

Sunday update:

The blogger whom I cited above has posted an answer.

It's a fascinating read - - headed way out on a tangent, or around the bend, turning a mild-mannered original few words about something voluntary into a screed about freedom.

Where "hate," "bitterness," "disgust" and more anger and emotion almost drip off the screen.

Again, about something that was completely optional.

It's about as rational as finding out that a group of people chose to go on a diet - - their diet - - and you shout, "hands off my salt-and-pepper shaker collection!"

Midwest Oil Refining: A Matter Of National Security, Or Oil Company Security?

While Wisconsin waits for Murphy Oil Co. to submit its permit applications to expand by seven-fold its Superior oil refining capacity across an unprecedented 400-500 acres of wetlands, those backing several of these projects in the US Midwest are defining the question along national security lines.

And taking shots at environmental organizations that argue that the resulting air and water pollution that accompany such refinery activities will harm, not help, national resources.

National security? Depends on what you include in the equation, don't you think?

Murphy Oil's impending expansion at Superior to handle the controversial Canadian tar sand crude - - gouged from the Canadian north in a blowout sacrificing vast quantities of energy and water resources - - is but one of several such projects.

(Peruse a Canadian website devoted to information about tar sand oil and all the implications of its removal, here. (

Some history of Wisconsin's preliminary work with Murphy on the developing project, pre-permitting, is here - - and explains Wisconsin's noticeable silence in 2007 when other Great Lakes states' officials, particularly in Illinois, were confronting British Petroleum's expansion at Whiting, IN, to process a share of Canadian tar sand crude for refining.

Marathon Oil is expanding its Detroit refinery for the same reason; all these projects, and no doubt others in the lower 48 states ,will require vast networks of new pipelines across hundreds of miles of farm, forest and wetlands to move the crude in, and refined products out.

As the great scarring to get at the oil continues in Alberta - - requiring so much energy to extract it that there has been talk in the business media, citing corporate sources, about possibily building a nuclear powerplant nearby.

Proponents are framing the issue around job growth and now, national security.

Conservation? As Dick Cheney famously said, a personal virtue, but certainly no guide for national policy-making.

The oil expansionists are omitting from their national security calculus the jobs lost in alternative energy R&D and production if all the new billions are poured into the oil economy.

They are overlooking the damage to other water-based commerce, such as commercial fishing and tourism.

Not to mention the cleanup costs when the inevitable air and water pollution occurs at pipeline breaks, from smokestacks, or in everyday refinery operations.

In a word, it's sustainability that they disregard: environmentally, economically, politically, even diplomatically, as, sooner rather than later, Americans in the Great Lakes region are going to object to all this Canadian crude spilling into the US Upper Midwest.

And Canadians are not going to like the pollution from refineries wafting across and into the Great Lakes and beyond - - after coming to grips with the environmental disaster unfolding in the Alberta tar sands region.

And was this what the work on the Great Lakes Compact was all about?

Years negotiating an agreement on water quantity protections, only to begin intentionally jeopardizing the quality of those same waters?

And for Wisconsinites and their neighbors who love Lake Superior, here is a specific, bitter irony:

Local, state, federal and Murphy Oil officials have begun touting the positive effects of a multi-million cleanup around the Superior refinery that was years in the making.

What a bizarre time to put all that in jeopardy - - proving that if you don't have a broad view of what constitutes the national (dare I say, an international, or two-nations' interest) - - you will disregard huge opportunities, sustainable benefits, and in Superior's case, even your own recent history.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Trashed By 34 Other Judges, Gableman Says He Is Proud Of His Campaign

Saying that he is "proud" of his widely-condemned campaign - - including a broadside launched by 33 current judges and one retired State Supreme Court Justice who called it "a new low in judicial campaigns in this state" - - Mike Gableman might be the worst candidate to ever run for Wisconsin's high court.

And that's paying Annette Ziegler a compliment.

People And Congressional Power Are Moving To Where The Water Isn't

Census figures show the US population still booming in the warmer, even arid, portions of the southwest and west.

And while that defeats commonsense and available water resources, too, it continues to drag with it Congressional delegation members from the shrinking Great Lakes region.

Including Wisconsin.

If the Great Lakes Compact stalls through intransigence in Ohio and Wisconsin, the more populous and dryer regions of the country will come after Great Lakes water.

You can bank on that.

And if there is no Compact in place, the Congress, with our lessened representation, is more likely to let the water loose to their larger constituencies down South and out West.

I wonder if those Waukesha Republican legislators and their allies on the outer fringes of reality and politics in Ohio understand this?

Dim Your Lights For One Hour, Join A Worldwide Action

Earth Hour, 2008, is a worldwide movement organized around a simple principle and act:

Turn off your lights for a mere hour, at 8 PM this Saturday, March 29th, to demonstrate that energy can be conserved through painless, coordinated effort.

Video and information here.

Fatal Attraction: Waukesha Will Get Big Bucks For Milwaukee Autopsies

Now here's some regional cooperation for ya:

FRIDAY, March 28, 2008, 1:15 p.m.By Scott Williams

Waukesha plan would help Milwaukee ME

Waukesha - Milwaukee County would get temporary help handling death investigations at an estimated cost of $464,000, under a deal advanced today by a committee of the Waukesha County Board.Waukesha County is considering helping its neighbor because of sudden turnover in the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office.

Two top officials in the Milwaukee County office have vacated their positions in recent weeks.

The Waukesha County medical examiner's office is offering to provide assistance for up to six months, anticipating nine autopsies a week from Milwaukee County at a cost of $2,000 each.

Milwaukee County would be required to cover all such expenses, as well as the cost of providing pathologists to testify in court, if needed.

The deal still must be ratified by the full Waukesha County Board, which is scheduled to consider it April 8.

Gableman's Shaming Expands

More than thirty Wisconsin judges have condemned Supreme Court candidate Mike Gableman for airing an outrageously misleading television commercial.

Their statement is here.

Their main point:

"Judge Michael Gableman has released a television ad which, in our collective view, marks a new low in judicial campaigns in this state … Gableman has exceeded the boundaries of fairness, honesty and integrity for candidates running for judicial office."

For the record, here is the list of judges signing this stunning statement:

Fmr. Justice William Bablitch, Wisconsin Supreme Court

Presiding Judge Paul B. Higginbotham, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District IV

Presiding Judge Daniel P. Anderson, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District II

Judge Charles P. Dykman, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District IV

Judge Joan Kessler, Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District I

Judge Dominic Amato, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Carl Ashley, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Dorothy Bain, Marathon County Circuit Court

Judge David Barowski, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Andrew Bissonnette, Dodge County Circuit Court

Judge Patrick Brady, Marathon County Circuit Court

Judge Karen Christenson, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Dennis Cimpl, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Jeffrey Conen, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Thomas Cooper, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge John Damon, Trempealeau County Circuit Court

Judge John DiMotto, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge M. Joseph Donald, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Thomas Donegan, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Ramona Gonzalez, LaCrosse County Circuit Court

Judge Glenn Hartley, Lincoln County Circuit Court

Judge John Hoffmann, Waupaca County Circuit Court

Judge Raymond Huber, Waupaca County Circuit Court

Judge Charles Kahn, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Philip Kirk, Waupaca Circuit Court

Judge Mary Kuhnmuench, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Edward Leineweber, Richland County Circuit Court

Judge Patricia McMahon, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Marshall Murray, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Dale Pasell, LaCrosse County Circuit Court

Judge William Pocan, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Mary Triggiano, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Timothy Van Akkeren, Sheboygan County Circuit Court

Judge Paul Van Grunsven, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Judge Jeffrey Wagner, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

The AP story about the judges' condemnation does not mince words, either.

Check out the lede:

"More than 30 judges say a dishonest campaign ad by Judge Michael Gableman has tarnished the entire judicial system."

Keep in mind that Gableman is a judge and is seeking a seat on the state's highest court.

A substantial number of his colleagues statewide are saying he's not fit.

I was among the large numbers of commentators who had attacked the ad.

It's the most offensive ad I've seen in all the years I been in and around political campaigns. In addition to its misleading content, it brought JIm Crow and Willie Horton-style race-baiting back to Wisconsin.

And it's important to remember that while some of the harshest ads in this race have been paid for and aired by outside groups, the commercial being condemned by the judges was "authorized and paid for" by Gableman, and his committee.

That's a crucial distinction, and should Gableman loose, the ad will rise to the top as "Exhibit A" in that suicidal campaign's post-mortem.

Righty Blogs, Attack Ads Flub The Facts

Jay Bullock says he's found basic research errors in the Right's latest attack on Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler.

If Jay is right, and Right is not right, somebody's gonna get sued, since the facts in dispute involve lawyers, their identifications and ethical behavior.


Scott Walker's Continuing Pension Scandal

The Journal Sentinel's Dave Umhoefer blows the whistle on more pension scandal - - bad news for County Executive Scott Walker.

Put this together with Walker's persistent red-ink budgets and you have to conclude he's no manager at all.

Getting harder and harder to watch his TV commercials with a straight face. You know he's just wishing next Tuesday could come a little faster.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

State Sen. Alberta Darling: Low-Key Campaign, Or Bowing Out?

Rumors are circulating among very reliable sources that State Sen. Alberta Darling's low-key campaign for re-election to her North Shore seat may, in fact, be signalling an intention to call it quits.

State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, (D-Milwaukee), has been running flat out against the River Hills Republican incumbent for months, plodding through the worst winter in any living person's memory and hitting more than 10,000 doors.

Darling, by contrast, is scheduling small sit-downs with constituents, and some Republicans are nervous that without a vigorous defense, the seat may default to Wasserman and add to the Dems Senate majority.

Time will tell if Darling is in or out, or if another GOP option emerges - - regardless.

Doyle Energy Independence Plan A Good Start

Gov. Doyle's Energy Independence initiative is a good start, focusing state R & D money into alternative energy activities.

The state has solid educational, agricultural, bio-mass and forest products sectors, plus ample wind, wave and water resources, that together can help develop and bring energy alternatives to market.

At the same time, the state has to get away from its emphasis on corn-based ethanol production and move towards the non-corn, cellulosic alternatives.

Like grasses and wood chips.

Corn-based ethanol may be money in the bank for corn growers, but its bad in the long run for energy and water consumption, and bad right now for consumers as the price of corn products skyrocket.

Corn is too valuable to grow and put into gas tanks. And in a hungry world, not defensible.

Other Communities Work Harder Resolving Thorny Transit Issues

Out east, they're struggling with the details of something called "congestion pricing" - - a system of fees laid on motorists who drive into already congested urban areas.

The fees are supposed to help expand transit, and clean up the air, too.

London has instituted it: New York City is experiencing some bumps on the way, but they'll work things out.

Anyone who's been to Manhattan knows how insane the congestion can get, which is why transit there has always been a must, and why improvements are logical and crucial.

Milwaukee isn't anywhere near needing congestion pricing, so all you folks out there - - the proverbial Mike from Germantown who burns up the AM talk radio airwaves demanding that every new fee be annihilated can relax.

What Milwaukee does need, however, are two interrelated things:

Better transit, and a dedicated funding source to pay for it.

A documentary film is in production on the subject: check out the trailer on its website.

Without expanded transit lines, whether buses, trolleys, light rail or the guided-rail tram knows as The Connector, the city will experience more traffic congestion, dirtier air, hamstrung businesses, and inaccessible tourist destinations if alternatives and upgrades are not implemented.

I think funding could be formulated with a combination of dedicated, fractional sales tax increases paired with equivalent property tax reductions, and additional state transportation funds peeled off major highway plans.

With gasoline heading ever higher, transit will become a greater need for more people, while some drivers will be priced out of their cars, if only for a few trips a week, making transit a bigger need for larger numbers of people.

If more people use transit, the roads become less congested for motorists, so everyone wins.

There has been a little movement on the transit issue, with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) taking new leadership on finding a funding strategy that will make the Milwaukee County Transit System sustainable.

There has been widespread support for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter train because regional business leaders understand that the region needs better links with Chicago.

A major impediment to transit alternatives has been the reflexive intransigence of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, and that's disappointing, but it will be market forces that will eventually drive Walker to accept transit and funding solutions, lest he preside over the collapse of the system that is under his control.

I don't think he really wants that to happen on his watch, or his resume, because if it did, major media would come into Milwaukee and write Milwaukee County government's political obituary.

New York's difficulties implementing congestion pricing to aid transit there show that city's commitment to solving transit dilemmas.

If New York and New Jersey can work their problems out, you'd think Scott Walker could find some common ground with the City of Milwaukee, the MMAC, and other public and private sector groups and leaders who understand that without better transit, Milwaukee and the surrounding region will stagnate.

Dave Dempsey Has A Few Ideas For Reopened Compact Negotiations

Great Lakes author Dave Dempsey weighs in on the Waukesha-inspired notion of reopened Great Lakes Compact negotiations with a few ideas of his own.

Many thanks, Dave.

And why not? If everything's on the table, everything's on the table, right?

As I said the other day regarding those Waukesha and Ohio claims that the Compact needed 'just a few minor tweaks,' be careful what ye wish for.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

One Pollster Finds That John McCain Is Having A Great Month

The Rasmussen agency determines that McCain has benefited while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton remain in their standoff.

It's not a new discovery, and it's just one pollster's snapshot, but the various data are interesting.

Compact Killers Are Gearing Up in Ohio

The same small band of naysayers and corporate water carriers who tied up the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin's State Assembly are doing their thing in the Ohio State Senate, according to Ohio media.

Their leader is State Sen. Tim Grendell, mentor to Wisconsin State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin).

Both argue that the Compact should be sent back to the eight Great Lakes states that took four years to negotiate it and 28 more months to approve it - - though Grendell's key demand, brought to a State Capitol study committee by Lazich last year, was labeled irrelevant to state law here by Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources water experts.

An indeterminate period of further negotiations would add years in which the Great Lakes remain vulnerable to mismanagement.

And would no doubt tick off the other states that have worked more productively than Ohio and Wisconsin to bring the Compact through their legislatures and into their statutes.

Renegotiation opens up everything.

Lazich and Grendell cannot control exactly which portions of this lengthy agreement get modified once the Compact is back on the table.

And that could hurt some municipalities if renegotiation led to horsetrading, compromises and power plays that, for instance, could remove one key exemption inserted specifically to help communities at the edge of the Great Lakes basin in Wisconsin and Ohio, like New Berlin (ironically, Lazich's home town).

The exemption grants them easy access to Great lakes water - - a benefit not accorded to those communities under current federal law.

That's why New Berlin Mayor Jack Chiovatero wants the Compact, under which only Wisconsin and not the other seven states could vote on a diversion application.

It's a privilege in the Compact just for communities that, through accidents of geography, literally straddle the boundary of the Great Lakes basin.

Chiovatero is the one with the grassroots water supply problem to solve, and regulatory consent decrees to honor - - but get this:

He is being fought by Lazich, his own State Senator, and the entire Waukesha County legislative delegation.

All of whom are Republicans, by the way, (the mayoralty is a non-partisan office) taking their talking points and marching orders from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and pretending, like Grendell, that the changes they want in renegotiations they don't control are minor only.


One change they seek is letting fewer states approve out-of-basin applications for water to help relatively more distant municipalities like the City of Waukesha win diversions.

Because all eight Great Lakes share control of the waters, current federal law and the Compact require those distant communities to obtain the states' unanimous approval.

Since the procedure is already in the federal law, and gives the states protection against unwise diversions of waters they all share, why would any of them give it up?

Do Lazich and Grendell not know how to read the very simple federal statute - - the Water Resources Development Act of 1986?

Are they forgetting that the makeup of state legislatures and governors' offices can change, with perhaps more sustainability-minded decision-makers calling the shots?

Do they not know that both Akron, Ohio and Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin did win the unanimous diversion permission for diversions, after careful planning and skilled interstate communications?

Or do they not know how to count to eight, recongizing that one is a smaller number for New Berlin, and that a five or six will not satisfy the other seven who have nothing to gain by making up rules just to help one or two of the states?

Letting a community like Waukesha obtain water with only a majority of the states' approval would be like asking the other National Football teams to allow the Green Bay Packers to make a first down with only six yards.

Grendell and his counterparts in the Wisconsin legislature are not interested in helping New Berlin's Mayor solve his water and regulatory problems, or in at least winning a set of standards and application procedures for Waukesha that improve on the Federal legal process.

Waukesha's mayor Larry Nelson (in another non-partisan position) supports the Compact as it was approved by Wisconsin's State Senate on a bi-partisan, 26-6 vote.

Somehow Lazich and Grendell know what's better for Waukesha than the Waukesha Mayor? Or the New Berlin Mayor?

Here is the truth about these so-called minor changes allegedly availabe through quickie renegotiations among eight states from Minnesota to New York:

The naysayers prefer the game-playing side of politics, turning the Compact into a political football to keep away from Democratic Governor Jim Doyle.

There's the pleasure.

For Lazich, or State Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem), or key Assembly natural resources committee chair State Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford), the Compact is an opportunity for speech-making and cozying up with the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce and other special interests.

Legislating on behalf of local taxpayers and Great Lakes preservation - - things which are not mutually exclusive if you are serious about your job?
Nah - - let's play the partisan, special-interest game.

And if they were to win this renegotiation, and New Berlin lost its favored diversion status - - approval by only the home state, not all eight or even a majority - - or if the diversion rules got toughened for Waukesha and other more distant communities, Lazich and Grendell could ask for another round of negotiations.

Ice Shelf The Size of Connecticut Close To Collapse

Ahh, that global warming stuff is all propaganda. There's no evidence...wait...what? A mass of ice the size of Connecticut is about to break apart in Antarctica?

Whew...I was was afraid you were going to offer some evidence about global warming. Like I said, it's all propaganda.

Isn't there some news about Britney Spears we can talk about?

UW-Downtown Gets More Publicity

UW-Downtown, or UW-Tosa, as the site for the school's engineering campus?

The downtown gets some needed publicity and visibility for its website:

Some of the downtown's benefits: Transit access, housing, amenities, job opportunities, proximity to Marquette, Milwaukee School of Engineering.

A good cup of coffee.

The city.

And so on.

An earlier post, here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dane County Organizing For Butler; In Milwaukee, Not So Visibly

Dane County politicos - - it's a liberal stronghold - - are getting organized on behalf of incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, and want you to know about it.

An impressive list of endorsees was made public, and that's good because it feels like Milwaukee liberals are taking a more relaxed approach to the campaign and Madison seems to be showing the way.

I could be wrong. I don't get out much.

But I do know that right-wing talk radio is carrying water for challenger Michael Gableman, and it's aimed at a suburban audience in Milwaukee and the surrounding counties that tends to vote regularly, and conservatively.

An audience that is eating up Gableman's vicious ads and others paid for by millionaire funding from self-interested business groups like the Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

AM620 WTMJ morning righty talker Charlie Sykes told his listeners this morning that he would introduce a separate anti-Butler issue everyday until the April 1st election: liberals have no counterweight to conservative talk radio that dominates the region's two largest AM stations all day and all night.

In that regard, thank goodness for all the NCAA basketball and spring training baseball that can get on the radio.

Butler will do well in Dane County - - neutralizing Gableman's votes in Waukesha County, the state's GOP heartland - - but Butler will need a strong showing in Milwaukee County to counteract the Gableman turnout up north.

A sparse turnout in the City of Milwaukee could lead to a Gableman upset.

So Milwaukee activists: look to Dane County and ramp it up on behalf of Milwaukee resident Louis Butler.

Eugene Robinson: Concise And Correct On Iraq

I've become a big fan of Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post columnist, not just through his writing but through his always-informative appearances on Keith Olberman's cable news and commentary program on MSNBC.

Robinson's summation of the tragedy of the Iraq War on the occasion of the 4,000th US military death is certainly worth a read, and for those of you unfamiliar with Robinson, a solid introduction.

Look Again To Chicago-Area Planners' High-Visibility Outreach

I have been posting for the last few days about SEWRPC, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, using its under-the-radar appointment of a new Executive Director as just the latest example of its disregard for genuine public input into its operations.

Summary here.

In one post - - here - - I highlighted the differences between SEWRPC's online and outreach operations with those of CMAP - - the newly-upgraded Chicago area regional planning commission, which like SEWRPC, covers a seven-county region that includes the state's most populous city and county, as well as growing suburban areas.

CMAP is launching a comprehensive, open, results-oriented, publicly-influenced effort to create a plan for its region.

It's got a separate website with details, here.

Can you imagine SEWRPC being able to pull something off like that?

Or being interested enough?

Or, in light of its insiders' process to hand-pick its next leader, and history of dismissing citizen input having the credibility to sell such outreach to the very public it keeps excluding?

Is It Cute When White Pundits Play With Black Officials' Names?

I don't keep complete records on these kind of things, but when I heard Charlie Sykes ragging this morning on "Loophole Louie Butler," it reminded me of his earlier habit of calling former Milwaukee Public Schools Board member Leon Todd "Laptop Leon."

It was an oh-so-cute reference to Todd's long-ago proposal to give every MPS student a laptop computer - - a plan that went nowhere within the system, as I recall, but which wasn't a proposal unique to Milwaukee.

And Butler is on the State Supreme Court. Is there no respect left on the Right?

The righty bloggers who take their cues from Sykes have picked up the Loophole nickname, too.

Example, here.

And a new Club for Growth anti-Butler TV ad is built entirely around the nickname, which it says Butler labels affectionate.

Oh - - I get it: the Right is using it to be nice to Butler.

We'll hear more of that all week leading up to the April 1 election: Sykes told his audience this morning that he will introduce a new anti-Butler theme everyday until the election, focusing on Butler's supposed anti-business proclivities.

Those Club for Growth - - Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce - - Right-Wing talk radio connections are getting easier and easier to spot.

But back to their fixation on Black officials' names... blogger Kevin Fischer, who also works full time for State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), and is the go-to fill-in host for two WISN-AM 1130 talk radio programs (man: how does he manage those hours?), likes to refer to Barack Obama as Barack Hussein Obama.
In this March 24th posting, Fischer recounts a liberal blogger's attack on Obama.


But the blogger refers to "Barack Obama," while Fischer adds "Hussein" in his own lead sentence when introducing the other blogger's text.

How come?

Then you have this item, with a bold-faced headline: Yes, Barack Hussein Obama Is A Racist.

Is this super-technical due diligence journalism, wherein the writer uses subjects' full names, though the only place you see this style routinely used is in law-enforcement documents?

Apparently not.

In this blog example, again with "Barack Hussein Obama" in the bold-faced headline, Fischer displays the full, name-playing double-standard.

The blog posting is a horse-race round-up of opinion about where the campaign stood at the time, discussing and referencing opinion about John McCain - - no middle name by Fischer, while he ID's Hillary Clinton merely as "Clinton."

Only Obama gets the middle name treatment.

This repetition of "Hussein" throughout Fischer's blog is cheap and classless, and as deliberate an act of denigration as are "Loophole Louie" and Laptop Leon."

But because it enables Fischer to wield an irrelevant fear-mongering club against Obama - - Hussein = Middle East/foreigners/Muslims/Saddam - - it's even sleazier.

So here's the question, fellas:

Why do you guys like to fool around so much with the names of Black public officials?

The SEWRPC Executive Director Hiring Process Was Limited Years Ago

Ken Yunker's ascension to the position of SEWRPC Executive Director was basically a done deal before last week's fait accompli hiring 'decision.'

No surprise, perhaps, given the agency's leadership hiring history and insularity from the public that pays its bills.

The real surprise:

The hiring move by the executive committee of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission last Thursday without a search or public vetting process was pretty much guaranteed a few years ago, according to a source with direct knowledge of the hiring events.

The executive committee was told at its meeting that current executive director, Philip Evenson, 68, had indicated several years ago, on more than one occasion, that he wished to retire - - but the agency prevailed upon him to remain in office until certain projects were completed or on their way to a conclusion.

The source indicated that as Evenson was pressured into remaining, Yunker, the deputy executive director was more-or-less-told - - but not formally promised, the source said - - that if Yunker stuck around he'd get the job when Evenson and the agency agreed the boss could quit.

Like Yunker, Evenson had been the agency deputy, then was moved into the Executive Director position when the long-term SEWRPC Executive Director, Kurt Bauer, moved to emeritus status in early 1997.

Members of the executive committee, liking Yunker's work and also feeling loyalty to their deputy, the source said, were thus even less to conduct a search and screening to find the next Executive Director.

Additionally, the uncertainties involved in any executive search, plus the desire for continuity and a belief that the SEWRPC salary structure would not automatically lead to a big applicant pool (Evenson receives $$125,000 annually, plus an automobile, and standard public sector benefits), naming Yunker as the Executive Director position was a fait accompli, the source reported.

One informative ancedote about how Yunker can interact with the public, and critics, is here.

As I've said repeatedly on this blog over the last week - - the way SEWRPc filled the position - - no public involvement, virtually no notice, etc. - - is the way you'd expect a private business to operate.

Not a taxpayer-financed governmental body that already has considerable credibility and image problems tied to its avoidance of genuine outreach.

It will be interesting to see if SEWRPC now adopts a real hiring process to fill Yunker's soon-to-be-vacant position, and for the next change at the top. Yunker is 56, so with past practice as a guide, that should happen sometime around 2017 or afterwards.

It will be further interesting to see if SEWRPC's continuing lack of accountability will have ramifications with the counties that dutifully send it taxpayer contributions annually, or with pressure groups, including the SEWRPC-created Environmental Justice Task Force.

That body, citing its mission to involve low-income and other disadvantaged groups in SEWPRC affairs, had asked the agency to hold off on making the executive director hiring purely administratively, without public input.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More Political Ad Fakery: I Blame Scott Walker

No - - we're not reprising Michael Gableman's misleading ad that claimed Justice Louis Butler, when only a public defender, freed a criminal.

Milwaukee County Exec. Scott Walker gets the credit for this whopper, with Xoff blowing the whistle.

His campaign filmed a perfect cross-section of purported Walker supporters and put them in a TV spot - - when in fact, they're actors.

Earlier, the campaign had told The Journal Sentinel the people in the ad were all bona fide Milwaukee County residents.

Or not.

What's a little, er, mistake when it comes to County politics.

Sorta like those budgets Walker fabricates each year.


Or not.

What's a few million bucks either way, a little red ink, blown projections, or cost figures whipped into spreadsheets like so much magic, or cotton-candy?

If you feel the credibility of your local government slipping away, you can blame Scott Walker.

He came into office as a reformer, but reveals himself to be a phony.

Only one term fits: Hypocrite.

Retiring School Superintendents Get Golden Parachutes

The next time you read something about outrageous benefits for frontline public school teachers, pull up this story from your archives about retiring school superintendents who get boatloads of cash and benefits above and beyond even what had been called for in their contracts.

Some are simply moving into new jobs, not retiring from the profession and public payrolls.

As in the private sector, the disparities between those at the top and those at the bottom are hardly justifiable.

On-Line Gun Dealer Wants To Arm Students Against His Next Crazy Customer

Shades of The Onion:

The Green Bay online gun and paraphernalia dealer who inadvertently helped arm the two most recent campus mass-shooters now wants students to be able to carry concealed guns on campus.

To protect themselves against mass-shooters.

Stop the madness.

Today's Journal Sentinel Story On Water Begs One Major Question

State Sen. Mary Lazich tones it down significantly in her remarks in today's front-page Journal Sentinel story about the Great Lakes Compact - - no tirade, no ranting about totalitarianism and dictatorships - - but one question hangs over the story like a August thunderhead ready to break:

If her arguments against the Compact had merit, why did the body in which she serves - - the Wisconsin State Senate - - approve the Compact 26-6, with eight of her 15 Republican Senate colleagues voting "aye?"

The answer: Those 26 bi-partisan members were grounded in reality, while the others were playing partisan games or living in Neverneverland.

If she couldn't even sell her views to her own party, especially her plan to send the Compact back to multi-state renegotiation for major changes dismissed in the four Great Lakes states that already have approved it - - why should a reader think her ideas have any chance of resurrection now?
It's like making the case that the Milwaukee Braves should come back to Milwaukee.

That train has left the station.

Lazich continues to want so-called "majority rule" put into the Compact for water diversion approvals by the eight Great Lakes states to communities like Waukesha.

But wanting is one thing, and reality is another.

Across-the-board observers as diverse as then-Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager (2006) to the conservative Waukesha blogger Jim Widgerson last week have separately pointed out - - a unanimous approval from all eight states is the diversion approval procedure already etched into Federal law.

No state is going to give that up, and Wisconsin should not argue for it, since Wisconsin would be giving up its right to block a badly-designed diversion that could hurt the Great Lakes, too.

Lazich and others should also be careful of majority rule.

Sounds good (does she support it at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, SEWRPC, where the City of Milwaukee has no commission seats, but little Walworth and Ozaukee Counties each have three) but...

Is it a majority of those eight states, or a majority of the people in the those eight states?

Take majority rule to its logical, one-person-one-vote conclusion, and the states of Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania or Michigan could out-vote Wisconsin and Waukesha County any and every time.

What Mary Lazich wants and what the rest of the Great Lakes region and the Wisconsin legislature are going to do are very different things.

And thank goodness for that.

Soglin Is Correct: The State Journal Essentially Endorsed Gableman

With the incumbent Justice Louis Butler under racial attack, and a challenger who has dissed the legal profession and voting public with a misleading ad, Paul Soglin correctly says that the Wisconsin State Journal's cowardly non-endorsement elevates only the challenger, Michael Gableman.

Newspapers that decline to endorse in these circumstances only enable negatives campaigns to succeed.

Boston, Seattle Learning A Few Tricks From Milwaukee; Lessons Lost At SEWRPC

As Wisconsin blunders ahead on the next phase of its $6.5 billion freeway binge in Southeastern Wisconsin - - the brainchild of the regional planning commission's one-dimensional transportation (read: " highways") focus - - cities like Boston and Seattle are looking at simpler, less-expensive and city-friendly models.

Interestingly, those models are informed by Milwaukee's successful tear-down of the underutilized Park East Freeway ramp that led to millions in new development and that has opened up the Milwaukee River and linked the downtown to the North side.

Poor Boston: After suffering through gaudy cost overruns and at least one motorist fatality during the mess known as The Big Dig, it now turns out that $15-$19 billion in maintenance is going to have to come from the public to keep the rest of the state's highways from crumbling.

Talk about bleeding the public to support an essentially unsustainable system.

By the time that the freeway reconstruction plan in southeastern Wisconsin is finished, the Marquette Interchange will no doubt be ready for another fix and expansion and the highway Merry-go-Round in our rail-free city will deliver another trove of public dollars to the road-builders.

More information about to better integrate comprehensive transportation planning with city development is found at the Congress for the New Urbanism website, here.

Business, Not Smoke, Rising At Smoke-Free Restaurants

Larry Sussman of the Journal Sentinel finds that business is good at two suburban restaurants that recently went smoke-free.

Of course, you wouldn't want the government, which establishes health codes throughout the culture, to do anything pro-active with this matter.

How The New SEWRPC Executive Director Designee Dealt With One Citizen: A Case Study

How might citizen input be handled at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), now that the agency has selected long-time Deputy Director Ken Yunker as its next executive director?

Here's one little case study (and a previous posting, here.)

It was about a year ago that Patrick Marchese, an engineer and former leader at the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage Commission, gave a PowerPoint presentation at a meeting of the SEWRPC water study advisory committee.

The presentation suggested that the Public Policy Forum have a role in regional water policy planning: Marchese was a member of a Forum task force on water policy, and had SEWRPC's permission to give his presentation.

The Forum's work on regional water policy has found editorial praise from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as an example of regional cooperation with broad participation - - but that's not where SEWRPC is coming from.

It wants to be in charge, period, and anyone else having the temerity to offer any help gets dissed.

Yunker waited for Marchese to finish and then delivered to Marchese a tounge-lashing before the committee, claiming that the Public Policy Forum's group somehow had been operating arrogantly by not communicating better beforehand with SEWRPC - - as Yunker saw it.

Talk about inside-baseball taking precedence over the public interest.

Not to mention treating disrespectfully a member of the public whose presentation was scheduled.

I was at the meeting.

And in all my years attending public meetings as a reporter, or as a citizen observer, or as a local government official in both Madison and Milwaukee, I had never seen a member of the public treated by a government body that way - - especially a committee member scheduled to speak.

By a committee staffer!

Not long thereafter, Marchese, who had been trying to push the water advisory committee to broaden its focus past the parameters sought by the staff and other committee members, submitted his resignation.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Lead Paint Case Led To Gableman Candidacy

The Associated Press lays out the case that the opportunistic Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, irked at State Supreme Court Justice's Louis Butler's pro-plaintiff opinion in the landmark lead paint liability case, helped create Michael Gableman's candidacy.

Which has since been steered towards sexier, scarier crime issues as a more likely route to victory.

Pretty cynical, as the crime focus has led to race-baiting, especially if you've got several million bucks to pour into Gableman's campaign.

Georgia's Water Schemes Echo Across Waukesha, GOP Leadership

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dan Egan reports at length from Georgia, where sprawl, population growth and resource overuse have dangerously drawn down the region's water supply.

And where politicians are going to wierd lengths to try and get their hands on water, including moving Georgia's borders to captures some water in Tennessee.

It's not a new story, but there's ample reason for the paper to send its water expert for some first-hand, page-one reporting.

There are parallels to the Waukesha County situation, as noted on this blog.

Having overused their resources, Waukesha political and business interests keep trying to rewrite a Great Lakes water management Compact already approved by four of the region's states to guarantee that Waukesha gets special access to the Great Lakes.

And invariably, these special interests call their 11 th-hour meddling minor tweaking, when in fact they want to undo years of negotiations that risk scuttling the Compact altogether.

Current federal law mandates that such water transfers be approved by all eight Great Lakes states, so the eased rules sought by Waukesha won't happen.

In 2006, the City of Waukesha pursued an even more audacious strategy: telling Gov. Jim Doyle in two confidential Lake Michigan diversion proposals (discovered through an Open Records request) that the Great Lakes basin boundary visible on the surface - - the subcontinental divide running atop Sunny Slope Hill and throughout much of eastern Wisconsin - - was something of a mirage.

The real basin boundary that controlled the city's legal right to Lake Michigan water, Waukesha argued, was beneath the ground, with unseen underground tributaries already connecting Waukesha to Lake Michigan.
In other words, Waukesha argued, it was already in the Great Lakes basin.


With these connections already in place, so the city argued, Waukesha was entitled to grandfathering and 24 million gallons of Lake Michigan water a day, with no need to return a drop.

Gov. Doyle did not approve the applications, and the City of Waukesha says it has abandoned that back-door grandfathered activity and argument to pursue other strategies - - but they still can't shake their pattern of closed-door maneuvering, putting its credibility continually at risk.

So before we here in this region chuckle at wacky efforts in Georgia to find more water, remember that we've got boundary-movers and agreement-amenders and others tinkering with the Great Lakes right here.

Chicago-Area Planning Agency Much More Open Than SEWRPC

The seven northern Illinois counties recently recreated, updated and improved their regional planning commission and the differences with SEWRPC's 1950's model couldn't be more striking.

Two planning commissions. Both made up of seven counties.

One takes its public planning role seriously.

The other, ours, behaves like a private consulting firm.

Compare their websites.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) site is interactive and detailed.

SEWRPC (the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission) - - boring site here - - likes to operate in the shadows, where technocrats meet and have little use for public participation.

The SEWRPC website - - its window to the world - - is a deliberate turnoff.

CMAP's, by contrast, is a trove of data, publications, video, links, and graphics that draw you in and encourage you to surf around, learn something and get in touch with employees for more information.

For goodness sake, it even carries the Executive Director's blog.

With comments!

A couple of years ago, I suggested to SEWRPC's now newly-designated Executive Director, Ken Yunker, that SEWRPC record its committee meetings and put them on the internet through streaming video.

Like so many suggestions to SEWRPC from the public, it went to planners' purgatory through "react and dismiss." (A recent example, the dismissal of all the comments received unanimously opposing the interchange for the Pabst Farm mall.)

And a blog by the SEWRPC Executive Director?

As the kids say these days by text, LOL.

And remember, it was Yunker who laid in the weeds at a meeting of the agency's water advisory committee, waited for a citizen member to finish a scheduled PowerPoint presentation that suggested another public policy group could have input into regional water policy-making - - then delivered a tounge-lashing before the committee that lead to the member's resignation.

History, here.

One more thing:

While SEWRPC filled its executive director position using closed doors and stealth, CMAP keep the public informed.

Including posting information about the hiring and candidate search process, mentioned on several occasions easily found in the CMAP site search function.

Example here.

The questions to SEWRPC:

Is this so hard?

Is it the money? Then stop buying your top staffers and consultants large American sedans and put that saving into technology for the public.

Stop doing things like forking over $73,000 to a consulting firm for the as-yet unimplemented suggestion to change your lengthy name from Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to The RPC of Southeastern Wisconsin.

True story. Thank you Gretchen Schuldt, July 16, 2007.

What do you have to hide besides throwing money away?

You still don't even post your commissioners' biographies. Some of them have been on the Commission for years, decades. Who are they really, and what do they do?

And to the county officials who keep including SEWRPC operating dollars in their annual budgets and shoveling them out to the agency's inaccessible offices in Pewaukee.

What are you getting out of this arrangement that is good for your taxpayers?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

State Bar Committee Finds Pro-Gableman Ad Misleading, Deceptive

The more we read about Burnett County Circuit Judge Michael Gableman, the more we understand that he should never have been made a judge, let alone be positioned for the Supreme Court.

His campaign, bought and paid for by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, is an attack on the law itself.

Agreement To End Pay For Lawbreaking Cops Was Well-Timed

Good thing the deal included loss of pay status for certain misdemeanors, I'd say.

Brookfield State Senator Lauds Twin Cities - - Light Rail A Big Success There

State Sen. Ted Kanavas, (R-Brookfield), lauds the Twin Cities and Minnesota as models for Wisconsin to emulate.

I guess that means Kanavas is a big supporter of the Twin Cities' wildly-successful Hiawatha train system, the very sort of modern rail that Kanavas' party has kept out of Milwaukee.

The Twin Cities rail system has stimulated the construction of more than 7,000 housing units, as people and business builds along the routes, and ridership in the new system has already exceeded the pre-construction estimates for 2020.

Details here.

SEWRPC Says It Remains Neutral: So Is Transparency Political?

SEWRPC officials tell the Daily Reporter that picking a new Executive Director from within - - without public input and virtually no notice - - maintains political neutrality.


By excluding the public from the process, it merely reinforces the status quo, as SEWRPC acknowledges - - wherein corporate types keep their firm grip on their power and hone their connections.

That imbalance is inherently political. And while technically non-partisan, is there little wonder then that Republicans feel comfortable with SEWRPC's suburban, politically-conservative mindset?

Mall Development, Sprawl Development Work Against The Great Lakes Compact

Some nice connections made here by Franklin, WI blogger Greg Kowalski.

Must be suburban blogger day here.

Milwaukee Rising Blog Joins The SEWRPC Blogswarm!

Gretchen Schuldt, having struggled for years with SEWRPC's attitude and process (sic) over highway issues, takes note here of the agency's decision last Thursday to name its next Executive Director in secret.

Blogger In Her Own Backyard Deconstructs Mary Lazich

I noted the last throes argumentation against a regional water agreement delivered the other day by State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) that her home town sorely needs.

Now the more conservative Waukesha County blogger James Widgerson continues to deconstruct Lazich's stance, here.

Frankly, Widgerson's method of turning Lazich's so-called arguments against her is almost too painful to read.

And his post on SEWRPC's closed-door hiring of a new Executive Director is worth a read, too, here.

More on SEWRPC's self-inflicted wounds, here.

SEWRPC Makes The Case For Its Own Demise. II

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission defied and poisoned its taxpayer-paid public planning mission when it completed three weeks of secret efforts with Thursday's closed-door selection of its next Executive Director, Kenneth Yunker.

[Note: this posting has been updated since 3/20, and is being reposted as a second take, II]

The agency's Executive Committee, an unelected arm of the unelected 21-member full commission, made the decision.

The committee makes up the inner-circle of a closed loop.

Not accountable through elections or normal political procsses, the committee shuttered itself in SEWRPC's Pewaukee office building's off-limits conference room, made the appointment, turned the final contract details over to an even more-obscure subcommittee and headed off to a holiday weekend while the news filtered out to the serfs who gathered a safe distance from the castle walls.

And "filtered out" is fair comment on the way the Journal Sentinel reported the agency's decision - - during what was ironically during the mainstream media's "Sunshine Week."

As it has done previously with some SEWRPC reporting, the paper carried a full account of the hiring decision in the paper's relatively small Waukesha edition's front page of the B, or local section.

That suggests the paper considers SEWRPC primarily of interest just in Waukesha County, not equally across the full seven-county region, or in Milwaukee County, which pays the largest share of the SEWRPC budget's operating funds each year.

In the main edition which includes Milwaukee, a briefer version of the story was placed by the paper in a metro section column of news bits inside on B-2, not far from "Easter egg hunt is rescheduled" in Germantown.

Yunker has been the agency's Deputy, so is being moved up administratively to the agency's directorship without a single public meeting, hearing, advertised search or interview procedure to justify the selection.

What a lost opportunity to bring the agency into the 21st century - - a matter I began to lay out here a couple of months ago once I began to hear that Evenson wanted out and a once-in-a-generation chance for SEWRPC change began looming.

Oddly, the Executive Committee made Yunker's appointment effective in January, 2009 - - so if there is more than eight months left in current Executive Director Phil Evenson's tenure, what was the rush to nail down Yunker's selection, and wasn't there ample time to search the country for candidates?

It's as if the agency wanted to make sure no one could force it to do a search, or gather local input, thus firmly isolating the new Executive Director from the outside world.

Talk about being sent out into a wider community already distrustful of government, and cynical about SEWRPC, yet completely stripped of credibility.

Once SEWRPC's intentions to choose and promote Yunker behind closed doors were made known - - in part through several postings on this blog - Evenson told the Journal Sentinel that the agency wasn't required to have a public process.

Which speaks volumes about how this 100% publicly-funded, seven-county planning agency functions, how it sees itself relative to the people who pay its bills. how far behind the times it really is.

There are libraries and archives galore at SEWRPC, but someone has snipped the words "disclosure" and "transparency " and "participation" from its dictionaries.

Two conservative bloggers have taken note of its questionable process, or lack of it, in picking Evenson's successor.

Chris Lato, here.

And James Widgerson, here.

Examples abound beyond the way the agency chose to bar the public from SEWRPC leadership selection.

SEWRPC finds it easy to shelve public comment through what planning professionals call "react and dismiss," in this case, the unanimously-recorded objections by citizens to fast-tracked highway spending for a special interchange to service a Pabst Farms' shopping center in western Waukesha County.

And it acquired its $4 million office building from one its favorite consulting firms without competitive bids - - details here - - a clear example of SEWRPC telling the taxpayers who pay its bills that the agency prefers to behave like a private business that makes its own rules .
I've argued for years that SEWRPC, by its actions, operates more like a special interest organization, like a suburban Chamber of Commerce, as opposed to a genuine public agency.

It pushes highway building for road contractors, and aids farmland conversion in the suburbs and exurbs for developers who also want roads for home buyers (not apartment dwellers).

That'll be the ultimate payoff in its three-year regional water supply study, another insider-dominated SEWRPC effort.

Close to a conclusion, that study will recommend - - its lead consultant is the same firm that sold SEWRPC its headquarters, and is also advising New Berlin on its Lake Michigan diversion application - - surprise! - -wide use of Lake Michigan water throughout the region, distributed by a new regional water authority, perhaps SEWRPC itself, or an agency it helps to create.

For the road-builders, developers, sprawl-seeking municipalities add SEWRPC's staff and consultants, the water supply study recommendations (which through more behind-the-scenes governmental alchemy become policy - - just you watch), will produce the regional rainbow's perpetual pot of gold.

So this is the right time for the counties, virtually mandated to pay SEWRPC's operating costs through a quiet property tax shift every year, to bring those payments to a close on behalf of the everyday taxpayers who gets nothing in return except the back of SEWRPC's hand.

Just strip those payments - - $2 million a year from the seven counties total - - out of the 2009 budget plans and either dedicate those dollars to another project - - pothole filling, perhaps, or just return them to the taxpayers who have been ripped off by SEWRPC long enough.

SEWRPC wants to behave like a private firm, then let it go out into the marketplace and fight for funding like the real private sector.

If it can raise the money, then it can go about producing studies and pitching them into the public square and see if anyone wants to buy in. We'll see just how valuable that work product really is, or whether the public wants different plans that mean something for everyday people:

Like open space, clean beaches, affordable housing, green development, transit that compensates for high gasoline prices, and more.

But let's stop paying the freight and giving SEWRPC the right to do all this work on land use and transportation, water and development, housing and telecommunications, with the public's imprimatur all over them.

Counties can pay for the planning services they need on their own, or in true partnership with each other.

They don't need to be paying for an autocratic agency that tells them to drop dead, but expects a perpetual bequeath in the will.

Small Business Times Surveys The Entire Great Lakes Compact Debate

The headline, meant to grab attention, is unnecessarily fearful, but the content is extensive in this Small Business Times piece about the Great Lakes Compact.

Friday, March 21, 2008

An Attorney/Judge Withholding Records During A Campaign Has A Fool For A Client

Mike Gableman is withholding records sought under an Open Records request for documents.

That is a strange campaign strategy for a candidate for the state's highest court.

Details here.

Dodge County DA Pulls Support For Gableman Over Ad

The Dodge County District Attorney has withdrawn his campaign support for State Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman, joining the critics of Gableman's now infamous and misleading Willie Horton- style TV spot.

Gableman continues to defend the ad.

Gableman Race-Baiting A Dry Run For Anti-Obama Ads

I'm sure that national rightist 527 groups and the GOP are closely watching Mike Gableman's Supreme Court campaign to see if his notorious race-baiting ad helps defeat incumbent Justice Louis Butler.

They will use it as a measure of just how brazenly they can play the race card against Barack Obama, should be win the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Right has to be happy now that Willie Horton-type ads are back in vogue.

Entire "Colbert Report" Program Thursday Dedicated To Water

All the comedy/satire aside in last night's episode, make sure you watch the final fascinating interview and water purification demonstration with eclectic inventor Dean Kaman.

Program link here.

Lazich's Last Gasp On The Great Lakes Compact

She's still trying to block a water agreement that would help her hometown get Lake Michigan water, State Sen. Mary Lazich, (R-New Berlin), tells the Small Business Times that Wisconsin legislators should partner with agreement obstructionists in the Ohio legislature dubbed "the lunatic fringe" by that state's leading newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The agreement passed the Senate over Lazich's objections, is stalled in the State Assembly, and may yet be approved there in a special session that would mercifully bury Lazich's Ohio strategy.

State Rep. John Richards, (D-Milwaukee) gets it right.

Spooner Newspaper Calls Out Renegade Republicans

Wisdom from the northwest corner of the state:

The Spooner Advocate calls out the two Assembly Republican renegades who are holding up the Great Lakes Compact in Wisconsin.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

No Money For Transit Or Potholes - - Billions For More New Highways

Bus ridership in Milwaukee County, falling.

Pothole expenses, rising.

Rail transit, non-existent.

Common complaint - - not enough money.

But the state is forging ahead with its $1.9 billion rebuilding and expansion of I-94 between Milwaukee and Illinois, all to squeeze a few minutes off that 38-mile commute.

Wisconsin's transportation problem is not a money shortage.

It's an idea shortage.

Xoff Raises Scott Walker's Profile

Scott Walker is engineering a huge pay raise for himself.

Now there's a political candidate who must be feeling pretty good about his chances, but is it the right thing to do, since Milwaukee County taxpayers' money is involved?

Walker is the Milwaukee County Executive.

Bill Christofferson, the blogger known as Xoff, explains what it means.

Inside Those Population Figures

Most of the attention on new population estimates in our area focused on the modest gain in Milwaukee County,

And why not: the reversal of previous losses is a good thing.

What interested me was the growth - - steady but not spectacular - - in the other counties nearby - - 5.2% over the last seven years in Waukesha County, for instance.

Waukesha County officials and regional planners have been justifying the massive highway building underway and penciled in, or huge amounts of water from Lake Michigan, on growth scenarios that look much bigger than supported by these recent figures.

With baby-boom retirees more likely to head for warmer climes, and gasoline prices spiking with no end in sight, is there solid data around to justify the massive infrastructure spending ticketed for the region?

SEWRPC Set To Flush Its Credibility

Outgoing SEWRPC Executive Director Philip Evenson tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the agency doesn't have to have an open hiring process to hire his replacement.

Just let an unelected, invisible SEWRPC committee meet in the agency's Pewaukee conference room in closed session Thursday at 2:00 p.m., pick the new director, perform the secret handshakes, announce it, run out of the momentary sunshine, and adjourn.

Some behavior by an agency that gets 100% of its budget from taxpayers - - homeowners and business taxed without representation.

So the appropriate response from the region's dissed taxpayers and their seven county boards, especially Milwaukee's, which automatically sends SEWRPC a big chuck of operating capital every year, should be:

"We don't need to send you any more money. You're not a public agency, so go raise your own budget, since you are deciding without our input how to lead the agency and spend our money."

I have been raising the alarm about this undemocratic scheme at SEWRPC for days on my blog: Some history is here.

And I am not sure, given the federal government's encouragement to SEWRPC that it do more intentional outreach in its programming - - leading the agency to form an Economical Justice Task Force and make other gestures towards openness (sic) - - whether snubbing its taxpaying constituents this boldly and baldly is even legal.

As a public relations move, in a democratic society, it's certainly tone-deaf, irrational and self-sabotaging.

Does SEWRPC even care?

If it goes ahead and picks Evenson's successor Thursday afternoon, with no public input at all, the message is clear:

We Just Want Your Money.

So the next time someone suggests that SEWRPC should be heard on regional cooperation, or public planning, just remind that person that SEWRPC forfeited its authority and credibility on March 20, 2008 - - the date on which it used a true Soviet-style template to pick its next leader - - in secret, operating and cooperating with no one in their inner circle, and then foisted the chosen one on the people.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

National Park Service Busy Killing Yellowstone's Bison

If you're headed to Yellowstone National Park this summer to see the wild bison herd, think about leaving early: most of them are headed for the slaughterhouse.

Details, and an online petition of concern, here.

Lena Taylor's Campaign Boards The Bus To Save It

From the Taylor campaign, focusing on transit issues:

Dear Friend, This Saturday, March 22nd, Lena will board the route 20 bus on one of its final trips through Milwaukee.

She invites you to join her in calling attention to Scott Walker's deplorable mismanagement of our transit system.

The route 20 bus has long been a vibrant and important part of the Milwaukee County transit system, connecting the North and South sides of the city.

This route not only provides the citizens of Milwaukee County with transportation, but also a history lesson - this historic route runs along Caesar Chavez Drive and once passed by Borchert Field.

Today, the route 20 bus is in jeopardy and soon will be cut by Scott Walker.

Through misguided fiscal planning, Mr. Walker made the decision to cut bus routes and increase public transit fares. This has produced a public transit system that is ineffective and cost-inefficient at a time when rising gas prices are boosting public transportation ridership throughout the rest of the country.

We deserve better.

This Saturday, we hope you'll join us in standing together and standing strong against the mismanagement.

Lena will start at the route 20 bus stop at 12th and Wisconsin, in front of Gesu Church. We will ride the 4:08pm bus east to the Downtown Transit Center and ride back to 12th and Wisconsin leaving the Center at 4:35pm bus.

For more information or to RSVP, contact

Lena Taylor has pledged to make a stable transit system a priority as County Executive. But first, she needs your help to get elected.

Thank you for your support, and we hope to see you Saturday!

John Zapfel Campaign Manager Authorized and paid for by Committee to Elect Lena C. Taylor. Wilbert Taylor Treasurer

Possible Executive Director Appointment Still On Thursday, 3/20 SEWRPC Agenda

Though no search, screening or interviewing process has been announced, or implemented publicly, the "possible appointment" of an Executive Director is still on Thursday's agenda at SEWRPC's Executive Committee meeting, documents show.

Phil Evenson, the current Executive Director of the seven-county Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) told the agency February 28th that he did not want his contract renewed.

Since a item about his impending retirement appeared in last Friday's Journal Sentinel, and as a result of several items on my blog, there has been considerable speculation in the region about how and when SEWRPC might name Evenson's successor, and who that person might be if it is a quick, in-house promotion.

Several sources in regional governments have said this week they were trying to ascertain SEWRPC's procedures and intentions regarding the possible appointment: an email I sent Evenson last Friday about the matter has not been answered.

The Executive Committee has the authority to name Evenson's replacement.

Evenson was the agency's Deputy, the number-two official, when he replaced long-time Executive Director Kurt Bauer, who still serves as Executive Director Emeritus, and chairs SEWRPC's three-year water advisory committee study.

Evenson's having been promoted to replace his former boss Bauer has led to speculation that Ken Yunker, the current SEWRPC Deputy Executive Director, would be named Thursday as the next Executive Director, perhaps with a lengthy transition throughout much of 2008.

Evenson could stay on at SEWRPC as a consultant, using the Bauer model. Bauer has had an annually renewed half-time consultancy for many years following his mid-90's retirement, and also receives an office and car.

SEWRPC's leadership operates in and with a small insiders' loop, even though it is 100% publicly-funded.

Bauer also had a consultancy following his retirement as SEWRPC Executive Director at the high-profile Waukesha consulting firm of Ruekert & Mielke, which frequently contracts with SEWRPC and local governments in the region on water, land-use and other municipal issues.
Ruekert & Mielke is the lead consultant on the water supply study that Bauer chairs.

The committee will soon offer up alternative recommendations to resolve the region's water supply issues, including the controversial use of diversions from Lake Michigan to communities in Waukesha County.

The firm's senior water staffer, Steve Schultz, is writing much of the SEWRPC study, and also wrote concurrently, as a consultant, the pending Lake Michigan water diversion application for the City of New Berlin.

After Milwaukee County's Board of Supervisors dragged its feet supplying a $261,000 contribution to the water supply study's $1 million budget, Bauer helped secure the needed Milwaukee financing component from an obscure Milwaukee County public/private committee that had a budget comprised of real estate transaction fees.

Bauer was a member of that committee.

Among Bauer's other duties has been serving as the Milwaukee County Surveyor.

The network of planning consultants and officials in Waukesha who knew each other also paid off for both Ruekert & Mielke and SEWRPC when the agency wanted to move out of its offices in the old Waukesha County Historical Society in downtown Waukesha.

Evenson was authorized by SEWRPC's executive committee to negotiate the purchase of the agency's current Pewaukee office building from Ruekert & Mielke, on a no-bid basis, for about $4 million, according to SEWRPC records.