Archive for April, 2011

We’re # 24!

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

24th sootiest air in the country that is (<-story filed under “Going Green”!). That, after two terms of the green mayor and three (& a half) of the green county executive, add in a population which prides itself on it’s green cred….Who needs Republicans when legions of dutifully voting Plug-in Prius drivers can do the dirty work for you? The Koch Bros. are laughing all the way to the bank.

Update 1: Jim Powell gives ’em hell about our crappy air quality, and why self-satisfied enviros sit on their hands about it.

Clean Energy? Not So Much.

Monday, April 11th, 2011

It seems that every couple of years another big time enviro of one stripe or another starts hawking some messianic fuel source or another. I’ve gotten into flame wars with “pragmatic progressive” policy wonks over bio-fuels (um, dear, the net gain over fossils? Zero. But I’ve got a machine for sale that runs off of its own momentum forever. Sell it to ya cheap.), argued with professors about nukes (um, where do you think that uranium comes from?), and entrepreneurs seeking to make cash out of cow crap (um, why are we piling up so much of that stuff in one place anyway?).

It’s always the same, we’ll be saved by the next miracle fuel.

Natural gas seems to be the latest darling, viewed by enviros as the next “bridge fuel.”

I’d suggest just burning the bridge before we even get there: Just use less. A lot less. I’ve been successful at slashing my family’s electric and natural gas energy use by 2/3. With a little institutioal cooperation, I think we could get down to using 1/10 the nation’s current per capita use. No hairshirt required.

Because, as we see here, the latest darling fuel ain’t so darling.

Update 1: More on the nuclear power pollution — and no, it ain’t about theoretical dangers of catastrophes. We’re talking about “routine” exposure here.

It’s Not Funny Anymore: VOTE. TODAY.

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Really folks, you’ve got to just do it. It’s not funny anymore. Polls open til 8. Where to vote?

And besides, my favorite barista, the Brooklyn Curmudgeon, is in high dudgeon:

Victory Bitch

Victory Coffee Shop Has a Brooklyn Message for Mr. Prosser

It is, after all, (more…)

Why I’m Voting for Twink

Monday, April 4th, 2011

I’ve gotten several queries about the various campaigns in the offing. Here is an adaptation of an email I just sent out to a neighbor regarding the 6th District race with Twink Jan-McMahon bravely going up against Progressive Dane icon Marsha Rummel.

Hi [name withheld],

Thanks for asking. Before I launch into this, I just kind of want to lay out where I’m at in terms of the two biggest issues facing us as Madisonians as well as civilization as a whole:

  • Energy — A future with a lot less of it (not necessarily a bad thing if we manage it right, which our current alder is not).
  • Drinking Water — There will be a lot less of it, and it will be a lot dirtier, thanks to bad policy decisions by the incumbent alder and mayor. It doesn’t have to be this way.

So I should also warn that,

a) Most of the world — even among my more liberal/progressive friends —  is still in denial about the importance of energy and water issues and their integral nature with our land use and transportation decisions, and,

b) Though there has been much teeth gnashing amongst neighbors regarding perceived personality flaws of each of the candidates, the personality stuff means about zilch for me. That said, I pretty much agree that both Jan-McMahon and Rummel can come across exactly as you described them (and after some cajoling, Jan-McMahon has come some ways in working out many of those issues). But I just don’t care about personality quirks. I only care about results. And, personality quirks or no, Jan-McMahon has done quite a lot for the neighborhood (certainly more than the incumbent) even while wielding no formal political power, and while active in a political environment that is hostile to activism. Rummel, on the other hand, continues to block citizen-led initiatives at every turn.

A brief synopsis of Jan-McMahon’s accomplishments & vision are summarized here and here.

And she knows how to give heartburn to very powerful people; witness this little hissy fit from Isthmus. It reads like a Rummel press release, being quite redolent of conventional wisdom. How dare she run against Marsha! it screams. (The dig about Eastwood Drive was likely fed to the author, Joe Tarr, directly from his employer’s associate publisher. The latter threw a tantrum back in 2009  at our neighborhood meeting about plans to re-invigorate the Schenk’s Corners business district through returning our neighborhood’s public land to civilized uses. Many in the neighborhood, including yours truly, looked forward to reconnecting our residential neighborhoods to the business district by eliminating the expressway slashing them in two. There were publisher claimsed that it would have increased traffic in front of her lakefront homes. She That is mistaken. It ain’t 1970 anymore. We know how to keep traffic off of neighborhood streets now; we didn’t then. [See: Update 2.])

Anyone who can irritate powerful people whom are in favor of blasting giant highways through our cherished neighborhoods gets my vote.

I absolutely understand the confusion about all the back & forth on the Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara listserv (SASYNA-Discussions@yahoogroups.com) about the two candidates. The discussion, though lively, doesn’t include a lot of people who are still quietly holding back what they really feel. Even Rummel supporters are disappointed in her lack of dynamism. Thus, we have yet another example of why it is so hard to go up against an incumbent. In this case, a 1970s icon who enjoys, as the political philosopher Max Weber put it, “the authority of the eternal yesterday” (i.e., historical prestige, an iconic reminder of the good ol’ days, an enduring symbol of life back in the day).

So here are a few reasons why the Jan-McMahon campaign happened at all:

  • Cars before people. Before Rummel ran the first time (’07), I had considered running. Before the campaigns even started, she approached me, we discussed, and, based on my stated concerns, she assured me that she would rein in the wasteful highway expansions. Why was that my priority? Energy, economic/fiscal prudence, drinking water supply damage, unhealthy air, etc. are directly related to Madison’s road expansion mania. (More information below in a little capital budget analysis I ran; also here, here and here.) Instead of reining in highway spending, she ended up voting again & again for highway budgets that expanded roads at ten times the rate of population growth. Over the course of her four years in office, Rummel boosted total highway spending by 46%, road debt by 50%, & on & on. Meanwhile, she voted to either flatline or slash most everything else in the budget.
  • A green Williamson Street denied. The big one was this, right in our hood: Anne Walker, Jo Schilling, John Coleman and several other neighborhood activists have been vigorously engaged in making Willy Street a truly green project. They researched, analyzed and found successful examples of strategies to promote:
    • good water infiltration
    • less pavement
    • buried utilities to protect our trees
    • keeping the existing trees, and,
    • ways of bringing it all together in a synergistic whole.

Very little of this civic work made it through the process. Yet, Rummel brags about the meager accomplishments as if they are major. While there was a little progress, what little was accomplished happened in spite of Rummel, not because of her. She tried to stymie the neighborhood activists at every turn. Finally, when she heard footsteps on the campaign trail, she decided she would allow a couple of tiny “pilot projects” using the green measures. Too little, too late, as far as I’m concerned. We could have had a much better project if Rummel hadn’t stood in the way.

  • Overpumping and Overpaving. Why is green street infrastructure important? I don’t know if you’ve been following the water saga or not, but the crux of the matter is this: we must re-establish a healthy hydrologic cycle with better infiltration replenishing our aquifer, the source of our drinking water. Most of the chemical contamination emerging in our drinking water (predicted to get worse) can be attributed to two processes set in motion by city policy: Overpumping & Overpaving. Rummel has done nothing on either front. (Ok, except to make things worse.)
  • Edgewater debacle: She voted for it before she voted against it. The March 17, 2010 minutes of the Urban Design Commission (pdf) show that she voted in favor of the project when a vote against could have killed the project.  (Rummel’s comments start on page 6.) Although she may have fought long and hard against the project later on (maybe after her constituents reminded her that the 6th district doesn’t look kindly upon taxpayer-funded corporate boondoggles), the fact remains that, when it really mattered, she voted in favor. (H/t Tim Wong for some of these insights).
  • Trashing our civic values. And while it is true that Edgewater needed to be redeveloped, it should have been carried out,
    • within the existing development processes (i.e., respectful of neighborhoods, our shared heritage, and existing urban scale), and,
    • with no public funding. The developer, Hammes Co., is headed by one of the largest donors to the Walker campaign. So by giving public treasure to the likes of Hammes, we are digging our own grave.

In sum, someone was going to run. If Jan-McMahon had not stepped up, there were several others who were going to. In other words, this isn’t a personality contest, it is about the issues, pure & simple.

As you read the analysis of Madison’s road building budget below, keep in mind that the roadbuilders are also among the biggest donors to Governor Walker and the rest of the Republicans. (More information about how the roadbuilders are rewarding the Republicans here.)

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CAR-FRIENDLY BUDGETS ARE BROKEN BUDGETS: A Budget Analysis of the Road Expansion Budgets Approved by Ald. Marsha Rummel

Road building is the #1 budget buster. The city’s looming budget crisis isn’t due to city workers. It isn’t citizens demanding more services. It isn’t wasteful government agencies. The budget problem can, in a large part, be attributed to wasteful, robotically planned, road expansions, all approved by Marsha Rummel. Most of the road expansions are occurring at the extreme periphery of the city. The expansions do not benefit city residents; they benefit exurbanites who don’t even pay taxes here. Worse yet, the city has undertaken a risky borrowing scheme to pay for these extravagant acres of paving, putting our fiscal house in jeopardy.

Specifically:

*In the year alder Rummel took office the road building budget (major streets) was $46m.

*By 2011 she voted for a whopping $66m road building spree.

*In each year of her tenure (except 2009), she voted for road expansions at *more than 10 times* the rate of population growth.

*The total: an outrageous 46% increase in road spending in her 4 years in office.

*By far the single largest capital budget item is road building (major streets); that hasn’t always been the case. In 2001:

*The road construction budget was only $12m. Now it is $66m.

*Road construction was only 17% of the total capital budget

*Now it is a whopping 27% of the total capital budget, with Ald. Rummel’s support

*Borrowing for roads has increased by 50% under Ald. Rummel’s tenure (from $25m in 2007 to $37m in 2011.

*This isn’t for fixing existing roads, these budgets are all about road expansions; 17% of each of her roadbuilding budgets is dedicated to road expansion, in a time of population growth at only 0.8%, inflation is nonexistent, and more people than ever are using alternatives to driving.

*Debt service for roads is now squeezing the operating budget, resulting in cuts for Madison Metro and other essential city services.

In sum, the Rummel/Cieslewicz paving spree is occurring at a time when more Madisonians than ever are taking the bus, carpooling, walking and biking. Now is not the time to be spending so much on gilded highways. The city’s total debt burden, driven by Ald. Rummel’s suburban paving spree, has reached historic highs. The debt squeeze is already on. Debt — much of it due to over-building roads — is predicted to gobble up nearly one in every six dollars in our operating budgetby 2015, according to our city comptroller, Dean Brasser. A squeezed operating budget means lower quality services. As we have seen with the current mayor, the first to take a hit will be Madison Metro. We’ve got to protect the essentials: our basic services, our programs that protect the weakest in our community, our lakes, our aquifer, our air and everything that makes quality of life so great in this city.

***************

By building roads far beyond that which is necessary, we are simply making the Republicans stronger. It is time to start connecting the dots, folks. When: Voters support-> Liberal/progressive politicians who support->big highways which support->roadbuilders who support->Republicans…we get FitzWalkerstan.

Please think about those relationships on April 5.

So there you have it, the world according to Mike. And thanks very much for asking.

See you around the hood if the weather ever gets nice again!

-Mike

Update 1: More on how roadbuilders use public monies to subvert the public good.

Update 2: Isthmus reporter, Joe Tarr, informs me that he got the information about Eastwood Drive from other council members, not the Associate Publisher as I had mistakenly suspected. Apologies for the error.