Friday, July 18, 2008

We've moved

Milwaukee Rising can now be found at

Swing on by!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Texas DOT and road costs

The Texas Department of Transportation recognizes that roads cost more than just building them. Wisconsin doesn't like to recognize that fact. More here.

Sanctifying crime

The Senate yesterday voted to give telecos legal immunity for participating in illegal wiretapping. In a grossly disappointing pander to the right, Sen. Barack Obama went along with the plan.
(Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, on the other hand, led the fight against it.)

Now that this anti-constitutional piece of legislation is about to become law, the ACLU promises to challenge it:

“This fight is not over. We intend to challenge this bill as soon as President Bush signs it into law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “The bill allows the warrantless and dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international telephone and email communications. It plainly violates the Fourth Amendment.”

And please remember: in America, if you engage in serious felonies, it helps to have lots of lobbyists to help rewrite the law to your benefit. Lots of cash for campaign donations helps, too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

McCain's aims on energy

The commercial is playing over and over again. It's John McCain, talking again about his bipartisan plan to reduce gas prices at the pump.

But what's the plan? The ad doesn't tell us.

Perhaps we're supposed to let that slide because he's a war hero, you know.

Monday, July 07, 2008

A bit more on the oil dilemma

The Wall Street Journal reported today that oil may be moving into $200 a barrel territory. Here's a piece of the story.

The one shift in demand that would have a serious price impact would be any sign of diminished thirst for fuel in China. Speculation has run high for months that Chinese demand may have surged artificially in advance of the Beijing Olympics as the country turned to oil over coal for power generation to ease pollution. It is also unclear whether China stockpiled gasoline and diesel to avoid any shortages.

"But if consumption roars on even after the Olympics, then the upside pressure on prices will remain pretty strong," said Stephen Brown, an energy economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Another force that could shove prices down in a hurry would be signs of a significant buildup in oil inventories in the U.S. But even with oil use down in the U.S., crude stockpiles remain unusually low. The U.S. now has just over 19 days of total commercial supplies, compared with 23 days worth at the same time last year.

The first part of that excerpt doesn't make sense to me. If China converted from coal to oil in preparation for the Olympics, would it then dump its oil investment to go back to coal afterwards? Would that make economic sense?

And even if China simply stopped adding to its oil dependency, what its done so far has driven up prices significantly. Would they drop if China's demand remained flat with nothing else changing?

Folks won't need those wider freeways

A Canadian investment bank says cars will leave American highways in droves.

The highway guys at WisDOT have their eyes shut tight, their fingers stuck in their ears and are singing loudly, "la la la la we can't hear you!"

The choir is directed by Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi.

More here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Evenson correction

SEWRPC Executive Director Phil Evenson says he did not advocate tolling to provide congestion relief for some freeway lanes as I, picking up from the JS, said he did.

Evenson's right. He didn't say it.

More here.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Will Sherard gets his due

Central city landlord Will Sherard, who's been flouting for three years a court order to fix his crappy properties, gets hammered in federal court with a $500 per day per unit fine.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hooray for DOT on the Marquette Interchange

It's good news that the Marquette Interchange will come in under budget and a bit ahead of schedule.

Let's celebrate, even though we don't know how big those savings will be.

Construction did not shut down Downtown or hurt traffic flow much at all, which should prompt people to ask just how much WisDOT's longed-for wider freeways are needed.

The structure is still too big and expensive and, while its aesthetics have been praised by some drivers, it is a massive, shadow-throwing hunk of ugly to folks on the ground. Sorry, but huge concrete pillars like the kind holding up the Marquette just are not attractive. Of course, the thing was designed for freeway drivers -- anyone else is just in the way.

The design contract was still modified dozens of times, massively increasing the take-home pay for consultants HNTB and CH2M Hill and that web site still cost an outrageous $685,000.

And could it be, possibly, that the Marquette's cost estimates were a tad inflated from the get-go?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

So you're doing a story on reformulated gasoline

Wow, JS joins Fox News in the "Fair and Balanced" parade.

The paper did a big story on the merits, or lack thereof, of reformulated gasoline. The politicians it quoted were US Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), and State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

Think there might be a bias there?

Not to worry. To balance things, the paper quoted a guy from Wisconsin Manufacture & Commerce.


But wait, there's more -- a man who owns a big truck who didn't like paying more for gas, who contributed this:

"With gas prices what they are, evein if it was better for the air, I wouldn't be happy about paying more."

Fox should be running scared with competition like this.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Potty humor re. George Bush!

Here's to being low-brow enough to think it's funny. San Francisco residents are going to vote on whether to name a sewage treatment plant after George W. to provide a " 'fitting monument' to the outgoing commander-in-chief's achievements," according to The Independent.

Activists from the Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco, a mischievously-named group behind the move, will ask supporters to participate in a "synchronised flush."

The New York Times reports the idea was actually born in a bar.

Where else?

Friday, June 27, 2008

On Phil Evenson's rich people's toll road proposal

It's for the benefit of the few at the cost of the many.

More here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Van Hollen looks foolish, partisan

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is complaining to the Journal Sentinel that investigators didn't tell him they closed a case eight months ago.

It is not confidence-inspiring to know we have an attorney general who waits that long before doing anything about an investigation conducted by his office that he believes was botched. It simply raises more questions about Van Hollen's management abilities.

This particular investigation -- into the role of politics in the award of a contract to redevelop UW-Milwaukee's Kenilworth Building -- is wrapped tight in politics. The investigation centered around former Secretary of Administration Mark Marotta's role in the award of the contract.

Marotta is a Democrat. Van Hollen is a Republican.

Invesitgators closed the case in October. Eight months later, with partisan primary elections less than three months away, Van Hollen decides the investigation wasn't good enough.

From the paper:

Van Hollen would not say if he is reopening the Kenilworth investigation. But Van Hollen spokesman Kevin St. John said the attoreny general believes the allegations are serious.

In an amazing case of journalistic failure, the JS never tells us why Van Hollen waited until now to say anything about what happened eight months ago, or why he didn't deal with the issue then.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

OK, NOW throw away the key

A jury has spoken and former Ald. Michael McGee is guilty.

It's still crazy that he was locked up for more than a year pending trial, but now that the jury has spoken, lock the guy up for a while.

McGee represented a district where he could have done so much good because so much good needs to be done. Instead, he operated a shake-down machine.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Dems cave on eavesdropping: pop quiz

The Congressional Dems are giving in to the Bush administration demands that telecos get immunity for the illegal eavesdropping they did at the behest of the administration.

Here's the quiz: How can you tell when Congressional Democrats will behave with craven cowardice and cave in to Bush et al. on a vital issue of personal or constitutional liberties?

Answer: They schedule a vote on it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

And June 21 came...

And the mosquitoes came also.

They were hungry.

They were multitudes.

And all of Milwaukee heard the sound:

Bzzzwhinnnnne. Bzzzwhinnnnnne.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Driving down again

Americans drove 30 billion miles fewer in from November through April than they did a year earlier during that period. Will WisDOT notice?

More here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Arise, SEWRPC reformers

It is not just that SEWRPC hid itself in the suburbs.

It's not just that SEWRPC stocks its advisory committees overwhelmingly with white gentlemen of a certain age. The commission itself has historically been distinctly lacking in ethnic varietly.

It's not even just that SEWRPC waited 25 years before developing an equitable formula to distribute transit dollars -- the new fair one, by the way, sends more aid to Milwaukee County.

It's also the gross conflicts of interest that SEWRPC engages in and allows. It's so nice to spend public dollars among friends, ain't it?

Three cheers for Ald. Bob Bauman, Ald. Jim Bohl and Ald. Nik Kovak for introducing a resolution calling for the county to withdraw from SEWRPC. And a huge hurrah for Jim Rowen and his JS Crossroads piece for dragging this issue smack into the public debate and to the JS for publishing Rowen's op-ed.

And shame on the county for not completing a County Board-ordered study on the county's relationship with SEWRPC. There were a couple of meetings of the study committee, then the whole thing fizzled.

Arise, SEWRPC reformers. If Milwaukee doesn't pull out, the city should establish its own SEWRPC monitoring function to ensure that Milwaukee residents and taxpayers are heard, even in those far reaches of Pewaukee.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The non-news about the airport

It was a huge headline on a story that said exactly nothing new.

Scott Walker wants to privatize the airport, but we knew that already.

Walker fed the JS a line, and the JS dutifully transcribed.

Federal Aviation Administration officials assured him in meetings last week in Washington, D.C., that the county could redirect airport lease revenue to transit.

The FAA actually has no interest in how the county spent the potential revenue, which the JS reports way, way down in the story: Willis said there would be no federal restrictions on how the county could use airport lease revenue if it’s selected for the privatization program.

Mitchell could qualify as a medium-size airport, said Kevin Willis, an FAA official with the privatization program.

Walker's fantasy is unlikely and under the best of circumstances cannot get up and producing money in time to save the transit system.

Some odd news judgment in the play given to this one.

Should we believe the Saudis will increase oil production

It's amazing to me how newspapers and TV are blindly and faithfully reporting that the Saudis will increase oil production by 200,000 barrels a day.

Even if the totally corrupt Saudi regime is telling the truth, the increase is not enough to matter and won't last. Some good background here.

The Saudis, who are not our friends, are not going to save us.

Monday, June 16, 2008

WisDOT dances on global warming, disses the governor's task force

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation told federal highway officials that it was an "active partner" on the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming and part of the task force's Transportation Work Group.

A WisDOT official told the the work group co-chair, though, that the agency did not "have a seat at the table."

Both of these statements cannot be true.

What!? WisDOT fabricating?!!? Tell me it's not so!

A lot of people took a lot of time out of their really busy lives to serve, unpaid, on this task force. Their reward was to be treated like crap by the brass at WisDOT.

A top WisDOT official, records show, directed staffers to just keep quiet when the Transportation Work Group came around looking for feedback. A WisDOT staffer wrote a scathing memo about the group's work that circulated internally, but was not shared with the Work Group.

Steve Hiniker, co-chair of the group, is pretty angry about it all.

Other task force members ought to be as well.

And Gov. Doyle, who asked these people to serve, ought to issue a reprimand to state staffers who treated them so shabbily.

This is one good way to discourage people from volunteering for public service.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On Busalacchi and his whopper

Wherein Frank contradicts himself completely. And this guy's in charge of transportation in the state?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The JS needs revenue and I absolutely hope the paper finds it, but having three visually screaming pop-ups on the same story is a bit much.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

After the storm

Here is sort of mini-west side tour. The Hank Aaron Trail was totally flooded during the storm. The evidence:

There was a ton of garbage caught on the railings. Logs and debris were scattered on the path.

There were some problems in and near Jacobus Park. Depressingly, it will be up to Scott Walker and Milwaukee County to fund the repairs.

The picture below is of a fence in the park.

Here is Wood National Cemetery.

Here are the County Grounds detention basins on Saturday. Water was being pumped from one basin into the other:

And here are those same detention ponds on Sunday.

And the Root River Parkway near Oklahoma Ave. in West Allis.

If you think this is bad...

Everything and everyone is wet.

But it could be worse.

It could be that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation would like to increase the size of the freeway next to your house, bringing it even closer to your back door and increasing by 50% the amount of impervious surface that will send polluted runoff into your yard.

It could be that WisDOT would like to increase the pitch of the freeway to drain it more efficiently into your yard.

It could be that when pushed for its plans to prevent flooding in yards, WisDOT says, Yeah, well, whatever. We'll get around to it later."

It could be that WisDOT is planning exactly that for the Milwaukee portion of the North-South I-94 expansion project.

It is.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

How would he know?

One of the TV weather guys said there have been 4,000 lightning strikes tonight (I think just in Milwaukee County!).

At first I thought, "Wow, that's a lot of lightning strikes!"

Then I thought, "How would he know how many there have been? Who is out there counting them?"

Then my husband told me that a short time earlier, the same weather guy said there were 20,000 lightning strikes.


John McCain looks to Gableman strategy

Well, that didn't take long.

From the Associated Press:

A little-known country judge's road to the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being eyed by John McCain backers as a map for him to win the state.

Republican operatives are closely studying how circuit judge Michael Gableman, a conservative candidate from from Webster in far northwest Wisconsin who never ran a statewide race before, was able to oust a more liberal sitting Supreme Court justice in April.

They believe his win provides a guide for McCain to become the first Republican to carry the state since Ronald Reagan in 1984 and capture its 10 electoral votes.

Gableman's disgusting campaign focused on racial fear-mongering. How low will McCain go?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Justice denied

The refusal of prosecutors to investigate whether State Supreme Court Employee Mike Gableman made political calls from his office is disheartening. One Wisconsin Now asked the Government Accountability Board, two district attorneys and State Attorney General JB Van Hollen to investigate the calls Gableman made back when he was Ashland County district attorney.

None of them did. Instead, they ducked and weaved and passed the issue around until the statute of limitations expired. The man who stopped at nothing to win was pre-emptively protected by people sworn to uphold and enforce the law.

The word "Justice" should not sit next to the name "Mike Gableman."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Hillary, Barack and John

Hillary Clinton is bowing out and, yes, it's time. The votes are counted and she lost the Democratic primary. Barack Obama won.

The people who are mad at Clinton for not getting out earlier are really, really mad. This seems kind of strange to me. It's competition -- there is no "on' and "off" switch. Was it clear that Clinton blundered in key ways? Yup. Did the contest distract Democrats while John "Bushette" McCain traveled around looking presidential? Yup.

Did Clinton have an obligation to give up her race while there was even the slimmest chance that she would win? No. (Look out -- here comes a sports analogy.) Why is a baseball team expected to play til the last out, but a presidential candidate is expected to concede after the eighth inning?

Was she a sore loser? Yup to that, too. A little more grace on Tuesday would have been nice.

If the Dems can't get the factions together before November to defeat John McCain, though, that's not Clinton's fault -- it's just the Democrats being the Democrats. John McCain is entirely beatable. The integrity he demonstrated during his Vietnam captivity he quickly shed in order to win the Republican endorsement ("I was against tax cuts before I was for them").

My prediction: he will embrace the very types of slime meisters that did him in back in South Carolina in 2000. The issue of race will worm its way into the forefront of the campaign, in a shadowy, ugly, fear-mongering way. The ugliness won't be generated inside the McCain camp, but those snuggling right up close to it. And McCain won't chase them away.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

An absolutely shameful Milwaukee scene

There is so much garbage in this lot in the 1300 block of W. Center St. that the birds come to feast on it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

And these people have advanced degrees?

The nation's businesses are starving for engineers.
Colleges are not turning out enough engineers to meet the demand.
So what does UW-Madison do?
UW-Madison proposes raising the tuition for undergraduate engineering students by $700 a semester over the school's base tuition.
Something learned in basic economics classes (no surcharge required): A bad way to get people to do something you want them to do when they haven't shown much inclination to do it on their own is to charge them significantly more to do it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Not a fan of Post Office move

Yeah, the downtown Post Office is ugly and all that, but when it moves to Oak Creek and transit collapses, as it is scheduled to do, how do Milwaukee residents without cars even have a chance at those family-supporting jobs in Oak Creek?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Busalacchi's bull

The state is about to start throwing money out the window in the form of a wider North-South I-94.

Part of the problem of spending $200 million (plus interest on the bonding!) to expand the freeway is that it will do nothing to improve traffic flow in Racine and Kenosha counties. It's crazy -- if it won't help and will do all the bad things that freeway expansion does in terms of wasted tax base, pollution, etc. -- why are we doing it?

That king of wasted tax dollars, WisDOT Secretary Frank Busalacchi, meanwhile, tells the JS that transit would not get $200 million even if WisDOT were not wasting it on the Futile Freeway.

And Busalacchi, in a response to (Mayor Tom) Barrett, said the city and county and not his department are responsible for the mass transit improvements needed to meet the planning goals for 2035.

"What is lacking is local and regional consensus and commitment to actually develop and implement these services, all of which are local responsibilities," Busalacchi wrote.

I love the way the state works. Tell local governments that they have to fund transit, then agree to laws that limit local units of governments' ability to raise revenue.

Spend money on highway expansion that won't work in most of the expansion area and isn't wanted in the rest.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The city budget

Mayor Tom Barrett is weighing the possibility of closing four neighborhood libraries as the city faces huge budget pressures, according to the JS.

There is no mention of any possibility of a reduction in the always-expanding police budget. Yes, public safety is absolutely important, but constant increases in police ranks while public libraries are shuttered can only mean one thing: the barbarians, indeed, are at the gates.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Don't cross JB

Attorney General JB Van Hollen's accelerating ego inflation/paranoia is getting a tad out of control.

This guy is just weird.

First there was the story of Van Hollen's demotion of State Fire Marshal Carolyn S. Kelly because she allegedly threatened top Justice Department officials. According to the JS:

E-mails show Kelly and Warren (James Warren, her former boss) were frustrated by Van Hollen's handling of open records requests related to the case of Tyler Peterson, the off-duty deputy who killed six people and himself.

On Oct. 15, a week after the Crandon shooting, Kelly sent Warren an e-mail that said: "If I recall 50 bucks is the going rate for a hit right now?"

She made similar references in other e-mails, saying group rates might be available and that she should consider advertising on Craigslist, the popular Web site for classified ads.

The e-mails do not specifically name anyone, but Van Hollen said the investigation showed she was referring to him or his top aides.

Kelly may have used poor judgment in sending those emails over government computers, but really, who in their right minds would believe she was actually making threats? Van Hollen could have disciplined Kelly on legitimate grounds, perhaps, but to try to portray her as a threat to public safety or someone who might actually hire a hit man is ludicrous and shameful on Van Hollen's part.

That story was just the warm-up to the true ego-gone-wild JB Van Hollen story. He wants body guards at the Republican national convention to be held in the Twin Cities. Again from the JS:

Justice Department official Joell Schigur questioned whether assigning state agents to a political event would be improper or illegal. Schigur had been serving as director of the department's Public Integrity Bureau, but had not yet completed the position's two-year probation period.

Schigur was told Wednesday, one month after asking whether agents should be used at the GOP event, that she had not completed her probation. Assistant Attorney General Kevin St. John said the two issues were not related, however...

Mike Myszewski, administrator of the Division of Criminal Investigation, said in an April 23 e-mail that assigning agents to guard Van Hollen could be justified, given plans by dissident groups to try to "violently disrupt" the event.

Tom Walsh, the St. Paul, Minn., Police Department spokesman for convention security issues, said Friday he knew of no such threats.

"To our knowledge there were no such groups at the previous Republican National Convention, and we are not aware of any planning to try to disrupt this event," Walsh said in an e-mail.

Is Van Hollen afraid that former Fire Marshal Kelly will try to have him offed at the Republican convention? Does he think terrorists are wandering around St. Paul looking to do him in?

Or is he just nuts?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

That darned oil thing

Politicians keep whining at our good and excessively corrupt and venal friends in the Saudi government that they should be sending us lot more oil.

First, it's likely they don't have the spare oil to send. Look beyond the stories about Bush trying to convince the Saudis that they ought to help us with our addiction, and you can find a lot of data suggesting that the Saudis ability to increase oil production may be at its limit.

Second, put yourself in the Saudis' sandals. Let's say you are a powerful member of a vastly corrupt and venal government that cannot provide enough jobs for your people and you need to mollify the masses by shoving oil money at them. You have limited oil reserves, but potentially unlimited anger out there among your own population. You need to bank some of that oil revenue against the day the oil is gone so you can continue to buy off the people and pay for your oversized, repressive security forces that can quickly, brutally and efficiently put down any little uprising that may occur. No motivation to increase supply and reduce prices there.

In addition, the sugar daddy supplicant that is begging for more oil has swaggered into your global neighborhood and started a fight with the neighbors in Iraq. The fight threatens stability in the whole region, and has stirred up nests of troublesome, dangerous radical extremists everywhere. You want the fight to end.

Do you pump more oil so it easier and less expensive for that annoying supplicant whiner to continue its fight?

So remember -- Next time President Bush travels to Saudi Arabia to ask the Saudis to increase oil production, it is likely he just wanted the junket.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Telecom offers consumer protection (yah, right)

You've got to hand it to the wireless phone service providers -- they just show no ability to show shame.

The providers have come up with a proposal to waive the outrageous fees they charge for customers who want an early out from their cell phone contracts -- the phone companies have agreed to waive the charges for those least likely to need the charges waived, according to the Associated Press.

Under a proposal to the Federal Communications Commission, the wireless industry would give consumers the opportunity to cancel service without any penalty for up to 30 days after they sign a cell phone contract or until 10 days after they receive their first bill.

Heavens! I bet that would protect a relative quarter-handful of customers who would like to switch carriers.

The phone companies have also, bless their hearts, proposed reducing the fees on a month-by-month basis, so customers who have a month or two left on their contracts wouldn't have to pay the full, punitive penalties.

"The plan would not abolish cancellation fees entirely," according to the Associated Press.

The phone companies are not offering up this proposal because they have decided that good rates and good service are the best ways to keep customers. No, they are offering it up because they are getting their keisters sued off in state courts over the ridiculous cancellation fees and are increasingly fearful that they will lose those cases. The phone companies, of course want a quid for their pro quo.

The agreement would let cell phone companies off the hook in state courts where they are being sued for billions of dollars by angry customers. If approved by the FCC, the proposal also would take away the authority of states to regulate the charges, known as early termination fees.

Customers don't get much protection, the phone companies get a new form of immunity for another kind of potentially illegal activity (don't forget all that illegal spying!), and states lose their ability to protect their residents.

Sounds like a sure thing to me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Zoo Interchange: another fiasco in the wings

What can't afford to remove invasive species from its property, but can afford to build a bigger Zoo Interchange project and maybe destroy a bunch of homes and businesses along the way?

You guessed it. Your Wisconsin Department of Transportation. More here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Froomkin on Bush's sacrifice

In case you missed the controversy -- Below is an excerpt of terrific Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin analyzing President Bush's great war-time sacrifice -- golf:

And yet now it turns out that Bush has indeed made a personal sacrifice on account of the war. According to the president yesterday, his decision to stop playing golf five years ago wasn't just an exercise in image control or a function of his bum knee -- it was an act of solidarity with the families of the dead and wounded.

Here's the relevant exchange in an interview Bush gave to Mike Allen of Politico:

Allen: "Mr. President, you haven't been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?"

Bush: "Yes, it really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

Allen: "Mr. President, was there a particular moment or incident that brought you to that decision, or how did you come to that?"

Bush: "No, I remember when de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. And I was playing golf -- I think I was in central Texas -- and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it's just not worth it anymore to do."

This is the latest in a series of statements by Bush, the first lady and Vice President Cheney illustrating how far removed they are from the consequences of the decision to go to war -- and stay at war.

But giving up golf?

Not only is it a hollow, trivial sacrifice at best, Bush's story doesn't hold water. While he dates his decision to abjure golf to Aug. 19, 2003 -- the day a truck bomb in Baghdad killed U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello and more than a dozen others -- the Associated Press reported on Oct. 13, 2003, that he'd spent a "cool, breezy Columbus Day" playing "a round of golf with three long-time buddies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why does the county discourage citizen participation?

The JS reports this morning that County Executive Scott Walker says moving the mental health hospital to the old St. Michael Hospital is a financially sound move that can provide the opportunity for "culture change."

Supervisor John Weishan says Walker is using "hokey numbers" and a union official says the St. Michael proposal is "absolutely ridiculous."

What happens to the mental health hospital is important to the staff, patients and their families and the general public. The fate of the mental health hospital will help define the fate of the County Grounds, a rich piece of county history and heritage and still, despite development, an important environmental asset.

It would be nice to read the plan that is going to be considered today by the County Board's Health and Human Needs Committee. Almost any other local unit of government -- the city, state, school district and MMSD would make the documents available online.

The county does not.

The question is: why not? There is nothing expensive or technologically daunting about posting important information related to what the county is doing.

The county is broke and mismanaged on a number of levels. It can use all the good ideas it can get from anyone who has them.

County officials, though, in both Walker's office and on the County Board, persist in shutting the public out of the public's business.

It's a shabby way to operate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Anything less is just a dog

Abe already has been a hero, rescuing orphaned possums from the certain death.

Now, this remarkable creature has revealed a new talent. Turn up those speakers, give a listen to this two-second video, and try prevent your wonder from blooming into outright awe.

We are so very proud.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Just garbage

The misnamed budget repair bill is nothing but junk. Crap. Garbage.

It stinks. Toss it out and pretend it never happened.

Start with the property tax exemption for low-income housing. The Wisconsin Alliance of Cities no one knows how much property it will strip from local tax rolls.

It may remove tens of millions of dollars from the local tax rolls and shift the taxes paid by
countless housing projects to single-family homeowners, according to the Alliance.

Then there is the transportation fund. Road builders win again.
Transit gets nothing.

There are the "Accounting Tricks for Losers" that, no surprise here, the Legislature has decided to use. Shift a payment date here, shift a payment date there and pretend we won't have to deal with it when the new due dates roll around.

There's a few non-fiscal issues thrown in to make this thing a complete loser.

This Legislature is really broken.

Joseph Zilber + Marcus White = New hope for Milwaukee

Real estate millionaire Joseph Zilber is giving 50 of those millions to improve life in Milwaukee's low-income neighborhoods. Zilber's incredible generosity got lots of press.

Another positive development for Milwaukee was reported in the back pages of the paper: Marcus White, the executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, is leaving that job to take a new job with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, director of community partnerships.

Hiring White, who for years has been a positive force in Milwaukee, is a great move by the foundation, which is itself signaling a new level of involvement in urban issues.

The foundation, according to the JS' Tom Heinen plans to put much more emphasis on working with diverse groups of partners to help identify and eliminate the underlying causes of problems ranging from poor school performance and high dropout rates to the transit system's financial crisis and the continuing brain drain of talented college graduates, said Douglas Jansson, foundation president. It also plans to enter the public arena by advocating for changes in government policies. And it will pull together existing research and fund new research to set the table for public debate.

These developments are hugely hopeful signs for the city.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The technology adventure, or What else is new?

Saw this amazing review for the Flip mini-camcorder in the New York Times.

Ordered one from for $150, $30 off regular retail! Boast to friends of the great deal.

Got the camera -- it is so cool. Try to edit some video -- the trusty ol' Studio 9 software can't open it.

Run to the local Best Buy. Plunk down $130 for Studio 11 Ultimate. Go home. Start loading software. Oops! The graphics card in my four-year-old Dell isn't good enough to handle the Ultimate part of Studio Ultimate. Oh, well. At least it handles the un-ultimate part.

And, upon test driving, the Flip video opens -- eureka.

That $150 camera now is $280, including the software that snubbed my graphics board.

Start editing film. The problem is, Studio Ultimate sucks every bit of energy from the 512 MB of memory in my ancient four-year-old Dell computer so the video freezes on the screen and while the audio is fine, the video doesn't move, which is somewhat of a problem when editing.

Order two gigs RAM. Another $78. The $150 camera now is about $358 and the graphics board ain't good enough for the entire software suite.

But it works.

Meanwhile, the Flip drops to $128 at Best Buy. Listen to friends boast of their great deals.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Proud "library apologist"

Golly -- I'm a library apologist, and so is my husband, my sisters and certainly my father, too (big, big time). Many people I know are library apologists and we are damned proud of it.

What's a library apologist and why would anyone coin such a silly term? Well, what it isn't 100% clear, but apparently it is anyone who supports public libraries. It is certainly anyone who supports public libraries that circulate 21st century media such as videos, cds and dvds. Figuring out why such a silly term made its way into the public purview is easier -- Christian Schneider of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute dropped that stinker to shore up his weak, flawed argument against libraries circulating electronic media.

Libraries are now equipped with full multimedia capabilities, and serve less as educational opportunities and more as neighborhood entertainment centers. Library patrons have expanded from those who need no-cost materials to free-riding wealthy people looking for some free entertainment. Get a library card and now you have full access to a wide variety of music CDs, DVD movies, video games, and internet access, all for free, and all at taxpayer expense.

Schneider doesn't think such things should be allowed.

Well, hell. As long as we are purging content, let's burn all those James Bond novels and Harlequin romances. All Charles Dickens' novels should go, too, because someone, somewhere actually enjoyed "Great Expectations" and free entertainment at the library is a bad thing! For that matter, maybe all fiction and anything allegedly non-fiction for which the author has apologized for making it up should be tossed as well.

Does Schneider really think the Internet does not have educational content? Makes me wonder what he uses the Internet for.

A few questions: If David Halberstam's non-fiction book about the Korean War, "The Coldest Winter," is available in print version or on audio CDs, is it the morally superior thing to do to check out the print version? What if the only chance you will ever get to read it is by listening to it on your cross-country (it's a long book) bicycle trip?

If your choice is between the CD version of "The Coldest Winter" or the print version of the latest comic escapades of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum character, does one win intellectualism points for choosing the book that yucks it up about dog poop and fat reformed whores in spandex?

By the way, is it wrong to learn Spanish by listening to it on CDs you pick up at the library? Is it more wrong if you enjoy learning that way? How about if you plan to use the Spanish on a completely frivolous vacation to Mexico?

Schneider says it is wrong for libraries to compete with private companies like Blockbuster, neatly overlooking the inconvenient fact that libraries provide books in competition with bookstores like Barnes & Noble and even the local Harry W. Schwartz chain -- what makes that competing with bookstores (which also sell cds these days) more acceptable than competing with Blockbuster?

Schneider, to shore up his arguments, reaches low to manipulate and misstate the facts about the city's decision to end "holds" on electronic media. Schneider writes:

In the 2008 Milwaukee City budget, Mayor Tom Barrett began to recognize the absurdity of public libraries serving as clearinghouses for free DVDs and CDs. His budget eliminated the ability of library patrons to put digital media on hold, thereby making it more difficult to freeload off the taxpayers.

Schneider got one thing right: the city ended the ability of residents to reserve electronic media. He's just flat wrong in attributing it to any realization by any city official of the "absurdity" of the service. The city was just trying to save money to preserve library hours (that it did so by shifting costs to individuals -- thereby increasing the overall cost along the way -- and eliminating equal access to materials for all residents is a topic for another day).

Maybe Schneider doesn't know that a good argument doesn't need distortion to support it. The library has some materials on persuasive writing that might help him. Hell, the library may even have a video or CD on the topic.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Can't Bush just please leave now?

A couple of items from this morning papers to realize how just totally incompetent (or corrupt) the Bush administration really is.

1. Federal agents raided the home and office of Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed head of the Office of the Special Counsel. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Bloch, who was appointed by President Bush, has been under investigation since 2005 by the Office of Personnel Management for employee claims that he abused his agency's authority, retaliated against its staff and dismissed whistleblower cases without adequate examination. Mr. Bloch couldn't be reached to comment....

The Justice Department joined the case as the inquiry was widened last year to include possible obstruction of justice, which is a criminal offense. The Wall Street Journal reported Nov. 28 that in the midst of the inquiry Mr. Bloch used an agency credit card to hire a commercial firm, Geeks on Call, to erase data from his computer and those of former staff...

The Office of Special Counsel, created in the 1970s in the wake of the Watergate scandal, probes sensitive personnel and whistleblower claims by government workers. It also enforces the Hatch Act, which forbids the use of federal resources for partisan political purposes.

2. From the Associated Press

EPA might not limit rocket fuel in water

WASHINGTON (AP) — An EPA official said Tuesday there's a "distinct possibility" the agency won't take action to rid drinking water of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has contaminated public water supplies around the country.

Democratic senators called that unacceptable. They argued that states and local communities shouldn't have to bear the expense of cleansing their drinking water of perchlorate, which has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states — or the risk of not doing so.

The toxin interferes with thyroid function and poses developmental health risks, particularly to fetuses.

Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency, told a Senate hearing that EPA is aware that perchlorate is widespread and poses health risks.

But he said that after years of study, EPA has yet to determine whether regulating perchlorate in drinking water would do much good.

Just eight months and two weeks to go...

Troubles for HNTB?

Portions of the humungous storm water detention ponds on the County Grounds, the key element in an $84 million flood abatement project, are washing away.

The designer for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District project is HNTB, Wisconsin's favorite political donor and highway engineering contractor (could those two things be related?).

MMSD says it's investigating the matter to find out what went wrong. Who's gonna end up paying to fix this? Stay tuned....

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Transit and freeways

The JS today opines on the importance of transit and advocates for a $10 wheel tax to support it until a better idea comes along.

There already is one out there.

The State Department of Transportation is proposing to spend at least $200 million to expand North-South I-94, even though, according to WisDOT, the expansion won't change traffic speeds along most of the corridor.

The JS should simply rescind its endorsement of freeway expansion and advocate that the $200 million be used for transit instead.

Friday, May 02, 2008

North South I-94 comment deadline is Monday

The deadline for comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the proposed North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project is May 5.

Comments can be sent via e-mail to, phone (262) 548-8721 or fax (262) 548-5662.

An analysis of many flaws in the plan is here.

Feingold nails it

US Sen. Russ Feingold testified this week on the pernicious effects of the Bush administration's penchant for creating laws and not telling anyone about them. An excerpt is below (hat tip to Secrecy News); the rest can be found here.

These examples are the topic of much discussion and concern, and appropriately so. But there is a particularly sinister trend that has gone relatively unnoticed – the increasing prevalence in our country of secret law.

The notion of ‘secret law’ has been described in court opinions and law treatises as ‘repugnant’ and ‘an abomination.’ It is a basic tenet of democracy that the people have a right to know the law. In keeping with this principle, the laws passed by Congress and the case law of our courts have historically been matters of public record. And when it became apparent in the middle of the 20th century that federal agencies were increasingly creating a body of non-public administrative law, Congress passed several statutes requiring this law to be made public, for the express purpose of preventing a regime of ‘secret law.’

That purpose today is being thwarted. Congressional enactments and agency regulations are for the most part still public. But the law that applies in this country is determined not only by statutes and regulations, but also by the controlling interpretations of courts and, in some cases, the executive branch. More and more, this body of executive and judicial law is being kept secret from the public, and too often from Congress as well.

I'm confused

Can anyone tell me why I'm supposed to give a rat's behind about who Barbara Walters slept with 30 years ago?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

We're the Bush administration and we're here to help

The New York Times reported yesterday that fewer than 2,000 homeowners at risk of foreclosure have been helped by a Bush administration program that was supposed to assist them. So much for dealing with the foreclosure crisis. Why does this remind me of the administration’s response to Katrina? See the potential for a disaster. Don't prepare for the disaster. Watch the disaster occur. Don't respond adequately to the disaster.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The difference between "can" and "should"

A car doesn't have that little registration sticker on its license plate. A quick radio check, though, shows that the vehicle is properly registered.

It's possible that the sticker was stolen. That is a problem, especially as car registration fees keep climbing and fewer people can or will pay the amount due.

It's possible that the sticker just fell off.

If you were a parking checker, what would you do? In this case, the parking checker had the car towed.

Maybe it was a bad day and the parking checker was tired and crabby. Maybe the parking checker just has too much power and could not resist using it.

Towing seems like an overly harsh penalty because a little sticker isn't on a license plate. Maybe it's time for the city to revisit this one and differentiate between unregistered cars and cars that are registered but aren't wearing their sticker.

Mark Benson, the drunk driver

Mark Benson is probably going to prison for a long time for driving drunk, getting in a car accident and killing Jennifer Bukosky, her unborn child, and her daughter.

Benson, once a doctor, is at near the bottom of a very long road down. He will likely hit the deepest part of down about five years into his prison sentence when there's still a long way to go til he's released.

Benson, back in the day when he had his physician's license, was my mother's orthopedic surgeon. He was top-of-the-game, she said. She adored him and his talented hands brought her tremendous relief from the pains of serious, crippling arthritis.

Then came the pills and addiction and Benson gave up his license and my mother went on to other orthopedic surgeons.

The irony of all this is that, according what my mother said at the time, Benson got hooked on pain killers after he took them for injuries he received in a car accident.

And no, I don't know if he was driving drunk at the time.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Go, Brewers! But that trash...

The Brewers are incredibly exciting this year, even the roller coaster the bullpen has become. Doesn't that heart-freezing mixture of excited optimism and dread whenever a pitching change is made make life more interesting? It's also great that attendance is booming.

But I beg to differ with this morning's JS story that the Brewers are successfully dealing with crowd-related problems, including litter. Especially litter. The picture above was taken more than a full day after the Brewers left town for a road trip. It shows the bank of the Menomonee River directly behind the Sausage Haus.

Fan litter galore.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Journal Communications news worse than it seems

The JS today reported that mother ship Journal Communications net income dropped 91% in the first quarter compared to first quarter returns a year ago.

It's even worse than the paper makes it out to be.

While the JS was quick to note that last year's first quarter income was boosted by the sale of Norlight Communications, it failed to report -- whoopsie! -- that this year's first quarter income had the very substantial benefit of a boost from the Feb. 1 primary election.

You remember: Obama, Clinton, endless ads, huge advertising buys in Wisconsin's major media market, all that.

Company president Steve Smith says corporate earnings should benefit from political advertising in the second quarter, but forgot to the impact on earnings of primary election advertising. Hey, if this is how Journal Communications does when the hottest campaign in memory is going on, what will happen next year, when there are no major campaigns?

Retirees and active employees who were counting on returns from heavy investments in Journal Communications stock must be absolutely furious. Smith's glib half-explanations aren't helping.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

County Board drama continues

It took 45 ballots yesterday for the County Board to re-elect Lee Holloway as chairman.

Newly-elected Supervisor Theo Lipscomb finally voted for Holloway, after refusing to vote for anyone because, he said, he did not feel it was appropriate for a newcomer to weigh in on the issue.

Not a real auspicious start for the new County Board.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The un-great debate

Absolutely and very happily did not watch the Obama - Clinton debate Wednesday night because this campaign largely has been one of trivia and silly gotcha moments. It was worse than feared -- the JS reported Thursday morning that one of the burning issues discussed was -- really, really, honest-to-gosh-can-you-believe-it -- flag lapel pins.

A moment of despair: a debate between potential leaders of the free world is about lapel pins? Oh, my. We are in trouble indeed.

Then, blessed relief. Tom Shales wrote a reassuring, blistering review in the Washington Post.

When Barack Obama met Hillary Clinton for another televised Democratic candidates' debate last night, it was more than a step forward in the 2008 presidential election. It was another step downward for network news -- in particular ABC News, which hosted the debate from Philadelphia and whose usually dependable anchors, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances.

Sanity still prevails in some quarters.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's confirmed! I-94 plan a rip-off!

Widening North-South I-94 will not improve traffic speeds in Racine and Kenosha counties beyond improvements that would occur with a far less expensive no-expansion-beyond-design-enhancement reconstruction plan, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

That's right. WisDOT has been insisting for years that it is necessary to spend $200 million. plus millions of interest, to widen I-94 from the Illinois-Wisconsin state line to about Holt Ave. in Milwaukee or there would be a 35-mile traffic jam. Now, though, in its final environmental impact statement for the unfunded $1.9 billion-plus-hundreds-of-millions-in-interest-costs reconstruction and expansion project, WisDOT throws in a paragraph saying that expansion won't make a diddly bit of difference in travel time for most of the route. (And let's not forget WisDOT's cost estimates are ludicrously low and assume a 3% annual inflation rate dating from 2006 -- inflation needed for road construction materials was 11.3% from February 2007 to February 2008.)

Here are WisDOT's own words on the travel time subject:

Travel times under the two Build Alternatives would vary considerably in Milwaukee County and less so in Racine, Kenosha, and Lake Counties. The Safety and Design Improvements with Added Capacity Alternative would decrease travel times on SB I-94 during the evening rush hour by over 10 minutes between Howard Avenue and College Avenue in 2035, compared to the Safety and Design Improvements Alternative. Travel times would not vary by as much south of College Avenue. In Racine and Kenosha Counties, there would be little difference in travel times between the two alternatives.

OK, so we're supposed to cough up at least $200 million for an expansion plan that might save 10 minutes for some drivers, traveling in one direction, during rush hour, 27 years from now (by the way, if WisDOT says how northbound drivers would fare in Milwaukee County, I haven't found it yet).

That $200 million could fund a lot of transit and do some good. Or it could fund an unneeded, unwanted freeway expansion plan that will do nothing but destroy wetlands, increase air pollution and rip off taxpayers.

What a choice.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Where are those Scott Jensen comparisons?

From this a.m.'s JS story on the swearing-ins at City Hall:

None of the speeches displayed the bravado of former Ald. Michael McGee, who declared four years ago, "You'll never hear about me taking any money under the table."

Why was that line there?

Will we be reading quotes from convicted (and awaiting a new trial) former State Rep. Scott Jensen every two years when new legislators are sworn in?

Perhaps, when the JS hires new reporters, management will issue quotes from current or past reporters who have had trouble with the law.Nah, that would be not only be a waste of time and energy, but the old quotes would be totally irrelevant.

Just like using McGee's words of un-wisdom.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Walker wins the neighborhood (!?)

Scott Walker won in Story Hill.

It was close -- he outpolled Lena Taylor by just three votes.

Story Hill is a pretty Democratic place. Incumbent Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler won big here, as did County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin, who beat a conservative helped by Walker.

Yet Walker won in Story Hill.

It says just tons about Lena Taylor's campaign.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Free Michael McGee

Former Ald. Michael McGee may very well be a crook and a thief. He may even have conspired to have someone beat up.

It is still time to let him out of jail to await trial.

He has been in jail since last May, unconvicted of any crime. Federal defendants who do things far, far more violent than McGee is alleged to have done are allowed bail or are sent home on electronic monitoring.

Is there something we don't know about McGee's case that makes him a true threat to the community? Then the feds ought to tell us.

Right now, though, holding McGee without bail seems like government vindictiveness at its worst.

McGee may well be a crook.

Don't make him a martyr.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Election '08: Lessons learned

There are lots of bad people in Wisconsin. Newly-elected Supreme Court Justice Mike Gableman credited his victory to the "good people" of Wisconsin. Some 391, 549 people voted for Louis Butler. Hmmmm.

Don't take those signatures for granted. Incumbent County Supervisor James White, having failed to get enough valid signature on his nomination papers, was ousted by a write-in candidate, Theo Lipscomb, by 10 percentage points.

Never assume. County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin, who trounced her two opponents in the February primary, pulled out a squeaker in the general election, winning by a 51% - 49% margin over her conservative challenger, Dan Wycklendt. Her margin of victory was a mere 170 votes, according to JS vote totals.

There was a dramatic drop in turnout between the primary and general elections in both Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. (DeBruin won in both communities in February, but lost in Tosa yesterday.)

Theory 1: A lot of DeBruin supporters grew complacent by the size over her February primary victory and stayed home yesterday.

Theory 2: The February primary drew a disproportionate share of Democrats because of the Hillary Clinton / Barack Obama primary, and those Democrats voted for either DeBruin or progressive candidate Dan Cody. With no strong big-time Democratic attraction yesterday, the 15th supervisory district reverted to its true divided self boosting the vote percentage Wycklendt was able to pull in.

Murphy's the man. Incumbent Ald. Michael Murphy whipped his opponent, Richard Geldon, 5,649 to 1,236. Go, Michael, go.

Run hard from the start. Scott Walker won again, but he was vulnerable, as demonstrated by the 41% of the vote State Sen. Lena Taylor managed to garner after running a race that didn't seem to really gear up until the very end, when it was too late.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Paulson's paltry plan

Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson proposes to deal with the financial mess in the country mostly by consolidating agencies.

This may seem like a harmless, if ineffective, feint to fool the country into thinking the federal government is actually doing something, but it could be worse than that.

Remember Homeland Security? After 9/11, President Bush consolidated law enforcement agencies into that one bloated, inefficient, buffoonish and sometimes corrupt organization.

Although it would be a very good thing not to repeat that experience, it appears we may be headed to Homeland Security, the Sequel.

Stating the obvious: endorsements

Here they are: the official Milwaukee Rising political endorsements, in alphabetical order, of those officials for whom some Milwaukee west siders can vote:

Supreme Court - Louis Butler
15th Supervisory District - Lynne DeBruin
10th Aldermanic District - Michael Murphy

Betcha stayed up all night waiting for that, eh?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Clinton's folks get out the knives, eye her back, lunge

From Politico:

One important Clinton adviser estimated to Politico privately that she has no more than a 10 percent chance of winning her race against Barack Obama, an appraisal that was echoed by other operatives.


Friday, March 21, 2008

SEWRPC surpasses its previous record of arrogance

It was hard to accept that SEWRPC, repeatedly castigated for its high-handed and arrogant treatment of the public ("No! You are not allowed to talk at our public meetings!") would actually have the gall to out-arrogant itself.

It did, though, with the closed door selection of Deputy Director Ken Yunker to succeed Executive Director Phil Evenson when he retires.

No public input. A decision made by a few folks around the table. All clubby and chummy and insider stuff. Just the way this public body likes it.

Jim Rowen has an excellent analysis.

Time for the county to join the 21st (or even the 20th) centurty

Milwaukee County is inexplicably and maddeningly behind the rest of the world in making the business of the public available to the public.

It has resisted for years doing what other governments have done for years -- post information related to County Board agenda items on the Internet. This isn't about the committee and Board agendas themselves -- the County Board does post those. This is about the reports and analyses and resolutions themselves to which agendas refer.

Consider, for example, the March agenda for the County Board Parks Committee. You can go to the County Board web site and after too many clicks find the agenda. You cannot, however, read the items related to No. 9, dealing with the county's storm water permit, including its plan to handle its very-polluting lakefront outfalls; or the items related to No. 13, which is about the stabilization and re-vegetation of Wahl Bluff in Lake Park.

(Through the good graces of the office of County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin, who is chair of the County Board's Parks Committee, I can, through a fairly labor-intensive process, often get ahold of a Parks Committee packet and post it on If you want to read the items related to No. 13 mentioned above, click here and here; if you want to read about the storm water permit, click here - the part about the beaches is on pages 11 and 12. For the entire agenda, with links, click here.)

It's mind-boggling that the county is not posting items for all County Board committees and the County Board itself. Sometimes watching a County Board meeting is like watching a group of people speak in an obscure foreign language that the rest of us aren't privy to -- they know what they are saying and just what phrase in a a particular resolution they are talking about -- it's just us common folk in the audience who aren't allowed in on the secret.

The City of Milwaukee does absolutely an outstanding job of posting the content of Common Council committee items; the School Board does a decent job, although on a less sophisticated level; MMSD manages to get its items out there; and so do smaller governments all over the map. And the county can't manage because....? The public is not allowed to know the details of the debate without chasing to the courthouse because....?

Hey, it's Sunshine Week. Milwaukee County Board, let the sun shine in.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The value of mainstream media

The paper version of the JS finally, finally, finally covered the proposal to allow all billboards in the city to be converted to changing digital message boards.

The first story ran Tuesday, the day of the council vote on the issue.

And it made a difference.

The worst version of the ordinance -- caving in to the billboard industry entirely -- was well on its way to becoming law after more than a year of debate that wasn't covered by the the paper.
Then JS columnist Mary Louise Schumacher caught up with the issue on her blog last month, (crediting Milwaukee Rising -- thanks, Mary Louise!).

Then, on Tuesday, the JS finally ran a story in the newspaper and aldermen were suddenly much more receptive to additional protection for residential neighborhoods.

Ald. Michale Murphy and Ald. Robert Bauman worked hard to make the ordinance better than the original proposal, and a big round of applause to them. I do believe, though, that the JS' coverage made a difference in the debate. A lot more people were aware of what was going on and it was not so very easy for the council to throw basic homeowner interests and protections overboard once that big kid started shining its journalistic spotlight on them.

The downside to all this is that the JS waited until the day of the final vote to run the story. Digital billboards will have a huge impact, for good or ill, on the face of Milwaukee. (Some people argue that digital billboards are an aesthetic improvement over old, tired static versions of the same thing, although why anyone would believe that digital billboards won't grow old and tired is a puzzler.) The version of the ordinance that came so damned close to passage could well have had a hugely deleterious impact on residential neighborhoods.

What about this issue wasn't worth covering until it was too late for Milwaukee residents to have any real input? Is coverage of every possible angle of Brett Favre's retirement the most we can expect? Does a newspaper's function still include providing the information citizens need to make informed decisions about their community's civic life?

I'm kind of afraid of the answer.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Now this is news you can use

Ready? You need to know this as the economy craters and the country hurtles toward God knows what kind of financial disaster.

Here it is -- the critical information of the day:

Women spend only about $25 on a new bra.

My reaction to this stunner must be similar to that of millions of women. WHAT!!? Where can you get a decent bra for just $25?

Bras are one of the great rip-offs of the "foundations" section of department stores., an unglamorous, unfun and yet consistently overpriced purchase. Finding a $25 bra that won't fall apart the first time through the rinse cycle is like finding a five dollar bill on the street.

The bare bra facts were revealed in a poll conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center, which also tells us that 37% of women do not try on bras before buying them. (That's because a smart woman finds a bra that works for her and buys the same bra brand and style in the same size again and again and again.)

And here comes the real shocker: Matching bras and underpants is not a priority for most women. Some 58% of women say they never or rarely match their undies.

Oh, the horror!

Latest billboard ordinance: Not the greatest, but...

The misbegotten effort to allow every billboard in the city to be converted to a changeable electronic message board is a bit less misbegotten than it used to be. The latest version limits message changes to every eight seconds instead of six and adds protections for residential neighborhoods.

It still ain't great -- the Common Council's Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee rejected Ald. Michael Murphy's sound proposals to require at least some message boards to win approval of the Board of Zoning Appeals -- but the existing proposal is still better than a bright light in the eye.

More on the latest here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

County executive debate Saturday

Is your question about parks? Transit? House of Correction? Unfunded state mandates? Selling county land? Privatizing the airport?

Hear the candidates’ answers: Scott Walker, incumbent, & Lena Taylor, state senator

WHEN: Saturday, March 15, 2-3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church
3022 W. Wisconsin Avenue

MODERATOR: Larry Sandler, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Parking behind the church off Wells Street




Debate sponsor: League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County,
Questions: Contact or (414) 273-8683

Thursday, March 13, 2008

STDs and teens

One in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, according to a new study. I'm skeptical about that number, but let's assume it is true.

What does it say about teenage boys?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More and more road taxes

Gov. Doyle wants to erase the state deficit in part by moving $190 million from the transportation fund and covering the gap by borrowing more.

Hmmm, more borrowing equals more interest payments equals higher taxes. Boy, the Republicans ought to hate that.

$190 million is just a touch less than the $200 million (at least) it will cost to add additional lanes to North-South I-94 as part of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's unfunded, $1.9 billion reconstruction and expansion plan for that stretch of freeway.

Doyle should just drop the expansion proposal, which WisDOT says will provide just minimal congestion relief and is targeted for one of the least congested metropolitan areas in the country. Saving money without raising taxes. What a good idea!

More reasons to reject Mike Gableman

One Wisconsin Now has done an excellent job of looking at Mike Gableman's entirely less-than-lackluster career, his suspicious appointment, and now his attendance problems.

From OWN:

Documents obtained by One Wisconsin Now show as an appointed member of the Judicial Council, Gableman missed five of the seven meetings held and his service on the Council was terminated when he resigned as Ashland County District Attorney, even though McCallum’s press release months later announcing Gableman’s appointment asserted that he was still a member of the Judicial Council.

Newly-released documents of the minutes of the Law Enforcement Standards Board show there is no evidence Gableman ever attended even a single meeting of the board. There is also no evidence he stayed on the board after his sudden resignation as District Attorney since he was filling a slot representing DAs on the board. Yet, once again, in an effort to justify his appointment of Gableman, McCallum’s release claimed that Gableman was still serving on board.

Last week One Wisconsin Now also reported that Gableman has highlighted his membership on two additional statewide commissions during his election campaign for judge, even though he was removed from those commissions without ever attending a single meeting.

The man who would be a Supreme Court justice doesn't deserve to be a muni judge on the smallest court in the smallest town in the state. That town would probably actually need him to show up on the bench once in a while.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Quality check

The workmanship on the new Hawley Rd. viaduct, just 1 1/2 years old, continues to amaze.

But not in a good way.

Scott Walker cutline contest

Our county executive, at the St. Patrick's Bluemound Rd. parade.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

One of those sights

There are always interesting things to see on the walk to work. Yesterday, for example, I saw two pickup trucks, surrounded by a group of maybe 10-20 men, parked side by side in the middle of the street.

As I drew closer, I saw the men were clad in Nazi uniforms.

Sure hope there was a WWII re-enactment going on somewhere.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Congratulations, State Senate

The Senate passed the Great Lakes compact yesterday on an amazing 26-6 vote. Compact expert Jim Rowen has oodles (that's a technical aquatic term) of comment and background info at The Political Environment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Less work equals more risque recreation

Illusory Tenant is busy polishing furniture, hoping the payoff is more sex.

May be another one of his illusions, but who knows?

Me, being female, note that the story in the JS is cast through a merely male point of view: The average dad has gradually been getting better about picking himself up off the sofa and pitching in, according to a new report in which a psychologist suggests the payoff for doing more chores could be more sex.

Look at it from from a women's perspective: less work and more sex.

Are men really such big winners in the equation?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

County abandons responsibility for bus shelters

The tradition has been this, according to testimony at the Common Council's Public Works Committee:

The city removes the snow from bus stop "landings," or the places where transit users get on and off buses; the county, theoretically, keeps bus shelters clear of snow.

Until this year, when the county simply notified the city that the county would no longer take care of shoveling or plowing out bus shelters.

The city wrote back that yes, the county is responsible.

And there the matter sits. The county may be reviewing the matter again, but for now its attitude seems to be" To hell with Milwaukee County Transit System customers. Let 'em slip and fall.

So it's not just transit the County Executive Scott Walker's administration is trying so hard to cripple; it's transit riders, too.

The cost of the wars: a duet

Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times yesterday defined the cost of this country's military adventures as opportunities lost, as defined by Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize-winning economist, and Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

"For a fraction of the cost of this war, said Mr. Stiglitz, "we could have put Social Security on a sound footing for the next half-century or more."

Hormats cited the committee's own calculations from last fall that showed that the money spent on the ware each day is enough to enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year or make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants, or pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.

If that isn't enough even to make even the most rock-ribbed Republican wonder about the fiscal sanity of these couple o' wars, never mind the moral and geo-political implications, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities issued a new report today showing just how much available money the military is gobbling up.

Funding for devense and related programs has exploded. Since 2001, it has jumped at an annual average of 8 percent, after adjusting for inflation and population -- four times faster than the average rate of growth for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (2 percent) and 27 times faster than the average rate for growth for domestic discretionary programs (0.3 percent).

It's not just the wars spurring military spending, either.

Even excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror, funding for defense and related programs has grown at an average annual rate of 4.8 percent per year since 2001, after adjusting for inflation -- substantially faster than the growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This isn't any way to run an economy. Or a country.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ridership drop: anyone really surprised?

Milwaukee County Transit System ridership plummeted 9% last year, according to the JS. That's a stunning figure, but not really surprising. In an era of high oil prices, global warming and job migration to the suburbs, state transportation planners continue to push for bigger highways that will aggravate all the negative trends.

Then there is County Executive Scott Walker, who thinks everyone should have a car and tough luck for anyone who doesn't.

Meanwhile, it is becoming apparent that major businesses -- surprise! -- prefer locating in cities with transit systems that actually allow their workers to get to work. Milwaukee hasn't had that in a while, now. It's been route cut, fare increase, more concrete, route cut, fare increase, more concrete for several years now. The pattern needs to change, but no one has found the formula or the courage or the leadership to break out of the cycle.

Suggested new slogan: Milwaukee: progress through inertia, if we get around to it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pothole hell

Fixing potholes is one of the more mundane aspects of local government. Suddenly, because Milwaukee streets are so old and because city residents are unwilling or unable to pay the very high special assessments for street reconstruction the city levies and because of the weird weather we've been having and because of difficult city budgets, potholes are big and potholes are big news.

Municipalities -- especially older ones -- are rather trapped on this one. Their streets are the oldest and most in need of repair; state-imposed property tax limits reduce communities' ability to raise revenue; and the state continues to reduce, in real terms, the money it gives to cities to deal with local road issues.

Instead, the state is pouring money into freeway expansion projects like the North-South I-94 fiasco. By the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's own admission, the unfunded $1.9 billion-plus-hundreds-of-millions-in-interest-costs will provide minimal traffic improvement and will likely hurt efforts to redevelop Milwaukee's aging commercial corridors.

So when you break an axle, a bicycle, a motorcycle or some bones trying to get to that big freeway that doesn't do much for anybody except cost them money, please remember to thank the Wisconsin Department of Transportation!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Police report on voting

Is the Milwaukee Police Department's report on non-voter fraud a precedent? Will the department regularly issue reports on crimes that might have been, but weren't? Or maybe it's not non-crimes, but simply sloppy government management, that will trigger the department to issue 67-page reports three years after the fact.

Wow. Better add another three recruit classes at the Police Academy and increase property taxes a little more to pay for our new gun-toting auditors.

Better idea: Cops should fight crime. What a concept, eh?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

He must be joking

From the Bellingham Herald:

The bulk of funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund comes from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. But revenues from the tax have flattened, probably because people are driving less in response to the rising price of gas and because cars have become more fuel efficient. The federal gas tax was last increased 14 years ago.

White House budget officials said the highway trust fund will have a surplus of roughly $3 billion in the current fiscal year. But by the end of fiscal 2009 it will be running a $3.9 billion deficit.

“There are challenges,” said Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for the federal Office of Management and Budget, which writes the president’s annual budget proposal. “We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

Oh, yeah? Since when?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Audit slams jail medical system

It's not a good feeling to realize that the ol' web host is...not there. At all. May the IT gods bring it back.

But for now, what should have been there is here.

Feb. 21- The Sheriff Department's three-year-old medical records system for jail and House of Correction inmates, acquired under circumstances that raise conflict-of-interest questions, is so bad it should be replaced, according to a new audit.

"The outlook for the current EMR (electronic medical records) system is not good," according to the audit. The audit was requested by the County Board. County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin was the chief sponsor of the measure seeking the study.

Direct and indirect costs of implementing and operating the system total about $1.3 million, the audit said.

"We estimate the annual cost of simply maintaining the sytem is about $446,000," the audit said.

County staff has done significant programming work to make the system work, the audit said. Projected cost savings are about $1.1 million short of projections, it said.

Many of the system's features have not been implemented and it is missing integrity and safety checks, exposing the county to a high level of risk, according to the audit. The system's performance has been unacceptable at the House of Correction, the audit said, which also said that some of the system's goals, such as standardizing clinical documentation, have been achieved.

The Sheriff's Department, in its response to the audit, disputed many of the findings and contended that the system saved more than the audit said it did.

The vendor, Sequest Tecnologies Inc., was selected in a process tightly controlled by a single county administrator despite the firm's lack of directly relevant experience, according to the audit.

"The venture with Milwaukee County represented the vendor's first experience in corrections and their first experience in corrections in a primarily medical setting," according to a report by SysLogic Inc., consultants hired to help with the audit.

The administrator in charge of the selection process previously had purchased a system from the vendor, according to the audit.

"More importantly, when the program administrator left county employment in early 2005, he shortly thereafter went to work for the same vendor that was selected," the audit said.

The administrator has been identified as Michael E. Kalonick, who was medical and mental health program administrator for the Sheriff's Department.

The selection process also was flawed in other ways, the audit said:
  • There is little documentation to support key decisions. Documents lacking include the final results of the scores given to submitted proposals.
  • No input was requested of the county's information technology division when technical specifications were developed. Technology staff also was absent from the panel reviewing vendors' oral presentations. "This exposes the process to speculation that specifications may have been written so broadly that a potential shortcoming in a vendor's technical expertise would not necessarily disqualify it from consideration," the audit said.
  • The Sheriff's Department said project cost would account for 40% of the total evaluation points. "Together with no documentation of the evaluation forms or anything that summarizes the results, this factor could have been over-inflated in announcing the results so that choosing the vendor with no correctional-based experience appeared justified," the audit said.Feb. 21- The Sheriff Department's three-year-old medical records system for jail and House of Correction inmates, acquired under circumstances that raise conflict-of-interest questions, is so bad it should be replaced, according to a new audit.