Monday, October 5, 2015

Luther Olsen rocks road-building, earns quote of the day

The GOP state senator from Ripon, WI has had it with WisDOT excess and channels Led Zeppelin to make his point:

"I don't care if they're building a highway to heaven. I don't support using (general obligation) bonds to do it," said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who sits on the budget committee.

WI DOA official moves to WI DNR senior staff

Industry wins again, and the shuffle at the DNR continues, according to an email which staff received today (below) from Secretary Cathy Stepp (and note the impact of the administration's record on phosphorus, an issue she brought up.

Act 378 which Stepp touts unwound years of negotiated progress on phosphorus controls, and added potential decades through variances to effectively confronting and stemming phosphorus pollution  - - a weakened regulatory change which industry wanted - - though others have said phosphorus is the biggest runoff polluter of Wisconsin waters.

Like I said, industry wins again at the 'chamber of commerce mentality' DNR.

By the way, here's the bigger picture.

Now Stepp's email:
Good afternoon everybody!  I’m extremely pleased to announce our new Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ed Eberle. I have personally worked with Ed in his current role as Administrator of Division of Intergovernmental Relations over at DOA, and have long admired him.
He will bring with him 20 years of knowledge and experience with state service in both the legislature and executive branch.
He has been active with local and state agencies with the Wisconsin Land Information Program and GIS updates, as well as, working on behalf of Governor Walker and cabinet officials with Wisconsin’s 11 tribal governments.
On behalf of DOA, he has been working with the DNR on WI Act 378 (Phosphorus Study). 
Ed brings a wealth of experience, knowledge and interpersonal relationships in working with state agencies, the legislature, and communities throughout Wisconsin.  
He is looking forward to his new leadership role and meeting all of you—his new colleagues!
Ed will begin his time with us next week.  Please feel free to stop by or send him a warm DNR welcome email after next week Monday the 12th.

Toughened rules can more effectively bar Great Lakes invasive species

Good that a US Appeals Court has intervened to force the US EPA to toughen rules that fail to more fully protect the Great Lakes from ruinous invasive species which hitch a ride through the St. Lawrence Seaway in freighters' ballast tanks filled on inbound journeys with ocean water.

That water helps balance the ships: at issue is how and where the tanks get flushed and decontaminated. 

This is not a new matter, regrettably, as this 2010 posting indicates:

The Great Lakes have been assaulted by invasive species that arrive in the ballast tanks of ocean-going freighters and have decimated native fish populations and introduced voracious mussels that contribute to fetid algae growth along the lakeshore.
Wisconsin is moving towards rolling back its 2010 rule-making requiring a very rigorous program with tough standards, says the DNR.
Seems to me that's a misstep - - one leading statewide group had criticized the original state action as insufficient - -  but also highlights how the various Great Lakes states have different practices, though it's a shared water resource under regional management.
And props to the Journal Sentinel for supporting the closing altogether of the Seaway - - the ultimate fix.

Tiny zebra mussels have spread throughout the Great Lakes.

 Quagga mussels - - one such invasive among hundreds in the Great Lakes, and many more species worldwide - - filter water along the Lake Michigan shoreline. 
File:Quagga mussels GLERL 1.jpg
That makes the water clearer - - not a good thing - - as extra sunlight spurs weed and algae growth and leaves behind a smell mistaken for sewerage along the lakefront when the enhanced vegetation eventually rots.

Drought, heat, climate change and fire in the US West

Other stories have knocked this year's wildfires off the front pages, but The New York Times takes another long look:
Climate change has lengthened fire seasons, which are, on average, 78 days longer than they were in 1970, and the six worst fire seasons since 1960 have come since 2000...the long-term trends are anything but good. And what is happening in the West is a harbinger for much of the rest of the planet.  
The trees in too-dense forests are already competing for water that the historically more sparse stands of trees might have found adequate; as drought increases, the stress will kill many trees outright and weaken others to the point that they become more vulnerable to predators like aggressive bark beetles 
Because of hotter drought, he said, “the future broad-scale vulnerability of forests globally is being widely underestimated, including the vulnerability of forests in wetter regions,” [expert Craig Allen] said.
More coverage, here
A daytime fire engulfing large trees

UW Nobel win boosts life-saving science, school's reputation

[Updated] This is why you don't cut the UW's budget, or set out to diminish the system's science focus:
UW alum among 3 scientists to win Nobel Prize in medicine

Sunday, October 4, 2015

N. WI trail 'improvement' like Lake Park '01 'fix'

The story about landowners clearing public land on a trail along a Northern Wisconsin lake near their condo reminded me of a 2001 'improvement' on public land made by a Milwaukee homeowner who wanted a better Lake Michigan view:
Man fined, restitution ordered for cutting down tree

Emblematic WI environmental outrage worsens

[Updated from 5:29 p.m. Saturday] When it comes to Scott Walker and the Wisconsin environment, what is past is prologue - - is outrageous.

So props to the strong and continuing reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Lee Bergquist about the continuing abuse of the public's rights to enjoy access to their constitutionally-guaranteed resources in Wisconsin.

And a tip of the hat in particular to Bergquist's recent disclosures about wealthy Walker donors pressuring the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for favors on and near state - - public - -  land and waters in Northern Wisconsin:

A footpath on Department of Natural Resources property in Vilas County that a wealthy political supporter of Gov. Scott Walker is trying to buy has been upgraded in recent months without state approval. 
A spokesman for business executive Elizabeth Uihlein acknowledged that workers at her adjoining property may have ventured on to state land and cleaned up the trail slightly, although those who have seen the trail say the improvements were detailed and significant. 
Uihlein, a co-founder of Uline Corp. in Pleasant Prairie, is seeking to buy 1.75 acres along Rest Lake, where the footpath is located. But a tentative deal with the DNR was put on hold last month after critics raised questions about the transaction.
More about the Uihleins, in a Forbes piece, here - - and note also that their family packaging and distribution company recently received approvals from the DNR and other agencies for major floodplain alterations to accommodate expansion on the company's Pleasant Prairie, WI property - - so the world of the DNR should not have been an unknown.

And here is more information about proposed and actual sale of various parcels of public lands during Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County Executive and Governor. 

But back to the current land sales and water issues up North, and the two big takeaways: 

*  That the land deal on Rest Lake was tabled by the DNR's long-standing oversight board after public outcry underscores why that board needs to remain independent, though Walker tried to water it down to a toothless, advisory board through an unsuccessful budget maneuver earlier this year.

*  And you can draw a straight line from this unfolding outrage over special treatment for special people back to one of Walker's earliest actions as Special-Interest-Governor-in-Chief after he was sworn in:

His administrative intervention before an appeal process had been completed to permit the filling of a wetland for a donor/developer to build a building near Lambeau Field - - a move made law by the Legislature.

a wetland in May
I'd noted the current Walker/donor case more than once on this blog - - here is an example - - as part of the blog's focus for years on threats to the state's waters and the damage that Scott Walker's "chamber-of-commerce" remake of the DNR is doing to the environment:

A blog posting summary from last year included these items:

There were early signs of Walker's intention to unwind long-standing legal protections that had given Wisconsin a strong and deserved environmental reputation as he handed over resources, like groundwater and wetlands, to people out to make a buck - - even though the State Constitution's Public Trust Doctrine says the waters and their surroundings are commonly-held assets to be guarded by the state as trustee for all the people, not sold, given away or disrespected.
Among the early signs:
*  Walker's very telling claim during the campaign that it was opponent Tom Barrett with the radical environmental agenda. This is what we now know is Walker's pattern - - twisted, even dishonest rhetoric, a flight from transparency despite his boast about it (scrubbed from his website), and all blended with finger-pointing and misdirection verified time and time again by PolitiFact, its few "True" ratings and far greater total of "False" and "Pants on Fire" conclusions when reviewing Walker's remarks.
And for a perfect point of closure: the link to Walker's campaign ad wherein he made the claim about Barrett is now blocked. See this posting. File at #transparencyfail.
*  Walker's very early push for a special bill passed by the Legislature to allow a donor to develop a wetlands near Lambeau Field for an outdoors supply retailer before the DNR had finished its environmental review.
And that was just the beginning.
*  As people living near big dairies are learning: state agencies these days will side with industry against the people even if the result is tainted drinking water:
I'd noted the impact of a recent DNR/Department of Justice tag team decision that intentionally disregards a judge's order limiting the size of a big Kewaunee County dairy operation because of manure-related drinking water pollution.
The ruling's arrogance was yet another regrettable example of how corporate interests in the state have been given control over water rights through Scott Walker's 'chamber-of-commerce mentality,' forcing citizens to spend their time and money fighting the government they support through taxes and fees for land and water quality that should be top public public priorities.
*  As are people at the grassroots on a shoestring trying to save wetlands, the Black River Forest and Kohler-Andrae State Park from private golf course intrusion on a bluff just yards from Lake Michigan.

*  Or in Marathon County, where a million-gallon manure spill into a river produced a DNR fine of $464.

*  Consider the power imbalances in that battle with the well-connected ndustrialist and golf course magnate Herbert Kohler:

Kohler is asking the DNR for an easement of 3.8 acres for its golf course operations. The company had sought as much as 20 acres from adjoining Kohler-Andrae State Park. An early version of the course showed that Kohler wanted to build several holes on state park land...
Kohler, a financial supporter of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, spoke with staff from the governor's office, the DNR and the Department of Administration in late April about the easement, Walker's spokeswoman, Jocelyn Webster, said in an email.
"Mr. Kohler raised the issue," Webster said in a separate email.
Between 2009 and 2013, Kohler Co. employees contributed $42,254 to Walker's campaign fund, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political donations. Nearly all of that amount was directly from Herbert Kohler.
DNR Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney also has "participated in a conceptual meeting with the Kohler Co. on the golf course" that included Herbert Kohler, said DNR spokesman Bill Cosh.
Never forget that when you read about a body of water in Wisconsin harmed by pollution, especially enabled by weak DNR enforcement - - here's one recent example from Western Wisconsin - -  the water involved is a public resource. There are no private rivers, lakes and streams in Wisconsin, and the water is all connected as it flows to either the Lake Superior, Lake Michigan or Mississippi River watershed.

The state constitution says all the waters of the state are held in trust for all the people of the state, not as a special interest cookie jar the DNR and the Governor and his hand-picked corporate errand boys and girls can open when whim and money are in the air.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Remember those Wisconsin "Open for Business" billboards?

Who would dare make that claim after layoffs in just the first six months of 2015
in Wisconsin had exceeded all of 2014's, and especially

given the grim Wisconsin layoff and plant closing news over the last few days?

Not Caterpillar, in South Milwaukee.

Or Joy Global, in Milwaukee.

Nor the Borden Dairy in Plymouth.

And not GE, in Waukesha.

Or Highsmith, in Ft. Atkinson.

Not to mention Hamlin, in Lake Mills.

Epic rain event forecast for S. Carolina; warming climate cited

I appreciate that this weather and science site does not mince words:
According to NOAA's Precipitation Frequency Data Server, these could be 1-in-1000 year rains for some locations. (Hydrologists would refer to a 1-in-1000-year rain as having a typical "recurrence interval" of 1000 years. The idea is that such events are not always separated by 1000 years; the same amount of rain could conceivably occur the very next year, or might not occur until thousands of years later.) The three-day 1-in-1000 year rainfall amounts for Charleston, Greenville and Columbia are 17.1", 17.8", and 14.2", respectively. The 24-hour 1-in-1000 year rainfall amounts for Charleston, Greenville and Columbia are 14.8", 15.9", and 12.5", respectively... 
If the NWS precipitation forecasts are in the right ballpark, then the first few days of October 2015 might approach or even exceed these all-time monthly records for the entire state--without any help from a landfalling hurricane or tropical storm!

And note the matter-of-fact reference to a "warming climate is making intense short-term rains even heavier..."
Our warming climate is making intense short-term rains (such as the highest 1-day totals) even heavier in many parts of the United States and the world, although less research has been done on trends in monthly rainfall.
And, for record, check out this 2008 blog posting

In 2003, EPA Predicted Heavier Rain Events

Then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist and I attended a conference in Chicago in 2003, hosted by Mayor Richard Daley, where officials from the EPA told Midwestern elected leaders that climate change models predicted heavier rain events.

The EPA officials were urging the Midwestern leaders to adapt their planning and spending to more aggressively confront storm water and related services because heavier, intense rains were going to become more frequent.

Part of the message was: forget the notion of the "100-year-storm." They'll come more often than that in the Midwest as the atmosphere warms.

Again - - this wasn't advocacy science or partisan scare tactics.

This was basic municipal planning/dollars-and-sense advice from people in the George W. Bush administration to Midwestern mayors offered as an inter-governmental service because climate change was going to hit cities' budgets and constituents in difficult new ways.

Friday, October 2, 2015

WI legislator, Rush Limbaugh misfire on Oregon shooting

It might have been a coincidence, but the inaccurate "gun-free zone" statement that the Journal Sentinel posted today at 4:41 p.m. from Wisconsin State Rep. Bob Gannon, (R-Slinger) about yesterday's mass shooting on an Oregon community college campus sure sounded a lot like Rush Limbaugh's ranting at noon today about guns and schools and President Obama.


Real Gun Control:

In the wake of the recent shootings at a junior college in Oregon, President Obama quickly stood at the podium and proclaimed that this is the fault of the N.R.A., and that we need stricter gun control legislation.  
What Obama ignored was the testimony of the students and educators at the school that they were defenseless in this incident as the school was a “gun free” zone. This means that only criminals will possess personal protection at these locations, and the law abiding citizen is an easy target... 

Another Tiresome, Sickening Liberal Response to a Gun-Free Zone Shooting
What I mean is tiresome is the predictable reaction of things like this.  The absolute lack of common sense reaction to stuff like this from President Obama, to everybody in the media.  For crying out loud, folks, they had gun control on this school.  There weren't any guns there except in the hands of the bad guy.  You want to know what gun control is gonna do?  You just saw it.  
Every one of these school shootings is a gun-free zone.  The left has everything they want on these school campuses.  No guns!.. 
This bears repeating.  Everything the liberals want, they already have at practically every school in this country.  They have a gun-free zone...

Nebraska loses major corporate HQ, fires ex-WEDC VP as development director

WEDC has had a dizzingly spinning revolving door - - including four senior departures this summer and a fifth Chief Financial Officer recently arriving  - - and its effects are being felt farther west on the Plains.

Nebraska's Governor just fired the state's economic development director  - - a former VP of development at WEDC on the job in Nebraska for just eight months - - after the agricultural giant and Fortune 500 firm ConAgra announced it was moving its headquarters and about 1,000 jobs from Omaha to Chicago.

If the WEDC were a politician, you'd say it has awfully short coattails.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sandhill crane event upcoming; details below

Though State Rep. and noted videotaped omnivore Joel Kleefisch, (R-Oconomwoc) had looked unsuccessfully for a justification to shoot and grill Sandhill cranes, the majestic migrating birds...
Sandhill Cranes Migration - In Sky over Platte River at Sunset
 ...are still free to fly through Wisconsin for your appreciation, the DNR reports:
Upcoming events at Sandhill Wildlife Area 
By Central Office September 21, 2015 
Contact(s): Britt Searles, DNR wildlife program associate, 715-884-6335 
BABCOCK, Wis. -- Join the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on this fall for a number of events at Sandhill Wildlife Area
The schedule for fall events is as follows - registration and fees can be sent to Sandhill OSC, PO Box 156, Babcock, Wis. 54413: 
Crane Watch, Saturday, Oct. 17, 3 p.m. - Watch and listen as thousands of cranes descend on Sandhill's Gallagher Marsh, a key staging area during the fall migration. Participants should dress for cold weather in neutral colors (camouflage preferred). This event will be held rain or shine, and scopes, binoculars and cameras are welcome. Registration for each participant is $15 and is due Oct. 9 (limit 20 people).

Hurricane Joacquin: Sandy 2.0?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Senior political appointee quits WI DNR

There's even less there, there, at the once proud WI DNR than we'd thought:

Mike Bruhn is one of Walker's top at-will appointees, so it's not just career scientists (two examples) or discouraged public servants pulling the plug.

Or being moved, as the former and ultra-powerful Deputy Secretary Matt Moroney was transferred to Walker's personal staff, Bruhn's predecessor and former legislative boss Scott "Gundy" Gunderson had been moved to the Department of Revenue, and DNR spokesman Bill Cosh was moved to Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection.

That's approaching WEDC turnover levels.

Bruhn's bio is still on the agency's website:

Michael is a 1997 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Michael spent more than thirteen years working in the Wisconsin State Assembly clerking the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. 
He has many years of experience handling legislative issues related to hunting and fishing, environmental quality, firearms and the state budget. 
Michael joined the DNR in July 2011 as the department’s legislative liaison. In September 2014, Michael was named as the department’s director of policy and external relations where he was responsible for coordinating and managing the department’s policy development and relations with external partners and stakeholders. 
His duties include supervising the DNR’s Office of Communications, tribal liaison, and legislative liaison. On February 9, Governor Walker appointed Michael as the department’s assistant deputy secretary. 
In his free time, Michael is a huge Badger, Packer and Brewer fan. He enjoys riding ATVs and hiking. With the excitement surrounding the implementation of the Deer Trustee Report, Michael has recently taken up deer hunting.Last revised: Wednesday March 25 2015

And if the NW WI open-pit iron mine had been dug...

With its millions of tons of dynamited rock and clear-cut forest dumped in wetlands as the industry-backed law now allows, the DNR would have had to come up with a new classification for these seven trout streams in Iron and Ashland County - - like a Zero, or Buried or Gone Forever:
ASHLAND,Wis. - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is proposing the classification of seven trout streams in Ashland County and five streams in Iron County as a result of survey work that has provided new information about the streams' quality physical habitat, cold water sources and ability to support naturally reproducing brook trout populations.  
All streams listed for classification are small, unnamed headwater tributaries to more well-known trout fisheries.
More from the DNR and trout fishing in Wisconsin, here.
catchable trout - brook trout
Catchable-size trout provide angling opportunities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

State workers argue against ending civil service

Glad to post this news release from a reader opposed to an imminent legislative proposal to upend civil service in Wisconsin:


Wisconsin State Employee Council Says Changes to Civil Service Rules are not needed

Madison, Wisconsin.  

September 28, 2015:

The recent Republican proposal to reform Wisconsin’s Civil Service rules is another case of attempting to fix something that isn’t broken. 

The Civil Service System was created to counteract the influence of politicians on state jobs.  Allowing politicians to appoint public employees promotes cronyism. 

The likelihood of getting the best employees in state service jobs is also reduced.These proposed changes will make state jobs less attractive as a viable career choice for the best qualified candidates.  

The inability to find the best and brightest candidates is a direct result of vilifying public employees and erosion of compensation and employee security.

As a result of these proposed changes, employee turnover will increase and service quality and accountability will suffer.

This proposal to change civil service rules is disheartening at best and disastrous at worst.We ask that Wisconsin citizens that value good government contact their legislators to let them know that these changes are NOT in the public interest.  

You can find contact information for your legislators at: .

WisDOT FUBAR: Add delayed highway expansion to unfilled potholes

Policy and budgeting fail alert:

Wisconsin state officials made promises it couldn't keep to the road-builders while also breaking faith - - and wheel rims, tires and axles - - with everyday motorists.

And bus riders? You're just moochers, leaders say:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has pushed for public transit to be funded through the state’s general budget instead of the DOT, saying he considers transit a social program. Gov. Scott Walker proposed such a move in his last budget and Vos said it had the support of Assembly Republicans, but it failed to make it through the state Senate.
Yet the state is plowing ahead with a new, $200 million office building where WisDOT can hold its contractor meetings and continue 'planning' more highway-lane construction as motorists drive fewer miles, boomers age away from the steering wheel and millennials prefer transit.

Follow Great Lakes habitat restoration projects online

a wetland in May
Hat tip to the Great Lakes Echo blog for publishing a link to a tool which shows how and where federal Great Lakes habitat restoration funding is being spent:
"A new online widget shows with just a couple of clicks how $290 million in federal funds for improving the Great Lakes ecosystem has been spent.
"The Great Lakes Restoration Database let’s people know “what’s going on in their backyards” with land and water protection, said Heather Braun, a project manager with the Great Lakes Commission, which developed the site. The online system tracks the progress of more than 600 restoration projects."

GOP obstructs federal financing, Waukesha firm takes jobs to Canada

[Updated] Turns out there's a new way to kill Bucky's jobs:

Paul Ryan and other right-wing bigs in the Wisconsin and national GOP House caucuses have ideological objections to government financing for businesses long provided by the US Export-Import Bank, so a major GE unit which makes engines in Waukesha has decided to shut down, hit the road and enjoy a better deal in Canada:
General Electric Co (GE.N) said on Monday it will move production of large, gas-powered engines to Canada from Wisconsin, along with 350 jobs, to access export financing no longer available in the United States. 
In its latest salvo aimed at persuading Congress to renew the U.S. Export-Import Bank's charter which expired in June, GE will invest $265 million in a new state-of-the-art manufacturing plant at a Canadian location yet to be determined. 
The facility, to open in about 20 months, can be expanded to provide flexible manufacturing capacity to support other GE businesses, including engines for railroad locomotives, GE said.
In exchange for moving the production from Waukesha, Wisconsin, Export Development Canada will provide financing support for a range of future products, including some still made in the United States... 
Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, who represents Waukesha and opposes EXIM "in its current form," said in a statement that the move was a "sober reminder of the urgent need to stay competitive in the global marketplace" and called for lower corporate tax rates.
Michigan's former GOP Governor, now a national business spokesman, has called these GOP congressional ideologues "economically illiterate."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Tossing civil service would push WI across ethical divide

[Updated from Sunday, 9/27, 1:40 p.m.] Rarely has a state government set out to wreak havoc on itself to feed needy political egos, reward insiders and advance crackpot ideology (see Kansas, Brownback, et al), but that's where Wisconsin is headed.

So before it's too late, Wisconsin lawmakers should be forced in the name of fairness and logic to bury permanently a GOP-inspired plan that appeared out of nowhere last week to discard the protections for taxpayers which support and define the state government civil service personnel system.

Like similar and recent right-wing GOP efforts to kill the state Open Records law and the non-partisan Government Accountability Board, the civil service eradication proposal is a partisan power-grab, pure and simple and overwhelmingly self-interested and cynical.

Citing and hyping the slimmest of evidence - - a handful of headline-grabbing outrages by a few bad apples among tens of thousands of dedicated public servants and their multiple millions of hours of honest work - - game-playing GOP legislative leaders and an ever-opportunistic Gov. Walker again went to their deep well of anti-labor sentiment when announcing they intended to scrap civil service exams and turn state employee recruiting, hiring, promotion and termination over to agency heads whom Walker has already appointed.

Which will lead to personnel decisions - - from the mail room to the board room - - inevitably and intentionally influenced by friendships, party affiliations, political preferences and campaign donations.

How much control is enough for this Governor and his party?

Grossly-secretive and tilted redistricting has already allowed GOP legislators to reward Walker with  far greater powers than his predecessors wielded over state assets, including jobs.

*  He and department heads he's appointed can now appoint department-level, in-house attorneys whose positions, along with information specialists and other senior positions, were moved from civil service to at-will employment in the early days of his administration.

*  He can sell any state asset with minimal review by the legislature's budget-writing committee which he and his party control 12-4, and without competitive bids.

*  He can approve or turn aside administrative rules which have the force of law in Wisconsin, and which had previously been the subject of public hearings.

*  He, his 'chamber-of-commerce mentality' appointees and legislative allies have repeatedly corporatized and politicized the Department of Natural Resources and reorganized it to elevate business influence; little wonder that major exceptions and favors are being sought there, especially involving waters which belong to everyone.

* The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation he created and chaired for nearly its entire existence has been repeatedly caught making questionable loans and dubious grants while evading routine accounting and legal procedures set up  to protect the public interest and purse.

The Walkerites said all those practices were cumbersome - - the same justification being cited in the proposed civil service rollback.

Goodbye objectivity. Hello, spoils (and we've seen it before).

Welcome to Havocwreakistan.

Can you imagine a state hiring system where Big Pharma and insurers are better able to get their favored resumes more easily into the hiring process at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Do the road-builders and trucking firms need more influence at the WisDOT - - which purportedly regulates them?

Whose interest is being served if pipeline and fossil fuel businesses and builders gain even more access to staffing at the DNR and the Public Service Commission?

Should partisan organizations, lobbyists, and advocacy groups be better positioned to pitch their people to every state agency, with gubernatorial appointees able to make the hiring, promotion and firing decisions in coordination with the Governor or his office staff?

Wisconsin is at an ethical crossroads.

Inefficiency, waste, personal preferences for public personnel, partisan advantage and corruption - - the basics of political danger and heartbreak - - are dead ahead.

Deaths from 46,000 tons of VW-enabled pollution an estimated 40-106

Some interesting projections in The New York Times find an estimated death toll in the US from 46,000 tons of air pollution spewed secretly by VW diesel engines at between 40-to-106, which is at the higher end of known deaths to date caused in the US by faulty GM ignition switches: 
Unlike the ignition defect in General Motors vehicles that caused at least 124 people to die in car crashes, Volkswagen pollution is harder to link to individual deaths. But it is clear to public health researchers that the air pollutants the cars illegally emitted damage health, and they have formulas to calculate the lives lost from excess pollution. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency uses its own estimates of the health effects of air pollution to create its regulations of what’s allowed. After consulting with several experts in modeling the health effects of air pollutants, we calculated a death toll in the United States that, at its upper range, isn’t far off from that caused by the G.M. defect.

Shell suspends wasteful, crazy Arctic drilling

Good news for the environment. Let's hope the company did a better job sealing its test well than it did getting its rig launched in the first place:
Royal Dutch Shell announced early Monday morning it will suspend Arctic drilling indefinitely, after finding insufficient oil and gas in one of its exploratory wells to justify costly development.
The move puts the end — for now — on the contentious debate over whether oil and gas exploration should take place in the environmentally sensitive area off Alaska’s coast. President Obama has come under intense fire for allowing drilling to proceed, and environmentalists cheered Shell’s announcement...
The company said it would take a large financial charge as a result of the announcement. The balance sheet value of Shell’s Alaska position is approximately $3.0 billion, with approximately a further $1.1 billion of future contractual commitments for equipment the company expected to use in 2016 and 2017, the company said...
Shell has spent more than $7 billion on oil exploration in the Alaskan Arctic, including more than $2 billion in what was a record Interior Department lease sale in 2008 and $1.4 billion this year. 
But its efforts to find a vast amount of oil have been mired in lawsuits and a regulatory process complicated by a series of mishaps — such as hitting uncharted shoals — that have damaged vessels required for the drilling program. 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Cathy Stepp may greenlight Rube Goldberg to 'fix' Chippewa Flowage

As the Walkerites work relentlessly to turn over the Wisconsin environment to special interests, a wealthy Walker donor couple in Northern Wisconsin - - 
a wetland in May
- - keeps pushing the envelope:
A major political donor to Gov. Scott Walker wants state approval for a project designed to keep a 12-acre floating bog away from his northern Wisconsin property by permanently fastening it to the bottom of the lake. 
The plan by Richard E. Uihlein, CEO of Pleasant Prairie-based Uline Corp., is unprecedented for the sprawling Chippewa Flowage; it calls for crews to use barges, a crane and a pile driver to pound large posts through the bog and anchor it to the lake bed. 
The construction-style scale of the project, outlined in an Aug. 17 memo to the Department of Natural Resources, is raising objections on a lake that has long been known for big muskies and rugged, wooded shorelines.
Didn't North County Notebook storyteller George "Papa Hambone" Vukelich write years ago about someone who built a concrete wall at the edge of Lake Superior, or another Wisconsin body of water, convinced of the genius of the plan only to watch Mother Nature break it apart? 

Give WI 'merit' plan shelving civil service a demerit

Wisconsin GOP ideologues running their one-party show intend to further embed their partisan control and policy agendas across the state government.

Having spent nearly five years hammering and devaluing public service, attacking voting rights and non-partisan oversight of campaigns, corroding the publicly-spirited Wisconsin Idea state mission and starving public education at the elementary, secondary and university levels, the corporate servants occupying the Governor's office and legislative leadership positions are now out to get rid of civil service hiring, promotion and firing rules in favor of what is being called merit, or resume-based procedures.


And the justification - - a handful of bad apples, thus blowing up the entire system - - is like the Right's installation of Voter ID in Wisconsin based on anecdotal and alleged irregularities.

Walker says the new state hiring process will be "transparent."

Give me a break, and LOL. Check the record.

Bottom line: No one has asked for the changes. No task force, no outpouring at a hearing, no polling, nothing. It's all politics - - an extension of Act 10, right-to-work, the unwinding of the prevailing wage, the refusal to raise the minimum wage, etc.

If these hard-edged reactionaries have their way gaining more hiring and firing powers, every state employee will basically become an at-will member of the Governor's staff because employment decisions top-to-bottom will be made at agencies and departments run by political appointees without the checks and balances of non-partisan civil service scrutiny.

Here's how it might all play out in a few months, I imagine:

Recruiter from the Department of Natural Resources on the phone with Acme123 Headhunters, Inc.
Recruiter: Got a few openings to run past you.

Headhunter: Fire away.

Recruiter: We're looking for a DNR staff lawyer to review permits filed by dairies, mines, or developers.

Headhunter: Qualifications? 

Recruiter: Fine me someone already on a private sector payroll. Timber oil, plastics, construction, Big Ag. Don't send me anyone from a public defender office or the Sierra Club. And if they work at a law firm, I want a corporate plaintiff attorney, a business specialist. 
Don't waste my time with a trial lawyer.

Headhunter: Sure. That mindset. Permits are for approving. 

Recruiter: Across the board. Like our DOT says, contracts are for letting. Time is money.

Headhunter. Got it.

Recruiter: We also have a groundwater science position open. I want an industry chemist instead of someone teaching freshman chemistry three hours a week. I want someone who knows that that water is a commodity, the market is booming and rules and regulations get in the way. Time is money.

Headhunter: No problem.

Recruiter: We're also going to share a big-picture policy position with the Public Service Commission, so, again, business experience first. 

Headhunter: I'm looking at a utility planner right now.

Recruiter: Fossil fuels, OK. Wind or solar, forget it.

Headhunter: Looks like it's coal and natural gas. Took on the EPA.

Recruiter: Perfect. And make sure you run any names through that Walker recall petition data base. Don't waste my time with anyone who signed it.

Headhunter: Copy that.

Recruiter: And check the names against the campaign donation websites. If the letter "D" pops up, then that's "D" as in "Delete" right there. 

Headhunter: I understand. You guys are running a full-court press out there, right?

Recruiter: Right you are.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Downtown Milwaukee Lakefront design too sterile

Glad that Journal Sentinel arts critic Mary Louise Schumacher is promoting a conversation about the new downtown Milwaukee Lakefront development design competition.

Two words: Less concrete!

The Lakefront Gateway Plaza design by Graef includes a gentle pathway that offers several ways for pedestrians to sit, take in lake views and access a bridge.

City of Milwaukee

Meet the WI Legislature's expert on women's health

The DePere Republican isn't a doctor, but plays one in the Legislature:
Wisconsin lawmakers in the state Assembly voted on Thursday to block Planned Parenthood from receiving $3.5 million in federal funds. The proposal now awaits Senate action. 
The bill is one of three introduced by Rep. AndrĂ© Jacque, R-De Pere, tied to a larger debate over abortion. 
The bill, passed on a party-line vote, would prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal Title X funds, diverting the money to other groups at the discretion of the state Department of Health Services. Another would place limits on how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs acquired through a Medicaid program and the third would ban research conducted on fetal tissue obtained from abortions.

Photo from Jacque's official homepage.

WI hostile today to Pope's "right of the environment"

EPA to issue rules on smokestack greenhouse gases soon
Talk about a disconnect:

Pope Francis spoke today before the United Nations, defining and lauding a "right to the environment:
"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity," he said.
Too bad his itinerary didn't include a stop in the Badger state, where he'd have seen that reactionary, corporatist ideologues running Wisconsin government are siding with polluters who are contaminating the drinking water, selling off the people's access to rivers, lake and streams and are working to spend tax money as insiders to foul the air.

In Wisconsin, we have the political right denying the people's legal and moral rights to clean air, water and land. Such is the anti-environmental state of the political environment in our once-progressive state.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Familiar, sad refrain - - more job cuts at Caterpillar

Caterpillar, headquartered in South Milwaukee and with a manufacturing plant obtained in the Bucyrus takeover in 2010, is planning layoffs in its operations. 


The state isn't so open for business after all, as the some of the local production workers or the white-collar staff could get the axe.


Remember when that takeover went down?

Bucyrus shareholders did well - - Caterpillar paid a 32% premium for the stock, the outgoing Bucyrus boss was in line for a total compensation payout approaching an estimated $50 million, and Caterpillar Chief Executive Douglas Oberhelman was upbeat about the merged firm he was to lead:
The deal is the biggest splash yet by Mr. Oberhelman, who became chief on July 1. “It is a strong statement about our belief in the bright future of the mining industry,” he said.
And while Caterpillar made some promises to customers and products...
We acquired Bucyrus to better serve our customers 
The transaction combines two widely recognized and respected brands — both with deep expertise in mining and strong customer relationships — to provide mining companies with a highly complementary product line that better meets their increasingly complex requirements. 
We have no plans to eliminate Bucyrus products. 
One of the key drivers of the acquisition was a Caterpillar goal to offer more products to the mining industry. This acquisition gives Caterpillar the broadest line of surface and underground mining equipment in the world. Because there is very little overlap in their product lines, plans are to keep all Bucyrus products as part of the Cat equipment lineup. Caterpillar Global Mining is especially excited by the opportunity to begin serving underground coal customers.

Today's news again shows that takeovers and mergers can leave workers with nothing:
Caterpillar plans up to 5,000 job cuts as key markets slow
A storyline that fits with this 2013 history, and the handwriting-on the-wall that year:
Caterpillar cuts more jobs in Milwaukee area
And this even earlier this year, setting and advancing a trend: 

Caterpillar cuts Milwaukee workforce. Again.
When was the last time you heard about a corporate merger that actually led to new jobs and worker security? 

Make sure you read Dom Noth's informed reporting, here, and thanks to Dom for sending a link to a photo archive about Bucyrus labor and production. A sample:

Politician without credibility or moral authority to upend Civil Service

A vindictive and unacceptable preview of the next three years in Wisconsin:
Four years after repealing most collective bargaining for Wisconsin's public workers and three days after ending his presidential run, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is backing top Republican lawmakers' proposed overhaul of the state's civil service system for 30,000 employees, saying its safeguards against political patronage in hiring and firing state workers need to keep up with the times and with the coming crush of retiring baby boomers.
The double-speak and deception here is breath-taking, as the allegedly-small government Walker already removed many top positions from civil service and turned them into lucrative political appointments.

And has remade the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources into an arm of the corporate elite  - - the special-interest opposite of civil service - - while he and his party also want to delay future state employees' retirements and change the formulas on which retirement checks are calculated.

None of which is being sought by anyone other than the same anti-union ideologues who provoked the Act 10 demonstrations, and which Walker has used for years as talking point fodder.

Call it Havoc Wrecking or the War on Workers 2.0 - - 3.0 if we include the Right-to-Work & Prevailing Wage Assault.

I argued in February, 2011 that Walker's slim 2010 margin of victory did not give him the moral authority to overturn 50 years of collective bargaining history, and I make the same argument today that a similar margin of victory in 2014, and his national dismissal earlier this week again suggest he is overstepping his role.

And remember his earlier pants-on-fire misrepresentation of civil service as he defended his Act 10 power grab?

There is no need for this latest attack on public sector employees other than one politician's continuing need for ego validation by an ideological base he needs to win back.