Posts Tagged ‘gluttony’

Pay No Attention to the Trainwreck on the Left

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Reluctantly, very reluctantly, and after much pleading from the organizers, I agreed to show up to a meeting entitled, “What’s Up With The Left in Madison.”

My reluctance was based in my long involvement with Progressive Dane from its inception (’93?) until a couple of years ago. For all of those years I tried to get the party’s leadership as well as elected officials to understand the economic & environmental trainwreck around the bend if they didn’t start applying the brakes to all of that car-mandatory development out in the ‘burbs. I even worked hard for countless candidates — many of whom won — who promised to do something about all of the bad planning.

All of those efforts were to no avail.

Not only did they not listen, but PD alders & county supervisors actively accelerated the paving at an alarming rate.

The result:   An economic and environmental policy trainwreck with one train piling into the next in a fog of bad decisionmaking.

Trainwreck #1: Foreclosures. Housing in Madison’s ‘burbs, extending out into rural subdivisions and horsey-doggie sprawl, is now so far flung and anti-pedestrian and anti-transit that the poor, the young, the elderly and the conscientiously carless cannot access it. And for those who just value a human-scaled place (regardless of their socio-economic demographic pigeonhole), it has no value. This destruction of value was brought about by a widely recognized lack of universal access planned into these developments. Walls of distance and speeding car traffic as it were.

In a sense, cosmic justice prevailed as the foreclosure crisis hit car-mandatory places the hardest. Unfortunately, however, it is hurting us all, as the cratering real estate values out there are devastating Madison & Dane County’s tax base.

These economically unsustainable development patterns were heartily supported by elected progressives with nary a peep from party membership (yours truly excepted, of course).

Did the price crash have to happen, given the national foreclosure crisis? Nope. Most of our walking/biking/transit-friendly ‘hoods have either a) maintained their value or b) actually increased in value. This same trend has occurred across the country with human-scaled neighborhoods holding their value while cul-de-sacs tank in the same region. Instead of seeing the foreclosure crisis for what it is — a disaster for all — progressives see it as an opportunity to…squat! (Yes, this is the next direct action actually proposed at the meeting.) So ok, it will make for great theater. And I like theater. But then what? Do we sit there all self-satisfied that we have stuck-it-to-the-man while continuing to support policies that continually drive down our tax base?! What sort of vicious cycle of insanity is this?

Trainwreck #2: The abovedescribed tax base destruction (developers churning out soulless subdivisions -> 1960s-educated planners collaborating -> ‘progressive’ elected officials wielding rubber stamps approving every car-mandatory subdivision ->  gullible homebuyers (or, perhaps more likely, homebuyers given no choice) -> crazy bankers -> (soon) crazy squatters) is now squeezing every city & county department, including those departments forming the social safety net advocated for by the good progressives. At today’s meeting, progressives at first stood stunned, then started casting about for scapegoats. People, only one department has continued to receive double digit year-over-year budget increases, and it is the very people who brought the housing crisis to you in the first place: The highway department! Pavement expansion is raging at 10 times population growth + inflation. TEN times! That’s good money chasing after bad, folks. We’ve been there, done that…and crashed. Yet we keep piling the people’s cash into the same bad land use patterns. It’s not a goat you’re looking for, it’s a hog; and the hog sits in the chief of highways seat. And your endorsed ‘progressive’ elected officials continue to slop that hog.

The car-mandatory nature of our elected leaders’ policies has created trainwreck #3: Increasingly filthy air, thanks to city-mandated driving (a direct result of car-mandatory places). The air is getting so filthy, in fact, that Madison is soon to be designated a dirty air zone by the EPA (‘non-attainment’ in the jargon). This will seriously damage Madison’s ability to attract & retain good jobs, as potential employers will recoil at the extra hoops mandated by the feds when air pollution exceeds the allowable levels.

And while progressives perseverate mightily about the need for good, family-supporting jobs, they fail to see the environment as anything but a white environmentalist/elitist/hobbyist’s concern. (Emphasis on white; there was much hand-wringing about the overwhelming whiteness of the progressive community.). Folks, dirty air is bad for everybody. But the poor — disproportionately non-white — will be disproportionately hit. Those jobs the poor need? Gone thanks to dirty air. (Milwaukee and other rustbelt cities, perpetually under the EPA’s thumb have been hemorrhaging jobs since the inception of the Clean Air Act. Coincidence? Me thinks not. And no, it isn’t the Act’s fault, it is the fault of short-sighted local & state leaders who worship cars more than their constituents’ economic and physical health.)

Then there are the children of the poor. We know that they will suffer disproportionately from air pollution-induced asthma (do I need to go into how bad this is for the developmental progress of a child?).

Fighting against dirty air is not a hobby. Nor is it only a concern of only white enviros.

Trainwreck #4: Dirty drinking water. So much land is paved over that our aquifers are no longer recharging as they should, thus rendering increasingly contaminated water. Combine the paving with constant leaking of petrochemicals onto that pavement (tire & brake grit, exhaust that settles on soil & pavement, oil leaks, etc.); then, after a rain, that filth rushes across that pavement, to sewers, then directly to our surface waters (which now feed the aquifer thanks to paving over of infiltration zones) and you’ve got a recipe for hydrologic disaster…. Case in point: the combination described here has put the kibosh on developing a well for the industrial southeast side, perhaps imperiling hundreds of jobs. Jobs, people!

The biggest trainwreck of all is upcoming: energy. The $4/gallon summers of 2007 & 2008 were the first dominos to set in motion the housing market catastrophe. (In car-mandatory places families faced 2 choices: fill the SUV or pay the mortgage; in the end, neither was economically sustainable.)

But that is nothing compared to what we will be facing soon.

So far, the military has been able to keep the oil supplies open, but the endless wars over oil are proving to be costly in lives, treasure, constitutional rights and basic justice. Social justice advocates often bemoan the de-facto military draft (crushing economic necessity forcing individuals to ‘volunteer’ for the military, etc.), but they typically fail to see first causes: Most of our military is now dedicated to fighting for oil. The world’s #1 consumer of oil? The military. For what? Fighting for oil. The snake is eating its tail.

That is to say, expect even more of the above.

Unless. Unless, we get a handle on our resource consumption and the fouling of our own nests. Because folks, if we don’t, there won’t be any justice left to attain. For anyone.

But this was entirely too mind-blowing for the good progressives to grasp at the meeting Saturday. When we were asked to write down our vision for the city if we achieved a progressive majority on the city council, most people dreamed their dreams as the exercise intended. Affordable housing for all. Racial harmony. Family supporting jobs. Full funding for social services. A strong Regional Transit Authority. And on & on, the same litany we’ve come to know & love about the progressive vision. (And yes, I do love it. As far as it goes. Which isn’t far enough to do any of the above….)

My response to what Madison would look like with a progressive majority? Massively increased paving over of rich, precious, Dane County farmland. Dirtier air. Filthier water. More car traffic. Poor people cut off from jobs due to walls of distance. Planning that plans universal access out of our urban landscape.

Face it, our ‘progressive’ elected officials voted for all of the above in the past and continue to do so. There is no evidence it would change with a majority.

Thus, many of us have simply quit working for any candidates. (At least until we see some evidence of real change.) With the loss of key electoral volunteers, progressives have continued to lose strength on the council.

For no amount of pressure from organized groups seems to have any bearing on their decisions. Neither 20 hours a week of volunteer labor….Nor being a ward captain turning out margins of victories….Nor cold hard progressive cash…Nothing seems to work with these people. (This was, thankfully, alluded to by several other participants).

Many at the meeting lamented the high level of apathy in Madison. I strongly disagree. This city is so organized around mutually supporting — and countless — progressive causes that it should be clear to our elected officials that we do, in fact, want progress. Not Detroit’s vision of a city-enforced car mandate. Not the Teabaggers’ vision of an unstable, grindingly impoverished and violent future. We have stated over & over that we want something better. In fact, I view Madison’s strong civic culture much like a venerable Roman arch, with each organization forming the arch & wall (each brick in the pillar or stone in the arch representing an organization) mutually reinforcing neighboring, allied organizations.

We all hang together or....

But when the keystone element at the top is missing/weak/lacking in conviction, the whole edifice falls apart. In this metaphor, the keystone element is each of our elected officials. Given that they are universally AWOL with regard to the desires of their constituents, the whole edifice falls apart, just as a Roman arch would.

In the case of Madison, the people are doing a yeoman’s job of holding things together, pulling together the increasingly tight resources they have in their non-profits to make things work as best they can for those who have very little. Yet there was a lot of self-flaggelation/blaming ourselves for this sorry situation. Again, I vehemently disagree; the hardworking, civically-engaged people of Madison are not to blame. What is missing is that strong keystone element, starting with the out-of-touch mayor, but including every alder — yes, the ‘progressive’ ones inclusive.

There is no hope of getting through to the current crop of elected officials. In their hands, our destiny lies in gluttonous energy use, car-mandatory land use patterns, transportation only for the well-wheeled, dirtier & dirtier air  and filthier & filthier water.

They simply do not have the capacity to get it.

Mayor Pave Drives Off A Budgetary Cliff

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Wisconsin State Journal headline screams:

“Madison to face budget deficit for the first time in at least 20 years.”

Wow. We had no idea this was coming, now did we?

As usual, Dean “the last journalist standing” Mosiman gives Mayor Pave a pass, and fails to address the root cause of the emerging budget catastrophe: Mayor Pave’s paving proclivities. (I guess sycophancy pays off).

For a better perspective on how paving has produced this very-predicted budget catastrophe check out this key quote from that abovelinked November 2008 Op-Ed regarding 2009’s budget:

This is a highway-heavy road budget, as anti-green as it gets. And when I say anti-green, I’m not necessarily talking about the tree-hugging kind. This budget is bad for our economy. The emphasis on cul-de-sacs, cars and sprawl sets us up for broken budgets forever.

Forever just started.

And forever is getting worse given 2010’s continued paving spree (more critique here).

Note to Madison’s pliant council: You can’t go on jacking up paving budgets by double digits, year after year, and expect to achieve responsible budgets. You simply cannot. Cut up the credit card (i.e., rein in all that roadbuilding debt), sharpen your pencils, and set up a budget that is within your means. You’ll find that supporting deathmobiling to the exclusion of all else just won’t be sustainable economically, much less environmentally.

Mayor Pave on the March: Massive Paving Budget Passes

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

They passed it. On a voice vote (for all intents & purposes, unanimously).

Mayor Pave is on the march.

And the zombies on the council are following.

Meanwhile, Dean Mosiman, ‘dean’ of the local Dying Mainstream Media completely missed the record borrowing for paving in the budget he ‘covered.’ He could only focus on Ald. Jed Sanborn’s tantrums against projects that actually improve our quality of life. (What is it about fiscal conservatives and their hatred of fun?)

The fact that not one “progressive” member of the council stood up to the massive paving spree is continuing proof that there are no friends of the enivronment, our health, or fiscal prudence at the political level in Madison, Wisconsin. Indeed, I’d agree with Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent assessment that

There is the wall between those who cause climate change and those who suffer the consequences. There is the wall between those who heed the scientific evidence and those who pander to vested interests. And there is the wall between the citizens who are changing their own behavior and want strong global action, and the leaders who are so far letting them down.

By passing this pro-car budget, our local leaders ignored the scientific evidence regarding car emissions and global climate catastrophe; instead they pandered to the shrinking-but-still-powerful motoring interests. They ignored the fact that their own constituents are indeed “changing their own behavior” and consciously driving less than they have in a generation. (Yes, driving has been down year-over-year for three years in a row in Madison, Wisconsin. The only mode of transportation to increase? Bicycling.) They are ignoring the local calls to action (and here, and here, and here, etc., et cetera, Et Cetera).

Our local leaders have, as Gorby said, let us down. Gorby was a brave leader who had the guts to open up his Stalinist system to the light of day and let it wither and die a relatively peaceful death. Our leaders, unfortunately, cling to a failed ideology; an ideology of car-worship that rivals Stalinism in its brutal results. The evidence is all around us: the carnage on our streets; the destruction of our climate; the cascading fiscal catastrophes emanating from the automobile industry out to the cul-de-sacs; and then the obvious — our recent oil-wars in Iraq & Afghanistan (and those are just appetizers for more oil wars to come).

Mayor Pave, Tear Down That Wall of Paving!

Mayor’s Budget Puts Madison on War Footing

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Last night the mayor made a perfunctory resolution honoring veterans in commemoration of Veterans Day (Kristin Czubkowski live blogged it here; see 5:45 PM). It was sponsored by him and him alone.

How magnanimous.

As a veteran, here’s something I’d like to see him and his pliant council read as they wield their rubber stamps for a budget bloated with paving, automobile promotion, energy gluttony and thus more war forevermore.

Instead of doing something about the repercussions of our automobile addiction (i.e., war), the “green” mayor has budgeted for:

  • Doubling overall spending on paving since taking office ($33M in 2003 -> $68M in 2009).
  • Doubling the overall paving debt of the city (from an already bloated $47M in 2003 to $96M in the 2010 budget).
  • Trebling the annual increase in the paving contribution to the city’s debt ($11.5M in 2003 -> $35.3M in 2010).
  • Bloating debt service by 33% as a percentage of the operating budget (from 9% of the city budget to 12%).
  • An explosion of debt service to a whopping 17% of the operating budget by 2013.

Where does this fit into the big picture of the city budget? Well, guess what the single largest item in the capital budget is? Paving. The fastest growing component (ongoing) of the capital budget? Paving.

And the mayor’s passion for paving isn’t just a fiscal disaster. The capital budget is one of the major determinants of the look and feel of our city for generations to come. The budgets put together by this mayor have been highway heavy in the extreme. So he is creating places that promote automobilism to the exclusion of sustainable ways of getting around. His highwayscapes endanger pedestrians, terrify bicyclists and make transit untenable. Every tool we have to help pull us out of the climate/energy/fiscal tailspin is nixed by his highwayscapes.

Moreover, the ever tightening squeeze on the operations budget will mean budget difficulties for our quality of life, social & basic services. Saliently, Madison Metro bus service, considered an “operating” expense, will forevermore be in a vise between anti-transit/highwayscaped land use patterns (which cost more to serve) and an eternally squeezed operating budget (that is, a squeeze induced by debt service on those selfsame highways.)

Indeed, at this year’s “Neighborhood Roundtable” the mayor declared his intention of completely cutting all city funds to Madison Metro.

Yet he brags that this is a “reasonable budget for hard times.”

I call it a warmongering budget, Mayor Pave.

Yet Another Energy Mirage

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

We’ve been promised nuclear energy that would be clean (what about all that irradiated forever-waste?) and too-cheap-to-meter (why is it so expensive to mine uranium, run the plants and clean up the waste?), coal power that would last us for 400 years (while frying our atmosphere and making the Appalachians a moonscape in the meantime), bio-fuels that would save farming and the American Way of Life (while generating less energy than goes into the bio-fuel production process), and most recently, we’ve been promised “clean burning” natural gas. Well, T. Boone, now we know gas ain’t so clean after all. Not only does the new extraction technique pollute our waters, we also know that natural gas belches up a lot of CO2 in the drilling & extraction process.

It’s one energy mirage after another.

Get over it folks & face reality: you’ll just have to learn how to live with a lot less energy gluttony. Every concentrated energy source is extremely entropic (i.e., environmentally damaging, btw). Yes, even wind & solar if we intend to deploy them at massive industrial scales.

MSN Mayor Paves His Way to a Higher State of Enlightenment*

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

We are so benighted, yet so lucky to have such an enlightened leader:

While I don’t have a problem with our Capitol view preservation height limit, I generally view height limits and rigid growth boundaries as anti-urban polices that are, in the end, also not in the best interests of our natural environment.

Mansion Hill Neighborhood, he’s talking to you! Just accept that ugly bloatitecture in your midst!

Critics of his bloated paving budgets, just deal with it: more concrete is better; it is a sign of having reached the highest state of enlightenment.

*Alt title: “Mayor Pave’s Ghost in the Growth Machine”

Malthusian Delusions

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Monbiot is one of those rare writers who sees right through to the truth, every time. His latest diatribehis diatribes being always enjoyable, and always backed up with irrefutable data–assails the rich for blaming the poor for all of our environmental ills.

This is the exact same argument I’ve had with well-meaning enviros time & again. Their belief: that overpopulation is the root of all of our environmental ills. As Monbiot points out with data, the overarching generator of greenhouse gases is rich countries. Poor countries, including the most procreative, barely register. Thus, the root of our environmental problems is gluttony, not population. But the the 70s-era enviros cling to their Malthusian delusions, even as they jet about the world, spewing filth out into every corner of the globe….

Health Farce: Why Places that Don’t Suck Are Necessary for Health

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

So why would a blog dedicated to Places for People concern itself with health care? Well, let’s start from the beginning with a few basic questions:

Q1: What is the # 1 cause of  death for all people ages four to forty-four?

A: Das Deathmobile

Q2: How many people are permanently maimed each year due to car crashes?

A) 10,000

B) 50,000

C) 120,000

D) 400,000

(Hint: If you chose D, you would be correct! DING! DING! DING! DING!)

Q3: What are the # 1 and #2 causes of chronic disease for all people of all ages in the United States?

A: Sedentary lifestyle (enabled by–you guessed it!–das deathmobile, and enforced by poor land use & transportation policies),


B: Poor food choices (again, enforced by bad federal agriculture/food policies)

(In no particular order, btw, since the two seem to mutually reinforce one another.)

Unfortunately, our decisionmakers have yet to make these connections. For instance, I’m represented by a congresswoman who has made health care the top issue of her tenure as a politician. Over the years (going back to when she was my county supervisor in the early 90s) I have tried to communicate to her that the priority should be health. That access to health care is a component of health, but it should not be the overriding goal. That it is a means to an end: the goal being health. Unfortunately, she confuses means with ends and continues to equate health care with health. Frankly, I’d rather not have to go see a doctor. Routine check ups are fine, but in the end, the best way toward a healthful life is access to good food, safe public spaces & places for those of us who get around under our own power (i.e., exercise as part of our daily lives), clean air and clean water. But she continues to deny the link between these environmental factors and health.  She continually votes for more pavement (paving under prime farmland, trashing our air & water, creating unsafe conditions for pedestrians & bicyclists, etc.) and does nothing to re-orient our current government health care programs (Medi-care/aid) & subsidies (tax-free employer health benefits) away from fee-for-service; i.e., fee-for-service resulting in force feeding more procedures to the detriment of good health. (A good discussion of the problem of this over-doctored approach can be found here).

Fortunately, there are some synapses firing elsewhere.

Indeed, there has been some great thinking to come out of all of the Sturm und Drang regarding Obama’s health care push. Yes, finally, we have some insightful thinkers who have written eloquently, thoughtfully, logically and systematically about the difference between health and health care.

The best I’ve found appeared in September’s Atlantic Monthly

This eminently just & logical solution is the only way out of our current bind of crushing health care costs–costs imposed on all of us by poor food policies (Q3 Answer B) and militantly car-oriented transportation policies, both of which are forced upon us by the federal government (with plenty of local collaborators, to be sure!) (Q3 Answer A).

Re: Q3 Answer B (above), Michael Pollan does a fantastic job of exposing how, if a universal health coverage mandate is imposed, we’ll likely see a positive domino effect on our nation’s food policies.* Why? Because the health insurance companies, being forced to take all comers, and no longer able to deny coverage, will have an extreme profit motive to get people to eat better foods for lifetime health. Health! It will be in the insurance companies’ best interest to see us living healthy lives–throughout our lives–rather than simply not caring about long term health under the current system because, hey, right now, if you get sick, you’re kicked off the plan! Under the current system, why should they care? With universal coverage, they will have no choice but to care. Maybe we can finally use the profit motive to the good. Better access to better foods, and major changes in our nation’s agricultural/food policies, what’s not to like? But first, as Pollan points out, there is likely to be an epic battle between the insurers and the food producers. I’ll be at the 50 yard line to watch this one!

Re: Q3 Answer A, I’ll add a prognostication that complements and follows along the lines of Pollan’s argument: We’ll also likely see insurance companies showing up to city council meetings and militating against car-oriented development policies. They’ll also turn their lobbyists loose in DC (and state capitals across the country) to reform  transportation funding away from highways-only and toward creating really cool places that draw people out to walk, bike or use public transit–in a safe environment. A place that doesn’t suck. Health care for all might turn out to be a boon for really cool places! The insurance companies might even see it in their best interest to offer rebates for living in walkable neighborhoods!

And now you see why a blog that is all about places for people is concerned with getting health care for all.

*Pollan is speaking this weekend (starting Thursday at the Kohl Center at 7 PM) at several venues around town.

Of Smart People, Global Warming, Gluttony and Bombing Villages to Save Them

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

Oh hey look, the really important people are finally figuring out that our gluttony really does endanger our national security. Even the Pentagon–USDOD being the single largest user of oil in the world–is finally getting it. Face it folks, Afghanistan & Iraq are to future oil wars what the Spanish Civil War was to WW II–just a warm up. A sampling of what’s to come:

At first the military’s concern was for its bases. Advice was sought on the effects of tidal surges and rising ocean levels. More recently, the long-range dangers of droughts, food shortages, floods and the perils of mass migrations of hungry peoples 20 to 30 years from now have been studied.

The Pentagon foresees situations resulting in political instability and unrest that might require American military intervention in the worst cases, and big humanitarian rescue efforts at best. “It gets real complicated real quickly,” said the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, Amanda Dory, throwing grammar to the wind.

Sounds like self-induced Apocolypse to me. Sayyyyyyyy, speaking of biblical prophesies, since I’ve been all Noah-like in my screaming & yelling on this energy conservation thing since I was, oh, 11 years old–and actually reducing my household’s energy consumption by more than 2/3 compared to the national average– I’m wondering if maybe I’ll get rapted (is that a word?), thus leaving all y’all to deal with the disasters foretold by Pentagon planners!

And those smart guys at the Pentagon are finally figuring out that, no, you can’t save a village by bombing it:

As General Stanley McChrystal’s 60-day strategic assessment is wrapping up, he [is?] poised to recommend a new approach for Afghanistan, one grounded in counterinsurgency’s strategy of protecting the population.

Who says military intelligence is an oxymoron?!!!! What’s that you say? Why didn’t they figure this out after Viet Nam? Welllllllll, we’ll call that the $64,000,000 toilet seat question that someone from the military can answer for me!

Speaking of really smart people in the military, this is all quite amusing to me (in a dark humor sort of way) because I remember back in my days as a 2nd lieutenant serving under then-Major John Abizaid in the 3/325 (ABN) in Vicenza, Italy, and having that rising star lecture us junior officers on how bad the commanders in Viet Nam were, and how he would have done everything differently than the generals back then. And that basically, he could have won it because he would have been a better commander.

Flash forward 16-18 years and the Major is a General. He commands all operations in the Middle East, including the Iraq War. The smart guy has a chance to prove that he could do better. Does he bring us a just peace? Nope, he brings us more of the mindless, senseless brutality that marked our murderous excursion in Viet Nam. Abu Ghraib. Guantanamo. Bagram Prison. Wanton wrecking of the cultural patrimony of Iraq (more here, here and here). Basically, Abizaid commanded the same brutal tactics that drove the success of the Viet Cong back in the day. He orchestrated so much senseless brutality on the part of the US forces that they actually generated more enemies and more danger than they had before. He practically drove Iraq into a civil war. It was South Viet Nam all over again. They didn’t pull out of the tailspin until Bush canned him.

Yet that Wikipedia article about him is nothing more than despicable sycophancy. It reads like something his publicist put out. But hey, it got him a spot at that rightist think tank at Stanford! Smart guy indeed.

GDP: More Is Not More

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Growth Machine activists–most especially Mayor Pave & Konkrete Kathy–take note: Whether it is killing the coastal ecosystems of Louisiana or paving over the richest farmland in the world, right here in Dane County, more is not necessarily better.