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.

Great.

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 Amazon.com 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 dotsefreeways94nsc@dot.state.wi.us, 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.