Like Water for Oil

September 13th, 2013

Though it is about energy, this article is highly relevant to managing our water resources as well:

Just substitute the word water for “energy”/”natural gas”/”electricity” wherever they appear in the article. The following tract gets at the conundrum the Madison Water Utility seems particularly stymied by:

“In addition, state regulators should reward utilities for helping residential, business and industrial customers use energy more efficiently, and stop the widespread practice of penalizing utilities when their sales level off or decline because customers are using less energy. When regulators set rates, they establish targets for utilities’ allowable revenues, and this unintentionally links the companies’ financial health to robust sales of electricity and natural gas. The problem can be solved if regulators allow modest annual rate adjustments that correct for any unexpected changes in utility sales.

“Half the states have instituted such “decoupling” systems for at least some of their investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities, but the process is taking too long and only one publicly owned utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has adopted these reforms. The rest should step up.”

Indeed. And this a model for conservation that has been promoted by citizens in the past. Unfortunately, this is an economic model (Econ 101-level) that seems to be alien to MWU management. Instead, they perform their incantation rituals for more drought to fill the utility’s coffers:

It will be more than three years since water rates have gone up for Madison Water Utility customers. The Water Utility had planned to file for a 12% increase in 2013, but officials say it was not needed because of high water use during last summer’s drought.

A forward-looking lot over at Olin Ave…..

Federal Highwaymen Paving Our Democracy Asunder

July 19th, 2013

I recently received this notice regarding, in their words:

…the metropolitan transportation planning process carried out by the Madison Area Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT), Metro Transit, and local units of government in the Madison metropolitan area….

The full notice was even more gobbledygookey cryptic; even a transportation geek like me had a hard time deciphering it. Specifically, they never cited what laws they were referring to.

Flying blind, I submitted comment anyway. You’ll find it below.

I went to the meeting.

There was only one other citizen there. (He had little to say other than moaning about the counter-flow bike lanes displacing parking spaces on campus.) It was a pitiful showing, but I think more indicative of the cryptic public notice than apathy on the part of citizens.

Federal policies are shaping our communities for decades to come. The question is, shaping those communities for whom? The Feds sent a phalanx of gray, middle aged, male bureaucrats. That’s whom. City/MPO did the same. (The lone woman bureaucrat present had nothing to say, so I assume she was on board with the highways.) It was all about building more, bigger highways for, by and of the dozen or so middle aged, white males present. Indeed, it was a cast worthy of the Soviet nomenklatura.

Oh sure, there was a crumb or two here & there to ameliorate a few of the many barriers to biking and walking presented by their megalomaniacal highways. And Bus Rapid Transit is but a pipe dream at the scale they are “planning.” They have no intention of funding it (thus the quotes). The crumbs and the fantastical are out there for window dressing only. Bait. Honeytraps. The stuff of Stockholm Syndrome. If we’re nice to our captors, embrace their manly highways, maybe, just maybe they’ll give us another bike path!

None of the MPO board members were there (except ex officio member, Madison Metro GM Chuck Kamp, who had to be there for job purposes related to the public notice).

Happy reading!

******

Madison Area MPO Comment

07/17/2013

by Michael D. Barrett

I have observed and participated in transportation and land use planning issues in Madison and Dane County for almost 25 years. I am trained as an urban geographer.

Here’s what I think of Federal funding priorities as planned by our MPO and prioritized by USDOT: It stinks. It’s all about highways. And your highways are nothing more than the new Jim Crow with a concrete face. It’s the epitome of Reverse Robin Hood, stealing from cities to promote rich suburbs. It’s about gated communities, but instead of gates you use concrete expanses to wall off the people you deem as undesirable – the carless, the aged, the young, the poor, people who are not white. Yes, I’m calling you racist. I’m calling you age-ist. I’m calling you classist. In other words you build landscapes for well-wheeled middle aged white men. Everyone else be damned. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your Federal policies militate against our community’s expressed political will. Over and over again the people of Dane County, Madison and surrounding  communities have elected stellar individuals who want to do the right thing. Witness electoral revolutions with the election of unabashed enviros like Kathleen Falk and Dave Cieslewicz and the very conservation-oriented council and board. In every League of Women Voters questionnaire for elected office virtually every candidate espouses transit, biking and walking over highways. Falk and Cieslewicz had made careers of fighting your highways. Plan after plan for this region, down to the neighborhood level, emphasizes community over cars, a clean environment over sprawl; inclusivity over segregation. The people’s voice is unequivocal: we want clean air, clean water, inclusivity, social justice and a land use/transportation paradigm that supports those goals. Furthermore, our elected officials explicitly ran on platforms promoting community cohesiveness, across race and class lines. Instead, your policies forced our elected leaders into making bad decisions that ultimately got them thrown out of office or blocked from higher office.

In other words your policies are overtly political. They militate against the will of the people.

Your federal highway funds proved to be a gusher, an endless source of cash, while you people constricted funds for transit, bicycling and walking. Everything our elected representatives stood for, your policies militated against.  Your policies backed Falk into a corner on the very unpopular US Highway 12 expansion. Her political base never forgot that, and she paid dearly for it. Without her most ardent supporters, she didn’t stand a chance for higher political office.  Similarly your policies forced road expansion onto us even under the leadership of the most ardent, pro-urban environmentalist ever to lead a city. Your easy highway money and shrinking transit money proved to be an embarrassment that alienated his base. Mayor Dave became Mayor Pave. When federal funds were used to jack up highway spending by 558% over the course of his tenure – 558%!!!!! – while slashing federal support for clean, city-supporting modes, the environmentalist mayor’s political base evaporated.

See this graph of the Madison City Budget? Now look at the top line. The one going straight up is paving, increasing at 558% during Cieslewicz’s tenure. The other lines are social services and parks: Flatlined during the same period. Now look at the debt that has been racked up to service your over-sized roads. Your highways are crushing our city’s budgets.

Your policies are overtly political.

Those elected representatives represented the will of the people. By embarrassing them with these anti-community funding priorities, you negated the will of the people.

You are a politically vindictive organization.

I oppose your anti-democratic policies. I oppose your racism. Your Neo-Jim Crow. Your social-exclusion-by-highway. Get out of our community, leave us alone. Return our taxes free of all strings and get out of the way while we build a sustainable city. We want a city that requires no war for our mobility. We want a city that protects our climate as we get around. We want a city that is protective of children’s lungs. We want a city that promotes healthy, active, neighborhood-friendly ways of getting around.  We want a city that is inclusive and for all people, not just the well-wheeled. We will no longer serve as suburbanites’ doormats.

I notice the MPO board is not present. Had they been here, I would have told them:

As for you people on the MPO, get a spine. Stand up to these highwaymen. Start thinking creatively. Stop blasting ugliness through our neighborhoods. Start joining with the people in building *community* not commuter sprawlways.

Everything about this organization has militated against the expressed will of the people. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I oppose you because you have incompetently executed the will of the people.

I recommend that this body be decertified from receiving federal funds.

The siting of this meeting at this isolated location speaks volumes as to whom the MPO wants to hear from. Bus service is scant at best. Parking is ample. We are located adjacent to a giant highway. It’s a long way to walk anywhere from here. So the assumption must be that only car drivers’ views are wanted.

Regarding your introductory remarks: You speak of congestion as if it were the root of all evil. I disagree: Congestion is good for cities. It is the sign of a healthy city. It is a sign that people want to be there. Slow car traffic is the best friend of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

[I also entered into the record a copy of the latest (2012) League of Women Voters questionnaire of Dane County Supervisor Candidates (showing their support for transit, walking, biking); a copy of the budget graphs in the article linked above; a copy of a 2011~ 1000 Friends of WI newsletter article showing how much money Wisconsinites spend on roads out of their property and income taxes (i.e. only about 50% of the total road budget is paid for by gas taxes and other car user fees; in other words, socialism for cars; rapacious capitalism for the rest of us).]

###

US 51/WIS 19 camera image.

Sen. Mark Miller’s (D-Monona) $40,000,000.00 gift to the Seven. Thousand. Very. Republican. Villagers. of DeForest.

Keep in mind that the USDOT policies I cite here should not be taken as letting the likes of Falk or Cieslewicz or other locals off the hook. Ultimately, though the concrete dope was free, they injected the needle into the arm of the body politic of their own free will. Furthermore, USDOT’s pro-highway/anti-community policies are the products of pavement-friendly votes by other good liberals/progressives such as US Rep. Mark Pocan, US Senator Russ Feingold (ret) and US Senator Tammy Baldwin. Liberals on the state level have similarly taken the needle and the candy. From 2008-2010 Dane County Democrats – State Rep Mark Pocan, State Senator Mark Miller and Governor Jim Doyle –  held total power over the finances of state government as co-chairs of the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee and as the state’s chief executive (respectively). Truly, they were the patrons to the highwaymen clients in the nomenklatura of the Soviet Socialist Party of Pavers. Much like their Republican counterparts, they prioritized paving over people. Indeed, the pavers are of one party regardless of whether an R or D follows their name. I hold Mark Miller in particular contempt given his $40,000,000 (and counting) pork project more than doubling the size of US Highway 51 to serve the seven thousand Very. Special. Villagers. of. DeForest. while slashing state and federal investment in transit for 225,000 not-so-special Madison citizens.

Consider asking your alder why they continue to fund paving at the expense of people. Then ask your county board supervisor. Then ask your state rep. Then your US rep. Then ask your US Senator why she thinks more concrete is healthy. Always, always question. Then denounce. Because they just don’t get it. Because they are loyal party apparatchiks.

No Clarity in the Water

July 11th, 2013

Dear Alders,

I urge a reconsideration of Item 9 (30156) for the contract renewal for Thomas O. Heikkinen, General Manager of the Madison Water Utility. I strongly recommend, that any renewal of contract be provisional, lasting no longer than one year, with specific goals to be met for any further renewal. Please do not rubber stamp this appointment.

I believe that there are some serious deficiencies in the management of our drinking water that need to be addressed. The MWU’s current water management paradigm:

1.     Ignores science behind hydrogeology, chemistry and biology – most notably, human bio-chemistry. The engineering – pumping & piping – is the be all, end all of MWU’s thinking. The quality of what comes out the tap is dismissed in a barrage of PR parsing, obfuscating and disingenuousness. Water volume is everything; quality is nothing in MWU’s world. At most they will express “disappointment.” But disappointment doesn’t deliver clean water.

2.     Ignores the interests of ratepayers by investing in well sites known to be unproductive and highly polluted. The recently approved Southeast side well is a case-in-point.

3.     Ignores citizen input from the Citizen Advisory Panels with regard to well-siting and capital investment priorities. The Eastside CAP prioritized Well 8 for filtering; Well 7 was way down the list of priorities. Well 8 languishes while Well 7 is being super-sized far beyond anything approved by any CAP, and is being built to a scale that denies the recent, highly rigorous scientific analysis of the site.

4.     Fails to provide adequate staff comment on development proposals’ effects on our drinking water supply. See for yourself: the University Crossing development proposal’s staff comment section for the Water Utility relies entirely on self-reporting by the developer. Yet it sits atop the sensitive wellhead protection zone.

5.     Dismisses water conservation; the utility won’t even address it, especially with regard to business water use. This is a real problem since some 82% of our water is consumed by business/institutions.

6.     Treats citizen ratepayers as cash cows in allowing polluters to get off scot-free after wrecking our drinking water with carcinogenic filth, thus requiring either expensive filters or new, multi-million dollar wells.

7.     Stifles scientific input from citizens. At best citizen input is taken as a personal affront. Straightforward questioning, pointing out scientific facts, has resulted in a citizen getting thrown off the MWU Board. At worst, honest, straightforward citizen input has resulted in a criminal complaint to the city attorney. Dissent is a punishable offense under this MWU administration.

8.     Puts PR above clean water. Are two PR people really necessary for one agency? Wouldn’t it be more effective to hire two lawyers to aggressively pursue polluters? 

9.     Lies about Madison Water meeting “all standards” and about the existence of PCE in certain wells. Indeed, the federal drinking water standard for the toxin PCE is zero. That’s 0.00. Down to the parts per billion, zero. There is no safe level of PCE in drinking water according to the EPA. Many Madison wells have significant, and growing levels of PCE and other industrial chemicals. Yes, there is a sub-standard EPA limit that MWU seems to fixate on (and that our water just barely falls under), but that is a secondary, outer limit that accepts a certain number of PCE-related deaths and neurological illnesses (such as Parkinsons) as, somehow, ok. I don’t believe that the preventable death or incapacitation of even one person is acceptable. Neither should our citizen-owned water utility. Furthermore, the MWU is playing fast & loose with the truth with it’s statement, “It’s important to note that no PCE has ever been found in the water at Well 8.” While that is technically true, we do know that the breakdown products of PCE have been found in Well 8 water. Breakdown products have been found to be at least as dangerous and possibly more dangerous than PCE itself. It’s time for the disingenuousness to end at the water utility.

10.  Coddles polluters such as Madison Kipp Corporation. Instead of doing the right thing and suing to defend citizen-owned capital investments in clean drinking water (well infrastructure and pipe systems), MWU provides PR cover & damage control for polluters and their polluting activities in the media and at public meetings.

11.  Wastes federal money dedicated to providing clean water. Federal stimulus money was dedicated to filtering nasties out of an east side well; instead of making the enduring capital investment, the money went to consultants to gather citizen input. That input was then ignored. The money was wasted. (See Item 3.)

12.  Works to dismiss or suppress dissenting citizens from the MWU board.

I am willing to give benefit of the doubt; Mr. Heikkinen had inherited a difficult situation with problems that had been institutionalized before his arrival (especially the ingrained attitudes of engineering über alles, which, unfortunately still reigns). Some things have improved. But let’s be clear: the improvements have only come as a result of bruising fights featuring brave citizens brandishing the scientific truth vs. MWU leadership denying it while personally attacking these very knowledgeable citizens (or, as Mr. Heikkinen refers to them, “wing nuts” and “Ph.Ds lacking common sense”). When the denials become too embarrassingly untenable, the MWU’s PR machine goes into overdrive to assure the public that the utility has always believed the science it once denied (but those pesky citizens are still really wing-nut crazy, and those Ph.Ds in environmental toxicology still lack common sense).

The last Water Utility Board meeting was illuminating. Board members discussed their discomfort with these jabs at citizens. Heikkinen refused to apologize. Later, another board member did come to his defense to explain away management-attitude issues that keep coming to light. This board member explained that since Mr. Heikkinen is an engineer, he can’t be expected to know what it takes to deliver clean water; that would be the responsibility of other departments. (He didn’t specify which department; would that be the Health Department? We don’t know. But these statements – by a board member – contravene the Water Utility’s own “Outcomes Policies.”) It would be worth reviewing the streaming video to begin to understand the level of discomfort about the way things are going at the MWU. Except….I would have sent a link to the video, but there is none. And….I would have sent you a link to the minutes, but the minutes omit virtually all of the discussion that happens at board meetings. Interesting that. Apparently MWU is a public records-free zone.

We demand an assurance from you, the fiduciary agents of our citizen-owned water utility, that any renewal of the manager’s contract will not be for more than a year, with renewal possible if these demands are met:

1.     The public personal attacks on citizens and threats of arrest will stop;

2.     The MWU General Manager will ramp up his knowledge of the science of clean water delivery in its full panoply. From chemistry, to hydrogeology, to biology, to bio-chemistry, to geophysics, to environmental toxicology, etc., the GM will studiously research, rigorously adhere to and apply the most up-to-date, proven technology, including conservation and re-establishment of a healthy hydrologic cycle (i.e., infiltration) for clean water delivery over a time horizon of generations. (Start with seven.) This is already covered for the most part in the Water Utility Board’s Outcomes handbook, specifically O-2E. The MWU board has given him a pass on expanding his knowledge, but you, the representative body of the people, the ultimate fiduciary authority, should not. Furthermore, in future personnel searches, the city should consider Epic’s successful strategy for software development. They hire liberal arts graduates to manage projects because of their ability to integrate a wide variety of knowledge bases. The engineers work under the liberal arts graduates precisely because engineers are not trained to think expansively, integratively. Curiosity is not an engineer’s strong suit. They know what they know. Period. Full-stop.

3.     Monster wells are not acceptable. Super-sized wells are not a sustainable strategy – environmentally or economically – for clean drinking water. Overbuilding, overpumping and over-dynamiting a well, then building super-sized water storage over the top of it all ends up warping and cracking protective bedrock. The result is fissures which allow surface toxins and pathogens to infiltrate the deep aquifers we rely on for drinking water. This must end. The science must be followed, not denied.

4.     Polluters of clean water will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law;

5.     Further pollution of our drinking water ends now;

6.     MWU will provide clear, strongly worded staff comment for all future development that may have an impact on our water quality. Pro-forma hear/see/speak no evil pencil-whipped comment on development will not suffice. MWU’s comment in the future should, among other things, cite the impacts of paving, and any other capping off/interference with the healthy functioning of our hydrolologic cycle.

7.     Long-term financial viability of all MWU capital assets (to include the water supply itself, well infrastructure, well zones, filters, etc.) will be defended at all costs. This includes avoidance of well-sites known to be polluted or lacking in sufficient flow. The current five-year planning horizon is not acceptable. Well infrastructure is a 60-year+ investment; the water flowing to it is perpetual. We must protect our city’s long-term financial interests for perpetuity. Water is a financial interest.

8.     MWU will communicate clearly, honestly and provide full records to the public: a) the existence of pollutants; b) the health threats posed by those pollutants; c) the likely sources of those pollutants; d) the city’s efforts to recover damages from the polluters; e) the city’s efforts to stop further pollution; f) video and full minutes of Water Utility Board proceedings will be made available quickly and in perpetuity. The denial and obfuscation on behalf of the polluters must no longer be part of the MWU’s duty.

9.     Dissenting citizens will be appointed to the MWU board to counterbalance the overly comfortable consensus there.

More dynamite down a hole does not a quality water system make.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett

 

Anyone in receipt of this communication may forward it, post it, disseminate it, as long as it is presented in its entirety, unabridged and unedited by others. Respectful quotes that don’t obscure the contextual meaning are ok.

Tim Bawden and His Weltanschauung

April 30th, 2013

My good friend, Tim Bawden, recently died. He was a treasure to all who love this state, all who treasure the local, the authentic, the sense of place.

We got to be friends while grad students in Geography at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The friendship was cemented over beers at the Terrace. The stories are legion.

He was a fun-loving person, and in that spirit I post this image of a map he made wayyyyyy back in grad school. It was so hilarious I kept it all these years! Below that, some explanatory text (good luck with the German!–I had to use his family’s pre-WWI “echt Deutsch” spelling for his name!).

TimWIMapScan

 

TimWIMapTxt

 

Tim was very proud of & very knowledgeable about Wisconsin’s heritage, particularly its German heritage. He was originally from Sheboygan Falls. To him Wisconsin culture was centered on Sheboygan. According to The Bawden General Theory on Wisconsin, you could run a distance decay function and find in any & all tests (accent, culinary traditions, Packer Fan-dom, fishing & hunting prowess, etc.) that Wisconsin-ness lessened the farther you were from Sheboygan. And he could prove it, too!

Tim was too young to die (47). He was a beloved UW Eau Claire professor, and beloved by all who came upon him.

I’m not a good obit writer. Here is the Eau Claire paper’s version. But I’m also going to include some things written by his other friends from grad school & beyond.

From Karen T:

While I didn’t know Tim as well as many of you, he helped me understand the Midwest and Wisconsin. His love of his home, that included so much humor in his storytelling, still remains such an important part of my fond memories of grad school and Madison. We will miss his generous soul. It is also tragic for all of us to know of his struggle and perhaps we can learn to figure out better ways (as a society) to prevent this disease from the harm it does to us all. Wendy surely must be having an especially difficult time for all sorts of reasons, so for those of you who can make the service,please do send our love as a group as well.

A sad, big hug, xx Karen

From Mary B:

[The] comment about Tim’s ‘thriftiness’ immediately
made me remember how he’d go over to the University Bookstore and pick up discarded receipts,
if any were around, so he could cash them in with others.  What a dumb thing to remember about him.
Of course I remember a lot else, too:  his good nature, his intelligence, his lack of pretense, his
kindness, so many things.  Just makes it all that much sadder.

This is indeed a very sad time for some really good friends. We’ll miss Tim forever. Our very best wishes go out to Wendy & Max.

 

Needling the Power: Rummel’s High Road Strategy

April 28th, 2013

I’ve always admired Salman Rushdie’s hammering of the arrogant, the powerful. This is classic.

Very much brings to mind the dynamic on our neighborhood’s listserv (SASYNA-Discussions@yahoo.com). People who question the arrogant power-wielders get routinely trashed by the listserv-marms. Those enforcers of civility (well, their short-sighted version thereof) are (at best) mute to,  and (more accurately) apologists for actual, physical abuses of power. Our local alder, Marsha Rummel, for instance, is all about destroying air, land and water with her paving ways, but the establishment progressives come rushing to her defense the moment her policies come into question. To question–with words–her physical abuse of our environment (and the people who drink water and breathe air) brings denunciations of, “Cyber-bully!” or snide condescensions of “That’s not how we do it in the 6th.” And the ultimate: question her votes for trashing the air we breathe and the water we drink and you get thrown off of your city commission (or, alternately, your appointment gets blocked). As you can see from my previous posts, her violence against our aquifer is now starting to cost us–in cash–as ratepayers and taxpayers. I’ve written extensively about its effects on our city finances over the years; here’s a classic. (Make sure to click through to the “Madison is paving itself into oblivion” article–yes, she voted for all of those extreme paving budgets except for the ’09 budget.)

RummelScapes

Rummel’s “High Road Strategy”

But the defenders of Rummel’s pollution-as-usual policies are always successful in cowing those ready to move forward from her 1950s mentality. Every election her oh-so-sensible defenders sniff, nose in the air, with condescending disgust, their “disappointment” that an opposing candidate would have the temerity to actually run against such a progressive saint as Marsha Rummel. The stalwarts of progressive piety denounce as blasphemy any opposition: To merely run against Rummel brings on denunciations of not being sufficiently “high road” to represent the district; “That we just don’t do negative campaigns in Madison;” etc. To run against Rummel is to invite the wrath of God Herself. And the district bows down before the icon; the last two elections it voted in droves for the symbol over substance–70% for Rummel.

And thus continues the paving, the annihilation of our drinking water and the air we breathe, the diversion of city resources from the poor, from basic services. Yup, the most proudly liberal/progressive district in the universe voted for it.

More to come on all that, I’m sure.

Water Waste in the Emerald City

April 16th, 2013
Dear Common Council Members,
Tonight you are being asked to approve plans to drill a new Southeast Side Well (Well #31) at 4401 Tradewinds Pkwy – just S of the Beltline – just W of Beltline-I-90 (Agenda Item 101):
 
Please oppose this. 
 
We oppose it. Because:
 
-The well is not needed. Well 9, off Buckeye Road near Stoughton Road, which supplies water to the SE Side, has been down (out of operation) before. The Water Utility has continued to supply water to the SE Side even with Well 9 down–apparently with no problem. A 2nd well for the SE Side is not a priority we can afford right now.
 
-While the Water Utility created a Citizen Advisory Panel (CAP) to consider a new SE Side well; the SE Side CAP approved going ahead. But the CAP recognized the problem with siting a well in this area (pollution, low volume well output, etc.), and so actually suggested siting it up at Felland Rd. 
 
-This area is notorious for low productivity wells, even by Water Utility estimates. You won’t get what you want in terms of water volumes. This will end up being an expensive boondogle at ratepayers’ expense.
 
-There is a significant TCE (industrial toxins) groundwater plume from GE Medical in the I-90–Femrite area. The TCE plume is headed right for the new well (by Water Utility’s own analysis). Pumping this new deep well will almost certainly pull the TCE further, faster towards the new well, again by Water Utility’s own admission.
 
-The Utility’s financial priority should be:
a. Cleaning up the significant water quality problems at our existing wells. (Why are we digging new wells when we can’t even properly manage the wells we already have?)
b. More rapid payback of City property taxpayers for a ‘loan’ of property tax money to the Utility;
c. Increasing the rate of replacement of leaky old pipe throughout the City (this would actually provide much of the volume the Utility is seeking; 
d. Institute a progressive rate structure that creates strong incentives to use less water.
e. Use the profits from the higher rates on water wasters to provide rebates to water users who install water conservation measures.
 
There is a lot of science denial going on at the Water Utility right now. You could bring a strong dose of reality there by voting against the well. You are, after all, the corporate board of directors of this publicly owned utility. You have the fiduciary responsibility to keep the utility from wasting citizen’s financial resources.
 
Again, we adamantly oppose the approval of a new well proposed in Agenda Item 101.
 
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
 
P.s. You have permission to forward this anywhere, to anyone.

Lanford’s Evasiveness, St. John’s Sycophancy: What’s a Voter to Do?

March 30th, 2013

T’is election season and I’ve got something questions of the current crop of candidates, starting with the candidates for Dane County Circuit Court Judge.

First, we all know that Rebecca St. John promotes vindictive, groundless prosecutions and relishes throwing away the keys regardless of guilt. (For more on her authoritarian judicial philosophy,  here is a link to her application (PDF) for judgeship to the governor;  here is a ten point analysis of her legal work; here is a journalistic he said/she said take on it and an editorial.) As a Walker sycophant she is immediately disqualified in my book (oh, blog).  So no need to even bother asking her anything.

So I decided to pose some important questions to her opponent:

Dear Ms. Lanford,

We are in the process of making decisions about the upcoming elections for Dane County Circuit Court Judge. Craig Spaulding has been doing great volunteer campaign work for you, and has asked that we put a sign on our very prominent corner lawn (right behind the Harmony Bar). We have, in the past been quite generous with our lawn for good candidates. Unfortunately, most of those went on to betray the very ideals they campaigned for in very fundamental ways, so we hope you might understand that we wish to have your positions stated clearly before we put our own reputations on the line.
1. If you become a judge, do you intend to uphold, defend and interpret the Constitution of the United States of America *as it is written* or will you merely follow the interpretation handed down over recent decades by increasingly reactionary superior court judges?
2.a. In light of the above, what will the following sentence mean to you when peaceable protesters, and ‘petitioners of government for redress of grievance,’ are hauled into your court (as they routinely are in Dane County) for alleged “crimes” of, well, protesting and petitioning?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
2. b. Specifically, does “no” mean “no,” or something different to you?
3. Through a number of legal stratagems, Dane County prosecutors and judges have effectively outlawed bicycling in Dane County. For over 20 years a succession of Dane County prosecutors–rising then to circuit court judgeships–have pursued cyclists in a most vindictive manner. Victims of murderous motorized road rage have been repeatedly prosecuted by current and past Dane County district attorneys. This is happening despite the fact that:
-the offending drivers involved in *all* of these cases have a long history of criminality, violence and reckless driving while the cyclist invariably is a professional with no criminal–or even civil– record whatsoever (and are thus easily intimidated into bogus pleas).
-despite the fact that State, Dane County and City of Madison policy is to promote bicycling. See the City of Madison Platinum Bicycle Plan here (PDF): https://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficEngineering/documents/PlatinumAdopted040808sm.pdf).
and,
-despite the fact that the bicycle is defined as a legal vehicle by State Statutes.
Will you educate yourself about the rights and responsibilities of bicyclists in this state by attending a Wisconsin Department of Transportation “Enforcement for Bicycle Safety” seminar within the first six months of your swearing in? Information can be found here:
(There is also a version of this course specifically for judges and prosecutors.) Will you properly instruct juries as to the legal standing of bicyclists and, furthermore, instruct that the societal bias in favor of the driver/against the cyclist has no role in a court of law? And will you have the courage to throw out cases arising from the current atmosphere of prosecutorial vindictiveness toward cyclists? 
I have copied this query to several other Dane County residents who are interested in bicycle safety issues in Dane County. I will also forward your answer to a large group of cyclists and others.
Thank you for your time and your work in your candidacy.
Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett

Here’s the response I got:

Dear Michael and Pamela:

Thank you for your thoughtful email about the Dane County Circuit Court Judge election.  It is a very important election, and I am thankful that people are seeking as much information as possible about the race.
The questions you ask in this email relate to specific issues that may come before the court.  While I know it is not a popular answer, I cannot state specifically how I would rule in any case, as I am precluded by the judicial code of conduct from doing so.  I can promise and pledge that I will look at each case individually, considering the rights of everyone involved, and that everyone will be treated fairly and with dignity in my court.  I have known Craig Spaulding for almost 20 years, and I believe he can attest to my character and values that I bring to the bench.
What I bring to this position is over 16 years of trial court experience and an independent judicial philosophy.  This is critical at a time when the trial courts will be hearing important and complex issues.  My opponent, Rebecca St. John, has stated in her application to Governor Walker that she believes one of the best decisions in the Wisconsin Supreme Court in the last 30 years is a decision written by Justice Gableman, joined by Roggensack, Prosser, and Ziegler, which says that the legislature can limit the trial court’s power to act in the interest of justice.  I do not believe the legislature has such power, because I believe the judiciary is an independent, equal branch of government that derives its power from the Constitution and the people.  The role of the court is to do justice, and that role should not be limited by either of the other two branches of government.
There is a real choice in this election between me and my opponent.  I ask that you see visit my website:  www.LanfordForJudge.com for more information on my experience, and my many endorsements including Congressman Mark Pocan, MTI, AFSCME PEOPLE, Wisconsin Progress, SCFL, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Fair Wisconsin, SEIU and TAA.  Thank you for reaching out.
Rhonda L. Lanford

The lamest non-answer I’ve ever received from an aspiring office-holder. I tried to contain my disgust in my response:

Dear Rhonda,

Thank you for responding.
We get the sense that you didn’t read the questions because they were indeed very *general* constitutional questions, and not about a specific case. Nothing in that hallowed judicial code of conduct prohibits you from expressing a clear defense of the Constitution of the United States of America. If Wisconsin law allows Gableman to race bait and get away with it, you can most certainly mount a philosophical defense of the First Amendment.
We simply wanted to know whether your courtroom will be a place of respect for our Constitution–something Pam & I put our lives on the line for. We didn’t get an answer to that.
We also wanted to know if you will treat bicyclists as citizens or as just so much roadkill. That is a discussion of law and an interest in your further legal formation, not a specific case. We didn’t get an answer to that.
We are sorry, but we won’t–in good conscience–be able to put a sign in our yard.
Sincerely,
Michael and Pamela Barrett
Ask Rhonda Lanford why her opponent can cite specific cases in her campaign for office in that application to Scotty, but she, Lanford, can’t. Ask Rebecca St. John why she wants to put innocent people away, forever.

Lanford’s Evasiveness, St. John’s Sycophancy: What’s a Voter to Do? As per usual in these judicial or district attorney races, I’ll seriously consider writing-in Jefren Olsen, a public defender with a ginormous legal brain and a rock solid moral compass–an exceedingly rare combination.

Madison Water Utility’s Science Denial

March 25th, 2013

TO THE WATER UTILITY BOARD:

We simply disagree with the need for the proposed mega-expansion of Well 7. We oppose the expansion of Well 7.
First & foremost we know, thanks to Colonel Christopher Gellasch’s research for his Geology Ph.D., that the mere fact of pumping vast quantities of groundwater in sudden, powerful bursts and then storing it in massive reservoirs on the surface is:
  • Warping the bedrock below
  • Fracturing an already fractured shale layer that currently at least *slows* transmission of pathogens and toxins to the deep aquifer. (His research on Well 7 was the first to positively demonstrate that the Eau Claire shale is indeed permeable, much of it human caused through overpumping and then overstoring masses of water on the surface. Conventional hydrogeology to that point had held that the shale layer was perfectly impermeable, protecting the deep aquifer. The reality: Warp it, crack it, pump hard, it stops protecting.).
  • Pulling denser, dangerously high concentrations of naturally occurring elements which in trace amounts are otherwise harmless (or nearly so)
This was the finding of his research, under UW-Madison Professor Kenneth Bradbury, at Well 7: That we are currently overpumping an already strained hydrogeologic system at Well 7.

And now we, as a city, want to:

  • Triple the size of the surface reservoir?
  • Pump even more?
  • Faster?
  • More vigorously?
  • Further exacerbating the fracturing? (Yes, the rapid pumping actually creates measurable seismic events under the well!)
  • Creating yet more pathways for toxins and disease right into our deep aquifer drinking water?
  • Actively pulling surface toxins and pathogens downward into the deep aquifer?
  • Increasing the concentrations of the naturally occurring neurologically damaging elements?
  • An expansion in capacity in an area that is essentially built-out and landlocked, not growing and not predicted to grow?
  • When there are so many more opportunities for conservation?

Indeed, before looking to expand capacity with these megalomaniacal tributes to manly engineering, we need to take a serious look at the consumption patterns across the city. We note that our 2-flat (that’s 2 separate families, one meter, 4 adults total) consumes 20% less than the average single family home (average occupancy: <2.3). Clearly, there is a vast chasm between need and waste in the current consumption patterns in this oh-so-enviro city. (Oh, and no one in our house stinks, there are no hairshirts in our respective wardrobes; during the summer we often take 2 showers/day given our high level of physical activity; the tenants have no financial incentive to conserve since they don’t pay the water utility bill, we water our trees, and this low level of water use held even when tenants had a baby, etc.). And we’re working on yet more absolutely invisible water conservation measures that will likely save us yet another 10-20 percentage points or more below the city average.

The fruit…it is so low-hanging that it is nearly dragging the ground!
And yet, everywhere we go–homes, city buildings, private businesses, non-profits–we see sink aerators that pour forth 2.2 gallons/minute (ours is 1.5; the glorious Overture Center’s faucets probably gush 4–FOUR!–gpm given that they have no aeration whatsoever!), showerheads that lavish >3.5 gpm (ours is 1.25, but feels lavish nonetheless), streets getting watered (how many sprinklers we see sending water right down city drains, never touching grass! how many thousands of gallons getting wasted in flushing operations!), new dishwashers that require handwashing before loading (yes, it is routine in the many households with dishwashers I have observed!), ….What’s the point of an EnergyStar/WaterSense dishwasher if you have to handwash the dishes first?
And the insanity continues…..
At Citizens Advisor Panel (CAP) meetings at least a couple of individuals tried to make the point that there is so much more room for conservation, but they were out-maneuvered by staff and out-voted by the timid. Indeed, there was but one lonely ‘no’ vote in a committee vote cast by the most intensely knowledgeable citizens on water issues. They were cowed by staff’s barrages of undigested data on water consumption. They should have held their ground.
And so it goes. Madison water utility leadership, much like Madison’s leadership in general swaddles itself in the attitude of consumption-at-all-costs-is-ok-because-we’re-a-liberal/progressive city.
We, the undersigned, refuse to go along with that groupthink. We choose to listen to the science. Thus, we oppose the expansion of Well 7. The extra water you seek is freely available in very simple, very cheap water management measures in households and institutions and industry.
We implore the Water Utility Board to smash the science denial that permeates the staff reports on the issue and simply say no to an expanded system at Well 7.
We note that only three Water Utility Board members showed up to the Technical Advisory Committee meeting at which Col. Gellasch laid out the hydrogeologic science of Well 7. One of those members has since been thrown off the commission for having raised precisely the questions that came out of that study. Pathetic political leadership made that happen. We implore you to rise above the politics of denial, even if it risks your tenure on the Water Utility Board. It would be worth it. You could achieve with this one action what others could never achieve even in 10 years of service.
On the science: for context, to get a private sector study of the scope and quality of the Gellasch Ph.D. would probably have cost $400,000 or more. It was groundbreaking, thorough, and, most importantly, highly specific to Well 7. And frankly, it was priceless because the funding was independent of the utility and thus untainted by staff’s pre-conceived notions.
To ignore the essential science–laid at your feet–amounts to willful ignorance.
You not only ignore the science at your peril. You, the board members of the Water Utility, ignore it at the peril of us all.
Because the science is clear: Build a mega-well at Well 7 and you:
  • Harm our aquifer
  • Harm our health
  • Deny science
We further maintain that an expanded Well 7 and similar efforts elsewhere in the city will:
  • Harm ratepayers
  • Harm the city’s future economic sustainability
WE OPPOSE SCIENCE DENIAL.
 
Thus,
 
WE OPPOSE AN EXPANSION OF WELL 7.
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael D. Barrett and Pamela S. Barrett
P.s. We give permission to forward this on to whomever, wherever.

Mosiman: Flak for the Status Quo

December 23rd, 2012

Mosiman just loves incumbents. He used to do puff pieces for Mayor Pave.  So we know he will go to great lengths to promote entrenched power over challengers. Here’s his latest girding-for-the-old-guard piece for the council’s aging cheerleader, Lauren Cnare. Just one sentence in the article for the challenger, Barbara Davis. Makes the latter out to be a looney. She’s not. What’s threatening about Davis is that, unlike Cnare, she seems to have a sense of right & wrong, as exhibited in her principled fight against Veridian’s abominable big-box plan in Grandview Commons.

 

 

Why Mark Pocan Fails…

August 14th, 2012

…To interest me….In the least:

From 2008 til 2010, he had it all. The Democrats owned the Governor’s Mansion, the Senate and the Assembly. He was the leader in the Assembly. As such, he co-chaired the all-powerful Joint Finance Committee. He was one of the three most powerful people in the state.

Did he advance education? Nope. Nixed funding for 4-year old kindergarten.

Did he fight for the environment? Nope. Nixed the Clean Energy Jobs Act (an excellent, all-encompassing plan; our one hope to launch a clean energy, hyper-energy efficient economy…).

Did he advance Bicycling? Nope. Slashed funding back to below early ’90s levels.

Did he advance walking? Nope. Ditto.

Did he advance transit? Nope. Ditto. Oh, no, wait. He slashed state support for transit to below levels established by Republican Tommy Thompson.

He sat on his hands.

What did he do with all that money he nixed out of good, people-supporting jobs & services? He accelerated wasteful highway expansions across the state, including the hyper-wasteful US Highway 51 expansion between De Forest and Madison (a route already served by the 8-lane Interstate 90/94/39), the Verona Road interchange, Interstate 94 between Cottage Grove and Madison, and the County Highways S & M (Mineral Pt. Rd & CTH M) intersection. All of these expansions support landscapes of Republicanism and militate against access to good jobs for the poor and working class. Contrary to his claims, Mark Pocan is no friend of the working class.

Let’s face it, we keep advancing lame Democrats like Mark Pocan, who fill the coffers of dirty energy and dirty transportation companies, and then wonder how it is that the Republicans keep beating us in the cash race.

Mark, buddy, I’ve got news for you, it is because you gave them the money!

I’m not exactly thrilled about his opponent Kelda Helen Roys either. I don’t think she exactly gets the money game either. I will cut her some slack about the 2008-2010 time period since she was just a rookie backbencher then. But she should have been raising holy hell about all the subsidies that Pocan & Co. were giving out to the grey economy companies. This past weekend on the Ride the Drive (ok, major plus that she set up campaign operations at that event!), I brought up to her that Tammy Baldwin had been doing the same thing for years, supporting the pavers and polluters (Kipp’s festering filth, anyone? The giant highways she supports now and supported all the way back to her days on the county board?), and that I didn’t want a clone of her in there, she fell silent. No one wants to say anything bad about St. Tammy. After all, Roys seems to be promoting the same old grey stuff Tammy so loves. From Roys’s website: “I support robust transportation investments to build our infrastructure in roads, rail, air, and waterways.” More expansion of the same crap that got us into this hot mess. (Then somewhere way on down there sits bicycling and walking; clearly afterthoughts.)

At the 350.org candidate forum, I felt that the best, most thoughtful candidate performance was by Matt Silverman. As a veteran–an officer who led troops in battle in Iraq–he was the only candidate there who explained–straight up–the ugly connection between our fossil fuel addiction and war. I applaud such honesty. Neither Roys nor Pocan could muster up that courage. I was just sorry to see him cling to the belief that there could be any compromise with Republicans. He made such compromise a highlight of his talk at the forum, and, from his website: “I know that the only way forward is meaningful compromise and cooperation between Democrats and Republicans.” Dude, those days died at the dawn of the Reagan era. I mean, Democrats are so afraid of their own shadows that they can’t even come up with a program within their own caucus–even when they have it all! (I’m talking about, for example, the healthcare debacle which resulted in the adoption of the righ-wing Heritage Foundation’s plan from the early 90s late 80s–and this came out of a congress with a strong Dem majority in both houses and a Dem-owned the presidency!)

Dems need to get their own house in order first.

Why do Democrats insist on being so absolutely gutless? They need to learn that Americans want their leaders to have guts; to be leaders. Pocan and Roys have not shown me that.

I need to see leadership dedicated to defunding the corporate enterprises that would grind us into dust.

Update 08/15/2012: Looks like he-who-sat-on-his-hands won. And decisively. I’m beginning to wonder whether this district, so full of high-IQ types as it is, is really so smart after all. Maybe it is just the reflexive gutlessness, not the brainpower….