It's Thanksgiving week, and in the spirit of the holiday, I'd like to offer some things that we can all be thankful for this season in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and beyond.
First, of course, let us all give thanks that America beat Ebola! In the weeks leading up to the election earlier this month, it seemed like we were all only about two sneezes away from a gruesome death from the bug.
Never mind that the number of people in this country with Ebola was never greater than you could count on one hand, and neither of the two people who caught Ebola here -- as opposed to those coming here for treatment -- died. But that didn't stop some people (cough Republicans cough) in the run-up to the vote from blaming President Barack Obama for the epidemic and stoking fears of a zombie apocalypse or worse.
But the zombie apocalypse was averted! People have stopped complaining about Ebola! I am thankful for that, though I seem to have missed the news reports where those same people expressed their own thanks to the president for beating back the viral horde.
Second, along those same lines, I am incredibly thankful that my Thanksgiving table will not be full of Benghazi talk this week. After all, the House Intelligence Committee on Friday last week, just in time for the holiday, released the results of its two-year investigation into the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan city.
Some people (cough Republicans again cough) have been spinning tall tales about the attack since it happened, everything from Obama or then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sending a "stand-down" order guaranteeing the slaughter of three Americans to wild accusations that the Benghazi compound was actually the headquarters of an illicit arms-dealing ring under CIA control. The "scandal" that never should have been one led to the ouster of our ambassador to the United Nations, even, because she was accused of deliberately misleading the American people.
None of that, it turns out, is true. So I remain confident that we can all scarf down our turkey this Thursday without our Limbaugh-listening family members going on and on about the attacks. Except, maybe, to apologize for all their talk about it at dinner last year, leading to that unfortunate cornbread fight.
Third, I am very thankful that TABOR is making a comeback in Wisconsin.
TABOR? Yes, the Taxpayers Bill Of Rights, a right-wing fever dream piece of legislation that limits a state government's total spending to an arbitrary number and strips lawmakers of any discretion to budget as needed, instead demanding statewide referenda anytime an emergency arises that would require busting the cap. Robin Vos, Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, didn't say the word TABOR when he did his big post-election press conference, but he explained clearly that his Republican legislature would pursue such limits.
That bit didn't get the attention that his other threats -- I mean, policy goals -- did, like eliminating the caps on voucher school enrollment statewide, blowing up our non-partisan campaign oversight system, and finding new ways to mess with the eggheads in the University of Wisconsin system. But it was there, the threat to bring TABOR back.
TABOR's heyday, the mid-00s, was my blogging heyday. I have thousands of words already written and ready to deploy to defeat this dumb idea. I am all set to go with reminders about how state governments are not, in fact, analogous to family budgets, and how states like Colorado that adopted such strict spending limits quickly abandoned the idea in practice. But the theory, apparently, has not died. Thankfully, I'm prepared for this!
Finally, I'm thankful that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is not letting statewide Republican gains keep Milwaukee from moving forward with a future-oriented vision. In particular, Barrett's proposed expansion of the Milwaukee streetcar line to include more miles and stops at or near more popular destinations is a great step in the right direction.
While this modest improvement in Milwaukee's public transit is hardly a full-blown progressive revolution, it is -- assuming it can make it past a city council that includes at least two candidates opposing Barrett for the office in 2016 -- a step toward putting Milwaukee on more equal footing with peer cities like Portland or Cincinnati or Minneapolis, which, with vital public transit improvements in the last decade, are leaving us in the competitive dust.
Barrett is planning the streetcar expansion in a way that doesn't require state help, which is good because, as we've seen, state lawmakers' ideas for keeping Wisconsin competitive mostly involve cutting taxes and attacking public workers, rather than building capacity or trying to embrace the 21st century.
Indeed, Wisconsin Republicans have been killing ideas for expanded transit options, like connecting Milwaukee to Madison, Racine and Kenosha through rail, for decades, even though that would have strengthened the state's most vital metropolitan region and built the tax base. Lately, Vos himself has even walked all over proposals to revitalize Milwaukee's downtown with a new basketball arena and entertainment district that would not only help the city, but the region and the state as a whole.
Barrett isn't taking this anti-Milwaukee spirit lying down. Instead, he is suggesting that Milwaukee move ahead, on at least this one piece of economic expansion, without the rest of the state if it needs to.
And for that, I am most heartily thankful, for serious.