Thursday, August 30, 2007

Transit project

As transit is again threatened with sharp cuts, some people who will be affected talk about it here. Three short videos posted so far, including one featuring Julia D'Amato, principal of MPS' Reagan High, which is served the the proposed-for-extinction Route 20.

Hope to have more posted in the coming days and weeks.

New slogan:

Transit cuts. Real people. Real pain.

$50 billion vs. bathroom come-on

President Bush plans to ask for another $50 billion for the misbegottne war in Iraq, which likely means we're not leaving any time soon. So can anyone tell me why the big story is a senator's alleged gay pick-up effort in a Minnesota a bathroom is the big story?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Better to do it right

Local electeds weren't able to throw together a design for a Regional Transit Authority to run area transit systems in time to jam it through the state budget.

Good.

An RTA might be the way to go to deal with transit's funding woes, (although why some of the bloat in the Wisconsin Department of Transportation could not be redirected into something useful, like funding transit, is beyond me). Trying to cram RTA legislation -- which could very well contain new taxes or at least the mechanism to create them -- into an already super-contentious budget that is already bogged down in conference committee would be disastrous and pointless. The entire budget process (whatever part of it is still functioning) likely would come to a halt. It's not like an RTA will be up and running the day after it is approved. It will take time to establish, coordinate and staff. It's very possible that it wouldn't be in existence in time to stave off 2008 rate increases, anyway.

Worse, though, is that transit riders would be shut out of the creation of the RTA.

Better to do this slowly and well than rush and have an ill-conceived, poorly-functioning agency that does not have public support.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Kanavas gets it wrong and wronger

State Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) is either incredibly ignorant or is deliberately lying. Maybe he is just dyslexic and can't read budget documents.

Whatever his problem, the press release he issued Monday about the Zoo Interchange grossly misstates the facts about what Gov. Doyle proposed and what the Democrats in the Senate did with that proposal.

Untruth No. 1: "I was pleased to learn the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project was fully funded in the Governor’s 2007-2009 state budget....Senate Democrats cut funding..."
Doyle never, ever fully funded Zoo Interchage reconstruction in his budget proposal. He couldn't, because nobody knows how much it will cost, except that it will be a lot. The governor proposed $24 million for environmental and engineering studies related to future reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange. That money still is there. Neither the Democratic Senate nor the Republican Assembly removed it.

Untruth No. 2: Senate Democrats, Kanavas writes, also "restricted the ability to expand the Interchange" and "they want to specifically prohibit adding lanes to the Zoo Interchange, a move that renders the project useless (although still expensive). Not one Democrat is the State Senate, including Senators representing Waukesha and Milwaukee Counties, objected to this decision."

It could be that no one objected because there was, in fact, no move to prohibit expansion of the Zoo Interchange. (If there had been, I would have been the first to stand up and cheer.) What happened is this: the governor proposed that WisDOT be granted authority to go ahead and expand the Zoo Interchange if that's what the road-builders at WisDOT wanted to do. There was no money attached to the authority, though.

The governor was just a tad premature in his desire to give this go-ahead to the ever-poorly-managed and wasteful WisDOT -- after all, not a single study related to the Zoo project has been completed, there is no cost estimate for the work, and there is certainly no funding plan. The Dems simply indicated a desire to have further consideration of the project's scope, costs and impacts. Kanavas is really objecting fiscal discipline and responsibility. Looks like he is just another tax-and-spend Republican.

Kanavas really thinks rebuilding aging infrastructure is "useless" unless it is made bigger? Even after the Minnesota bridge collapse? He's probably the only one in America, besides George Bush, so hesitant to change his mind when presented with facts that contradict his opinion.

The Senate did add language to the budget that would prohibit expansion of a stretch of I-94 well east of the Zoo Interchage project area, on the portion of the freeway that abuts historic Wood National Cemetery.

When the proponent of a proposal has to prevaricate to sell the proposal, it's probably a good idea to take a long hard look at both the project and the proponent. In the end, it is very possible that neither has much to recommend it to the public.

How hard up is the city for money?

If the Common Council goes for Ald. Tony Zielinski's proposal to charge a fee for being booked into Police Department custody, we'll know the city's financial condition is worse than imagined.

There are some logistical challenges associated with the fee, especially if it is assessed against only those convicted of a crime. First the courts would have to sort out who was booked by Milwaukee as opposed, to say, Wauwatosa, Whitefish Bay, or Cudahy. How much would the state court system charge the city to perform that little administrative task? How much would it cost the state to get a computer system that could do it? Think the federal courts would be willing to spend millions so Milwaukee could collect its $20 per book-ee fee?

Then there would be that pesky matter of collection. Is the city going to have automatic canteen account deductions for prison inmates? Will debt collectors be sent to Waupun to track down the scofflaws?

The city needs money, and this proposal needs a lot more thinking about.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Yes to speeding up street repairs

The JS reported today on the slow, slow pace of city street repairs.

City streets are in awful shape, but are in terrific shape when compared to county parkways and roads. Some of each are growing dangerous, especially to people on bikes, scooters and motorcycles. If we are going to get serious about transportation alternatives, we at least have to have infrastructure good enough so those trying to cut their fossil fuel use don't risk serious injury by hitting a giant pothole. (PS to drivers: bike lanes are for bikes!)

The JS story, though, missed a huge factor in the declining state of city streets -- people are turning down needed projects all over town because of the city's whopping special assessment charges. The assessments were doubled in 2002, and a typical resurfacing job that cost a abutting property owner $1,250 in special assessments before the change now costs $2,500, according to information presented last month to the Common Council's Public Works Committee.

City Budget Director Mark Nicolini assured the committee that Mayor Tom Barrett would be open to lower assessment charges -- here's hoping Barrett proposes reducing the charges himself and doesn't make aldermen try to figure out how to adjust the budget to accommodate them. (Unfortunately, the city can't count on the state to help out in the form of local road aids, as the state would rather fund obscenely expensive freeway projects, as Jim Rowen and the Daily Reporter point out.)

The JS also reported today that the Barrett administration has a plan to greatly increase the pace of road repairs in the city, but failed to mention that the plan relies on huge increases in special assessment collections and remarkably inflation-free road project costs. Aldermen at last month's meeting were pretty skeptical about it all.

Yup, the special assessments should be lower -- a $2,500 charge is simply a back-breaker for too many Milwaukee residents. The pace of major local road projects also should be speeded up. Unfortunately, these may be contradictory goals that will take more than action by the mayor and Common Council to achieve -- the state and federal governments will also have to do their parts.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cutting the county's phone costs and life lines

Milwaukee County administrators, desperately looking for ways to fund basic services because Scott Walker would rather (have other people) die than raise property taxes, are recommending a huge cut to the county's 211 line.

Reports the JS:

Also on the chopping block is funding for IMPACT, a non-profit group that operates Milwaukee County's 211 call center. The group would lose 90% of its county funding, from $480,000 last year to $46,958 this year.

The 211 centers link callers to community services, including food pantries, emergency shelter, utility assistance, low-cost home rentals, and alcohol- or drug-treatment referrals.

When the 211 service began in 2002, the center took 58,000 calls. This year, it will take an estimated 130,000. Mike Davis, president and CEO of IMPACT, said the proposed budget would cut the number of calls taken by about 55,000.

At first glance, the $3.69 per call cost of operating the line may not seem cost-effective at all. In fact, the county absolutely should look at ways to reduce that cost, either by increasing the volume of calls to the center through an awareness campaign or by actually cutting costs.

But cut the budget? Supervisors ought to put this on the morality weigh scale: operating the 211 line costs the county significantly less per call than the county charges for many generally destitute inmates to call collect from the House of Correction or County Jail.

That amount is $5.50 a call, unless the inmate has a debit card -- then it's $3.30. (The latter is 39 cents less than the cost of the 211 call, but I'm betting most inmates aren't getting the lower rate because they don't have the required debit cards and the average cost of the calls is going to be more than $3.69.)

If county government is unwilling to spend as much to help residents get needed social services as it will charge for an inmate to talk to a loved one on the outside, then something is beyond repair in county government.

Here's a thought: how about looking for ways to reduce both of these costs?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hard cases make bad law -- another example

Michael Monyelle is a convicted sex offender. Ten years ago, when he was 20 or thereabouts, he was convicted of having consensual sexual relations with a girl who was 16 and another who was 14. He was put on 10 years probation, but didn't adequately participate in treatment and got sent to prison in 1999. He was paroled in 2004.

Now Monyelle, a rather low-functioning adult, is on trial after confessing that he had sexual thoughts about kids. The prosecution also says he visited places like malls and toy stores where he was not supposed to go.

He could be locked up for life as a sexual predator, even though he hasn't touched anyone.

He could be locked up for life about being honest about what he was thinking, even though he was encouraged to report what he was thinking for his parole overseers.

This case is simply abuse of prosecutorial discretion. It is wrong, even in cases of potential sexual assault, to lock someone up for crimes they may have pondered, but haven't committed.

Of course child sexual abuse is a heinous crime. So are a lot of other crimes. Should anyone who imagines killing the boss / spouse / bad neighbor be convicted of thinking about it? Or maybe only those who some sort of criminal record should be punished for their thoughts.

Should someone with a bad driving record be sent to jail for having a lazy thought about swiping that Porsche down the street?

How many people do you think, whether or not they have ever committed a crime, have fantasized about committing one? Is there a living human being who has not?

Who gets prosecuted (or committed for life in a civil proceeding) for that? Maybe we should limit it to convicted felons. That way we likely would only have to build 50,000 new prisons.

Once this door is opened -- the ability to lock people up for thinking bad thoughts when they have done nothing criminal -- anybody can be pushed through it. That is a far larger danger than Michae Monyelle has proven thus far to be.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rip van JS

Nothing is real until the Journal Sentinel reports on it.

Get this line from this morning's story on a potential new Regional Transit Authority:

Their new cooperation follows a previously unannounced Aug. 8 meeting with philanthropist Michael Cudahy and Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

Except the meeting was announced, just not necessarily to the JS. The Business Journal reported quite extensively on it in the paper's Aug. 10 edition. (The link is just to a snippet of the story. The Business Journal doesn't post full versions of its stories for just anyone to look at -- you have to be a subscriber to the paper.) The story included quotes from both Walker and Barrett about the meeting. (Here's an earlier post on this very matter.)

Can a meeting that has been very publicly discussed by its participants be called "unnanounced"? Guess it depends on your definition of "unannounced;" a newspaper, though, struggling for trust in large sections of its circulation area, should not be so Clintoneque in its word-smithing. It doesn't help the cause.

Transit Authority: Do it right

Eight regional elected officials are suddenly so enamored of a developing a Transit Authority to run local transit system that they want to develop a proposal to cram into state budget conference committee deliberations.

What a bad way to implement a potentially good idea. The mayors and county executives of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha are important folks, but apparently have given themselves a promotion beyond the reach of their constituents, their colleagues, and reality.

Yes, transit clearly needs a broader funding base. A transit authority may be a good idea (a better one would be for the Wisconsin State Department of Transportation to quit throwing money at road-building contractors and to invest more in transit). Trying to establish a transit authority by making sure almost everyone is excluded from the discussion is simply assuring failure.

(Hmm. That wouldn't be the real motivation of some of these folks, would it?)

There is no way a hurriedly-planned RTA should be rammed through the state budget at the last minute. A governing body established that quickly probably will be poorly designed. A governing body with the authority to tax and spend that would be established without public input and without public hearing and without public debate is probably dead on arrival.

A new layer of government agreed to by eight white guy electeds in a closed room kind of reeks of old boy politics. Visions of pot-bellies and big stogies dance in my head.

How do these folks expect their colleagues on the legislative side of their respective governments to react when they learn that their elected executives decided against that "check and balance" thing? Does Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas really think the Waukesha County Board will take kindly to being shut out of the discussion about potential new taxes in Waukesha County, especially when they have no say in what kind or how much?

Maybe it wasn't stogies those guys were smokin' in that meeting.

Who serves on the RTA? Is representation proportional? Are members elected? Are they paid? Do they have taxing authority? Will it still be staffed, as is the existing RTA, by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, that suburban-based, suburban-biased agency that spends public money on things like books about itself and studies designed to win favor from black Milwaukee County supervisors?

'Scuse me for asking -- I'm only a member of the public.

A transit authority might be the way to build and run transit. It will never happen, though, unless the folks behind the plan take care to win support for the idea. This needs to be done right if a RTA for regional transit is going to be more than an election time feint.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Subprime mess: take two

There is nothing surprising in the subprime mortgage business meltdown.

Don't believe any regulators, real estate agents or mortgage bankers who say otherwise. They knew.

Now the fed has jumped in to pump liquidity into the markets and to lower interest rates, which is great for the suit-and-tie crowd that made the subprime market the sham it became, but the folks at the bottom are still looking at soaring mortgage payments they can't afford. Excuse me for asking, but where is the help for them?

The subprime market is falling apart because it is riddled with ethical and legal corruption, which a lot of folks realized a long time ago, but ignored because the money was so. damn. good. Besides, if you didn't look, you wouldn't see the rot.

About 10 years ago, Milwaukee was hit with a wave of real estate fraud. Eventually, more than 500 properties, most in the central city, were caught up in fraud conspiracies prosecuted by the US attorney's office.

500 properties! Imagine walking in a straight line past 500 houses. You would have to walk a pretty good distance.

The scams the bad guys ran back then took advantage of weaknesses in the subprime market and the vulnerability and ignorance of the people who borrowed there. Just like today. Things haven't changed, though they may have gotten a bit worse.

I spent a great deal of time in the late '90s and early 2000s investigating the crooks and subprime bottom feeders.

Here are some of the things that were wrong then and now.

Loans requiring little or no down payments. In the late 90s, subprime mortgage lenders were settling for 5% down with 95% financing. Sometimes the lenders would quietly refund -- or kick back -- the 5% to the buyers. Now subprime lenders are advertising 100% financing and openly telling the world that credit histories and ability to pay will not be verified.

Shock! Surprise! Lots of people who shouldn't have gotten a loan actually did! Who would have thunk it?

Inflated appraisals. In the late '90s, lenders eager to write the loans would seek or tolerate, or not notice blatantly fraudulent appraisals that vastly overstated the value of properties. In one instance, two properties that were in reality several miles apart were described as being within a few blocks of each other. The lie went undetected, in part because the appraisal was given a "desk review" by someone in California who didn't know a thing about Milwaukee.

The state legislature really needs to establish a few new rules for appraisers like, maybe, demonstration of basic competence. The Milwaukee Common Council understood this in 2001 and asked the state to license appraisers, but couldn't even get a bill introduced. Now the city is trying again. The ladies and gents in Madison could have made the subprime fiasco a little less painful if they had acted back then, but they didn't. So please, please act now.

Far away corporate lenders. Then and now, the appraiser gets paid for delivering what the lender wants to hear; the real estate agent gets a commission based on the vastly inflated sales price, which is based on the bad appraisal; and the lender writes a huge loan and promptly sells the paper, raking in a really nice profit. The big bank or corporation that bought the paper is probably 1,000 miles away and doesn't really care about that particular mortgage, which is one of hundreds of mortgages purchased in a big package, as long as the good performers in that package do better than the bad performers and the money rolls in.

And when the poor sap who ignorantly paid tens of thousands of dollars too much for the property defaults on the loan and loses the house to foreclosure? The far-away mortgage owner hires someone to go look at the property. And that someone comes back and reports "This property is a piece of crap. You will never get your investment out of it."

The big corporate mortgage owner, because it is run by smart people who want to maximize profit and because it doesn't really give a damn about Milwaukee and its neighborhoods, knows that improving the property and then selling it will only make wetter the bath the company already has taken.

So the corporate mortgage owner simply walks away from the property.

It falls into disrepair. The city comes and boards it up. And boarded up houses become blights on their neighborhoods, attracting crime and depressing property values.

Nothing's changed. A system designed to be ripped off is being ripped off.

This time, though, the government is stepping in to throw billions to ease the financial wounds at the top of the economic pyramid, while the bleeding goes on and on and on at the bottom.

The system is still broken and entirely corrupt in very many ways, but with time, people will forget and the cycle will begin again.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Wrong way to go

A New York ethics panel subpoenaed a reporter as part of its investigation into an alleged effort by some of Gov. Eliot Spitzer's aides to discredit the senate majority leader, James Bruno.

What an absolutely horrendous idea. Spitzer's guys may or may not have crossed the ethical line, but issuing a subpoena to a reporter in such a relatively minor investigation -- let's face it, national security is not at risk here -- will have such a chilling effect on reporters that a free press will become a cowed press.

Of course, that's what a lot of politicians and government officials -- maybe even members of the New York State Elections Commission -- would like to happen.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Actual county memo

I am not kidding. Please read it slowly and carefully.

To All,

The Milwaukee County websites using the internet are now available.

Sorry for any incontinence this may have caused.

IMSD Help Desk

Is it any wonder the county's payroll/HR system is so screwed up?

More spying coming our way

This bone-chiller comes our way from Secrecy News, based on a Wall Street Journal Story. (Hmmm, wonder if these kinds of stories will run under Rupert Murdoch's reign, or whether he will kill them to assist the federal government in keeping secret its nail-booted romps through the Constitution.)

Spy satellites and other classified intelligence technologies are poised to play a greater role in domestic homeland security and law enforcement missions, challenging long-standing legal and policy barriers against their domestic use.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the Director of National Intelligence recently authorized access to intelligence satellite products by officials of the Department of Homeland Security to help support border security.

See "U.S. to Expand Domestic Use of Spy Satellites" by Robert Block, Wall Street Journal, August 15, p.1:

A comprehensive 2005 government study of the use of intelligence capabilities for domestic applications concluded that "significant change is needed in policy regimes regulating domestic use of IC [intelligence community] capabilities" in order to permit their full exploitation.

"The use of IC capabilities for domestic purposes should be… based on the premise that most uses of IC capabilities are lawful rather than treating any use as an exception to the rule requiring a case-by-case adjudication," the study said.

"There is an urgent need for a top-down, Executive Branch review of all laws and policies affecting use of intelligence capabilities for domestic purposes," the report said.

In particular, the 1981 Executive Order 12333 which governs intelligence activities "should be amended to permit as unfettered an operational environment for the collection, exploitation and dissemination [of domestic intelligence data] as is reasonably possible," the report recommended.

The authors acknowledged that such "unfettered" operation would require increased oversight, but they suggested that it could be satisfactorily accomplished by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The Board has been a minor, not notably influential player in recent intelligence policy disputes.

Congress, caving in to the Bush Administration's scare tactics on eavesdropping, already found a way to provide oversightless oversight: give Alberto Gonzales extraordinary powers to invade people's privacy, then turn oversight of those extraordinary powers and Alberto Gonzales to ... Alberto Gonzales.

Gas prices likely to rise on this one

Gasoline prices are likely to rise on this news of a huger refinery fire. Y'know, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation advises that the best way to reduce gasoline consumption, reliance on foreign oils and global warming is to build bigger freeways, while also significantly undefunding transit, thus ensuring its destruction.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has had just a few new thoughts in the last 50 years, and none of them involved re-thinking urban transportation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on the bridge collapse

Robert Puentes, a fellow at The Brookings Institution, published a good op-ed about problems with and solutions needed for the nation's transportation system, using the Minnesota bridge collapse as a focal point. You can read the whole thing here. Highlights below.

...two years ago this month President Bush signed a nearly $300 billion transportation law that was infamously known for its 6,300 pet pork project earmarks. Analysts have been quick to pounce this week on projects like the "bridge to nowhere" as the root of the nation's transportation woes.

They are missing the bigger picture. Even though the $20 billion that comes from the thousands and thousands of earmark projects is a lot of money by any measure, this is only about 5 percent of the overall federal transportation program.

The real problem is that we have a national transportation framework that is adrift. It takes an almost agnostic approach to how those billions of dollars are spent and it does not hold the recipients of the federal money - the states, mainly - accountable for meeting any kind of national goals or objectives....

...there is no accountability for meeting even the most basic performance goals and objectives such as safety, congestion relief, or improving air quality.

The federal government needs to make the preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the existing system a national priority and it needs to take a lead role in holding the states accountable for doing so. Safety should be assumed, not hoped for.

The surge

About 200 dead, hundreds more wounded in Iraq suicide bombings yesterday.

The surge, clearly, is not working.

Did President Bush really expect us to believe that putting too few soldiers in just one place for a limited amount of time would bring peace? Did even he really believe it?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Environmental justice and SEWRPC

The Environmental Justice Task Force that SEWRPC was (slowly and reluctantly) forced to form started work last week.

SEWRPC gave a PowerPoint presentation that could put a dead man to sleep. Then the ACLU's Karyn Rotker spoke, and people paid attention. A summary and video (broken into three bite-sized pieces can be found here).

SEWRPC, an unelected body heavily skewed toward suburban interests, makes influential recommendations regarding land use and transportation planning and now is involved in a water supply study that undoubtedly will make recommendations favorable to suburban water vampires like Waukesha.

Sprawl, anybody?

50+ Things You Won't Learn from Talk Radio


50+ Things You Won’t Hear on Talk Radio

A new “book” by radio talker Charlie Sykes has inspired Wisconsin’s lefty bloggers – and we are legion – to collaborate on this post. We are so technologically advanced that we were able to do it via the Internet, without even having an all-day meeting to try to reach consensus.

Contributors include Jim Rowen of The Political Environment, Michael and Anne Mathias of Pundit Nation, Paul Soglin of Waxing America, Cory Liebman and Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now, Bill Christofferson and Steve Hanson of Uppity Wisconsin, Jay Bullock of folkbum’s rambles and rants, Joel McNally of 1290 WMCS Radio, the Brew City Brawler, Illusory Tenant and -- yup -- Milwaukee Rising.

Quite a distinguished group. Perhaps the most blog brainpower assembled since Thomas Jefferson blogged alone.

Sykes repackaged and expanded on a little schtick he started more than 10 years ago, with what was then called, Rules of life for teenagers”.

It ran as an op ed column in 1996 with 14 rules, and now has grown to 50 – and a book, “50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School.”

Sykes’ rules, which will make you either groan or say “Duh!,” are getting predictably good reviews from Sykes’ fellow wingnut bloggers, for such “insightful” sayings as “Life isn’t fair; get used to it.” (Did he steal that one from Jimmy Carter?)

If you must, here’s a website where you can find more of the rules.

But you can stay right here and read 50+ Things You Won’t Hear on Talk Radio.

You are welcome – nay, more than welcome, invited even – to add your own, in the comments section or by email.

50+ THINGS YOU WON’T HEAR ON TALK RADIO.

1, Might does not make right.

2. Repetition doesn’t make anything right.

3. Ditto wishful thinking.

4. Ditto the size of your IQ.

5. Size only matters if you’re insecure.

6. Guns do kill people.

7. The rich get rich and the poor get poorer; it’s the Republican way.

8. You are your brother’s and sister’s keeper.

9. People don't choose to be poor, any more than they choose to be gay.

10. The Fairness Doctrine is not an “Equal Time” rule.

11. The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around. – Gaylord Nelson.

12. When you go to war, God is not on anyone’s side.

13. Reagan raised taxes.

14. I'm sorry.

15. I was wrong.

16. I shouldn't have interrupted you.

17. Bill Clinton isn't still President.

18. George Bush made a mistake.

19. Gays are human beings.

20. The American public turned against the Vietnam war before the press did.

21. There were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq.

22. Saddam Hussein was not behind 9/11.

23. Abstinence programs don't stop teens from having sex.

24. Abortion is a choice best left to a woman and her doctor, not the government.

25. Prayer doesn't improve test scores.

26. You are not entitled to your own facts.

27. Joe Wilson didn't lie. Valerie Plame was covert.

28. Bill Clinton was incredibly popular.

29. Al Gore didn't say all those things you think he said.

30. Climate change is real.

31. Tax cuts don't increase revenue.

32. The Clinton Administration employed more women and minorities in top positions than the Bush administration.

33. Illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes than American citizens.

34. Universal health care is cheaper and of better quality in most Western nations than our "free market" approach in the US.

35. Compassionate Conservatism is neither.

36. When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed. – Mother Teresa.

37. Blaming parents for their out of control teenagers may feel good but it does not lower homicide rates.

38. Iraq was not a breeding ground for Al Qaeda terrorists until the United States invaded.

39. No Democrat was ever caught fondling a FEMA director and saying, "You are doing a heckofa job Brownie."

40. Politicians should leave the science to the scientists.

41. Political scientists should learn that politics is not a science.

42. Medical decisions should be between doctors and patients, not between big insurance companies and their accountants.

43. Even people that I disagree with are innocent until proven guilty.

44. Being poor is not a character defect.

45. You didn’t grow up rich in the suburbs because you’re so smart. (You were born on third base; that doesn’t mean you hit a triple.)

46. Radio airwaves belong to the public; broadcasting on them is a privilege, not a right.

47. The greatest tragedy in mankind's history may be the hijacking of morality by fundamentalists.

48. The poor go to heaven, too.

49. In fact, it has been said that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

50. Taxes are not inherently evil.

51. The US health care system really isn't the best in the world

52. Dick Cheney is not omniscient

53. The president really can't just do anything he damn well pleases. Even
if he's a Republican.

54. The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. -- Bertrand Russell.

55. Gay marriage won't hurt your marriage.

56. Poverty causes social problems.

57. The Constitution mandates a separation between church and state.

58. The right to privacy is a constitutional guarantee.

59. Justice Scalia has expressly repudiated strict constructionism.

60. The U.S was founded not on Christian but on Enlightenment principles.

61. Bill Clinton was, at worst, slightly right of center.

62. It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… attributed to Theodore Roosevelt.

63. The United States is the only country in the world to have dropped nuclear bombs on a civilian population--twice.

64. Be a class act. Class seems to be inextricably related to kindness, consideration, and a general recognition of human worth. -- Roy Beers.

65. Being black in America is hard. It doesn’t just give you special privileges.

66. Being gay could not possibly be a choice since no child who ever heard the hatred tossed around playgrounds would ever choose it.

67. Living in poverty is hard work. It’s not for the lazy.

68. The truly conservative position on gay marriage would be to insist upon it.

69. We’re going to need all the immigrants we can get here to pay into Social Security to support the Baby Boomers in retirement.

70. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

71. Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.

72. Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

73. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, for they shall be satisfied.

74. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

75. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

76. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

77. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

78. Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.

79. If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.

And finally, a few of local interest to Sykes & Company:

80. Really -- hair is supposed to move!

81. Jessica McBride is not a journalist.

82. Midnight fireworks can backfire.

83. Paul Bucher has never been a judge, not even for one day.

Update: Thought of another one --

84. George W. Bush is the evil twin.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh, yeah, Barrett was in the room, too

When the Journal Sentinel reported on a planned meeting of regional leaders to discuss transit, it was all about County Executive Scott Walker:

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is calling local leaders together to discuss whether the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority should be beefed up to run public buses - including his county's financially troubled transit system - as well as commuter trains....

Walker's move comes as debate continues on the future of public transit locally.


The story mentioned Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas,
Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson, Racine Mayor Gary Becker and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was noticeable for his absence.

Now here's the Business Journal's take on the same topic:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker have set aside their dueling transit plans and agreed to pursue a regional transit authority that would run bus systems in southeastern Wisconsin....

Barrett and Walker will invite government representatives from Racine and Kenosha counties, as well as other Milwaukee-area municipalities and counties, to disucss interest in the regional transit concept.

"The mayor and I have been on the same wavelength" on the regional authority, Walker said.

Barrett and Walker will invite government representatives from Racine and Kenosha counties, as well as other Milwaukee-area municipalities and counties, to discuss interest in the regional transit concept.

The Journal Sentinel focuses on Walker exclusively. The Business Journal includes Walker, Barrett and others as the movers behind this latest effort to get transit rolling forward. The JS' exclusion of Barrett's contribution to the newest efforts is puzzling, especially since the story was written by the City Hall reporter. Did Walker simply "forget" to mention Barrett? Or did the JS simply fail to follow up?

The participation of Barrett and others besides Walker makes the transit meeting among regional leaders actually mean something. Barrett, after all, actually understands the importance of transit and might be able to preserve this vital service.

Walker, on the other hand, has simply let the transit system crumble under his administration: Ho hum, let them drive cars.

Bad Dave Schulz, good Dave Schulz

First we have presented to us in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Dave Schulz as a money-grabbing former county exec who will qualify for a $17,600 annual county pension only because he bought back county service credit for a mere $1,767.

What did Schulz have to say to all this? Not much according to last month's expose in the Journal Sentinel: Schulz did not respond to numerous interview requests.

You might think such a grasping figure -- a guy who stiffs his former constituents and then won't discuss it, who may even have paid less for the service credit than he should have -- might have lost just a wee bit of credibility in the eyes of the JS powers.]

Perish the thought. Nope. The JS instead gives him a chunk of space in which to state his views. Schulz has an op-ed piece in today's Crossroads section entitled, ironically enough, Don't fear, but you're going to have to pay.

Schulz was not referring to his own undeserved county pension, but to road infrastructure repair costs. His piece essentially an argument for higher taxes.

Yes, the JS has a guy who is ripping off county taxpayers but refusing to discuss it opining at some length on the need for higher taxes. Don't be surprised if he doesn't have a whole lot of credibility on this one.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A State Fair shortcoming

We always ride our bikes to the State Fair. It's faster and much more hassle-free than driving a car. Plus, being limited in what we can carry is a good barrier to buying yet another mop or miracle cleaner.

This year, as we are every year, we wondered if the State Fair folks would ever install bike racks and provide at least a little security for them. This doesn't seem like anything they would have to be told, since every year there are lots of bikes chained to the fences. (The space available for this decreases as the landscaping immediately adjacent to the fence increases.) This year, as we triple-chained our bikes to the fence, I noticed a very nice mountain bike chained to the fence nearby.

A few hours later, as we were leaving the fair, that nice mountain bike was gone. The chain was still hanging from the fence, sliced through neatly, like a tender steak would be sliced by sharp knife.

It really is time for the State Fair to get with the program and provide secure bike racks so a trip to the State Fair doesn't turn into a bad memory.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's election time and Walker plays "let's pretend"

County Executive Scott Walker is holding a southeastern Wisconsin transit summit next month to discuss whether the Regional Transit Authority should run or coordinate local buses.

This is the top story in the JS -- a discussion that will be held next month.

Walker, of course, has no authority to get the RTA to do that, so that's all there will be -- a discussion. Mayor Tom Barrett is actually the one who has at least a partial plan to move forward with real transit solutions (those pesky operating funds remain an issue, though), while Walker simply says "No" and looks increasingly foolish about it to an increasing number of people.

The solution? A meeting! A discussion! Be still, my heart!

Most of the leaders Walker has invited to the discussion lead governments that run transit systems, according to the JS. Most, but not all. How did Walker choose which non-transit-runners to invite? Why weren't they all invited?

Walker doesn't have any real ideas for saving transit. What he has is a re-election campaign, a pension scandal (why is the JS, which did a fabulous job breaking the story, treating him with such kid gloves on that one?), a crony-crippled administration, and a real need for some decent press. The JS obligingly met that need today, giving Walker's empty gesture a prominence it did not deserve.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bar Louie gets its license, but...

Bar Louie's operators don't have to pay the price that other bar owners do when they forget to file their applications for liquor license renewals. Bar Louie's operators turned the heat up on alderman, got five of them to call for a special meeting, and got its liquor license. No lost income for Bar Louie.

Aldermen got their vacations interrupted for the special meeting.

America's Second Harvest, according to the Journal Sentinel, will get a "significant donation" (let's hope there was no deal worked out on that before the meeting) and Milwaukee residents got a rather unsettling view of their local government at work.

The lesson: if you are going to forget to renew your liquor license, make sure you are wealthy enough to hire a very politically-connected lawyer to take your case to the local politicians. If you are a solo operator of a corner bar, you likely are out of luck.

Or maybe not. Now that the precedent has been so nicely set, will the city be able to avoid legal liability if it says 'no' to other bar owners that want financial forgiveness for late license renewals?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

SEWRPC backs off

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission backed off its power grab for now, but it doesn't look like this bad idea to anoint itself water management ruler is sinking into a well-deserved watery grave. Jim Rowen has the scoop.

A spot of trouble for our favorite road-building firm

HNTB, the politically-connected company that won huge contracts to design the monstrous and ugly Marquette Interchange (note to HNTB: painting massive cement walls a yellowish beige does not make them attractive), and to work on the north-south I-94 reconstruction project, kind of screwed up the design for the $800 million Boston convention center.

Oh, did I mention that HNTB gets piece of the pie for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction project as well? The state is just waiting for the budget to be done before signing the contracts and shoving more money into HNTB's pockets.

From the Boston Herald:

Inadequate drainage and problems with snow and ice buildup on the roof were among several convention center design flaws targeted in a $24 million out-of-court settlement that the MCCA reached last summer with the project’s engineering and design firm, HNTB Corp., Rafael Vinoly Architects and two other companies.

To think the safety of our infrastructure is in the hands of a firm that can't design a roof that doesn't leak.
Water from the roof leaked into the exhibition hall and was particularly a problem on the east side of the building, and in Hall C on the south end of the center.

Monday, August 06, 2007

One small step for SEWRPC

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has scheduled the very first meeting of its new Environmental Justice Task Force. It's at 4 p.m. Tuesday (Aug. 7) at Heartlove Place, 3229 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.

"Heck," you must be thinking. "This can't be that SEWRPC -- not the folks with the Pewaukee headquarters inaccessible to public transit! Not the group that took the words 'environmental' and 'justice' out of the term 'environmental justice'!"

Yes, indeedy, this task force is being brought to you by the very group that cannot afford to conduct a regional affordable housing study but CAN afford to celebrate its own 50th anniversary by paying $60,000 to a writer to pen a commemorative book that absolutely no one will read and CAN afford to pay more than $130,000 to a pr firm for things like suggesting the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission become known as the Regional Planning Commission of Southeastern Wisconsin and CAN afford to award a $50,000 no-bid contract to old friends of an influential SEWRPC official to conduct a study of Milwaukee's 30th Street Corridor in order to win the hearts and minds of black Milwaukee County supervisors even though said study is duplicative of what the city already is doing.

Rest assured that SEWRPC didn't go out of its way to inform the broader public about the meeting. I was part of the committee that met with SEWRPC for a couple years to get it to establish this task force, but SEWRPC didn't send me any notice of the first meeting. SEWRPC didn't even put a notice of the meeting on its web site until someone complained about it not being there.

The meeting is happening, though, and that's a small step forward. A very small one. SEWRPC is still playing games. Just look at the way it worded the agenda items.

SEWRPC's own guy, Gary Korb, will, according to the agenda, provide a "review of SEWRPC efforts to meet Federal Environmental Justice responsibilities relative to transportation planning."

ACLU attorney Karyn Rotker, who has been relentless in her pursuit of better environmental justice practices at SEWRPC, will then provide her "perspective."

Excuse me? What makes one a "review" and one a "perspective"? The fact that Gary is paid by SEWRPC and Karyn knows a lot about environmental justice? Why isn't Karyn listed as providing a "review of SEWRPC's environmental justice shortcomings"?

Hey, for next meeting, let Karyn's side write the agenda. Betcha it comes out a little different.

More on SEWRPC: Power grab, power grab, power grab. SEWRPC wants to decide who sets up a water management plan for Milwaukee area watersheds. Jim Rowen has more on this here. The response to this proposal should be a simple, emphatic "No."

Another fine mess, Mr. Walker

The county's meltdown continues. Now it's the $10 million county payroll / HR system that doesn't work. Part of the problem, according to the reports, is that county staff is stretched so thin that key personnel could not spare the time necessary to make the project work.

Sometimes saving money by not raising taxes can be very, very expensive.

Friday, August 03, 2007

About that road spending

In the last four years, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation spent $1 billion on major highway development and just $700 million on highway maintenance, according to the agency's Budget Trends report.

A case of skewed priorities that puts driver and pedestrian safety at risk.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Could the Minnesota bridge disaster happen here?

They say a picture is worth a thousand etc. etc.

This particular picture is from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's 2006 Budget Trends report. The top line represents spending on highway construction. The pink line, third from the top except near the end when it slips to fourth, represents spending on highway maintenance. The time period covered is 1992 through 2007.

So yeah, I'm guessing it could happen here.

For more on this, see Jim Rowen's post.

The county's pension mess

Yup, county supervisor should get their share of blame for the latest county pension scandal, but most of the ire should be directed at County Executive Scott Walker's administration.

From Dave Umhoefer's story on Sunday: The Journal Sentinel spent six months analyzing the costs and hired two financial experts to assist in the calculations.

That's not an analysis any single supervisor is likely to be able to do, although maybe the Personnel Committee should have contracted for its own study.

The real problem, though, is that Walker for too long had the wrong people running the county's HR department, where the practice of allowing employees "buy" past service credit should have been dissected. The county's HR department has stumbled repeatedly under Walker. Just a year ago, Supervisor James "Luigi" Schmitt called it "incompetent."

The mess in HR is Walker's responsibility. Walker for too long let hacks roam where he needed competent professionals. The huge errors by his department finally forced him to make changes this year, but his knowing neglect of this department will cost county residents plenty.

As for the County Board, it needs to look at its own structure and staff. It may be time for it to add a bit more HR / Personnel expertise of its own to provide needed information and to protect the interests of taxpayers.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Computer woes

It's bad enough that the ol' desktop is in the repair shop, and this particular laptop is so slow booting up that it slides into hibernation mode before it done.

Now my printer may kill me.

Technology can be such a pain.

Rupert wins, journalism loses

There's not a chance that the Wall Street Journal will remain independent of Rupert Murdoch's political, social and economic ambitions. He wants so very much, and the WSJ can do so very much to deliver what he wants.

It's a terrible day for journalism and, quite bluntly, for the United States. The Wall Street Journal is one of the best, if not the best, business publication in the country. Is there any other publication that can step into the void that Rupert Murdoch is creating? Who is the watchdog now? As corporations and their executives grow increasingly arrogant and continue to increase their own power, we need more information about what is happening and what we can do about it. Rupert Murdoch's takeover of the Wall Street Journal means we will know less about what the worst of big business is doing to us.