Thursday, November 29, 2007

Van Hollen's WMC conflict

Annette Ziegler is scheduled to hear a tax case partially funded by her political benefactor, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. WMC spent more than $2 million to help get her elected.

The JS reports:

Ziegler is in the midst of an inquiry over conflicts of interest and recently dropped out of an unrelated case after a lawyer raised objections to a campaign contribution she received. But Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who represents the state Department of Revenue in the tax case, has not asked Ziegler to step aside.

Ol' J.B. has a bit of a conflict himself. WMC was a major, major financial angel in his campaign. The conservative group spent $2.5 million to run ads in support of Van Hollen
(and against Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk) during the campaign, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. WMC officials also donated $1,750 to Van Hollen's campaign, according to WDC.

Here's the picture: Attorney General Van Hollen, who greatly benefited from an WMC's support and cash during his campaign, failed to ask Judge Ziegler -- who also benefited from WMC's support and cash during her own campaign -- to recuse herself because of her obvious conflict of interest from a tax case partially funded by that very same generous-to-its-friends WMC.

Would WMC stay so friendly with Van Hollen if he had pushed for Ziegler's ouster from the case?

This stinks.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wow! Peace at hand!

A warm glow of good feeling toward all of humanity flowed over me when I read this morning's headline" "Israel, Palestinians aim to reach peace deal in 2008."

Not because I believe the headline, but because it's always so nice to start the day with a good laugh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The D'Amato announcement

Ald. Michael D'Amato announced he will not seek re-election to his east side aldermanic seat and political junkies wonder:

Why, Michael, why?

And then political junkies think:

Well, hell, it will be a great race.

The candidates already are lining up and include D'Amato aide Sam McGovern-Rowen, Sura Faraj, Patrick Flaherty, Nicholas Kovac and Andrew Twist. Kovac and Faraj previously planned a joint campaign to challenge D'Amato, according to MilwaukeeWorld.com.

Meanwhile, former Ald. Fred Gordon has filed to run for Ald. Michael McGee's seat in the 6th District.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ald. Bauman gets it

Ald. Robert Bauman is proposing that the state skip expanding I-94 North-South and concentrate on developing the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension and high-speed rail instead.

Details here.

Immigrants and hate speech

The JS ran a wire story today about the descent of the immigration debate into "hate speech." It seems the downward plunge in the civility level of discourse is not limited to immigration -- "hate speech" may be too strong, but "coarse," "crude" and "mean" seem to appropriately describe what has been going on in the local blogosphere lately. This is occurring more on the right, I think, but there have been some humdingers out there on the left, as well.

Rather stunningly, the paper did not localize the issue at all. Is this the result of the new, smaller JS staffing levels or does the issue hit a little close to the corporate / radio talk show home for the paper to take on at home?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The buyout and newspaper delivery

Yup, my husband took the buyout from the JS. We expected him to lose the 50% newspaper subscription discount, but did not expect the delivery folks to cancel by delivering only 50% of the Sunday newspaper, which they now have done on both Sundays since his employment ended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Asthma and freeway pollution

Video: Environmental health expert Dr. Laura Anderko discusses the impacts of freeway pollution on children's health.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Look out for excess pavement

This will be on storyhill.net if I can ever get the @$& site working again:

Freeway plan increases runoff, paves over floodplain
Milwaukee County hit hardest

Nov. 20 -- The proposed $1.9 billion I-94 north-south expansion project would increase paved-over freeway land in the corridor by almost almost 50% in Milwaukee County, according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The amount of impervious I-94 freeway land would increase from 10.3 million square feet to 15.4 million square feet, a 49.7% increase, according to the EIS.

That is more than the combined pavement increases in Racine and Kenosha counties in Wisconsin and Lake County in Illinois, the other counties affected by the proposed expansion project.

"The amount of storm water runoff is expected to increase proportionately to the increase in impervious surface (that is, pavement)" according to the EIS.

The project overall would increase freeway-related pavement from 37 million square feet to 46.4 million square feet, a 25.4% increase.

Some of the Milwaukee County land to be filled -- about 174,000 square feet -- is floodplain, or land that is susceptible to flooding. Increasing the amount of land that cannot absorb water raises flooding risks.

Runoff from the hard surfaces of freeways is generally highly contaminated.

Chemical pollutants from cars can poison water, vegetation and associated aquatic life.

The document does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce pollution from the increased runoff. It states only that "best practices" are under consideration that would decrease pollution from current levels.

It also does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce potential flooding.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is involved in major, expensive flood control and water quality efforts in the Milwaukee area. MMSD spokesman Bill Graffin said district officials say WisDOT has not been in touch with them about the North-South project.

Monday, November 19, 2007

WisDOT gets weird on race

This is from WisDOT's draft environmental impact statement for its proposed $1.9 billion North-South I-94 expansion plan.

“...the study-area freeway system connects Chicago to Milwaukee, both of which are ‘minority majority’ communities.”

Excuse me? What's this supposed to mean? Is it relevant? Why? How many majority white communities are connected by that freeway? Is that number, which is bound to be astronomically higher than two, relevant? If so, why wasn't it quantifed in the EIS?

New blog to follow freeway / transportation issues

Freeway expansion.

Transit, or lack thereof.

Global warming.

Gas prices.

Oil stuff.

There will be lots of cross-posting.

For those interested in these particular intertwined topics, a dedicated blog at http://citizensalliedforsanehighways.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Enabling Scott Walker

County Executive Scott Walker got away with one in his op-ed in the JS today.

Walker (or his staff) wrote the following:

Transportation: Our budget maintains all of our transit routes.

Here is the simple truth: the new county budget does NOT maintain all of the routes.

Much of the Route 11 is gone next year; part of the route 80 is gone; part of route 53 is gone and part of route 80 is gone.

As capper points out, the 11 serves the Marcia Coggs building and the Martin Luther King Community Center. The cut will be devastating to a lot of people.

Walker, truthfully this time, also says that para-transit fares won't increase from $3.25, but that's only because the Coounty Board rejected Walker's proposed 75 cent fare increase (which Walker forgot to mention).

While rates may not be going up, Walker and the JS have either ignored or not realized that the county para-transit system is broken -- seriously broken.

Where's that JS I-team when you need it? Hell, where are the newspaper's folks who have a clue as to what is happening in the community? Did they all take the buy-out?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It's gonna be a lot more than $1.9 billion

Buried deep, deep in the environmental impact statement for the North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project are two short sentences that give lie to the agency's $1.9 billion cost estimate.

"All construction costs presented in this document have been calculated to account for inflation between 2006 and the end of the multi-year construction that WisDOT has scheduled to begin in 2009. WisDOT and FHWA assumed a 3-percent annual inflation rate."

What a crock. Inflation in road construction has been soaring for several years. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association reported in October that the cost of highway and street construction materials was up 6% from September 2006 to September 2007.

"Over the last three years, annual highway and street construction material prices have increased nearly 32 percent," the association said.

Three percent. Yeah. Right.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Big changes coming at the County Board

Supervisors Richard Nyklewicz Jr. and Roger Quindel each have announced they will not seek re-election to the County Board.

Nyklewicz represents the south side and Quindel represents the northwest side of the city.

The departure of these two stalwarts could well change the leanings of the County Board, which has more and more opted to take on County Executive Scott Walker rather than kowtow to him.

Good candidates -- step forward! (Please.)

No funding plan for I-94 project

Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi and, presumably, Gov. Doyle, want to spend $1.9 billion on unneeded freeway expansion along North-South I-94 without having a clue where the money will come from:

This is from WisDOT's own press release:

The estimated cost for the reconstruction with eight lanes is $1.9 billion.

The costs will be covered with a mix of state, federal and bond funds.

"As with the Marquette Interchange, WisDOT, Governor Doyle, the Legislature and the state's Congressional delegation will continue to work together to identify the funds needed to complete the project," Busalacchi said.

Hey, Frank. Not good enough. We need to know where the money is coming from before you spend it.



Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are Gov. Doyle's global warming concerns real?

Those religious conversions are so amazing, aren't they?

Not so long ago, Gov. Doyle was endorsing construction of a carbon-producing, global warming-enhancing coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek.

His Department of Transportation is widely expected to propose freeway expansion all over the Milwaukee area. Bigger freeways means more people in cars taking more trips creating more greenhouse gases.

But yesterday, Doyle, five other midwestern governors and the premier of Manitoba signed an agreement agreeing to slash greenhouse gas emissions in their states and province.

Pretty impressive -- except that the major goals aren't due to be reached until long after Doyle and the others are out of office. According to the JS:

Among the platform's goals:

• All new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 would be required to capture carbon dioxide and ship it to an underground storage site.

• 30% of the region's electricity would come from renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and landfill gas by 2030.

• One-third of the region's gas stations would be selling the E85 blend of ethanol by 2025. (E85 has its own environmental problems, reduces fuel efficiency and probably won't do much to replace oil -- other than that, it's great.)

¦ Energy efficiency measures would be tapped to enable the region to reduce overall electricity demand by 2% a year beginning in 2015, Doyle said.

Is Doyle serious about his eco-conversion? Time will tell, of course. A good clue will come when WisDOT releases its recommendations for reconstruction of North-South I-94. If it includes freeway expansion, you can take his eco-agreement, crumple it up, and throw it in the recycling bin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Walker's parks vetoes

County Executive Scott Walker vetoed budget increases for the parks. This despite a rapidly deteriorating parks system that will only get more expensive to fix the longer it is neglected. Here's a pic -- taken a week ago -- of the shoreline of the Washington Park lagoon. Is this really the legacy Walker wants to leave?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LA shelves plans for schools near freeways

The Los Angeles School District is dropping plans to build two schools near freeways because of concerns over the impacts on kids' health.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

LOS ANGELES—The nation's second-largest school district has dumped plans to build two new campuses near a freeway after concerns about the impact of air pollution on youngsters.

The Los Angeles Times says the L.A. Unified School District has halted plans to put a high school and middle school within 500 feet of Interstate 10.

More than 60,000 students already attend schools near freeways and five new campuses are being built.

Those buildings will have air filters to strip out road toxins but health experts say filters can't remove ultra-fine particles linked to asthma and bronchitis.

Let's hope the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which is finishing up the Environmental Impact Statement on the reconstruction and potential expansion of North-South I-94 shows the same kind of concern about the kids who attend school right next door to the freeway. Still...would you wanna bet money that WisDOT will pull freeway expansion money away from its contractor cronies just because kids will sick?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Despite wins, we still lose

This is not a knock on the County Board -- it did what it could to reverse the worst of County Executive Scott Walker's proposed transit cuts.

When all is said and done, though, Milwaukee County will have less transit service next year than it has this year, and people will have to shell out more money for it.

Not good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The cable bill

AT&T won its battle in the Senate and the world won't stop turning.

Whether we have one supplier of hundreds of channels of schlock or two suppliers of hundreds of channels of schlock is not the vital question of our time. AT&T's win means there very likely will be two, as the Assembly is almost sure to ratify the Senate vote.

Yup, there are flaws in the bill. (And the boxes AT&T has planted around town to support its U-verse service are an environmental and aesthetic insult to us all. If this is how AT&T is going to treat its customers, they are in real trouble.)

The whole issue, though, is not even a pixel in the big picture of big media / telecom scary stuff. If you want to worry about AT&T, worry about its slavish devotion to the Bush Administration, its willing participation in illegal wiretapping, and the Bushies' efforts to see that AT&T and other telcos go unpunished for their crimes.

If you want to worry about the media landscape in general, worry about Federal Communications Commission Chariman Kevin Martin's rush to allow further media cross ownership and consolidation. Cross ownership occurs when a single company owns a newspaper and radio or television station in the same market.

If you think that the loss of public access cable television stations would homogenize media too much in Milwaukee, Martin's proposal -- ignored in the Milwaukee media market dominated by cross-owning Journal Communications-- would increase that threat exponentially.

The real danger of allowing AT&T into town is that U-verse will provide just one more eye-glazing opportunity to watch Leave it to Beaver reruns for the 700th time instead of engaging in and protecting our communities and civic lives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Huge transportation referendum defeated in Washington

The Washington state referendum lay dead on the ground, a knife sticking out of its back.

There were many suspects. Was the killer the collective vote of those who didn't want to spend $7 billion on roads?

Inspector Wisconsin gazed worriedly down at the corpse. $7 billion was a lot less than the massive highway spending binge the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wanted to launch -- and in only one small area of the state. If $7 billion brought out the long knives, what would a larger freeway-widening package for the Milwaukee area bring out?

Or was the killer the anti-transit crowd? That could easily be the case -- those people were delusional and had great difficulty connecting and staying connected to reality. They refused to acknowledge, for example, that oil supplies are finite, that global warming is real, and that sprawl is unsustainable. The Washington state referendum was looking for $11 billion for transit, more than it would put into roads. Did roads' tough friends retaliate? Did their delusions push them too far?

Inspector Wisconsin squatted near the corpse, his knees popping as he settled on his heels. He removed his fedora, turning it slowly in his hands. The twilight mist felt cool against his skin.

Could transit be killed in Wisconsin? Could the killer strike there next? Transit was already weak in please-keep-the-headquarters-here-Miller country, and getting weaker by the day and by the year. Roads had powerful friends everywhere, while transit was like an old man living out his days in a run-down rooming house. It had plenty of friends, sure, but not the people with the money who could make a difference.

Inspector Wisconsin rose, and sighed. The referendum was dead -- nothing he could do could bring it back to life. A new referendum would come along in a few years, maybe better than this one, maybe not. It would live or it would die, but it wasn't Inspector Wisconsin's problem.

He had his own case back home, and maybe he could prevent a death -- he still had hope, at least.

It was about that old man in the rooming house, transit. The people who were supposed to take care of it weren't doing their job. It could be deliberate or it could be simple neglect, but transit was slowly, slowly starving too death. Transit's friends couldn't stop the slide.

Inspector Wisconsin put his hat on his head and tightened the belt on his rain coat. He had eaten pizza last week on a stakeout and there was a cheese stain on the bottom of the right sleeve. A wave of homesickness washed over him.

Inspector Wisconsin moved from the harsh brightness of the streetlight into the evening shadows, the first step on the journey home.

He hoped it wasn't too late.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Shadow People

It is significant and magnificent that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates added 30,000 people to Milwaukee's population total.

Milwaukee's population, like all large U.S. cities, has a significant number of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, very much unwilling to be noticed by nose counters or other government agents.

Congrats and kudos to Mayor Tom Barrett's team for using demolition records and energy bills to compile the data to convince the Census Bureau to incease its Milwaukee count.

The city's population is up, and congressional representation is based on population. Can we please have another congress person now?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bush's tailspin

The Kurds in Iraq are killing Turkish troops on the border. The Turks, allies of the United States, may take military action against the Kurds, whom the US under George I urged to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned to be slaughtered by him.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who occasionally is an ally in the War on Terror (whatever the hell that really is) when he is not allowing terrorists to train in his country, has supsended his country's constitution, shut down non-governmental media and rounded up and detain hundreds of activists and lawyers.

George Bush II's campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East isn't going so well in the past few weeks. It's hard for George to keep friends and influence people when they are busy exploiting his incompetence and enjoying his ineptitude.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The transit battle

It's not over, because County Executive Scott Walker still has his veto pen, but the County Board restored some bus routes today during 2008 budget deliberations.

Details here.

And video from last week's public hearing.

A Vanity Fair must-read

Yeah, well, I'm a month behind, but the story "Billions over Baghdad" in October's Vanity Fair is a must-read look by two long-time investigative financial journalists, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, at the mysterious case of the disappearing billions of American aide in Iraq.

One stunner from the story:

There is no true method of calculating the human cost of the war in Iraq. The monetary cost, grossly inflated by theft and corruption, is another matter. One simple piece of data puts this into perspective: to date, America has spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan—an industrialized country three times Iraq's size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs. Understanding how and why this happened will take many years—if understanding comes at all.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Pabst Farms Interchange

The environmental assessment for the Pabst Farms interchange finally arrived!

The feds signed off on the EA back in 1995 and 1996. The document, in other words, is pretty damned old. If the project is delayed, as the JS suggested today and the Daily Reporter suggested three weeks ago, the EA will be even more outdated and stale.

For those of you concerned that WisDOT did not seek public input into interchange plans, relax. It did -- it's just that the public input occurred as long as 17 years ago. WisDOT held its first public meeting on the project in 1990 -- the EA says the final reconstruction alternatives would be presented at a public meeting to be scheduled in "early 1995."

The EA, which also addresses potential reconstruction of other Waukesha County interchanges, contains this howler: "The proposed improvements would not affect the type or volume of traffic in the study area." The agency says that any traffic increase would be the result of new development, not bigger interchanges.

Waitaminute. The build-out of Pabst Farms depends on construction of a new interchange so all those single-occupant cars can get there -- the interchange, not the development, is the first link in the chain leading to new traffic and congestion.

WisDOT officials have to know that. Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and Pabst Farms spokesman Thad Nation have pretty much said as much. From the Daily Reporter:

County Executive Dan Vrakas said finalizing that interchange deal could help Pabst Farms’ effort to find a new developer for the project. Nation agreed with that point.

From the JS:

Norm Cummings, Waukesha County director of administration, said construction of the interchange is crucial for mall developers.

WisDOT's refusal to recognize the negative impacts of construction the interchange is a gross dereliction of duty. We can all wait for the agency to fix this particular gross error, but we likely will be waiting a long, long time.