- As expected, Tom Emmer has now won the Republican Party endorsement for governor, besting Marty Seifert. Seifert conceded after the second ballot showed Emmer within striking distance of the win. As readers of this feature know, I preferred Emmer to Seifert because I think that he will do a better job of explaining the conservative vision to the citizenry of this state. Having said that, I wish Marty Seifert well -- he has served with great distinction in the legislature for 14 years now. I'm not sure what his next move will be, but he's a few years shy of 40 and has plenty of time to figure that out. If you want to know more, Mitch Berg and Kevin Ecker both did a great job of live-blogging the convention and have a lot of information at the respective links.
- While we do a lot of Obama-bashing around here, I do try to be fair. And simply stated, I don't think it's fair at all to blame the President for the oil spill damage that seems to be headed for the Gulf Coast. John Hinderaker at Powerline has a different view. I hated the horrible demagoguery involved in placing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in George W. Bush's lap and therefore I won't be a part of trying to do the same thing to W's successor. And that's all I have to say about that.
- Megan McArdle of the Atlantic Monthly has been following the situation in Greece pretty closely and she reports that things are getting even worse. This is a huge issue because the financial collapse that is happening in Athens will likely happen in Lisbon, too, and perhaps even in Dublin and Rome. It's not clear that the EU is going to bail the Greeks out and the implications for the world could be quite ominous.
- I think the Benster's baseball team has a chance to be pretty good this year. We'll talk more about that soon.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Immigration reform has become the first of President Barack Obama's major priorities dropped from the agenda of an election-year Congress facing voter disillusionment. Sounding the death knell was Obama himself.
The president noted that lawmakers may lack the "appetite" to take on immigration while many of them are up for re-election and while another big legislative issue — climate change — is already on their plate.
"I don't want us to do something just for the sake of politics that doesn't solve the problem," Obama told reporters Wednesday night aboard Air Force One.
I'll say this for the President. He has a very dry sense of humor. "For the sake of politics," indeed. Let's translate that -- the politics just aren't working out so well for him right now -- that's what that means. So all that arguing about Arizona's racist, Nazi law? You can move on now.
It does raise an interesting question -- after a week of kabuki on the issue, why is Obama dropping the matter so abruptly? Here's a clue for you all (H/T: Instapundit):
Seven in 10 U.S. adults support arresting people who can't prove they're in the United States legally, a poll about Arizona's new immigration law indicated.
The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll of 1,002 American adults asked respondents if they'd want four guidelines in Arizona's immigration law enacted in their own state.
The link tells you how little support there is for the enlightened policies of the administration. So anyway, now it's apparently time for Obama and his merry band of reformers to go after global warming and cap and trade. That ain't lookin' so good, either.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman wasted no time Wednesday morning in inserting himself into the debate over the controversial new Arizona law on illegal immigration.That's actually pretty snarky for the lead to a news article, but in this case the snark is definitely warranted. This deep thought, like Gavin Newsom's similar edict from San Francisco, is meaningless posturing and deserves every bit of derision it gets. Given St. Paul's parlous financial condition, city officials shouldn't be traveling much farther than Roseville anyway.
Without knowing whether any trips had been booked from the capital city to the Grand Canyon State — and not caring much either way — the Democrat issued an executive order banning city-funded travel to Arizona and urged other elected
leaders to do the same.
But since Coleman is insistent on pursuing such things, he really needs to double down. All things Arizona must now be considered suspect and ought to be banned in the Capital City. In the spirit of concerned citizenship, and as a former resident of St. Paul, I'd like to propose some additional things that ought to be banned:
1. Arizona Iced Tea
2. Hyundai Tucsons
3. Kia Sedonas
4. Watching the movie "Raising Arizona"
5. Listening to Glenn Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"*
6. Arizona jeans
7. All internet banner ads for the University of Phoenix
8. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald
9. Being stranded on the corner in Winslow, Arizona
10. Tempura batter, which sounds suspiciously like Tempe
*The Isaac Hayes version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is still allowed. If you have to ask why, there's really no helping you.
Dammit, we have to take a stand on this sort of thing.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Illegal immigrants plan to leave over Ariz. law
You don't say.
Arizona's sweeping immigration bill allows police to arrest illegal immigrant day laborers seeking work on the street or anyone trying to hire them. It won't take effect until summer but it is already having an effect on the state's underground economy.
"Nobody wants to pick us up," Julio Loyola Diaz says in Spanish as he and dozens of other men wait under the shade of palo verde trees and lean against a low brick wall outside the east Phoenix home improvement store.
Many day laborers like Diaz say they will leave Arizona because of the law, which also makes it a crime to be in the U.S. illegally and directs police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants.
Somehow, I don't see Arizonans recoiling in fright over this prospect. But don't worry about Mr. Loyola Diaz and his colleagues. They have other places to go.
LEVIN: OK. Now, before you sold all that stuff that we just described in 166, $600 million of Timberwolf securities is what you sold, before you sold them, this is what your sales team were telling to each other. Got it, 105?
SPARKS: Yes, Mr. Chairman.
LEVIN: Look what your sales team was saying about Timberwolf. "Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal."
LEVIN: They sold that "shitty deal." ...
SPARKS: Some context might be helpful.
LEVIN: Context, let me tell you, the context is mighty clear. June 22 is the date of this e-mail. "Boy, that Timberwolf was one shitty deal." How much of that "shitty deal" did you sell to your clients after June 22, 2007?
SPARKS: Mr. Chairman, I don't know the answer to that. But the price would have reflected levels that they wanted to invest...
LEVIN: Oh, of course.
SPARKS: ... at that time.
LEVIN: But they don't know it's a -- you didn't tell them you thought it was a shitty deal.
SPARKS: Well, I didn't say that.
LEVIN: No. Who did? Your people, internally. You knew it was a shitty deal, and that's what your...
SPARKS: And again, I...
LEVIN: ... e-mail showed.
SPARKS: I think the context, the message that I took from the e-mail from Mr. Montag, was that my performance on that deal wasn't good, and, I think, the fact that we had lost money related to that wasn't good.
LEVIN: How about the fact that you sold hundreds of millions of that deal after your people knew it was a shitty deal? Does that bother you at all, you sold the customers
SPARKS: I don't recall selling hundreds of millions of that deal after that.
It's tough to tell from that exchange what "shitty" means. Senator Levin's behavior was pretty shitty, though. And it's worth remembering one other thing as well. Hinderaker:
Today's inquisition was a sideshow. Here is what really happened: there was a bubble in housing prices. The bubble was mostly the result of government policy--loose money, combined with pressure on banks to make bad loans to unqualified home buyers. It all worked for a while because Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, under the leadership of Congressman Barney Frank and others, created a secondary market for shaky mortgages. Goldman Sachs participated in this market, downstream, along with many other players. But the whole thing wasn't an accident or a conspiracy, it was government policy. The home price bubble could have only one possible result. All bubbles burst--there is nothing else they can do--and the bursting of a bubble is always painful. The whole disaster that began in 2008 was the inevitable result of government policy, which is why Senators are so anxious to pass the buck to Goldman Sachs.
That's right. Goldman and the other financial companies deserve some blame, especially when you consider how they gift wrapped the manure. But we should remain mindful of where the manure was first created. And that wasn't Wall Street.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The apparent sincere belief by many on the left that the wide spread Tea Party members are evil, violent people springs precisely from decades of indoctrination in which leftists are progressively trained to view their fellow Americans as evil, dangerous people from whom the benevolent state must protect them. They are especially trained to view white business people as evil. When they see a collection of white, small-to-medium-sized business-owners/self-employed, they automatically see a group of evil and dangerous people. They can’t help it. This is all they’ve been taught and all they say to each other.
I wish that were an oversimplification, but I've heard such things too often to dismiss the thought out of hand. Then there's this, from the comment section:
The Assistant Village Idiot observed that Democratic candidates tend to say, “I’ll fight for you,” whereas Republican candidates tend to say, “I’ll work for you.”
I've noticed that, too. Read the whole thing. And a tip of the top hat to Picklesworth, who linked this article on Facebook.
Monday, April 26, 2010
I kinda doubt it. The invaluable William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection makes the necessary point:
The housing bubble was created by Washington policies which created cheap money and lax lending practices, and millions of individual home buyers, mortgage brokers, and lenders who were all too willing to go along. Each of these people bet in favor of the bubble not only continuing, but growing.
Wall Street helped grease the wheels by packaging mortgages for resale, sometimes in confusingly (and sometimes misleadingly) structured products, which mostly were resold to sophisticated institutional investors. But as I have pointed out before, the mortgages were the core problem; no bad mortgages, no bad mortgage-backed securities.
The housing bubble burst for the same reason economic bubbles always have burst, since time immemorial: There were no greater fools left to pay higher prices. Only then did the people who bet in favor of the housing bubble, including most politicians, realize they had bet wrong. And the entire economy paid the price.
Jacobson is correct of course. The problem with bubbles is that it's hard to fight the urge to get in the game while the game is going well. I had a pretty good view of the game, too. As I've mentioned before, I worked for Bank of America during the boom years. Our division was dealing with some of the safest possible loans around, since our customers were people who were buying homes as part of a corporate relocation. It's pretty much axiomatic that an employee that a company is willing to move is a valuable employee and a very good credit risk. We had plenty of six figure incomes and 750 FICO scores, which meant that the loans we were providing were pretty much gold-plated. We weren't doing subprime in the B of A relocation program. At least in theory.
Even so, by 2005 many of the loans we were making were much riskier than they should have been -- we were doing a lot of interest-only loans and very short-term adjustable rate mortgages, often with big seconds that would essentially eliminate the need for any down payment. The money was sloshing around like crazy and everyone was getting rich. It was hard to turn it down and a lot of these very bright and valued employees we were relocating for our clients were using their homes as an ATM. It was a really nice scenario if you could keep it going.
As it happened, B of A decided to relocate our office to Portland, Oregon at the end of 2005 and I was offered the chance to relocate. After a lot of soul searching, we decided to stay here. Good thing, too, because the bubble that was feeding our business burst. Eventually, a number of my colleagues who moved out to Oregon ended up losing their jobs.
Why did that happen? Pretty simple, really. When the overall economy went under, even some of the loans we had done, which should have been gold plated, got pretty suspect in a hurry, given how leveraged many people were. Companies that were bullish only a few years before suddenly began shedding workers, rather than sending them to work in new locales. The business we'd cultivated was largely gone, almost in a flash. And meanwhile the securities that were based on subprime loans were even more toxic.
There's a story behind every bad loan -- it might be a buyer who is overly optimistic or naive. It might be a loan officer who is only concerned about the commission. It might a lender that figured that Uncle Sam would bail it out. It might be the politicians who think they can run an economy by fiat and whim. To get something as bad as what we've been through, you need all of the above. And we had all of the above. Sure, you can blame Goldman Sachs and the rest of the boys on Wall Street if you wish for making the problem even more fiendish. But they were hardly the only ones who deserve the blame.
- What's a good way to show how much you care about the environment? Build a 20,000 square foot house, of course. Well played, Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen. We'll eschew the Commodores reference for now.
- I don't know a lot about Dick Leinenkugel's politics, although I hear he's a bit of a RINO, but given the history of success of celebrity candidates in Wisconsin, he might as well run against Russ Feingold.
- I've always had a difficult time sorting out my views on immigration. Generally speaking I think immigration is a good thing -- anyone who has enough gumption to pull up stakes and leave a bad situation deserves credit. Having said that, I don't live in Arizona, so I wouldn't presume to understand all the problems Arizonans face in sharing a border with a corrupt kleptocracy like Mexico. My sense is that we have a larger problem, which is assimilation. But that problem isn't inherent in Mexican immigrants so much as it is in those who would presume to champion their cause in the United States.
A Taliban militant gets lost and is wandering around the desert looking for water. He finally arrives at a store run by a Jew and asks for water. The Jewish vendor tells him he doesn’t have any water but can gladly sell him a tie. The Taliban, the jokes goes on, begins to curse and yell at the Jewish storeowner. The Jew, unmoved, offers the rude militant an idea: Beyond the hill, there is a restaurant; they can sell you water. The Taliban keeps cursing and finally leaves toward the hill. An hour later he’s back at the tie store. He walks in and tells the merchant: “Your brother tells me I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”
What a laff riot, huh? Breitbart has the video. Remember, this guy is one of the key players in formulating Israel policy for the administration. The beauty part? The White House released the transcript of the speech Jones was giving, but conveniently left the joke out.
Yeah -- that Obama administration is pretty funny, all right.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Park, a 42-year-old Korean-American with a smile that can only be described as “kind,” regularly tried to steer the talk back to the group’s more centrist principles. But when someone asked how many people in the room were Republicans, all 80 hands remained down. “I like the civility idea, but I hate the Tea Party people,” said attendee Karen Anderson. By the end of the event, some in the crowd had decided the movement, barely two months old at the time, needed a new leader. China Dickerson, a 26-year-old community organizer, said the Coffee Party wouldn’t last “unless we get someone a little more powerful to head it.” She wanted a rabble-rouser, “not someone that says we can all work together.”
Maybe after these folks get done with their coffee, they can go over to Starbucks and smash out a few windows. Or join their friends in Eugene (see the post below).
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Broadway Bank, the family-owned lender that helped launch U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias' political career, was seized by government regulators Friday night, one of seven Illinois institutions taken over and sold to healthier companies.
The failure of Chicago-based Broadway, which was unable to raise the $85 million it needed to remain independent, was anticipated, and its worsening health has weighed on Giannoulias' Democratic bid for President Barack Obama's old Senate seat. The bank had been struggling in recent years with real estate loans gone bad, losing $75 million last year.
It would be amusing if it weren't so sickening -- can you imagine someone whose family ran a corrupt bank that was taken over by federal regulators would fancy himself worthy of a seat the United States Senate? Ah, who am I kidding? He'll fit right in.
One other minor detail worth savoring:
The Tribune reported this month that the $1.15 billion-asset bank, founded in 1979, lent a pair of Chicago crime figures about $20 million during a 14-month period when Giannoulias was a senior loan officer.
Sure, why not? Tell you what -- if the good citizens of Illinois see fit to elect Mr. Giannoulias to the Senate, he should immediately become chairman of the Banking Committee. Or maybe in charge of the stimulus money or something.
Friday, April 23, 2010
President Obama's health care overhaul law will increase the nation's health care tab instead of bringing costs down, government economic forecasters concluded Thursday in a sobering assessment of the sweeping legislation.Yep -- no doubt about it; if you can't get access to health care, that will save you money.
A report by economic experts at the Health and Human Services Department said the health care remake will achieve Obama's aim of expanding health insurance — adding 34 million Americans to the coverage rolls.
But the analysis also found that the law falls short of the president's twin goal of controlling runaway costs. It also warned that Medicare cuts may be unrealistic and unsustainable, driving about 15% of hospitals into the red and "possibly jeopardizing access" to care for seniors.
Don't worry about it, though. It's all good. We'll get single payer in a few years and it will all be better. Or if you have enough scratch, you'll be able to go to one of the new maquiladora hospitals that should be springing up soon. We could call it the "Cinco de Mayo" Clinic.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
I'll admit I found this mystifying, but apparently the bien pensants at Newsweek were on the case some time ago. Near as I can tell, this is the explanation for why Obamacare is derogatory:
Considering tea-party activists were marching in the streets waving signs proclaiming Obamacare will kill grandmas or with the term alongside photos of mutilated fetuses for the past year, it isn’t likely to overcome its stigma. If Obama and health-care-reform supporters want to repackage the new law and sell it to Americans as what we’ve been missing, the Obamacare epithet certainly isn’t the kind of marketing they need.
Now as a conservative I am famously lacking in nuance, but let's see if I've parsed this correctly -- it's those hateful, gun-totin' teabaggers who came up with the term Obamacare, therefore it's no damned good. It's pretty much axiomatic that anything a teabagger would do carries a stigma, so we need to cease and desist. Besides, you wouldn't want to question the considered judgment of Jon Stewart and the rest of the brave souls at Comedy Central, who are so willing to speak to truth to power.
I've done some marketing in my day so I do understand the rationale -- if you want a project launch to be successful, you really need to control what it's called. Where I get confused is this: if the law that was passed is supposed to be the culmination of a 70-year dream and the signature effort of the Obama administration, why wouldn't Obama, and his supporters more generally, not welcome calling their highest achievement "Obamacare?"
Well, perhaps we ought to turn to Bob Dylan for counsel on this matter. Back in the late 1970s, Dylan went through a phase where turned to Christianity in a somewhat odd way, but that's Bob. Unfortunately his turn to the Lord wasn't so good for his Muse. He wrote some of his worst music during that time, including perhaps his most demented ditty of all, the immortal "Man Gave Names to All the Animals." The following verse pretty much summed it up, in all its glory:
Next animal that he did meet
Had wool on his back and hooves on his feet
Eating grass on a mountainside so steep
"Ah, think I'll call it a sheep"
Needless to say, Democrats (I can still call them that, right?) would prefer to have their own way of describing the rich chewy goodness of the 2,000 page law they've promulgated, without the help of a bunch of mouth breathers toting hand-printed signs. But even so, I can't help but feel that we need to help our betters out in their time of need. Obamacare needs a new name, so we should offer our services, doncha think?
So if we can't call it Obamacare, and if we can't call it a sheep , what should we call it? I've got a few suggestions; pick your favorite or perhaps you'd like to add some more.
1. Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show
2. The Unified Field Theory of Cool
3. The Only Healthcare Package You'll Ever Need, or Eventually Get
4. I Can't Believe It's Not Obamacare!
5. The Kama Sutra of Omnibus Legislation
6. The Safety Dance
8. The San Francisco Treat
10. Sexual Healing
12. The Superstar of Rent-a-Car
14. The Answer to All Your Prayers That You Didn't Exactly Pray
The floor is open. Let's help our portside pals out!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
- The quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, has been suspended for up to 6 games by the National Football League, primarily for a pattern of bad behavior involving very drunk young ladies. This guy has problems and the ever image-conscious NFL needed to do something about the way he's conducted his life. You could argue quite credibly that this guy is a date rapist with a bunch of enablers. He seems to have the problem that a lot of wealthy, powerful men have, which is that they don't seem to understand that you can't just use people and discard them. There is apparently some sort of rehab program that he's going to attend, but let's just say I have my doubts about the efficacy of such things. Therapy doesn't seem to be helping Tiger Woods very much.
- The Obama administration and its acolytes really hate it when someone calls their policies socialist. I can see their point, because "socialist" is a pretty loaded word. There's a better comparison to make and Richard Rahn makes it: Argentina. See if any of this sounds familiar to you: In the 1930s, the Argentine government increased its interventions in the private economy. Juan Peron took over in 1946 and ended up nationalizing the railroads, the merchant marine, public utilities, public transport and other parts of the private economy. If you go to the link, you'll get the punchline and the eerie comparisons between what the Argentines have done and what we're doing now. And if you don't believe me, check out the trenchant analysis of Dana Milbank of the Washington Post. But notice the date on the article, too (H/T: Instapundit).
Stinger will catch the reference:
Can’t Hide Love, Earth Wind & Fire
Save Me, Aretha Franklin
Der Kommissar, ATF
Cortez the Killer, Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I Want Your Love, Chic
Time Has Come Today, The Chambers Brothers
I'm On Fire, Dwight Twilley Band
(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais, The Clash
Skin Tight, Ohio Players
Cross-Eyed Mary, Jethro Tull
Politico quoted a Goldman lobbyist Monday saying, "We're not against regulation. We're for regulation. We partner with regulators." At least three times in Goldman's conference call Tuesday, spokesmen trumpeted the firm's support for more federal control.
Fancy that. A big company that welcomes heavier government regulation. Why would that be? Let Timothy Carney of the Examiner explain:
Vague public calls for "reasonable regulation," of course, are often little more than smoke. But Goldman's annual report explicitly endorsed stricter federal capital and liquidity requirements. Goldman reported on the conference call that it holds 15 percent "Tier 1 capital," meaning it is very liquid and not very risky. Goldman can play it safe, you see, without needing a regulation. But regulations prevent smaller competitors from taking the risks needed to compete with Goldman (and every competitor is smaller).
This is true, to varying extents, with all big businesses. Large companies can afford the resources needed to handle additional regulatory burdens, while smaller competitors often find that they must take resources away from their core business in order to comply. The regulators become a barrier to entry and that works to the advantage of Goldman Sachs, or Walmart, or Microsoft, or just about any large company you might name.
Democrats often rail about Republicans and their supposed support of a chimerical "big business" bogeyman that supposedly is exploiting the masses. It's an open secret that any company that is big enough to earn the term usually provides plenty of support to, and often prefers, the Democrats. It's a win-win: the companies get a big nasty friend that hassles the competition, and the big companies finance plenty of jobs for bureaucrats.
Don't worry about Goldman Sachs. They'll gladly take the short-term publicity hit for a chance to hobble their competitors. It makes good business sense.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Criticism is part of the lifeblood of democracy. No one is right all the time. But we should remember that there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.
We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged.
Monday, April 19, 2010
New York’s insurance system has been a working laboratory for the core provision of the new federal health care law — insurance even for those who are already sick and facing huge medical bills — and an expensive lesson in unplanned consequences. Premiums for individual and small group policies have risen so high that state officials and patients’ advocates say that New York’s extensive insurance safety net for people like Ms. Welles is falling apart.
So why would that be?
The problem stems in part from the state’s high medical costs and in part from its stringent requirements for insurance companies in the individual and small group market. In 1993, motivated by stories of suffering AIDS patients, the state became one of the first to require insurers to extend individual or small group coverage to anyone with pre-existing illnesses. New York also became one of the few states that require insurers within each region of the state to charge the same rates for the same benefits, regardless of whether people are old or young, male or female, smokers or nonsmokers, high risk or low risk.
Healthy people, in effect, began to subsidize people who needed more health care. The healthier customers soon discovered that the high premiums were not worth it and dropped out of the plans. The pool of insured people shrank to the point where many of them had high health care needs. Without healthier people to spread the risk, their premiums skyrocketed, a phenomenon known in the trade as the “adverse selection death spiral.”
People respond to incentives? You're kidding, right?
“You have a mandate that’s accessible in theory, but not in practice, because it’s too expensive,” said Mark P. Scherzer, a consumer lawyer and counsel to New Yorkers for Accessible Health Coverage, an advocacy group. “What you get left clinging to the life raft is the population that tends to have pretty high health needs.”
So what is the endgame?
Since 2001, the number of people who bought comprehensive individual policies through HMOs in New York has plummeted to about 31,000 from about 128,000, according to the State Insurance Department.
At the same time, New York has the highest average annual premiums for individual policies: $6,630 for single people and $13,296 for families in mid-2009, more than double the nationwide average, according to America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group.
That free Obamacare is gonna be expensive, y'all. But don't worry -- the backlash will be so severe that I'm sure we'll have single payer and that will solve all our problems. One way or another.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
“Only last month a Fox News commentator, with Members of Congress next to him, rallied a Tea Party crowd by disparaging Congress and calling the crowd ‘all these Tim McVeigh wannabes here’ to the crowds cheers and applause.
That would be horrible, if it were true. It's not, of course, as John Hinderaker explains:
This was the only "evidence" McCollum offered to tie Tea Partiers to Timothy McVeigh--the ostensible subject of her speech--but even McCollum isn't dumb enough to fail to understand that Sean Hannity was making a sarcastic reference to the Democrats' absurd claim that Tea Partiers have something in common with the mad bomber. He was, in other words, ridiculing McCollum's claim, not supporting it.
Oh, I think Betty! is that dumb. I chronicled one of her more brilliant moves in this post. As it happens, Betty's opponent is now decided -- Teresa Collett, currently a law professor at St. Thomas, has a long record of accomplishments and will be a formidable competitor. Betty's strategy in the past has been to hide from smart opponents -- she played a very effective version of Where's Waldo against her 2008 opponent Ed Matthews -- but this is a different year and Collett should have a greater opportunity to call attention to the incumbent's, ahem, bona fides.
So why are the campaign signs for Betty! maroon? Ask Bugs Bunny.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Dad, I don't think those guys are evil. Whiny, yes. But not evil.
You might be right, Maria. Have you had enough evil for one night?
Yes, Dad. But you know what would be really not evil? If everyone could pick their favorite in the comment section. That would be righteous!
I agree, Maria. I agree.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
World leaders arriving in Washington for President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit must have felt for a moment that they had instead been transported to Soviet-era Moscow.
They entered a capital that had become a military encampment, with camo-wearing military police in Humvees and enough Army vehicles to make it look like a May Day parade on New York Avenue, where a bicyclist was killed Monday by a National Guard truck.
In the middle of it all was Obama -- occupant of an office once informally known as "leader of the free world" -- putting on a clinic for some of the world's greatest dictators in how to circumvent a free press.
The only part of the summit, other than a post-meeting news conference, that was visible to the public was Obama's eight-minute opening statement, which ended with the words: "I'm going to ask that we take a few moments to allow the press to exit before our first session."
Reporters for foreign outlets, admitted for the first time to the White House press pool, got the impression that the vaunted American freedoms are not all they're cracked up to be.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
It is often said that the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves.
In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the “personal health insurance coverage” of senators, representatives and their staff members.
For example, it says, the law may “remove members of Congress and Congressional staff” from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available.
Fancy that: a bill that's over 2000 pages long, that nobody had a chance to read before it was jammed down the throats of America, having "unintended consequences."
I've been researching the matter a little bit and it also turns out that every American family will now be responsible for the care of a cocker spaniel puppy, all of which are named "Steny."
Meanwhile, Timesman Robert Pear asks a pertinent question:
The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?
For all the grasping that goes on in Washington, it's hardly surprising that such picayune details would fall beyond the grasp of the graspers.
Of course, given what's going to happen to these luminaries in November, chances were pretty good that a lot of them were going to need to find some other form of health insurance anyway.
Monday, April 12, 2010
"The old joke is that General Motors is just a health insurance company that makes cars on the side," San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill said during a pension presentation at a recent board meeting. "My concern is that the county government is becoming a pension provider that provides government services on the side."This is separate, mind you, from the $500 billion that various California governments have promised to state workers past and present. So, how the hell does something like this happen? Let the Bee run some numbers:
Yet today's escalating annual pension payments barely touch the looming shortfall: $28 billion in unfunded liabilities – the difference between what pension systems have and the pension benefits their employees have earned – at the 80 largest city and county governments in California, according to an extensive Sacramento Bee review of pension plan valuation reports.
About 85 former members of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District earn annual pension benefits of more than $100,000, including former chief Donald Mette, who makes almost $241,000 a year in retirement, according to a list obtained from CalPERS by advocacy group California Pension Reform.
In Roseville, 17 former employees earn north of $100,000. In Merced County, it's 37. In Stanislaus County, it's 50.
That's pretty daunting stuff. According to the 2000 census figures, Merced County, a largely agricultural area north of Fresno, had about 210,000 residents. Its neighbors to the north in Stanislaus County had around 460,000 residents, many living near Modesto. Not surprisingly, most of these counties don't have the resources to pay off the promised pension benefits.
So who wrote the checks in the first place? Anyone with even a passing knowledge of California knows the answer, but we'll let the Bee explain:
All of them can thank former Gov. Gray Davis.
In 1999, Davis and the state Legislature passed a generous set of pension upgrades. Most public safety officers came out on top, eventually receiving 3 percent of their salary per year of service for life, after reaching age 50. The improvements were heavily supported by labor unions, which had contributed large sums to Davis' election war chest.
Nearly all California cities and counties followed Davis' lead, often passing clauses that mandated better pay or benefits if a neighboring jurisdiction received them.
If you had the same sorts of rules about self-dealing in public sector as exist in the private sector, chances are good that Davis would have been bunking in the same cell block as Bernie Madoff or Tom Petters. But we'll leave that aside for now. Why the hell did Davis and his cronies believe they could make such outrageous promises? The Bee has the answer to that one, too:
While those "me too" enhancements get the most ink, they're only one factor – and probably not the largest one at that – behind the pension morass facing cities and counties. The other three factors:So they got all the money and huge pensions to boot. Yeah, I could see where that might get a little spendy, as we say in Minnesota.
• Faulty assumptions about the stock market.
• Bad advice from some professional advisers.
• Hiring followed by a plethora of raises.
It's a simple calculus: The more money government employees make, the more they'll get in retirement.
Average pay at all California local governments rose 40 percent from $46,073 in 2000 to $64,284 in 2008 – a much faster rate of growth than inflation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. To keep up with inflation, those employees would have needed just a 25 percent raise.
But all this mess is California's problem, right? Not our problem, right? Well, when you look at the total bill for all the states and municipalites out there, we could be looking at something on the order of $1 trillion.
If you've been watching the current travails in Greece and have marveled that a government could mismanage things that badly, you might want to consider that we are pretty much hip deep in spanakopita ourselves.
The former Joseph Ratzinger was always going to be a harder pontiff for the world to love: more introverted than his predecessor, less political and peripatetic, with the crags and wrinkles of a sinister great-uncle. While the last pope held court with presidents and rock stars, Cardinal Ratzinger was minding the store in Rome, jousting with liberal theologians and being caricatured as “God’s Rottweiler.” His reward was supposed to be retirement, and a return to scholarly pursuits. Instead, he was summoned to Peter’s chair — and, it seems, to disaster.
And one more point, or two actually:
The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.
The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle. Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.
This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.
So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up.
There's more and it's well worth a read.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
For all of her weaknesses -and she has them- I have said from the start that if Sarah Palin had brought precisely the same life-story into politics (middle-class woman who worked her way through school, who married her high school sweetheart, owned a business with him, and met payrolls; a mom who started in politics by going to PTA meetings and became the Governor of an energy-rich state while raising kids; a women who could shoot and dress a moose, a runner) plus carried a D after her name, and not an R, why she’d be the toast of the Democrat party, today, the very model of the “do it all, have it all, self-sufficient woman.”
But since Palin does carry that R after her name? There’s nothing admirable there, nothing to see. And it’s perfectly alright to objectify her, sexually, even unto violence.
I think that's right. And there's more -- read the whole thing, including another link to an equally provocative observation on la Palin from Camille Paglia.
Meanwhile, there's this from Ann Althouse, about a hard-to-imagine fun couple, Oprah Winfrey and John Tesh:
But let's assume Tesh and Oprah were lovers. Oprah has said they went on a date together, so there is probably some connection. What connection? In the years since the 1970s, both Tesh and Oprah have led the "New Age" movement — Oprah by seducing millions of TV-watchers into believing all manner of pseudo-scientific notions and Tesh by composing that innocuous music. Perhaps the music is not so innocuous. Perhaps Tesh has been softening the very brains into which Oprah has planted her noxious seeds. Conspiracy theory anybody? (Crack?)
I am amused.
A vaccine being tested in the UK has helped been shown to help some patients fully recover from melanoma, even in its advanced stages.
It attacks tumour cells, leaving healthy cells undamaged and carries agents that boost the body's response to skin cancer.
Saturday, April 10, 2010
- Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, died early this morning in a plane crash near Smolensk, along with 88 others. Kaczynski has been the most consistently strong voice for freedom in Eastern Europe in recent years and has actively and successfully resisted some of the mischief emanating from Moscow. The purpose of his trip makes the death especially bitter, as he was traveling to the area for an observance of the 70th anniversary of one of the great atrocities of World War II, the massacre of some 20,000 Polish prisoners of war at Katyn. It's a horrible thing all the way around.
- Meanwhile, John Paul Stevens has announced his retirement from the Supreme Court. Stevens, like David Souter and Harry Blackmun, was a Republican appointee who moved the Supreme Court to the left. Gerald Ford put him on the court in 1975 and he's been a reliable leftist vote ever since. President Obama will certainly name someone who is equally reliably leftist to replace him, so his departure won't necessarily move the needle much. The better question is what Obama will do -- will he appoint someone who won't cause a fight (like, say, Elena Kagan) or someone who will (like his buddy Cass Sunstein). Given the way things played out with the Obamacare vote, it's possible that he might go with someone like Sunstein -- if the composition of Congress changes substantially in 2011, there would be no chance for a true theoretician like Sunstein to get through, so the time might be now. Place your bets in the comments section. Meanwhile, this list of contenders that the Washington Post has put together has a really good punchline at the end. Really good. It's worth clicking the link to find out.
Friday, April 09, 2010
Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future
No future for you
Well, it took 33 years, but it turned out to be true for the guy who midwifed the Sex Pistols and punk rock generally, Malcolm McLaren, who died yesterday at the age of 64.
There was always something amusing about what McLaren was doing with the Sex Pistols. The whole idea of prepackaged anarchy as a marketing strategy is a little bizarre. You can pretty much sell anything, I guess, but the audacity of McLaren was noteworthy.
The Sex Pistols didn't really permeate my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin in 1977. You heard a few rumblings about punk here and there, but I really didn't get to take the whole punk rock thing in until my college years. By then the music was second hand and had been co-opted into the larger music business. Well, that was what I believed at the time.
Nearly 35 years on, it looks different. It's pretty clear that what seemed so fresh to me, and so menacing to others, was second hand from the start. McLaren wasn't really much more than a rag merchant who figured out a new way to market his product. But it was fun while it lasted.
Thursday, April 08, 2010
- It has to be said: the most useful thing about both Bachmann and Palin is the mirror they hold up to the face of the Left. The blind hatred and spittle-flecked rage that both of these politicians engender (pun intended) can be absolutely amazing. I forget who said it, but there is a lot of value in being hated by the right people and both Bachmann and Palin have that going for them.
- While I support Michele Bachmann over any candidate that she might face in the upcoming election, I'm baffled at the support and enthusiasm she garners, along with the hatred on the other side. I realize this is a minority view around here, but I don't think Bachmann is necessarily that great a representative. She's streets ahead of Betty McCollum or Keith Ellison, but I tend to think of her more as a Bob Dornan/William Proxmire type than as a true leader. She delights in being a gadfly and lightning rod, and she serves several useful purposes in doing so, but a politician who takes that approach rarely has much influence on larger policy matters. If Bachmann is serious about being part of the leadership on Capitol Hill, we probably ought to see less of her on television. I'm not sure that she is, though.
- While Sarah Palin shares a number of characteristics with Michele Bachmann, she's a different animal. There are two strains in her personality that are at war: her formidable happy warrior persona and her unfortunate tendency to be a bit of a grievance monger. Now it must be said -- no modern politician has had more ridiculous crap thrown at her than Palin has, but the problem she faces is that the defense she mounts can turn into an overall posture of defensiveness, which ultimately erodes the happy warrior persona. I don't know if she will run for President in 2012, but she's doing a lot of smart things right now, especially in using her star power to help other candidates. If you come in and raise a million dollars for someone, they'll think well of you down the line.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
One point that got quite short shrift in the Times article was the role of Jeffrey Anderson, the Twin Cities attorney who has been suing the Catholic Church for the last decade. It might have been useful for Times readers to know that Anderson has been at this for a long time. McGurn points out some useful information about Mr. Anderson:
What she did not tell readers is that Mr. Anderson isn't just any old lawyer. When it comes to suing the church, he is America's leading plaintiffs attorney. Back in 2002, he told the Associated Press that he'd won more than $60 million in settlements from the church, and he once boasted to a Twin Cities weekly that he's "suing the s--t out of them everywhere." Nor did the Times report another salient fact about Mr. Anderson: He's now trying to sue the Vatican in U.S. federal court.
Now, it's a free country and Mr. Anderson is certainly entitled to pursue this work. In fact I've admired his work in the past. A careful reader would want to know Mr. Anderson's extensive history in these matters, especially since he's trying his case in the media. Goodstein didn't think that background mattered much:
Asked about the omissions in an email, Ms. Goodstein replied as follows: "Given the complexity of the Murphy case, and the relative brevity of my story, I don't think it is realistic for you to expect this story to get into treating other cases that these attorneys have handled."
That's silly. Of course it's realistic. The motivation of an accuser is always relevant, especially an attorney who has a separate case pending, as McGurn points out:
None of this makes Mr. Anderson wrong or unworthy of quoting. It does make him a much bigger player than the story disclosed. In fact, it's hard to think of anyone with a greater financial interest in promoting the public narrative of a church that takes zero action against abuser priests, with Pope Benedict XVI personally culpable.
McGurn also shares four letters from an attorney who has been on the other side of these suits, Martin Nussbaum, regarding the Murphy case. The last one, dated December 11, 1995, is especially on point. The letter bears the signature of the Archbishop, Rembert Weakland, and states that Murphy was essentially barred from all priestly duties. McGurn's summation seems right:
It's accurate to say Murphy was never convicted by a church tribunal. It's also reasonable to argue (as I would) that Murphy should have been disciplined more. It is untrue, however, to suggest he was "never" disciplined. When asked if she knew of these letters, Ms. Goodstein did not directly answer, saying her focus was on what was "new," i.e., "the attempts by those same bishops to have Father Murphy laicized."
The approach the Milwaukee Archdiocese took was not unusual. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also took a few priests out of commission, including a priest who lived in the rectory of our old parish, St. Adalbert, back in the late 1990s. This priest worked in the business office of the archdiocese but was never allowed to say Mass or conduct any sacraments. Since I was on the parish finance committee and worked closely with Fr. Tim Kernan, our pastor, during those days, I was aware of this priest but most parishioners were not even aware he was living in the rectory, which was less than 100 feet from the church building.
When Fr. Tim, who was in failing health and died in 2001, was too sick to perform Mass, the priest was never allowed to substitute for any services. When the parish couldn't find a substitute priest, we would have a lay communion service conducted by a deacon rather than allowing this priest to step into the church. While he lived within 100 feet of the church, it might as well have been 100 miles.
One important difference between this priest and Murphy is this: the priest who lived in the St. Adalbert rectory was arrested, prosecuted and punished for his actions in the criminal justice system. Once his sentence was completed the archdiocese took him back into the fold, even though it never let him work as a priest again. Was this approach -- quarantining pedophile priests -- the right approach for the archdiocese to take? Clearly not, and the archdiocese recognized it, but too late. When the scandals of 2002 came to light, the archdiocese quietly defrocked this priest and a handful of others it was harboring elsewhere. If it had been up to me, these priests would have been defrocked years before. But it's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
But if we are going to engage in the exercise of Monday morning quarterbacking, there are other issues that merit attention. McGurn points out a few pertinent ones:
The Murphy case raises hard questions: why it took the archbishops of Milwaukee nearly two decades to suspend Murphy from his ministry; why innocent people whose lives had been shattered by men they are supposed to view as icons of Christ found so little justice; how bishops should deal with an accused clergyman when criminal investigations are inconclusive; how to balance the demands of justice with the Catholic imperative that sins can be forgiven. Oh, yes, maybe some context, and a bit of journalistic skepticism about the narrative of a plaintiffs attorney making millions off these cases.
That's a good list, but I have another thought. I'll get to that in the coming days.
The federal government is now starting to build the institutions that will try to reduce the soaring growth of health care costs. There will be a group to compare the effectiveness of different treatments, a so-called Medicare innovation center and a Medicare oversight board that can set payment rates.Sarah Palin had a more pungent term for this sort of thing.
The stand-off between Massachusetts regulators and health insurance companies intensified today as most insurers stopped offering new coverage to small businesses and individuals while state officials demanded that the insurers post updated rates online and resume selling such policies by the end of the week.
People seeking to buy health insurance for the first time, or existing customers looking to change policies, found themselves out of luck, at least temporarily, in the aftermath of last week's decision by the state Division of Insurance to reject 235 of 274 premium increases proposed by insurers for what is known as the small group market. The segment covers about 800,000 residents.
Oh, those nasty insurance companies, trying to be profitable. Can't have that! Thank goodness the citizens of Massachusetts have the Division of Insurance to protect them from the rapacious whims of these button-down brigands.
This is the game, folks. The regulators will impose rules and make rulings that make it virtually impossible for insurers to offer a product. The people will then need something else. Something like, say, a public option. Which will be the only option once the regulators complete their work.
Be sure to read the rest of the piece, which features such fascinating players as the "Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, " which is likely a bunch of really great dudes. Oh, and by the way, it's worth remembering that the politician most associated with what is happening in Massachusetts is a fella by the name of Mitt Romney.