Monday, July 30, 2007
Although it is uncertain how high spending will be in any given future year, it is certain that if the growth of spending does not eventually slow down, at some point financing that spending will become infeasible. No spending path can grow faster than the economy forever; at some point, the costs will exceed the resources than can be extracted from the economy, and changes in policy will have to be made.
CQ.com on the costs of the wars:
The Congressional Research Service reported Monday that the average monthly cost of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had been clocked at $12 billion. Two years ago, the CRS put the monthly figure at $7.7 billion.
It's called "unsustainable."
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The TVs in our house are generally bulky, boxy and ancient, and that's just fine. We got our Netflix, we got public television, and we got Andy Griffith reruns (the black-and-white ones being a far superior rendition of an America that never existed than the later, color ones).
Now the government is telling us that pretty soon our happy TV habits won't be good enough. We have to upgrade or shell out money for converter boxes. Oh, goodie -- more wires!
The government that is scared to take on the health care issue bravely steps forward to dictate what kind of TVs we must have!
From the Los Angeles Times:
Millions of TV sets that rely on antennas may go dark in a little more than 18 months, and the government needs to do much more to help people who own them see the light, senators said Thursday.
"I think there's high potential for a train wreck here," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Federal Communications Commission and Commerce Department officials during a hearing on the transition to digital-only signals.
Lawmakers and advocacy groups have become increasingly concerned that the government isn't doing enough to educate the approximately 20% of U.S. households — 1 million in Los Angeles alone — that receive only over-the-air TV.
Under federal law, stations must turn off their analog signals Feb. 18, 2009.
...The government is relying on the television industry and consumer electronics makers to do the bulk of the public education, and so far "their efforts have yielded few results," said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii).
...Inouye promised Thursday to take action on the public education effort after listening to complaints from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and AARP, the organization for seniors. The groups are concerned that many poor and isolated people will be left without TV signals.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Let's not move on.
The whole sorry, sickening scene of cops gone wild should not be viewed as an aberration that won't happen again. It needs to be seen as something that cannot be allowed to happen again.
And use the memory to build a better Police Department and a better community.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Gonzales hit a new low, a low actually lower than low, when he struck a patronizing, sexist and sanctimonious tone during his testimony. It was all sprinkled with a little layer of nauseating, mainly because he didn't even sound like he expected anyone to believe it.
Members of the Judiciary Committee were querying the attorney general about the mysterious firings of those nine US attorneys. From Reuters:
Gonzales was asked about testimony in May by a former aide, Monica Goodling. She said that although Gonzales had earlier testified he had not discussed the probe with colleagues, he had raised the topic with her shortly before she left the Justice Department.
"Which one of you is telling the truth?" (US Sen. Patrick) Leahy asked.
"I did have that conversation with her in the context of trying to console and reassure an emotionally distraught woman," Gonzales said (emphasis added). "I tried to reassure her (that) as far as I knew no one had done anything intentionally wrong."
Emotionally distraught? Monica Goodling? Unbelievable on its face; a contradiction in terms.
"Emotionally distraught woman," he said.
Not "emotionally distraught staff member," or "emotionally distraught colleague."
Nope. Gonzales chose the undoubtedly well-rehearsed "emotionally distraught woman," which just oozes with connotations of weakness, hysteria, and tears.
Golly, so how would he know why Monica Goodling said those untrue things about him? She's "emotionally distraught," and you know how those women are!
Gonzales tried to portray himself as a towering specimen of macho concerned for the little unstable gal who worked for him.
Instead, he showed himself to be a quivering puddle of cravenness, willing to belittle a colleague to disguise his own bad behavior.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
The postcard Wal-Mart sent was, as my mother would say, enough to gag a maggot.
"A new store would bring new jobs to the community, and also deliver Wal-Mart's low-priced shopping convenience to our customers in the neighborhood. Our commitment as a good neighbor means a new store designed to embrace the character of the neighborhood."
Wal-Mart, first of all, should know that "and also" is kind of redundant, but maybe the postcard was produced by slave labor in China, along with so many of the chain's other products.
Yes, a Wal-Mart would bring new jobs, but those bottom-shelf jobs would supress wages across the retail market and destroy other jobs in businesses that cannot compete with Wal-Mart's cost-cutting and market dominance. Suppliers go broke simply trying to keep Wal-Mart happy.
Then there is just the simple fact that Wal-Mart is a bad landlord. Its overly-large parking lots are often filled with litter, which tends to migrate to local streets and yards. In recent debates about abandoned shopping carts cluttering up city neighborhoods, Wal-Mart was identified as the largest source of the stray carts. Wal-Mart doesn't care about neighborhoods; it cares about profits.
Since Wal-Mart folks also said on the card that the proposed store would be "along the abandoned railroad tracks," I'm wondering if that is the part of "the character of the neighborhood" the proposed SuperCenter would embrace. Besides, have you ever seen a Wal-Mart that looked like anything other than every other Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart closes its card with this plea:
If you're unable to attend, please take a moment to call Alderman Michael Murphy at (414) 286-2221 and ask him to support new jobs for our community and low-price, shopping convenience!
I have a better idea. Call Ald. Murphy, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him to say "Hell, no" to Wal-Mart.
For those who are interested in attending, the meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 26 at Burbank Elementary, 6035 W. Adler St.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
From Taegen Goddard's Political Wire.
"There once was a man named Vitter/Who vowed that he wasn’t a quitter/But with stories of women/And all of his sinnin’/He knows his career’s in the -- oh, never mind."
-- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), quoted by The Hill, on Sen. David Vitter’s (R-LA) prostitution scandal.
Monday, July 23, 2007
This morning's story on proposed transit cuts, for example, does not mention the proposal by state Democrats to boost state aid for the Milwaukee County Transit 2.5% plus $4 million. Under the Senate budget, MCTS would get $63.8 million in 2008 and $65.3 million in 2009; under the Gov. Doyle/Assembly proposal of a flat, below-inflation 2% increase in operating aids, MCTS would get $60.3 million in 2008 and $61.5 million in 2009.
The JS story reports that MCTS proposes to raise fares from $1.75 to $2 and cut 13 routes.
Would the county need to cut all those routes if the Senate proposal were adopted?
The story seems to be predicated on the Doyle proposal. Or maybe it is based on no increase in state aids. Or maybe it is based on the Senate proposal, but I really, really doubt that.
And there's exactly the problem. The state budget will have huge impacts on the fate of county programs like the transit system. The JS could easily include in its county stories the impacts of the Doyle, Senate, and Assembly budgets. Why isn't it doing that?
Saturday, July 21, 2007
"In the abscence of policy changes, large and growing fiscal challenges for the sector will begin to emerge in the next few years," the GAO says. The graph below shows projected revenues.
Agency simulations suggest that within the next decade current expenditures will outstrip available receipts resulting in a deficit....This deficit -- worsening throughout the projection timefram under an unchanged policy scenario -- indicates taht state and local governments will need to make tough choices on spending and tax policy to meet their budget requirements and promote favorable bond ratings."
Message to the Wisconsin State Legislature: approving $1.5 to $2 billion road projects -- as is happening with the North-South I-94 reconstruction project and may happen with the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project -- without a design plan, a final budget or a funding plan is simply nutso under the best of circumstances and close to criminal under the conditions we are facing now.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Forget about context, because it wouldn't count. If George Bush tells Tony Blair that Syria should get Hezbollah to "stop doing this sh--," as George did over a live mike while his mouth was full, any station broadcasting those remarks could be in deep sh--.
The Center for Democracy and Technology contends there may be an upside to Rockefeller's delusional fantasy of controlling individual words and images.
...with Congress effectively knocking a key contextual factor out of the indecency analysis (i.e., whether a word was repeated or fleeting), it increases the likelihood that courts will have to address the issue of whether it is constitutionally permissible to regulate isolated utterances of questionable language. Having this issue finally addressed by courts will — we hope — be a good thing for free speech jurisprudence, particularly because we think that the FCC’s constitutional authority to regulate broadcast content is weak – and weakening.
As technology continues to advance, the time is coming when the constitutional question will not be, “to what degree may the FCC regulate indecent speech?” but rather, “can the FCC regulate indecent speech at all?” In Pacifica and other cases, the Supreme Court argued that government regulation of broadcast content is constitutionally permissible because of the medium’s unique “invasiveness.”
The CDT may be putting too much faith in the federal courts, since so many of them have been converted into conservative sychophants by the Bushies. It's better to kill this bill now, before it can be used to knock off another piece of the Constitution.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Buying and fixing St. Michael will cost at least triple what it would cost to fix up the existing Mental Health Complex.
County Executive Scott Walker has been trying to sell this as a great deal for county taxpayers.
Walker said he hoped that any money left over from the sale and relocation would become a rainy-day fund to improve county-provided mental health care. He said that idea might draw mixed reviews on the County Board.
That was in January.
It was the County Board -- not Scott Walker -- that demanded information about how much it would cost to fix the Mental Health Complex compared to moving to St. Michael.
It's pretty clear: Scott Walker proposed this move as a cost-saving measure without having a clue as to what he was talking about or any idea of what the ramifications would be.
In other words, business as usual for Scott Walker.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
State Supreme Court stands up for the little guy when the Fire and Police Commission wanted to sit on him
The court, in a case stemming out of the unnecessary and overly-aggressive raid of an El Rey grocery store back in 2002, said the commission's rules made it unnecessarily difficult to file a complaint alleging police misconduct and was too restrictive about who is allowed to file a complaint.
The court also ruled that the one section of the commission rule, which requires the complainant to state the "name, badge number or other identification of the accused member(s)" is invalid. It frustrates legislative intent when it does not account for situations, such as the El Rey police raid, where the complainant alleges that the members deliberately concealed their identities. The language may deter complainants from filing a complaint because they do not know the identity of the accused member.
Was Frank Jude really supposed to write down names and badge numbers when they were beating the crap out of him?
Perhaps the biggest bang in the ruling, though, is the finding that the commission should not refer complaints to the Police Department for investigation unless the commission dismisses the complaint on legal grounds. The commission has found it ever so much more convenient to refer some complaints to the police for investigation.
Yes, the police investigating the police. Even under the best of circumstances, that does not seem to be a set-up designed to win the confidence of the public.
Under the commission's current rules, the Board has conducted only four trials, has imposed no discipline in 491 complaints since 1998, and has conducted no trials since 2001. Although parts of the Rule are plainly defective, the court is hard pressed to rally to its defense in the face of these statistics.
The Supreme Court made the right ruling. It's just too bad that the City of Milwaukee needed the court to tell it to do what is so obviously necessary to ensure that citizens get justice.
The city and its Fire and Police Commission need to rewrite its rules. It would behoove the public to keep a close eye on the process and make sure efficiency in disposition of cases doesn't trump justice this time.
This particular slim volume is called "Foreign Holdings of US Government Securities and the US Current Account."
Memo to Bushies: You are driving this country into the ground.
Ah, well. They haven't listened to anybody for six+ years; they sure aren't going to listen now.
The upshot of CBO Director Peter Orszag's testimony before the House Budget Committee last month is this: things can't keep going on this way. Someone has to decide whether the United States is going to take care of its own people or try to take over the world. Our current effort to do a poor job at both is putting us at great economic risk (moral and ethical, too, but the CBO does not delve into those things).
A few points from the report:
- Foreign holdings of U.S. Treasury debt have risen rapidly. Between 2003 and 2006, for example, such holdings rose almost 50 percent. They now exceed $2 trillion and account for more than 40 percent of Treasury debt held by the public.
- After the depreciation of physical capital is taken into account, the
nation saved only 2 percent of its income last year, an unusually low level for the world’s leading economy. At the same time, the nation’s net domestic investment was 8 percent of its income. The difference, 6 percent of income, was financed by increases in net foreign claims on the United States.
- Almost all official purchases of U.S. assets were made by a handful of Asian governments, particularly China, which did so in order to keep itscurrency from appreciating outside of the band specified by its managed exchangerate policy.
- The United States—like any other country—cannot continue accumulating debt at a rate faster than its ability to repay it. If policy actions or other economic developments do not reduce the current-account deficit, at some point foreign investors will become less willing to keep adding to their holdings of U.S. assets.
This seems to be another reason to end the baseless war in Iraq and to plug the end the endless stream of money we don't have that the war requires.
It also is another small piece of evidence that the American lifestyle of "buy now consume now" is going to end, and probably sooner rather than later.
The change will be hard, but not being prepared for it will make it even harder. And this country is not prepared for it.
Monday, July 16, 2007
Yup, your taxes at work. No money for an affordable housing study, but more than $130,000 for image and apple polishing.
When does this kind of taxpayer abuse stop?
Saturday, July 14, 2007
"Walker said Denver and Portland have 'cool systems' but also have different needs because traffic congestion is 'a much, much bigger issue there than it is here.'"
Wait a sec. Isn't this the same guy who favors a $6 billion (year 2000 dollars, before the huge run-up in road construction prices) freeway expansion plan because of the awful congestion?
But if congestion isn't that bad...
Guess Walker just wants to raise your taxes unnecessarily.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Al-Qaida is happy in Pakistan because Pervez Musharraf, whom the Bushies tout as a firm ally in the fight against terrorism, basically ceded areas of his country to the terrorists. We can't win a war if our good friend is helping our enemies.
Will someone tell George?
The price of popcorn has risen more than 40% since last year, fueled (so to speak) by the demand for corn to be used in ethanol, according to Reuters.
Yes, the lid is lifted off another ethanol impact.
Yes, another ethanol impact pops up.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
(Also, the PR firm said cynically, being nice to Milwaukee might make all those mean African-American Milwaukee county supervisors like SEWRPC more.)
That first part of the story should be enough to convince everyone in the world that SEWRPC needs a major overhaul in both structure and attitutude. Jim Rowen puts the issue into perspective here.
But there's more: once SEWRPC agreed to do a study of Milwaukee's 30th Street corridor, the agency's PR firm, Mueller Communications Inc., arranged a press conference for no significant reason other than to get some air time of lots of people from the city, county and SEWRPC promising to be nice to each other and cooperate. After all, the city's Department of City Development also is engaged in a major planning effort along the corridor, so why not play nice?
So after the camera guys packed up and went home, doubtlessly wondering where the hell the news was in that particular news conference, how much cooperation was there between the city and SEWRPC?
Well, judging from evidence available thus far, not very much.
A request to SEWRPC for records related to contacts with city officials has produced nothing so far, although that might actually be due to some confusion and SEWRPC is reviewing its records again. In addition, invoices submitted by its consultants on the project (and obtained under a different open records request) do list meetings with city officials.
The DCD records are far more telling because there are none. Nada. Zippo.
A request for any DCD record related to the SEWRPC study brought an adamant assertion from DCD that it did not have any such records.
Two public agencies are conducting similar studies of the same thing and one of the agencies doesn't have so much as an e-mail about what the other one is doing? No notes, no nothing?
Yowza. That's not the cooperation they taught us about in grade school.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Members of that Republican-led house of ill repute know that most of their budget won't become law -- there is a Democrat sitting in the governor's chair and Democrats happily in the majority in the State Senate to prevent that from happening.
So why not throw in everything, including the kitchen sink and a few dead rodents like an expanded Choice program and huge cuts in aid to Milwaukee? Think of the sound bites! Think of the quotes in those fund-raising letters!
No consequences, and a real nice opportunity for posturing. What pol wouldn't love it?
Monday, July 09, 2007
So SEWRPC did it. With $50,000 of your tax money and mine. SEWRPC did it even though the city is developing its own 30th St. corridor plan, and two such plans is probably one too many.
OK. SEWRPC didn't entirely implement Mueller Communications Inc.'s scheme. Mueller at least said the SEWRPC study should be minority-led, but the Pewaukee-based planning agency couldn't bring itself to do that. Instead, it issued a no-bid contract to Dan Boyce and Jon Welhoefer, two former colleagues of influential SEWRPC commissioner William R. Drew. The three white guys all worked together when Drew was Department of City Development commissioner. Why hire minorities when you can hire old friends.
This is a new low for SEWRPC -- using public funds to launch a study hatched by a pr firm to curry favor with politicians. Clearly, SEWRPC is trying to muffle criticism of its shoddy handling of transportation, water and housing studies, and its agonizingly slow implementation of its Environmental Justice Task Force.
This one reeks, even for SEWRPC. And that's saying a lot.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
As the Assembly rushes to prove that Republicans are not serious about controlling road taxes as long as they can be called fees, a short review of the good and bad in the Senate transportation budget.
The good news is that the Senate:
• Deleted a provision that would allow the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to go ahead with reconstructing the Zoo Interchange if additional lanes are recommended in a study that won’t be done for a few years and has barely gotten underway. The Senate, in short, declined to promise to pay for a huge freeway project that is undesigned, does not have a price tag, and is without a funding plan.
• Adopted a provision that would prohibit freeway expansion on I-94 along the stretch of freeway in Milwaukee that is adjacent to Wood National Cemetery. This cemetery is one of the first veteran’s cemeteries in the country and holds graves of veterans from every war except the Revolutionary War. The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission thought it would be a swell idea to suspend freeway lanes in the air directly above graves in the cemetery.
• Adopted a requirement that the Department of Transportation start some serious financial planning. WisDOT would have to submit, with every budget request, a 10-year projection of total revenue and of total bonding needs. WisDOT also would be required to develop different scenarios for different funding levels and bonding levels and would be required to describe the impacts of increasing debt service costs. This is huge. WisDOT now doesn’t do squat for planning, and builds whatever it can get the Legislature to commit to in any two-year cycle.
• Proposed 2.5% increase in mass transit operating assistance, plus an additional $4 million for the Milwaukee County Transit System. Doyle had proposed a flat 2% increase. Under the Senate budget, MCTS would get $63.8 million in 2008 and $65.3 million in 2009; under the Doyle budget, MCTS would get $60.3 million in 2008 and $61.5 million in 2009.
The bad news is that the Senate:
• Went along with a proposal to allow WisDOT to proceed with construction of North-South I-94, if additional lanes are recommended, from south of the Illinois state line to Milwaukee. This approval would be granted even though WisDOT has not presented any designs for the project, doesn’t have a budget and can’t say how it would be paid for.
• Added another $36.6 million to the major highway project development budget. The governor already had proposed increases of $13.6 million in the major highway budget, plus $181.7 million in a separate highway budget to begin reconstruction of North-South I-94.
• Maintained the accelerated schedule for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction, and included $24 million for studies related to same. As we’ve said before, the overlap in the construction schedules for the Zoo Interchange project and the North-South project will only drive up costs because the state will be competing against itself for equipment and workers.
The Senate also reinstated the $15-per-vehicle car rental tax in Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee counties to fund the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension. Generally that would be good news, but there still is no permanent fix to the Milwaukee County Transit System funding crisis, and it's just hard to celebrate raising millions in taxes, mostly in Milwaukee that for a commuter rail system that will mostly benefit Racine (at least that's what Racine Democrat State Sen. John Lehman said during the Joint Finance debate) when Milwaukee mass transit, which is absolutely critical to thousands of city residents, doesn't have a guaranteed funding base.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
On Oct. 5, 2005, the Senate voted 90 to 9 in favor of McCain's Detainee Treatment Act, which included the Geneva language. It was, by any measure, a rebuke to Cheney. Bush signed the bill into law. "Well, I don't win all the arguments," Cheney told the Wall Street Journal.
Yet he and Addington found a roundabout path to the exceptions they sought for the CIA, as allies in Congress made little-noticed adjustments to the bill.
The final measure confined only the Defense Department to the list of interrogation techniques specified in a new Army field manual. No techniques were specified for CIA officers, who were forbidden only in general terms to employ "cruel" or "inhuman" methods. Crucially, the new law said those words would be interpreted in light of U.S. constitutional law. That made a big difference to Cheney.
The Supreme Court has defined cruelty as an act that "shocks the conscience" under the circumstances. Addington suggested, according to another government lawyer, that harsh methods would be far less shocking under circumstances involving a mass-casualty terrorist threat. Cheney may have alluded to that advice in an interview with ABC's "Nightline" on Dec. 18, 2005, saying that "what shocks the conscience" is to some extent "in the eye of the beholder."
Eager to put detainee scandals behind them, Bush's advisers spent days composing a statement in which the president would declare support for the veto-proof bill on detainee treatment. Hours before Bush signed it into law on Dec. 30, 2005, Cheney's lawyer intercepted the accompanying statement "and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it," according to an official with firsthand knowledge.
Addington substituted a single sentence. Bush, he wrote, would interpret the law "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief."
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Yup. Plunk down hundreds for an iphone, and when the battery runs out in a year or so, send it back to Apple.
What is the strategy behind this, besides ticking people off, and ensuring that the iphone is not chosen for corporate use or as a land line replacement?
Monday, July 02, 2007
Foolishly, in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary, I thought George W. would respect the law enough to let justice take its course.
OK. So now we know it is OK to lie to federal law enforcement officers and obstruct justice in a criminal investigation.
Can't wait for Bush to start commuting the sentences of everyone convicted of lying to federal agents during investigations the kinds of criminal activity where the thugs don't wear suits.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
The average Milwaukee score of 556 was more than 100 points below the national average score of 662.
"Credit scores are used by lenders to determine if a borrower qualifies for a loan and, if so, the price that they should be charged for that loan," according to the Brookings report, "Borrowing to Get Ahead, and Behind: The Credit Boom and Bust in Lower-Income Markets."
The poorer the score, the higher the cost of credit.
"In this way, credit scores directly affect the access borrowers have to credit-backed assets like houses, educations, and loans, along with durable assets, like cars and appliances," the report said.
There ya go. If you are poor in Milwaukee, you pay more for credit, or maybe you don't use credit, so you don't get a student loan and don't get that education, so you stay poor in Milwaukee.