Friday, September 28, 2007

Scott Walker's budget

Yup, as expected, it sucks.

A $2.6 million cut in drug treatment services, a $4.2 million cut in community services for adults that are offered by the Behaviorial Health Division. Nine interns that do legal research for the courts would be gone.

And those popped up in a two-minute review of the budget -- can't wait to find out what else is lurking there.

Hey, maybe it's a good idea that Mayor Tom Barrett wants to add all those cops to the city budget after all, since Walker seems pretty intent on pushing people who are sick into the criminal justice system by taking away the services they desperately need.

But wait. Even when some of those people get themselves arrested, which is bound to happen, there still won't be any more room in the county jail for them.

They'll still be out on the street, maybe being rousted but not arrested by all the cops wandering around. Perhaps the police could round 'em all up and dump 'em in one part of town in sort of a jail without walls. They could mount a legal challenge, but with the judges losing their research interns, cases will get so backed up that it could be years before the unserviced mentally ill get their day in court.

There's a good chance they would not be able to leave their little jail without walls, either. After all, Walker also proposed big route cuts and fare increases in transit services.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scenes from a rally

The video below is from Wednesday's pro-transit rally outside County Executive Scott Walker's office. More transit stories here.

No water for Waukesha until...

...every property in that city installs a $950 GardenAngel or the $4,500 Water Angel. Both recycle water already used in a household so that the water can be used again to water the lawn.

Scott Walker's reckless comments

County Executive Scott Walker provoked District Attorney John Chisholm's ire yesterday by opining that some activities associated with pension buybacks were potentially criminal, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Walker suggested the dastardly deeds could be uncovered during a pending investigation to be conducted by Chicago lawyers and then the DA's office here could follow up. Walker apparently feels that the Chicago lawyers are the big boys and the local prosecutors are some what lesser lawyers. Chisholm did not take kindly to Walker's statements or implied insults.

Chisholm said Walker's public comments were inappropriate and could compromise a potential criminal investigation.

"It could create grave concerns, to say the least," Chisholm said. "You can muck it up pretty easy, if you don't go about it in the proper way."

Chisholm said if Walker has any information suggesting criminal involvement regarding the buybacks, he should turn it over to the district attorney's office. The DA's staff is fully capable of handling such a case, Chisholm said.

Walker presented no indication that he has any actual evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Instead, it appears he is simply suggesting criminal activity by a relatively few, easily-identifiable individuals who received or were involved with the pension buybacks.

Much of the buyback activity occurred while Walker was in office, after he promised to clean up the pension mess.

Can Walker be charged with criminal irresponsibility? He would face ever so many counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That sound is the other City Hall brick falling...

You knew it had to happen, didn't you?

When city officials said the City Hall restoration project would cost a mere $70 million, you knew, right? Because it always happens.

Well, it's happened.

$70 million is not enough.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happy (not really) city budget proposal day

Mayor Barrett presents his proposed 2008 budget to the Common Council today. He's got to do this, but all that he is putting forward is a guesstimate of a budget, since the state budget issue isn't resolved.

Barrett will fund more cops, even though we keep adding cops and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference and the cops aren't really accountable for spending their money wisely or well. He will propose fewer firefighters on trucks, and the firefighters' union will pitch a fit.

Libraries, streets, Health Department -- something important is going to be on the chopping block so we can devote ever-more money to cops who will arrest more people and take them to an overcrowded County Jail where the jailers will have to release some people to ease overcrowding. We will have more cops, but no more room to hold alleged criminals so all those extra cops will NOT result in more criminals off the street. The returns on hiring more cops already have diminished to about zero -- is this really worth starving libraries and not repairing streets?

Whatever happens today won't be as ugly as what happens Thursday, when County Executive Scott Walker presents his guesstimate of a budget that deliberately makes unacceptable cuts to crucial county services so he can force the County Board to do his job and preserve some of those services and then blame the supervisors for doing it.

Schools and freeways

Experts in California are warning the state about the potential health consequences of building freeways near schools.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

LOS ANGELES—Health experts are warning that school campuses being built near freeways could put students at risk of asthma and other problems caused by road pollutants.

Five school buildings are under construction within 500 feet of freeways in different parts of the city, with two more campuses near highways in the planning stages, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.

The schools being built were approved after planners incorporated air filtration systems to strip out road toxins in order to obey a 2003 state law that otherwise bans school construction near freeways.

But some health experts said filters can not remove ultra-fine particles, which studies have linked to asthma and bronchitis.

"Ultra-fine particle numbers are highest on and around freeways and in experimental studies appear to have much higher levels of the damaging chemicals that are found to have health effects," said Andre Nel, nanomedicine chief at University of California, Los Angeles' medical school.

Here in Wisconsin, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission recommended major expansions of freeways in Waukesha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties that are near dozens of schools (in Milwaukee alone!). SEWRPC, in its study, forgot to mention potential health impacts on children attending schools near bigger freeways. Oopsie! Wonder if that had anything to do with SEWRPC having a major roadbuilder as a consultant on the study and a roadbuilding lobbyist as a member of the study's advisory committee?

And do we need those bigger freeways? Well, as Steve Filmanowicz so nicely pointed out, no.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Librarians as terrorists

Universal Music Group is suing a guy to prevent him from selling compact discs that he owns. If Universal wins, it could set a huge precedent for what we are allowed to do not only with our CDs, but with books or anything else we buy (rent?) (license?).

This could be especially bad news for libraries and those who love them, as Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Fred van Lohmann said on the fine radio show "On the Media." Here's a partial transcript of Lohmann's comments (the entire transcript is here).

If Universal here is able to trump the First Sale Doctrine by putting a little label on a product that says "For promotional use only, not for resale," then I think you're going to see a lot of copyright owners try to do the same kind of thing. You're going to see labels that say, "This book not for use in libraries, for personal reading only." You're going to see labels on DVDs that say, "This DVD not for video rental, for home use only."

The American Association of Publishers, I think, really puts the point on this. They represent book publishers in the United States and they have always had an uneasy relationship with libraries because they feel that librarians buy books and then they give them out, loan them for free.

That has led Pat Schroeder, the head of the association, to say that they have, quote, "serious issues with libraries," unquote. And one of their spokespeople, back in 2001, compared some in the library community to Ruby Ridge and Waco-style terrorists.

So First Sale is incredibly important if you believe in things like libraries and used-book stores.

The idea that we may lose control over what we do with our used books or CDs (or that anyone would consider librarians to be terrorists, for heaven's sake) is dismaying. This may be the biggest "must win" for consumers out there right now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Darling, Ott mum on Brown Deer High School racist slander

Way to stick up for the home team, Alberta.

Way to represent your people, Jim.

The silence of State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and State Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) after State Rep. Frank Lasee (R-do we really have to admit he's from Wisconsin?) sent an intensely racist letter about black high school students to the Brown Deer School District discredits them both.

Darling and Ott represent Brown Deer. At least they represent Brown Deer on paper, but they sure have not served their consituents on this one. Let's review what Lasee did: he wrote to Brown Deer school officials asking them to investigate whether the scurrilous allegations in a letter were true, and to explain, if the allegations were not true, how those rumors could possibly have gotten started. The charges, first reported in the Journal Sentinel, were as follows:

"There is a hallway that is off limits to white kids, where the black kids have sex. When the teachers leave the class rooms, the same thing happens. Also on the school buses. The kid's parents can't complain to the school board for fear of retribution on their children.

"The teacher's at the school are sending their kids to private schools and the white people who can are moving to other areas to protect their children and allow them to get an education. I wonder if the Brown Deer school count's a pregnant girl as two students to get more taxpayer money."

I'm trying to figure out how Darling and Ott can remain silent on this one. Don't they feel at least the smallest obligation to condemn this kind of crap, especially when it is aimed at their constituents?

Friday, September 21, 2007

The decline of the Parks

Like a lot of folks, the JS is worried that County Executive Scott Walker's proposed Parks budget will cut into the bone.

Look around -- the bone's been cut. The leg's been amputated. The question now is: can this patient be saved?

These pics, taken last weekend, are from Jackson Park. The tennis court pics are from the parkway just across from Al Simmons Field.









Yes, the Parks Department is indeed poisoning grass (somewhat erratically and over-zealously) to make it easier to mow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Attention, Frank Busalacchi and Jim Doyle!

The Chicago Tribune on Wednesday carried a big story on traffic congestion. Someone in the flatland realizes that there a few things more important that fattening up the road builders.

From the story:

"The first thing this report reinforces is the need for the legislature and the governor to resolve the transit crisis," said William Baltutis, executive director of the Transportation Management Association of Lake-Cook. "It's one more reason why we need a long-term funding resolution for mass transit."

The association works with Pace, Metra and businesses to promote wider use of shuttles and van pools to connect workers with commuter trains. Shuttle Bug ridership increased 8.5 percent from 2005 to 2006, Baltutis said.

A consensus has emerged among transportation professionals that building more roads is not the solution.

Michael Bolton, deputy executive director at Pace, predicts that when the 12.5-mile extension of Interstate Highway 355 in Will County opens in November, it will be immediately clogged with vehicles stretching from Interstate Highway 55 to Interstate Highway 80.

Bigger freeways are not the answer in Illinois or in Wisconsin.

DeBruin's challenger

This will be interesting: Dan Cody, Democratic Party activist and blogger of Left on the Lake, will challenge long-time incumbent Lynne DeBruin for her County Board seat.

DeBruin has moved to the right since her district was severely rearranged in the last redistricting to include some of the more conservative wards in Milwaukee County. Can an actual lefty like Cody win there? Will DeBruin get sucked under by her long-time service on a government body that people are just generally mad at?

Indeedy. This will be interesting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

But Scott, that doesn't solve the problem

Has anyone told County Exeuctive Scott Walker that providing transit that people can't afford doesn't solve the problem?

Maybe he needs to watch this:



More videos here.

Welcome, Midwest Environmental Advocates

Jim Rowen, over at The Political Environment, already has extended a warm Milwaukee welcome to Midwest Environmental Advocates.

The entire city ought to roll out the red carpet. MEA is absolutely a good friend to have, as I found out in an open records battle with the State Department of Administration. Milwaukee is fortunate to have this new resident.

Bad, bad attitude

Give Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission Executive Director David Heard an "A" for "arrogance."

He is executive director of a commission that has failed in its duty to investigate citizen complaints against Milwaukee police officers. He is executive director of a commission with oversight responsibilities for a police department with so many scandals and so many perceived problems that a large segment of the citizenry simply has lost faith.

Mr. Heard may be more symbolic of the problems than of the solutions. When ACLU of Wisconsin lawyer Karyn Rotker asked for public input on how the commission should handle citizen complaints, Heard blew it. He simply blew it. He grabbed that big blue door that has too long separated police from the public and he slammed it with all his might right in the public's face. And then spit for good measure.

The JS reported it this way: Heard responded to Rotker that while the board conducts its business in the open, "you are incorrect that drafting this or any other rule requires public input."

A David Heard attitutude is not what the Fire and Police Commission needs at this moment in its history. It is reasonable to wonder whether David Heard is what it needs, either.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Walker tells the JS he's saving transit, but is he?

County Executive Scott Walker told the Journal Sentinel that he will propose major fare increases for the Milwaukee County Transit System, but will not cut bus or paratransit routes.

The rumor that those were Walker's intentions has been out there for a while now, but it always has been accompanied by another piece: bus frequency along routes will be reduced.

Which routes? How rare will buses become? Is it even true? There must be something else in the mix besides what Walker spoon-fed to the paper. Those route reductions were going to save a ton of money. How is he going to make that up?

Stay tuned for the moment that Walker has to release the details that make his budget look like the ugly pig it is sure to be.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Another day, another story

To consolidate, I've put together a blog with the basic info on potential transit cuts. You can find it here.

Transit Story No. 12

Frank Lasee embarrasses himself and the state. Again

The father of TABOR, State Rep. Frank Lasee, is an embarrassment to himself and the state of Wisconsin. The Republican Party needs to repudiate him. Now.

Lasee (R-thank God not my town) received a note from a scribe who is anonymous, but who is obviously Frank's intellectual twin. Lasee then forwarded it to Brown Deer school officials with a request that they investigate. The JS reports that the scurrilous letter includes the following tripe:

"There is a hallway that is off limits to white kids, where the black kids have sex. When the teachers leave the class rooms, the same thing happens. Also on the school buses. The kid's parents can't complain to the school board for fear of retribution on their children.

"The teacher's at the school are sending their kids to private schools and the white people who can are moving to other areas to protect their children and allow them to get an education. I wonder if the Brown Deer school count's a pregnant girl as two students to get more taxpayer money."

The Republicans in the US Senate let their colleague, Larry Craig, know he had to go when he got busted in an airport bathroom sting operation. With this incident, Lasee committed numerous offenses -- including stone cold racism, stupidity and incredibly bad judgment -- that deserve a response equally as swift and strong.

It would be really interesting to know how much say Lasee had in developing the Republican Assembly's anti-school, anti-urban budget proposal. It seems to reflect his beliefs quite nicely.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bigger and better lawn mowers means poisoning more grass

Scott Walker wants to replace parks workers partly with bigger lawn mowers, according to the JS. That seems like a dubious proposal on the face of it, but it's an even worse idea when you stop to consider what those bigger lawnmowers mean: more poisoned grass.

No kidding. In our neighborhood park, where county parks workers use those big mowers, they simply poisoned the grass that they couldn't get to with the big mowers. That means that there was a neat little circle of dead grass around every tree in the park. Where the boulevard between the sidewalk and the street was too narrow to mow with those monster mowers, county workers poisoned the grass instead.

This was done without notice to anyone, as far as I know, including all the residents who might want to keep their kids and tree-using dogs away from the newly-poisoned grass.

Maybe the poison that kills grass so effectively is totally harmless to everything else it touches or really helps build stong, healthy children in 12 ways, but probably not. Anyone want to be their pets or kids on it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Transit Story No. 11

Scott Walker: soft on crime?

County Executive Scott Walker is considering closing the downtown work-release center and putting everyone in it on electronic bracelets, according to the JS.

Funny how you can become a corrections reformer when property tax dollars are being sucked away by jail and prisons. Walker was fine with locking up everyone in sight at the state's expense when he was a state legislator, but now that he is managing the money that has to pay the bills, he's seeing things differently.

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

The majority of folks in the work-release center would do just dandy on the bracelet, but this proposal probably won't get out of the prison gate. Even if Walker suddenly experienced a conversion, at least some of the judges clearly haven't. Chief Judge Kitty Brennan already has expressed concern, although that might just be an instinctual response to any proposal from Walker, who has tried repeatedly to underfund and dangerously understaff the courts. (Besides, what's more unelectable than a highly-visible judge calling to let the inmates out, even if they are on bracelets?)

Walker is going against his red meat base with this proposal. It has been for years the battle cry of Walker and his ilk to get tough on crime, and any move that may appear in any way not to do that has been met with a huge outcry.

Now Walker has painted himself into a box. Corrections, like transit and parks, cost money. Walker, although every year proposing a higher tax levy than he did the year before, keeps pledging not to raise taxes. He can get away with letting transit and parks fall apart, but jails have inspectors and sooner or later that downtown work-release facility is not going to pass its inspection. The place is a mess and has been for years.

Walker had a choice: fix the facility or find another way. He chose the latter. Now we'll see if his supporters let him get away with it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oil prices hit a record high

So let's cut transit and build bigger freeways...are we crazy or just blind?

Transit Story No. 10

The special education lawsuit

The Milwaukee Public Schools didn't do so well in the special education lawsuit filed against it, according to the Journal Sentinel.

I am an MPS employee and stay away from the policy / politics of the district on this blog as a matter of course.

US Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein's decision is a rather large deal and is hard to ignore.

So, I have pondered. What can I, as an MPS employee, city taxpayer and concerned citizen, say about this decision that doesn't reflect on its merits or the district's special ed practices?

Here it is:

Ouch.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Transit Story No. 9

Museum watch

County Executive Scott Walker's crony Dan Finley,who is head of the Milwaukee Public Museum despite any detectable qualifications, having led said museum into yet another financial morass, is quoted today in the Journal Sentinel as follows: "MPM will never miss a payroll."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And when he was hired, when there was some controversy over his $185,000 salary, Finley also said, "To get someone of the caliber necessary to fix the major problems at the museum was going to result in a reasonably competitive salary."

Well, Dan, when do you start fixing?

Milwaukee County, we got hosed with this hiring.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Transit Story No. 8

Transit Cuts. Real people. Real pain.

Do you think the people at the Wisconsin Department of Transportation are thinking of these folks when watching the cost of freeway interchanges go up and up and up?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Freeways vs. Transit Plus, and another transit story

The JS editorial board is on record supporting the $25 million interchange for the ill-conceived Pabst Farms project.

How does the editorial board feel about proposed cuts to TransitPlus, a crucial service that provides transportation to disabled people? Don't know -- JS hasn't said. The paper's entire treatment of the TransitPlus issue hasn't gone beyond a few sentences in the news columns.

Pabst Farms is in Waukesha County; the people dependent on TransitPlus are in Milwaukee County. Those facts and the paper's differing treatment of them are not just a coincidence.

Here, by the way, is a map showing where TransitPlus services would be eliminated in significant portions of the outlying parts of the county.

And below, another transit story, the seventh in a series. All can be found here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Another transit story

Today's episode of "Transit cuts: Real pain for real people" was filmed at the Badger Assocation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Those transit cuts

I spent some time yesterday at the Badger Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired talking to people who will be affected if the proposed county transit cuts go through.

These folks depend on transit to get them to the Badger Association building on Hawley Rd., to their doctor's appointments and just out.

The Milwaukee County Transit System is proposing fare increases and huge cuts in service levels to meet County Executive Scott Walker's mandate that it cut more than $800,000 from its tax levy.

Walker isn't the only bad guy in this farce. In a true slap at those who depend on para-transit service, Gov. Doyle proposed a minimal $800,000 two-year, statewide increase for paratransit. Ah, but you know that $25 million interchange that will benefit a couple developers building the Pabst Farms sprawlplex in western Waukesha County? No problem finding that money.

Ironically, the governor's proposed para-transit budget for the entire state for the entire two years is about $25 million -- the cost of that single Waukesha County interchange.

Here's the first video from my visit to the Badger Association. There will be more to follow. All the Transit Stories videos can also be found on the storyhill.net web site.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A big change in editorial position on freeways

The Journal Sentinel thinks southeastern Wisconsin should, unlike any other part of the state, have to pay for its own freeways.

Or maybe it's just a typo.

The editorial folks at the paper, in opining that Waukesha County should not cut a bus route that serves 70 workers, had this to say:

Ideally, the answer is a regional transit authority covering freeways, buses and commuter rail systems and funded by a dedicated source that takes the financial burden off the property tax.

This is the first time I've heard it suggested that the proposed Transit Authority should have jurisdiction over freeways. If the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's really bad idea for a multi-billion dollar freeway expansion plan goes forward, does the JS really think local car rental taxes or sales taxes can pay for it and transit, too?

The JS is floating a rather radical change in governance and mission for both the state and proposed RTA. Such a proposal deserves a little more thought and explanation than what is almost a throw-away line in an editorial.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pabst Farms interchange deal

Calling the $25 million deal for a freeway interchange at Pabst Farms a cost-sharing deal, as the JS did today, is damned near fraudulent.

Oconomowoc pays $400,000; the state pays about $19 million. That's cost-sharing, all right.

The county, the Pabst Farms sprawl developer and the land owner each pay $1.75 million, but the interchange is worth vastly more than that at least the latter two, and they are going to be very rich people as a result of this highway robbery.

It's odd that the state has $19 million to throw at an interchange for rich people in Waukesha, but can't find the cash to fund transit and para-transit for Milwaukee County residents in dire need of basic transportation.

It's been well documented that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation can't figure costs or budgets very well. Now it is quite clear that the agency's ethical calculations reek as well.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Wowee, now that's drunk

This morning's story about the guy who got so drunk he lost $41,093 and his pants made me very grateful not to be the one with that particular hang over, but also convinced me that there is absolutely no shame left in the world. Getting blotto, blackout drunk is bad enough, losing the money and the pants is worse, but then to talk about it all to a newspaper reporter? Sheesh!