Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Milwaukee’s Parking Meters...Not Fade Away

Technology is advancing all over downtown Milwaukee these days, stomping the old and stodgy like so much forgotten sausage. Bright blue steel undergirds the new long ramps of the Marquette Interchange 2.0, replacing the crumbling grey concrete of a more dangerous era. The outside of City Hall is covered head to foot with a cloak of scaffold, as the old bricks of the historic building are replaced with newer and, we assume, better bricks. All over town, more and more public places are under the steady gaze of silent video sentinels, watching our every move like mysterious owls, ready to sweep down the moment lines are crossed or improper proposals are made.

And, on the main and side streets of downtown, where the rubber meets the road and the commuter/visitor looks for a wayside to enable his/her temporary stay, not-so-old digital parking meters are being replaced by numbered signs. The signs – caste in a classic font, as if your car is not so much in a parking space as in a temporary address – bear no explanation of how to rent the formerly-metered space. But with a glance left or right on the adjoining sidewalk you will find a kiosk of hope; an enabling receptacle for your coins, bills or, god help us, credit cards.

This is progress, or so they say. Parking meters existed at the head of your car. If there was time left from the last parker, it said so. Upon successful insertion, the meter provided the instant gratification of time (precious time!) added in increments of 3, 6 or 15 minutes (6, 12 or 30 west of the freeway) for your hard-earned nickel, dimes and quarters, respectively. Just the tactile sensation of the light button on the side of the slot and the coin falling through brought a sense of accomplishment with the real reward of civic contribution and guaranteed ticket-free stop-time.

Trips to downtown – especially around the Courthouse, my regular haunt every morning – seem stressful enough for those who are, sadly, not as familiar as some of us with the ins-and-outs of downtown living. The precious parking spot next to the library on 9th Street secured, the Courthouse visitor can usually be found at the head of the car, searching through pockets for change (no pennies!) and discovering, like a cheap-ticket customer at Miller Park reeling at concession prices, that a quarter only gets you 15 minutes. You pay what you have, you hope, you pray.

Now the irregular visitor will have to deal with the radically-changed paradigm of mysterious number signs. What to do, what to do?

I had my first experience this week with my soon-to-be meterless world. Although usually confident at doing the Downtown Park, I pulled into my first numbered rental space like a novice – somehow, I even had trouble with what is otherwise a fairly routine parallel-park. After three tries, I was in and strangely unsteady.

The first thing I realized is that I had no idea if I had to give the City any money at all for what would be a fairly brief stay in space 1146. At a meter in the middle of the day, it was a better than 50% chance that I would be able to ride the coattails of the previous parker – who has not felt the heart-lifting feeling of "time on the meter"? No more. Even though the previous parker may have paid for two hours and left after 10 minutes, there was no way of knowing that. I approached the ATM-like pay station several spaces over and got ready for the New Way.

The box consisted of a small digital screen and a keypad. Nothing seemed to be activated. A sign on the box advised me to "touch any key to start". Decisions, decisions. I chose the 3 key, hoping for the best. Sure enough, the screen lurched to life and what I’m sure was a lovely panorama of the City appeared on the digital screen for about 5 seconds as the machine got its bearings. I couldn’t really see it, since it was hardly my eye level – the machines are meant to be accommodating, as they should be, and the height accommodated appears to be 4'6" ("Daddy, Daddy, let me do it!"). Anyway, after the unnecessary advertisement for the City (like ads running on the monitors at Target – hey, I’m here already!), I was asked for my space number. OK, easy enough for me, but I worry about those possibly forgetful people at the end of the block – do we have to take notes coming out of the car now? Is it a defense to a ticket that I got the number wrong and rented a space somewhere ten blocks away?

The space number successfully entered (I hope), the robot box has a question: do I want to add time to whatever is there already or buy fresh time? Well, how would I know? Is there time already on the damn thing (see above)? Maybe there was an answer available, but I didn’t feel like looking for it. I chose "new time" and fed the box the same quarter I would have jammed into the meter 5 minutes ago.

It recognized the coins just fine and I pushed "end" or whatever I had to do to get out of this digital transaction. "Receive receipt below", except there was no receipt forthcoming. Ooops, must be out of paper. I left having no idea whether I had accomplished anything of value at the kiosk. I tried to imagine how these probably fragile machines will do in the dead of winter. I came back in ten minutes fully expecting to see a ticket on the car.

Look, I’ve seen those guys who run around emptying the meters once a week. I know it is cheaper for the city to have those (no doubt fewer) workers have to hit only 2 machines on a block rather than 50. I’m sure the machine has some sort of wireless read-out so the ticket-writers don’t even have to squint at the meters to see if it’s expired. Efficiency in city services is a wonderful thing and I’m sure the company who pitched this to the city will be patted on the back by someone somewhere for a job well done.

But, sometimes, progress ain’t worth it. We lose something of the city’s soul when we lose the parking meter to the supposedly better angels of effectiveness and cost-saving. Would it kill us to hang on to the individual meters and all the inefficiencies that surround them for the sake of a few more jobs and a more human downtown experience? When a meter fails or doesn’t take the coins, you can kick it and hammer on it until it works (not that I’d ever do that or anything...). Kick one of the new pay stations, and you’ve just wiped out the parking memory for hundreds.

Bob Dylan famously wrote: Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parking meters. Well, too late for that. What do we do now?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gonzo Goes to Congress

Really. How much of a dick is Alberto Gonzales?

I’m serious. There has been no one in United States history who has dared to stick a finger in the eye of members of both parties in Congress on a regular basis quite like Gonzales. His "performance" before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday was an incredible display of smug arrogance and contemptuous, carefully-designed stonewalling. Gonzales represents everything wrong with the Bush administration, all delivered behind a sly, uncaring smile and the false confidence of unilateral power that could only exist in the rarified air of the Bush/Cheney White House.

Like all the functionaries of the Imperial Bush presidency, Gonzales does not think that anyone – much less members of Congress – has any business digging into the activities of this most disastrous of administrations. Those who dare to question are considered bugs to be swatted, pests to be eradicated, obstacles to be overcome. After several appearances since the U.S. Attorney scandal erupted earlier this year, Gonzales has staked out a unique sort of useful personna for the process and for the Senators and Congressmen involved. He doesn’t care because he doesn’t have to. Oversight is for suckers. Get over it.

Hell, his very existence in the job is a giant middle-finger to the self-respecting senators on the panel (a group that does not include die-hard Bush-excusers like the reprehensible Orin Hatch). Senators of both parties decided long ago that the sooner his White House-directed running of the Justice Department ended, the better. But Bush decided to keep him there, and what are you going to do about it, bub? While every other president in the history of the republic has at least tried to appear accessible and responsive, these guys see such pre-9/11 thinking as a sign of weakness. They "get to", so they do. Next question.

In the quaint pre-Bush era, the game for executive branch officials with something to hide was to play the game of "ask the right question". Like well-trained defendants in a legal deposition, they would answer only the question asked and not volunteer anything of substance that could be used against him. But, when the going got tough, even Nixon’s (then-former) AG John Mitchell had to answer the questions put to him in the Watergate hearings that glorious, democracy-affirming summer 31 years ago. By contrast, Gonzales appears with a script and will not let silly things like good questions get him off track.

And it’s not like it's hard to put together important questions for Gonzales. A simple question like "how many U.S. attorneys were fired" in the political purge caused Gonzo to claim not to know. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Bushies fired five more U.S. attorneys tomorrow and came to Congress with the same "what’s your problem" attitude. Far from being chagrined that his hospital-bed sandbagging of John Ashcroft was exposed, Gonzales professed pride in the outrageous behavior, lied about what surveillance program they were trying to get approved, and blamed the whole thing on the Gang of Eight senators. How bad can you be if you make John Ashcroft look good?

Gonzales pretended to listen to the questions and then gave whatever damn answer he wanted to, responsive or not. What does he care? While his manner was mild-mannered and almost polite – except for that smug half-smile on his face – the substance of his answers dripped with designed contempt for the senators and the process.

After the Nixon debacle, it became far less likely that we would end up with the same kind of psychological nutbag as president, who would be able to use his office to punish his enemies, real or imagined. Such a person may try, but he would find himself without the enablers Nixon had to carry out his nefarious designs. Now, we have a different kind of "let’s not do it again" presidency; a power-mad secret society that uses crimes and tragedies like 9/11 to declare a phony "war" so that they can claim to operate in an extra-Constitutional nether world, where they can’t be touched and can’t be bothered with checks, balances and other niceties of government that they choose to declare obsolete.

Once the Bushies hit the door, that will be the end of that. Anyone who tries to recreate this kind of poison atmosphere will be sent packing to the same political hell Gonzales and his ilk will be resigned to, starting in January, 2009.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Mark Green: Let Him Wait

Sen. John Kerry is standing up against rank cronyism and political payback by temporarily blocking soundly-thumped GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Green from being an ambassador to Tanzania. His action putting a senatorial hold on the nomination has blocked the reward-for-running action for now, but Junior Bush, whose handlers never really cared much for advice-and-consent, will just appoint him during the August recess anyway. Although the Green appointment has somehow won the support of the entire Wisconsin congressional delegation (in a typical display of Democrat-only bipartisanship), Green presided over the most negative campaign in Wisconsin history and hardly deserves to be rewarded for his down-and-dirty efforts. But Kerry’s courageous use of his senatorial privilege at least delays the Greening of Tanzania for a couple of weeks, after which Green can return to Wisconsin, with extra unearned credentials, to poison our political environment again.

Having written that temporarily abandoned paragraph this weekend, it was interesting to see John Nichols coming out four-square for Green's nomination in the Cap Times Monday morning. Nichols is one of the most effective and important progressive voices, not only in Wisconsin, but nationally through frequent columns in The Nation and elsewhere and his service as a too-little-used talking head on cable TV shows. I can’t remember ever disagreeing with anything he has written and I’ll assume that he has some cocktail-circuit contact or knowledge about Green personally that somehow overcomes his appalling public record. But Nichols is still wrong about this. Mark Green is an empty suit who should remain in the closet.

Mark Green’s public career has consisted of being a useful idiot for others with actual (bad) ideas. He was Felon (yet, still free) Scooter Jensen’s lapdog in the State Assembly. He was Bush and Delay’s lapdog while in Congress for eight years. And, finally, he was the willing shill for the WMC and the state GOP as the figurehead for most negative campaign for governor in Wisconsin history.

Green, according to Nichols, "got very serious when the discussion turned to issues relating to Africa". So what? If he was really serious about African issues before or coming out of law school, there were numerous areas of legal and other work that he could have gone into to put that supposed commitment to work instead of being a useful political stooge for people like Jensen and Delay. According to Nichols, Green is graciously passing up a chance to take his House seat back in ‘08. I don’t know why Nichols thinks that return to Washington is such a sure thing, but I can’t think of anyone who would pass up a cushy resume-enhancer like "ambassador" to anywhere over the much-harder work and schedule of a congressman – especially a cipher like Green, who was a do-nothing boot-licker last time he was there and would return with the GOP in the minority and a Democrat in the White House.

Amazingly, Nichols thinks Green would actually have some impact on Bush administration policies not in Tanzania, but in Darfur, Sudan. Wha? Bush has done nothing about the crisis for years and now Ambassador Green is going to charge in to save the day? Even if he wanted to (which he might) or he was capable of it (doubtful), what ambassador in the history of the top-down Bush administration has even had a significant impact on any policy, anywhere? Nichols knows better than most how the Bush administration works. Why he thinks anything would be different with Mark Green in Tanzania is beyond me.

Let’s assume that Mark Green is a wonderful guy on the subject of Africa. Fine. But the role he has played as a partisan hack should disqualify him from anything "diplomatic", much less a politically-rewarded ambassadorship. If Mark Green wants to work in the foreign service, he can get the training and pay his dues like the many other talented, dedicated people in that field.

John Nichols supporting Green’s appointment is sort of like Cal Thomas praising a Democratic president for nominating, oh, say, Howard Dean as ambassador to...anywhere. The difference is that Thomas would never do it and a progressive like Nichols would and did. Like Al Gore graciously acceding to the theft of the Florida vote in 2000, we sometimes give Republicans more credit than they deserve. In Green’s case, he has done nothing publicly to deserve the sort of bipartisan support he has received.

He’ll get his damned ambassadorship when Bush once again flaunts the will of Congress and does the recess appointment. Let him wait.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bonds, Ruth and Aaron

I love Hank Aaron.

When I was very young and my family was living in Wauwatosa, I was convinced that he lived in the same neighborhood as my baby-sitter when he was with the Braves. I remember watching him hit 715 on a small TV in my first college dorm room. I went to Opening Day in 1975 to see his return to Milwaukee. I am glad my son will get a chance to meet him someday during one of his many dignified appearances around town. On our way into every game at Miller Park, we touch the front foot of his statue for luck.

I also will enjoy seeing Barry Bonds break his record in this week.

Bond’s has issues, to be sure, that Aaron never had. While Aaron was Mr. Clean, Bonds, for about five years there, was certainly Riding Dirty. Bonds grew up in a decidedly different baseball era, where even gifted players were made, not born. Conditioning, weights, diet, supplements – athletes are now evaluated for basic makeup almost at birth and then designed for speed, for power, for strength. Bonds was born with exceptional skills, but much of him was built and designed by experts. Aaron just sort of happened.

Aaron was likewise of a different generation than Babe Ruth. Where Ruth was often slothful, Aaron was disciplined. Ruth could sit in the dugout, eating hot dogs and smoking cigarettes. Aaron, as a Negro League veteran, had to be perfectly behaved. Ruth also played in an all-white league and therefore avoided facing some of his era’s best players.

Bonds breaking Hank’s record won’t diminish Aaron’s accomplishments any more than Aaron diminished Ruth’s. Baseball will then have three different home run kings for three different eras. Ruth will always be the king of white-era baseball. Aaron will be the king of the middle passage, when baseball integrated and became big business. Until A-Rod passes him in six or seven years, Bonds will be the king of the designed ballplayer era, where skills are still taught but bodies, for good and ill, are sculpted and built for maximum impact (and income). Bonds, like an offensive line with an average weight of 350 lbs., is the epitome of cynical manipulation. Aaron may have been our last vestige of spontaneous magic.

Ken and I are going out to the Park today, and I won’t boo him (Ken will). Bonds is a Hame-of-Famer who also would have been one of the great players in Aaron’s era, even (especially) if he left his body alone. I hope the Brewers get ahead early and then I hope he pops one, maybe two. I’ll watch history on TV from San Francisco this week, and I hope he gets his due. Bonds did it dirty and ugly. But that’s the athletic entertainment world he (and we) are living in. He shouldn’t be punished just because he gave us the artificial fireworks we demanded.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fred Thompson To the Rescue

My favorite Fred Thompson moment is in his most recent movie gig. In Albert Brooks’ mildly-subversive movie, Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, Thompson plays himself as the head of a commission that sends Brooks to India and Pakistan to find out what makes Muslims laugh. "Are you back in politics?" asks Brooks. "I thought you were acting now." Thompson slumps over the conference table and pronounces "Once you’re back in politics, you never really escape." The other flunkies on the fake "commission" chuckle in deference to the chair, as Thompson works his substantial charms on the out-of-work Brooks character, eventually convincing him to take on the effort, supposedly dreamed up by W. himself who, Thompson claims, "has a pretty darn good sense of humor". Yeah. Funny like a heart attack, or a suicide bomb in Falusia.

After years of pretending to be a tough guy, dropping F-bombs and drinking brown liquor in the movies and on TV, Thompson is bizarrely being held out as the last remaining hope of a desperate Republican party. Saddled with a dreadful president and an out-of-touch agenda that includes the continued slog in Iraq, racist immigrant bashing and anti-science denial from evolution to stem cells, the GOP is facing the stark reality of its own irrelevance, if not its pending extinction. Staring blankly at a Law and Order rerun some months ago, someone in Rove’s office got the bright idea: Why not Thompson?

No less than ten "candidates" have stepped forward to offer their services as the Republican presidential offering for 2008, resulting in a wave of indifference and yawns throughout the land. Giuliani? The self-declared Mr. 9/11 has some, er, personal issues and his positions on social issues are at odds with the nut-right base. Oh, and, by the way, some firefighters would like to talk about what he did or didn’t do on and around 9/11, if you have the time. Romney? A little anxious to please, don’t you think? His perfect hair and teeth (talk about your Breck girls) lurch ahead of his face as he enters each room, pander-ready. OK for GOPers who want to love themselves, but he will have the smell of death in ‘08 (not to mention the rancid stench of his desired doubling of the population at Guantanamo) as he tries to find those in the enraged general populace to love him while he’s wrong on every issue imaginable – at least this week. A minor player like Tommy Thompson? What do you do with someone who is only taken seriously by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel? Run him for county executive, perhaps? John McCain? Sounds familiar...who was that, again?

And so, as America struggles to build a new start after the disastrous and corrupt Bush/Cheney years, the Grand Old Party reaches into its past to find its future. Once again, a decidedly B-actor steps forward to read the script. A typical character played by Fred Thompson in one of his movies would look dourly at the proposed candidacy outline on his cherry-maple desk while clinking the ice cubes in his ever-present glass of scotch, chuckling mildly as he turns the page. Eventually, he’d take the Rove-written proposal, crumple it up and throw it into a wastebasket across the room. "That’s a three-pointer," he would say, to no one in particular, about his waste-shooting skill. "F*#k that."

But, like Ronald Reagan, the phony hero, the real Fred Thompson is not made of such strong stuff. If you want to love him, he will make himself available to be loved. In fact, if the money is right, Thompson the lobbyist will tell you anything you want to hear and lean on the rope-line to receive your hugs. Reagan, his supposed brother-in-bullshit, had his price to carry the water of the moneyed interests and I’m sure Thompson has his. Maybe he’ll just charge them at his going rate of $500 per hour. Let’s see, this president thing is a 24/7 job...365 times 4 years, paid in advance, of course...hey, he’s yours – phony red pick-up truck and all. Oh, and by the way, his sons would like to talk to you about commerce in Uzbekistan...

Although he and those around him will spend untold hours and millions of dollars trying to define him in a glowing, aw-shucks light, Thompson will not be able to hide from how he first came to national attention – as the 30-year-old chief Republican counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee during the hearings that gripped the country’s imagination 34 summers ago. While Sam Ervin and even his then-boss Howard Baker were tying to find out what the hell was going on in the cesspool otherwise known as the Nixon White House, young Fred was sneaking behind their backs, leaking all kinds of inside information about the investigation to Nixon’s henchmen. Not that it did them any good. But it says something about the desperation of the 2008 GOP that they would turn to a veteran of secret Nixonian intrigue to help them recover from these somehow even darker years of secret Bushian nonsense.

Thompson’s other "issues" are nothing compared to him plotting with Nixon to subvert the historic work of the Watergate Committee. He has the kind of issues that would be death to any Democrat, but that just cause knowing nudges in a well-connected Republican. Lymphoma in remission? Hey, has anyone seen Cheney’s medical charts lately (Treated as Secret/SCI)? Divorce and second marriage to a 24 years younger trophy wife? A mere piffle – Rudy’s got one marriage on him, not to mention the Rage of the Second Wife, and he’s in the lead. Active in the Scooter defense fund; no doubt the successful lobbyist for that particular subversion of justice? Well, the whole thing was silly and, besides, juries are for suckers. Asbestos and abortion-rights lobbyist? Hey, a guy’s gotta eat.

In the end, Fred Thompson is stuck in a no-win situation. If he runs, he’ll be the doomed front-man for a miserable Republican party that has itself boxed-in and wrong on so many issues, from Iraq to health care to immigration to stem cell research. Somebody has to have an "R" next to their name as the loser in the history books, so it might as well be a mediocre actor in a dumpy brown business suit. If he doesn’t run, he will be the Man Who Wouldn’t Come, someone the GOP can blame their many failures on as they lose 30 more seats in the House, 5 more in the Senate and 100 more votes in the electoral college. They’ll need someone to blame – looking in the mirror after imposing the Bush Regime on the world will just be a bit too painful.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Laments and Laurels

A weekly parody of a weekly editorial.

This Scooter Libby fellow seems to have made quite an impression on President Bush. Although he was convicted by a federal jury of lying to investigators and a federal grand jury, the President stepped up to correct a slight flaw in the judge’s sentencing structure. It seems the judge got a bit carried away with this inconvenient "following the law" business we’ve all heard so much about and threw the federal sentencing guideline book right at poor Scooter’s solar plexus. Like a soccer goalie reaching to the corner of the net, our athletic president reached high and saved the country from seeing one of its finest public servants eating bad food in drab housing for several years. The score remains: U.S.A. - 5; Injustice - 0!

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame played Summerfest this week and rocked the Amphitheater with tales of Time, Money, Dark Sides of Moons and Bricks in Walls. We hear he also had some choice things to say about the president, Dick Cheney and some guy named Stalin. We are all in favor of artistic expression, as far as it goes. But some of Waters’ diatribes came at the expense of our suburban sensibilities and our desire to listen to meaningful songs from our past, devoid of uncomfortable meaning. Sure, the lyrics have always said "Money/It’s a crime". But now that we have some, we would rather not be flogged with the actual words of that "groovy" tune, thank you very much. The British singer also seems to have some issues with America and it role in the world. If he is giving out breaks, we wish he would give us one.

Forward-thinking members of the Milwaukee Common Council are considering covering much of the city in a blanket of security by putting video surveillance cameras on many street corners. Bravo! That which makes us feel safer certainly does. No-do-gooders will now think twice before taking their crimes out of their homes and into the streets, where we can see them. The Council should also consider putting video cameras in every home – where, after all, most crime is committed. Perhaps such a system could have two-way capability, so that the city could let its citizens know about important events and remind them of the Way of Right Thinking. Why not a separate two-way video screen installed in the corner of every living room, a watchful eye for you on the community – and of the community on you? Cranky "civil" "libertarians" may "complain" about the "invasion" of "privacy". But, remember – even though He might be Big, He’s still your Brother.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

And Don’t Come Back

The Waukesha Freeman has published an outrageous attack on Milwaukee in the form of an opinion column by a former editor. Has it really gotten this bad that people in the suburbs think they can just throw bombs at the City and still expect to benefit from all the good things the City does and can bring to them?

Pete Kennedy is the apparently otherwise undistinguished former editor. Given the (lack of) quality in Kennedy's work -- at least in this example -- maybe it’s not that big a deal to be an editor at the Freeman. After all, how hard can it be to edit literary heavyweights like Mark Belling and Jessica McBride?

Anyway, Kennedy of Waukesha has decided that "Milwaukee sucks". You can tell he thinks it – the clever phrase both opens and closes his column. Proclaiming himself a former defender of the city, a battery of exaggerated bad news having nothing to do with him has led him to this dire conclusion. Let us bow our heads in reverence as the suburbanite casts his final judgment. My god, how could we have gone this far astray?

In doing so, Kennedy joins the ranks of Sykes, McBride and other adult suburban brats with a media forum to bash the City. I wonder – is this going on amidst a significant portion of the (relatively) young adult suburban population that don't have a column, a blog or a radio show? Have they really gone south on the city that some of them grew up in and most of them come into every week to drink, eat, recreate and shop, if not work? Are they really going to hole up in their subdivisions and shut out the rest of the world?

I hope not. I hope these sentiments are limited to the small-minded media dim-bulbs like Kennedy, Sykes, etc. They must know that, without Milwaukee, Waukesha is Wausau. Without Milwaukee, they’d have to go a long way to get any big-city culture – theater, music, restaurants. Hey, when is Waukesha Night at the Brewers this year? Can we expect anyone to come? Anyone at all? Does Kennedy have his playoff tickets lined up? Should we let him?

You would think, given this drastic verdict, that something horrible has happened to Pete Kennedy in the City. But, no. A family member or friend, perhaps, put in mortal danger while waiting at a stoplight? No. Hell, there must have at least have been an uncomfortable moment in the company of black teenagers on the second floor at Mayfair. No, again.

Instead, Kennedy says he has been persuaded by things he knows nothing about, but about which he has read and heard a lot. From what he has heard about various well-reported and over-hyped incidents in the City, he extrapolates like crazy. "How many people visit Milwaukee to take in a game or have dinner, only to have their cars broken into?" he asks, I’m guessing rhetorically, although it’s hard to tell. "How many people work in Milwaukee and suffer the same fate?".

Those answers are not hard to come by, if he really wants to know. A couple of clicks on the Milwaukee Police web page gets you to a fairly comprehensive crime data compilation, the last available from 2004. Let’s see: in 2004, motor vehicle thefts were down from the year before – all property crimes down an impressive 15.2%. I am in the criminal courts everyday and I haven’t seen any sort of increase in vehicle theft cases – what is he talking about? Like all wing-nuts, Kennedy believes what he wants to believe, facts be damned. He says right-wing media hound Sheriff David Clarke has advised people "not to leave anything of value at park and rides heading into Summerfest". Good advice, anyway, but at the park-and-rides? Is the problem in Milwaukee or Goerke’s Corner in Kennedy’s own Waukesha County?

Kennedy is outraged, apparently, by 46 murders in the City this year so far, about on a pace for 2004's 88 and certainly less than 122 a decade ago. "And that doesn’t count the mob beating, or the gang rape, or the break-ins or the sewage," he exclaims. Well, no. Let’s see – one mob beating, one gang rape...hardly seems like a trend to me. Problems, yes. But Milwaukee as "ground zero of the apocalypse"? "A rotten excuse for a city"? Is he more likely to be the victim of a "mob beating" "than any other place in the United States"? This is crazy talk.

Kennedy says he’s done with Milwaukee, and that’s fine. Although we appreciate the diversity that a vibrant city brings, we can probably do without another smug suburbanite in an alligator shirt talking loudly at LaFuente about how miserable we are.

But, for all his righteous lecturing to the city he knows nothing about, Kennedy and his fellow Waukesha County residents will be back. It’s a long way to get around Milwaukee to get to that beautiful Lake Michigan water. And that smug white enclave in Waukesha does need the water. And, whether they know it or not, they also need the vibrant, imperfect city that lies just to the east.

UPDATE: I was so incensed by this ridiculous column, I missed Xoff's more expert and economically-based response.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

What If A Democrat Did It: The Home Version

Junior Bush had his moment to show what he’s really made of, and came through for his puppeteers in grand fashion on Monday afternoon. His hand no doubt forced by his primary handler, Dick Cheney, Bush took a break from his boat party with Putin to commute Scooter Libby’s sentence, meaning that one of the driving forces of his disastrous regime has been spared the petty indignities and bad bedding of prison life. Libby’s outright lies to a federal grand jury are as good as forgiven. The only thing left to do is the complete pardon on Bush’s way out the door and, what the heck, how about a Medal of Freedom?

Despite the latest outrage and the threat to our democracy, not to mention law and order, by the always imaginative Bushies, the timing of this could not be better for me personally. Some of you don’t know that I am at heart an entrepreneur. I have in development a board-game that should be ready in time for the holiday season. It will be called: What If A Democrat Did It? WIADDI will be a revolutionary board-game – more educational than Trivial Pursuit, more tricky than Jenga, more mysterious than Clue. There are no wrong answers in WIADDI. The only limit is your – imagination!

As you play WIADDI, you progress through four levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced and Expert. As a Beginner, you are presented with simple, easily-managed problems. At this level, you should be able to determine what would happen If A Democrat Did It without too much trouble. For instance, Bush selected a losing Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate and political hack who presided over the most negative campaign in Wisconsin history to an ambassadorship in Tanzania. Now – altogether – What If A Democrat Did It?!? (This phase is meant to be shouted by everyone in the room and everyone has to take a drink.) Points are given for each keyword hit, for which the moderator rings a bell. The obvious answer: Radio wingnuts (ding!) would accuse Democrats of blatant cronyism (ding!) and political payback (ding!). Three bells means a perfect score. See? It’s easy – and fun!

Higher levels present more challenging facts to really get your Cranium cranking. Let’s say a wealthy Democratic contributor and lobbyist for mining interests is put in charge of the Mine Safety Administration. The fox watching the chicken coop! Kickbacks no doubt expected! Contributor probably sleeping his way to the top! Can the head of EPA be far behind? You get the idea.

Here is a secret tip for success at all levels of WIADDI: All you have to do is think of everything that the mainstream media hasn’t done in response the Bush Outrages and assume they would do what they should have been doing all these years If A Democrat Did It. Given everything the lapdog media has failed to do in the Bush Years, you have thousands of options to choose from.

At the higher levels, the stakes get greater for the Hypothetical Democrat. Imagine a Democratic Vice President locks all his routine daily work in a man-sized safe every night, scrubs the Secret Service records of who has visited his mansion and, ultimately, declares himself a member of the legislative branch, untethered by executive branch requirements. WIADDI? Public flogging? Impeachment, surely, but that would be too good for him.

At the Expert level, the mind reels over what would happen If A Democrat Did It. The first problem at that level is a classic – the shutting down of the recount in Florida in 2000. This answer requires a thousand-page essay not about whether, but how the Republicans and the media would prevent the Democrat from taking office. What if a Democrat, after 9/11, used the tragedy as a bludgeon to grab power for himself, start a phony war in the fragile Middle East, wiretap phones without a warrant, and even hold people in a sun-baked prison, incommunicado for more than five years, complete with torture and secret renditions to countries who really know how to "get the job done"? You can almost hear the reporter outside the White House: "A delegation of Democratic congressional leaders went to the White House today to tell the President that the time has come to step down..."

At this level, it will be tempting for you to leap immediately to impeachment for such a lawless regime. But, remember, points are given for creativity. You have to let go of your disbelief about what Bush has managed to get away with. Forget also that a Democrat would never even think of pulling stunts like any of the Bush Horrors. Remember that, whoever the Democratic nominee and eventual president will be in ‘08 and ‘09, they will be run through the personal and professional wringer and held to a higher standard than the Republican, as they always are. Mountains will be made out of molehills, and, no matter who it is, you will feel icky marking the ballot for them. But, in WIADDI, you get to imagine what would happen if the Democrats really did elect a lawless dolt. The ultimate WIADDI challenge: What if it was the Democrats who nominated George W. Bush? Talk about an ass-kicking!

After the board-game takes hold, I plan to syndicate the game on the comics page, like the old There Oughta Be a Law or Sudoku, with problems ripped from the day’s headlines.

Today’s WIADDI: What if a Democratic president commuted the sentence of a key aide who was convicted of lying to investigators and a federal grand jury about his involvement in a political smear job that resulted in the outing of a CIA operative?

Answer: What, are you kidding me? Maybe we should just take bets on how long it would take an administration like that to be run out of town on a rail.