Saturday, February 16, 2008

Record turnout at 2008 Polar Plunge -- and another sign of Barack Obama's momentum

Set . . .

Peter Patau Photos

The Capitol and the downtown Madison skyline provided a scenic backdrop for the 2008 Polar Plunge, the annual fundraising event for Special Olympics Wisconsin, held on Lake Monona at Olin-Turville Park this afternoon. In another indication of how everything seems to fall into place for a campaign when it has momentum, I observed one bare midriff (right) painted with Obama's name vs. none for Clinton.

Some 2,000 participants took the icy dunk for charity on this sunny but chilly day. During the time I was there, wind chills had a hard time making it into the single digits. There were so many people that they had to park across John Nolen Drive at the Alliant Center, and shuttle buses brought them to the event. I escaped the Alliant Center mob scene by parking on East Lakeside Street, the little cul de sac that curls in next to the park, separated from it by a little wooden bridge over Wingra Creek. Click here to see my set of Polar Plunge photos on Flickr.

Friday, February 15, 2008

TGIF Countdown: In 340 days the real Bush will no longer be impersonating the Onion's fake Bush

At noon on January 20, 2009, George W. Bush will leave office, and he will no longer be impersonating the Bush so prophetically portrayed by the Onion on Jan. 17, 2001, just before he started his first term.
WASHINGTON, DC–Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."
He sure did. He's right about one thing -- it's time to put all of that behind us. Less than a year to go, and counting . . .

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bill Clinton apparently seizes the podium from Barack Obama in Madison, Wisconsin

We Missed Bill Clinton at the Stock Pavilion but Caught Up with Him at Paragon Video & Stereo
Bill Clinton was in Madison today, campaigning for Hillary, speaking to a mostly student audience of about 2,000 at the University of Wisconsin Stock Pavilion. We missed him at the Stock pavilion but caught up with him later at Paragon Video & Stereo on Monroe Street, where he was still holding forth in the early evening. He seemed to have commandeered Barack Obama's podium. The dude just doesn't know when to stop. Obama was nowhere to be seen.

The poisonous Mark Penn launches another one of his errant missiles on behalf of Hillary Clinton

In American politics, you can attack your political opponents all you want. Almost anything is fair game. But disrespect your opponent's supporters, and you're asking for trouble -- partly because it seems so arrogant, and partly because it reeks of clueless desperation. And that's just what Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn did yesterday.

Penn was in a campaign conference call with the media yesterday when he disparaged the support Barack Obama has received.
“Could we possibly have a nominee who hasn't won any of the significant states -- outside of Illinois?” Chief Strategist Mark Penn said. “That raises some serious questions about Sen. Obama.”
I took that personally as a resident of another state that is likely to follow Penn's other states into insignificance next week when we in Wisconsin hold our primary. It reminded me of another time I was insulted by a politician.

It was 1973, and Madison's conservative Republican mayor Bill Dyke was running for reelection against 27-year-old upstart radical alderman Paul Soglin. TIME magazine looked back at the dynamics a year later.
In 1968 his fellow students took advantage of their control of the city's Eighth District to elect him to the Madison city council.

Even as an alderman, however, Soglin remained an outsider. He continued to take part in student demonstrations, was twice arrested and, on one occasion, bailed out by a sympathetic fireman. He clashed with Mayor William Dyke over such issues as police brutality and budgets. But he also learned about municipal government, studying substantive subjects such as housing and transportation and getting a feel for such arcane matters as sewer maintenance and zoning regulations.

His political education proved to be valuable. In early 1973, when Senator George McGovern's campaign organization was still a political force in Madison, Soglin leaped into the mayoral race as an independent. The campaign, which took an ugly turn when Dyke appealed to Madison's "decent people" to keep him in office, was bitter. Soglin's more statesmanlike approach gave him 52% of the vote.
In 1973, the people Bill Dyke suggested were less than decent were part of a tidal wave of change, and Dyke did not understand how to cope with it. Now, 35 years later, Mark Penn is also facing a tidal wave of political change, on a much larger scale. His cynical, poll-driven "centrist" strategies seem ill-equipped to deal with it. In both cases, the men took their frustration out on their opponent's supporters rather than dealing more positively with the situation they faced.

Penn, whose background was spelled out in a telling Washington Post profile last year, came into the Clinton White House in 1994 with Dick Morris and stayed on after Morris departed in his own cloud of scandal. He served the Clintons loyally during the impeachment battle, but Hillary should have cut him loose a long time ago. The political landscape has changed a lot since they first hooked up, and Penn's influence has played a big part in her failure to adapt effectively. His latest gaffe is just one more example. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Note to MoDo: It's the war, stupid.

Listening to the CNN feed of Barack Obama speaking last night in Madison to the largest crowd ever to attend a primary event here, I was poignantly reminded of the miscalculations Hillary Clinton made regarding the war. She thought it would go away as an issue, and she thought that as a woman she had to prove that she was tough. But it hasn't gone away, and on the stage at the Kohl Center last night, Obama wasn't trying to prove he was tough. He was proving he was right on the war and McCain is wrong. His momentum keeps building, and it's likely to carry him to presidency.

In her NYT column today, Maureen Dowd reduces the race between Obama and Clinton to race and gender.
We’re not just in the most vertiginous election of our lives. We’re in another national seminar on gender and race that is teaching us about who we are as we figure out what we want America to be.

It’s not yet clear which prejudice will infect the presidential contest more — misogyny or racism.
By her reductionist framing of the campaign, MoDo diminishes and demeans both candidates by treating them as familiar stereotypes (and once again gives herself license to pass on yet another bad white bitch joke about Hillary). And she totally ignores the most important fact about this campaign: The public is sick to death of this unpopular and unjust war that has dragged on far too long. And they're sick of supporting politicians who helped make it possible. It's the war, stupid.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"To fix health care, we have to fix Washington"

Really? These are the last words in Barack Obama's health care commercial, which is now running in heavy rotation in Wisconsin in preparation for next week's primary on Feb. 19. The same ad has been running in other primary states. In Ohio, the Plain Dealer's politics blog commented on the commercial and its script.
Obama: My mother died of cancer at 53. In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.

I hear stories like hers every day.

For 20 years, Washington's talked about health care reform and reformed nothing.

I've got a plan to cut costs and cover everyone. But, unless we stop the bickering and the lobbyist, we'll be in the same place 20 years from now.

I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message because to fix health care, we have to fix Washington.
The commercial is pertinent, pointed and punchy in a confident way, but I have some reservations about the emphasis on the closing tagline, "to fix health care, we have to fix Washington." I find this less than reassuring. Even with a Democratic congressional landslide this year, most incumbents would still be reelected, Congress would be different at the margins, but we would still have largely the same Congress, and definitely the same Washington. One mortal, human being is going to fix this -- and then fix health care?

Haven't we been down this road before? In 1993, that's essentially what the Clintons said -- the system is broken, and we have a better way. They, too, pointed to decades of congressional inaction and promised to jump-start the process. But by failing to bring an admittedly compromised -- and compromising -- Congress into the process, they doomed their plan to failure.

Everyone wants health care reform. The public wants it. Most of the business world wants it. But, as we know all too well, there are many entrenched interests with a huge stake in the status quo. No matter how much demand there is for reform, it will take more than a mandate for change to make it happen. What will make it happen is a tough, hard-fought political battle (bickering?), working within a less than perfect system (lobbyists?), one in which competing interests must compromise to some degree, ideally not at the expense of basic principles.

Fixing Washington is a great goal. But why don't we fix health care first?

You can try to outrun it, but you'll lose. The snow is faster than you are -- and most likely taller

Trying to Outrun the Snow
You can't win. In Madison's snowiest winter ever it just keeps coming.
Including the 1.8 inches that fell Monday into Tuesday -- and not counting the additional snow expected to fall during the day today -- the area's snowfall total now stands at 77.3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

"That's a new record," an impressed Greg Davis, a hydrometeorological technician for the Weather Service, said this morning.

The total surpassed Madison's previous record for seasonal snowfall of 76.1 inches, set in the winter of 1978-79. Additional light snowfall is forecast through the afternoon.
In this record winter, we've already had enough accumulated snow to cover a 6'5" basketball player (of course, some has melted) and soon it will be taller than anybody. And it will just keep on coming. And coming. The photo at right was taken last year in Wingra Park on April 11. Consider yourself warned.

Sometimes this endless winter feels as if we're lost in a stained white radiance

Lost in a Stained White Radiance
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity . . .

-- Percy Byshe Shelley

I've always loved this quote, and it came to mind as I sit here after midnight and it still hasn't started, the latest round of snow which the weather peeps said would begin hours ago and which they predicted would break Madison's all-time winter record for total snow accumulation. But you can tell it's coming -- the cat has been restless. (And we still have a couple of our biggest snow months to go -- yikes!)

I was going to post a snow picture to commemorate the event, but there have been so many. So this photograph, taken on a melty day, is more a representation of what a long winter feels like than what it looks like today when the mercury is hovering around zero again and the roads are covered with hard-packed snow that for all practical purposes exhibits the physical qualities of ice.

There's a word for that feeling -- the winter blues. And here in Madison it has been known to be front-page, above-the-fold news in our biggest local daily, The Wisconsin State Journal. The economy is going to hell, the dying may still be going on in Iraq, but the morning paper shows a touching determination to put only the most important news on the breakfast tables of its readers, "news they can use" to heal their battered psyches.

The State Journal article by Pat Simms is OK, but it pretty much says what a thousand other articles have said. It's part of the medicalization of our society. Like so many things, the winter blues becomes a medical problem, and we dress it up with a fancy term, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and start prescribing remedies -- lights, diet, exercise, antidepressants and whatnot. And some people may need them.

But for most of us it's more an existential problem than a medical problem. Winter is a time to be quiet and reflective, to contemplate what it's all about, this life that "stains the white radiance of Eternity." In "Adonais," Shelley suggests a remedy for that stain -- death, which brings back the unsullied white radiance of Eternity. That strikes me as a bit extreme.

I think slowing down a bit would accomplish just as much, and be more reversible. We'd do well to take a tip about what our bodies really crave from our fellow animal beings, most of whom either hibernate outright, or become extremely sluggish. They don't keep up a busy schedule in the winter, and maybe we shouldn't either. Our cat spends most of his time sleeping. I think he's on to something.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The light has turned red for the luxury condo market in downtown Madison

Light Has Turned Red for Luxury Condo Market in Madison
The red light in front of the Marina Condominiums seems symbolic of what has happened to the luxury condo market in Madison, although the Marina Condominiums on Lake Monona were luckier than most, since they got in ahead of the market collapse. Even so, Sheridan Glen, a real estate broker who has been selling units in the building, said it has taken some time to come close to selling out.
"In 2001, when downtown condo construction began in earnest, developers could count on selling out a building in 12 to 18 months," he said. "Now it's taking four years to sell out but that is probably what it should take."

Glen has most recently been involved in marketing the upscale Marina condominiums on East Wilson Street. Opened in 2004, the 55-unit building still has six units left unsold, he said.
Things look much more dire over at Metropolitan Place Phase II on West Mifflin Street, where it was reported this week that its bankers were pursuing foreclosure against Buckingham LLC and developer Cliff Fisher on three mortgage loans that had fallen into default. The project, criticized at the time it went up for being too big for its location, is far from sold out, and the owners have fallen behind in keeping up with the carrying costs.
The second phase of Downtown Madison 's largest private housing project is in default to the tune of more than $26 million, its lenders said in court documents that seek foreclosure of its three mortgages.

The fate of the newly completed Metropolitan Place II, a 164-unit condominium tower facing West Mifflin Street, could indicate that national housing trends are reaching Madison, thought by some to be more immune than most places to twists and turns in U.S. economy.
Tim Homar, attorney for Fisher and Buckingham, indicated his clients would try to maintain control of the project, and pointed to an "uptick" in sales.
According to city property records, only 61 of the building 's 164 units -- about 37 percent -- have been sold. Homar said there were two closings last week and offers on condos continue to come in.

"Actually, we 're witnessing an uptick, " Homar said. Prices on offers aren 't as high as they would have been two years ago, he said, but agreements with the banks keep prices from falling very far.
As recently as last fall, Metropolitan Place Phase II was trying to appeal to rich Badger fans looking for high rise pied-à-terres for game weekends as way to sell some of those units. Those days seem to be over.

Alderman Mike Verveer had this comment for The Capital Times.
"I guess this shows that even downtown Madison isn't exempt from the nation's foreclosure crisis," he said. "But this is certainly going to lead to a lot of nervous people."
Some of us outside city government were nervous a good deal earlier, and wondered why city officials kept approving every high-rise development that came down the pike, permanently altering the human scale and amenities that made downtown so livable in the first place.

One of the casualties of this unfortunate development is the Willy Street Coop, which had been going to build a downtown grocery in Metropolitan Place II. They've had to pull out and start over, because the developer failed to keep his commitments. Maybe if city officials hadn't been quite as focused on facilitating the condo boom, we'd have that downtown grocery by now.

And we wouldn't be facing the drag on downtown development that overbuilt, unsold condos will pose for years to come, if developments in other cities are any indication. But that's what a bubble is like. Everyone loses perspective.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The wind chill in Madison was way below zero most of the day

The Wind Chill in Madison Was Way Below Zero Most of the Day
It's cold outside, but it sure is beautiful. That's what you're supposed to say, but what you really want to say is, it's cold outside, and it really sucks.