The Skinny

SPRINGTIME FOR TUCSON: Life is good in the Old Pueblo these days. The daily newspaper has a cheery new outlook--much more business friendly!--and a bright new physical appearance to boot. The economy has been booming for years now, even in this far-flung outpost of American capitalism, whose principles are ascendant across the globe.

At first glance, the only rough patches on the national horizon would appear to be the possible overvalued nature of the stock market--that, and the Federal Reserve's growing tendency to jack up interest rates in an effort to control an inflationary trend, which, oddly, hasn't yet materialized. Barring some incident involving a dead Girl Scout and public nudity, George W. Bush looks to be a shoo-in for president come November.

Locally, our only real concerns would include the traffic, which hasn't subsided with the end of the high tourist season, as has always occurred in the past. But the bright side is we still don't have to put up with a lot of waiting around for poky public transit to show up and haul us to the mall.

We're also thinking about the coming heat and the fact that rainfall has been scarce. The plants are dying, but a little water will tide them over until mid-June, when the monsoon is expected to crank up, as usual. Thank God that CAP issue finally passed! And praise the Lord, too, for the fact that the pollen count will soon decline.

The city bond issues passed, as expected, aided in no small part by the fact that many cranky, anti-tax old people had already left for the summer, fleeing to cool pine country or to the east and west coasts. No wonder those party-poopers aren't willing to pay for the fabulous growth our town is experiencing.

Those of us who are left here to broil during the coming summer months can also be thankful for full employment. The big-box stores, phone-service centers and non-union construction jobs are putting food on the tables of tens of thousands of Tucsonans.

Never before in our community's history have so many people been gainfully employed. Never before have so many people been able to buy cars and put down payments on newly constructed homes, or to pay for apartments in one of the many, many complexes going up around town, thanks to the modern marvels of particle board and spray-on stucco.

Yes, at long last, life is good in the Old Pueblo. And while the rich may be getting much richer, the poor, whose numbers are always and forever increasing, find they're able to buy more and cheaper stuff, too.

It's a miracle, really. The triumph of American-style capitalism over all the world. And here, in our town, isolated in the middle of the vast southwestern desert, the miracle is no less intense, no less vibrant.

All in all, it's great to be alive in this era, in this place, with the wise leaders we have today. It's hard, isn't it, to see what could possibly go wrong, or what might have already begun to slide?

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG: Here's how the final triumph of the New World Order begins to play out in our town. It's a small example, but indicative, we're confident, of more momentous events to come:

Tom Berning is Tucson's City Attorney, a decent man in a difficult job. His is an appointed position with a great deal of public responsibility attached to it. Berning has taken that public responsibility seriously over the years, standing up for neighborhoods and the general good of the community, occasionally even in the face of politically powerful commercial interests.

The most recent examples of Berning's backbone are the El Con big-box battle and the billboard brouhaha. In both cases, the City Attorney stood up for the general good, rather than the profits of a few.

The result? The moneyed interests simply went around him.

The El Con owners went to the Tucson City Council majority--Shirley Scott, Carol West, Fred Ronstadt and Bob Walkup--to get their way. The billboard lobby went to Arizona's business-dominated Legislature, which quickly produced a law to facilitate the industry's butt-ugly business as usual.

Berning's no dummy--he had to have known that one city attorney alone couldn't hope to stop such powerful interests. But he did the right thing anyway.

We'll see less of that sort of nonsense in the future, of course.

The word on the street last week was that Councilman Ronstadt was leading the charge to ax Berning, as early as this week.

But by Saturday, the tenor of the bend-over-for-business council majority had changed. When it came time to discuss Berning's contract, West read from a prepared statement, making a motion to accept applications for the city attorney's post. Berning, she added, was welcome to apply.

This sham is what the council's new Gang of Four calls "the process." In other words, they'll appear to take their time and act reasonably in the move to dump this honest man who has a bit of a problem when it comes to blindly following the orders of Tucson's moneyed elite.

The man behind the council move to dump Berning, local insiders say, is private attorney and longtime powerbroker Si Schorr. The fact that he represented both El Con and billboard interests of late is doubtless purely coincidental.

Do you think, dear reader, that the "process" will seem any less reasonable and above-board when your day finally comes?

You do have a conscience, right? There are certain things you wouldn't do in the furtherance of your corporate overlord's pursuit of the almighty dollar, we assume.

Well, more than likely your limits will be tested, too. Maybe not tomorrow, or the next day. But soon enough.

You see, the monster lurking in American's bright future, and in Tucson's as well, is the old principle that success breeds success.

More jobs mean more people, and more people mean more jobs. Never mind that the jobs are mostly low-paying and that the housing for all those additional people is cheap and sure to be tomorrow's slums. Let our children deal with that problem, damn it, because we've got more roads and sewers to build! More cops to train and hire.

We've also got more stupid pygmy owls to kill and ancient, though pointless, ironwood forests to knock down. Because, when all is said and done, mankind is the measure of all things. And in today's world, a man's profit is the ultimate measure of his worth.

So the question for you to meditate upon, the question that one day you will undoubtedly be forced to answer, is this:

How far am I willing to go to serve this all-powerful god?

The majority on the Tucson City Council--West, Ronstadt, Scott and Walkup--have apparently yet to reach their limits. And what a terribly fascinating thing it will be, should that day occur.

THE SECRET POLICEMAN'S OTHER BALL: Former Tucson Police Chief Doug Smith has been dumped from his post as director of the super-secret High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area center, or HIDTA, for short.

HIDTA was initially conceived as an intelligence-coordinating service for all government agencies--local, state and federal--having anything to do with anti-drug, law-enforcement activities in Southern Arizona. It subsequently evolved into more of an operations center, which is housed in a nondescript building out at the airport. But if you go looking for it, you won't find a sign to guide you, so hush-hush is their mission.

In fact, there are computer terminals out there that only spooks with top-secret clearance can access, in rooms with locks that don't admit the local yokels. Is that cool, or what?

Too bad all that money and Gestapo gear hasn't made much of a dent in the plentitude of crap the masses see fit to inhale, inject or pop into their bloodstreams these days.

Seems the none-too-popular former chief got caught crosswise in an interagency turf battle, according to our many HIDTA sources. That's basically cop talk for, "He pissed off the Drug Enforcement Agency."

That and the fact that Smith reportedly wasn't very diplomatic about his views in general prompted HIDTA's 13-member executive board to vote, 12-1, to "defund" his exalted position.

Who voted to support Smith? Sorry--if we told you, we'd have to kill you, as the power-drunk cops are quick to say.

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