17
Jul
20

The Best Characters of The Wire: Part 5

IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!…(Europe playing). Yes, the time is here. The final 12 characters and best characters in Wire history. Stringer Bell, we got em. McNulty, we got em. Omar, we got em too. There all here so let’s get to it.

12. Kima Gregg’s

One of the best things about The Wire (and also very appropriate in 2020) is that it pulled no punches (literally) in depicting police brutality. We see suspects beaten repeatedly on the show and even Kima gets in on the act in season one when a senior detective gets hit by a drug dealer and the entire squadron kicks the shit out of the guy. The incident would not be that memorable except that it is the only time Kima actually does something unethical as a police officer.

Every group on The Wire has their moral center. For the dock workers its Beadie Russell. For the newspaper guys its Gus Haynes. For the Barksdale drug gang its D’Angelo Barksdale. For the police it’s Kima Gregg’s.

We get a glimpse of this towards the end of season one after Kima is shot and they need her to identify the suspect they have as a shooter. Bunk gives her the “fat finger” meaning he points to the guy it is. But Kima who didn’t actually see the shooter refuses to play along. When Bunk tells her it would play better in court if she made an eye witness statement she tells him “sometimes things have to play hard.”

Kima who was groomed by Daniels refuses to take money or lie on the job. In season five when McNulty reveals his serial killer scheme to her she refuses to keep quiet and runs it upstairs even though it might mean the end of two of her best friends and best cops careers.

I don’t mean to sound like Kima is perfect. In her private life she drinks heavily and sleeps around. She’s a lot like a female McNulty in those ways. But she loves being a cop and respects the position too much to soil it with unethical behavior.

If the world had more detectives like Kima we might not have some of the problems we have today.

11. Sgt. Carver

I said earlier that no one on The Wire has a better character arc than Pryzbylewski but Sgt. Ellis Carver may run a close second.

In the first season we see in Carver an abusive subordinate detective who beats suspects, steals money, and rats on his superior officer Daniels to the people upstairs making it more difficult for his unit to do their job. Carver is also one half of the Herc/Carver Beavis and Butthead style detectives that are constantly screwing up and making hilarious mistakes.

But unlike Herc who never changes and eventually loses his career, Carver takes Lt. Daniels heart to heart seriously and believes Daniels when he tells him the job has to be about the job and not your career.

By the time we get to season 4 not only is Carver thriving as a leader but he takes time to get to know the troubled kids in the community and makes every attempt to rescue Randy from the foster home system.

Carver also shows integrity when an officer under his command, Tony, beats on a civilian and instead of whitewashing it files an accurate report about what happened.

By the end of The Wire Carver is promoted to Major and one can only hope that at some point he becomes Commissioner and cleans up the department once and for all.

10. Marlo Stanfield

Easily the most villainous, vile character in Wire history. Marlo is a stone cold killer who has no code or respect for anyone or anything. Marlo cares only about expanding his empire and reputation. To be perfectly honest I really hate this character.

Most of the people on The Wire, even the really bad ones, have some admirable qualities. That’s really not true of Marlo. I suppose you could argue his ruthlessness or street smarts have value but even there he let’s most of the heavy lifting go to his subordinates Chris and Snoop who kill dozens of people on the way to Marlo becoming the biggest drug lord in Baltimore.

The only person that comes close to having something resembling a friendship with Marlo is Proposition Joe who helps pacify Marlo by teaching him the day to day business of running a drug empire. It’s Prop Joe that teaches Marlo about Wiretaps and surveillance. It’s Prop Joe that teaches Marlo how to launder money. And Marlo to his credit is at least smart enough to realize Prop Joe knows more than him and is someone to be learned from. But as soon as Marlo learns enough he has Joe killed.

Sadly nothing really terrible happens to Marlo. The only time someone comes close is when Omar robs him at a poker game. Even after the D.A. brings charges against him Rhonda agrees to let him go on probation in exchange for a life sentence on Chris and locking up most of his organization for good.

We last see Marlo trying to go straight after he sells his share of the co-op to Slim Charles for ten million dollars. Levy introduces Marlo to several high profile politicians and business men at a party but Marlo doesn’t stay long. He goes out into the streets and picks a fight with someone. He yells out his name. A man like Marlo can never be pacified. He is the streets and he is evil. Only death can satiate him.

9. Avon Barksdale

Most people know Wood Harris from Remember the Titans but he was amazing as West side drug lord Avon Barksdale in The Wire.

We meet Barksdale at the beginning of season one when he is at the height of his powers. He’s just bought off a witness and got his newphew off on a murder charge. He runs six high rise or low rise housing projects in Baltimore and his gang and his product is respected. But all that is about to change when an asshole cop named Jimmy McNulty and an eager to please judge named Phelan decide to put their full power into stopping the Barksdale organization.

By the end of season one Avon is serving a 7 year prison sentence due to the work of McNulty but he soon concocts a brilliant, evil scheme to get released from prison. He laces heroin with poison on the outside and has it sold to the corrupt prison guard that brings it in to the prison. After the tainted heroin kills five people Avon agrees to tell the warden where the heroin is coming from in exchange for a commuted sentence. He even vaguely threatens that if his sentence is not commuted he will strike again. After this Avon is released after serving just one of his seven years.

All of this is short lived though. The McNulty investigation led to the death or imprisonment of all of Avon’s top enforcers. Soon a disagreement with his longtime friend and business partner Stringer Bell leads to Bells death.

By the end of season three Avon’s empire has crumbled beneath him. Marlo Stanfield is the new king of West Baltimore and after a small gun charge violates his parole Avon is sent back to prison for the remainder of his term and the series.

Only Wood Harris could make such an evil person so likeable. Avon is a cold blooded killer but he’s also a charmer and loyal to his people. He loves the streets and cares only about the West side. Avon makes some mistakes but for a time he really was the King. But all kingdoms fall eventually.

8. Proposition Joe

You could make the case that in the entirety of The Wire Proposition Joe is the most powerful man in Baltimore. Yes technically The Greeks have more power and influence but they don’t run the streets of Baltimore and even they need a distributor like Joe to move their good heroin throughout the city. Marlo has more muscle but he’s not as business savvy. The Barksdales are more fierce but they don’t run as tight a ship.

Nobody sees the whole picture better than Prop Joe. Joe is an obese man that works out of a small appliance store and genuinely spends most of his day fixing toasters and clocks. He has no flash and no ego. But Joe gets shit done. He organizes the first co-op which teams all of the drug dealers together. He uses his influence with Levy to get sealed court documents before they are released to the public which keeps him a step ahead of law enforcement. He launders his money in South America and teaches others how to do it.

Prop Joe buys from the Greeks and has the best product. When the time is right he works a deal with Stringer Bell to expand his territory. When Marlo is becoming a major player he pacifies his violence by teaching him the game on a bigger scale.

Prop Joe is the closest thing to a pure business man as part of the drug game that we see in The Wire and for a time he pulls all the strings.

Sadly the vicious and signifantly dumber Marlo Stanfield kills Prop Joe in cold blood once he no longer has a use for him but Joe is avenged. At the end of season five Slim Charles kills Cheese because Cheese pulled the trigger. He says “that’s for Joe.”

Even the rival drug dealers respect and honor Prop Joe. He will be missed.

7. Bunk or “The Bunk”

The Bunk is probably most people’s favorite character on The Wire. Wendell Pierce who’s now in Jack Ryan but who’s been in probably fifty things you’ve seen gives one of the funniest truest performances on the show as a veteran homicide detective and the partner and close friend of Jimmy McNulty.

It’s debatable who is really the best detective on The Wire. It could be McNulty. It could be Lester Freamon. But it might very well be Bunk. One of the most famous scenes in Wire history depicts Bunk and McNulty solving a homicide using only the word “fuck.” In that scene watch how effortlessly Bunk puts the pieces together in his mind solving each little problem before putting the whole thing together.

Bunk also solves the case of the fourteen dead girls in season two, albeit with help from Freamon. If you watch the show Bunk gets stuck with more murders than anyone but almost always solves them. In season five when Omar is blamed for a homicide he didn’t commit and the investigating detective is happy to charge him with it it takes Bunk all of about five minutes at the crime scene to figure out he didn’t do it.

But Bunks other contribution is he has a soul. He talks Omar out of murder in exchange for getting him out of jail. He tries to talk Jimmy out of his manipulative scheme to fake a serial killer. Bunk gets drunk a lot and he cheats on his wife but he cares about his job and doing things the right way. Something few in the department do.

I don’t necessarily have a funniest scene with Bunk because there are so many but his drunken affair where he burns his clothes in the bathtub, his story about playing LaCrosse, and his wingman stunt harassing women with McNulty are among my favorites.

6. Lester Freamon

When I first watched The Wire I would have said hands down McNulty is the best detective on the show. But on a second and now third watch there’s no question Lester Freamon is not only the best detective but easily the smartest man on The Wire.

When we first meet Lester he is labeled a “hump” the term good police in Baltimore have for bad/lazy/incompetent police. Lester is assigned to the Barksdale investigation unit only because he’s a spare body that’s been doing nothing for over 13 years (13 years and 4 months) in the Pawn Shop unit. Lester spends most of his free time creating hand crafted doll house furniture which he sells on Ebay and makes a comfortable side living from.

Neither McNulty or Lt. Daniels are exactly thrilled to have Lester who seems like a waste of space on their important detail. But all that changes when someone mentions that Avon Barksdale may have done Golden Gloves when he was a kid and Lester stops working on his doll furniture to find out. Soon he comes back with a picture and bio for the man everyone is chasing and no one knows anything about.

From there Lester grows to become the leader of Major Crimes, an investigative unit that the bosses hate but actually does 90% of all serious police work in Baltimore. Lester brings down Avon by tapping his phones. He brings down Marlo by working with Sydnor to figure out his clock code. He takes down Frank Sobotka by figuring out the IBS computer system. He even figures out where all the dead bodies are in season four by noticing the new nails boarding up housing projects vs. the old screws that city ordinance uses. His final gift to the department is putting the squeeze on Senator Clay Davis to buy leverage against corrupt lawyer Maurice Levy.

Lester is the smoothest, smartest man on The Wire and does more actual solid police work than anyone. But there is only one reason he’s not as important as McNulty. That reason is just ahead…

5. Stringer Bell

The greatness or lack of greatness of Stringer Bell is much debated amongst Wire fans. In the excellent podcast “Way Down in the Hole,” Bell is a frequent target of co-host Jemelle Hill who labels him a fuckboi and an incompetent leader in The Barksdales clan. There’s no doubt Stringer Bell’s greatness is informed in large part by the actor who played him, Idris Elba. A man now famous world wide for his good looks and charisma and a man who’s been rumored to be the first black James Bond for years.

Sometimes you see an actor in a small part or a smaller medium and you know that person will someday be a star. If we’re being honest you don’t get this experience as much with African American actors because only in recent years are movies looking for the next Denzel Washington. Usually their looking for the next Harrison Ford. But Elba who some might argue is the black Harrison Ford is so handsome and charismatic that when he’s on the screen, even in limited time on The Wire you can’t take your eyes off of him. You knew this guy would be a star.

But this blog isn’t about actors, its about characters so lets get back to Stringer Bell. Bell is the childhood friend of Avon Barksdale and is Barksdales right hand man. As Bodie puts it using the chess analogy, Stringer is the Queen, or the “get-shit-done” piece. While Avon organizes basketball games against the East Side or sets up murders of rival drug dealers Stringer is the one that handles the day to day operation of running the Barksdales empire. He handles most of the money, most of the supply, and he has daily conversations with all the top lieutenants in the organization that run the territory. Stringer gets shit done.

But there is a strong disconnect between how Stringer sees the drug game and how his best friend and partner Avon sees it. This disconnect grows and grows until we see it crystallize at the end of season 3 when Avon gives up Stringer and allows Omar and Brother Mizone to kill him. The disconnect is this. Avon sees the drug game as a war where sides battle for territory and there can be only one winner. Stringer sees it as a business where only the amount of profit made truly matters. Stringer doesn’t care about turf wars or West Side vs. East Side or petty revenge murders. To Stringer the winner is the man with the most cash.

Stringer takes economics classes at a local community College. He reads Adam Smiths “Wealth of Nations” in his spare time. He works with Senator Clay Davis and business contractors to grow the Barksdales real estate empire so that one day him and Avon won’t even be involved in drugs anymore. As McNulty says Stringer is trying to become “The Bank.” A name for a former criminal that has become so powerful they are now untouchable as a criminal.

But Stringer for all his smarts, ambition and talent is missing one thing… Drugs are not a legit business no matter how much he wants it to be run like one, and the streets are the streets no matter how much you try to run from them. Stringer can’t escape his past or his past business no matter how much he tries to run from it. In the end he is gunned down by two remorseless killers. A cold reminder that the street would always be a part of him and you never truly escape your past.

4. Lt. Daniels

I almost titled this one Lt/Maj./Col./Commissioner  Daniels because that’s how many hats Daniels wears during the course of The Wire. Only to end up as unemployed Daniels after his career is ruined by McNultys and Freamons serial killer scheme in season five. But for me Daniels will always be Lt. Daniels, the young, hopelessly naive commander of Major Crimes, a job he doesn’t want in season one, and a job he grows into after McNulty forces him to see things from a different perspective.

Daniels is corrupt and naive when we first meet him. He took money as a young commander in the Western district and as a result his political opportunities dried up. The bosses either dislike him or hate him and Daniels is resigned to sticking to political ass kissing just to finish his career and draw a lieutenants pension. But when he is put in charge of Major Crimes as a result of McNultys and Judge Phelans desire to stop Avon Barksdale Daniels begins to see what real police work is about and the same guy that actively hates McNulty at the beginning of season one becomes a towering figure over the next few years and goes to bat for McNulty and his whole team time and again.

Daniels is the closest thing The Wire gets to a truly great boss. Almost everyone but especially McNulty, Sgt. Carver, Lester Freamon and Kima Gregg’s blossom under his leadership. By the end of season three Daniels Major Crimes unit is the beacon of great police work in Baltimore where all the best detectives want to work under him.

Daniels greatness is witnessed by councilman and eventually mayor Thomas Carcetti who realizes Daniels would not only make a great Commissioner but with him being black it would take the sting off of firing Burrell. As a result Carcetti fast tracks Daniels career from Major to Colonel to Commissioner.

In a perfect world Daniels would have stayed on as Commissioner, Carcetti would have stayed on as mayor and all the problems with the Baltimore Police Dept would have been solved. But The Wire never shows you a perfect world. It shows you a real one.

Carcetti wants to be governor and when he finds out two of Daniels best men McNulty and Freamon concocted a bullshit serial killer to terrorize the city of Baltimore in order to get more police funding he knows someone’s head has to roll. Daniels is forced out and the incompetent Valchek takes his place.

But for a brief shining moment Daniels ran things. In an idea world he’d be running thing  still.

3. Omar Little

What could I possibly say about Omar that hasn’t been said before. Publications have devoted massive space to the man many consider to be the best character not only in Wire history but among the best in television history.  A recent Ringer.com poll had him listed as a top ten TV character of all time, only losing out to the likes of Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Walter White. So Omar is big time. Even if you don’t watch The Wire you probably have heard of him. So the only question really is why isn’t he number one on this list. Is it blasphemous for him to be number three? Let me explain.

Omar as a character is the best written and most interesting character on The Wire (seriously whats crazier than a gay, black Robin Hood with a shotgun) but in the context of what The Wire is trying to do Omar is nowhere near the most important character. In fact you could argue Omar and his tragic demise is indicative of the fact that no matter how street smart or gangster you really are any one bullet can take you down. Omar who is one of the most violent and cunning  criminal protagonists in TV history isn’t killed in the end by Marlo Stanfield or the Barksdales crew or even Prop Joe or The Greeks. A scared kid with a gun spots him in a liquor store and takes him from behind. But if Omar’s death isn’t all that interesting his life is…

For one thing despite Omar being a robber and a killer he is one of the few people in The Wire with a moral code. Omar only robs from drug dealers and he never puts his gun on civilians. Although Bunk does point out to him in season three that all that doesn’t mean his violence doesn’t end up hurting good people. We also see Bunk get through to Omar in season five when he helps Omar get out of prison but in exchange asks that he give up killing. For a brief time Omar actually does this meaning he is a man of his word. We also know that until his long time business partner Blind Butchie was tortured and killed Omar was living peacefully in South America, meaning he’s one of the few gangsters in The Wire to get out of the game completely. All of this suggests Omar is a man with a soul, a man under different circumstances capable of doing good.

There are so many great moments with Omar that it’s hard to pick one or two but his escape from the towers in season five where he jumps out of a four story building and survives Marlos all out assault is legendary. Marlo later says “thats some Spiderman bullshit.”

In season two when he helps put Bird in prison after testifying against him and single handedly defeats Maurice Levy is also highly satisfying. After Levy calls Omar a parasite leaching off of the scum of the city Omar says “same as you. You got the briefcase, I got the shotgun. What’s the difference?” There’s never been anyone like Omar in TV history. There never will be again.

2. Bubbles

Andre Royo’s sympathetic portrayal of a struggling heroin addict is one of the best performances I’ve seen. Too often when we see drug users in movies or television they are either caricatures of addicts, completely strung out and soulless, or they are mindless party animals tearing shit up while on their high. Bubbles who is a consumate dope fiend is neither of these things.

To be fair we see Bubbles at some pretty dark moments. Perhaps none darker than in season four when he accidentally kills his best friend by leaving a “spiked” heroin gel cap out. This is the final straw that leads to Bubbles getting clean.

The Wire makes it clear time and again that the so-called “war on drugs” is an abject failure and that surviving addiction isn’t a straight or easy path. But in a show so filled with darkness it would be tragic if no one survived the drug epidemic. Bubbles does and in doing so he is the closest thing the show has to a true hero.

Bubbles transformation from addict and informant (who by the way almost single handedly clues the police on to all the major drug dealera in Baltimore) to recovering addict to respectable citizen is one of the few heartwarming journeys we see on the show.

The Wire uses a very simple image as a metaphor for Bubbles recovery throughout all five seasons. In season one Bubbles sister refuses to let him stay in her house. In season two he is allowed to stay but only in the basement. Later we see Bubbles is given access to the stairs but the door is locked. Even as Bubbles gets clean and stays clean his sister refuses to open the lock on that door. Those stairs lead nowhere. In the last shot of the last season the camera travels up those stairs to reveal the door unlocked for the first time. Bubbles is eating dinner with his sister and niece for the first time. It’s a great moment in an otherwise turbulent life of a great character.

1. Detective Jimmy McNulty

When you watch The Wire for the first time Dominick West’s Jimmy McNulty is fashioned as the shows leading man and hero. He is meant to be this shows equivalent to Tony Soprano and Don Draper and although he shares some similarities with those characters (the rampant alcoholism and womanizing) McNulty never becomes that type of character because The Wire never wants him to be. Not only does The Wire make clear that the good guys rarely win but when they do it is usually a team effort that allows for it. McNulty rarely gets his “Carousel” moment, that amazing tear-jerking speech Don Draper gets at the end of season one.

In fact McNulty rarely gets any good moments. Even his most insired detective work is either manufactured bullshit (I’ll get to that one in a moment) or an elaborate scheme to screw over his bosses.

But McNulty is not the hero we need but the one we deserve. In season one it is McNulty who convinces a judge to authorize a wiretap in order to take down the Barksdale gang. McNulty doesn’t do this as part of some moral crusade. McNulty doesn’t even do it because its his job. D’Angelo Barksdale isn’t even his arrest. McNulty hates the idea that a drug dealer got the best of his police department and in an endless crusade to prove how smart he is McNulty decides to put his full power to use to take down one of the worst drug dealers in Baltimore…and he succeeds!

McNulty isn’t truly interested in right or wrong and although he does have great moments of humanity (his relationship with Beadie, his conversation with Kima after she’s shot, his conversation with Bodie) McNulty is only really interested in proving his superiority. This concept is crystallized in season five when McNultys entire department is gutted financially after the mayor cuts their funding and all of the best detectives can’t finish their cases. McNulty realizes that in order to get funding for the department he has to make the city so fearful of not having the police that the mayor will be forced to give them funding. In order to do this McNulty doctors a homeless persons autopsy to make it look like a murder. He then plants evidence on several homeless deaths to manufacture a fake serial killer. His plan likely wouldn’t have gone anywhere but when an enterprising reporter gets wind of the story and makes up even more stuff to sensationalize the story it soon gets national headlines. McNultys plan actually sort of works and even Lester Freamon gets in on it helping him to doctor evidence and overtime slips, all so he can get Marlo Stanfield.

Unfortunately even though Freamon does get Stanfield and good cops are able to finish their case work this leaves most of the department that aren’t in on the ruse chasing a fake serial killer while the city lives in panic.

So with all this you might be wondering why McNulty should be number one. Should we celebrate a drunken, womanizing Irishman that breaks every rule and ends up hurting people and ending his career in the process. Yes, and here’s why.

The Wire makes clear that all of our systems are broken. The police department, the schools, the unions, the newspapers, our political leaders. They all exist as part of an irreparable system that destroys all it tries to help. In a broken system it takes a broken man to make it work. McNulty is a piece of shit much of the time and his motives aren’t pure but he does get results.

Without McNulty major crimes doesn’t exist and Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell never go down. Without McNultys serial killer scheme Freamon never has the surveillance to finish his case and Marlo Stanfields crew never goes down either. However he did it McNulty is largely responsible for defeating the two biggest drug gangs in Baltimore.

Again maybe not the hero we need but definitely one a city like Baltimore in a show like The Wire deserves.

Thanks for reading everyone. Questions, comments, disagreements. Feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

11
Jul
20

The Best Characters of The Wire: Part 4

We’re now down to the final 24 on the countdown. These are the big guns. The characters you definitely remember from The Wire and the ones that had the biggest impact.

24. Senator Clay Davis

“Shiiiite!’ was a common phrase of Senator Davis and he had about three different ways of saying it depending on what was happening.  Senator Davis was the State Senator of Baltimore and was arguably the most corrupt politician in the show which is saying something.

Davis not only took bribes but openly accepted money directly from drug gangs including but not limited to the Barksdales. His driver was arrested carrying $20,000 in cash back in season one but the bosses upstairs realizing his political connections quickly let him go.

Later Lester Freamon builds a solid case against him using tax returns and money laundering only to have Davis play up his race relations to a mostly black Baltimore jury. Freamon says later “He didn’t just play the race card, he threw the whole deck.”

Davis also schemed against Stringer Bell in season three in a series of land development cons that probably would have got him killed had Stringer Bell not died first.

However Senator Davis does do one important thing. After Freamon confronts him at a bar with the possibility that they could take the state charges federal (with probably an all white jury) Davis agrees to sell out Maurice Levy explaining where he gets his information which Rhonda Pearlman uses to negotiate the arrests of all the key Stanfield players.

Nobody’s played a corrupt politician better than Isiah Whitlock Jr. His performance here is the stuff of legend.

23. Commissioner Burrell

Frankie Faison is such a gifted, likeable actor that it’s hard to believe he plays such a lousy person so believably. Such is the case though with his portrayal of Col, then briefly Commissioner Burrell.

Burrell may or may not be corrupt. His corruption is more hinted at then detailed in the show but his incompetence and political maneuvering which leads to horrid police work is astounding.

Burrell “massages” the police stats so frequently that no one really knows how many people are dying in Baltimore. Even when Lester Freamon discovers 23 bodies in abandoned housing projects Burrell insists on leaking it to the mayor to decide if it would play better before or after the election.

Burrell famously cuts short two investigations. He pulls the chord on the Barksdale investigation before a case can be made against Stringer Bell, and he pulls the wire tap on the Marlo Stanfield organization before Lester Freamon had enough evidence to lock him up.

Burrell’s incompetence leads directly to more people being killed. He is so incompetent that even the black mayor of Baltimore who needs him there for political reasons wants him gone. But when Royce loses to Carcetti it forces Carcetti to get rid of him and due to a white mayor firing a black Commissioner Carcetti has to use every political favor he has to get Burrell fired.

Some of the corrupt and incompetent people on The Wire are merely an impediment to success. Burrell actively blocks any and all real police work to the point where a city is in chaos thanks to his inaction.

22.  Dennis “Cutty” Wise

Most people probably know Chad Coleman from The Walking Dead. He also briefly appears in Horrible Bosses. But anyone that watched The Wire knows him as Cutty.

Cutty is first introduced in season 3 as a former prison inmate sent by Avon Barksdale to work as hired muscle for Stringer Bell and Slim Charles at a time when the Barksdales are falling apart. Cutty has the street smarts to plan heists and murders but as he finds out during a violent shootout he no longer has the stomach for murder.

To find purpose Cutty asks for a small loan of $15,000 from Avon Barksdale (who boxed as a kid) to reopen an old boxing gym. Soon Cutty is teaching a lot of the project boys how to box and becomes a mentor to many of them.

By the end of the show Cutty has taken a bullet for one of the kids and proven his worth as a man. His journey from gangster to good guy isn’t an easy one but its one of the more hopeful storylines in The Wire.

21. Thomas Carcetti

Aiden Gillen will probably forever be known for being on another HBO property as Littlefinger in the immortal “Game of Thrones.” But before then he was the young white hope Mayor of Baltimore in The Wire.

We first meet Carcetti in season three as an ambitious and earnest councilman who sees the corruption going on in Baltimore and tries to stop it. He soon realizes that Mayor Royce isn’t going to listen to him or help him so he decides to run against him in the Democratic primary.

No one believes a white man can win the mayoral seat in a city that’s predominantly African American, including most of his campaign workers. But Carcetti wisely props up another candidate Tony Gray to siphon the black vote while going hard after the mayor in a couple of televised debates. As a result Carcetti wins a stunning upset.

Unfortunately Carcetti’s turn as mayor isn’t nearly as inspired as his campaign. Facing a budget shortfall Carcetti refuses to accept aid from the governor who’s a Republican because he doesn’t want ammunition against him if he decides to run for Governor.

The budget crisis forces Carcetti to cut police funding which leads to a rise in crime and one of McNultys most twisted stunts of all time.

Carcetti cares far more about moving on to the Governor’s job than fixing Baltimore and the bright optimistic young man we meet in season 3 turns out to be just another cog in a broken system.

20. Frank Sobotka

Chris Bauer is probably more well known for playing the incompetent sheriff on True Blood or for some of his twisted sexual roles in films like The Devils Advocate or 8MM. But that’s a shame because he’s astonishing in The Wire Season 2 as Union Boss Frank Sobotka. In fact, and it’s hard to say this in a show as well acted as The Wire, I think Chris Bauer gives the greatest performance of anyone in the entire show. I would even say it’s one of the top five performances in television in the past twenty years.

We first meet Frank Sobotka in season two as the disgruntled Union Boss of The Dock workers known as Stevedores. Frank has an arrangement with The Greeks to let some cargo off the docks without checking it and in exchange they pay him to look the other way.

For the most part it’s a mutually beneficial relationship because Frank doesn’t deal directly with the crimes and he uses the money to pay lobbyists so he can keep the docks open. That all changes though when one of the containers isn’t picked up on time and is discovered by Port Police. That container has 13 dead women in it and it is the beginning of the end for Frank Sobotka and corruption on the docks.

What is most interesting about Frank Sobotka is that he is truly self less when it comes to his job. He wants only for his workers and will do anything to help them. He keeps none of the considerable cash he makes for himself. He pays people’s tabs, he gives out loans under the table, he gives free cash to injured workers, he’s completely selfless.

But Frank’s undoing is that he doesn’t realize Union work and in particular dock work is dying quickly. He’s holding onto a dying empire and in doing so ignores completely his nephew and son who turn to crime to subsidize their limited employment. This ignorance of his own family has tragic consequences as both his son and nephew wind up in prison and after talking to the police Frank winds up dead.

His death and his failure to see the big picture is one of the real tragedies of The Wire.

19. Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk

Herc is one of the most lovable and funniest people in the entire cast of The Wire. Him and Carvers exploits as dumb detectives is almost always hilarious.

A great example is in season two when Herc convinces Carver to buy a hidden microphone device for $1250 so they can listen in on street drug dealers instead of having to do grueling surveillance. They hide the mike in a tennis ball which works great for about one day until Frog, a local drug dealer, starts playing with the ball and then throws it across the street. Carver who could barely afford it to begin with races across the street to save it before it’s run over by a truck.

But if that wasn’t enough Herc’s brilliant scheme is to register the microphone as a fake informant (hilariously named Fuzzy Dunlop) so they can get some department money to pay them back for the loss. All of this comes back to bite Herc big time a year later when a new commander needs to get in touch with the informant and finds out he’s made up.

Herc briefly rises to the rank of Seargent after he witnesses the mayor getting a blow job in his office but after his many schemese are uncovered he loses his job.

Herc may not be the brightest detective by a long shot but he’s far and away the funniest.

18. D’Angelo Barksdale

“D” is played by Larry Gilliard Jr and if Chris Bauer gives the best performance in The Wire you could argue Larry Gilliard gives the second best.

We first meet D in the very first episode after he’s killed an innocent bystander and is being punished by his powerful uncle Avon by being sent to “The Pit” a low rise housing project that houses the low rung of drug fiends in West Baltimore. D is not cut out for serious crime but he’s one of the smartest people on the show and he uses his smarts and kindness to build a rapport with Wallace, Bodie, and Poot who soon blossom under his influence.

Tragically though D’Angelo is sent to prison after a botched drug pickup and upon learning about the death of Wallace, his young worker, decides he wants nothing to do with his Uncles drug empire anymore. As a result Stringer Bell has him killed in prison and makes it look like a suicide.

If you want a glimpse of Larry Gilliard’s great work type in the “Where’s Wallace” scene on YouTube. Truly a remarkable performance.

17. Col. William Rawls

Rawls briefly rises to Commissioner in The Wire but he spends most of his time as the top ranking Colonel and the position of Deputy of Operations.

Col. Rawls is both infuriating as a commander and at times inspiring. He plays all the political games Burrell plays and he cares way too much about juking the stats but at times you get a glimpse of a great police mind in there.

His leadership after one of his detectives Kima Gregg’s gets shot is inspiring and he seems to want to do the right thing under Carcetti when he thinks he might get the Commissioner job. But all that is too little too late. Rawls is as much a product of a broken system as a contributor to it. Ultimately the fact that he cares more about the politics than the work leads to more people getting killed under his watch.

16. Rhonda Pearlman

Rhonda is the Baltimore prosecutor that cares the most about her job and she eventually rises from prosecutor to assistant D.A. to Baltimore city Judge.

Pearlman, like Levy, knows the political angles of trial work and she knows how to win a case. She also cares about doing the right thing and keeps McNulty and Freamon in line when it comes to probable cause and wire tap standards.

If I have one fault with her it’s that she plays Levys political games too often and sometimes let’s bad people go in the name of getting the most arrests. She never sticks her neck out like Judge Phelan or Detective Freamon do but she also never crosses any ethical lines, something few people on The Wire can say.

As far as her personal life goes Rhonda is briefly involved with Jimmy McNulty and it is hinted at that she’s the reason his marriage ended. She later gets tired of McNultys bullshit (as almost everyone does) and kicks him to the curb before moving on to Lieutenant Daniels.

15. “Bunny” Colvin

Col. “Bunny” Colvin who’s the commander of the western district, is briefly introduced in season two but it’s his amazing and inspired project in season three that gets everyone’s attention and leads to his demise.

Realizing that more innocent people are being killed by the drug gangs and being ordered to get his murder statistics down Colvin decides to do something no one has thought of…essentially legalize drugs.

Colvin makes a deal with the local drug dealers that if they move their trafficking to the abandoned projects in town and no one gets shot he will inform all his police to stand down and not arrest anyone. Neither the cops under him or the drug dealers he talks to like or believe his plan but after several misfires the idea catches on. And crime does indeed fall. However the abandoned housing projects become an unimaginable hell hole with rampant homelessness, prostitution, and vile living conditions. When a reporter gets word of what’s going on the idea is quickly abandoned and Bunny Colvin is demoted to Major and forced into retirement.

Interestingly enough Colvins plan really was tried in real life in Switzerland and it did remarkably lower drug usage and crime dramatically. However the Swiss had many safeguards in place to make the plan more effective.

Colvin later uses his outside the box thinking to help at-risk teens in season four when he forms an alternative education system inside the school. It’s there that he meets Namond Brice who he eventually adopts as his son.

14. Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski

No one has a better character arc than Prez on The Wire. When we first meet him in season one he’s a disgruntled, incompetent and mildly racist cop who misfires his gun indoors, and beats a teenager with the butt of his gun, blinding the kid. Prez is suspended and likely would have been fired but Daniels lies for him and saves his career…

And this turns out to be a good thing. While awaiting his suspension verdict Prez is allowed to help out inside the office and Lester puts him to work monitoring the wire tap phone calls. Prez is gifted at this kind of minutia and soon figures out the Barksdales pager code which no one else in the office can do.

He later becomes an adept detective when it comes to finding bank and housing records and soon is one of the most trusted inside detectives in the criminal investigation unit. Unfortunately Prez fires his gun at a fleeing suspect in season three that turns out to be an undercover cop. He quits before he gets fired and this time gives up on police work for good.

This could be the tragic end of Pryzbylewski’s run on the show but in season four he becomes a public school teacher and works at one of the worst inner city schools in Baltimore. But this time his experience as a police has taught him compassion and patience and after a rocky start he soon earns the trust of his kids.

The scene in season five when Duquon, a former student, asks Prez for money and Prez knows it’s probably to buy drugs but gives it to him anyway shows how far he’s come as a man. The Prez we see in season five is nothing like the one we see in season one and that’s a great thing.

13. Bodie

Preston “Bodie” Broadus is one of the most compelling and misguided characters on The Wire. He’s taught by D’Angelo in season one and later murders Wallace at the request of Stringer Bell. He does this despite his reluctance because Bodie desperately wants to become a major player in the drug world. In an early scene between him and D’Angelo when D is telling the boys about chess Bodie realizes that the pawns can make it to the other side and be turned into bishops or the queen. But D’Angelo tries to tell him it ain’t like that. In real life the pawns stay the pawns.

Bodie does everything in his power to stay alive and hungry as a drug dealer. He kills, takes over territory and even agrees to work for Marlo in order to stay in the game but Bodie never rises above a street level drug dealer in spite of his talent and ambition.

After several of his old crew are killed Bodie finally has enough and decides he will become an informant for McNulty. McNulty genuinely likes Bodie and they have a great moment together talking about the streets before someone witnesses their conversation. Before McNulty can fully turn Bodie he is murdered by Michael on orders from Marlo.

Bodie sees himself as a soldier. He saw the streets as a means of opportunity. In the end he became just another pawn in the drug game despite his best efforts.

09
Jul
20

The Best Characters of The Wire: Part 3

As we approach the third of five blogs detailing the best characters in Wire history we have some of the heavy hitters in the show appearing for the first time.

With a few exceptions the rest of this list moving forward will feature some of the biggest names and most influential characters that ever appeared on The Wire.

36. Namond Brice

Namond is the third of the four “Boys of Summer” characters on this list and his transformation is far and away the most hopeful. Namond who is the son of legendary Barksdale enforcer Wee-Bey Brice is raised to be a gangster and has all the pent up frustration and range that accompanies that position.

Unfortunately it’s all a show. Although Namond talks tough and curses out his teachers and bullies weaker kids he is deep down a scared and confused boy who’s grown up mostly in the life of luxury due to the considerable cash his father made as a top drug dealer in Baltimore. He’s not cut out for the gangster life even if everyone (including his mother) forces him to live in it.

Fortunately Namonds outbursts catch the attention of former police major Bunny Colvin who is working with grad students to catch at-risk teens before they enter the gang life by providing them an alternative education.

Namond is part of this pilot program and in time opens up to Bunny and his boxing instructor Cutty. Eventually Namond and Bunny form a bond and Bunny is able to convince Wee-Bey (who is serving at least 20 years of a life sentence) that the boy should be adopted if he hopes for a better lifestyle.

By the end of the series we see Namond living as a responsible teenage boy with Bunny and his wife and doing high school debate. He is the only one of the four troubled teens we meet in season 4 that truly gets out of the gangster lifestyle.

35. Michael Lee

I like to think the writers of The Wire gave Michael the name Michael as an homage to Michael Corleone who’s rise from innocent boy to family patriarch to stone cold killer is the focal point of The Godfather 1 and 2.

The Wire’s Michael doesn’t have quite as dramatic a story but its pretty compelling none the less. Michael is the leader of “The Boys of Summer” and is far and away the most handsome, intelligent, and empathetic boy we meet in Wire history. Given a different family or growing up in a different environment its not hard to imagine Michael as a successful business owner or politician some day.

Unfortunately Michael, like many of the kids in The Wire, has addicts for parents, including an abusive father newly released from prison. Michael will do anything to get free of his father and this makes him easy prey for Marlo Stanfield who eyes Michael early on as having the stuff of a great gang leader.

We see Michael devolve from compassionate kid at the beginning of season 4 to ruthless assassin by the end of the series. It is in fact hinted at in the series finale that Michael becomes the streets next Omar, a robber baron of drug lords who uses a shotgun to get the drop on people.

Before her satisfying death Snoop tells Michael that he’s always been smart but was never really a gangster. And she may have been right at one time. But if Michael wasn’t born to be a gangster the streets and Marlo Stanfield made sure he would become one.

34. Major Valchek

Valchek first becomes a focal point in The Wire in season 2 when he tries to get the Catholic Church of Baltimore to hang a stained glass window of the police department in the lobby of the church. When Valchek finds out that another Polish man, Frank Sobotka, has already paid the church to have a Union Workers window hanging instead his anger is unleashed on Sobotka.

Valchek uses every political maneuver and favor at his disposal to get an investigative unit up and running on Sobotka. Ironically Sobotka is mostly a middle man who ordinarily wouldn’t be worth the trouble, but he is connected to The Greeks who are inadvertently responsible for the murders of 14 women and are the largest drug suppliers in Baltimore. So Valchek’s bullshit beef with Frank Sobotka actually ends up being valuable.

Valchek is also the father in law of Roland Pryzbylewski and this dynamic comes up a few times on The Wire. We last see Valchek at the  end of season 5 having survived all the political axe throwing from Burrell, Rawls, and Carcetti, and being one of the few Majors left is promoted to Police Commissioner. No one has achieved more by doing less than Stan Valchek.

33. Detective Sydnor

There actually isn’t much to say about Sydnor. He has very few major storylines and is one of the least interesting characters on The Wire.

But he’s high on the list because he’s in the show a ton and is almost always directly involved in the criminal investigation units takedown of major criminals. Sydnor’s undercover work in season one leads to the location of the Barksdales stash house which leads to one of the biggest drug busts in the show. His work with Freamon in season five allows him to figure out the Stanfield crews intricate clock code which in turn leads to all the major players being arrested.

Few characters do more actual day to day important police work than Sydnor.

32./31

Chris Partlow and Felicia “Snoop” Pearson

Two different characters but I had to put them together because you rarely see them apart. Collectively Chris and Snoop are easily the deadliest duel in Wire history. They are the top two lieutenants for Marlo Stanfield. We know for sure they killed 23 people in Baltimore during Marlos rise to power because that’s how many bodies they left to rot in the abandoned housing projects that Lester Freamon eventually uncovers. But we see Chris and Snoop kill many other times on the show. They are both excellent shots and like Marlo are excellent at staking out territory,  disabling cameras, using misdirection to get inside hostile territories.

Chris and Snoop are also two of the smartest people on The Wire. We see in their interactions with Marlo that they may be more intellectual and strategic than him which makes you wonder why they so easily do his bidding.

Snoop who is a young gay woman and is often given some of the funnier lines of the duo is last seen at the end of the series run being murdered by Michael who she helped train. She planned to do the same thing to him but he gets the drop on her.

Chris ends up going to prison for life as part of a plea bargain deal that allows Marlo to go free. Ironically in one of the last shots of The Wire we see him talking to Wee-Bey in the prison courtyard, the only other person in Baltimore that might be as deadly as he is.

30. Norman Wilson, Campaign Manager

Norman is one of the two political consultants that work Thomas Carcetti’s campaign in season 3 and 4 of The Wire. But after Theresa D’Agostino leaves for national politics he becomes Carcetti’s most trusted advisor.

Norman is played by Reginald Cathey who is delightful in the part. He has no time for Carcetti’s bullshit or excuses and he almost always knows when someone is lying to him. Wilson’s political advice is almost always on point too. Like when he urges Carcetti to stay and talk to a local church knowing that word would spread of his being there. Or when he insists Carcetti meet with the Black Ministers Association even though they won’t give him their vote because he knows what they say or don’t say the Sunday before the election could mean the difference in a few thousand votes.

Wilson is also adamant about working with the Republican governor to get more funding for the schools. Advice that Carcetti ignores and ends up costing him later on. As advisors go you could do a lot worse than Norman Wilson.

29. Briana Barksdale

The matriarch of The Barksdale clan, Briana is the sister of Avon Barksdale and the mother of D’Angelo Barksdale. Not only is Briana fiercely loyal to her family and protective of her son but she briefly handles all the money laundering for the organization after Avon is imprisoned.

Briana’s weakness though is her love for her son D’Angelo and when she finds out he was murdered in prison, she turns against the Barksdale clan before being pacified by Stringer Bell.

Briana’s passion and wisdom are often on display and one wonders if she had been left in charge instead of Stringer if the Barksdales could have survived.

28. Nick Sobotka

Pablo Shreider was not a big star in 2003 when he took on the role of Nick Sobotka but his performance made him a common supporting actor in big movies for years before getting the lead role in Den of Thieves.

Nick Sobotka is the nephew of Frank Sobotka the union boss on the docks in season 2. He’s also the cousin and best friend of Ziggy Sobotka who ropes Nick into his schemes to rob from the port and get chemicals for drug manufacturing for the Greeks.

Nick Sobotka has the intelligence of Frank and the ambition of Ziggy and for a brief time looks like he will be a major player in the drug world, especially after Spiros Vondopoulis (front man for The Greeks) takes a liking to him.

Unfortunately Ziggys rampage and Frank’s decision to talk to the police lead to the whole criminal conspiracy crashing down around him. We last see Nick in season 4 protesting new condominiums being built while he still works a day shift at the docks.

27. Spiros Vondopoulis/ The Greek

I’m considering Spiros and The Greek as one entry because not only do you only see The Greek one time apart from Spiros but he is also often in the background listening in while appearing to be a disinterested third party.

Spiros is the front man for The Greeks operations and he handles all new and old business while keeping his bosses identity secret.

The Greek himself appears rarely and pulls the trick Gus Fring would pull years later; hiding in plain sight. Everyone wants to meet The Greek, wants to know who he is and all the while he’s the old quiet guy sitting in the back of the diner drinking coffee.

We only really see The Greek spring into action twice on The Wire. The first time is when he leads the interrogation and torture of the ship worker that killed the 14 girls at the beginning of season two. The second is after his FBI informant has leaked the fact that the police are on to his organization and he hires a lawyer and moves out of the country.

Spiros and The Greek are both within days of being caught as the top people of the Baltimore drug trade before Frank is murdered and the polices case dries up.

We see them still comfortably in power at the end of the series as they negotiate with Marlo Stanfield and then Slim Charles to keep distributing their pure heroin throughout the city.

26. Beatrice “Beadie” Russell

Beadie Russell is first seen working the docks in season two and is the police officer that finds the thirteen dead girls (there’s 14 total but one is thrown into the harbor) inside a shipping container.

Beadie is not as they say in the show “natural police” but Lester Freamon and Bunk Moreland teach her a lot and by the end of season 2 she’s a major factor in building a case against The Greeks.

But Amy Ryan’s (better known by some as Michael Scott’s love interest in The Office) contributions to The Wire don’t end there. She also plays the love interest of Jimmy McNulty who for awhile gives up his excessive drinking and womanizing to be with her.

Her speech to Jimmy at the end of season 5 about how family is really all you have when you come to the end of your life convinces him to stay with Beadie and take an early retirement.

Despite her modest demeanor Beadie Russell is a major player in The Wire.

25. Maurice “Maury” Levy

Maury Levy is the slimiest, most ruthless lawyer in television history. Yes I would even put him up against Glenn Close’s Patty Hewes from Damages.

Levy represents almost every major drug dealer in Baltimore from Avon Barksdale to Stringer Bell to Marlo Stanfield. But he also works alongside all of the corrupt politicians in Baltimore including the powerful Senator Clay Davis.

How is Levy so good? Well for one thing he has an informant. He pays someone down at the courthouse to leak warrants and grand jury testimony to him before they’re made public. Lester Freamon leverages Clay Davis for this information at the end of season 5 and Rhonda Pearlman uses it to work a deal in order to take down the Stanfield operation.

Levy should be disbarred but he almost always has another trick up his sleeve. He also almost always wins which is why when Omar testifies against one of his clients (The hitman Bird) and Levy loses it is so satisfying.

Levy is also one of the most ruthless lawyers as he frequently and casually suggests murder as a possible tactic to get his clients out of trouble on more than one occasion.

You can make an argument for Levy being the most evil person on The Wire. Certainly the most corrupt.

 

07
Jul
20

The Best Characters on The Wire Part 2

Monday I released the first of five blogs detailing the top 60 characters on The Wire, one of the three best television shows of all time in my opinion. With each blog I will not only move further up the list but will do a deeper dive into the characters.

This blog we’ll look at another 12 characters beginning with #48.

48. “Cheese” Wagstaff

The rapper Method Man began his promising acting career by playing one of the most evil, corrupt and menacing drug enforcers in Wire history. Cheese is the nephew of Proposition Joe and as such isn’t exactly management or muscle when we first meet him. He controls a small territory near the docks in season two.

During season two Cheese is mostly remembered for stealing Ziggy Sobotka’s prized Camaro and then torching it on the street after Ziggy fails to pay him back the $3,000 he owed him. Ziggy most likely would have ended up a “cadaverous motherfucker” except that Nicky Sobotka is friends with The Greeks and gets Sergei Malotov to intervene on Ziggys behalf.

Later in seasons four and five Cheese moves up the ladder in the drug empire by selling out his uncle Prop Joe and working side by side with the murderous Marlo Stanfield. Cheese is one of the least likeable characters in Wire lore and when Slim Charles puts and end to him in the series finale it was a welcome relief.

47. Judge Phelan

Peter Gerety is one of the great television character actors and he’s a great presence on The Wire as one of the few (mostly) non-political elected Democrats in the city. He is also close friends with Jimmy McNulty and prosecutor Rhonda Pearlman which proves beneficial for all parties throughout the show.

In season one after D’Angelo Barksdale gets off on a murder charge due to witness tampering it’s McNulty that puts the judge onto the Barksdale organization and is granted the first of many wire taps to listen in on the Barksdales calls. Later when Burrell tries to strip the investigation down Phelan leaks it to the press and keeps the investigation active.

Although Phelan does eventually stop helping McNulty so he can get back on Royce’s political ticket he mostly does the right thing, a rarity in Baltimore politics. He also has a crush on Rhonda Pearlman which may also play into his thinking.

46. Walon

Although he only appears in a handful of episodes Walon is a powerful presence in The Wire. He runs the local chapter of Narcotics Anonymous and later becomes Bubbles sponsor. Walon is perhaps the biggest reason Bubbles gets clean by the shows end.

Steve Earl the actor who plays Walon is also important in Wire lore for another reason. In real life he is a country singer and is responsible for season 5’s version of “Way Down in the Hole” arguably the best version of the theme song in Wire history.

45. Sergei “Boris” Malotov

“Serge”, as he is known affectionately by Prop Joe, is perhaps the most ruthless and effective hit man in The Wire. “Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Then it wasn’t us.” Sergei states this chilling line clearly when being questioned about a witness that he murdered earlier.

Segei is one of the most powerful hitters on The Wire because he is connected on one end to The Greeks that control drug shipments into Baltimore and on the other end by Prop Joe who handles distribution.

Later in season five Sergei still has considerable power while in prison and works with Marlo Stanfield to help him take over The Greeks supply.

44. Theresa D’Agostino, Campaign Manager

D’Agostino briefly seems like a major player in The Wire. She not only has a brief but passionate affair with McNulty in season three but she is also working alongside councilman Thomas Carcetti when he decides to run for mayor.

D’Agostino isn’t interested in love or anything else besides launching her national political career and tries using Jimmy for dirt inside his department before he finally dumps her for good. She also attempts an affair with Carcetti after he’s elected mayor which he smartly turns down. We don’t see her after the election in season four though because she moves onto other political opportunities leaving Carcetti in the far better hands of Norman Wilson.

43. Odell Watkins

The state delegate Watkins is quietly one of the most powerful people in Baltimore politics. Not only does he know the inner workings of the city inside and out but he has the Black Ministers Association and most of the city council in his pocket meaning it’s impossible to get anything done without his approval.

Fortunately Watkins is also smart and genuinely cares about the city. After Clarence Royce lies to him one too many times Watkins pulls his support which enables Carcetti to pull off an upset in his mayoral candidacy.

42. Slim Charles

Slim Charles might be higher on the list but he appears too infrequently for that. Slim Charles is one of the top two enforcers for the Barksdale gang but is also unlike most of the hit men in The Wire neither dumb or cruel. He kills when he has too but he takes no pleasure in it.

Slim Charles is also adaptable. He becomes Stringer Bells most trusted lieutenant after Avon goes to prison and then becomes one of Prop Joes top men after Stringsr meets his demise. In fact Slim Charles is so good at adaptability that he even manages to stay on Marlo Stanfields good side, something almost no one can manage.

This is important because in the series finale Stanfield sells his share of the co-op drug empire and Slim Charles becomes the front man for Greeks as the new kingpin of Baltimore. Perhaps no one achieves more in Wire lore by simply putting their head down and working like Slim Charles. His decision to kill Cheese in the series finale was also satisfying.

41. Jay Landsman

Landsman is instantly recognizable to anyone watching The Wire for more than a few minutes because he’s the funny fat man that’s constantly eating or looking at porn. Sometimes both.

Landsman is in many respects a terrible Seargent and boss. He only exists to do Col. Rawls bidding and dismisses almost all legitimate police work if there’s a simpler way to get the murder statistics down.

However Landsman has the ear of Rawls and is responsible for getting Jimmy back on the investigation unit at one point. He’s also a genuinely good Detective which is evidenced when he works the field during Kima’s shooting. Landsman is at times infuriating with his by the book thinking but one can imagine another world without Rawls where Landsman might have been a great cop.

40. Blind Butchie

Butchie is one of the least known wealthy crime lords in Baltimore. He doesn’t work with a lot of people or handle a large supply so the major players tend to leave him alone. Buthcie runs a small bar in East Baltimore and looks like just another old guy behind the counter.

But quietly Butchie is the money man for Omar Little, one of the most powerful killers and robbers in all of Baltimore. His connection to Omar leads to one of the most successful drug heists in Baltimore history in season five and makes Butchie a very wealthy man. Unfortunately this same heist draws the attention of Marlo Stanfield who sends Chris Partlow, his top hit man after Butchie. Chris tortures Butchie to get him to give up Omar but to the man’s credit he refuses to say a word. Even Chris is impressed before ending his life.

The death of Butchie is not without purpose though. It brings Omar back to Baltimore on a murderous rampage that changes a lot of things by the shows end.

39. “Wee-Bey” Brice

Wee-Bey is the top lieutenant in the Barksdales criminal organization. As a hit man he has more kills than probably anyone in Wire history.  So many that a prison guard messes with him for a murder he doesn’t even remember.

Wee-Bey makes a couple of key mistakes though. For one thing he is involved in the Kima Gregg’s shooting in season one which puts the entire department behind catching the Barksdales. Wee-Bey’s casual treatment of a stripper that overdoses is also a big reason why Shardene turns against the Barksdales and agrees to help the police.

Due to these mistakes Wee-Bey would be lower on the list but he has one truly redeeming moment on the show when he agrees to let his troubled son Namond Brice get adopted so he can get out of the gang life. Namond is saved from the streets because his father finally sees how wrong he was. Also Wee-Bey’s strange love of fish and fish tanks is a funny running joke on the show.

38. Duquan “Dookie” Weems

The first entry of the four “Boys of Summer” is Duquan who we meet in the season 4 opener. It’s Duquans idea to get revenge against some older school bullies by filling water balloons with urine then waiting until they come around the corner to fire on them.

Duquan is a sweet boy that unfortunately lives in a drug household where his parents take his food and clothes to sell for drugs. His family is also evicted at one point forcing Duquan to live on the streets.

Roland Pryzbylewski tries to help Duquan by giving him fresh clothes and toiletries and mentoring him after class but soon after his buddy Michael is forced to flee Baltimore Duquan turns to drugs himself and can last be seen as a High School dropout getting high on heroin in the series finale.

The Wire pulled no punches in its depictions of poverty and drug use and the tragedy of most of the “Boys of Summer” is a heart wrenching thing to watch. Duquans fall from grace may have been the saddest of all four boys because it looked like briefly he might find a way out.

37. Randy Wagstaff

Also one of “The Boys of Summer” Randy is another sweet kid who is enterprising enough to sell candy to older kids during the school lunch breaks. Unfortunately one terrible incident helps bring about Randy’s demise.

After standing lookout for two boys who want to have sex with a girl in a school bathroom the boys are accused of rape and Randy is threatened with suspension. In order to get out of the incident he volunteers that he may know something about a murder.

The police and Pryzbylewski try to keep the incident under wraps but soon word gets out that Randy snitched.

Officer Carver is willing to give Randy a home to protect him but the state adoption agency won’t allow it and Randy is sent to a group home where he is beaten mercilessly by older kids for being a rat. By the time we see him again he is a hardened young man and the sweet boy he once was is gone forever.

06
Jul
20

The Best Characters of The Wire, Part 1

To honor my recent rewatch of one of the top three television shows of all time “The Wire” I am going to rank the top 60 characters from the show. Why 60? Well for one thing because there are 60 episodes of The Wire so one for each episode seems fair. Also unlike other t.v. shows there are enough good characters on The Wire that it was not hard to come up with a good list. 70 may have been too much. 50 is too little. So with that being said let’s get into it.

First some ground rules. I based my rankings primarily on three categories. 1. The amount of time a character was on the show. Characters like Bunk and McNulty are ranked higher because they appear in most every episode. Characters like Frank Sobotka although excellent rank lower because they weren’t in the show long enough. 2. I also rank characters based on show impact, both what they meant to the quality of the show and what their character meant for the show. For this reason there are some characters that were in the show quite a bit but didn’t make the cut because they didn’t impact the story lines all that much. Finally, 3. I tried to get a diverse group of characters for the list so I didn’t want to put every cop or every drug dealer on the list. I tried to have at least some sampling of all the industries represented in all five seasons among the characters. If a character made an impact even in one season they still had a good chance to make the list.

For this first entry I will be counting down from 60 to 49. All totaled there will be five parts with 12 characters listed in each. Here’s  part one.

60. Malik “Poot” Carr

You might remember Poot as Bodie’s wingman and fellow West Baltimore drug pusher in season one. Poot is low on the list because even though he was in a lot of episodes (26) he didn’t make a huge impact.

Poots biggest show contributions were killing Wallace at the end of season one along with Bodie and perhaps the funniest “sex talk” recording in t.v. history when Poot discusses “glazed donuts” and “all three holes” with one of his many love interests. He pops up much later in the series when he has given up the drug trade to work at a Foot Locker.

59. Randall Frazier, Medical Examiner

Admittedly Frazier is not a real well known character on The Wire and he did not appear in a lot of episodes but he makes the list because Frazier does more quality investigative work than just about anyone in the Baltimore Police Dept.

Its Frazier that matches the ballistics on Bunks murder in season one. It’s Frazier that confirms McNultys suspicions that the dead women found in a shipping container in season 2 were murdered after all. He also gets a trace on the women’s country of origin by tracking their breast implants. Frazier is aware of McNultys bullshit but doesn’t care. He simply wants to do good police work. A rare thing in Baltimore.

58. Marla Daniels

Lt. Daniels wife is also a political player, eventually making her way to a city council seat but it’s her unnerving manipulation of her husband in a failed attempt to launch his political career that makes her such a pain in the ass.

Daniels never sees eye to eye with his wife who constantly tells him how to do his job and it’s for this reason that he eventually dumps her. Ironically after Daniels stops listening to her his political police career begins to take off.

57. Shardene the stripper

Shardene can first be found working the club Orlando’s in season one and briefly dates DeAngelo Barksdale before realizing the murderous ways of the Barksdale clan.

Lester Freamon turns Shardene against the Barksdales and it’s her information as a confidential informant that helps Lester and McNulty solve their case. Lester, always a slick one, also uses his closeness with Shardene to pursue a romantic relationship with her and they are still together by the end of the shows run.

56. Orlando

The owner of the club Orlando’s, Orlando Blockard is really just a front man for Avon Barksdale who uses the club to launder drug money and run his empire.

Orlando is notable for being one of the dumbest characters in The Wire and this is proven when he makes a move against the Barksdales, gets entrapped by the police, and then tries to inform on the Barksdales to get his way out of his legal trouble. This not only leads to his death at the hands of WeeBey but also causes Detective Kima Gregg’s to get shot in the line of duty. When Orlando left the show it was good riddance.

55. Johnny the dope fiend

Johnny is the Robin half of Bubbles and Johnny’s crackhead Batman and Robin. Both Bubbles and Johnny like to spend their day getting high and will pull any number of schemes such as passing out counterfeit bills or stealing copper to pay for their habit.

But unlike Johnny Bubbles schemes usually work. Johnny on the other hand is constantly being arrested or beaten up by drug dealers. However as comic relief you could do worse.

54. Clarence Royce

Baltimore’s Mayor in season 3 is one of the most corrupt and inept people in office. Not that it matters though because in a city that’s  80% black and with Royce’s deep pockets and deeper political connections he’s a shoe-in to have that job as long as he wants, right?

Royce doesn’t take newcomer Thomas Carcetti seriously enough and with Tony Gray siphoning off enough of the black vote he loses his mayoral candidacy in a stunning upset. Royce is also memorable for his “Clintonesque” extra curricular activities.

53. Ziggy Sobotka

I debated putting Ziggy on this list at all because he is quite possibly the most annoying and most hated character in Wire history. The spoiled brat son of Union Boss Frank Sobotka Ziggy excels at poorly thought out criminal schemes that typically backfire on him and everyone else around him.

His murderous rampage is also the biggest reason for the Sobotka family being wiped out at the end of season 2. And if you need even another reason to hate him he commits an act of animal cruelty by taking his pet duck to the bar and giving the duck drinks until it dies of alcohol poisoning. If not for the fact that seeing Ziggy get punked or beat up is so satisfying his character would rate lower.

52. Wallace

“WHERE’S WALLACE AT?!” D’Angelo Barksdale screams at the end of season one. D’Angelo suspects he already knows. Wallace who’s a sweet 16 year old kid has been murdered by Bodie and Poot because he talked to the police.

Michael B. Jordan who years later played Apollo Creed Jr. was so good in the role that you wanted this kid to succeed and get out of the drug game even as the walls are closing in around him. Deangelo tried to get Wallace out but he made his move too late. His murder at the end of season one is not only one of the most tragic deaths on The Wire but it begins a series of unraveling incidents that tear the Barksdale clan apart.

51. Elena McNulty

To say being the wife/girlfriend of Jimmy McNulty is hard would be the understatement of the year. Elena is already moving on from McNulty and his cheating, drunken ways when the show begins but to her credit she also wants Jimmy around for her kids…and an occasional fuck for the road.

Elena is not in a lot of episodes but she is always one of the more real and well written female characters on the show. Even when Jimmy is at his darkest in season 5 Elena tries to comfort him and set him straight. She loves McNulty but refuses to put up with any more of his bullshit. That’s how it should be.

50. Gus Haynes, City Editor of The Baltimore Sun

Haynes, as played by Clark Johnson is a fierce, fiery editor of a dying newspaper. Not only does he oversee a staff of struggling writers and reporters who are always looking for the next gig but he is constantly being undermined by management that fires good people left and write and cuts the tools necessary for quality reporting.

On top of that he must contend with an enterprising young reporter who’s a con artist selling bullshit in his midst. Gus is a type of old school newspaper man you don’t see anymore. He’s the glue that holds a struggling paper together.

49. Scott Templeton

And speaking of The Sun, Scott Templeton is a writer that exhibits the exact opposite qualities of his editor Gus. Templeton is a con man using his lunch time to try and get better job offers while making up quotes and bits of stories to make his articles more attractive to the reader.

As bad men go he would be nothing more than a mild nuisance in Wire lore but all that changes when Baltimore is hit by what appears to be a serial killer murdering the homeless throughout the city. It is then that Templetons false reporting goes from merely dishonest to destructive. Towards the end he is completely manufacturing murders to sell more papers. Fortunately it takes a bullshitter to catch a bullshitter and McNulty finally puts him in his place before any more harm can be done.

29
Jun
20

The Last of Us: Part 2

This is my full review of The Last of Us: Part 2 and as such contains spoilers. I will do a smaller spoiler free version on Facebook for those that haven’t played the game yet and don’t want that ruined for them.

To begin with we should never stop heaping praise on Naughty Dog and their developers for what they do visually with games. When you play an Uncharted game (save maybe the first one) or you play The Last of Us it is consistently mind blowing how impressive the visuals are. The mapping and rendering of plant life and vistas is like nothing else done in gaming today and the attention to detail makes the experience more authentic. Characters hold their hand up to their face when the sun is in their eyes, they breath heavy when pushing large objects or running, cloth clings to the body when it’s wet, etc. Naughty Dog is so good at these details that we often undervalue the importance of them but in a story that it is as much about humanity as it is anything else those details make The Last of Us 2 even more human and that enables the player to become immersed in this truly haunting story.

Much has been made about the games thematic developments, and the main storyline so let’s get into it. Yes, Joel dies. He dies early and he dies brutally. Even if you didn’t pay attention to the online spoilers it was not hard to predict this. Joel was an older man that always seemed to be on borrowed time from the beginning. So his death seemed inevitable. The only question was how that death would service the story. In The Last of Us 2 Joel’s brutal death at the hands of a new comer, Abby, is the impetus for the story that follows and as such is needed for Ellie’s tale of vengeance to take place.

Here is where I have the first of a few problems with the main story of LOU2. Ellies desire for vengeance is understandable. Joel is not only a father figure to her but a man that literally risked everything to keep her alive in the first game. So wanting to track down and kill his assailants makes sense. But long before the games gruesome final confrontation between Ellie and Abby we the player can sense the hopelessness, futility, and wrecklessness this pursuit entails. Somehow Ellie remains blindly vengeant throughout though. Only in a seemingly forced last minute decision does she give up on her vengeance, and by then it is too late. I like the character of Ellie and I know she’s been through a lot but the shy sensitive girl is almost completely gone here. By the end I was saddened that was the case but also I felt a little cheated. I don’t think Ellie would make that final fateful pursuit. Maybe it’s just me but I think Neil Drukmann (the games writer/director) cheated us a little with Ellie’s character development.

This brings me to another plot device that has received much attention. The fact that Ellie is gay. If you played the first game Ellies sexuality was not on display because she was a little girl but in the add on game Left Behind her sexuality was briefly discussed and to me it did not seem inauthentic. Because Ellie was a child in the original game even if she was gay we would not have seen her in a sexual way which is how it should be. But in this game more than four years have passed and Ellie is a young woman. Women have sex. Yes, even gay women. I’m not sure why this seems to bother so many people but based on the forum reviews it seems to. A lot. People, you need to get over it. Because a big part of this story and frankly, the only reason the ending works, is that Ellie has a serious relationship with a bi character named Dina and by the end of the game they live together and raise a child together. If you don’t buy into this love story then the humanity of the game is lost on you. Fortunately I think the love story works beautifully and it makes the ending all the more tragic that Ellie chooses to throw it away on her quest for vengeance.

As for the gameplay itself there are some things I love and some things I didn’t care for. Naughty Dogs fight mechanics have always seemed a little off to me and that’s still true here. Unfortunately the same basic action buttons and sequencing that made the first game frustrating at times are still on display here. You can dodge melee attacks in this game and you can jump (why you couldn’t in the first game always bugged the shit out of me) but it still takes forever to load a weapon or aim one and anytime you are shot by NPCs you flail to the ground like a wounded deer. It may be more realistic but it also makes gun combat a slog. It doesn’t help either that you rarely have more than a handful of bullets on hand at any time (again this is realistic but not so much fun). By the end of the game when you actually get a machine gun with 20 rounds in the clip it feels like your fucking Rambo or something because of how gun deprived you are. The fact that gun play is limited wouldn’t bother me so much except that the games stealth mechanics which are slightly improved from the first game are often undermined by noisy confrontational action sequences. A great example of this is early on when you find and learn how to shoot a bow and arrow. The bow is great. It functions exactly like a bow does in real life and the training sequence even shows you how to measure the arrows drop off point so you can hit enemies from distance. The beauty of the bow is it is silent so in a game where you don’t want to attract the attention of infected zombies it is a perfect weapon…except it isn’t because right after you learn to use it you’re surrounded by eight armed soldiers and two patrol dogs so you don’t have time to hide in the bushes and pick off targets with your bow. You can take out one, maybe two soldiers before you give up your position and then it’s back to a shootout.

These fighting mechanics aren’t all bad. There’s a really great combat pistol and a flamethrower late in the game that do serious damage and even though I got a little tired of the dodge/counter punch fight sequences there is something satisfying about dodging a giant pickaxe and then stabbing someone in the face. I wish Naughty Dog had introduced a bull rush or some other punches or something to break up the fight mechanics a little but in a vacuum it’s satisfying enough.

This brings me to the NPCs. You face four different types of infected in this game. The first two you will remember from the last game, the regular infected and the clickers and they do the same stuff here. The last type you won’t encounter until the end of the game and I would rather not spoil it because it is a truly terrifying experience. But the new type you will see a lot is called a Shambler. They’re similar to the Bloaters in the first game except these throw gaseous pods at you and also explode on death which makes killing them pretty hard. As usual you rarely face them just head on which would be manageable but instead they pop up when you are in the middle of a firefight with four or five other infected. There was one sequence about two thirds of the way into the game with three clickers, three infected, and two Shamblers that gave me serious problems. I died about  twenty times before beating it.

In addition to the infected you have two new factions of human enemies. The Wolves or WLF of which Abby is a member and the Scars or Seraphins which are more present in the second half of the game. I didn’t find either faction to be all that interesting. The Scars kind of reminded me of the cults in FarCry 5 and Days Gone if I’m being honest. But one thing I did find creepy and interesting is that the Scars signal your position by whistling at each other. If you start hearing a whistle they are onto you. If you hear several they have you surrounded and you need to get the hell out of there.

The game also has several action set pieces that I love. Even though the bulk of the game takes place in Seattle with an amazing “Life after People” look about it there is also an amazing abandoned aquarium where a lot of the story takes place, some Forrests with bow and arrow shootouts straight out of Robin Hood, and a firey escape very reminiscent of the burning of Atlanta sequence in Gone with the Wind. Just when you think there’s nothing more coming at you you get another amazing action sequence that tests the full abilities of Naughty Dogs amazing developers.

Finally I have to mention the other character people have a problem with and that’s Abby, who fours years earlier in the previous game watched as Joel killed her father in the Firefly laboratory. You play half the game as Abby which makes the final fight sequence interesting because you sort of feel like you are killing yourself (maybe that was the point). I like that the game forces you to see the same events from a different perspective. Sort of a Rashomon approach, and at times I liked Abby. She is brave and resourceful and displays a lot more humanity than Ellie, so much so that I found myself rooting for her by the end. What I didn’t care for is the way the game handles her Trans sexuality. I don’t have a problem with a character being trans. It’s 2020 and like I said earlier if you have a problem with this stuff get over it. But I do have a problem with developers trying to put gay or trans characters in their games without fully exploring that dynamic. I don’t need five hours devoted to Abbys sexuality but I do need five minutes. In the beginning of the game Abby is a fourteen year old girl. A bit of a tom boy maybe but still a girl. When we meet her later in the game her hair is pulled back so it is short in the front,  she wears no makeup, has gigantic muscular arms and chest, and as we see later in a pretty uncomfortable sex scene has very little feminine breasts. It is unclear if Abby took hormone therapy or if she simply has built up a lot of testosterone but she seems to be a transitioning woman into a man. Again I don’t mind a Trans character but to hint at her/his sexuality without talking about it at all seemed cowardly to me. If you want us to be fully invested in these characters we need to know their stories. Outside of that I think they did a great job with the character.

Overall I would highly recommend The Last of Us 2. The graphics, story, and action sequences are amazing and there are new and interesting characters, environments and factions to explore. I think the final lesson about what vengeance ultimately does to us is also important. I would like to have seen better action mechanics and/or better use of the stealth mechanics and I would like a better explanation of Abbys background. Other than that this is a really entertaining game and I applaud the efforts of Naughty Dog for bringing it all together.

9/10 🌟 s

25
Jun
20

The political hypocrisy in the “safety vs. liberty” debate

When I was a young man studying politics in college there was a simple explanation of the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans; Democrats were the “Mommy” party and Republicans were the “Daddy” party. This explanation made sense in a very crude way. Democrats traditionally support health care, education, the environment; constructs that draw parallels to Mom’s tradition role in raising a child. Mom’s feed you, take you to the doctor, send you to school, etc. Republicans care about lowering taxes, gun rights, and national defense. What does Dad typically teach kids? Self defense, how to pay your bills, etc. So that narrative works, but it has its limitations.

One of those limitations is that the government’s primary role is to keep people safe, and that concept can not be the purview of one party. If you can’t keep Americans safe then none of the other issues we fight over really matter. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” That’s the quote right? Notice how “Life” is number one. Your government has an obligation to keep you alive. But following that closely is “liberty.” Your government also has an obligation to give you freedom. These two ideas are not often opposed but sometimes they are. And when they are it is telling that both parties want to have their cake and eat it too.

The Republican party has always fashioned itself as the party of liberty. Less taxes, less government control equals more personal freedom. Of course this argument has a lot of holes in it but for the purposes of this blog we’re going to run with it. As the party of liberty Republicans are opposed to government control so it was not surprising that when the battle between reopening states during the Covid-19 pandemic and keeping them closed for safety took place more Republicans sided with reopening. Reopening also meant allowing an economy that has been strangled by the pandemic to breath a little. No one with a brain thought this meant we were going to be healthier though. More people out, more businesses open equals more exposure to Covid-19. The Republicans by and large sacrificed public health for the freedom of an open economy. They failed in some ways to protect life. I’ll get back to them in a minute.

The Democrats also failed though. Democrats imposed strict regulations designed to keep people safe in states like California and New York. These states have stayed closed longer, have required use of public face masks longer, have imposed more rigid curfews, and have shuttered businesses more effectively. So in essence they kept people safe but at the expense of some liberties we would normally have. So far so good (or so bad). Both parties acted in their self interest and in keeping with their traditions.

The problem with the Democrat party is that it also failed to keep people safe when it became politically expedient to do so. When the Black Lives Matter protests flared up after the brutal George Floyd murder millions of people took to the street to riot, loot and protest. I believe most of the protesters were peaceful and were looking to make needed change. But gathering in large groups with little sanitation and congregating for days on end wasn’t exactly safe during the Covid-19 outbreak. In fact a downtown protest with thousands of people is a lot more likely to spread the virus then a few hundred people spaced out in a bar or restaurant. But all of the sudden the same Democrat mayor’s and governors who imposed harsh restrictions a month earlier let people come and go as they please. In some cases like Seattle massive gatherings were even allowed to take over parts of the city permanently. And who knows what kind of breeding ground for Covid-19 that area is.

The Democrats to borrow from the popular phrase chose security over liberty and ended up with neither. They were hypocrites. Of course being a hypocrite isn’t new in politics. It sort of comes with the territory, which brings me back to the Republicans.

The Republicans failed to keep people safe but they were up until now at least acting in their own political interests and staying the course. But now that cases are on the rise in Texas, and Florida, and other Republican controlled states Republicans are pushing back against reopening and once again demanding that businesses close and harsher restrictions are put in place. For Republicans to do so now is not only hypocritical it is also foolish. Like closing the barn door after the horse has gotten out. There was a time and place for Republicans to act in their citizens best interest and choose safety over liberty. Choose life over liberty but that time has passed.

We need an open economy but we also need safety. Good people can debate which one is more important but what we really need is consistency. When both parties act on a whim and don’t stay intellectually and politically consistent it sends mixed messages and we can’t trust our leaders.

Perhaps this is why America seems so lost, so directionless now. The people in charge have no clue where we’re going.

28
May
20

Is there a solution to police brutality? If so it’s not an easy one

There’s a wonderful scene in Damon Lindelof’s new series “Watchmen” where a black police officer wearing a mask pulls over a white suspect. While conducting his traffic stop he observes what might be another kind of mask, one that is symbolic of a racist hate group. He also suspects there may be drugs and/or weapons in the vehicle. But before reaching for his gun the officer must call into headquarters and give propable cause to retrieve his weapon. In this alternative reality a policeman’s gun is electronically locked and can not be used until a supervising officer hears your reason for needing it. In this particular scene it takes a few minutes to explain the situation and another minute for the gun lock to disengage because, well, technology… In the meantime the suspect has gotten out of the vehicle, pulled a semi-automatic rifle from the back of his truck and with the officer frantically trying to get his gun out the suspect opens fire.

I like Lindelof’s show because it toys with racial dynamics; often, as in this scene, forcing white and black viewers to look at things from a different perspective. It also shows the idiocy of preventing police officers from using their weapons based on a protocol that doesn’t fit neatly into every situation.

Of course a police officer doesn’t always need to use his gun to kill someone. Sometimes a knee will do just fine. That was the case in the murder of George Floyd this week. Once again a black man killed at the whim of a white police officer. It’s a disgusting, horrible thing to watch. It’s the kind of video that makes you feel bad to live in this country, makes you feel bad to be a white man in this country. It makes you feel that all of the progress we’ve made in racial harmony really hasn’t been as effective as we like to think it has. That maybe we’ll never get to a place when murder of black men isn’t common place.

If you have the chance and a strong stomach look up the song “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. That song was written after Holiday saw a picture of a lynching that took place in Indiana. You can see that photo as well if you look up the song. It was taken in 1930. Not 1830, 1930. You think this doesn’t happen in America anymore? Trade in a rope for a knee…

Why do we allow young black men to be killed? I should point out this isn’t only at the hands of police officers. Last month we saw two white men kill Ahmed Arbery after chasing him down in their truck. The Trayvon Martin case was similar. White men that apparently have nothing better to do than play amateur police detective and go out and hunt black men in the neighborhood.

If we could dismiss these cases as racism that would be easy. It wouldn’t solve anything but it would be easy. Racists people kill black people; simple enough. But it’s not that simple.

We have a problem with white men in this country. I wrote about this in my blog on mass shootings last year. We have an unfortunate and unfortunately large percentage of white men that are lazy, entitled, and due to societal disconnect, harbor hateful thoughts. You can see it on any comments section on any social media. You can see it in the rise of the Alt right. For many of these men who secretly and sometimes not so secretly have hate in their heart violence becomes a way of expressing that hate. Sometimes it’s against women, sometimes against homosexuals, sometimes it’s against people of color. People think that something like what happened in Nazi Germany couldn’t happen again but it could. The seeds were there long before Hitler rose to power. You see some of the seeds here…

I’m not going to tell you what the answer is to solving police brutality because frankly I don’t know the answer. Better training sure. Hiring better people would help, but do better people that want to be cops exist? You can’t take away the police’s weapon’s. There’s too much violent crime in this country to make that a solution. Better penalties would help. This is one of the problems with Unions. They protect the right people and the wrong people equally, and no Union is more powerful than the police union which is why so many of these crimes go unpunished.

But the real solution isn’t trying to stop police brutality. It’s trying to stop a society that allows these type of men to exist in the first place. We need teachers and parents to teach their kids respect for others. We need to show white men the danger of hateful thinking and what it has meant throughout history. We need better education on racial dynamics in this country. We need better mental health. All of these things are not easy to obtain. They don’t fit on the back of a bumper sticker. I will also say that our PC culture has played a role as well because when white men say something or do something that is racist or perceived as racist we don’t have a meaningful conversation about it. We simply demonize the person, make sure their fired, and never think about them again. And what happens is racism is driven underground where it festers and becomes more dangerous.

What happened to George Floyd is a tragedy but I’m not going to say it was unique. Because that is sadly not true. We have always had violent white men in this country and until we acknowledge that and make better men more common our country will always be plagued by violence.

We have to ask ourselves what kind of a society do we want and what are we willing to tolerate? We’re not much further along in 2020 than we were in 1930. But we can be. It’s up to us to ask more of white men in this country. Until we do what happened to George Floyd will continue.

15
May
20

Forget the Stimulus. Here’s how to restart the economy

The economy is in the tank right now and if you look towards Washington their answer seems to be more stimulus. Democrats are proposing a 3 Trillion dollar stimulus package that would give American’s more money and extend unemployment. The last stimulus package cost roughly 2 Trillion and increased unemployment benefits at the federal level while giving aid to small business and everyone making under 100K a $1200 check.

What you may have noticed did not happen after the last stimulus is that people didn’t go back to work. In fact even while businesses start to reopen and jobless claims are starting to come down we have overall lost another 15 million jobs since the last stimulus package going from 21 million unemployed to now 36 million unemployed. The current rate of unemployment is 14.7%, the highest number since the Great Depression which was about 25%. But the real number is actually higher. Not only because we haven’t yet processed all the unemployment claims but also because 340 million people don’t actually work in America. The real percentage is probably between 20 and 25% depending on what models you use.

Why is this important?

Right now you may have noticed that even though the stock market is down and spending is down and GDP is way down the overall sense is the economy isn’t nearly as bad as it should be. There are two reasons for this in my opinion. The first is that because Congress acted quickly on the first stimulus people didn’t go broke waiting for money like they did in 2009 after the last recession. People are hurting yes, but between the stimulus checks and the increased unemployment people are getting by.  The second reason is that the stock market after a huge collapse initially has rallied and didn’t drop the way many analysts predicted it would. Because the stock market is a reflection of how people think the economy will do and not necessarily how it is doing this indicates Wall Street believes (for now) that the economic collapse will be short term with the hoped for “V” shaped recovery Donald Trump is touting.

But this economic collapse is coming. The longer people go without work not only does federal spending increase to offset that but there is less total tax revenue coming in. It is an unsustainable model. Also the longer people stay unemployment the stock market will begin to accurately reflect that with limited spending driving down stocks.

Whether or not this happens immediately is still up in the air but Washington could do a lot to help solve this problem before it starts. Just as the last stimulus didn’t put people back to work and didn’t fix a broken economy it is doubtful this one will work either.

Instead of another Stimulus bill what Washington could and should do is an unprecedented tax cut on all corporate taxes; lowering the total corporate tax by about 6% dropping it from roughly 21% to 15%. This would be seen as a tax cut for the rich and would receive a lot of critism but there is a way to do it that both regrows the economy and puts people back to work.

Part one is you require all businesses to hire back 90% of their pre Covid-19 workforce in order to qualify for the tax. I say 90% because you have to account for general layoffs and other reasons for staff not working out. You must also keep these workers on the payroll for at least one year in order to qualify for the tax. Again you could make it 90% or so to account for people that need to be let go but essentially you must hire your employees back and in 2021 you pay a 15% tax rate. For some companies the payoff would be well worth it. And for those that don’t we are still collecting that 21.6 % rate.

Part two is that you increase the corporate tax for the next three years until it reaches the current level and then increase it in year four. So for example a qualified company pays 15% in 2021, 18% in 2022, 21% in 2023, and 23% in 2024. Yes companies would balk at the increase but this is to begin making up for the lost revenue. At that time there would be no incentive to keep the employment numbers where they are now but by then we’re theoretically out of this mess and it’s back to business as usual.

Part three would be a further tax cut for any business that increases hiring during this three year span. I would propose some reduction or elimination of the payroll tax so there is more incentive to hire people. This number would have to be based on new hires over your pre Covid-19 employment levels. It is possible each state could also lower taxes as a further incentive.

Once in effect we would insure people get back to work, tax rates being lower should incentivise corporate growth and with all the new tax revenue from people back on the payroll you won’t need to spend trillions of dollars. You can be making trillions of dollars. That doesn’t even consider the long term positive benefits of people working (not drinking, doing drugs, suicides, depression, health problems, etc.)

To be sure there are some problems with this plan. For one thing you are cutting federal revenue at a time when federal spending is at an all-time high. This usually creates a recession but no one thinks we’re not heading there anyway. You also may have corporate loopholes like companies hiring people but decreasing hours or pay. You would have to write provisions into this type of Bill to account for this type of stuff. And of course there needs to be flexibility and provisions for companies trying to get people back to work but who don’t have the resources to get back to their old levels. The details would have to be ironed out but this proposal ensures people are back to work, companies are saving money and tax revenue is coming in and not just going out. Seems like this is a better way to go.

30
Apr
20

The Time to Open the Economy is Now

A great man once said we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Of course Roosevelt wasn’t dealing with a deadly pandemic at the time. He was speaking in his inaugural address about the state of an America that most didn’t recognize. An America that had come out of one great war, was about to enter another and was in the midst of a Great Depression unlike anything ever seen.  His comments were prescient in light of the economic circumstances then, and 87 year later, now. Because for the first time since 1933 we are on the verge of an unemployment rate equal to that of the Great Depression. At it’s worst about 25% of the population was unemployed between 1929 and 1940. As I write this America has a roughly 20.6% unemployment rate. Of course America is a much bigger country now so it is a fair statement that more people are unemployed now than at any time in American history. And how did we get to this point…

The Covid-19 Pandemic which had killed about 200,000 people worldwide and about 60,000 here in the U.S. has completely (along with the well meaning people in our government) shuttered large sector’s of the economy. At first mostly the hospitality industry was effected but in time just like the virus itself this disease of economic supression spread like wildfire through travel, financial services, education, even health care. Given time the financial crisis will spread even further into logistics, farming, energy, even the government. Because the only thing holding the economic threads together now are the stimulus money, and an optimistic stock market. Wait until real wealth is wiped out and businesses no longer have an option to reopen…then you will see real despair. A real reason to fear.

Yes, Covid-19 is deadly. Even an optimist can see it is more deadly than any virus since the Spanish Flu. By some accounts it is ten times more deadly than the common flu. But it is worth noting that flu season typically lasts about four months from roughly late fall through early spring. In that time the flu kills between 50,000 and 60,000 people. If you believe the virus has been here since mid January we are fast approaching four months with this virus and we are in the ballpark of typical flu numbers. Of course it’s fair to say that we have done far more to try and combat this and we aren’t out of the woods yet. So it’s possible this virus is ten times as deadly as the flu but at the moment it’s looking more like it is about twice as deadly as the flu. We won’t know for certain until we reach the end point and we don’t know when that will be.

Which brings me to why we should not and don’t need to delay reopening the economy. It would be one thing if we had some predictive model that told us how many lives could be spared by staying closed another week, another month, etc. And people do love these arguments because when you argue human life and safety you can argue for anything, even if the results are far more agregious. But we don’t know. What we do know is that as the economy toils more lives are lost daily, regardless of the virus. Suicide and depression rates go up with unemployment. As do drug and alcohol dependency. Domestic violence goes up. And how many much needed hospital visits are being put off to make way for imagined Covid-19 patients? By some accounts for every one percent unemployment we lose 37,000 people. Meaning the economy has already killed more people than the virus ever could.

Reopening the economy will cost lives. Let’s be clear about that. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a large cost to our lives by staying closed. One that I believe has far more dire consequences. If you could go back in time and either live during the Great Depression which last roughly a decade and forced people into the most abject poverty the world has ever seen or go back to when the Spanish Flu happened and killed about 1% of the population but was over in about a year which time would you choose?

There is a safe and responsible way to reopen the economy. We can phase businesses in. We can practice social distancing. We can wear masks and use hand sanitizer, and yes some businesses like sporting events and concerts probably won’t happen for awhile but we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good any longer. Because the longer we wait we may not have an economy to come back to.

If you wish to stay at home please do so but for the rest of us the time to reopen the economy is now. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.