1937: Krugman’s Victory Dance

October 15th, 2014
How to NOT balance a budget

How to NOT balance a budget

As a Krugman fanboy, I’ve been getting a big kick out of his victory dances of late– rubbing it in the faces of the rightist ideologue economists, the austerians from the Austrian School of Economic Destruction. His latest end zone taunt is a blog post entitled, simply, 1937. (If it really were a football game, he’d have a yellow flag thrown in his face for excessive taunting. Yet the crowd roars for more! The dance goes on to be a huge hit known as The Macro-ena! Ok, sorry.)

As he has so patiently (and not-so-patiently) explained over lo these many years, 1937 was a particularly inauspicious year in applied macro-economics as the Roosevelt administration rapidly pulled back from its alphabet soup economic stimulus programs. It was a futile attempt to balance the budget. As everyone who took Econ 101 should have learned, it had the exact opposite effect, throwing the economy right back into a depressionary tailspin, making budget balancing just that much more difficult/impossible. FDR essentially snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Obama repeated the mistake, rapidly drawing down his somewhat successful–if under-amped–Recovery Act, thereby muting the incipient recovery.

But at least it was something.

The Europeans got straight up austerity from the get-go resulting in all the unmerited, self-inflicted suffering of sky-high unemployment that continues to this day.

Indeed, the oh-so-much-smarter-than-Americans Germans are relearning that lesson–again, and again, and again– even as we speak.

The lessons of 1937 have been a long-running theme of Krugman’s. Every time he references it, I keep thinking back to a very prosaic, but telling remnant literally written in the landscape in an older neighborhood of Norman, Oklahoma…

…I present, my 2013 photos, “1937: The End of Road for the Works Progress Administration’s Work”:

How to NOT balance a budget

How to NOT balance a budget

 

Or, maybe “The Depression that Wasn’t Ended Now”:

IMG_20130506_154428_182

Where was Obama’s Recovery Act when our pedestrian infrastructure needed some help? This is looking pretty shovel-ready to me!

 

I keep thinking Krugman could use these as a centerpiece/banner graphic for his blog….!

MGE’s Pump & Dump Rate Scheme

October 8th, 2014

Tomorrow is the big showdown at the Public Service Commission to shut down MGE’s outrageous, America-hating rate scheme.

Tomorrow there will be a rally at 9 am at the PSC offices in addition to testimony. Here’s the WhoWhatWhenWhereHow scoop by the RePower folks, followed by my comment:

Madison Gas & Electric proposes big changes to billing rates in 2015 that will increase electric bills for most customers, limit your ability to lower bills through energy efficiency, and penalize clean energy. The MGE billing scheme does not reflect community values and should be withdrawn by MGE or rejected by the Public Service Commission.

The Proposal

Every MGE customer will see a higher fixed charge each month coupled with a slightly lower energy rate. For example, the monthly charge for residential and small commercial customers would rise from $10.29 to $19 (85%), while the electricity rate would decline from 14.4 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh) to 13.3 cents/kWh (-8%).

The Facts

  • The City of Madison, City of Monona, City of Middleton, Town of Blooming Grove, Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, WI AARP, NAACP and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups and nearly 50 local businesses have opposed the rate proposal.
  • 80% of MGE residential customers will see their electricity bill increase and will harm most seniors, apartment dwellers and those who conserve energy.
  • The proposal to increase the fixed rate and lower variable rate means that you will have less control over your own future energy bills. (Conservation does not cut the fixed rate)
  • Almost 88% of MG&E’s current energy comes from fossil fuels, most of which is coal.  A recent report, The Coal Truth, by RePower Madison details how MGE proposal is a ratepayer bailout disguised as a matter of circumstances beyond the control of the utility. In reality, MGE has “doubled down” on their dirty coal investments.
  • The rate changes will have a disproportional effect on low-income households. Bill Marcus, an expert witness hired by the City of Madison testified that “the MGE proposal will negatively impact equity in the City of Madison”.
Actions You Can TakeRePower Madison is a citizens group whose immediate goal is to persuade MGE to drop their rate proposal and support customer options for rapid expansion of renewable energy and energy savings.We recommend the following immediate actions:

  • Submit your concerns online at www.tinyurl.com/mgeratehike. Online public comments are due before October 8th and a public hearing is scheduled for October 9th at 9:30am at the Public Service Commission (610 N. Whitney Way Madison)
  • Visit and like our facebook page at www.FB.com/repowermadison.  While there, you can RSVP to testify orally and attend our picket at the public hearing on October 8.
  • Local businesses are encouraged to sign a letter opposing this rate case available at –www.wisconsinbusinessalliance.com/mge
  • Share this information with your members, and forward this email to your friends, for their information.

For more information www.repowermadison.org or email to Info@RepowerMadison.org

###

….And here’s the comment I submitted:

Dear Commissioners,

Please scrutinize closely the MGE rate case. It is, quite frankly, appalling. So appalling that I oppose it in the strongest terms.

I am a real estate investor in the Madison Gas & Electric service territory. I am also a decorated veteran, having served overseas as a commissioned officer for four years and discharged honorably, and having attained the rank of captain. As someone who volunteered service to do my part in forming a “more perfect union,” I am horrified that there are corporations such as MGE who are actually militating against the “general welfare” of the citizens I risked my life to defend. I also see a direct link between energy gluttony and the wars we keep fighting. For that reason, I have invested heavily in energy conservation ever since I was discharged.

Their rate proposal denies the dangers of climate change that even the Pentagon has warned is an imminent threat to national security. Indeed, by MGE’s own admission, this proposal actually militates against American citizens who strive to do the right thing by our environment.

Gregory Bollom, MGE’s assistant vice president of energy planning, conceded this point at a Madison city committee meeting in July:

“If you’re a low-energy user, you will probably have less ability to reduce your bill than someone who is a high-energy user,” Bollom told the Sustainable Madison Committee. “We are reducing the incentive for people to reduce their energy use. I’m not going to quibble with that.”

This is the stuff of morons. It does not belong in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of one of the world’s top-flight research institutions.

An enlightened corporate leadership would institute an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure that strongly encourages wasteful users to waste less and reward those who have invested wisely in efficiency and thereby use modestly. “Actuarily sound” means that fixed costs get covered by usage rates while protecting the steady rate of return required to raise capital for said fixed costs (capital infrastructure). This is important because we know that it is the wasteful users who are driving the “need” for more lines and other infrastructure. So those who demand more power should also be paying for the extra infrastructure required to supply it. Thus the need for progressivity in the rate structure. If the usage rates are properly structured–actuarily sound, progressively increased according to usage–that “need” would soon be obviated, as the wasteful would get wise tout de suite. Or they pay for their willful ignorance. The choice would be the customer’s and entirely the customer’s. Consumer free choice and free enterprise–yes, including investments in efficiency and renewables–is what built this country. Why is MGE undermining free enterprise?

MGE’s rate scheme, by eliminating any progressivity, actually *rewards* waste. It undermines all efforts to do the right thing and create a better, energy independent America. This is important to me, because I’m tired of seeing my friends, my former comrades-in-arms get sent off to fight in fossil fuel wars. Sick. And. Tired. Of. It.

Progressive, actuarily sound rates that cover all costs–fixed included–is the most climate-friendly, peaceable way of properly accounting for climate-damaging, war-causing resource usage.
Fixed charges–of any amount–only aid & abet profligate use.

Furthermore, the idea of fixed v. usage costs is fiction. Much of the fixed cost increases goes to ATC’s wasteful expansions of unnecessary power lines. Unnecessary because they were/are being built on assumptions of ever-increasing fossil burning. That hasn’t happened. Electric consumption has gone down. Why? People are making the connections between their personal energy use->fossil burning->climate destruction. They should be rewarded for making that connection and acting to remedy it, not punished.

It’s also an incredibly cruel thing to do to people who thought ahead for their retirement and invested mightily in energy efficiency in their homes. Now they are on modest fixed incomes and getting slammed by these rustbelt rednecks in charge of our ‘community’ utility. Retirees’ investments in conservation are now set to be vaporized on behalf of energy addicts and their dealers.

There isn’t really a middle ground on this. Either we make the decisions to protect the climate–now–or else. (Please read your McKibben! Heed your Hansen!)

Where does the PSC stand?

MGE is now desperately touting a series of “Town Hall-style” meetings to get them out of this pickle of their own making. Approximately 9 years ago MGE held a series of just such meetings all across Madison. There were over a hundred people in attendance at one meeting alone (even though it was inconveniently scheduled at midday on a weekday). People of all backgrounds showed up, ranging in age 8 months to 80+ years. They were all impassioned, knowledgeable and armed with better ideas for delivering clean energy in conjunction with conservation pricing and other strategies. No one testified for more CO2 emissions or more megalomaniacal power lines. Typical was one woman, with a baby in her arms, who gave a most enlightened & impassioned testimony about how we’ve got to start planning *now* [i.e., nine years ago] for reducing our impact on the climate. That the science was well settled. That we can no longer deny the science through our profligate energy policies. She was unbelievably eloquent and *nice* about it. The old gray MGE execs just sat there, stone faced. Clearly, they didn’t want to hear it. A town hall in the sense of an open minded democratic process, it was not.

I gave testimony as well. I was pointed and concise about the importance of a progressive rate structure to reduce demand while maintaining their bottom line through actuarial science.

The gray MGE execs scowled. Again, they didn’t want to hear it.

This was nine years ago.

They did nothing in the interim to change their CO2 spew as usual. Indeed, they doubled down on fossil thinking.

The point is, they have heard all of this before. They have heard it from a variety of people, some paid by advocacy organizations, but mostly just citizen ratepayers doing their civic duty, expressing concern and better ways of doing things. MGE has had their opportunity–over many years–to do the right thing.

They have done nothing.

They chose to ignore reasonable solutions that quite openly acknowledged the necessity of getting a return to shareholders. Now the gray men in gray suits have gotten themselves in a pickle. A quite avoidable pickle. A pickle forewarned.

As for their shareholders, by & large, they don’t care how the dividend check arrives. Fixed charge, no fixed charge (but with a progressive, actuarily sound rate structure)–it doesn’t matter to them. They just want that check to arrive, on time and in a predictably steady amount. And it is perfectly doable with an actuarily sound, progressive rate structure. Indeed, how a shareholder’s dividend is generated is entirely not their concern in the amoral world of the limited liability joint stock company. Only the people’s representative, you, the regulator, the Public Service Commission can force the right, moral choice. Which is why they need to hear from you in the strongest terms possible that they, MGE, need to protect our climate and our ratepayers–not just their lazy, ignorant accountants who can’t calculate out a reasonable rate structure.

Being an energy geek since the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, I have a bad habit of buttonholing the lower-downs at MGE when I get a chance, to find out why the stupidy of the higher-ups continues. One of them, an engineer, basically just shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes knowing that better solutions exist. Tiring of this, he gave me one of his utility trade magazines to shut me up for a while. That magazine issue of eight or so years ago was all about innovative demand-managing rate structures that could respond to a dynamic energy environment (dynamic in the sense of either more competition, more emissions regulation, opening the grid to non-utility participants, all of the above, etc.). So the knowledge of how to stay profitable while driving down carbon spew and better managing the grid (etc.) for all comers is out there. It is well documented even in their energy industry trade group! This isn’t just the stuff of crazy hippies, as Paul Fanlund and Gary Wolter would have us believe.

They’ve heard polite, well informed testimony. They’ve heard pointed, well informed testimony. For *many* years. The research and case studies of innovative, conservation-oriented rate structures in place over decades is well-documented by their own trade organization.

At what point do we the people stop giving them the benefit of the doubt?

You heard their own executive speak out against conservation and renewables in the quotes above. You are obviously quite aware of RENEW’s analysis which further confirms MGE’s militantly anti-climate, anti-ratepayer plot.

In the end, it is a bait & switch. For decades, MGE has been encouraging their customers to conserve and install renewables. (See, for example, any number of MGE bill inserts over the last twenty-plus years; see also their gleeful–and very public–celebration of conservation & renewables here.)

Now they want to crush those who followed their investment advice?

As a long time real estate investor who has invested tens of thousands of dollars in conservation measures on several properties, not only do I believe that you should reject their fixed rate plot against their ratepayers, you should also report them to the Securities Exchange Commission for their pump & dump scheme.

I would think that it’s pretty clear that their plans are not benevolent.

Please reject the entirety of MGE’s rate scheme.

Sincerely,
Michael D. Barrett

….

Madison, WI

How I Biked. And Walked.

August 5th, 2014

Under Penalty of Death, Bicycling is now a crime in District Attorney Ismael Ozanne’s Dane County. Now He Wants to Take It Statewide.

By Michael D. Barrett

JRA. Just Riding Along. That’s bike shop lingo for what you were doing just before getting creamed by a road rager wielding a car.

And I was all about JRA on a bright sunny summer day in June of 2010, just before being assaulted by a Beloit crack dealer wielding a van: I was just riding along. Down King Street to be exact. Moments before the assault, the routine occurred: I got caught by the light at East Wilson. No worries & no hurry, I was on my bike and it was a beautiful day in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, Planet Earth. But not for long.

The light changed to green. Then it began. Your standard-issue, road-rage-induced tailgating.* Mere inches from my rear wheel. Maybe closer. It was my close encounter with a notorious Beloit crackhead, it turned out, determined to drive me down.

By the time I realized what was happening, I was up to speed (the speed limit), heading down East Wilson Street, a designated bike route. Though there was plenty of passing room, with an entirely open left lane on this four-lane road specially designed for speeders, the crackhead bore down on me and left me with nowhere to go but a) into the rear bumpers of parked cars or b) under the wheels of 5,000 pounds of poorly controlled, maliciously guided, speeding steel. That I continued to survive apparently sent the driver into new heights of rage, gunning the engine, pulling alongside me (in the rightmost lane I traveled in), then simultaneously slowing and slamming into me. I barely escaped going under the van’s wheels. (Having that dorky bike mirror on my helmet allowed me to assess the situation quickly and gave me the milliseconds to brace for the impact and maneuver to the least bad position in this life threatening encounter.)

But the crackhead wasn’t done. This deranged individual then drove off to the giant intersection of Nolen/Wilson/Willy/Blair to wait for me to collect myself off of the ground (with traffic backing up behind the van…). The crack dealer-driver proceeded to hurl epithets, vulgarities and threats—and almost got out of the van to assault me but was held back by passengers. That gave me a chance to get the license plate number. It was a state van. I immediately reported the assault to the authorities. According to the subsequent police report, the actions I described here were by & large accurate and in accord with the crack dealer’s story. In other words, the Beloit crackhead’s very actions were intentional, pre-meditated and fully articulated by the driver in a written statement.

It was an assault.

The driver admitted to the whole thing.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

The motorized assault, diagrammed.

“He wouldn’t get out of our way”

Open records requests subsequently revealed that the vanpool coordinator in the passenger seat was egging the crackhead on.

The motivation for running me off the road? In the words of the drug dealer behind the wheel, “He ran a red light,” and in the words of both the crack dealer-driver and the van coordinator, “He wouldn’t get out of our way.” If you ride a bike, or walk, or drive cautiously, think hard about that: He. Wouldn’t. Get. Out. Of. Our. Way.

For existing, as a cyclist, on a public roadway, you are marked for death.

King & Wilson streets are a designated bike route. I was traveling in a perfectly legal manner, in the far right hand lane of a road with plenty of passing space. An entire, wide open lane, in fact. That I rode in a manner entirely in accordance with state statutes was attested to by the state’s ped/bike coordinator as well as the city’s ped/bike coordinator.

Nonetheless, for not ‘getting out of the Beloit crackhead’s way,’ I was charged with a crime. A crime that I reported. An assault that the perpetrator attempted to cover up. The alleged crime? Disorderly Conduct. According to the crack dealer-driver I was disorderly as I was driven off the road. Indeed.

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne deputized the crack dealer to sanitize our streets of a bicyclist’s life. My life.

The not-so-bike-friendly bike route. The assault started here.

The not-so-bike-friendly bike route. The assault started here.

2010-08-16 12.12.03

Mr. Ozanne: Which parked car was I supposed to crash into for the Beloit drug dealer’s great big hurry?

 

The crackdealer slammed into me right in front of this sign. What part of "yield" does Ozanne not understand?

The crackdealer tried to finish me off right in front of this sign. What part of “yield” don’t you understand, Mr. Ozanne?

Ozanne Goes to Bat for the Crack Dealer

The crack dealer—Ozanne’s appointed judge, jury, and executioner—had spent a lifetime racking up multiple drug distribution felonies, OWI, license revocation, driving on a revoked license, T-boning another vehicle while driving a state van in a crash which resulted in two totaled vehicles and a passenger with critical injuries sent to the emergency room (just months before having a go at me)….. It was a horrifically violent record that goes on & on.** And this person is now in charge of our roadways.

And the red light? Apparently now an offense punishable by instantaneous death. In Ozanne’s legal mind, that is. And the red light running? It only occurred in the fried brain of the Beloit crack dealer. I didn’t run the light. Had I run it, I would have been long gone and there would have been no opportunity for the drug dealer’s assault. (And now you know why so many cyclists do run reds: Conflict avoidance.) Indeed, in an emailed statement, the van coordinator in the passenger seat confirmed that I waited for the green. Furthermore, the entirety of the scene was captured on government-owned security video. The alleged red light running was just one of the many lies we caught the Beloit crack dealer in.

Indeed, the entirety of my alleged “crime”*** was captured on government owned security cameras. My lawyers demanded it as evidence as soon as I was charged. The Capitol Police (the agency which charged me) and Ismael Ozanne maliciously suppressed it. Why? Because the only crime was that committed by their crack dealer. Certainly not by me. And the suppressed video wouldn’t have looked good before a jury.

Furthermore, through a series of open record requests and a witness interview, we were even able to determine that one of the van passenger’s purported statements was fabricated. We haven’t yet been able to determine whether it was the Capitol Cops or Ozanne who concocted the emailed statement. But it was not written by the person it was purported to have been written by. But both Ozanne and the DOA continue to stonewall, refusing to provide source/header data, or the name of who concocted it, despite legal open records requests to do so. (Remember, these are the same people—Capitol Cops and Ismael Ozanne—who, just a few months later would, respectively, brutalize peaceable protesters—grad students to grannies—at the Capitol and then proudly prosecute & convict them for the “crime” of exercising their First Amendment rights.)

My case was so egregious that even the Capitol cop who originally charged me was too embarrassed to show up for trial. He begged off! Ozanne continued the prosecution anyway. The prosecution was starting to look more like a persecution.

At the opening of the trial, Ozanne’s administration had to admit, before a judge and in writing, that this case was about one & only one thing: words. Words that apparently defamed the tender sensibilities of his Beloit crack dealer. He simply had no crime to prove. So there was no crime to prosecute. (Well, no crime by me anyway. The Beloit crackhead got off scot-free, despite admitting to attacking me with the state-owned vehicle.)

Yes, that’s right. In order to resolve the case, Ozanne had to completely change the charge. I was convicted of Defamation, a civil offense (i.e., not criminal). No fine & no time. Who knew such a law even existed in the Land of the Free, Home of the First Amendment? “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….”? Apparently “no” does not mean “no” in Ozanne’s Wisconsin, USA. So there it was. Defamation. With no fine & no time, it’s something I’d plead to any and every day. It’s what I do. I routinely denounce people in power who abuse power. Between my blog, editorial & letter writing campaigns and activism on various neighborhood and alt-transportation listservs, I’ve kept the spotlight on abusers of power for many years. From presidents & governors to state-approved drug dealers homicidally wielding 5000 lbs of speeding steel….They all get denounced by my words.

And my words were the last shreds of evidence remaining for Ozanne to cling to as his criminal case crumbled.

According to Ozanne, the letter I wrote to the authorities detailing the assault offended the Beloit crackhead (no matter that I never sent that or any other communication to his dope dealer; no matter that the First Amendment of both the US and Wisconsin constitutions protect “…petition[ing] the Government for a redress of grievances.”). He also said I made a screwy face that upset the drug dealer’s refined social graces. It was an open & shut case.

Whistleblowing is now a prosecutable offense.

It was a vindictive prosecution in the extreme. The prosecution began as an effort to defend the state’s vanpool management from the embarrassment and the liability of their crack dealer-driver. (Conveniently, the DOA is over the vanpool fleet, the state risk managers and the Capitol Cops, all of whom dutifully did their worst; most notably, story coordination, evidence fabrication and suppression.) Eventually, management did come to recognize the continuing danger to the vanpool fleet itself; they removed the Beloit crack dealer as a driver in the lead up to trial. (This was my first major victory in the battle against Ozanne and his Capitol henchmen.) They also admitted that I inflicted no damage to the van, contrary to the Beloit crackhead’s claims.****

The face that defamed the tender sensibilities of the Beloit crack dealer.

The face that defamed the tender sensibilities of Ozanne’s Beloit crack dealer.

A Dumb on Dumber Prosecution: Institutionalized Vindictiveness

The case also played into the Office of the Dane County District Attorney’s long-standing ignorance-based vindictiveness toward Madison cyclists (details below). This antipathy stretches back to the early-90s, under the reign of DA William Foust (now chief judge of the Dane County Circuit Court). Brian Blanchard was Foust’s right-hand-man; now an appellate court judge. Ozanne was Blanchard’s protégé. Thus, the antipathy has been institutionalized through successive administrations, over the course of decades. Worse, with successive DAs routinely being elevated to judge at all levels of the court system, the nastiness toward cyclists is now hard-baked into the entirety of the Dane County justice system. Don’t expect any unjust decisions against cyclists to get reversed on appeal.

In open records requests to both Dane DA and Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation, I came to find out that not one Dane Co. DA or Assistant DA or judge has ever been trained in the state’s Enforcement for Bicycle Safety (or equivalent). EBS is a continuing education course that’s even been specially tailored for prosecutors and judges as well as cops. And yet, in this, one of the top biking cities in the country, ignorance about the rules of the road reigns supreme among our city’s, county’s and state’s law enforcers and judges. During the prosecution, Ozanne and his representatives’ ignorance of state statutes pertaining basic rules of the road was appalling. Not one Capitol Cop has ever been trained either.

It was a dumb on dumber prosecution.

Traffic law was against them; my lawyers obliterated them on that. So Ozanne’s people had to just make it up as they went along. The best law for legislating on the fly is Disorderly Conduct—a catch-all law, no legislature required. It’s an all-purpose work-around of the First Amendment. If you lose on one critical point, you make up another.

And Ozanne’s people worked around our basic legal guarantees quite creatively, if clumsily. Bicycling is clearly legal and well protected under state statutes in Chapter 346 (Rules of the Road). But when JRA offends a cop, a prosecutor, or their favorite drug dealer, bicycling can be made illegal on a whim just by hysterically shrieking ‘disorderly.’ And shriek they did.

Contesting a disorderly conduct charge is nigh on to impossible given its wording. Under the rubric of “otherwise disorderly conduct” contained in the statute [947.01 (1)], the crime of disorderly conduct can include anything—including riding a bike, a scream in the milliseconds before death (if you survive an attempted homicidal assault), even breathing (it’s in the case law!). Anything! Anything that offends anyone, including Beloit crack dealers.*****

Dane County’s DA’s office is notorious for taking up these cases on behalf of violent motorists. Long before the assault on me, several of us had written extensively about Dane County’s vindictiveness toward cyclists. Back in the 1990s the Bikies Listserv and the Spoke’n Word (Bike Transportation Alliance’s newsletter at the time) were hot with several cases on the topic. We even made traffic justice for bicyclists and pedestrians a campaign issue. In 1997 when Brian Blanchard first ran for DA we excoriated him for his office’s vindictiveness toward cyclists (he had been a long time, senior Assistant DA). We even got him to acknowledge the problem. But once in office, despite promising to get his prosecutors trained up in Enforcement for Bicycle Safety, he did nothing. Not one person in the DA’s office has ever been trained in bicycle safety law. In one of his last acts in office as DA (before going on to become an appellate judge) he got his revenge by bringing the case against me. And his legacy continues as one of his protégés, Ismael Ozanne, carried out the spectacularly failed criminal prosecution against me.

Clearly, there won’t be justice for cyclists at any level of court in Dane County.

Manufacturing Criminals Out of Law-Abiding Bicyclists

My case followed the standard progression for these State v. Bicyclist cases which goes something like this: The suburban motorist/perp gets a sympathetic hearing from a cop who lives in the suburbs and who empathizes with the motorist’s plight; the plight of having to share the road with others. (This is the problem with having cops from outside of our community policing our streets: they often do not share our ideals, values or ethics.)

The type behind the wheel is always the same: long record of impaired driving, long lists of moving violations, reckless driving, drug dealing, assaults, etc. Violence—motorized and otherwise—is their norm. And the cops are happy to use them to maximum effect against us evil cityfolk on two wheels.

The cyclist, on the other hand, invariably has a clean record, a professional career (or attending university-level schooling toward that end) and otherwise just a good citizen. The DA then sees an easy mark; a middle class citizen with a good job and a clean record. That is to say, someone who cannot afford a criminal conviction on their record. It’s a formula for an easy disorderly conduct conviction. Scalps as it were. Manufacturing new convictions from the raw material of upstanding citizenry. In the end, the law abiding cyclist ends up thankful for the chance to plead guilty to civil disorderly conduct, knowing that a criminal conviction would be career ending.

The DA and his minions know this weakness; they use it to maximum advantage. Many of our county supervisors have long been critical of the DA’s habitual over-charging (charging as a crime what should be no more than a ticket, or that shouldn’t be charged at all). It is unsurprising that Ozanne couldn’t even get half of the Dane County supervisors–the people who sign his paycheck–on his campaign endorsement list.

Among the cases I have tracked:

  • Circa 1996 a beloved Stoughton teacher (no record whatsoever) went down for the crime of getting run off the road and then blocking punches with his face (yes, as is the usual MO, the motorist is never happy with just having run the cyclist off the road; if the cyclist is still alive, the motorist has got to finish the cyclist off with bare hands.) The peaceable teacher eventually pleaded to civil disorderly. Following the formula, the violent motorist got off scot-free. DA Foust gloated.
  • An MD (no adverse legal record whatsoever) was threatened by an Assistant DA (again, back in the Foust days) with a felony for, yup, having been run off the road, then assaulted (following formula) by the motorist, bodily (formula). The good doctor’s alleged crime? While lying in a ditch after getting run off the road, he took off his bike shoe to ward off the attacking motorist who had gotten out of the car to attack him further (formula). The bike shoe was adjudged to have been a deadly weapon—a felony. The case was ultimately never brought; just threatened. But the message was clear: another green light to motorists that cyclists are fair game and it’s always open season. The motorist, of course, was never charged.
  • Then there was the case of the young professional, a racing cyclist who was run off the road while on a peaceable training ride, and charged with…you guessed it…criminal disorderly conduct. He pleaded to civil disorderly. Motorist got off scot-free. All following formula.
  • Another formulaic attack involved a legislative aide riding down the same roadway I was attacked on (East Wilson). First came the same homicidal tailgating. When the cyclist escaped the rage by taking the bike path, the raging driver sped down parallel neighborhood streets to cut off the cyclist. It happened quickly enough that the cyclist, thinking he had escaped by traveling in the safety of the bike path, became trapped at a cross street. The driver got out of the car and attacked the cyclist. The motorist punched the cyclist several times, causing facial contusions. The cyclist got the license plate number, reported the attack. The cops tracked down the driver who, as per formula, admitted everything. The cops–of the Madison Police Department–then begged the cyclist to not press charges (the motorist was able to elicit sympathy out of the cop by claiming to be sorry for having thrown punches). Needless to say, the homicidal rager got away with it.
  • And on & on.

(I’ll leave aside for the moment the many cyclists three successive DAs have left to rot on the side of the road after getting slaughtered while riding lawfully.)

My case departed from the formula in that I was willing to fight Ozanne and his minions’ ongoing quest to crush cyclists. No other cyclist (that I know of) charged with criminal disorderly conduct has ever taken the case to trial. It was supposed to be a quick & easy case for them. They didn’t expect that I would be willing to commit the resources (apologies to my favorite local non-profits; Ismael Ozanne’s vindictive prosecution sapped the Barrett family’s charitable funds for the next several years), and I have the will to fight vindictive types like Ozanne and his ilk in a court of law. I’ve also got my own business so I don’t have to worry about the threat of The CCAP Reputation Destruction Machine hanging over my head & my career. I was willing to risk going to jail for the three months and whatever else they threw at me. In any case, I wasn’t about to plead to any admission of violence after the drug dealer’s attack on me. Indeed, Ozanne eventually had to admit, in writing and before a judge, that there was no violence (on my part).

Cyclist-Corpse-As-Campaign Prop

Now on to the cyclists Ozanne has left rotting by the side of the road.

Remember the too-tired & too-texting motorist who ran down and killed the woman biking peaceably and lawfully in the bike lane north of Lake Mendota in October of 2012? The driver was going to get away with it, too. And Ozanne was going to just leave the victim dead, by the side of the road. Abandoned by the laws of Wisconsin.

A year & a half passed and no charges were filed.

Then, as an entirely separate matter, and with no mention of that case, I submitted an Open Records Request regarding my old closed case. I also made it clear to Ozanne that my case would be a campaign issue. Very soon thereafter, charges were filed against the texting/tired motorist (my second major victory in the battle against Ozanne). Yay to the charges, but the motivation behind the timing of the prosecution?

Feckless. Venal. Craven. Political ass covering.

Making a dead woman a campaign prop. Disgusting.

A prosecutor truly interested in justice would have filed charges immediately. Immediacy would have sent a crystal clear message to all motorists: that cyclists’ lives will be protected by the law in this county.

And the results of the Open Records Request? In a memo from 2010, Ozanne’s administration admitted that the Beloit crackhead did indeed run me off the road. But no matter, I had to be prosecuted for being—get this!—“King of the Road.”******

Yes. King of the Road. Guilty as charged.

Ozanne, on the other hand? Vindictive. Craven. Venal. Feckless. Next Wisconsin Attorney General?

Smashing Community

On so many fronts Ozanne is militating against our ideals. The entrenched, institutionalized race-disparities carried out by the Dane County District Attorney’s office over the decades have only worsened under Ozanne’s regime. His prosecutorial decisions have made this liberal-minded community an international embarrassment.

He can’t even keep his meager campaign finances in order.

His vindictiveness toward cyclists is yet another affront to a community renowned for its dedication to peaceful, planet-saving ways of getting around.

Do we want Ozanne’s community-crushing mentality to go state-wide?

Think about it next time you are JRA, say, to the polls on August 12.

###

Further explanatory notes:

*Nationally known bike lawyer Bob Mionske has a great article in BicyclingMagazine about the routine-ness of these types of vigilante assaults he calls The BuzzKill. All too often they end up in death. He hypothesizes that many cyclists who get creamed from behind are victims of poorly executed attempts at ‘buzzing’ the cyclist. A game of intimidation gone wrong.

**Before this, my record was unblemished; not so much as a traffic ticket to my name. It is important to note that while the drug dealer pissed away an adulthood frying the brain, partying down in Beloit, I spent the entirety of my college years through my late-twenties getting piss tested routinely, while serving this country, honorably and with distinction, first as a cadet, then in the US Army as a commissioned officer. Afterward, I spent my late-twenties & early-thirties improving my brain in graduate school. Contrast my long-time community involvement with the blackhole that is the crackhead’s repeat offenses against our community. There is a significant amount of research regarding the cocaine brain and its ravaging effects on the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain which controls judgment, planning ahead, impulse control, morality and violence inihibition. Once it is gone, it is gone forever.

***Though I was charged with one alleged crime, the list of my alleged criminal actions went on for pages and, by some accounts lasted over 5 days; by another account, over several weeks. They just couldn’t keep their stories straight. One accuser wasn’t even present (on furlough!). Again, the scenes of all of my alleged crimes were under government owned surveillance cameras. Ozanne suppressed all of that video.

****When it became clear that my letter was wending its way through officialdom and the drug dealer’s coverup for the assault would no longer suffice, the Beloit crackhead and van coordinator first denied that there was any damage to the van. When the cops made it clear that the police report would go the drug dealer’s way, the crackhead driver and friends changed their story. Suddenly, there was damage all over the van, allegedly caused by me. Their problem was five-fold: 1) one van rider/witness would not go along with the drug dealer’s story (indeed, left the vanpool shortly thereafter) 2) the drug dealer had been in sole possession of the van for at least one night 3) the entire scene in which I allegedly damaged the van was under government-owned video surveillance, 4) they suppressed the video; and….

5) The prosecution refused to render the van for inspection upon our demand. They also refused to render repair logs. So we tracked down the van ourselves. The “damaged” van was completely undamaged. We took photos of every square inch of it. Ozanne’s people had to admit that there was, in fact, no damage to the van. The vanpool fleet manager (who had helped suppress evidence) even admitted that there was no damage in an email we obtained in a separate open records request. There were no repair logs because there were no repairs to make. The Beloit crackhead lied yet again. Nevertheless, the persecutorial prosecution continued.

*****Remember, Dane County juries are notorious for letting violent motorists off the hook for slaughtering cyclists. Imagine what they would do to a cyclist who survived and stood charged with the crime of bicycling.

******”King of the Road?” Being a man of means by no means, I’ll cop to that any day!

But seriously, after my lawyers crushed Ozanne on the facts (starting with this fact: an 8’6” wide van and a cyclist cannot fit in a 9’6” lane at the same time in the same place), then obliterated his arguments in the law (his representative had no idea bikes were legal users of the road). This prosecutor (a California native, perhaps from Hollywood?) launched into conjecture. Ozanne’s representative told my lawyer that I must be prosecuted because, “He is a likely offender because he is so highly educated.” (That’s some mighty enlightened social science they teach in law school these days! UW professors nota bene: If my measly MS strikes such fear & suspicion into Dane County prosecutors’ hearts, think of what your tenured Ph.D. will do!). Then Ozanne’s representative went deep into Law & Order-esque pop psychology: “Because he knows so much about bicycle safety he is more likely to explode.” Yeah, Ozanne’s rep said that. Why? Because I’m a League of American Bicyclists certified Bike Ed instructor. Learning now forms the nexus of a criminal modus operandi. When my lawyer pointed up how bassackward they have the social science of crime, the representative went all Minority Report on us stating: “We have to prosecute him now because, since he doesn’t have a license plate on his bike, he will get away with it in the future.” Dane County, Wisconsin, where you get prosecuted today for a crime you might commit tomorrow!

Ozanne and his representative could never quite grasp the timeline of the events (that the drug dealer assaulted me, not vice versa), and that I had voluntarily reported the assault. That the crack dealer and van coordinator tried to cover up the entire incident. That they didn’t come forward with the accusations against me until the cops made it clear whose side they would be on. Etc. Was it willful ignorance? Or sheer ignorance?

Below is the original message sent by me…

…immediately after getting run off the road by the Beloit drug dealer; sent June 2, 2010 to Brian Luther (van pool manager) and Sherry Rowin (DOA risk manager):

To Whom It May Concern,

Incident 1. Today at around 4:30 PM I was attacked by one of your state
vanpool drivers driving one of your vans (license plate #1138).

I was bicycling down King St. (eastbound), then stopped at the
Wilson/King/Butler stop light in the far right lane. A state vanpool van
aggressively changed lanes and pulled directly behind me in the far
right hand lane (there was only one car in the left lane), then
proceeded to try to intimidate me by pulling to within inches of my rear
tire. When the light turned green, the
vanpool driver’s aggression intensified as the driver gunned the gas,
and passed within inches of me *in my lane* (the far right hand lane)
and then forced me into the curb. It was only through my quick witted
response that I am alive today. If she had had her way, I would be dead
in the gutter right now.

This behavior is not acceptable; especially since it was so obviously
pre-meditated and–given her reaction afterward–unrepentant.

Here’s what happened next: The driver, a middle aged, short, obese woman got to the stop sign at
the bottom of the hill and proceeded to berate me. So we now know that
murderous behavior is fully justified in her mind.

And she is driving a state van.

Incident #2. On Thursday, 28 May, 2010, at approximately 4:30 PM, a
state vanpool van drives westbound on the 100 block of E. Main,
approaching the King St. intersection. (The driver was a woman, of
similar description as above (but am not certain it was the same
person). State van; didn’t get license.)

The situation I witnessed: Light is red. Another car is already waiting at the light
ahead of vanpool van. The light turns green, the car driver, obviously a
confused, older tourist from Illinois
(IL plates), pulls forward and hesitates a bit. The vanpool van driver
behind her lays on the horn causing yet more confusion all around. This
goes on for 15 or 20 seconds, the horn blaring & blaring… Pedestrian
witnesses yell at the van driver to lay off. Thus, for what had been just a
simple and understandable state of confusion by the Illinois driver (it is
a confusing intersection for first-time visitors), the vanpool driver
lashes out in an act of extreme rage and aggression.

Again, I’m not absolutely sure & couldn’t swear to it, but I think it
was the same woman as in incident #1. In any case, the woman who drove
the van in incident #1 should not be driving the state van.

A human life and peaceable city surroundings are worth infinitely more
than her great big hurry and redneck attitude.

I demand to know the identification of the driver and the result of this
complaint.

Please keep in mind that this sort of anti-bicyclist/pedestrian behavior
used to be routine among bus drivers in Madison.  Things got so bad in
the late 90s that we
cyclists and pedestrians created a huge stink and generated enough
political pressure to entirely revamp Madison Metro’s hiring & training
policies.
The anti-Madison attitude exhibited by the drivers (most from out of town) at the time had led
to extremely dangerous behavior. But stricter hiring and training
procedures has since resulted in much more courteous and safety minded
drivers. Problems have ebbed considerably.

I demand that you to take responsibility for your fleet and insist that
your drivers drop the attitude and behave in a civilized, safe manner.

If you are not the person in charge of training drivers and ensuring
safe driving of state vans, please send me the email of the person who
is in charge.

And for whatever it is worth, I am a Certified League of American
Bicyclists Cycling Instructor
(http://www.bikeleague.org/cogs/programs/education/instructor_detail/18), so I know safe traffic operating procedures and always follow them.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Barrett
[...]
Madison WI [...]
[...]

***

They then set about coordinating the drug dealer’s story.

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.