Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sixty years ago today....

The fledgling United Nations boldly stated

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

I call for a recommitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes that "the inherent dignity and... the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

I accept and respect the principles outlined in the Declaration and call on my government and the newly elected President of the United States to recommit to the Declaration and lead the world by example.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Just when millions are losing their health insurance...

At just the moment all Americans are staring in the face of an economic outlook that ranges from stressful to disastrous, comes this snapshot of current health status. Researchers found that "85% of Americans rated their own health as "excellent," "very good," or "good" in the on-going assessment of status of Americans over the age of 18.

But, the details of their own reports of indicators of ill-health, specific diagnosed conditions and unhealthy-but-not-disabling (yet) vulnerabilities reveals that they might be a great deal less healthy than they think.

Greta Kilmer, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control, and the lead author of the the report detailing status for 2006 says: "It may be that people are engaging in risky behaviors that will come back to hurt them. Most chronic diseases take time to affect your health."

Saturday, November 22, 2008


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And ye shall beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks; neither shall you study war any more. Variously attributed to the prophet Isaiah, the prophet Micah and numerous non-religious wise men through the ages.
And the last thing we'd want to do is leave all those swords and spears laying around on the erstwhile battlefield after the soldiers have headed home, some horizontal, some addled and broken, others hooting about "Mission Accomplished".

Is anyone gonna clean up this mess?

Yes, of course. That's called Logistics.
I became an expert in questions of movement of armies and Bonaparte's dictum that armies travel on their stomachs by referring often to the astonishingly tragic and heart-breaking story told in this graphic by Charles Joseph Minard. The subject: Napoleon's Moscow campaign of 1812.
They were no match for the vicissitudes of weather, terrain and fleas. Typhus-ridden fleas which Grand Armee bedded down with in the countryside as they foraged their way into Russia that summer. Fleas probably killed more of Napoleon's men than the Cossacks did. And each new day brought the choice: ride that horse or eat it.
The Czar's crafty military strategy was to stay fifty miles ahead of Napoleon's column, slaughtering and burning everything edible, a day or two before the enemy planned to capture and eat it.
Fast forward 200 years.
Merely looking at the map of Iraq suggests the difficulties in removing hundreds of thousands of men and women and $$$Tens, probably hundreds, of Billions $$$ of materiel and equipment from that place. Iraq's bordering states: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia present a simple fact: everything has to leave by way of the single port on the Persian Gulf, on ships that must travel practically within hollering distance of the Iranian coast, then make a hairpin turn while wriggling through the 30-mile-wide Straits of Hormuz.

With the shortages of enlisted troops, my guess is that the Armed Forces of the US have been paying scant attention to training for the coordinated withdrawal of all those people and all that gear.

It's "physically impossible," says "a top officer involved in briefing the President-elect on U.S. operations in Iraq," according to Time Magazine.

In a nutshell, the Pentagon's argument couldn't be simpler or more red-bloodedly American: We have too much stuff to leave Iraq any time soon. In war, as in peace, we're trapped by our own profligacy. We are the Neiman Marcus and the Wal-Mart of combat. Where we go, our "stuff" goes with us - in such prodigious quantities that removing it is going to prove more daunting than invading in the first place....

Some have estimated, however, that simply getting each of the 14 combat brigades still stationed in Iraq on January 20, 2009, out with all their equipment might take up to 75 days per brigade. (If you do the math, that's 36 months, and even that wouldn't suffice if you wanted to remove everything else we now have in that California-sized country.)

Read the whole story by Tom Engelhardt here at Truthout.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Studs Terkel 1912 - 2008

Studs talking with Amy Goodman on the radio last year
on his 95th birthday.

Amy Goodman: Last words for young people today?

Studs Terkel: My epitaph is Curiosity did not kill this cat.

And ya ain't done nothing
if ya ain't been called a Red.
If you marched or agitated,
then you're bound to hear it said.
So you might as well ignore it
or love the word instead.
Cuz ya ain't been doing nothing
if ya ain't been called a Red. Faith Petric

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I did a little research today...

It's easy in the City of Waukesha to research information on the ownership, price-paid, tax valuation, estimated full market value, as well as details on year-built, lot size, amenities, square footage of any residential property. All you need to know is the address. When a "sold" sign goes up on the real estate agent's sign, you can quickly learn what it just sold for.

Try it yourself: go to this link and plug in your own address.

I did it with a piece of information printed in some of the sludge-on-newsprint bundled with the daily Waukesha Freeman (disclaimer: I do not buy the Freeman: I can't use it; I have very little fish to wrap. I found it on the counter in the coffee shop this morning).

In a listing of recent sales/closings of real estate in City of Waukesha was this notation:
October 24, 2008 -- 2701 Sandra Lane -- $190,000.

The details were all there in the link (above) when I plugged in that address. It is a Condo:

Year built -- 1999
Last Sale -- May, 2003 -- $205,900
"Valid" sale -- means that it was an arm's-length (willing selller/willing buyer) transaction, not an "I sold it to my son for a buck" exchange.
Assessed Value -- $235,400. This was its valuation on the 2008 tax bill.
Total estimated Fair Market Value -- $257,700. This is an informal update to assessed valuation, hinting at what the owner would likely pay taxes on in a year in which all property is re-assessed. It goes w/o saying that it isn't in actually touch with present reality.
Recent Sale -- October 24, 2008, what was reported in the Freeman this morning: $190,000.

There is likely a very sad, if not painful, story here. The recent sellers' names are in the information, and they have my sympathy. It is public information. Just five years ago they paid Sixteen Thousand dollars more than they realized from the sale this week. Add in $8 or $10 thousand in selling expenses and it looks like economic slaughter. It is not unlikely they had to bring money to the closing.

What does this mean for thee and me?

If this keeps up (even though only a small minority of owners are selling their homes) the assessment process will use this and similar current sales information to gauge the value of all similar homes in the city at the time of the next re-assessment. That is likely to be scheduled within a year or two. The net effect of lots of properties currently languishing unsold or changing hands for severely depressed prices, will drive down everyone else's valuation. And the City of Waukesha's total tax base will shrink. For decades it has grown, every year, year-after-year. Now, it is beginning to contract.

And the cost of government: Municipal, County, Schools, VTAE will be spread over fewer-than expected households, less tax base

In the past, homeowners met higher valuations of their property with mixed emotions. They typically enjoyed the notion of their property being worth more (on the assumption that the assessor's valuation was correct and that one could realistically expect to sell the property for the assessed amount or more). And they knew from experience that when the tax base is expandinging (that's what sprawl is all about) tax rates do not usually go up very much since there are more properties/taxpayers on whom the costs are spread.

There is every reason to believe that--with a huge number of houses in Waukesha for sale-- that other sellers are hearing their own personal real estate bubble POP as they take whatever offer comes their way.

A very nice house on the block where I live has been vacant for ten months, the owners-- now living in Menominee Falls--are paying on two mortgages. They came down a dime, will probably have to come down another quarter before it sells. I see them regularly, as they come back to the neighborhood to keep the landscape in ship-shape.

The anxiety is palpable.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A small, obscure report and a bit of history on delinquent taxes in Waukesha County...

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I asked Waukesha City Treasurer, Thomas Neill two weeks ago about how tax collections were holding up.

He wrote back:
Amount of real estate billed for 2007 (all taxing districts) $111,506,208. Amount turned over to the County on 7/31/08 was $773,879 (they make us whole and collect from that point on).
I do not have data readily available from prior years, but the County Treasurer might. I believe the amount uncollected from year to year is pretty consistent!

Background: The City of Waukesha sends out a tax bill that bundles together the bills for all the local taxing authorities--County Govt., WCTC, School District and Municipality. Same procedure for each city, town and village in Waukesha County.

Anyone who has not paid in full by July 31 is delinquent. The practice, embedded in State Law (see Wisconsin Statutes 74.57) is that the County Treasurer receives all the money collected by the end of July and disburses the amounts to each taxing authority. The County sends the full amount of the budgeted and assessed taxes to the City of Waukesha and all the others, even though some taxes are delinquent. That's what Neil meant by "...they make us whole....".

Tax collections on the late payers becomes the task of the County Treasurer. Because the penalties and interest on unpaid taxes are stiff, a lot of delinquent taxes get paid fairly quickly--to avoid further financial loss. And the Treasurer keeps the penalty money to finance the debt-collection work.

Our elected County Treasurer, Pam Reeves, provided some more information: once all the tax-supported entities had been "made whole" out of county funds (that is, they received monies equal to the amount levied by each taxing authority) she computes how much still has to be wrung out of the tax deadbeats. The amount of unpaid taxes for 2008 budget year is $9,762,678.34. And that's reported to the County Board, as displayed above.

So far, everything seems to be proceeding as expected. What Reeves showed me that I didn't expect is the large increase both in the number of delinquencies and in the aggregate total of taxes that are delinquent. Reeves, thoughtfully, penciled in the percent increase for 2007 over 2006. That's a big jump, almost 30 percent. And 2006 was 16 percent higher than the previous year, which was 13 percent higher than the year before that.

Looks like a trend. Relax, gentle reader; it isn't ugly...yet. But if the trend continues it will, indeed, be ugly.

As foreclosures increase, there will be more delinquencies...
As houses get sold for a fraction of their assessed value in foreclosure actions, the tax assessor's valuations will--by law--decrease...
As the aggregate assessed value of real estate in any given municipality decreases, the tax burden will fall on diminishing tax base...
As the tax base diminishes, the tax rate per thousand of assessed value will increase...

The key word is exponential.

And the last word on "exponential" is the ineffable wisdom of Dr Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder:

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This one is gonna vote for...

That One.

I deny that I had any hand in the (s)election of George W. Bush eight years ago, merely because I voted for Ralph Nader (and went to jail over my right to assert my position). And I continue to assert that no other Nader voter has any culpability for the rise of GWB.

Nevertheless, I call attention to the Obama/Biden political sign on my front lawn.

Note that it appears on the "gospel" side of the lawn. The bride controls the gospel side; and it is she who initially asserted support for Barack Obama. But, I have no Nader sign on the epistle side, nor will I plant one.

I'm gonna vote for the Democrat.

The victory may go to the Republican candidate and running mate. It is possible, though, today it does not seem likely.

The victory--no matter who wins--is likely to be on a close vote.

I still prefer Nader, for reasons I stated earlier this year, before either major party had chosen their nominee. But, in the present surreal world of American politics, wrapped in economic chaos, stewing in racial hysteria, inches from complete breakdown, which
...Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I'll take that one.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rowen's take on Water politics in Waukesha--with a kicker from Water Blogged....

What is likely to be quite troublesome for the Waukesha Water Utility over the next few years is that it has been virtually run by one guy for most of the past 21 years. A guy whose judgment seems to be increasingly--exponentially--faulty.

Daniel Warren, Water Utility President, runs what he believes is a tight ship.

o Over the past four years, there has been virtually absolute unanimity on the key decisions. Warren makes up an agenda that calls for a Closed (secret) meeting, and there's never a dissent, never a peep questioning the necessity/propriety of making still more faulty, in secret, decisions-- like those Jim Rowen recounted in this recent Political Environment blog post.

o He was investigated and found in violation of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law twenty seven months ago. Lackluster lightweight DA, Paul Bucher, (who has, mercifully, moved on) let him off the hook with a "give-a-hundred-bucks-to-charity" non-penalty.

o He has a key role in an evolving mess of financial jiggery-pokery at the Waukesha School Board (where he was recently installed as president). In 2006, as chairman of the School District Finance Committee, he made the case to the others on the School Board for borrowing money to invest in wildly speculative investments in CDOs--those once-nifty-now-worthless turds in the Wall Street punchbowl that underlie the current world-wide economic cataclysm.

o He is one the key actors in the development of Pabst Farms (evincing yet more faulty judgment).

o Twenty months ago he demonstrated astonishingly bad judgment and an unexpected recklessness by lurching into his SUV, and attempting to weave his way home on Hwy 16, late on a Saturday night with a BAC of 0.138, otherwise known as "shitfaced" and fallingdowndrunk.

It's time for Dan Warren to accept the thanks of this community for decades of work (a great deal of it quite competent and certainly useful) on the Waukesha Water Utility Commission and leave the remaining work of finding solutions to pressing problems to a diverse and broadly-experienced group of citizens. He should decline any nomination to a continued role as president during the last year of his current term.

It is also time for the Waukesha Common Council to see to expanding (and term-limiting) the membership of the Water Utility Commission. Warren has been able to dominate Commission decision making because it is packed (40%) with ex-officio members from the mayor's office and the Common Council and two other citizen-members, neither of whom shows much potential for leadership.

If Waukesha is to come to some resolution of its water supply and water quality problems, it will best be done by a new group of citizens and municipal leaders with common sense and a concern about living in the real world, citizens who are skeptical of development pipe dreams, consultant-driven schemes, and customer-be-damned secrecy in finding the right path to a solution to this community's water supply and water quality problems.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Down deep....

Down deep, where they connect with other Americans....

Down deep, where we try to connect with them as fellow human beings....

Down deep, where we listen for the indicators that they really understand what America is about....

Down Deep? They're shallow.

Vote Nader.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Local water politics, with regional implications.

The Waukesha Water Utility has been the private fiefdom of Daniel Warren and Gerald Couri for decades. These two are (or, until recently, were) the private citizen members who, between them, have held the seats (and the elected officer posts of President and Secretary) for approximately thirty-five years.

Couri's three year term is up on Wednesday and Mayor Larry Nelson has replaced Couri with an unknown naif, who--as Nelson put it: "...volunteered to serve".

The new member showed up at the Thursday, Sept. 25 meeting and hesitated to sit at the table because he seemed to be unsure about whether his appointment had been ratified by the Waukesha Common Council.

Asked to respond to the welcome by the assembled Commissioners, Allen Roeker described himself simply as a mechanical engineer who "...has some experience with fluid mechanics...". That little resume tidbit is right up there with a candidate's claim to foreign policy experience a la: "On a clear day you can see all the way to Russia from Alaska".

It was pretty clear that he is a complete-blank-slate newcomer to the issues that face the Commission. He's never been seen at a commission meeting in the three years Water Blogged has followed water politics in Waukesha. He has no publicly-stated position on any issue that faces the commission. He's a prime candidate to be a new water-carrier for Daniel Warren.

I offer my sincere wish that he serve a useful term representing the interests of Waukesha rate-payers and citizens as he assumes the responsibilities of Water Utility Commissioner.

[Full disclosure: I offered my services to Mayor Larry two years ago; Mayor Larry declined. And, who could blame him? I told him that I thought the Commission needed some "loyal opposition;" Mayor Larry told me--in so many words--that he didn't need any opposition; he needed heavy duty conformity.]

Larry seemed, then, to need someone who would follow the Water Utility's custom: never dissent; always vote in the affirmative when a roll call vote is called. Ask no serious questions. Do everything Daniel Warren (Commissioner for the past 21 years, Commission President for most of those years) proposes. Meet in secret session whenever Warren says he wants a secret session.

Most of all: Maintain the Water Utility's virtually unbroken record of unanimous approval of every matter requiring a roll call vote for over three years. (I say virtually unbroken because once--just once-- a Commissioner did cast a lone dissenting vote over a non-issue, approximately a year and a half ago. Before the next meeting, that commissioner had been replaced by Mayor Nelson).

Commissioner Roeker may, perhaps, have a source of advice on how to be a good and useful citizen volunteer. His wife, is Chair of the Waukesha Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board and a member of the City Planning Commission.

Dynastic politics?

Roeker's first highly visible challenge will be to assess whether the coming (probably December or January) whopping rate increase is crafted in a way that serves the citizens or the outrageous development-forever-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see interests of Mayor Larry and Commission President Daniel Warren.

Stay tuned....

Useful word to add to the "rescue" vocabulary....


Improvements that make things worse.

Pete Seeger's new CD reviewed in NYT

On this the day that we lower upon the shoulders of our children and grandchildren the cost of the mistakes of feckless, free-market, unregulated bucaneros, here's something by a guy who is 89 years old, and a lot smarter than Phil Gramm.

The lyrics of “If It Can’t Be Reduced” are taken verbatim from a resolution passed last year by the city council of Berkeley, Calif.

Its verse goes: “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.”

I merely pass this on in hopes that the double whammy of Pete and Berkeley induce purple-faced apoplexy in all the Wiggys out there.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Helen Waite now working for Senator Kohl....

Statement of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

On the Proposed $700 Billion Bailout

September 22, 2008

“I want to get answers to the serious questions about the bailout plan before I decide whether or not to support it. I want to know how the taxpayers’ interests will be protected, what the real cost of the plan could be, if the plan will be funded or just piled on top of our already mountainous debt, if it will include protections to prevent something like this in the future, and if the executives of the companies that are rescued by taxpayers will continue to receive multimillion dollar compensation packages. I recognize that Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke have a tough job, but the administration is asking Congress to provide nearly one-third of the total federal budget to the Treasury Department for this rescue plan. These and other questions need to be answered before we decide whether or not to approve it.”


Statement of Senator Herb Kohl on the same issue:

....Still waiting, Herb.

....Still waiting, Senator.

Senator Kohl regrets he's unable to speak today.

We can wait 'til hell freezes. Herb, "Nobody's Senator but yours" Kohl is hiding in the weeds. That slogan of his implies that nobody with a bunch of money can control his thinking, his voting, what he supports and what he condemns.

The only problem with that bold statement of principle and independence is that Herb is totally controlled by a single individual with a whole bunch of money: Himself. And he's a scared little rabbit, hiding in the bushes, quivering, frozen by fear and waiting for hand signals from his accountant.

There used to be a sign on the wall of the place my dad took his clunkers for repair.

If you'd like to discuss delaying payment 'til a more opportune time,
you'll need to see our credit manager, Helen Waite.
Need credit? GO TO HELEN WAITE.

The garage closed, Steve the mechanic retired....And Helen Waite went to work for a Senator.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oconomowoc Mayor letting us in on the good news he thinks he overheard...

Maury Sullivan, mayor of Oconomowoc, has made comments that are headline news at the Waukesha Freeman:

Target, Kohl’s, among potential Pabst Farms retailers?
Sullivan says ‘grapevine’ IDs them; developer claims no tenants signed

By JEFF RUMAGE - GM Today Staff

September 13, 2008

OCONOMOWOC - Mayor Maury Sullivan announced Thursday the names of four potential Pabst Farms Town Centre tenants that he said he heard “through the grapevine.”

At his annual “state of the city” address before Oconomowoc Area Chamber of Commerce members, Sullivan said he has heard Target, Kohl’s, PetSmart and OfficeMax are rumored as potential mall tenants, although Pabst Farms Developments and the town center developer, Developers Diversified Realtors, are keeping the tenants’ identities secret until negotiations are finalized.

Pabst Farms spokesman Thad Nation insists no tenants have signed on to the project.

  • "...through the grapevine...."

  • "Rumored as potential mall tenants...."

  • "Pabst Farms Development and the town center developer, Developers Diversified Realtors, are keeping the tenants' identities secret...."
  • "...Pabst Farms and DDR have said the mall will draw a regional base of customers. With Target, Kohl's and Office Max store locations already nearby in Delafield, Sullivan's announcement was not warmly received by Chamber of commerce members".

Meanwhile, in the real world other retailers and mall denizens are making big news, and they're not keeping identities secret:
(as of May, 2008; highly probable that many more have been added to this list in past quarter)
  • Ann Taylor is closing 117 stores nationwide.
  • Eddie Bauer to close more stores.
  • Cache is closing 20 to 23 stores this year.
  • Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, and Catherines are closing 150 stores nationwide.
  • Talbots, and J. Jill are closing all 78 of its kids and men’s stores. Now the company says it will close another 22 underperforming stores. The 22 stores will be a mix of Talbots women’s and J.Jill.
  • Gap Inc. will be closing 85 stores.
  • Foot Locker to close 140 stores.
  • Wickes Furniture is going out of business and closing all of its stores.
  • Levitz, the furniture retailer, is going out of business and closing all 76 of its stores in December.
  • Zales, Piercing Pagoda plans to close 82 stores by July 31. It has also announced that it is closing another 23 underperforming stores.
  • The Walt Disney Company subsidiary Children’s Place filed for bankruptcy protection in late March. Walt Disney, in a news release, said it has also obtained the right to close about 98 Disney Stores in the U.S.
  • Home Depot has 15 store closings.
  • CompUSA clarifies details on its store closings. Any extended warranties purchased for products through CompUSA will be honored by a third-party provider, Assurant Solutions.
  • Macy’s is closing 9 stores.
  • Movie Gallery is closing 160 stores as part of reorganization plan to exit. They plan to close 400 of 3,500 Movie Gallery and Hollywood Video stores in addition to the 520 locations the video rental chain closed last fall.
  • Pacific Sunwear is closing 153 Demostores.
  • Pep Boys is closing 33 stores.
  • Sprint Nextel is closing 125 retail locations.
  • J. C. Penney, Lowe’s, and OfficeDepot are scaling back.
  • Ethan Allen Interiors announced plans to close 12 of 300+ stores in an effort to cutcosts.
  • Wilsons the Leather Experts is closing 158 stores.
  • Sharper Image: The company recently filed for bankruptcy protection and announced that 90 of its 184 stores are closing.
  • Bombay Company: The company unveiled plans to close all 384 U.S.-based Bombay Company stores.
  • KB Toys posted a list of 356 stores that it is closing around the United States as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.
  • Dillard’s plans to close more stores.
  • Steve and Barry’s Clothing, which has 240 stores filed for bankruptcy.
  • Starbucks is in the process of closing 600 stores.
Barbaro, Michael. "Big Retailers Scaling Back Expansion Plans and Shutting Stores."
The New York Times. 2 May 2008.
Kingsbury, Kevin. "Restructuring Charges, Economic Environment Hurt AnnTaylor's Net."
The Wall Street Journal. 22 May 2008.
O'Donnell, Jayne. "Disney to Shutter 98 Stores; Home Depot Closing 15."
USA Today. 1 May 2008.
Associated Press. "Wilsons Leather Closing Stores."
Green Bay Press-Gazette. 16 February 2008.
Dow Jones Newswires. "Foot Locker 1Q Net Falls 82%; Backs Year Forecast." 22 May 2008.
WHAS-TV [ Louisville]. "Many Stores Closing Due to Retail Slump."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

GWB, humanitarian

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Arrived home after a day of cycling on the Sugar River Trail in Green County: New Glarus...Albany...Brodhead. Then, put on a pot of water to boil bi-color sweet corn (four minutes, not a second more) from a farmstand on the edge of Whitewater.

Life is sweet. And, I am grateful. Everyone on this earth should be so blessed.

Little to be happy about if you live in Cuba...

When Hurricane Gustav blasted across Cuba last week, causing untold destruction, the US offered humanitarian assistance in the amount of $100,000, but with this condition: it had to be distributed by right-wing Cubans on the island, friends of GWB, but opposed to the Cuban government. There would be no aid distributed through the Cuban government.

The Cubans told George W. Bush Thanks-but-no-thanks (roughly translated as "Go furgle yourself and your political conditions", though not in so many words.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jim Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation (CFN for those still squeamish about the lingo of disaster)... the vacation season winds down, this country greets a new reality. We miscalculated in Western and Central Asia. Russia still "owns" that part of the world. Are we going to extend our current land wars there into the even more distant and landlocked Stan-nations? At some point, as we face financial and military exhaustion, we have to ask ourselves if we can even successfully evacuate our personnel from the far-flung bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Russia exerts substantial financial leverage over the US in all the dollars and securitized US debt paper it holds. In effect, Russia can shake the US banking system at will now by threatening to dump its dollar holdings.

The American banking system may not need a shove from Russia to fall on its face. It's effectively dead now, just lurching around zombie-like from one loan "window" to the next pretending to "borrow" capital -- while handing over shreds of its moldy clothing as "collateral" to the Federal Reserve. The entire US, beyond the banks, is becoming a land of the walking dead. Business is dying, home-ownership has become a death dance, whole regions are turning into wastelands of "for sale" signs, empty parking lots, vacant buildings, and dashed hopes. And all this beats a path directly to a failure of collective national imagination. We really don't know what's going on.
Read more

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Changes at Pabst Farms

Here's two photos I took in February, '08, showing--predictably--that things were pretty slow out at the development next to the Interstate.

Anyone wise to real estate and development knows that people don't get into the lot-buying and house-building spirit until Spring.

Surely things would be different when the weather turned warm...

So, now that it's warm and getting toward the end of Summer...things are different....These photos below were taken yesterday.

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Top, Lake country Village. The other one is Interlaken, taken in the exact same spots as the previous ones. Beautiful sunny late Summer day.

Growth is bursting out all over. It's gonna be a big year at Pabst Farms, a growth year.

The growth of corn, the growth of soybeans.

Those self-mocking "Coming Soon..." signs have disappeared.

My guess? These development pipe dreams have evaporated. Soon the people of Cooney will begin to wonder when the TIF money will be paid back.

No, Thursday's Out. How about never....?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympics in Beijing....Who gives a rip?.

The first Olympics I remember was staged in Rome, in 1960. I was coming up on my senior year of high school, a complete non-jock, non-fan of any competitive sport, aside from Indians baseball and a little Cleveland Barons Hockey.

The evening news on NBC was 15 minutes, split between Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. There was little to learn about the Rome Olympics, though I do remember a certain amount of awed reporting about a Negro boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, named Cassius Marcellus Clay, coming home with a gold medal. It was good news to America.

Only later would that Olympian lose the adulation of Americans by converting to Islam, getting rid of his "slave name," and throwing away his gold medal. Worse...there followed his uttering the famously prosecutable declaration that he wasn't gonna go to Vietnam.

Why? Because "No Vietcong ever called me nigger".

So, tonight they will walk around the track in the biggest venue of the Beijing Olympiad, wearing patently ridiculous matching outfits (Oooohh, those kyoot hats.) in this great festival of competition and brotherhood, and excellence, and striving, and humble acceptance of the laurels awarded to the victors.

I don't want to know who won, who ran, who stumbled, who got interviewed the most, who was most up-close-and-personal. I don't much care about the agony of defeat (Do they still show that hapless--and probably headless-- skier wiping out on the jump?) nor the thrill of victory.

A whole bunch of Olympic athletes are straight arrow, macrobiotic, drug-free, idealistic, hard-working, monomaniacal strivers. To them, I say good luck, and have a good time.

And, then, there's that whole different bunch of them who are juiced on a variety of steroids...and uppers...and downers...and designer cocktails of performance-enhancers...not to mention Bovine Growth Hormone, (the BGH crowd are clearly the greatest performers, though the recurring problem is getting them to come out of the shade to line up for the start). The Olympics has come to signify nothing so much as the pharmaceutical route to glory and bucks.

Who is juiced? Who is going it alone on sheer will and guts and Wheaties? Who is relying on a little help from his/her friends in the laboratory? Who knows?

I don't want to observe the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, only to learn later that the race was finally decided only after days and weeks and months and years of comparative/competitive urinalysis.

I'm not watching.

And maybe I'll be missing something. Something like the maturation of Muhammad Ali, something like the John Carlos/Tommie Smith declaration from the winners' stand that there are some things even more important than bringing home the Gold and the Bronze, and the Green.

I'll take my chances. Wake me when it's over.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

This is War

Howard Schweber, an assistant in the professorial ranks at the U., squeaks and squawks about hair-splitting definitional stuff: primary and secondary boycotts.

Screw that stuff. This is war. WMC and its Board (which once included David Wittwer, President of TDS Metrocom and Cullen, the head of J.P. Cullen & Sons) have a right to organize and spend WMC money and deploy WMC staff to carry out programs and policies and objectives of the group. Both Wittwer and Cullen were members of the Board of Directors of WMC during the run-up to the recent Supreme Court election. They made policy, spent money, hired an executive to carry out those policies using the budgeted money. All part of their war--with other fronts including Annette Ziegler and the attempt to sabotage important elements of the Great Lakes Compact--on us.

Wittwer and Cullen and the rest were not merely a bunch of friends debating issues and issuing white papers, speaking for like-minded right wing guys. They were leaders of a big, powerful, moneyed gang that set out to work against the interests of working people in Wisconsin, that set out to buy a Supreme Court that they could count on to back their political program.

I think I may have been the one to get the "boycott" started last March 13, when I wrote to Wittwer, at TDS. I had been a customer (a very satisfied one, I might add), but I told him I was dumping him and his company. Why? Because he was making policy, spending money, deploying and directing WMC staff to try to stick it to me. Out there in the political arena.

Wittwer wobbled, then caved in-- quit the WMC Board. And I have stayed with him as a customer. Cullen, apparently did the same thing when he got a vaguely similar ultimatum from Epic. I admire Epic CEO Judith Faulkner's delicately stated approach to putting the same shape up or ship out ultimatum to Cullen.

Different style, but we did the same thing. I've talked here in the language of war. In fact, I'm a pacifist--fiercely combative, but a pacifist nonetheless. And, I'm a fairly cooperative anarchist, to boot. When I refer to engaging in "war" I'm talking about doing it within Gandhian precepts. They use thug tactics, we respond with non-cooperation. They act as mercenaries for huge unnamed, out-of-state interests, we call them on this and refuse to patronize their commercial outlets. They do stuff that threatens our livelihoods and freedoms, we squeeze them economically.

But, war it is. And Howard Schweber sits on the sidelines squeaking and squawking and picking nits over the definitions of different kinds of boycotts. No thanks, Howie. We've sifted and winnowed. Now it's time to act.

WMC is waging war on us. They started it; we'll finish it. We'll win.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charles Hugh Smith, polymath California blogger...

Smith is one of the best creators of visual display (charts and graphs) of complex human economic situations. His Blog post for today puts it bluntly and vividly:

U.S. Lifestyle + "Healthcare" = Bankruptcy
How and why is the U.S. going bankrupt? Let me count the ways. There's the debt/housing bubble popping, the inexorable rise in energy and food costs, the trillion-dollar war in Iraq, the Pentagon and Homeland Security budgets, the pork spending, ethanol subsidies, and so on.

But the two 800-pound budget-busting gorillas in the room nobody wants to face are our unhealthy lifestyle and our unsustainable, dysfunctional "healthcare" system...

(read the rest)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A little Progress on Water Utility Secret Meetings...

Waukesha Water Utility Commission meets today at 5:30 PM

Another secret meeting, more finagling, more unwillingness to include the rate-paying public in decisions that will hugely affect future rates.

The "progress"?
It appears that they are under pressure to be more forthcoming about the matters to be discussed in secret--detail highlighted below in blue.

Meeting Agenda
Waukesha Water Commission
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Time: 5:30 P.M.
Place: Water Utility Conference Room
115 Delafield Street
Waukesha, WI 53188-3615
The agenda to date is as follows:



A motion will be made to go into closed session to discuss the following:

a. Pursuant to Sec. 19.85(1)(e), Wisconsin Statutes, discussion of several potential municipal sources of Great Lakes water supplies, along with return flow options, and the potential costs associated with the supply and return flow options.

Upon conclusion of the closed session, a motion will be made to reconvene in open session pursuant to Section 19.85(2) for

possible action on matters discussed in closed session.

Wisconsin Open Meetings Law
Wis. Stat. § 19.81-19.98

19.81 Declaration of policy.

(1) In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

(2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

(3) In conformance with article IV, section 10, of the constitution, which states that the doors of each house shall remain open, except when the public welfare requires secrecy, it is declared to be the intent of the legislature to comply to the fullest extent with this subchapter.

(4) This subchapter shall be liberally construed to achieve the purposes set forth in this section, and the rule that penal statutes must be strictly construed shall be limited to the enforcement of forfeitures and shall not otherwise apply to actions brought under this subchapter or to interpretations thereof.


[This is the text of the exemption the Commissioners traditionally invoke:]

Sec. 19.85(1)(e), Wisconsin Statutes

Deliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

This isn't anything new...what is fascinating is how it was reported, and by what news agency....(jump to the bottom of the report)

This popped up on The New York Times web page a few minutes ago. Bad enough that bad economic news is everywhere. Now, the reporting of it is being outsourced to Bangalore.
June 3, 2008

Toll Brothers Reports $93.7 Million Loss

Filed at 7:33 a.m. ET

(Reuters) - Toll Brothers Inc , the largest U.S. luxury home builder, posted a narrower-than-expected second-quarter loss on Tuesday, hurt by weakened demand in most markets amid the nation's housing slump.

The net loss totaled $93.7 million, or 59 cents per share, and compared with a profit of $36.7 million, or 22 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell 30 percent from a year earlier to $818.8 million. Home-building revenue totaled $818 million, also down 30 percent.

Analysts had forecast a loss of 96 cents per share on revenue of $807.2 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Excluding write-downs, Toll said quarterly profit was $81.3 million, or 49 cents per share. Toll said it posted pre-tax write-downs of $288.1 million.

The U.S. housing market has been in a tailspin as demand falls, prospective purchasers find it tougher to obtain financing, foreclosures soar, and builders cut prices.

"Demand continues to be weak in most markets as our clients worry about selling their existing homes or entering the market before prices stabilize," Chief Executive Robert Toll said in a statement.

To navigate the downturn, some builders have shifted their focus to survival, turning the excess land and inventory accumulated during the boom times of 2002 to 2006 into cash.

Toll said its backlog at the end of the second quarter fell 50 percent from a year earlier to $2.08 billion.

The company also said net contracts signed during the quarter, after cancellations, totaled 929 homes, down 44 percent. In dollar terms, net contracts fell 58 percent to $496.5 million.

In December, Toll Brothers had posted its first quarterly loss in 21 years as a public company.

Toll shares closed Monday at $20.96 on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares are up about 8 percent this year.

(Reporting by Tenzin Pema in Bangalore; Editing by Quentin Bryar)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

He was not in the US Senate at the time, but this is what Barack Obama had to say on Bush's Iraq War Resolution:

He’s a bad guy. The world, and the Iraqi people, would be better off without him.

But I also know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors, that the Iraqi economy is in shambles, that the Iraqi military a fraction of its former strength, and that in concert with the international community he can be contained until, in the way of all petty dictators, he falls away into the dustbin of history.

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.

I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.
Delivered on Wednesday, October 2, 2002 by Barack Obama, Illinois State Senator, at the first high-profile Chicago anti-Iraq war rally (organized by Chicagoans Against War in Iraq) at noon in Federal Plaza in Chicago, Illinois; at the same day and hour that President Bush and Congress announced their agreement on the joint resolution authorizing the Iraq War, but over a week before it was passed by either body of Congress.

So... what did Senator Hillary Clinton have to say on that very resolution on the floor of the U.S. Senate?


Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day, 2008

The Iraq War has Become Suicidal

By Saul Landau

I gave a dollar to a shabbily dressed young man holding a “help me” sign on a Market Street in San Francisco. Most Saturday shoppers, many of them foreign tourists taking advantage of the cheap dollar, ignored him and the scores of homeless people hoping to score some spare change. Dave thanked me.

I asked him why he wasn’t working.

“My back hurts,” he explained. The pain began “outside of Baghdad.” He pointed to the base of his spine. “A mortar shell exploded. A couple pieces of metal lodged somewhere here.” He pointed to the base of his spine. “One of my buddies got hit in the eye. He’s worse off than me.” Dave said he was about to turn 26 and had lived on the streets for almost two years.

Heroin? I guessed.

He smiled.

“Some had it worse. Arms, legs, brains.”

I asked where he slept.

“Parks, under freeways, sometimes in homeless shelters if I have nothing that can get stolen,” he laughed.

I shook his hand and wished him luck. “Hey,” he called. “I haven’t killed myself yet like some of my buddies did.”

Dave was referring to the average of 18 veterans who kill themselves every day in the United States. “In California alone in 2006, 666 veterans committed suicide,” reported John Koopman. (SF Chronicle, May 12, 2008)

Dave might have been referring to Tim Chapman, also of San Francisco. Like Dave, he could not readapt to civilian life after his experience with war in the Middle East. Tim got on drugs. He joined a gang. His wife left him and he began to focus on ending his life, he told Koopman.

Throughout the country, communities cope with tens of thousands of U.S. troops returned from Afghanistan and Iraq with blighted bodies and brains. As long as Bush’s wars continue -- no candidate has pledged to withdraw all the troops -- the country faces a growing collection of veterans, many of whom cannot function in family or work settings. They suffer from war wounds -- physical and mental -- that require expensive treatment.

Even though the overall number of veterans has begun to decline as World War II and Korea participants expire, “the government expects to be spending $59 billion a year to compensate injured warriors in 25 years, up from today's $29 billion.” And reporter Jennifer C. Kerr cites the Veterans Affairs Department, which “concedes the bill could be much higher.” (Associated Press, May 11, 2008)

Those who don’t show injuries or don’t come in for or respond to treatment have become the highest risks. In 2005, CBS News began investigating suicides in the U.S. military. "120 people each week who had served in the military committed suicide. That's an average twice that of non-veterans," concluded a report from CBS’ Armen Keteyian (Nov. 13, 2007)

CBS asked Dr. Steve Rathbun, acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia, for a detailed analysis of suicide statistics obtained from government authorities for 2004 and 2005. From the figures, Rathbun found that veterans “were more than twice as likely to commit suicide as non-vets.” Iraq and Afghan War veterans, aged 20 through 24, had the highest suicide rate among all veterans -- between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000. The general population has 8.9 per 100,000.

In early April, a group of lawyers representing veterans’ rights sued in a San Francisco federal court. The suit claimed the VA had deliberately concealed the risk of suicide among veterans.

Attorney Gordon Erspamer put it generously: “Unfortunately the VA is in denial." Erspramer was referring to emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of Mental Health. Katz had insisted that the suicide risk for returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans was in normal range. "There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told CBS’ Keteyian last November. But in one 2007 email Katz wrote: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month [12,000 a year] among veterans we see in our medical facilities." That contradicted the number the VA gave CBS News (790 attempted suicides in 2007).

The e-mail, "Not for the CBS News Interview Request," began with "Shh!" Katz finished his email with: "Is this something we should (carefully) address ... before someone stumbles on it?"

Rep. Bob Filner (D-Ca), chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called this “a crime against our nation, our nation's veterans." (CBS News)

Katz later regretted his statement. “It was an error and I apologize [to the House Committee] for that." (CBS news interactive, April 23, 2008) Katz confessed he knew some 12,000 veterans a year had attempted suicide while being treated by the VA. That figure doesn’t cover those not under VA treatment. Katz wondered if "this is something we should (carefully) address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?"

Bush Administration officials are replete with sick jokes. Remember FEMA’s Michael Brown after Hurricane Katrina? The right wing bureaucrats saved their cruelest joke for those deployed and returning from the Middle East, almost 1.7 million men and women. Veterans suffering from wounds or traumas often observe their conditions worsening, leading to greater disabilities. The new vets know more than the ones from previous wars about getting their rightful benefits; thus, rising costs.

Because battlefield and emergency medical care have improved dramatically since World War II and Korea, and even since Vietnam, wounds that would have previously killed have become treatable. The number of vets collecting after Afghanistan and Iraq duty has grow to almost 200,000.

When Bush’s routine “special” request to continue the war appears before Congress, however, most Members -- and certainly not the President -- don’t focus on the disabled veterans. Since 2001, when Bush initiated his two wars, the number of partially destroyed vets has leaped 25 percent. 2.9 million Daves -- or far worse cases -- now populate the country. They join older vets from older wars as part of those who fit Franz Fanon’s description: the wretched of the earth.

Rick used booze, a habit he acquired in Vietnam where he served two tours of duty doing “search and rescue.” Within a decade after his return to the United States he became convinced that he saw malevolent shadows. These elusive entities manufactured parasites and directed them to burrow under his skin and have now followed him to the gas station near his Oakland street lodgings.

He has spent two decades battling that fear -- with the help of booze and other substances, of course. “The war was the most exciting time in my life,” he concluded as he scratched the spots where the imaginary entities had crawled under his skin. “You wonder why they would do it all over again.”

Tens of millions of Americans ask why Bush and his supposedly conservative advisors would again dispatch young men and women to fight a war that had no just cause and threatens to drag on endlessly. Millions ask: Why can’t the United States withdraw? Why doesn’t Congress just cut the funds? They shake their heads at the answers.

Civil war might break out. We can’t desert those poor Iraqis. Al Qaeda could claim victory. Our reputation, our prestige, our national conscience, blah blah blah….

Steve Smithson, a deputy director at the American Legion, told AP reporter Jennifer Kerr that suicide "is a cost of war."

Almost 24 millions veterans -- disabled or not-- watch their numbers dwindle as World War II and Korean War vets die. The VA projects that by 2033 only 15 million will remain, but it will cost more to deal with them. Compensation for disabled veterans, agency economic predict, will increase from today’s $29 billion to $33 billion -- at least. The disabilities mount, the injuries become more acute.

A RAND corporation study claimed some 300,000 ex soldiers suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than 320,000 had probably experienced traumatic brain injuries in combat.

The nature of Bush’s wars means “in Iraq and Afghanistan all service members, not just combat infantry, are exposed to roadside bombs and civilian deaths. That distinction subjects a much wider swath of military personnel to the stresses of war.” (Julian Barnes, LA Times April 18, 2008)


Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and director of WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE (available on DVD through

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don't waste that stuff! It costs more than four bucks gallon....

Had to drive to the airport this morning to pick up an arriving passenger whose flight from Boston got in at 7:40 am. I hit 1-94 east at Hwy. T in Waukesha with plenty of time, so I decided to see about making the trip at a steady 60 mph. I set the cruise control and moved from center lane (My commute-to-Milwaukee mantra has always been: get in the center lane and stay there) to the right hand lane, expecting to need to be out of the path of the typical 72 mph drivers on this stretch of road I've driven most days since 1973.

Over a five mile stretch, west of Moorland Rd, only three cars whizzed past. Virtually everyone else was going just about 60 mph. An F250 covered with racing decals (heading for Naptown and the 500, no doubt) was in the lane next to me, nursing every bit of mileage out of its gas tank, creeping along at 5mph UNDER the speed limit.

It seems that the price of gasoline has--at long-last--pushed MOST drivers to back off the throttle. Four bucks a gallon: that's the behavior changing number.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fannie Mae caves to Realtor/Builder Pressure. Coming June 1st: More insanely risky lending . . .

I did my first looking for a savings and loan--to lend me money for a house--35 years ago. Things were quite different then. We searched for a couple months, found a nice bungalow about nine blocks from downtown Waukesha, made an offer, got the acceptance back on a Friday afternoon. We went shopping for a mortgage on Monday morning, stopped in at eleven lending institutions before noon. Most were not taking applications.

I finally arrived at First Federal S&L on the corner of Grandview and Summit, ten blocks from home. Jerry Groh, a business-like lender, told me that the loan committee had just finished its weekly meeting, that if I had arrived earlier they could have acted on my application that day. They were lending money at 7.75%.

In that week we had to wait, we had two shocks: first, after a little small talk, Mr. Groh wanted to dig into (excavate, actually) our financial situation:
o Stability? Married four years.
o Employment? Two incomes; combined annual gross was just about as much as we wanted to borrow.
o Debt? Two used cars, both serviceable, both purchased for cash. We had to show him the titles, free-of-liens. No other debts except for a small balance on one of those newfangled Master Charge cards and about seven hundred dollars my wife was still paying on a loan she had taken out for college.
o Down payment? We had 20% in cash for a down payment.

Then... the flinty, gimlet-eyed Mr. Groh looked at us skeptically and asked the big question: "Is that your own money, or is some of it from your parents"? "It's ours. We saved it," we replied. (We actually had even a bit more in savings that we were planning to use to move up to a higher class of rummage to furnish our new house).

And Groh explained: "We're coming into rough times, financially. If I'm going to loan you this money. I want you two in the tank with me".

The housing scene in America would be a lot healthier if we still had lenders like Jerry Groh. I liked him, really liked him. He was my kind of conservative. Then, two unpleasant-but-unavoidable things cropped up after our talk: at the one-week-delayed loan committee meeting, the mortgage rate was up from 7.75% to 8.5%. Three quarters of a point in one week. And four years later, Jerry exercised the escalator clause in our agreement to push up the rate to 9%, proving that Groh's estimation of the economic future had been realistic. Interest rates nationally were on their way to 18%.

It was an introduction to the real world, a conservative world of housing, lending, inflation and "being in the tank" with a cautious and up-front businessman.

Not like today....

Fannie Is Poised to Scrap
Policy Over Down Payments


May 16, 2008; Page A3

Fannie Mae is expected to announce Friday that it is scrapping a policy requiring higher down payments on home mortgages in areas where house prices are falling.

The change comes in response to protests from vital political allies of the government-sponsored provider of funding for mortgages, including the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Home Builders and organizations that promote affordable housing for low-income people.

Those various groups have said the policy is hurting an already feeble housing market by shutting out too many potential buyers.

The current policy, adopted in December and now due to end June 1, limits loan amounts in areas with declining home prices, including most of the densely populated parts of the country.

For instance, if a loan program normally allows people to borrow up to 100% of the estimated property value, the maximum is cut to 95% in "declining markets."

Under the new policy that is taking effect next month, Fannie will have the same maximum loan percentages across the country for people purchasing single-family homes that they intend to occupy, according to people familiar with the plan.

For borrowers approved by Fannie's automated underwriting program, the maximum generally will be 97%. For those approved by other means, the maximum will be 95%. (Fannie also has some loan programs, typically offered through state or local housing agencies or nonprofit groups, that allow certain borrowers to make no down payment.)

Pabst Farms can't line up a few stores for their floundering project.

In Siberia, Shopping Malls Are Sprouting All Over

The problem is with store owners looking for more profitable locations

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why ask the DA to investigate for abuses of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law?

Sec. 19.81, Wis. Statutes:

A. The Legislature declares that state Policy is to

1. enable the public to have the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of government business,

2. ensure that meetings of governmental bodies are held in places reasonably accessible to the public,

3. ensure that such meetings are open to the public unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

I am a conservationist, a citizen mightily concerned about the problem of sprawl, the depletion of groundwater, the quality of water available throughout Waukesha County.

I believe that the Great Lakes Compact, when enacted, may be helpful and useful to Waukesha. But I believe that the mania for secrecy in the Waukesha Water Utility Commission serves no good end. This is a classic example of a small group of citizen-commissioners, serving for decades in relative obscurity on a low-status commission. With each passing year they become more persuaded that they alone know the secret, the path to solution to problems the water utility faces. Fearful of any dissent, the make their plans secretly, misapplying exceptions in the Open Meetings Law.

My theory is that they have persuaded themselves that since they are likely to be embroiled in lawsuits, both as plaintiff and respondent, that they can discuss any and all matters that might be remotely related to those lawsuits under cover of the exemption to the Open Meetings Law that permits, in limited instances, discussion of LEGAL STRATEGY with a lawyer in closed session. In light of Buswell, they appear to this citizen to be way over the line on "reasonableness" as articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year.

And, so, I have filed this complaint and details of what I see as violating the spirit and the letter of the law, with the district attorney of Waukesha County. It is a citizen's effort, without professional help. But, I believe I have hit the critical issues. This is, in truth, the the battle of development interests against more conservative, more cautious, more democratically-oriented citizen interests.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A memo from the boss:

To: All MJS journalists and editors
From: Martin Kaiser, Editor
Re: Icons and things iconic
Date May 12, 2008

Brett Favre is gone. No longer necessary to put "icon" in every story about him. It is time to let go.

Harley Davidson is a company that makes noisy overpriced motorcycles. Nothing "iconic" about them.

In the past six months, stories that have run in our newspaper have used the noun icon 38 times and the adjective iconic 75 times.

The next person who uses ICON I can.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pabst Farms is looking like a bust...

I took a self-guided tour of Pabst Farms in Feb/March, around the time of the last snow. This could be a suburban slum-in-the-making.
Pay particular attention to the last twelve (mostly caption-free) shots. This little Towne Centre collection of empty store-fronts is an brutal commentary on suburban sprawl gone wrong. Roll the mouse over and click on the rectangular thingy in the lower left corner for the captions on the photos.

Several months back I posted a piece about Toll Brothers, a big east coast (Horsham, Pennsylvania) builder/developer. They are in the kind of serious financial distress that needs only a few more months of recession to do them in.

The principal reason for their dire straits was reported as partially completed work on developments, combined with options they had purchased on land for ever more development. That is the bane of anyone with big plans for "build out," based on rosy scenarios for the future of a real estate boom.

Locally, the general partners in Oconomowoc (and, presumably, lots of limited partners) committed huge amounts of capital to purchasing the raw land, surveying it, platting it, greasing the slow-turning wheels of government, creating marketing hype, bulldozing, laying sewer and water pipe, paving/curbing, advertising, lining up "preferred" builders, creating synergy through allied development of a hospital, a research park, and a bunch of corporate warehouses, And the real biggie-- snagging an adjacent Harley Davidson dealership. Then they had to cook up their naming schema (shops neatly tucked into a Towne Centre), and the evanescent promise of a regional shopping mall--a destination mall-- with "high end" anchors (we don't need no stinkin' WalMarts, contaminating our Bon Ton-like and Lord and Taylor-ish destinations). And, of course finagling a $25 million interchange on Interstate 94 to funnel customers into their subdivision and mall.

Once a project like Pabst Farms gets rolling, it needs to stay on a pretty quick, well-disciplined pace . If, heaven forfend, the untimely bursting of a real estate bubble intrudes, the general partners are in trouble. And their biggest trouble often comes from the clamoring of all those limited partners who put up much of the capital. These are, typically, country club fat cats, lots of orthopedists and plastic surgeons, professionals who have big incomes and are desperate for a sweet tax dodge. They have--in the usual scenario-- put up lots of money; they expect, in return, their share of the huge (dare we call them inflated?) expenses of the developers, including the marketing hype. When things slow down and there's little operating cash from the sale of lots, the general partners have to scramble, go back to the limited partners for cash infusions.

Pabst Farms is very likely in the unfortunate situation of being stuck right in the middle. They really can't justify continuing to lay sewer and water pipe, pave, plat and market overpriced vacant lots ($110 thousand and up, assessed value) in phase two and phase three. They are still trying to get some return on investment from the sale of the last of the lots in the low-rent, and --frankly, cheesy--Phase One. Meanwhile they,the developers, have to pay real estate taxes on the lots that sit there unsold.

As soon as they switch from corn to platted/ready-to-build-on lots in phase 2 and phase 3, they are out of low-tax farming and into high tax subdivision territory. How high? The taxes one pays on a 1/3 acre lot valued by the assessor at $110,000. Continuing to plant corn on most of the Pabst Farms acreage is nothing more than a weak attempt to hold off a looming day of reckoning.

And all that costly-though-tax-deductible Everything Else Is Just Another Subdivision marketing hype, going back to 2003 and before, is beginning to fade in the sun, just like the signs for Interlaken. That's the name of Phase Three out at The Farms, a phase that looks more like a hallucination than a real possibility.

Update: Drove by PF last week. No more subdivision development. They're planting--YOU GUESSED IT--corn, lotsa corn.

Dave Barry on the Economic Stimulus Payment

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?

A. It is money that the federal government will
send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?

A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own

A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?

A. The plan is that you will use the money to
purchase a high-definition TV set, thus
stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of

A. Shut up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A new president comes into office in eight months . . .

All talk of bitterness and lapel pins will be put aside, in the interest of getting to the ISSUES:

o Gasoline costs four dollars a gallon.

o Airlines--most of them--are in the tank. Airports barely functioning for lack of landing fee revenue.

o Recession that was supposed to end in June has gotten worse in the last 6 months. When the numbers are released at the end of January it will probably be 4 straight down quarters. Unemployment surging with the collapse of retail. Service industry workers hardest hit. Many of the shops (including anchors) in shopping malls are shuttered.

o Detroit on life support. They mostly don't have the cars Americans need. Americans mostly don't have the money to buy anything with four wheels. Nobody can get a loan. Countryside littered with parked SUVs and big honkin' F250s, because the costs of repo are hardly justified by value of the carcass. (Tiny bright spot: bike sales and repair are brisk.)

o The housing/mortgage/banking nexus worsens as hints of the full enormity of the losses in the financial sector continue to dribble out.

o Families doubling and tripling up in suburbia.

o Corn/ethanol bubble is losing air fast. Farmers are back in the hole.

These are the minor problems that will take a back seat to . . .
The Biggies:
o Ending the war in Iraq.

o Universal Health Care.

A new President must do these two things, or the voters will turn against him/her, just as they did against G.W. Bush. Iraq is first on the list.

Closing out the Iraq fiasco will be a nightmare for American troops, nearly as bad as continuing. Look at the detail of a map of Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The only way out is the north/south route, down the narrowing terrain of that cinder of a country, toward the seaport where the tip of Iraq meets the tip of the Persian Gulf. The retreating Americans will either leave behind hundreds of billions in war materiel and equipment, or try to load the stuff on thousands of ships--all trying to maneuver in that bottleneck-within-a-bottleneck, the Straits of Hormuz.

Even with all the training that gets done by the Army, I get a feeling nobody has been practicing the art of orderly retreat. Actually, there's no such thing. Think Dunkirk, or--even worse--Bonaparte's Moscow disappointment.

A retreat, at the beginning of the end of an empire.

The Grande Armée Crossing the Berezina

Napoleon and a remnant of the Grand Armée trudged west, in retreat, out of Moscow and across Russia and Poland during the winter of 1812-13. Even though his army had been reduced from 422,000 to 150,000 by the time Bonaparte reached Moscow--only to find it empty (nothing to pillage; nothing to eat)--the worst part was the retreat. Imagine the heartbreaking scene on the banks of the River Berezina. Fifty thousand men waded into into an insignificant (but freezing) river in Poland; twenty eight thousand made it to the opposite bank. Where another eight thousand were killed by the Cossacks. Thousands of camp-followers presumably died as well, but nobody kept track of inconsequential collateral losses of the "comfort women" of Nap's officers' Corps.

"Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon's army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales".
Edward Tufte.
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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.