Friday, June 30, 2006

Walker's folks vote for new taxes

Gov. Doyle is going to try to find a way to help Milwaukee County out of its fiscal mess. County Executive Scott Walker keeps insisting he won't raise taxes in Milwaukee County. The parks are falling apart, and the basic county "safety net" of social services is threatening to unravel.

It was a very strange sight, then, to see all three county representatives
on the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission vote in favor of a highway-happy regional transportation plan with a $65 million annual funding shortfall and cost estimates that don't mesh with reality (just an example -- gas prices will be $2.30 a gallon, in SEWRPC's utopian vision).

There was much talk of the need to fund transit, and the need to find a dedicated funding source -- that means a new tax of the type Walker opposes -- to do it.

County Department of Administration Linda Seemeyer voted for the budget-busting plan -- that makes me feel so much better about her assurances last week that the county is not yet bankrupt -- she's still working on it. The other two county reps favoring the plan were William R. Drew, who headed up the abysmal regional freeway study; and County Board Chairman Lee Holloway.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Republican Party doesn't want Doyle to help Milwaukee County

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has been begging the state to rescue the county from his mismanagement.

Gov. Jim Doyle appointed a task force to examine the county's finances.

Task forces can be worthless, or they can do a lot of good. The Republican Party of Wisconsin, which presumably still includes Scott Walker, doesn't wait for the task force to do its job before attacking.

RPW Executive Director Rick Wiley just makes himself look silly, though:

"When Milwaukee needs more cops, Jim Doyle sends accountants," he blusters.

Well, gee, let's think about that. Wiley obviously didn't.

Doyle proposed $1 million for more Milwaukee cops, and the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee cut that to $750,000. Did Wiley forget already, or does he mean that Doyle has an obligation to add the cops that his party's JFC cut?

Doyle, Wiley said, "should be demanding answers on what was going on right under his nose, rather than waste even more taxpayer money trying to find out why Democrats in Milwaukee defrauded the taxpayers.”

Slinging mud is part of politics, but Wiley hit himself in the eye with this pile of sludge. The task force, according to Doyle's office, "is to examine the county’s finances, report back to Governor Doyle on the challenges the county is facing, and make recommendations on how to address them. The Task Force will report back to Governor Doyle by December 1, 2006. Select findings of the Task Force may serve as the basis for formulating proposals in the Governor's 2007-09 Executive Budget."

Walker wants state help. Doyle may started the process that will provide it. Wiley wants that process killed.

Love the way these Republicans stick together. Wonder whether there was a Wiley/Walker discussion either before or after the RPW issued its statement.

Walker wants someone else to raise taxes

Scott Walker is back with a new plan to make other people raise taxes so he can continue to criticize them for doing so. His latest idea -- which also is backed by State. Rep. Jeff "Steal the Airport" Stone (R-Greendale) and State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) -- is to create a Parks District funded initially with the equivalent of the $18.4 million parks levy. The county would then cut its own levy by $18.4 million.

This move, if adopted, would surely result in an increased parks levy. It's probably safe to assume parks supporters would be the majority on any parks district governing board, and would increase taxes to provide basic funding, as opposed to Walker's starve-'em-to-death strategy. The Walker-Stone-Darling plan would allow the park employees to be jettisoned in favor of private contract workers, which would save some money, but probably not enough, and would create more Milwaukee County residents unable to afford the new parks taxes.

Meanwhile, Walker would continue to wreck county services. The proposal calls for the county to reduce its levy by the parks' $18.4 million. It does not say the county should use the money for social services or medical care instead. Walker could continue to pose for holy pictures while the county falls down around him. Taxes would go up, but not Walker's taxes, so he could whine about that while begging the state for a county bailout.

It's more likely that Walker knows this doesn't have a chance in hell and when it fails and the parks continue to deteriorate, guess what? He can blame someone else.

It's so much easier than actually doing something.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Nuts -- Net Neutrality nixed

Net Neutrality was rejected by a Senate committee Wednesday on a 11-11 tie vote. That means that the big telecoms can charge different rates to different content providers. The losers on this one are consumers. It doesn't take too much imagination to envision an Internet world where the big guys dictate content through pricing structures.

Tax hike bad, 7-year term for stealing not worth a word

Holy smokes, another story about the Milwaukee Area Technical College tax levy increase. It's a $6.4 million, 4.9% boost. The JS has made clear in its news coverage its disapproval of the increase, but the folks attending the MATC public hearing and those voting on the budget apparently didn't get the message.

If a $6.4 million tax hike rates this kind of coverage, what would the JS have to say about the seven-year prison term handed to an MATC contractor who stole $1.6 million from the school? The paper treats the MATC Board like a bunch of crooks for adopting a tax levy increase -- what would it say about the penalty imposed on the guy who actually stole the equivalent of 25% of the entire levy hike?

Well, nothing.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher in January sentenced Michael McNichols, 54, to seven years in prison and eight years extended supervision for stealing $1.6 million from the college. McNichols also was ordered to undergo psychological evaluation for sexual addiction/compulsion issues, to cooperate with all recommended treatment programs, and to remain enrolled with Gamblers Anonymous.

In case you missed it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Libraries, libraries

Yes, it's just a tad ironic: as the Department of Public Instruction tells the Milwaukee Public Schools to put more resources into libraries, the city of Milwaukee moves toward pulling more resources out of libraries.

It's a strange world.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Republicans think public is all ears, no eyes, and stupid

All those promises of ethics reform by the Republican leadership in Congress were lies. Nothing has happened, and it's business as usual, the Washington Post reports. The Republican promise makers figured out nothing bad would happen if they just kept sleazing along with their hands deep in lobbyist pockets grabbing at money and God knows what else in their efforts at mutual gratification.

It's apparently a case of lawmakers thinking the public can hear their promises, but can't see them breaking them. This part of the Post story sort of sums it up:

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) illustrates the complex politics buffeting the proposals to overhaul lobbyist rules. At a private meeting in Hastert's office before the speaker's news conference, Blunt voiced support, according to others in the room. But when the moment came for him to stand next to the speaker in front of the cameras, Blunt had vanished. Locked in a tight race to replace DeLay, Blunt was among the first congressional leaders to perceive the disconnect between lawmakers' public calls for change and their private desire to keep things as they were.

"This is an area where we have to listen very carefully to the members," Blunt later explained.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Another argument against SUVs

This from a study called "Unsafe driving behaviour and four wheel drive vehicles: observational study" that was published in the British Medical Journal:

Drivers of four wheel drive vehicles were more likely
than drivers of other cars to be seen using hand held mobile
phones (8.2% v 2.0%) and not complying with the law on seat
belts (19.5% v 15.0%). Levels of non-compliance with both laws
were slightly higher in the penalty phase of observation, and
breaking one law was associated with increased likelihood of
breaking the other.

Conclusions The level of non-compliance with the law on the
use of hand held mobile phones by drivers in London is high,
as is non-compliance with the law on seat belts. Drivers of four
wheel drive vehicles were four times more likely than drivers of
other cars to be seen using hand held mobile phones and
slightly more likely not to comply with the law on seat belts.

Bi-partisan effort on fuel economy

A bipartisan group of US senators -- unfortunately, including neither of Wisconsin's -- are sponsoring a new bill that would require all vehicles -- including SUVs -- to get 35 miles per gallon by model year 2017. Feinstein says the bill, if passed, would result in the saving of 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2025, and 420 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2025. What a great idea. Wonder how long it will take the Bush Administration to come out in opposition.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Libraries vs. Cops

It's libraries vs. cops in the 2007 city of Milwaukee budget discussions. Aldermen are tripping over themselves to spend the entire property tax levy on police, leaving other city departments to wither. (The priorities mean you might actually be able to get a police response when your car is destroyed by a city pothole that wasn't repaired because all the money went to assuring you of a police response when your car got destroyed by a city pothole).

Well, hell, St. Michael is closing, swimming pools will probably close, and other recreational opportunities in Milwaukee are being financially starved, so we might as well slash libraries, too.

I do wonder, though, if cops and libraries went head to head, which actually prevents more crime.

One Wisconsin Now

Welcome to the new progressive organization, One Wisconsin Now (OWN), getting its public launch today. Long may she wave.

N. Dakota vs. Milwaukee -- Update

JS finally gets around to it.

Nothing against the B-1 top-o'-the page story in the Journal Sentinel today about the North Dakota sentencing of a Milwaukee man for killing a Hales Corners man. It's a perfectly fine story and the taking of a life and its consequences demand media attention. So maybe I missed it, but where is paper's coverage of the man sentenced Milwaukee for the Milwaukee killing of Michael Tabbert, 45, a father who was shot during a holdup in December? Tabbert, a cashier at a northwest side restaurant called Wong's, was shot despite complying with the robbers' directives.

For those interested Brandon Lamar Porter, 20, was sentenced this week to 33 years in prison and 15 years extended supervision for his role in the slaying.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Surprise! Midwest Fiber tanks on city job

The failure of Midwest Fiber Networks to deliver on its agreement to establish a wireless network for Milwaukee should come as no surprise to anybody, including the mayor and aldermen who backed it. This is basically a firm with a very minimal track record that got a somewhow convinced city officials -- who must have really, really really wanted to be convinced -- that it could pull this off. The city did not issue an Request for Proposals or a Request for Qualifications. This did not pass the smell test from Day 1.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Criminalizing law enforcement

The New York Times, first, then the Journal Sentinel, took shots at federal legislation that would make it illegal for police agencies to share data about illegal gun deals. Good for them. This is one of the more egregious instances of special interest legislation trumping public safety and the public good.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Courthouse visit

Stopped by the historic Milwaukee County Courthouse last week.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Transit cuts coming...hey, let's build freeways we don't need!

The Transit System's 2007 budget request includes cuts to important services and some price increases.

Meanwhile, some of the folks Madison still thing we should spend billions on wider freeways we don't need and won't do anything to help bus riders get to jobs, schools, the doctor's office, and all those places they need to go. Oh, yeah, the state's transportation fund is facing a $68 million shortfall. Read more about it here.

The constitution and you

The Constitution doesn't protect you from police who violate it, sayeth the Supreme Court. You can always sue if police fail to follow the law when busting into your house to serve a warrant, according to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. That is, you can sue if you can find a lawyer, and have the filing fees, and have the time and energy to battle the lawyers for cops and cities who will fight you all the way to protect their pocketbooks.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Oconomowoc shopping mall

Interesting story about the owners of Mayfair shopping center building a mall at Pabst Farms. So, where did they say they would get the water?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The self-waving flag

Here's a perfect gift for those many patriotic Americans who don't actually want to make any effort to demonstrate their patriotism -- the self-waving flag. It plays patriotic songs, too.

Good news, sorta. Not really.

HMO costs to rise only 11.7% nest year (for the shrinking numbers of people lucky enough to still have insurance).

Break out the champagne.

From the Detroit Free Press:

Rate increases for health maintenance organizations are set to decline in 2007 for the fourth consecutive year but still create challenges for employers, according to a report released Tuesday.

Preliminary figures show that HMO rates will jump about 11.7% next year, down from initial estimates of 12.4% in 2006 and 13.7% in 2005, said Hewitt Associates LLC, a consulting firm based in Lincolnshire, Ill

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It may not be a 32% crime increase, but it's not good news

The 32.5% increase in violent crime in Milwaukee indicated by FBI statistics does not seem very likely to be accurate, but the crime trend cannot be considered good news. The Washington Post reports that crime is up, led by a surge of violence in midwestern cities.

The surge in violence was forseen by some law enforcement types. Way back in the mid-1990s, when Richard Artison was still sheriff, I saw a magazine on his desk with a cover that screamed a warning about the violent 2005 we could all expect. Artison said the article was based on demographics -- there simply would be a spike in the population of those most likely to commit crimes.

Being predictable doesn't make the current crime stats any less distressing, but we can at least hope that this is a peak, and that this spike will have a downward slope very soon.

Healing the partisan wounds

Remember when George W. said he would work to bridge the partisan divide in Washington? He was lying (again).

The Washington Post:

Bill Clinton is a "virtuoso deceiver" and Hillary Rodham Clinton a "true chameleon" guilty of "self-serving behavior, comparative radicalism, and dubious personal morality."

Al Gore is a "mad dog" known to "foam at the mouth." John McCain is given to "showboating." And Jacques Chirac, Nelson Mandela, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are all "feckless fools."

Says who? President Bush's new chief domestic policy adviser. While most White House aides carefully trim their public commentary, they can't take back what they said before arriving in the West Wing, and few in this day and age arrive with a more provocative paper trail than Karl Zinsmeister, who started his new job yesterday.

For a dozen years until his appointment, Zinsmeister held forth on all manner of issues and personalities as editor in chief of the American Enterprise Institute's magazine. With a sharp pen, he skewered the left, taking special aim at environmentalists, anti-globalists, feminists, contemporary artists, university faculties, Hollywood, Broadway and particularly the media, composed mainly of "left-wing, cynical, wiseguy Ivy League types, with a high prima donna quotient."

Yes, a kinder, gentler Bush administration.

Monday, June 12, 2006

More FBI tales

I've known some fine FBI agents. But when I read things like this back and forth between the US Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and the Government Accountability Office about the FBI's information technology modernization program called Trilogy, I'm just not inspired:

Specter: In the Trilogy report, you reported a number of issues that perplexed this Committee. For example, 1205 pieces of equipment, worth an estimated $7.6 million, went missing—some of which were classified or secured computers. The project was overbudget and overdeadline, and around $10 million was wasted. Which of the issues that led to the delinquency of the Trilogy project did you find to be the most alarming? Is that issue still of concern to you? How has the FBI addressed it?

GAO: We reported on two fundamental issues that we consider to be key contributors to the problems we identified with the Trilogy project. First, the review and approval process for Trilogy contractor invoices did not provide an adequate basis for verifying that goods and services billed were actually received by FBI or that the amounts billed were appropriate. Second, FBI did not have an adequate process to ensure physical and financial accountability of assets purchased with Trilogy projectfunds. In addition, we were unable to determine if any of the missing assets contained confidential or sensitive information and data. Therefore, we recommended that FBI further investigate those missing assets to determine whether any confidential or sensitive information and data may be exposed to unauthorized users. We understand that FBI is taking actions to implement our recommendations to resolve the fundamental issues we identified. We will evaluate FBI’s corrective actions as part of our normal recommendation follow-up process and during our review of the Sentinel project. Until corrective actions are fully implemented, both of these internal control issues will be a concern with Sentinel and other information technology projects at FBI.

Specter: In your testimony, you discuss that FBI could not locate 1,404 [pieces of equipment]; you adjusted the number to 1,205 when you were able to verify that the FBI had found 199 pieces of equipment. However, in its response to your report, FBI stated that it had accounted for around 800 of the remaining items [of equipment]. Are you satisfied with the FBI’s efforts to track these assets? Has the FBI given any explanation for the remaining roughly 400 assets that are completely unaccounted for?

GAO: In February 2006, FBI informed us that the approximately 800 remaining items, referred to above, that it believes it has now accounted for included (1) accountable assets not in FBI’s property system because they were either incorrectly identified as nonaccountable assets or mistakenly omitted, (2) defective equipment that was never recorded in the property system and was subsequently replaced, and (3) nonaccountable assets or components of accountable assets that were incorrectly bar coded. However, because FBI was not able to provide us with any evidence, such as location information, to support that it had actually accounted for these 800 assets, we could not definitively determine whether FBI had located these items. We considered these same issues during our audit in an effort to determine if assets were missing or merely miscoded. The FBI also has not provided any additional explanation for the remaining roughly 400 missing assets. The numerous control weaknesses identified in our report are major factors contributing to FBI’s continuing inability to find and definitively confirm the existence of these assets. Further, the fact that assets have not been properly accounted for to date means that they have been at risk of loss or misappropriation without detection since being delivered to FBI—in some cases, for several years. We will continue to monitor FBI’s progress on locating these assets as part of our review of FBI’s implementation of corrective actions to address our recommendations.

Oh, yeah. Sleep well tonight. The FBI is keeping us safe.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Leave your door unlocked so the feds can look around

A federal appeals court has ruled that technology companies must make their equipment amenable to government snooping and wiretaps.

We should all, by the way, give the FBI, the NSA, the CIA and other alphabet soup spy agencies the keys to our homes, cars, and businesses because some day a crime might occur there.

The crimes could well be committed by one of those agencies, since they and some of their officers do indeed have histories of criminality and corruption.

This ruling, as the Center for Democracy and Technology's Jim Dempsey says, "threatens the privacy rights of innocent Americans as well as the ability of technology companies to innovate freely."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Sheriff Clarke, do the math

Sheriff David Clarke, having made a scandalous mess out of his jail operations, now wants to drop a fiscal bomb on the rest of his department. Clarke said yesterday the State Patrol should take over freeways patrols so 50 sworn deputies can police parks. He also said the state should kick in an extra $700,000 to fund a Park Patrol.

OK, let's figure. Clarke gets his $700,000 to fund officers. In the 2006 adopted county budget, the Sheriff's Department cut 19 deputies for a savings of $1,008,444 not including benefits, which works out to an overage of $53,076 per deputy. With fringe benefits figured at 61% of salary (the figure used in George Lightbourn's study of county finances), that average cost per deputy jumps to $85,452.

That new $700,000 will buy 8.2 of the 50 deputies Clarke wants patrolling parks.

What does the Sheriff's Department stand to lose under Clarke's plan? Well, certainly it would no longer be able to use the $2.1 million in county trunk maintenance revenue it uses to balance the freeway patrol budget, the $575,000 it gets from the state for assisting motorists during rush hour, or the $1.1 million it gets in state revenue for patrolling the freeways, not to mention the $2.4 million in citation revenue that is offsetting freeway patrol costs this year.

So, to sum up: Clarke would trade more than $6 million in revenue for $700,000 in revenue, while still incurring $4.3 million in personnel costs for the 50 deputies. Even if those deputies write a lot more tickets -- let's say the Sheriff's Department can replace lost freeway citation revenue dollar for dollar with park citation revenue, although given the seasonal nature of parks, that is extremely unlikely -- Clarke will have about $3.1 million in revenue to pay for $4.3 million in personnel costs, leaving a shortfall of $1.2 million. Hmmm.

Can anyone say "property tax increase"?

(This assumes a year-round takeover of State Patrol-operated freeway patrols and Sheriff's Department Park Patrol. Pro-rating for seasonal efforts also is possible, but the notion of asking the State Patrol to train troopers and staff up to take over Milwaukee County freeway patrols for a few months each year seems even less feasible than the full trade-off. )

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A fence for Canada?

About those alleged terrorists caught in Canada. While waiting for the facts to sort themselves out, should we be debating a 5,500+ mile fence along the US-Canadian border? Should we deploy the National Guard? How many Canadians are here illegally? Should they deported or should they be granted amnesty?

Ontario sits right over Wisconsin's head. Should the state dispatch troops to its northern border to protect our cheeses if the Canadians make it past the Upper Peninsula? Do we get more Homeland Security money now?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Jumping the shark

Another day, another JS story about the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. The story, as usual when the paper writes about MMSD, is so slanted it's almost lying down. So did MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer do something wrong when he defended his agency?

Yes, dumping is bad. We all know that, and we all know most major sewage districts do it. Is dumping into rivers that supply people's drinking water, as Chicago does, better than dumping into a lake that does the same?

Is Chicago's dumping 5 times more into the rivers better than MMSD's dumping 28 billion fewer gallons into Lake Michigan?

The paper's credibility on this topic died for me a few years ago when it ran a front-page story about an anonymous letter alleging wrongdoing at MMSD. I have yet to see similar treatment of similar letters sent to other government agencies, and plenty of local government agencies have fraud and abuse hotlines and addresses, so there would be plenty of opportunity for the JS to follow up.

The JS has pretty much given up even the pretense of fairness when it comes to MMSD coverage. It has, in TV vernacular, "jumped the shark" on this one.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Thought police

The political whoring going on around Milwaukee's violence is dismaying. Competing press conferences; finger-pointing about who put out their statement first or who was too slow to issue a statement decrying the criminality of it all.

Spilled blood and hot air -- what a useless, wasteful combination.

The winner of the blathering bloviation BS award is County Executive Scott Walker, who stepped up to say:

"If you even think about committing an illegal act, you will end up in jail."

That's just plain silly, something to say at a press conference when you don't have anything real to contribute.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bucher's math: the missing numbers

Another problem* with AG candidate Paul Bucher's plan for 90 cops on OT to add 90 days of policing to the city's streets: overtime breeds overtime. Bucher estimates the cost at $3 million. Wrong. Cops working overtime will make busts -- isn't the whole point of the exercise -- meaning they will be make more trips to the District Attorney's office and more trips to court, earning even more overtime on top of their overtime. Has anyone done the math on that one?

(The first problem: cheap exploitation of last weekend's devastating gun violence is in extremely poor taste, as Xoff points out.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hurricane Season

Happy start of hurricane season. You may uncross your fingers in three or four months.