Thursday, June 28, 2007

Another blow for open access

A judge ruled yesterday that lobbyists and corporate hacks can see drafts of legislation and even write legislation, bu it can all be kept hidden away from members of the general public until bills are introduced.

Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan said his decision protects the "institutional integrity" of the Legislature.

Wrong. Protecting special interest influence in the Legislature, as this decision does, is not protecting the integrity of the Legislature. It is destroying it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Regional cooperation (giggle)

The collective noses of the Waukesha County Board are out of joint because reallocation of federal transit dollars to communities that actually provide transit left Waukesha County a total of about $100,000 short.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, after 25 years of an allocation formula that shorted Milwaukee County, developed a more equitable formula after Milwaukee County finally got around to object to being shafted.

"Give us our money back," said Waukesha County Supervisor Ken Herro.

Regional cooperation, my eye. Herro is heavily involved in SEWRPC, and has consistently supported SEWRPC's plans to expand freeways in the region, a move that will cost Milwaukee County the most in terms of lost tax base and negative environmental and health impacts. Milwaukee and other communities in Milwaukee County also have torn down millions of dollars in buildings to develop new flood control areas needed, in part, because of development in Waukesha County.

And Waukesha County is crying about $100,000? Give me a break.

The best transportation vote yet

The Senate version of the budget bill would prohibit adding lanes to I-94 adjacent to Wood National Cemetery.

This is a smart vote, and one the Assembly should ratify. Though it's been a while since I've contacted the National Cemetery Administration, the good folks there have not been at all enthusiastic about hanging freeway lanes directly over veterans' graves, which the folks at the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission thought was just a spiffy idea.

It would also be somewhat ironic: while soldiers are fighting and dying in a war that lots of folks perceive to be all about oil, the State of Wisconsin desecrates their graves so residents can save four minutes during rush hour in the year 2020 driving their oil-burning rigs from downtown to the Zoo.

Probably not the image the people of this region want to have of themselves.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

First place for overreaching to bash the Wisconsin Health Initiative

Shoot. I don't know who said it because I was listening with half an ear, but yes, the Republican's assertion during the Senate debate today was real: If the Wisconsin Health Initiative is adopted, state residents will lose their critical thinking skills.

Whoever that was must have one helluva health plan -- with many, many drugs included -- to lose all thinking skills.

Senate Dems and the transportation budget

The Senate Dems have made the proposed transportation budget better.

That's different than saying they have built a good transportation budget. It's just a less bad budget, with a rare glimmer of "good." There's still way too much highway spending -- in fact there is even more than the Joint Finance Committee recommended. And those tax and fee increases -- there's more of them, too.

The state could fund a lot of good alternative transportation programs and maintain highways without so many tax hikes if it would just cut back on road-building a little bit. (Although, yes, tax the heck out of SUV registrations.)

The Dems' budget would boost all sorts of spending. It would boost general transportation aids by almost $8 million so municipalities and counties could fix their roads.

Mass transit assistance would go up by almost $8 million, which is a start, but isn't enough to keep the buses rolling in the long term, especially in Milwaukee County. State officials obviously are frustrated at the transit impasse between Mayor Tom Barret and County Executive Scott Walker, but that particular political tiff doesn't mean much to people standing on corners waiting for their buses. State transit funding ought to be about those folks, not about punishing or rewarding political friends and foes.

Specialized transportation for the elderly and disabled under the Dems' budget would go up by $202,500, which is kind of a joke or an insult, depending on your point of view. The Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter line extension would get its $15 per vehicle car rental tax funding.

The Dems would even require the Department of Transportation to do some financial planning, which the department just is stinky at right now. WisDOT, under the Dems' plan, would have to submit 10-year revenue and bonding estimates with each budget. What a concept, eh? Giving a clue about the total costs of road-building before sending taxpayers the bills.

Still, WisDOT just doesn't get that the state has to start moving away from single-occupancy vehicles and toward a much broader transit scenario. The issues involved are serious, ranging from oil dependency to climate change to water quality. (A lot of that that nasty, nasty highly-contaminated highway runoff ends up in our rivers and lakes.)

The Senate Dems' proposal still would approve expansion of north-south I-94 from south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to the south side of Milwaukee, even though there is no design plan, no funding plan, and no budget for this project.

The Dems would go ahead with the accelerated reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange, even though the construction phases of the north-south project and the Zoo Interchange project would overlap, driving up costs. The Dems would not, however, grant automatic approval to expand the Interchange, which is something the governor requested.

The Dems also would increase the already bloated highway development fund by another $36.5 million, keeping the "Pave Wisconsin Program" alive and well. See how it works? $8 million for transit, $36.5 million for highways. Not exactly the balanced transportation system people keep saying we need.

And then there's the pork. Whoa, this particular Dem package was born oinking. There's $2.1 million to improve County Highway H on Madeline Island, $800,000 to extend 39th Ave. from 18th St. to 26th St. in Kenosha, $150,000 for a trail in Whitewater, $400,000 for streetscaping on 6th St. in Racine, $50,000 for restoration of a historic bridge in the Town of Armstrong Creek and $15,000 for a walking trail in, appropriately enough, the Village of Footville.

Better, but not good.

Monday, June 25, 2007

WYMS stands up for itself by shutting down (sort of)

One of the best things that has happened in Milwaukee radio in a long time is 88.9, the reinvention of WYMS-FM. The music is great and very diverse. Or, as one over 40 fan put it, "I can learn about rap, and rappers can learn about good music."

The station also streams its programming over the Internet.

But not on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, WYMS and other stations around the nation will shut down their web streams.

As the station explains: Internet radio is in immediate danger of being silenced permanently through new, government-imposed royalty rates that are so high they will shut down most webcasters and could force RadioMilwaukee to severely limit our stream.

Royalties are going to increase 300% to 1200% under the horrendous scheme concocted by the
Copyright Royalty Board. The crushing costs mean that small net radio stations will simply go out of business; others will sharply curtail their offerings.

Bills have been introduced in Congress to reverse the CRB's decision. If you want to save net radio, write to your Congress people. US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) already have signed on to such legislation.

You can find out more at Radio Milwaukee.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Iraq surge

The Washington Post reports today that experts are concerned that insurgents are just moving from where the United States has sent additional soldiers as part of the surge to other areas, where there are not so darned many US soldiers.

I mean, no sh--. Did anyone really think that would not happen? Were the insurgents supposed to calmly wait in Baghdad until additional Americans arrived to blow them away? Could anyone be so stoooo-pid as to believe that is what would happen?

Oh, yeah. George Bush.

Maybe he thought those additional troops would be greeted as liberators.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

One for the rule of law -- for now

A federal appeals court ruled this week that the government can't just read or seize your stored e-mail without a search warrant.

The 6th District Court of Appeals "found that email users have the same reasonable expectation of privacy in their stored email as they do in their telephone calls -- the first circuit court ever to make that finding," according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed a brief in the case.

The ruling knocks on its keister the federal Stored Communications Act, used by the government for a couple decades to secretly grab e-mails. The court ruled that the law violates 4th Amendment rights.

Celebrations that pieces of the Constitution still stand should be muted. The case could well be appealed to the US Supreme Courts, where the Constitution frequently is of secondary concern, well behind the court's primary interest of kowtowing to the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Court holds out a hand to women and their kids

Wisconsin's welfare administrators interpreted the W-2 law like this: if women on welfare can't find jobs, cut off cash assistance they need to support their children and to buy the gas to go on job interviews so they can earn their own money to support their kids.

Helllllo, people. Then yesterday arrived, and with it a little lesson in common sense from the State Court of Appeals. The court read the law, and found that it did not allow the "job ready" category into which the Department of Workforce Development tossed people it didn't want to assist.

This is not a plug for unlimited, lifetime cash assistance for W-2 recipients. It is a plug for a little reasonableness: if women with the ability and desire to work can't find jobs, the best approach would seem to be to assess the reasons why they can't find jobs and then help them deal with those issues.

The state's treatment of women with good work ethics, good attitudes and children seems unnecessarily harsh and punitive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Regional recycling

Now, it is suggested, local governments in Wauwatosa, Waukesha and Milwaukee should hold hands and sing the Regional Cooperation theme song over the chance to recycle old beer cans and newspapers in a single facility.

Which fight will be bigger? The one among the three governments to put the recycling center in another community because of noise and traffic concerns? Or the one among the three governments to host the facility because none of them want to pay the exhorbitant costs to send hundreds of trucks 20 or 30 miles to each day to drop off old newspapers?

Monday, June 18, 2007

McIlheran delivers another head slapper

Patrick McIlheran, the JS' sop to the far, far right wing gets it amazingly wrong when he writes about transit and road funding.

McIlheran writes:

"Roads are paid for by taxes drivers pay when they use the roads. Transit is paid for by taxes drivers pay when they don't use transit and by taxes everyone pays when they don't necessarily use it, either."

That roads are paid for by drivers when they use them will come as a big surprise to lots and lots of city residents who pay special assessments when the roads in front of their houses are repaid or reconstructed. Milwaukee residents also pay a snow and ice removal fee even if they don't drive. (Memo to Patrick: The snow and ice are removed from the roads.)

Finally, there is the study by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, which lays out how much in property taxes residents pay because WisDOT spends money building bigger freeways that aren't needed instead of paying eligible costs for local road repair: a whopping $1.3 billion statewide annually.

Yup, it's another head-slapper from McIlheran. But do we slap our own heads for reading his drivel, McIlheran's head for writing such drivel, or the editors' heads for printing such drivel?

What is especially troubling is that there is no doubt that JS editors know that roads are not completely paid for by drivers, so why do they let McIlheran assert such falsehoods without a peep of protest? Yes, he's an opinion columnist and so has tremendous leeway, but quantifying funding sources for roads is not an opinion -- it is a fact or, as in this case, an untruth.

Do no journalistic standards apply to columnists? And if not, why not?

More on McIlheran's loose grip on road-funding reality from
Jim Rowen and John Michlig.

JS continues to reel

The latest numbers for JS revenue are out and they are scary bad. Newspapers all over the country are offering buyouts and laying off staff. It's a wonder that the JS hasn't done those things before now. Bigger wonder: how long can the paper hold out before it joins the staff-cutting crowd? Here it is, straight from Journal Communications' own press release.

MILWAUKEE, WI – June 18, 2007 – Journal Communications, Inc. (NYSE:JRN) announced today that for the fifth period ended May 27, 2007, total revenues for its Publishing and Broadcast groups of $43.47 million decreased 5.3% compared to $45.91 million reported for the fifth period ended May 21, 2006. For the fifth period 2007, advertising revenues of $36.43 million decreased 6.5% compared to $38.95 million for the 2006 fifth period. Both periods contained 28 days.

Note that unless otherwise indicated, all comparisons are to the fifth period ended May 21, 2006.

At the Publishing segment, revenues at the daily newspaper and the community newspapers and shoppers totaled $25.14 million, down 6.8% compared to $26.98 million. Advertising revenue was $18.11 million, down 9.6% compared to $20.03 million. Circulation revenue of $4.10 million was down 3.1% compared to $4.23 million. Other revenue of $2.93 million was up 7.7%.

At the daily newspaper, total advertising revenue was $13.15 million, down 8.5% compared to
$14.37 million. Specifically, retail advertising was down 3.0%, classified advertising revenue was
down 10.7%, national advertising revenue of $0.50 million decreased 22.7% and direct marketing revenue of $0.30 million was down 47.0%, reflecting a large department store’s consolidation of all of its mail programs. Within classified advertising, the help wanted and real estate verticals were down 14.6% and 19.9%, respectively, and the auto and other verticals increased 4.9% and 1.3%, respectively. Circulation revenue at the daily newspaper was $4.00 million, down 0.5% compared to $4.02 million. Other revenue at the daily newspaper of $0.89 million was up 30.1% compared to $0.69 million, reflecting the new USA Today commercial printing contract. Total interactive advertising revenue at the daily newspaper, which is reflected in the various revenue categories, increased 56.5% to $1.11 million compared to $0.71 million.

At the Company’s community newspapers and shoppers operations, total advertising revenue was $4.95 million, down 12.4% compared to $5.65 million. This largely reflects a mid-week shared mail product previously reported by the community newspapers and shoppers division and now reported under the daily newspaper following a business combination of the two operations’ shared mail product in Milwaukee. Specifically, retail advertising revenue was down 11.3%, classified advertising revenue decreased 19.5% and other advertising revenue of $0.06 million was up 31.1%.

Circulation revenue at the community newspapers and shoppers of $0.11 million decreased 50.2%, largely reflecting the change in the distribution model of the community newspapers in the Milwaukee area (from paid circulation to free delivery with the Thursday Milwaukee Journal 2 Sentinel). Other revenue at the community newspapers and shoppers of $2.04 million increased 0.2%. Period 5 2006 and Period 5 2007 results for the community newspapers and shoppers division include the Louisiana operations, whose pending sale was announced recently. For Journal Communications’ financial reporting purposes, the Louisiana operations will be reported as discontinued operations in the second quarter 2007 earnings press release.

At the Broadcasting segment, total revenue at the Company’s radio and television stations of $18.33 million decreased 3.2% compared to $18.92 million. At the radio group, revenue was $7.07 million, down 0.5% compared to $7.11 million. On a same-station basis (excluding revenue generated by KBBX-FM, which was sold in September 2006 and KOMJ-AM, which was sold earlier this year), radio revenue for the fifth period 2007 increased 1.7%. At the television group, revenue decreased 4.7% to $11.26 million compared to $11.82 million, primarily due to a decline in political and issue advertising revenue.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What part of 'no money' don't you understand?

God bless John and Tashia Morgridge for their generous donation of $4 million towards a new Hoyt Park swimming pool.

The problem is that county officials are looking to shift county dollars away from Hoyt Park to fund another pool in Lincoln Park or elsewhere. There is a small flaw with that idea: it doesn't make any sense.

Parks Director Sue Black said she hopes the $4 million challenge grant will draw in another $4 million, so an endowment can be established to pay for operating expenses and maintenance. Let's say the Hoyt Pool doesn't cost the county any money, ever.

But Hoyt Park pool is closed, so the county isn't spending any money to run it. No savings there.

The economics of the multi-pool proposal really boils down to this: add a pool to the Milwaukee County park system that doesn't cost county taxpayers anything to build or maintain and
add another pool to the Milwaukee County park system that taxpayers must pay to both build and maintain.

These two things, added together, do not equal 0.

If supervisors really want to add two functioning swimming pools to the parks system, they need to cut somewhere else or add to the tax levy. And if they want to do the latter, they need to figure out how to get that idea past County Exec Scott Walker's veto pen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A great day in a couple of court cases

There was great news yesterday in a couple of court cases. The first, of course, is the 4th District Court of Appeals' rejection of the Bush Administration's policy of holding suspected prisoners without charges forever and ever, amen, or as long as the Bushies want to, whichever comes first.

Score one for the courts. Let's put the meaning back into the Constitution.

And in a decision that may lead to the reintroduction of fundamental fairness into the courts, the US Supreme Court has agreed to review the sentencing disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine cases and powder cocaine cases. Defendants in crack cocaine cases -- predominantly young black males -- face extraordinarily long sentences if they are convicted. Judges don't like the mandatory sentences and neither do many prosecutors. It is simply time to take a new look at this issue and restore some sanity to the sentencing guidelines.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Weather fraud! Oh, the horror!

Someone is using an anonymous web form to lie to the National Weather Service about severe weather.

The simple solution to this is to retire the anonymous web form and use something different. (Why would anyone insist on anonymity to report bad weather, anyway? Fear of retaliation by a high wind or bolt of lightning?)

Changing the form would most likely end the problem, but the National Weather Service instead called in the FBI and some dumb schmuck now faces arrest and prosecution. OK, whoever is doing this is an idiot, but using federal resources -- including the FBI, the US attorney's office, the US Marshal's office (court bailiffs), the federal court system, and maybe the Bureau of Prisons -- seems a bit silly.

The JS reported:

On April 25, a report came in stating that a tornado causing damage and injuries had hit Blue Mound, Ill. Local NBC affiliate WAND-TV in Decatur, Ill., interrupted normal broadcasting to give wall-to-wall coverage of the severe weather for approximately three hours, said Lee Davis, chief meteorologist with WAND-TV.

TV overhyped a non-weather event. Stop the presses -- gee, that's never happened before.

Didn't the reporters there get suspicious when they couldn't find any damage? The station had wall-to-wall coverage for three hours of a tornado nobody could find? Blue Mound, Ill., where the tornado allegedly occurred, has all of 1,129 people in it .6 square miles in size. Where the hell would a tornado hide?

Doesn't the FBI have better things to do?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

And he works in a bank??!!

Pefecto Rivera, a Republican who ran a really bad race against U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), came out with this whopper on wispolitics. com;

"Green lost the Hispanic vote here," Rivera said. "Had he been able
to get another 7 percent of the Latino vote in Milwaukee, we'd have a
different governor."

What a load! Jim Doyle got 121,287 votes in Milwaukee; ambassador-to-Tanzania-to-be Mark Green got 46,948. Even if every one of those Green votes came from Hispanics, a 7% boost would put Green at 50,234.36 (that .36 likely is fraudulent, giving US Attorney Steve Biskupic someone to chase) and he still would have been crushed.

Rivera works at a bank, where there are lots and lots of numbers. Scary.

For more, check out Mr. Xoff.

Friday, June 08, 2007

No, no, it's the men's fault

Jim Rowen picks up on a Waukesha Freeman story about county officials blaming women who wear thin clothes during the winter for high heating costs. (Most women I know pull out the wool in winter months, so maybe the Waukesha County blamers are wrong, or maybe we just grow 'em smarter here in Milwaukee.)

What the Freeman fails to mention is that men are to blame -- absolutely and without a doubt -- for over air-conditioned offices in the summer. Women dress appropriately for the weather -- light clothes, sandals. Like that.

Men, on the other hand, still wear ties and suit coats to work, then set the indoor temperature for their comfort. (Men are almost always in charge of these things, driven by the same freaky genetic thing that demands they control the TV remote.) The air conditioning gets cranked up good, driving up costs unnecessarily.

And the women, freezing, counter the air conditioning by turning on their space heaters.

Ka-ching.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Global warming and gender

Global warming will be harder on poor countries than on rich ones. It also will be harder on the women in those poor countries than on the men. The relief agency Oxfam lays it out in a new report, "Adapting to climate change: "What's needed in poor countries, and who should pay."

Women are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and coming climate change. Why? Because deep inequalities between women and men – in the community, in the economy, and before the law – mean that women typically shoulder more responsibilities, but have fewer rights realised. First, women tend to depend more on the natural environment for their livelihoods, for example relying on rain to water their crops, or making use of forest plants for medicines, materials, and food. Second, women have often had less education, and are subject to social customs which may restrict their mobility and role in the economy, so it is more difficult for them to find new, more dependable ways of earning an income. Third, women are typically responsible for unpaid household chores such as fetching water and fuel, and caring for ill and dependent family members: climate variability and change will make all of these tasks more demanding. Fourth, women’s claim to their agricultural land is often insecure, and their role as carers means they have little time to be involved in community decision-making. Without their perspectives and participation, there is a real risk that adaptation plans could actually make women more vulnerable to climate impacts, and less empowered in their communities.

Definitely not the Republican base. No wonder the Bush administration is so cavalier about it all.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What excuse for not doing the housing study will there be tomorrow?

SEWRPC first said it just didn't have the money to do the housing study it promised more than two years ago.

Money apparently is no longer the problem. Now the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission now says it's just too busy to get to that study right away. From the Daily Reporter:

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has delayed a regional housing study because its planners are too busy working on Smart Growth plans for the counties surrounding Milwaukee.....

“We’re not singling the housing study out by any means of the imagination,” (Executive Director Phil) Evenson said of the delay. “I’ve got a list of things I can’t get done.”

Wonder what the new excuse will be tomorrow.

Can Congress find the courage?

Congress has a new chance to show its independence from the Bush Adminsitration and to demonstrate that some sort of basic sense of decency still survives in Washinton: our electeds can restore basic legal rights to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Military judges threw out a couple cases against them yesterday, ruling that the government never showed -- oopsie whoopsie -- that the defendants were "unlawful enemy combatants," which is necessary if the government is going to meet its own woefully low standards for detaining folks.

(The Pentagon declared the issue to be merely technical and semantic, but then, the Pentagon thinks having a reason to invade a country before doing so is just a technicality.)

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said the decisions could prompt Congress to review its 2006 decision to deny Gruantanamo detainees habeas corpus.

Habeus corpus never should been stripped from these defendants.

Guantanamo was already a huge travesty; last year's habeas decision confirmed the detention center's status as a tragedy.

C'mon, Congress. Fix it now.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The transportation votes

The Joint Finance Committee, on an 8-8 vote, killed a proposal to fund the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail project.

On the same day, the Joint Finance Committee voted, 8-8, to kill a proposal to increase state aid for regular ol' transit. The proposal would have been a godsend for the Milwaukee County Transit System and all the people that depend on it.

The KRM vote got tons of coverage and the JS even lamented the measure's loss in an editorial.
The transit vote, though, didn't get a mention in the major media.

KRM commuters likely are to be whiter and wealthier than the people who depend on the Milwaukee County Transit System. Is it just a coincidence that the whiter, wealthier system got more attention?

Editors surely didn't sit around plotting to exclude the transit debate from coverage, but the powers backing the KRM are much better at making their voices heard than are the folks who stand on the corners in the winter, waiting for their buses and hoping their routes don't get cut.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The obvious

Robert Zellner was fired from his job as a Cedarburg teacher for looking at porn on his work computer.

Yesterday, the JS brought us this revelation about that very machine: "Computer images show nudity, sex."

Dear JS: It's a porn case. Nudity, sex and porn often do go together.