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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

What $4.7 Million Buys You

Ziegler and Van Hollen’s $4.7 million gift to WMC

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WMC has helped to fund Menasha’s case, and hopes that the court will rule in its favor. Although all who are interested in blind justice have asked Ziegler to step aside in this case, the only voice that counts—Van Hollen’s, because his office represents the state of Wisconsin in the matter—isn’t calling for her recusal.

Funding for judicial races will be discussed during a special legislative session on Dec. 11. Gov. Jim Doyle called for the session to address campaign finance issues such as voter registration, candidates’ appearances on public broadcasting stations and public access stations, the Elections Board and public financing of Supreme Court races, among other matters. Along with the Supreme Court mess, last week’s report on the statewide voter registration system—which doesn’t work, has gone over budget and prevented more than 1,500 people from voting legally last year—probably helped to get Doyle to act on these issues. (Or at least look like he’s acting on these issues.)

Update on BP Refinery: This past summer, residents of the Great Lakes states expressed their dissatisfaction with oil giant BP’s plans to greatly increase its oil refinery in Indiana, on the shores of Lake Michigan, about 20 miles from Chicago. The $3.8 billion expansion would have significantly increased the amount of ammonia and particulate matter in Lake Michigan. Amid the backlash, BP agreed to limit the plant’s emissions of toxic chemicals into the lake. But there’s more to the story. On Friday, the AP reports, the Environmental Protection Agency alleged that BP violated a number of Clean Air Act provisions. The agency says that BP didn’t get a permit in 2005 when it altered part of the plant— which caused “significant increases” in sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter—and isn’t monitoring emissions from some of the refinery’s units. The company most likely will respond to the EPA’s allegations and may face penalties if it can’t prove its case.

Speaking of Lake Michigan: The expanding We Energies coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek was dealt a setback last week when a judge ruled that its new cooling system must adhere to stricter environmental standards. The plant is already being built on the shores of Lake Michigan, but now We Energies must prove that its planned water-cooling system meets the tougher standards or else it has to come up with a new system. The company claims a new cooling system would cost $300 million, and state Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee), never one to stand up against a corporate giant, alleged that a different system that adheres to the tougher standards would actually be worse for the environment. The suit was brought by the Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin, which has long questioned the coal plant’s impact on the environment. Like BP’s backtracking this summer on its Indiana facility, the ruling proves that those who want to preserve Lake Michigan as a natural resource won’t be intimidated by huge corporations.

Referendum on the Ropes?: We can think of dozens of reasons why the marriage and civil union amendment should be removed from the state constitution. But last week, a Dane County Circuit Court judge accepted one man’s case against it: The referendum improperly asked two questions, not one, of state voters. One question dealt with defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, and the other dealt with granting same-sex and opposite-sex couples a legal status that’s similar to marriage, but not marriage (civil unions, for example). The judge ruled that Bill McConkey could go ahead with his suit against the state.

A Guilty Plea in Museum Case: The former chief financial officer of the Milwaukee Public Museum pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor for falsifying a financial report regarding a $500,000 bond payment in 2004. Terry Gaouette had originally been charged with four felonies concerning $4 million improperly transferred between accounts and for falsifying documents. Gaouette will pay a $500 fine and also pay the museum $45,000 as part of an agreement in which both sides agree not to sue each other over other violations. Gaouette will serve no jail time; he had faced up to 28 years in prison. The episode may put an end to the museum’s legal troubles for now, but it is still rebounding from the financial problems caused by Gaouette and, perhaps, the lax oversight provided by the museum board.

Venezuelan Referendum: Those who read the mainstream press continually hear about Hugo Chavez, the dictator who is trying to make himself president of Venezuela for life. On Sunday, Chavez, despite being popular with more than 60% of the population, lost his proposed constitutional changes in a referendum. The result challenges Chavez’s reputation as a dictator. First of all, what kind of dictator takes his changes to the people? And what kind of dictator allows for a fair election where he can—and in this particular case actually did—lose? And why is he a dictator simply for asking the people for an elimination of the term limits on the presidency, thereby allowing voters to re-elect him if they so choose? Chavez was probably overconfident and tried to make too many changes at one time. In the proposed changes to the constitution, he asked for anti-discriminatory language to protect gays and lesbians, for example, which is not a particularly popular position in many Latin American countries. In Fidel Castro’s Cuba, for instance, gays are still arrested and prosecuted. So when are Americans going to begin questioning the mainstream media’s continued twisting of the truth? Whether you like Chavez or not, it is obvious that he is a democrat, not a dictator.

Bus to New Berlin Jobs: Milwaukee people need jobs and New Berlin Industrial Park companies have job openings. That was one of the problems discussed last week at a meeting of the Milwaukee Public Works Committee. Several aldermen called on Waukesha to help Milwaukee by providing affordable housing and offering transportation for Milwaukee workers. In exchange, Milwaukee would look at selling Lake Michigan water to New Berlin. As it turns out, there already is such a route provided by the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS). Bus route No. 10 heads west from Downtown, along Wisconsin Avenue and Bluemound Road, and ends up at Brookfield Square, said MCTS Marketing Director Jackie Janz. She said people throughout the MCTS area can easily hook up to that route for the usual fare, which is $1.75 for adults. The Downtown-to-Brookfield Square ride takes about 50 minutes. From Brookfield Square, people can transfer and ride a Wisconsin Coach Lines bus that the Waukesha Metro System has contracted with to take workers south to and through the New Berlin Industrial Park, said Metro Director Robert Johnson. The transfer costs 25 cents.

Holiday Surprises for Kids: The Wisconsin Woodworkers Guild will donate about 1,000 member-made wooden toys to seven local shelters this week, according to the guild’s toy chairman, Jay Pilling. The annual donation has been going on for about a decade, and this year’s toys include airplanes and helicopters, wobbly ducks, doll cribs, educational toys, jewelry boxes, trucks and toy lawn mowers. Pilling said the wood was donated by World of Wood in Oconomowoc and Burmeister Woodwork Co. in Hales Corners.

Vets’ Voices: UW-Milwaukee’s chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) is sponsoring a discussion and film series about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Fireside Lounge in the UWM Union, local vets of these two wars will share their experiences. The films to be shown include Soldiers Pay (Dec. 8 in Union Room 191), The War Tapes (Dec. 9 at the Fireside Lounge) and The Ground Truth (Dec. 10 in Union Room 191). The events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public. For more information, e-mail sdsmke@gmail.com.

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