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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Car Dealer’s Wetland Scam

Facts are finally emerging to explain why Governor Scott Walker singled out wetlands as the first natural resource he wanted out of way in his quest to crack open Wisconsin for business. But like so many resource issues this one has juicy twists and a big fat irony to it. It may also indicate just how clever the Walker crew is in picking which conservation issues to move its agenda.

The “business” in question is a prominent Wisconsin car dealer, John Bergstrom, many of whose car lots help uglify Wisconsin’s most sprawl-plagued road, U.S. Highway 41. But Bergstrom doesn’t want a car lot at Hwy. 41 and Lombardi Avenue, in Green Bay. He wants to develop the land for national outdoor retail giant Bass Pro.

So here’s the irony: the very activities Bass Pro customers do depend on wetlands; without them there wouldn’t be fish to catch and wildlife to shoot or look at.

“Yeah, but who wants to look at wildlife at highway interchange?” you may reasonably ask.

Well, you see, it’s bigger than that one wetland. Walker’s people have crafted language in a bill that would affect all wetlands in Brown County like the now-infamous “Bergstrom wetland.” Worse than that, Walker is starting us on a dangerous new course of who gets what in this state. You don’t like what the DNR decided? Complain to the governor and he will introduce legislation narrowly drafted to help your issue, under the guise of more jobs, and get a compliant legislature to sign off -- previous law and rule and precedent and established practice be damned.

Rat can’t wait until the tables turn on Walker as he starts to dismantle the established permitting process. Somewhere, someday, Rat swears, there will be a politically connected guy that wants to put up an ATV race track and will get on a well-worn path to the governor’s office to make sure DNR processes are overruled and he gets his permit.

But wait! The guy has neighbors – and the neighbors are ALSO politically well connected, and they TOO go to the governor for redress of their grievance. They don’t want a noisy dusty racetrack fouling their 4th of July picnics. Who will win that one? I guess they’ll hammer it out in the governor’s office, away from public scrutiny and participation, and miles away from the process that balances private land use with the public interest.

Oh, and the juicy twists I promised: a Green Bay icon, the Packers, are not directly implicated in the Bergstrom wetland story but they are certainly downstream, you might say. The grand scheme is to capitalize on all that Packer traffic in town with a commercial and retail complex that could someday stretch from the stadium to Hwy. 41, with apparently Bass Pro as an anchor on one end. The Packers have not been invoked by those who want to fill the wetland in question, but Walker and supporters of this development picked a good issue to launch its “open for business/outta the way, environment” imperative. The public doesn’t cozy up to wetlands like they do lakes or state parks; that wetland, while ecologically important, would be hard to rally for public defense because it’s so close to a highway interchange; and the grand plans of two Wisconsin business icons – Bergstrom, and distantly, the Packers enterprise – appear to be bogged down by it.

There’s good reporting on this story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Do you trust that the brakes on your brand new car won’t fail you at 60 mph?

The fur’s been flying both in Wisconsin and Washington, DC lately over “regulations”, with a lot of caterwauling about anti-free market this and job-destroying that. But put the claws away, kitties, and let’s cut the catshit.

Do you trust that the brakes on your brand new car won’t fail you at 60 mph?
Or that the toy jewelry your three-year old is chewing on won’t land her in the hospital? How about knowing that the paycheck you deposited in the bank will still be there when you try to withdraw it next week? You have government regulation to thank.

“Regulations” are created to ensure that the basic things we do day-to-day will not kill us, sicken us or make us destitute. We are all at the benevolent receiving end of “regulations”. If there’s feces in your Big Mac, you’re equally screwed whether you’re a progressive or a tea-partier. Floodplains are very democratic, they will wash away badly placed mansions or shanties if you try to put them in a floodplain.

So, are regulations annoying? Certainly. But so are a contaminated Big Mac and a house that’s washed down the river. So we all agree some regulations should exist. And sometimes those regulations will affect people who make money building homes and selling Big Macs. But, when a politician begins to talk about how meddling government is destroying jobs, ask yourself: who is really benefiting? And who pays?

I’ve taken the liberty of translating some recent gibberish that’s appeared in the papers recently:

They say: "I want to slow or stop anti-free market regulations that kill jobs."
What it means: A job, any job, trumps human health and safety.

They say:“We want to find ways to streamline and minimize review times and strengthen this agency’s focus on customer service”.
What it means: Taxpayer: put up and shut up.

They say: Unelected agency bureaucrats are the problem
What it means: The problem is people who don’t have corporate lobbyists in their front office expecting payback for donations.


“Starving government authority and refusing to impose any costs on businesses means devaluing human health and safety to $0.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Even though I’m a rat, I still weirdly care for you people