Friday, March 30, 2007
Perhaps a tax would be the better idea. Ireland levies a 15 cent tax on each plastic bag, which cut their use by 90% and raised millions of euros, according to the BBC.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
It seems pretty close to the ultimate in moral corruption: "I'll vote the way you want on an issue that is life or death for thousands of people and will determine the standing of this country in the eyes of the world if you give me money for peanut storage."
How low can they go?
From Citizens Against Government Waste, a list of the House pork, followed by the Senate pork.
- $500 million for emergency wildfires suppression; the Forest Service currently has $831 million for this purpose;
- $400 million for rural schools;
$283 million for the Milk Income Loss Contract program;
$120 million to compensate for the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the shrimp and menhaden fishing industries;
$100 million for citrus assistance;
$74 million for peanut storage costs;
$60.4 million for salmon fisheries in the Klamath River region in
Californiaand ; Oregon
$50 million for asbestos mitigation at the U.S. Capitol Plant;
$48 million in salaries and expenses for the Farm Service Agency;
$35 million for NASA risk mitigation projects in
; Gulf Coast
$25 million for spinach growers;
$25 million for livestock;
$20 million for Emergency Conservation Program for farmland damaged by freezing temperatures;
$16 million for security upgrades to House of Representatives office buildings;
$10 million for the International Boundary and Water Commission for the Rio Grande Flood Control System Rehabilitation project;
$6.4 million for House of Representative’s Salaries and Expenses Account for business continuity and disaster recovery expenses;
$5 million for losses suffered by aquaculture businesses including breeding, rearing, or transporting live fish as a result of viral hemorrhagic septicemia;
$4 million for the Office of Women’s Health at the Food and Drug Administration; and
A minimum wage increase, which is the subject of separate legislation.
- $1.5 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers for recovery along the coast, including funding for
for an April 2006 flood; Hawaii
- $850 million for Department of Homeland Security grants ($625M for rail/transit grants, $190M for port security grants, and $35M for urban area security grants);
- $660 million for the procurement of an explosives detection system for the Transportation Security Administration;
- $640 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program;
- $425 million for education grants for rural areas;
- $388.9 million for a backlog of Department of Transportation projects;
- $165.9 million (including $60.4 million for salmon fisheries in the
region) for fisheries disaster relief; Klamath Basin
- $100 million for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions;
- $95 million for dairy producers;
- $75 million for salaries and expenses for the Farm Service Agency;
- $48 million in disaster construction money for NASA;
- $25 million for grants through the Safe and
program; Drug Free Schools
- $25 million for asbestos abatement at the Capitol Power Plant;
- $24 million to sugar beet producers;
- $22.8 million for geothermal research and development;
- $20 million for reimbursements to Nevada
- $20 million for reimbursements to
for “insect damage;” Nevada
- $13 for the Ewe Lamb Replacement and Retention Program;
- $12 million for Forest Service money requested by the president in the non-emergency FY2008 budget
- $3.5 million for guided tours of the Capitol;
- $3 million for sugar cane; and
- Allows the transfer of funds from holiday ornament sales in the Senate gift shop.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
In January, the Journal Sentinel's editorial board tsked-tsked the Milwaukee County Board's decision to study its political and technical relationship with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, a powerful but rather obscure property tax-supported body that does regional land use, transportation, water supply, and other planning for the seven-county area.
The headline on the editorial was:
REGIONAL COOPERATION -
No steps backward
Milwaukee County must not let its past beefs with the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission keep it from continuing to work with the agency.
There was the phrase again: regional cooperation. The Journal Sentinel uses it all the time without really defining it.
I e-mailed the editorial writer to ask for his definition of the term, but he did not respond.
Fortunately, there is Jim Rowen over at The Political Enviroment. Rowen, following up on work by ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker, did the math:
Three of 126 (or two percent) SEWRPC committee members are minorities.
So there you have it.
Regional cooperation, at least in part, is having a planning body on which minorities -- the overwhelming majority of whom live in Milwaukee and Milwaukee County -- are grossly underrepresented.
Oh. Seem like Milwaukee County ought give a hard look to that one.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
"If it had been racial, everyone would have jumped in," Zimmerman told the JS. "That was not the case."
There it is -- a fact so little well-known that nobody ever knew it: you can tell if a fight is racial by the percentage of available people participating.
Monday, March 26, 2007
That's all fine and dandy. It sounds a bit strange at first, but it's hard not to sympathize with the aldercritters when DPW folks testify about how many of those darned carts they pick up every week. Nobody wants their neighborhood to look like a shopping cart graveyard.
But, excuse me. Shopping carts are not the biggest litter problem the city faces. Litter is.
So why aldermen are holding grocery stores responsible for the carts, why not hold fast food restaurants responsible for the garbage that starts in their establishments and ends up everywhere? If the city can expect retailers to get together to hire a truck to pick up shopping carts, why can't they demand that the fast food empires -- especially McDonald's -- pick up the brightly colored fast food garbage that is dumped in streets and parking lots and on sidewalks and lawns everywhere in the city?
Are retailers being called to task because shopping carts are bigger? But which is really the worse problem? If all the fast food litter were weighed and all the stray shopping carts were weighed, which would would be heavier?
There are other things that people seem to believe don't really count as litter -- plastic water bottles, plastic water bottle caps, cigarette butts, cigarette packs, and alcohol containers of every kind.
Garbage is indeed a blight that is eating away at the city aesthetic.
The people who actually do the littering should, of course, be held accountable. The Public Safety Committee, though, is going after the businesses that distribute carts to customers, even though those businesses do not intend for their carts to be stolen and then abandoned. The city should apply very similar standards to other businesses that generate that packaging that turns into litter.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Appearing on Hardball with Chris Matthews to promote his new book, No Retreat, No Surrender, it's clear former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) didn't write it and perhaps never even read it before it was published.
Matthews asked DeLay about passages in his book where described former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX) as "drunk with ambition." Amazingly, DeLay denied writing that, even after Matthews showed him the underlined passage in his own book.
That almost makes up for Tim Russert, who fawned over DeLay on Meet the Press Sunday. Russert treated him like royalty, asking polite questions about the Iraq war and never raising questions about anything, like DeLay's indictment on money laundering charges, that might make the creep uncomfortable.
Friday, March 23, 2007
It's been no secret that the housing values in the central city soared over the past few years. That was likely caused in part by investors betting on continued pricing acceleration, but it also was undoubtedly due to lower-income folks getting non-traditional mortgages from subprime lenders willing to take a risk on shaky credit in exchange for mortgage interest rates that start very low, but jump very high a couple of years down the line.
These kind of deals sort of work for a few years. A lot of people who could not afford to buy homes in a traditional market are suddenly homeowners and that is a good thing, right? Property values in struggling areas soar as the market heats up. This makes local officials' jobs of developing property-tax dependent budgets just a little easier because the higher property values generate more property taxes.
It's unfortunate that some of the proud new homeowners can't afford the newly increased property taxes, but that is a small sidebar in the big housing boom story.
The real winners, if they do things right, are the lending companies that originate the loans. They can reduce their risk to the disappearing point by selling the paper on the secondary market. They take the profit and dump the risk. The bad news for Milwaukee is that the loans often are sold to new owners in New York or Los Angeles or Waukesha, or somewhere else the holders do not give a rat's behind about what happens to the central city here.
The subprime industry is now at the breaking point, though. The loans' nasty interest rate increases are kicking in, and the homeowners can't afford them. Foreclosures are jumping. People are losing their homes, which are now on the market for prices they no longer command. Eventually, those prices will drop, and so will the taxes they generate.
That probably means cuts in local government services when city residents need additional assistance. And foreclosed upon houses will sit vacant and boarded up, attracting the kind of bad activity that board-ups attract.
As the impact from the subprime collapse expands and lenders go bankrupt or out of business, there will be no way to enforce building code requirements for some of these places. If the person who took out a mortgage gets foreclosed upon, and the lender who holds the mortgage goes under, who does the city go after? It's stuck with yet another piece of blight. Property values in the area are infected by it and drop a little more.
This is the fix we are in. There are all sorts of variations on the theme. If real estate fraud is involved (and there is likely some of it, given the easy money that could be made in the formerly go-go market) losses could multiply. Lenders that survive the shake-out could look at the mortgages they hold, look at the cost of rehabbing the properties they took through foreclosure, decide the investment is not worth the payoff, and walk away. It happens all the time.
It seems likely now that it will happen now on a scale Milwaukee has not seen before.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
As for scandal, it's no more scandalous than cashing in vacation time. It's a benefit, generally negotiated, and weighed off against other considerations. If someone doesn't use 120 days of earned sick time during a long career and is allowed to cash in 30 of them at retirement, where is the scandal? Who is the winner? (Full disclosure: I'm a public employee accumulating sick leave, although since retirement is still fairly theoretical at this point, I am very hazy on the details.)
As for news, it just ain't. Remember the county pension scandal? Part II of that was the unlimited sick leave payout Milwaukee County allowed its employees to cash in. The scandal was not that the county allowed sick leave payouts, but that it didn't limit them.
JS reported on this repeatedly over the years. Why is it pretending now that sick leave payouts are something nobody knew about?
Busalacchi said it happened sometime before August 2006 when an IT worker erred and erased the calendar instead of backing it up.
That story ought to be easy enough to check out. There ought to be some sort of service request from Busalacchi's office asking for the backup and afterwards you'd think someone somewhere would write down something about destroying public records in the custody of a top state official.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Which is a bigger subversion of justice? Clinton's lying about his affair with an intern, or the Bush teams efforts to create a political prosecutorial force?
Monday, March 19, 2007
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Washington County officials, in response to an open records request, provided 37 pages worth of information about phone calls made from Ziegler's office -- but all the numbers were blacked out, according to Cory Liebmann at One Wisconsin Now:
A letter from Washington County Finance Director, Susan Haag, cites “strong public policy reasons for non-disclosure” and writes that every phone call placed from Ziegler’s office over a 25-month period is redacted to protect 'confidential information.'”
Ziegler could release the numbers herself, but hasn't. Washington County's interpretation of the law is more convenient for her than ensuring that the law is actually followed.
That is one more reason she should not be a Supreme Court justice.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Supervisors now make $50,874 annually and aldermen make $71,506. The county exec makes $129,611 and the mayor is paid $143,833, according to the JS.
The city and the county are not similar, so that can't be a factor in Heer's analysis. The county is much larger than the city geographically and in population. The city is much poorer than the county as a whole.
Aldermen and county supervisors also have very different duties, so those things aren't comparable, either. Being alderman is a full-time job. There are tons and tons of constitutents calls to handle in addition to committee work.
That just isn't true at the county, where five constituent calls on a single topic is a lot. Being a county supervisor leaves plenty of time for other pursuits. Former Supervisor Tom Bailey was a full-time lawyer and part-time supervisor; former County Supervisor Tony Zielinski -- now an alderman -- actually got his law degree at Marquette while he was a county supervisor.
Heer, in a report issued yesterday, says:
As we noted in our previous two reports, salary surveys of this nature can make for interesting general comparisons between different jurisdictions. However, it must be stressed that they do not take into account numerous and significant factors that may limit the ability to make meaningful direct comparisons between jurisdictions.
Yet Heer, who works for the County Board, also says City of Milwaukee salaries are near the average of those in communities surveyed so that's what county officials should get, too. That's it -- the only justification he offers.
Does he believe that salaries for city and county elected officials should be similar because they all are elected to four-year terms?
Milwaukee School Board members are elected to four-year terms, too. They are paid a whopping $18,121 annually, and do not have aides or offices. Should those salaries be raised to $71,506? Should the pay for aldermen and county supervisors be reduced to $18,121?
Maybe county supervisors deserve a raise. Maybe they don't. If they do, they should get them. But let's have some legitimate job studies to make legitimate comparisons.
To suggest that county electeds should get more money because others get more money -- no matter how similar or different the job duties are -- is just unfair to the people paying the bills.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
PIC Board Chairman John Hiller defended the his agency. "Existing agencies have all had failures, but we're making changes and becoming more effective and working in partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College and Bucyrus International," he said.
Except that the PIC was backing out of at least some of its relationship with MATC.
On Jan. 26, PIC Executive Vice President David Wilson sent out a notice stating that some agencies expecting money from the PIC wouldn't be getting it.
Effective Monday, March 5, 2007, we are temporarily suspending authorization of WIA (Workforce Investment Act) funding for the following adult activities:
* New training vouchers
* New intensive services vouchers
* New Customized Skills training programs
* New specialized certification trainings
The notice makes specific mention of MATC:
The previously planned specialized MATC trainings are included in the suspension. Customers already referred to the PIC for these trainings must be notified of the training suspension.
Sounds like a great partnership for the PIC. Make agreements, then back out, and keep the money.
Just how much is the PIC sticking MATC for, I wonder?
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
You know things are spinning out of a control for a public official when the spouse must be defend the pol's honor. A lot of times that means a lot of other people don't want to.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Attempts to do a movie stunt landed one man in the hospital with burned genitals and another facing criminal charges.
The men were trying to do a stunt from one of the “Jackass” movies, in which a character lights his genitals on fire.
Jared W. Anderson, 20, suffered serious burns to his hands and genitals, according to the criminal complaint. Randell D. Peterson, 43, who sprayed lighter fluid on Anderson and lit him on fire, was charged with felony battery and first-degree reckless endangerment Tuesday in Eau Claire County Court.
Witnesses told police that Anderson, who was drunk, volunteered to do the stunt Sunday after watching the movie, the complaint said.
According to the complaint:
Anderson pulled down his pants and let Peterson spray him with lighter fluid. When the fire didn’t catch, Peterson sprayed more lighter fluid on Anderson, splashing some on his clothing. He tried again to light the fire, catching Anderson’s genitals, hands and clothes.
Anderson ran into the bathroom, jumped into the tub and put the flames out. Other guests took him to Luther Hospital, and eventually he was treated at the Regions Hospital Burn Unit in St. Paul, Minn., for second-degree burns.
Anderson told police who were called to the hospital that he didn’t want anyone to get in trouble because of the stunt.
Peterson was freed on a $2,000 signature bond. He has a hearing scheduled April 16. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
"I've found him to be a person of exacting integrity, of the utmost integrity, and of total honesty and total commitment to serving the people of the state of Wisconsin."
He also said, according to a prepared statement, that Busalacchi is "one of the finest individuals to ever lead this agency."
The statements, taken together, are a definite, definite candidate for butt-kiss of the year.
As for the second statement, how the heck would Jambois know? How many WisDOT secretaries does he know well enough to judge their characters?
And it turns out that Jambois, in his former life as Kenosha County district attorney, receive Troha and Troha-related contributions, and Jambois' wife worked for Troha, promoting his casino interests.
All that is perfectly fine and legal, at least on its face.
Jambois says those connections to Troha are not enough to force him to recuse himself from acting in his official capacity in the current Troha trouble.
Jambois is wrong.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Could it be that elected officials were misled about the effort?
No, wait. Sorry. That was the Canal St. project.
That could never happen again, right?
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
This time, as WKOW reported first and the JS followed today, Busalacchi intervened in out-of-state tax dispute involving indicted Doyle donor Dennis Troha. WisDOT's level of intervention was unprecedented, but hey, really, Troha's donations had nothing to do with it. If I had a tax dispute with another state, Frank would treat me the same way and send a top departmental lawyer to Pennsylvania, on the state's dime, to intervene on my behalf.
It must be true, because a Doyle guy says it is.
"It is completely appropriate for the Department of Transportation to help settle disputes on behalf of other states, and that's what happened here," said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic governor.
Mr. Canter, no one out here believes you, so could you cite some other examples?
Doyle, though, likely will stand by his man, continuing to enable Frank's lapses of judgment. History bears it out:
When WisDOT spent $685,000 on a web site constructed by major campaign donor HNTB (it was a no-bid deal), Doyle's office said that was just fine. As the Marquette Interchange design contracts were amended more than 100 imes, putting more and more and more money into the pockets of HNTB and CH2M Hill, Doyle remained silent. Maybe he believed Frank when Busalacchi insisted that open-ended contracts save the state money, he just couldn't prove it. When Frank's road-building cronies, who were negotiating a multi-million dollar highway design deal with DOT at the time, kicked in cash at a Doyle fundraiser held by a top DOT official , Doyle gladly took the money.
All in a day's work.
All for the benefit of Wisconsin taxpayers.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
To fuel all those cars that will replace the buses that George Bush, Scott Walker and Jim Doyle don't want to fund, we will need more oil. And, of course, that means war. And that costs even more money than transit.
From OMB Watch:
A new round of defense and emergency appropriations will raise the total amount of money spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to nearly $750 billion by the end of FY 2008, according to a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Later in March, Congress will begin consideration of President Bush's FY 07 request for an additional $93.4 billion in emergency war funding. $70 billion in war funding has already been appropriated for FY 07, bringing the likely total for incremental war expenditures (or additional funds needed for the wars, including reconstruction) to $163.4 billion for the current fiscal year.
The Bush administration requested $141.7 billion in war spending for FY 08 and projected $50 billion for FY 09. The CBO calculatesthat these requests will bring the total amount appropriated for the military campaigns to $746 billion. But costs will most likely exceed the FY 08 request, as the rate of spending in Iraq has accelerated each year of the war, mostly due to increasing equipment maintenance and repair costs.The Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates that total spending for the Iraq war alone will reach $456 billion by the end of FY 07 and that the Iraq campaign has received about seventy to eighty percent of all spending on the two wars. These figures from the CRS are only estimates because the Department of Defense has not released data on the disaggregated costs of each recent military operation. Indeed, there is no consensus among budget-monitoring government agencies as to how much money in total has been spent on the wars. The Department of Defense does not track budget outlays.
Now you understand. We need to cut transit to pay for the wars to get the oil we need to fuel the additional cars that are on the road because we cut transit.
Monday, March 05, 2007
The comptroller's office recommended that several steps be taken to prevent some of the budget boo-boos that occurred during the Canal Street project from occurring again.
Procedures and safeguards will help guard against error, but deliberate deception, whether by omission or commission, is not an error. DPW personnel made a conscious decision to not tell other city officials and the public that Canal Street would cost a lot more than the $20 million that was budgeted.
What happened to the people who participated in this deception? Were there consequences? More importantly, what assurances do Milwaukee residents have that this won't happen again?
Sunday, March 04, 2007
For the rest of us, the outlook ain't so grand.
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The nation’s budget policies are unsustainable. Our projections show that if current budget policies are continued (e.g., if current laws governing Medicare, Social Security, and other programs remain unchanged, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent, and relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax is continued), deficits will reach about 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product by 2050, and the national debt will climb to 231 percent of GDP by that year, or more than twice the size of the U.S. economy. Debt-to-GDP ratios in this range are unprecedented in the United States, even during major wars.
Friday, March 02, 2007
a purely Democratic scandal. Or will US Attorney Steve Biskupic, a Republican appointee, cast his prosecutorial gaze on both sides of the state's aisle?
It is likely that plenty o' mud will stick to Gov. Doyle, even if no one is convicted. Troha's indictment paints a rather unseemly picture of modern-day campaigning. Troha wanted approval of a casino deal that would make him a rich man. Doyle's campaign, coming up against a campaign finance reporting deadline, asked Troha to raise some money, presumably to pump up Doyle's numbers before they were made public.
A Doyle "campaign official" then trooped to Troha's office to pick up $47,500 in campaign checks Troha family members wrote either on that very day or on the previous day. A few days later, Troha "loaned" those family members the exact same amounts they donated to the campaign! How's that for a coincidence!
Doyle and his campaign may or may not have known how Troha allegedly arranged the family "donations." Doyle and/or his minions, though, turned to someone they really help out if Doyle were re-elected, and asked that someone to raise lots of cash in a hurry. That someone did. Are we really supposed to believe that no quo was attached to that quid? Are we really supposed to believed that the Doylies believed that?
Thursday, March 01, 2007
The piece started out well enough, with just a bit of pique:
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made some good points last week about water and Waukesha County communities in a talk to environmental leaders. In preaching to his choir, Barrett said cities such as Waukesha and New Berlin should not be allowed to tap into Lake Michigan just to fuel continued urban sprawl.
"In preaching to his choir"? My, my. Let's keep track of how many times that particular phrase is hauled out in reference to suburban leaders. Besides being snarky, the comment reveals a rather striking ignorance of Milwaukee politics. Memo to JS: there has been a bit of tension between Barrett and enviros on a number of issues, including water. This editorial reads like its writer gets his or her Milwaukee news -- well, from the JS.
The editorial then goes on to raise a series of ludicrous questions:
Is he opposed to all growth? Does he think there should be no more subdivisions in Waukesha County or just no more 5-acre lots or no more office parks or shopping malls that employ people from throughout the region?
I haven't talked to Barrett about this, but will hazard a guess at the answers: no, he is not opposed to all growth. No, he does not believe there should be no more subdivisions in Waukesha County. No, he does not believe there should be no more office parks or shopping malls. In fact, he has even supports their development in Milwaukee.
The editorial's questions are just silly, and serve to raise spurious questions about Barrett and his beliefs. It's a tactic often seen in negative political campaigns -- it really shouldn't be employed on the editorial page. If these were real questions, why didn't the editorial writer pick up the phone and ask Barrett?
What a concept, eh? Or would the answers just get in the way?
The editorial also says:
Returning to those sad days of vocal feuding between the city and the suburbs solves nothing. Water will be a problem for cities outside the lake basin even with reasonable growth.
Regionalism means one community helping the other as much as possible. In other words, true partnership.
Shhhhh, Milwaukee. Don't bother those people out there. They're asleep and want to stay that way.
So the suburban counties embrace regional cooperation? That would mean, of course, a willingness to share the costs of dealing with an impoverished population; development of affordable housing and extensive inter-county transit; and respect for Milwaukee's opposition to freeway expansion within its borders, to name just a few of the more obvious issues
The JS, if it truly believes in regional cooperation, should go after the suburbs on these issues. Or would that mean questioning its choir?