Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Silence from here to inFINity

There's something very fishy about the latest Bush administration attempt to control information. This time it's about salmon.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The amazing DOT

The Milwaukee County Transit System is near death, the State Department of Transportation cannot afford to control weeds on its property or to pay for painting lines on highways, but WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi is going to push for spending hundreds of millions on the Zoo Interchange.

Oh. And WisDOT doesn't know quite how it will pay for the rest of the Marquette Interchange reconstruction project or the $2 billion North-South I-94 reconstruction project.

Sounds like Busalacchi takes fiscal planning lessons from Milwaukee County.

Bruce! Say it ain't so!

The new edition of the Milwaukee Labor Press takes Bruce Springsteen to task for booking his Seeger Sessions concert at the Bradley Center, which the paper says is "anti-union (some would say virulently anti-union)."

Bruce Springsteen honoring Pete Seeger at an anti-union venue? Oh, my heart aches. Compounding the sin, according to the Labor Press' Dominque Paul Noth, is that there are so many other nearby unionized concert halls available: the Milwaukee Theatre; US Cellular Arena; the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts; and the Marcus Amphitheater.

Union reps are trying to get to Springsteen's people to talk about doing music at a different place. They don't think that The Boss deliberately dissed unionized workers and that he didn't know the Bradley Center was not union friendly when he booked the date.

That doesn't mean it's OK to play there come June 14..

"If it's still at the Bradley, look for leafleting at the concert by many unions, plus some street protest music," the paper said.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The future of Mitchell International Airport

There is increasing pressure to expand Mitchell International Airport. Midwest Airlines, though, a major tenant, still is operating at a loss, though there may be a profitable quarter ahead. Airport-building is expensive, the airlines foot the bill, and a lot of places are finding that the desired expansions are cost-prohibitive. From the Wall Street Journal via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

San Jose International and Los Angeles International have both recently scaled back big projects, recognizing that airline tenants can't afford grand schemes. Denver International, which was attacked for its high fees when it opened in 1995, has since cut costs and reduced fees, winning back low-cost Southwest Airlines. And some airports, such as Schiphol and the Cologne Bonn Airport in Germany, have moved ahead by luring new airlines with low operating costs. In the low-margin airline world, a savings of a few dollars per passenger can turn an unprofitable flight into a money-maker, especially among discount airlines charging less than $100 per ticket.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Citing National Security Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

The government is invoking what is the "state secrets" defense to keep its bad acts out of the justice system and out of the public eye. Torture someone yesterday? Can't talk about it -- its a state secret. Spying illegally? Shhhh -- state secret. Kidnap the wrong guy and sneak him out of the country to be mistreated? Would love to clear up this little situation -- but it's a state secret.

In a democracy, when the system of checks and balances is disabled, so is the democracy.

$3,000!!??

County Board Chairman Lee Holloway settled his ethics issues for $3,000. But it took the county 18 months and $150,000 to get there. I don't know if justice has been served, but the taxpayers sure got screwed.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What's in a name?

It's a puzzler: why is Ald. Mike McGee's requested name change front page news?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Strange day on the road-building front

The most amazing part of today's long, long, long meeting of the Legislature's Road to the Future Committee at the Medical College of Wisconsin was the gentleman who said US 41 should go further north, and it didn't really matter if it destroyed the vital and lively Sherman Park neighborhood in Milwaukee.

He said residents of Milwaukee neighborhoods that would be destroyed by freeway expansion should not have any say about it.

The gentleman lives in Shorewood, and did not favor extending I-794 north through his community.

Thanks to State Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) for asking the question.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Another spy office...at the Environmental Protection Agency

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reports the EPA has created a new, top-level position for homeland security.

On May 1, 2006, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced that Tom Dunne would serve as the agency’s first Associate Administrator for Homeland Security and will report directly to Johnson, who has also created a “national security and intelligence” center in the new Homeland Security Office. In addition, the Bush administration has proposed channeling $45 million of EPA research funds into a “Water Sentinel” program, to help monitor water infrastructure safety in the event of a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, PEER says, the agency is cutting programs to keep folks safe from known health threats like industrial waste and pesticides:

In January, the EPA Office of Inspector General issued a report criticizing serious inadequacies in the agency’s ability to assess the effects of pesticides on fetuses, infants, toddlers, and youngsters. The agency claims that it lacks funding to collect data, conduct cumulative effect analyses and develop standards for determining the developmental neurotoxicity of the pesticides that EPA is approving for commercial use. Significantly, EPA is overdue in producing a plan for corrective actions that address the material weaknesses identified by the Inspector General.

All the kids in George's Washington World want their own Homeland Security center of incompetence and corruption. Why wouldn't the EPA want one, too?



Turning surveillance over to private contractors

No, not in Iraq. In Milwaukee. Surveillance cameras on National Ave. will be funded by Badger Mutual Insurance Co.; Roundy's will pay for signage. Roundy's also will help monitor video captured by the cameras, according to Ald. Bob Donovan.

Yes, sidewalks are public property and filming is allowed. But these security cameras and their operators are involved in what is essentially policing activity. So here's hoping there are good background checks on these Roundy's folks and a good training program and a real protocol on what they should do when they believe the see a crime, and what they absolutely should not do.
Now that Congress has slashed funding for Medicaid, nutrition programs, Community Learning Centers and Head Start, it's time to legislate for children where it counts:

Responding to concerns about online child safety, a U.S. congressman has proposed a bill restricting the use of social networking web sites such as MySpace.com to persons 18 or older. The bill also would require educators to block students' access to these sites from school computers.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, (R-Penn.), clearly does not have enough real work to do. Would we send kids to detention centers for illegal operation of a MySpace page?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Da Vinci Code -- enough already!

It's fiction. The book is not very good. The movie reviews say the movie is not very good.

Can we talk about something else for a while?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Obey blasts House moderates

OMB Watch quotes US Rep. Dave Obey(R-Wisconsin) as he waxes eloquent on the subject of craven moderates caving to conservatives on the FY07 House budget vote:

"I was wondering whether the Republican moderates were going to stick to their guns when they said that they knew that it was wrong to pass a budget that provided $40 billion in tax cuts for people who make a million dollars a year while you're squeezing the guts out of education and health programs. We now know the answer. They are doing a poor imitation Bert Lahr, the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz.... The fact is, they are now selling out for a promise that if some time in the deep dark distant future somebody does something to change this budget resolution, then there might be a table scrap or two left for additional education and healthcare."

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another bad immigration control control idea

No, this bad idea is not the Bush proposal to give a couple billion to the same old defense contractors who own his Administration. That's too easy.

This bad idea is the president's proposal to add 6,000 border patrol agents by the end of 2008. It is inevitable that rushing thousands of people through training just to have a certain number of border patrol agents by a certain date will result in too many bad hires and too many unfit border patrol agents cowboying around, creating international incidents.

How many border patrol agents should there be? Don't know.

But each one should be hired with care.

The billion dollar fence won't work

The U.S. Senate voted to spend a billion bucks "to build at least 370 miles of double- and triple-layered fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border."

OK, so people who want to come into this country will have to go a little further before crossing the border.

Then we'll build the fence a little longer.

And people wanting to come into this country will travel a little further before crossing the border.

Etc., etc.

Pretty soon we will have a fence thousands of miles long, costing billions and billions. And people will come over the fence and under the fence and through the fence unless we are willing to become East Germany and spend billions to guard the wall we spent billions to build and to shoot on sight.

Is that who we are now?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Death Penalty Follies, Part II

Wisconsin voters will have an opportunity to vote on a really stupid referendum question:

“Should the death penalty be enacted in the state of Wisconsin for cases involving a person who is convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, if the conviction is supported by DNA evidence?”


Let's say it passes, and the Legislature, never too proud to pander, adopts death penalty legislation that mirrors the referendum language.

Then:

There is this guy -- never in trouble in his life -- who gets into a fight with his girlfriend. It's a loud fight. The neighbors hear it.

The next day, she's found dead.

Terrible thing. He's taken in for questioning, they run some tests, and viola, there is her DNA under his fingernails.

He's busted. Goes on trial. He denies it all, but eventually is convicted by a jury of his peers. Because of the DNA evidence, he's eligible for the death penalty.

The there's this second guy -- convicted twice of rape -- who has learned a lot in prison. He kidnaps a child. Wearing one of those germ suits, he tortures the child, kills him slowly, then chops him up in little pieces. The guy burns the germ suit and dumps the kidnap car in a lake, where it is never found. Then he burns down the house that he used as his torture / kill chamber.

Six months later, he is busted for ordering child porn on the Internet. During the search of the house, cops find a DVD movie of him torturing and killing and chopping the little boy. Despite the suit, he is easily identifiable in the film because he briefly takes off his mask for a breath of fresh, terror-filled air.

Terrible, terrible thing.

Goes on trial. Describes the joy of killing, the pure satisfaction of it all. But because there is no DNA evidence, he is not eligible for the death penalty.

Justice, Wisconsin Senate style.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No contest

The choice last night: Listen to the Imperial Idiot or attend the monthly gathering of the Read 'n Feed Book Club and enjoy good conversation and great snacks?

No contest.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Republicans want it both ways

The Wisconsin League of Municipalities and the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities got it exactly right when they said a Republican-sponsored bill that would force communities to compensate owners of property affected by zoning ordinances was not consistent with the Republican-backed TABOR movement.

The bill, which was defeated this month but will probably be back next year, could cost local governments millions or billions of dollars that Republicans don't want local governments to be able to spend.

You can do one or the other, folks. You can't do both, and you shouldn't do either.

Feds abusing the phone data

You know all that data from our phone calls that President Bush said would only be used to help find terrorists?

He was fibbing.

You know how he said citizens' privacy is being "fiercely protected?"

He was lying.

The guys in the trench coats are tracking phone numbers called by reporters to try to figure out the identities of confidential sources, according to ABC News.

That means the feds are also keeping track of calls reporters make to their spouses, kids, bookies and shrinks.

Stay tuned for more tales government abuse of the phone data collected by the National Security Administration. Betcha we haven't heard the last of it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The NSA & USA Today

A lot of people knew there was more to President Bush's illegal snooping than eavesdropping on international phone calls. Now we learn that the National Security Agency is keeping records of phone numbers dialed by millions and millions of Americans. (It's really easy for the NSA to cross-check to find out who those numbers belong to.) The biggest surprise is that this story was broken by that hotel room throwaway, USA Today, while the New York Times and the Washington Post got scooped in a major, major way.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Oh, the irony!

Mayor Tom Barrett vetoed the $300 million Connector project Wednesday and County Executive Scott Walker continued to criticize it cost. On that very same day a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission committee that includes city and county representatives approved a $20 billion or $21 billion transportation plan (the numbers change depending which SEWRPC document you read). SEWRPC says its plan includes a $65 million annual funding shortfall.

Barrett, in his veto message, said there just were too many unanswered fiscal questions about the Connector. So how many questions do you think the SEWRPC committee members, including city and county representatives appointed by Barrett and Walker, asked about the $65 million shortfall or the $20 billion SEWRPC figures before they approved the plan?

Zip. Nada. Zero.

More about the meeting and a video here and here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bucher is wrong on open records issue

Waukesha County District Attorney Paul Bucher is blasting Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager for suing Bucher's co-Republican, State Rep. Jeff Stone, for not complying with the Open Records law.

Open Records enforcement is a key part of the job of Attorney General and should remain that way. It's really disturbing -- downright scary, actually -- that Bucher does not think preserving public access to government records is a priority.

Stone was a major player in secret negotiations to hand county-owned Mitchell International Airport over to private interests, and to strip any ability of Milwaukee or Milwaukee County to oversee a major facility within their borders.

County Supervisor Richard Nyklewicz, whose district includes the airport, filed an open records request with Stone for documents related to the proprosed airport grab.

The sequence of events, according to the Journal Sentinel: Stone announced on Dec. 29 that he would introduce the airport takeover bill, and Nyklewicz that same day filed his open records request. Stone replied that he would not give Nyklewicz the information until after the bill was introduced. Despite a second request from Nyklewicz, Stone did not turn over the information until March 7 -- the day a public hearing was held on the bill, and four days after the legislation was introduced.

Bucher issued a press release yesterday that said: “This Attorney General has made the decision to file lawsuits that further her own political agenda, regardless of the costs to the taxpayers. When will this end? The taxpayers are the real victims here and will have to once again pay the bill for legal counsel and the waste of limited resources,” Bucher said.

What garbage. Residents of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County were the first victims here -- they were mugged by sleazy political maneuvering by Stone and his legislative co-conspirators State Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee) and Mark Honadel State Rep. (R-South Milwaukee) and their cronies at the MMAC.

Nyklewicz, who was doing his job when he filed the records request, was a victim as well, of a politician so arrogant he thinks he is above the law. The law is clear -- records have to be turned over in a timely fashion, not when the person holding the records finds it convenient to do so.

Lautenschlager is doing the right thing here. The courts should come down hard on Stone.


So Walker doesn't want a state handout?

Scott Walker on the Common Council's vote to move into preliminary engineering for the Milwaukee Connector, according to the Journal Sentinel:

Walker blasted the council vote, issuing a statement that questioned where the money would come from and added, "As usual, it is easy to spend other people's money when you don't have to dig into your own pockets to pay the bill."

This from the guy who's been begging the state for a handout to get the county out of the fiscal mess he helped create? Come on, Scott!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Walker's delusions

Let's get this straight. County Executive Scott Walker thinks that the Connector’s $300 million estimated price tag is too high, but he thinks that a $6 billion or $8 billion or $10 billion plan -- whatever it is now -- to build bigger freeways is "economic development."

Let's get this straight. County Executive Scott Walker doesn't want to raise taxes, but his administration so far has been supportive a $21 billion regional transportation plan that has a $65 million annual shortfall in funding.

Let's get this straight. County Executive Scott Walker swears he won't raise property taxes, but the freeway widening plan he likes so much is almost sure to do so through increased road maintenance costs, increased sewage treatment costs, and increased freeway patrol costs, to name just a few tax uppers.

Let's assume that whatever County Executive Scott Walker is smoking is legal.

Can I have some?

Surveillance cameras -- a waste of money?

Milwaukee is getting ready to embrace surveillance cameras as crime-fighting tools, even though they may not work. The Electronic Privacy Information Center and Privacy International report the cameras are multiplying in the United Kingdom like bad ideas in Congress despite their uselessness. There are 4 million of the privacy invading pests in the UK, “even though government reports had shown the systems had little effect on decreasing crime,” according to EPIC.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Jail death needs an inquest

The death of Steven Bublitz, of Butler, in the Milwaukee County Jail demands an inquest. Bublitz died by choking on his own blood. His sister said Bublitz told family members he had been throwing up blood for four days but jail personnel didn't give him his prescriptions given for ulcers and high blood pressure. Jail staff refused to accept medicine from the family.

These allegations shouldn't be brushed aside -- they are too similar to undisputed allegations in an earlier lawsuit that resulted in a judge finding the county in contempt of court for the appalling conditions at the jail.

That lawsuit, filed by Legal Aid Society and the ACLU, amply documented Sheriff David Clarke's incompetence, neglect, and gross mismanagement in running the jail. The lawsuit also alleged the county withheld medication from inmates. You can read about it here and here.

The plaintiffs are appealing the judge's decision not to award monetary damages.

District Attorney E. Michael McCann needs to take action in this latest case. The public needs to be assured that being in the Milwaukee County Jail is not a death penalty offense.

The death penalty follies

Wisconsin probably will have an advisory referendum on the death penalty. Here's hoping voters think really hard before pulling the levers in voting booths that could eventually lead to pulling the switches in executiion chambers (metaphorically speaking -- there are not actually so many levers and switches left).

A recent Cleveland Plain Dealer story reports that moral issues aside, there are efficiency and effectiveness challenges in state-sponsored murder.

"This isn't working," convicted murderer Joseph Clark said Tuesday morning as the lethal cocktail of drugs that was supposed to end his life backed up in his ruined vein and his arm began to swell.

Clark was commenting on his own problem-plagued execution, which finally came to pass after an unprecedented 40-minute scramble to find a working blood vessel that would accommodate the trickle of anesthetic and poisons. But his sentiments are shared in a broader context by opponents of lethal injection, who are challenging whether the procedure is a humane way to end a prisoner's life. The incident at the Lucasville prison - which quickly became national news - is the latest in a recent string of events that have focused increasing legal and political scrutiny on capital punishment by the needle.

The story continues:

The complications that delayed Tuesday's execution raise another issue. Intravenous drug users like Clark who have damaged their veins are notoriously difficult to prepare for lethal injection. A surgical procedure called a "cut-down," which exposes deeper, bigger blood vessels, is one solution, but medical professional groups say doctors' and nurses' participation in executions is unethical.

The people who struggled to find a useable vein for Clark's execution included paramedics, but not a nurse or doctor, said Ohio corrections department spokeswoman Andrea Dean.

Similar problems with lethal injection have occurred at least a dozen times in other states over the years, according to a review by Radelet.

"This seems to be a method the states really don't have a grip on," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. "They do it with what little training they have, but when something goes wrong, they don't know what to do."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Somebody send these people to school

Oh, moan, wail and gnashing of teeth over the state of tv news in this town (aside from the Gousha bombshell). A Channel 12 reporter said this morning that a motion hearing in court is when the 'defendant tries to do a plea bargain.'

Not sure I got the quote exactly right, but it's what she said.

And, of course, her definition is flat-out wrong. Too many TV reporters in this town don't even try to get it right, and their management just doesn't seem to care.

Don't go, Mike! Don't leave us with them!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The strange public hearing for MMSD plans

I stopped in at the public hearing this week that was held on the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District's application for DNR permits that would allow MMSD to build flood control project on the Milwaukee County grounds. This project is going to cost $90 million or more, create two huge stormwater ponds and have some wetlands impact, so it is no small deal.

The public hearing was unlike any I have ever attended. The first hint that something was odd came when one of the main speakers at the hearing thanked everyone for coming out to "support" the project. Really? Support? Sez who? Then the speaker described the project in positive terms -- hey, this is a sales pitch, not a public hearing!

Then, when he finished, someone in the audience finally asked: Who are you? And then, and only then, did the speaker reveal that he worked for HNTB, which is being more than a million bucks to design the project.

Neil Young Living with War

Neil Young has released an anti-war album. You can listen to the whole thing for free on a number of places on the Internet, including Young's web site. The New York Times ran a story about it, reporting:

It's his blunt statement about the Iraq war; "History was a cruel judge of overconfidence/back in the days of shock and awe," he sings, strumming an electric guitar and leading a power trio with a sound that harks back to Young albums like "Rust Never Sleeps" and "Ragged Glory."

Combined with the Bruce Springsteen slap in New Orleans, and it's been a bad couple of weeks, entertainment-wise, for the president. And that doesn't even count the Stephen Colbert punch in the gut at the annual White House correspondents' dinner. Colbert, depending on who you talk to or what you read (a link to the transcript is at the bottom of the story), put on a show of brilliant satire, gross disrespect, or bad comedy.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The low-down on MPS Internet access

The vitriol spewed when the Milwaukee Public Schools (my employer) proposed providing free broadband access to students was amazing, not to mention overtly racist in some instances.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's education overhaul, says that students -- yes, even impoverished ones -- should be able to use technology. In fact, NCLB places quite an emphasis on technology in education.

You can read about it here unless you are an MPS student without money, in which case, according to some, you really have no right to read about it here.

Maybe, though, the 'no access for poor people' folks are right -- that damned George Bush and his liberal NCLB. Doesn't he know that only people who can afford to be ripped off by Internet service providers should be allowed to have broadband?

To hell with you, kids, you're mostly poor, you're mostly minority, and you're mostly urban, so we know just what you'll be doing with that free Internet access (snicker). You'll be just like that Homeland Security guy who was trying to seduce a juvenile over the Internet.

Oh. Wait. He was white and middle class.

Well, how about that former top Boy Scouts of America guy busted for child porn?

Oh, wait. Another middle-class white guy.

Or that Cedarburg teacher canned for looking at porn at school?

Oops -- another white guy, presumably middle-class.

The solution to this problem is obvious: No Internet access for middle-class white guys!

For folks interested in what MPS is actually trying to do with its bandwidth, the Superintendent's Overview of the FY07 Budget, released last week, sums it up pretty well (and, yes, the district is pursuing different ways to get computers to kids, including a deal with Dell under which students learn to fix computers, then get to keep them).

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Packers: Biggest News of the Day?!

As Spivak and Bice would say, sort of:

Gas is hovering at around three bucks a gallon, there's still a nasty war in Iraq and state politicos are gearing up for one heckuva fight for control of the governor's mansion.

But if you're the Journal Sentinel, forget about all that. To the folks at 4th and State, what could possibly be more important than ...

The Packers' draft pick.

Front-page news, line story on a Sunday morning.

A solid win for News Lite.