Sunday, December 30, 2007

A letter to the editor of the MJS editorial page....(copy to Jack Norman)


Your editorial page, and the extent to which it has become amateur hour, is simply one more reason to no longer pay for a subscription. I read parts of the paper on line, but that's as far as I am willing to go.

Your community columnist, Barbara Fischer, self-described as a conservative economics teacher at a liberal arts college, doesn't warrant her "case". She has a seriously bent notion of what constitutes profit in a business.

She describes her faux-Socratic method of inducing truth and wisdom through cagey construction of questions posed to students. She also describes how she morphs into a dogmatist --answering the question before the students get a chance to be drawn out with further useful, clarifying questions. In the end she appears to have them chanting the same answer to every question. I'm not certain what she's describing; but it isn't education. Sounds like a madrassa. Here's her quote on how she gets it rolling:
"And how does the company have the means with which to pay you?"

The student replies, "I guess from their profits."

I respond, "That is correct."

That is, quite clearly, not correct. Employee wages are part of the cost of goods sold. That is deemed an expense. It is not derived from "profit". It is not taxed. Don't talk to me about payroll taxes. I'm almost certain that your perfesser hates them, too. But that's not what she is asserting with "That is correct". She's saying that employers/companies pay their employees out of profits.

A college level economics teacher (and Department Chairperson of the the Business/Economics Dept. at Cardinal Stritch University, according to information I googled up) who proudly displays that level of definitional and practical ignorance about what constitutes the portion of corporate revenue subject (if you happen to be one of the "little people" in the world of profits) to taxation ought to pack it in--as economist, as columnist, as animal rationis capax.

I actually believe I could make a good and workable case for completely abolishing corporate income taxes, though I wouldn't expect Fischer to second the motion As it stands now this class of taxation is so subject to the construction of backdoor finagling, and bizarre exemptions purchased from compliant legislators, it is indeed an immensely unfair system. Worse, it creates all manner of distortions of business practices that are designed not for any genuine business objective or efficiency, but merely as ways of shielding corporate profits from taxation.

Throughout the rest of the industrial world, a Value Added Tax (VAT) works well and with quintessential simplicity, not to mention even-handedness. That is the kind of thing that a bright and well-informed business economist could be writing on you page. So, why not recruit a well informed economist to write for your page instead of this bizarrely misinformed scribbler, who describes herself in the Cardinal Stritch Faculty list as having a Ph.D.,A.B.D.* degree.

Ph.D. A.B.D., for the untutored, describes an utterly laughable reification. Someone who lists "Ph.D., A.B.D." as a credential will try to persuade you to buy a "Semi-boneless Ham" or a pint of "Fat-Free Half and Half". It is either a ham with a bone in it, or it is boneless. Try to suss out from which half have they leached the butterfat to create something that is not good, not even half-good, not to mention impossible..

Either your columnist has a Ph.D. or she doesn't. That alphabet soup tacked on to the Ph.D. she claims to have, but doesn't have, says that she took a lot of courses, but still can't think straight, nor write with the cogency required to be called, to be a genuine academic, a professor, a Doctor of Philosophy.

Sad to say, this page has gotten increasingly ragged since your arrival; and seems to be getting even worse, now that they bought you a hotshot deputy from the outside -- one who looks to be getting vetted for a takeover. Back when Jean Otto had Op-Ed, she talked of how the schemers and bean counters often finagled to steal a quarter of the Op-Ed page for ads, how she had to fight for the turf. It's worse for you; my guess is that the ad people don't think there's currently enough readership. Or their clients who want good placement (next to Brett) aren't interested in the demographics of the editorial page and op ed, won't pay for readers who don't move their lips. Thus, you get lots of space to fill up with community columnists. It's like reality TV--you don't have to pay the "talent".

Just some pushback from a forty-year watcher of (used to be one who looked forward to the arrival of) the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel. It has become way less than the sum of its parts.

This isn't for the paper, it's for the editor. (And Jack--who should have turned out the lights when he left 4th and State--because B.F., PhD., A.B.D. clearly had his recent work in mind as she scribbled that nonsense).

* A.B.D.= All But Dissertation

Monday, December 24, 2007

Oscar Peterson 1924-2007

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I only heard/saw Oscar Peterson live once. Norman Granz brought Jazz at the Philharmonic to the cavernous barn called the the Cleveland Auditorium in the spring of 1967, the first (and, ultimately, last in the U.S.) JATP tour since 1957. I had a student in sophomore English whose father had been one of the DJ heirs to Alan Freed, when he left WJW Radio in 1958 for New York City. (Oooohhh, the loss: No more Moondog late at night, listened to in bed with a tiny transistor radio).

The kid had picked up that I was into jazz; he told me that he could get me one of his dad's comps. It wasn't all that hard a ticket to get; the hall wasn't full. But I was in the third row. The lineup was incredible: Duke, Ella, Oscar, Clark Terry, Joe Pass, Cootie Williams, Gerry Mulligan, Zoot Sims...on and on. Ellington introduced Oscar with that sobriquet he clearly loved to deliver: "The ever cool and aloof, Oscar Peterson".

I have never been to a rock concert. I've only been to one great concert. Oscar played two numbers solo that night, then accompanied Ella Fitzgerald's set, including an extraordinary "conversation"-- Ella laying down her sass in scat, he pressing the issue with that incomparable playing.


Thanks again to that sophomore and his dad.

Thanks, many thanks, to Oscar Peterson--the greatest jazz pianist of the 20th Century.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yes, last post I referred to him as a clown. But, he's pitch-perfect in analyzing the GOP Main Line.....

A campaign bus interview with the Christian Broadcast Network yields this:

There is a level of elitism that has existed, the chattering class if you will who lives in that corridor between Washington and Wall Street and they sort of live in their protected world, and frankly for a number of years many of them thought of people like me - whether it was because we were evangelicals or because maybe we were out from the middle of America. They were polite to us. They were more than happy for us to come to the rallies and stand in lines for hours to cheer on the candidates, appreciated us putting up the yard signs, going out and putting out the cards on peoples doors and making phone calls to the phone banks and - really appreciated all of our votes.
But when they got elected, behind closed doors, they would laugh at us and speak with scorn and derision that we were, as one article I think once said "the easily led." So there's been almost this sort of, it's okay if you guys get a seat on the bus, but don't ever think about telling us where the bus is going to go.

Pat Robertson is the founder of this network. He climbed on the Giuliani bandwagon just before Rudy's campaign dove headfirst off the cliff. CBN began running this stone cold disclaimer on a highly visible sidebar every day since the Nov. 9 Robertson endorsement of shagmaster Rudy.

CBN Statement
Pat Robertson as a private citizen has recently endorsed a candidate for public office. As a private citizen he has the right to participate in the political process, and is entitled to express his personal views. CBN, as a public charity, does not support or oppose any candidate for public office, and as a result will not address or comment further on this matter.

Good thing, too. It may not be an endorsement, but the Brody interview and lots of other coverage in this vein will cement the support of "easily-led" evangelicals for the Huckabee line.
* * *

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Spare us from This clown after election day. But his record as a Governor will make for good debate material...

Joe Conason has dug a bit into how Huck-a Huck-a Hunk-a Burnin' Mercy had a thing for granting selective forgiveness played out when he was Governor:

Record Number of Commutations and Pardons...

Influenced by his fellow pastors, as well as by friends and relatives of inmates, Huckabee appears to have practiced what might be called "Christian cronyism."

[Crony]...prisoners seemed to have a special claim on Huckabee's attention, including those who labored as trusty servants at the Governor's Mansion, relatives of Huckabee's friends and employees and, in at least one case, a drunken driver who happened to be a wealthy real estate developer. (In 2003, he began serving a six-year sentence for repeated drunken driving offenses, but Huckabee let the man go after about six months. In 2006, he nearly killed a police officer in yet another drunken driving incident.)

Mercy is a wonderful quality, whether religious or secular. What seems far less wonderful is the dispensation of political favors disguised as religiosity—and that is exactly what the nation's founders meant to forbid.

Read it all here in the Shepherd

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Umbrance" and arrogance....

On Nov.14th, at the last meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission, two citizens attended (For me it required getting up before dawn--6:30am--to be there in time to speak up as a ratepayer and resident).

I spoke up. I asked the Commission to stop holding meetings from which the public is excluded on the subject of "water supply options", just as I have asked several times in the past.

The Commission President, Daniel Warren, whose day job is "Development Manager" of Pabst Farms--just in case you're wondering whether the leader of the Utility is somebody who knows a good plan when he sees it--did get a little hot under the collar when it came time to discuss the motion to close the session. He claimed to "feel umbrance" over my questioning his integrity.

The time for public comment was over; I had no standing to speak. So I said nothing.

But, if I'd had the opportunity to speak I would have said this:

"Only one person in this room has ever been cited by the District Attorney of Waukesha for violation of Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law. Cited and FINED in July, 2006, for the offense.
That person is Daniel Warren, President of this Water Utility Commission"

"Umbrance" indeed.

* * *

The Business of the Waukesha Water Utility is the Public’s Business.

Mayor Larry Nelson, in the 19 months he has had the power to appoint four of the five members of the Water Utility Commission (as well as one seat at the table for himself), has been consistent in his replies to questions about what the Commission was planning on the subject of diverting Lake Michigan Water to the City of Waukesha: “No decision has been made. We are exploring all the options. When a direction is chosen it will have to be discussed by the City Council and is subject to their power to approve any plan. That will be the time for public input.”

On Nov. 14th, the Commission met at 7:00 am, a time when most Waukesha adults are either brushing and flossing or heading to work. On the agenda were about twenty items, large and small. Two appeared to be critically important to the public:
1. Approval of the 2008 Water Utility Budget.
2. A plan to evict the public from the room and go into a closed session, “Pursuant to Sec 19.85 (1) (e) & (g), Wisconsin Statutes, to discuss strategy relative to our long term water options, as well as radium compliance, with legal counsel”.

And, indeed, they did vote unanimously to exclude the citizens/ratepayers and meet in secret. Commissioner Greg Zinda: "Aye". Commissioner Alderman Peggy Bull: "Aye". Commissioner Mayor Larry Nelson: "Aye". Commission President Daniel Warren: "Aye". Commissioner Gerald Couri: Absent (again).

So they met. And the public still doesn't know what they're up to. Except, they gave us a hint. More than a hint. Their downtown lawyer from Reinhart Boerner, Don Gallo, hadn't arrived by the time the closed meeting agenda item came up. So, they skipped ahead to a review of budgetary stuff—pages of spreadsheets and detailed budgets for each Utility Department.

Perhaps inadvertently, tucked into seventy pages of figures we found, under a heading called "2008 Significant Budget Items," part of an executive summary provided by the Commission's accountant, Peggy Steeno:
“New Water Supply Investigation/Plan:
Included in this item are the consulting services to continue to assist the Utility with its investigation into a new water supply. The assumptions with this item are that an application for Great Lakes water will be submitted for review in early 2008. This item includes the support necessary to achieve development and approval of the application and initiate the negotiations with a wholesale provider. The current estimate for these services in 2008 is $300,000.”

Diversion of water from Lake Michigan is not something that the public has any information on, nor do the time-lines imply that we will have much to say about it.

It is a done deal. And it appears that it became a done deal through a two-year series of closed meetings: first, among the members of the Water Utility Commission and continuing in a parallel series of closed meeting of the Commission with the City Council.

Citizens of Waukesha are encouraged to come to the meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility Commission scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 20 at 5:30 pm. At the Water Utility Building, next to City Hall. Address the Commission, as is your right. City residents and customers need to be present at the start of the meeting. The first order of business is public comment. Make clear to the Commissioners that the public’s business is to be done IN PUBLIC.

Oh! About the budget. Remember the 17% increase in water rates that Mayor Nelson and his Water Utility Commission just put in place several months ago? Well, they are already planning another double digit increase which they discussed at the November meeting. The request for another big bite out of the ratepayers—probably in the area of 19%--will come at the end of 2008. Somebody has to pay the tab for the $300,000 for all those consultants they are going to hire beginning in two weeks.

Insist on an open discussion of these important matters. Make your opinion known.

The Public’s business must be done in public, not in secret.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nothing like a little Christmas music to get you into the spirit of the season...

I've heard it three years running. All three times at Boston Store:

He sees you when you're sleeping

He knows when you're awake

He knows if you've been bad or good....


So... who is this, warbling to our children in their jammies about who is naughty and who is nice, and what's in store for them in this season of giving? And why would Boston Store choose this as an element of their annual enticements designed to get us to light those little candles of desire and guilt and debt-be-damned buying that have become the essence of Christmas in America?

Peace on Earth.

Click here for the answer

* * *

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Nov. 22, 1963. Where were you when Kennedy was shot?

 I was walking down Woodward Avenue toward Congress, The capitol's main drag, thirty blocks from downtown Austin, Texas, on a shirtsleeve late Fall day. It was close to 1:00 p.m. I was cutting class--something I had never done before--because I was on my way to see the President. The Austin American had reported the route of the President for the day: Dallas in the a.m.,a major speech at the Trade Center, then a flight from Love Field to Bergstrom Air Force (SAC) Base on the outskirts of Austin. The motorcade into the then-sleepy State U./State Capitol town.
 I had about twenty minutes to walk twenty blocks and hunker down at the intersection of 6th Street and Lavaca. I'd watch Jack Kennedy and his Camelot entourage go by, then head back to campus.
 While many were hearing Walter Cronkite's emotional report of the assassination on TV, I was out on the street, walking past a maroon Ford sedan. It was an unmarked law enforcement vehicle--oversize blackwall tires, a big whip antenna, and a hatless Texas Ranger standing outside the passenger door, actually leaning--no, more like collapsing--against the side of the vehicle. The police radio was on and the static and frantic words came out to this passer-by.
 Kennedy was shot in the head, rushed to a Dallas hospital….
 What to make of the short life and Presidency of John F. Kennedy? Four months earlier he had given an astonishing--and to many, profoundly disturbing--speech at the commencement of American University in DC. He was clearly staking out a roadmap to de-escalation of the arms race, a proposal to initiate negotiation of a nuclear test ban with the Soviet Union.
 The missile gap that had been a fundamentally dishonest centerpiece of his hawkish presidential campaign a thousand days before looked different after the Cuban missile crisis of October, '62. His eloquence evident in the speech--(Sorenson was the wordsmith, he was the orator) and the importance of his bold assertions were masterful. He was beginning his campaign for re-election in '64 in Washington, DC, perhaps the only place in America such a speech could be given and followed by applause.
 That sunny central Texas day, just a few months later, a counterpoint to the American University  address was the speech that Kennedy had in his pocket at the moment he was assassinated. It had been prepared for delivery at a luncheon that day to the Dallas Citizen's Council at the Trade Mart.
 Had Oswald not sighted his target and fired three times, Kennedy's motorcade would have pulled up to the Mart and JFK would have delivered a speech that rattled the nuclear saber--boasting of his expansions of both strategic and tactical nuclear weaponry.  It was a speech that intensified the rhetoric of the domino theory, and insisted that we needed to increase our arming and training of client states on the borders of the Soviet Union and Red China. He was, on the last day of his life, fine-tuning the hawkish theme of his campaign for re-election in '64--in Texas, where such a speech had to be given.
 I was 20 years old, stunned, stopped in my tracks; I'm still stunned. From there--in that chaotic and frightening moment-- this benighted nation spiraled downward.
Downward through a decade of assassinations and escalations and cities-in-flames and profound alienation, then went on to decades of self-indulgent, self-congratulatory excess and hubris, to today's sorry state of the American nation, it's leadership and its prospects.
 The day the President was assassinated a lot more than just one eloquently two-faced politician died.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Wolcott: Imus comeback is OK with me....

I've never heard Imus on-air. But James does make two really fine points supporting the case for Laissez les bontemps roulez:

I get the feeling that most of the bloggers recapping Imus's slurs and outrages at the microphone (and those of his former producer Bernard McGuirk) never actually listened to the program, except for a few bites here and there picked up online. Instead, they avail themselves of the Media Matters files or other Googly sites and trot out the same litany of low points, without mentioning the more ennobled sentiments Imus has expressed, such as muttering "war criminal" whenever Dick Cheney was mentioned.

As for whether or not politicians, pundits, and book authors should appear with the post-"nappy ho" disgraced-chastened-contrite Imus, my feeling is, Let grownups make up their own grownup decisions without flapping our hands in the air and acting scandalized, as if some invisible picket line has been crossed.

I've had nothing to listen to in the morning. Once I finish my meditation, I turn on the radio and soon turn it off again, one disappointed little cowpoke. The New York morning shows--nothing but sleet and drivel. I try listening to NPR but I'm just not a good enough person to be the receptacle for all that homogenized reasonableness lightly sugared with whimsy and vitamin-enriched with valuable life lessons. I'd rather hear Imus complain about a dead gnat floating in his herbal tea, or something equally earth-shattering.

Friday, November 16, 2007

George Bush or America? A Primer...

This is a link to an array of eight linked sets of photos. Each set has one of George Bush paired with one simply labeled "America". You need to scroll down through several of his Nov. 15 posts to get to the beginning.... No words necessary. Pictures tell it all.

TBogg - "...a somewhat popular blogger"
(Can't do a permalink. Go to archives and scroll down to Nov. 14. Worth the trip.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No matter how many secret meetings get called, there's always a slip up....

The Waukesha Water Utility Commission held a meeting really early this morning that required anyone who wanted to see what was going on to get up before dawn.

After some criticism last year--that they they appeared to take to heart--the Commission began holding their meetings during the supper hour, as opposed to their practice of having them before breakfast. Was it just a coincidence that the day they want to have a secret session they go back to the old practice of meeting when most people are brushing & flossing or commuting to work?

Item # 5 on the agenda was a secret meeting. Item #1 was an opportunity for residents and customers to make public comments. So, your blogger requested that the four (out of five) members in attendance--seldom-seen Gerald Couri, Commission Secretary, was missing AGAIN--to defeat the motion to go into secret session. Mayor Nelson, it should be noted has in the past gotten quite irritated by my calling them "secret sessions". But, when I ask him to tell me what they talked about, he refuses. Why? Well, it's a secret.

So the Commission voted unanimously to kick out the spectators and meet in secret. Commissioner Zinda: "Aye". Commissioner Bull: "Aye". Commissioner Mayor Nelson: "Aye". Commission President Warren: "Aye".

State Law requires a pro forma notation in the motion to close a meeting that invokes one or more of the permissible exemptions from the Open Meetings Law.

Today's motion:

Pursuant to Sec 19.85 (1) (e) & (g), Wisconsin Statutes, to discuss strategy relative to our long term water options, as well as radium compliance, with legal counsel.

So they met. And the public doesn't get to find out what they're up to.

But, they gave us a hint. More than a hint. Here's how it happened: Their downtown lawyer from Reinhart Boerner, Mr Gallo, hadn't arrived by the time agenda item #5 came up. So, they skipped ahead to a truly mind-numbing review of budgetary stuff. Spread sheets full of abstruse although occasionally interesting stuff about how things look for the future. For example, the Utility had budgeted for the placement of around 300 new meters (new houses, new customers) in 2007. The number, six weeks from the end of the year is closer to 150. That'll put a small nick in revenue. But we're guessing that the Commission sees this as a minor glitch--real estate development should be going full tilt by next year.

But here's the biggie, conveniently tucked into dozens of pages of figures: Under a heading called "2008 Significant Budget Items," part of an executive summary provided by the Commission's accountant, Peggy Steeno, we read:

New Water Supply Investigation/Plan:
Included in this item are the consulting services to continue to assist the Utility with its investigation into a new water supply. The assumptions with this item are that an application for Great Lakes water will be submitted for review in early 2008. This item includes the support necessary to achieve development and approval of the application and initiate the negotiations with a wholesale provider. The current estimate for these services in 2008 is $300,000.
Looks like a done deal. They'll be assuming that the Great Lakes Compact is forever dead, and that the Water Resources Development Act is toothless. They'll probably sue on grounds that that the WRDA--which has been the only deterrent to wholesale diversions from the Great Lakes for the past several decades is subject to challenge on constitutional grounds. Then, they'll make a claim that Chicago's diversions of Lake Michigan water, with no requirement that diverted water be returned to the Lakes (virtually all of it goes down local rivers to the Mississippi), is a precedent that will allow Waukesha to tap Lake Michigan and send the water down the Fox, also to the Mississippi.

Last week, Jim Rowen at Political Environment talked about how John Norquist viewed the process of getting public input into the "work" of planning agencies. The public wants to know when there will be opportunity to see--and react to--the planners' "work".

The planners' answer involves a series of responses: Not yet....not yet....not yet....not yet...............Oops, Too Late.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hallucinated nonsense....and some reality.

The nonsense:
Given the level of accurate assessment of our "enemies" in the US--and I'm referring specifically to the nearly 41% in late 2005, down from 64% a year earlier, who continued to believe, against all evidence, that Saddam Hussein had a ready arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction--one wonders what the man-in-the-street imagines about the size and military capability of Iran.

There has been a lot of exaggerated talk over what Iran may be capable of in three or five years. Note the hysteria that came from President Bush earlier this week as he raised the specter of "World War III" in talking about Iran's hallucinated future capability to produce even one thermonuclear device sometime in the future:
"If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

A small dose of reality:
An excerpt from Fareed Zakaria’s latest analytical column in Newsweek. Zakaria knows more about the Middle East than any other major columnist I know of. AND, he's widely acknowledged as a conservative observer:

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Almost 60 years later: Still no National Health, and--sad to say--no repeat World Series

The same month my dad bought this pennant for me, Harry Truman was hammering the "Damn do-nothing 80th Congress" for their failure to enact his National Health Plan (among other things).

As a kid, with this on my wall, I recall liking this portrayal of an American Indian--said to be based on Mohawk images-- and there was something authentic about the crude stitching on the baseball in the background. I never liked the switch that introduced the "Chief Wahoo" mascot.

Maybe changing their name and ditching the chief would change our luck.

And--maybe, just maybe--changing presidents (the sooner the better; impeachment can work wonders) will change our luck on National Health.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

You may just hate The NY Times for their "slant". But this is the simple reportage of FACTS.

Dollar Hits a New Low, Oil Hits a New High...

The New York Times
Published: October 19, 2007

FRANKFURT, Oct. 18 — The dollar sank to a new low against the Euro Thursday as fresh evidence of losses in the mortgage industry stoked fears of a sharper-than-expected economic slowdown in the United States and crude oil rose to another record.

In late afternoon trading in New York, the euro traded at $1.4294, up from $1.4186 on Wednesday. Crude oil for November delivery rose $2.07, or 2.4 percent, to $89.47 a barrel. In after-hours electronic trading, the price rose slightly above $90.

Today I put twenty gallons of unleaded regular in my 1994 Ford pickup (small block V-6, 2wd, stick, no air)-- at the Kwik Trip on Grandview Blvd. in Waukesha, just off I-94.

$2.78 a gallon.

I might get this price a few more times, but by the time the oil--purchased at $90/bbl today--goes through a refinery in late November and appears on the market in Dec., I think the price will be up, WAY UP.

The paired trajectories of fuel prices (up) and the value of the USD (in free fall) are indisputable. Crunch time is upon us. A significant piece of the recent dip in gasoline prices is attributed to a one-time event: Third world countries that had been able to buy fuel when oil was $30/bbl to $60/bbl are simply dropping out of the market. What they do not buy appears as a temporary augmentation of supply.

The world's poor--those whose recent food source has been the energy-intensive Green Revolution--know that the intense energy inputs (fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation water pumped from ever-deeper wells) will be there no more. Here, we may feel the pinch--and, for some, more than just a pinch. In other parts of the world, people will starve.

Having this truck is pure fortuitous luck. I bought it for what a 12 year old truck would cost a few years ago. I keep it in good, safe condition--brakes, shocks, belts, leaf springs, oil, tune-up and tires (dents and rust matter little). I earn retiree-money by doing tree work, which makes the truck indispensible; but it is my everyday transportation, with a cost-per-mile that is way low.

For someone with a newish car or truck, with big payments and big insurance premiums, the coming uptick (should we call it a leap?) in gas prices is going to pinch.

But, if you are a mother in Honduras or Congo or Bangladesh, prepare to mourn your children.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A letter to the columnist, Laurel Walker...

Dear Ms. Walker

From today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial:
At the same time, the city and the county need to consider transportation options to get workers from other parts of the region to Pabst Farms. To its credit, the county already has started to raise those issues. We supported redevelopment of the I-94 interchange at Sawyer Road, but with a scaled down development, that could be done later. The state should give a higher priority to a western bypass around the city of Waukesha.

Whew! I was afraid that the editorial page would have to take you to the woodshed over some of your skepticism on PF. But, they've apparently decided that one little column from you--with its whiff of Emperor's-new-clothes--now makes big policy sense. During Summer, a big interchange was crucial. Just a few weeks later it can wait. And wait it will--perhaps, until something freezes over.

Now it's time to question their assertion that the Stepford wives and former real estate developers/agents luxuriating in the Pabst Farms experience will not want to--much less need to--work in the check-out lines of Ikea, or waiting on tables at one of the dozen upscale watering holes envisioned by the developers.

The masterminds of PF need to face the looming likelihood that they are about to join Francis Jay Schroedel in the fourth ring of the Developers Inferno.

Fourth Circle. (Canto VII) Those whose concern for material goods deviated from the desired mean are punished in this circle. They include the avaricious or miserly, who hoarded possessions, and the prodigal, who squandered them. Guarded by Plutus, each group pushes a great weight against the heavy weight of the other group. After the weights crash together the process starts over again. (In Gustave Doré's illustrations for this scene, the damned push huge money bags).

Nice work. Why don't you try to do some interviews with the Pabst Farms homesteaders and developers--that would make another good column. Then, maybe the editorial board will have to think about begging Whitney to come back onboard their little foundering ship. Just one withering look from her gimlet eye would likely give Patrick intermittent bouts of palpitations and mysterious itching rashes.

* * *

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blogger poses a question. Decider snaps a response.

Kevin Drum, at Political Animal, has a beguiling way of pulling it all together in a few pithy sentences:


Turkey has warned us that if Congress passes a resolution calling the 1915 Armenian genocide a genocide, "military ties with the U.S. will never be the same again." Russia and the other states surrounding the Caspian Sea are cozying up to Iran and warning us not to even think about launching an attack against Iran's nuclear facilities. China is "furious" because President Bush is meeting with the Dalai Lama. India is having "certain difficulties" approving its nuclear deal with the U.S. Britain is pulling out of Iraq. The Iraqis are pissed off at us over Blackwater. Afghan leaders are angry over our poppy spraying program, and Pakistan continues to provide a safe haven for the Taliban.

Other than that, though, how are things going for us?

Because he occasionally stumbles over mere words and gets tripped up on syntactical minutia, George W. Bush reaches into his magician's silk hat and pull out a one-eared wascally wabbit--his version of high speed communication in the digital age.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Felipe Perez Roque, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, representing the Non-aligned Nations

Mr. President:

...Inequality among and within the countries is on the rise.

Drinking water is not accessible to 1.1 billion people; 2.6 billion lack hygienic and bathing facilities; over 800 million are illiterate and 115 million children do not attend primary school; 850 million starve every day. And 1% of the world's richest people own 40% of the wealth, while 50% of the world's population merely has 10%. All this is happening in a world that spends a trillion dollars on weapons and another trillion on advertising.

The nearly 1 billion people living in developed countries consume approximately half of all the energy, while 2 billion poor people are still not acquainted with electricity.

Is that the world that they want us to accept? Is that, by any chance, the future that we should settle for? Are we entitled or not to fight in order to change that state of things? Should we or should we not fight so that a better world can be possible?
Read the entire speech

It is this kind of talk that has induced the US to declare that Cuba is a pariah, a "sponsor of international terrorism".

* * * * *

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thirty nine years ago this week, The Milwaukee Fourteen lit up the lighting up hundreds of draft files of men classified 1-A.

The times were different. The war was different.

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Don Cotton, Michael Cullen, Father Robert Cunnane, James Forest, Jerry Gardner, Bob Graf, Rev. Jon Higgenbotham, Father James Harney, Father Alfred Janicke, Doug Marvy, Father Anthony Mullaney, Fred Ojile, Brother Basil K. O'Leary, Father Larry Rosebaugh *

It's never different. War is always the same.

Back then, Lyndon Johnson was waist deep in big muddy, fearful that he might be the first president to lose a war, surrounded by people who had assured him--and the Congress, and the American people-- that there was light at the end of the tunnel, that Americans would turn the war over to the Vietnamese.

Then, it was dominoes. Now, it is oil.

Then...and now, the times call for acts of civil disobedience, non-violent resistance, marching, challenging, defying orders to "Keep moving, nothing to see here," refusing to pay war taxes, sabotaging the machinery of war-making.

The genius of the M-14 plotters was that they had a very crucial target, just begging to be sabotaged. On an upper floor of the Brumder Building (now Germania Building) at the triangle formed by Wells, Plankinton and N. 2nd was the office of Milwaukee's branch of the Selective Service System, keeping the files for 9 Local Boards.

The Draft was set up as Little groups of neighbors, each local board responsible for the impressment of young men between the ages of 18 and 26--those lacking any kind of deferment or exemption-- medical, educational, religious or Political--into the meatgrinder of Vietnam. They really were set up on a neighborhood basis. When I once had an adversarial interview with the members of Local Board 26 in Cleveland, I learned that some members were focussed solely on the Near west side of Cleveland.

Historical note: at the same time the Fourteen were processing 1-A files, in a little park in front of the Brumder, with homemade napalm (jellied gasoline, useful for raining fiery death indiscriminately from the Southeast Asian sky), George W. Bush was was being processed through his initial National Guard pilot training at Webb Air Force Base in Big Spring, Texas. Water Blogged knows this for a fact, because your blogger had visited Big Spring several weeks before, spent time with his younger brother who was undertaking the same pre-pilot training (the first weeks and months were strictly bookwork and going up in Piper Cubs and Cessna 150s to assess the trainee's flight aptitude), in a class that overlapped the time GWB was there. Word was that W, at age 22, was a two-bit smug frat boy, but well down the road to becoming a big-time, all-grown-up, smug frat boy.

So, the Fourteen torched the files. They had done a good deal of planning, even involving a diversionary action the Sunday before the move on the Selective Service. Sunday, September 22, two days before the SSS raid, a group of clergy, students, out-of-towners, local folks ripe for resistance, had been recruited to take over the solemn high 11:00 o'clock Mass at St John Cathedral. All the informers and infiltrators had been subjected to a slick mis-direction ploy, said to have been cooked up by Mary Lou Massignani. When Nick Riddell, a renegade Franciscan graduate student in Social Work at UWM, jumped up and took over the pulpit, Sgt. Miller and the Red Squad (Y55), plus a horde of FBI and plainclothes cops appeared from the sacristy doors, from behind the altar, out of the confessional boxes, from the pews and the choir loft to make arrests and show the rabble that they were not going to get away with any lawlessness. They had our number.

That was the first time I had ever been subject to arrest. In fact, they had too many people to process, not enough handcuffs; they shooed a bunch of us away. We wouldn't leave, so they kept threatening to arrest us, then telling us that they WOULD arrest us IF THEY COULD.

Two days later the carefully planned and executed draft board raid went off without a bit of foreknowledge by the smug law enforcement crew and their infiltrators and informers.

The destruction of draft files of young men classified I-A convulsed the city and the nation. That photo up top of this screed was a two-page spread in Life Magazine the following week. The 14 eventually went to jail. The prosecution by a pious, sanctimonious, hypocrite named E. Michael McCann, used the convictions to build the foundation of his political hold on the office of District Attorney.

Resistance to Johnson's war (soon to be Nixon's) had begun to have its effect. Only a month before, the Democrats at their convention in Chicago, had been forced to hold their noses as they picked someone to nominate as successor to Johnson, who had acknowledged in the Spring that the nation had turned against him and his war. In the next four years, many more acts of non-violent resistance ensued. (I'm not talking about the Weathermen and their ilk. They were elitist, too-smart-for-their-own-good, counter-productive and unspeakably violent). The action of the Fourteen emboldened others. Tax resistance grew, political organizing grew. It was a long, long, hard, battle. In the end it was attrition and weariness in the face of so much popular revulsion at the senseless bloodshed that ended it all.

As we remember the moral clarity of these fourteen men, the power of their non violent resistance, the moral force of their civil disobedience, consider the testimony at the trial of the Fourteen, recalled recently by historian Howard Zinn.

“In the year 1968 I was called to Milwaukee to testify in the case of the Milwaukee Fourteen. A group of priests, brothers, and laypeople who had gone into a draft board, taken thousands of its documents, and burned them in a symbolic protest against the war in Vietnam. As a historian of social movements, I was asked to discuss the role of civil disobedience in American history. The judge was clearly uneasy, but he allowed me to answer the question. I spoke of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and of its insistence that when a government becomes destructive of basic human rights, it is the duty of the people to ‘alter or abolish it.’ I began to talk about Henry David Thoreau and his decision to break the law in protest against the U.S. invasion of Mexico in 1846. At this point, Judge Larsen interrupted. He pounded his gavel and said: ‘You can't discuss that. That is getting to the heart of the matter’.”
It is time, once again, to go to the Heart of the Matter.
* Why are there are 15 men in the photo of the Milwaukee Fourteen? The man writing at the far left is Dan Patrinos long-time first-rate reporter from the Milwaukee Sentinel. I think it was John Hagedorn who tipped him off thirty seconds before the conflagration.)
* * * *

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dodd has at least one really good idea...

Few things could do more to raise the stature of the United States Government and allay well-grounded fears of US hegemony held by most of the people of Latin America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean than a strong assertion that Americans will pull back from almost five decades of futility, that we will abandon the Cuba Travel Ban and Embargo.

The embargo has been the source of almost unanimous international criticism. Annual votes in the United Nations General Assembly--friend and foe alike--that call on the U.S. to lift its sanctions pass with exceptionally large margins (173 to 3 in 2002; 179 to 4 in 2004). In the 2006 vote, only the U.S., Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau voted against the resolution.

These policies do us no good at all. They persuade peoples and leaders all over our special sphere of interest--and clearly waning--influence that we are simply going to ignore any country that doesn't tag along on our assertion that Cuba is a "Sponsor of Terrorism".

It's transparent: American politicians look at the financial and voting support that a group of skilled and experienced haters in South Florida control. And they go there--Dem and GOP alike--slobbering all over the emigre Cubans (or the remnant of the once-overpowering first generation) promising to be Tougher than Thou on the 11 million Cubans.

A fair assessment is that the pivotal role of Florida in Presidential elections is the sole reason we continue and increase self-defeating policies on Cuba and the Cuban people.

Few events in this political season have been as interesting as the recent press conference in Miami, given by Connecticut Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd.

He lays out a plan for 1. Ending the embargo, 2. Ending the travel ban, 3. Establishing diplomatic relations. His rationale is purely pragmatic, aimed at undoing 45 years of policy that has been demonstrably counter-productive, replacing it with one that is likely to have much more influence on the Cuban people and their desire to control their own sovereignty.

Dodd's 30 minute appearance--half of it a prepared speech, the rest, questions posed by the full range of Miami and Caribbean and Latin American journalists, many of whom appeared to be aggressively skeptical of Dodd and his Cuba platform plank--is an uncommonly contrarian view.

It's really a treat to see an American politician answer about a third of the questions which were posed in Spanish (for broadcast and reportage in Spanish throughout the Spanish-speaking part of our hemisphere) in his own fluent Spanish. Dodd spent two years in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps Volunteer after college. His advocacy of this radical about-face on Cuba is nothing new. He has advocated it for decades. And it is a bold step to make it one of his principal issues as a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Dodd, of course, has no chance of nomination, and carries some pretty toxic water on behalf of another group--AIPAC--that controls lots more votes and money than Cuban embargo supporters.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The winner

This is the photo from the NYT announcing that Justine Henin had beat Serena Williams in straight sets.

This is just a guess:

Chin/Jaw? That's a lot of chin.

Musculature of biceps and forearm: Is it an arm...or, a leg?

Breasts? AWOL, it would seem.

Likelihood this athlete is juiced? Who knows? Pro athlete? Pretty high.

I've been playing handball/racquetball for 47 years, started it at 17. It is a challenging game, mostly one-on-one (more and more it's a doubles game for guys my age, two-on-two) and after playing a long match I feel good-but-spent. Next day I hurt. Time for Vitamin I (eye), that's Ibuprofen. Actually, skipping the analgesic is OK. A half hour of warming up--throwing and hitting--gets rid of the soreness, or, at least, puts it off 'til after the game.

So, I'm drugged, too--playing with an artificial boost from something (thank you, God) that lets me sleep and keeps the ache at a distance.

But, young players injecting exotic designer drugs/hormones/steroids to increase muscle mass (and jutting jaws) is something else. Bonds chasing the record, Olympic swimmers, Tour de France cyclists, high schoolers. It seems to be more the rule than the exception.

I'm from the Ben-Gay league. The analgesic fumes in the locker room are near-toxic. And, we all know that we are playing at the limits of what aging bodies (supplemented by a dollop of bullshit/bluster and an occasional really good shot) can sometimes deliver.

Something pushes this generation to want to live in a drug-soaked and dishonest world. These kids are gonna make themselves sick, maybe kill themselves, long before their time. Do they enjoy the play? Or does their kick come only after a WIN, a big purse, a tell-all photo in The New York Times.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I check in on only three national bloggers: Kevin Drum, TBogg and Digby. And Drum is the best of them...

He excerpts this from a column in the L. A. Times:
Part-time food service employees are seeking the same health benefits — including coverage for their families — that their full-time counterparts enjoy. Extending these benefits to cafeteria staff who currently work only three hours a day would cost an estimated $40 million a year, according to school board calculations.

....This is fat that the food service's too-lean budget simply doesn't have. If health benefits were extended to these part-time workers, the CFPA estimates it would mean that the per-plate meal budget would be reduced from 85 cents to 49 cents. Making healthy food available for that amount would take a miracle of biblical proportions. So we'd be improving the healthcare of nearly 2,000 part-time workers at the expense of the 500,000 children who eat in public school cafeterias every day.

And Drum, blogging at Political Animal, gives analysis/reaction that pegs it precisely:

"I would happily pay for universal healthcare just so I never had to read an op-ed like this again. It's not that Williamson doesn't have a point, it's just that this beggar-thy-neighbor attitude is enough to make me retch, and I see it all the time. I don't get dental coverage, so why should grocery workers? My copay went up last year, so why shouldn't everyone else's? I don't pay for healthcare for my housecleaners, so why should I pay it for school cafeteria workers? Our wretched private healthcare system has turned us into a nation of spiteful and small-minded misanthropes.

It's true that the growing gap between public workers and private workers is a real problem. In the past, there was something of a tradeoff: public sector workers generally got paid less than private sector workers but made up for it with job security and benefits. Today, though, public workers generally get higher salaries and better benefits and more vacation and earlier retirement and more lucrative pension packages compared to comparable private sector workers. And private sector workers are understandably annoyed by this. But their annoyance would be better directed not at the lucky public sector workers, but at the mahogany row executives and conservative politicians who pretend that the only possible use for the mountains of cash generated by decades of economic growth is to give it all to mahogany row executives and the billionaires who contribute to conservative politicians."

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Odessey? Wasn't she a minor character in an early Faulkner novel?

Out of the desert: Coming home from the war; Odessey begins

The story of the American experience in Iraq is evolving, from how the war should be fought to how it should end....
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel head and lead, 8/27/2007

For decades, now, copy editing has been one of the most persistent of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's many (since we're talking classics) fatal flaws. An Odyssey, by definition, can be a tragic tale (right so far) but it must be recounted from the moment of going out from one's home, to the return to that very place.

Crocker Stephenson--the author of today's piece-- is, perhaps, one of the MJS's better journalists. (Makes you wonder why he hasn't moved on.) Damn shame that putting his work in the hands of a summer intern on the copy desk makes it look banal.

Any genuine Iraq odyssey, as presented by the Journal Sentinel, would involve the beginnings, and that would mean dredging up the sludge produced by embedded scribbler, Kathy Skiba, in early 2003 when she donned desert camo and tripped lightheartedly off to war. And she sent back the vile crap that she later turned into a book...and a book tour. She should've been made to lend her fetid blend of bogus solemnity and banality to this "Home from the [porkchop] Hill" feature.

The stacks of that worthless, actively jingo, stinker of a book on remainder tables were monumental. When it continued to not sell, it made an "odessey" to the incinerator, where it just smoldered and gave off green fumes.

It hurts me to do this, but, here I am, actively happy to hear about book burning.

Just this once.

Just her book.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fast rail, rapid transit, whatever you call it, consider the possibility you'll really like it when it arrives....

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I grew up in a city that opened a light rail system in 1955. I was twelve years old and instantly mobile, able to travel to all different parts of the city of Cleveland, including the suburbs which had seemed remote and unapproachable to a kid from the near west side (the equivalent of, perhaps, KK and Oklahoma in Milwaukee).

I could be out at night during high school, certain that I could get home using a reliable transit system that ran a train every half hour until midnight.

And during the past three years, I have spent a total of about five months (in 2-week chunks) in Boston. The "T"--that transit system in the mythic folk song on which "the man who never returned" rode the rails--was pure pleasure. I had to get all over town and was continually amazed at the interesting variety of people with whom I would share the T on those trips. Students--both high school and younger, professionals, professors reading student papers as they rode, families, people in work clothes, people headed downtown to entertainment and restaurants, people with enough to drink in them that they'd be a menace on the highway, but were just sleepy people getting home legally and safely.

Getting from my sister's house in Brookline to Logan airport was pure $25 dollar anguish in a taxi, a snap--for a buck and a quarter--on the T, even (especially) at rush hour.

Many riders carried a book or newspaper they were reading. Women often carried their dressy shoes and wore the kind that allowed them to walk eight or ten blocks to a stop/station. There was always lots of conversation--not all in a familiar language.

Call me out-of-step for not liking the tedium of driving to Milwaukee alone in my car. I'd love to go there oftener if I didn't have to put up with the isolation, the tension of dealing with lane-changing, tailgating and bird-flipping fellow happy motorists. All followed by parking meters, after cruising to find one that's available.

You have to experience fast rail, probably have to have experienced it from an early age to appreciate its most civilized aspects.

We will have it, but not on reasonable terms. Once the easy and cheap availability of energy/ oil declines and happy motoring becomes impossibly costly for most people, we'll build it. But we won't grow into it. Many will see it as a comedown. Most will grind their teeth over all the money we threw away on mostly useless freeways as we pay again to get a system that will work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I have a lovely niece, Rosalie, from Boston. She flew out to Wisconsin and Illinois for a few college visits, squired about by her crusty uncle.

She's beginning her senior year in September.

We had an itinerary that included Loyola, Northwestern and Lake Forest, the three of them laid out in a straight(ish) line along the Lake Michigan shore. Loyola was the first shock: $27 thousand for tuition, and another $9 thousand for room and board. That's bare bones. No bookstore, no travel, no cappuccino at Starbucks.

Whew. My whole education in the the early 60s totted up to the grand total of $1850./Yr. That was $7,400 for the sheepskin, including three roundtrips from Cleveland to Austin, Texas. These days it's hard to get out of the bookstore for eighteen fifty.

On the other hand....I worked for $1.375/hr in the A&P the two years before college--a job that gave me the honor of being a member of a union. I liked being in the RCIA (Retail Clerks International Association); our negotiators drew a line after my first year--no more increments discussed in terms of a dime, we were negotiating increases in eighths of a dollar. We settled a contract for dollar thirty-seven and a half, per hour; the company got what they wanted on work rules. Next time the contract expired, we shot for another eighth--back to round numbers at a buck fifty.

The point of this is to compare--then and now--the relative balance between wages and the cost of education: My four years of working paper routes, right up to my sixteenth birthday, earned me my private high school tuition ($135./yr), plus spending money and still left $600 savings in the parish credit union. The two years(actually 21 months) at the A&P, earned $1980. [How do I know? you ask. Everyone in entitled to get wage and SS contribution information from the Social Security Administration. If you're not getting this annually by mail from Social Security, request it now]

The upshot was that I was able, out of my own savings, to pay cash for most of my first two years of college. I was gonna be about eight hundred short each of the last two years. That was not impossible to handle. Parents to the rescue. And a loan from the parish credit union was there for the taking. Hell, I was good for it; they'd known me since I opened an account at age 11.

Getting a baccalaureate today involves high finance, big debts. Ratios of typical teen- and college-age wages(assuming 16 hrs a week) and cost of education are getting shockingly out of phase. For me in 1961 it was $22/wk--take-home wages and $1850/yr--cost of college.

Today a grocery clerk (comparable to my good union wage, for 16 hours) might take home $148/wk, while the cost of a year of comparable education (I checked the web page of my alma mater) is $29,000/yr including tuition, R&B, books and travel from the midwest to central Texas.

Wages have increased over the years such that a high school-age grocery clerk makes about 6.6 times as much as the same worker did in 1961 while education costs have multiplied by a factor of 15.6. It is now nigh impossible for a working class kid to put him/herself through college, in a typical four year stint, without shouldering a crushing load of debt.

I hope Rosalie gets some good scholarships. She's earned it: hard-working and--as her dad would put it-- wicked smaht.

But, whatever the assistance, it'll involve being in the hole--deep in a hole--at graduation time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The masters of sprawl are hurting...

NEW YORK (Aug. 8) - Luxury home builder Toll Brothers Inc. said on Wednesday that it expected to report a decline in quarterly home-building revenue as the U.S. housing crisis deepened.


Pending completion of an impairment analysis, Toll estimates its pretax write-down for operating communities, land and land options for the quarter at $125 million to $175 million.

Looking to indicators of future revenue results, Toll said net signed contracts were down 31 percent from a year earlier to $727.1 million.

The third-quarter cancellation rate was 23.8 percent compared with the prior quarter's rate of 18.9 percent.

Toll Brothers Builders specializes in building 5,000 sq.ft. chipboard-and-vinyl suburban palaces, mostly on the east coast. As anyone can plainly see, they are in the dumper, probably for good. The thing that seems to be killing them is "...operating communities, land and land options..." What this means is that--in anticipation of this sprawl boom continuing unabated, forever--they have put out huge amounts of money to buy up farmland and other exurban tracts, with plans to keep selling tract mansions to people with big dreams, skinny down payments and access to cheap cheap cheap mortgage money.

Now that one of every four "buyers"-- people who put down earnest money and told the Tolls to build 'em a house--have backed out during the last three month reporting period, the Tolls are carrying an unsustainable burden of debt. All that land, all those options they purchased on more land, all the half-finished subdivisions are killing them.

The ugly part is that these high rollers will escape with their personal fortunes intact, their kids' trust funds untouchable. Their employees and sub-contractors and suppliers are the ones that will live and die and bleed.

Their corporations and partnerships will go belly-up, but the masterminds will be able to slink off to Caribbean hideaways, while all the working people get stiffed.

But, why would Waterblogged give a rip about a bunch of suits named Toll, in Horsham, Pennsylvania? Waterblogged does NOT, truth to tell, give rip about them. But the clones of the Toll trolls who operate here in Waukesha County do worry him. And, they ought to worry all of us.

Working people: carpenters and masons and plumbers, rockers and landscapers, electricians and roofers, real estate agents--all the people who have put their faith in the housing boom are about to get hammered.

And it is Pabst Farms that is absolutely emblematic of what happens when the feckless clowns and greedy speculators who spin fantasy scenarios of Waukesha sprawl run up against reality.

Waterblogged is doing some close research on the Pabst Farms progress. Early indications are that the kind of results that Toll Brothers are reporting on the east coast are being duplicated here in Waukesha County.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reminds me of the story of the world's most indolent chicken plucker...

A farmer hired an itinerant on the day of a chicken kill, assured by him that he could make those feathers fly.

So at dawn chicken heads rolled and feathers got plucked. The farmer checked in just before lunch on the progress:

"How many bald chickens we got?"

NY Times
BAGHDAD, July 15 — An American general directing a major part of the offensive aimed at securing Baghdad said Sunday that it would take until next spring for the operation to succeed, and that an early American withdrawal would clear the way for “the enemy to come back” to areas now being cleared of insurgents.

“It’s going to take us through the summer and fall to deny the enemy his sanctuaries” south of Baghdad, General Lynch said at a news briefing in the capital. “And then it’s going to take us through the first of the year and into the spring” to consolidate the gains now being made by the American offensive and to move enough Iraqi forces into the cleared areas to ensure that they remain so, he said.

Thus, sayeth the chicken plucker:

"Well, after I finish this one and two more, I'll have three"

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Back from Journey. A 4,000 mile driving trip with the Cuba Caravan

It all started last year.

I did what I'd been planning for almost five decades--went to Cuba. I traveled with Pastors for Peace.

Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization, based in NYC (Harlem, actually), led by former Milwaukeean, the Rev. Lucius Walker. Lucius Walker founded Northcott Neighborhood House in the late 50s, got an MSW (Master of Social Work) at UWM in 1963, was a principal of the Triple O, a famously talented group that multiplied the effectiveness of many grass roots Civil Rights organizations by being the Organization of Organizations in Milwaukee during the 60s. And he did all this while serving a Baptist congregation and raising a young family in the city of Milwaukee.

Rev. Walker, at 75, is the liveliest, hardest-working, most focussed articulate and charismatic Community Organizer I ever hope to meet (and, hey, I once met Saul Alinsky). This year he is making his 67th trip to Cuba (18th with the Caravan, the rest with various groups and individually). Few Americans--and none in government--are as well prepared, connected and equipped to be the next Ambassador to Cuba, (once we get our relations with that nation under control, that is, out of the control of the American right wing) though one suspects that he would decline such an offer and continue to follow his pastoral calling.

Last year it was eleven days of peripatetic fund-raising through the midwest, followed by a conscious and public (right in the face of ICE, OFAC, Treasury, State and Homeland Security), dignified and respectful act of civil disobedience in going to Cuba with a hundred tons of humanitarian aid in the delightful company of a hundred fellow Americans, Danes, Scots, Brits, Germans, Mexicans and Canadians. We crossed the border at McAllen, Texas/Reynosa, Mexico, then left for Havana from Tampico International.

This year's route: Minneapolis, Duluth, Fargo, Sioux Falls, Rochester, Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City, Sterling Illinois, Columbia Missouri, Fayetteville and Dallas...

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Here's a typical Caravan vehicle--a bus, loaded with medical supplies and equipment, carrying six caravanistas from Ontario, Pittsburgh and Bloomington IN--which will be driven to the port of Tampico, Mexico, loaded on a freighter by the volunteers from the Mexican Longshoremen's Union, bus and all, and shipped to Cuba.
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Waterblogger's 13 year old pickup truck, my fellow-traveling caravanista from Germany, and our Iowa hosts on a stop at an Ames Iowa Organic farm.

The people of Rochester Minnesota, hosted the Caravan with a picnic potluck. Here, from the left: A Minnesota farmer who sells cattle and sheep in pairs to add genetic vigor and higher milk and meat production to the herds of several Cuban Farm Co-operatives; Sabine Caspar, a Caravanista from Hamburg Germany, making her tenth trip with Pastors for Peace; an amazing nun, who worked for years in Central America... and one of the drivers .

Home beckoned --the blogger had only two weeks to devote to the Caravan this year--after thirteen days on the road, so Waterblogged headed back from Texas as the rest headed to Cuba.

Next year in Havana.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson, Hoover Institution, among the first on the far right to warn of the impending Peak Oil food/fuel crisis.

Victor Davis Hanson, writer of some astonishingly bombastic stuff, gives his regular readers the word on Peak Oil, the end of happy (cheap) motoring and the sour results of sprawl that is devouring agricultural land.

The Impending Food Fight
By Victor Davis Hanson
Thursday, June 28, 2007
While we worry about gas prices, the costs of milk, meat and fresh produce silently skyrockets. So like the end of cheap energy, is the era of cheap food also finally over?

Since the farm depression of the early 1980s - remember the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 - farmers have gone broke in droves from cheap commodity prices. The public shrugged, happy enough to get inexpensive food. Globalization saw increased world acreage planted and farmed under Western methods of efficient production. And that brought into the United States even more plentiful imported food.

Continued leaps in agricultural technology ensured more production per acre. The result was likewise predictable: the same old food surpluses and low prices. My late parents, who owned the farm I now live on in central California, used to sigh that the planet was reaching 6 billion mouths and so things someday "would have to turn around for farmers."

Now they apparently have. Food prices are climbing at rates approaching 10 percent per year. But why the sudden change?

There have been a number of relatively recent radical changes in the United States and the world that, taken together, provide the answer:

Modern high-tech farming is energy intensive. So recent huge price increases in diesel fuel and petroleum-based fertilizers and chemicals have been passed on to the consumer.

The U.S. population still increases while suburbanization continues. The sprawl of housing tracts, edge cities and shopping centers insidiously gobbles up prime farmland at the rate of hundreds of thousands of acres per year.

In turn, in the West periodic droughts and competition from growing suburbs have made water for farming scarcer, more expensive - and sometimes unavailable.

On the world scene, 2 billion Indians and Chinese are enjoying the greatest material improvement in their nations' histories - and their improved diets mean more food consumed than ever before.

The result is that global food supplies are also tightening up, both at home and abroad. America has become a net food importer. We seem to have developed a new refined taste for foreign wines, cheeses and fresh winter fruits even as we are consuming more of our corn, wheat, soybeans and dairy products at home.

Now comes the biofuels movement. For a variety of reasons, ranging from an attempt to become less dependent on foreign oil to a desire for cleaner fuels, millions of acres of farmland are being redirected to corn-based ethanol.

If hundreds of planned new ethanol refineries are built, the U.S. could very shortly be producing around 30 billion gallons of corn-based fuel per year, using one of every four acres planted to corn for fuel. This dilemma of food or fuel is also appearing elsewhere in the world as Europeans and South Americans begin redirecting food acreages to corn-, soy-, or sugar- based biofuels.Corn prices in America have spiked. And since corn is also a prime ingredient for animal feeds and sweeteners, prices likewise are rising for poultry, beef and everything from soft drinks to candy.

There is currently more corn acreage - about 90 million acres are predicted this year - than at any time in the nation's last half-century. But today's total farm acreage is either static or shrinking; land for biofuels is usually taken from wheat, soybeans or cotton, ensuring those supplies grow tight as well.

In the past, the genius of our farmers and the mind-boggling innovation of American agribusiness meant that farm production periodically doubled. Indeed, today we are producing far more food on far fewer acres than ever before.

But we are nearing the limits of further efficiency - especially when such past amazing leaps in production relied on once-cheap petro-chemicals, fuels and fertilizers.

As in the case of oil, we've gone through these sudden farm price spikes before. My grandfather once told me that in some 70 years of boom-and-bust farming he only made money during World Wars I and II, and the late 1960s.

But this latest round of high food prices seems coupled to energy shortages, and so won't go away anytime soon. That raises questions critical to the very security of this nation, which may have to import as many agricultural commodities as it does energy - and find a way to pay for both.

The American consumer lifestyle took off thanks to low-cost fuel and food. Once families could drive and eat cheaply, they had plenty of disposable income for housing and consumer goods.

But if they can't do either anymore, how angry will they get as they buy less and pay more for the very staples of life?

Victor Davis Hanson is at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War."
I'd have never thought this kind of clear-headed discourse was even possible coming out of Hanson. But, he's a gentleman farmer and a classicist on top of being at the farthest edge of the right-wing. Lots of reactionaries are reacting badly to this uncommonly thoughtful and readable column from one of their own going off the reservation.

See the whole article, with reader comments, at
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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.