Monday, February 28, 2011

Honey, Just Allow Me One More Chance

Unless you're a Dylanophile, the name Suze Rotolo may not mean that much to you. But chances are pretty good that you've seen her face. Suze Rotolo was Bob Dylan's early 60s girlfriend and is on his arm on the cover of the iconic album "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," from 1963, which I've posted here. It's a seemingly timeless image that represents a moment that is now a long time ago. We got a reminder of how long ago it really was today, as Suze Rotolo died at the age of 67. Rest in peace.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Mob Rule of Law

Nice turn of events in Madison tonight. There was a promise from the protesters who have been clogging the Capitol building for the past few weeks that they would leave overnight to allow the building to be cleaned.

As I write now (at 7:50 p.m. CST), they aren't leaving. The Madison police, unionized as well, refuses to do anything to make them leave. The Capitol police, which would like to restore order, cannot move the protesters because they require the cooperation of the Madison PD to provide paddy wagons and the like.

Whatever you think of Scott Walker's proposals, this is unmistakably a giant middle finger in his direction, and in the direction the voters who supported his candidacy. The latest word is the cleaning crews, which have an Augean job in front of them, are going to attempt to work around the drum bangers and Willy Street irregulars (pardon the redundancy) who are currently populating the building.

What do we learn from this? A few things that help to illuminate matters:
  • How do you bargain with people who don't bargain in good faith? A promise was made and broken. That should tell Walker and the Wisconsin citizenry, something they need to know about the mentality and honesty of their public servants.
  • There are pictures galore of the mess these folks are making of the building at Ann Althouse's blog. Just keep scrolling -- they've turned the people's house into a student union.
  • There are going to be some pretty big cleanup costs involved in getting the Capitol building back into the condition it ought to be. I'd suggest that they tell the protesters that if they want to stay, they will be liable for the going rate for a state campground. The Capitol might have marble floors, but it is heated and has indoor plumbing. The going rate for a cabin at Point Beach State Park is $60/night. That would be a good starting point for the fee.
  • The protesters are certainly hoping that Walker will do something dramatic, like calling in the National Guard to bust heads. I don't think he should. The optics of this protest are not flattering to the protesters at all. This isn't "Tin soldiers and Walker's coming/We're finally on our own." As long as the Madison police are unwilling to cooperate, the mob cannot be dispersed. So be it. Let them stay for days, or weeks, or months, even. Walker doesn't need to do anything except go about his business.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wichita Lineman

If you thought the prank phone that a lefty blogger initiated with Scott Walker seemed strange, there was a reason for it. As it happens, Scott Walker has apparently never met David Koch:

In interviews with National Review Online, Koch executives responded to the incident and pledged to “not stop” supporting free-enterprise initiatives, even as opponents attempt to sully the Koch name and the groups that brothers David and Charles Koch, the company’s co-owners, support. They also noted that David Koch and the governor have never met or spoken.

That would explain why Walker wasn't aware he was taking a prank call -- it's kinda difficult to recognize a voice you haven't heard.

Robert Costa at National Review Online notes that Koch Industries isn't very happy about this for other reasons, too:

Koch executives are not happy about the use of David Koch’s name by the blogger. “It was a fraudulent call,” says Mark Holden, the general counsel for Koch Industries. “There are serious fiscal issues at play in Wisconsin. Yet our opponents are interjecting us falsely into this story. But our Wisconsin story is about bringing and keeping good manufacturing jobs in the state. It is disturbing that when a blogger calls using the Koch name, it is used as an opportunity to attack the company.”

Well, that's what you boys get for speaking up. Ask Target about it -- they gave some money to Tom Emmer and they were suddenly anti-gay and a bunch of other things. Never mind that Emmer, much to the consternation of some of his allies, never talked about social issues during his campaign. Doesn't matter. You just need to shut up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part Seventy-Six -- Fearless Maria Thinks About Politicians Running Away From Office

Fearless Maria is here and we've been thinking about what's been happening in Wisconsin.

Of course I know what's been happening! It was my Auntie Margie's birthday, and they had a party and the Packers won the Super Bowl and everyone was celebrating and they had a parade. But then there was this thing about some teachers slacking off to protest. Okay, okay, so maybe it's all everybody's been talking about for a few weeks. But I like to look on the sunny side of life! You can always think of the sunny side, like your eggs! It tastes better than the other side! Though I prefer my eggs scrambled. So what do you think about all this, Dad? Oh, wait, I think you've written about a zillion posts about it in the last week. Don't you think it's time we do something else?

Yes, Maria. Yes I do. That's probably why you're here, right?

Correct. It's my job to be a good daughter and to make sure you're not posting too much about politics, because that will make everyone think you're dull! Speaking of which, do you have my paycheck ready yet?

Paycheck? What paycheck?

What do you mean! I'm saving everybody from the invisible chamber of perpetual boringness! That must be worth something? Or do I have to go out on strike?

No, I don't think you do. We'll negotiate your fee later. But now, there's music to think about. So what should we look at tonight, Maria?

Well, in honor of those senators who have been running around Illinois, why don't we talk about running? Running noses, running in gym class, running on the ice and slipping and breaking something, and of course about the senators--

Run-on sentences?

Yeah, that too, wise guy. Excuse me, there's no time for you to use your smart-aleck comments, even if you were an English major. Why don't you do something useful and pull up the first song? So what if it was a run-on sentence? It's not as if this is going to be graded!

Good point, Maria. We'll start out tonight's festivities with something a little mellow and jaunty, from Sly and the Family Stone:

Well, Dad, I'm afraid to say that I can't really comment on the images, because a color-changing disk doesn't give me a lot to work with! However, I've seen Sly and the Family Stone before and let me tell you, Sly's hair was so big in those days that a squirrel could live in his hair. No wonder they're laughing in the song -- if I had a squirrel in my hair, I bet it would be inspiringly hurtful! Although, at the same time, it might tickle a little. It's a good song, but I'll bet you can do better, right?

Well, I do aim to meet your expectations, Maria. I'll tell you what, we'll go with one of the greatest early rock songs of all and a video with all the bad early 60s imagery that I like. It's Del Shannon!

Now let me ask you something, Dad. He seems like he doesn't approve of running, does he?

No, I don't think he does. He sounds worried.

So why does he have his girlfriends running around the stage, then? Actually, I think they're jogging, but you know what I mean! If any gym teacher was there, I betcha they'd get on the case of girls wearing tight black pants and trying to run in them! That doesn't work well at all! And I'm sure that they could find something more suitable at Dick's Sporting Goods or something like that! Maybe they need to consult with Maria Sharapova on something a little more sensible! But it is a really cool song and I know why you like it so much, Dad.

Why is that?

He's wearing a shirt with a button down collar and a sweater. It's like he borrowed your wardrobe! Maybe that's why the Ghost of Del Shannon was poking around in your closet the other day!

I was wondering who that was. Okay, this is getting spooky, so maybe we should move on to the next song. We'll move up a few years. You'll be able to tell because the film is in color. You want to see some moves, Maria?

Yes, but it's not Benster, is it? Because I've seen plenty of him!

No, it's the Temptations!

So, let me get this straight, Dad. They are looking for the runaway child, who's going wild, but they decide to tell the world this in their frilly collars that look like they cut up a bedskirt? They don't seem pretty convincing. I think it's the shirtmakers who went wild!

Actually, I've seen the Temptations wearing worse.

That's not surprising, Dad. You lived through the 1970s when everybody was at their worst. Even you and your Garanimals! Please tell me, you didn't wear the hippo shirt with the giraffe pants, now did you?

If I did, at least there's no photographic evidence of it.

That's because it's not polite to take pictures of fashion disasters, unless you're a paparazzi. Grandpa Ed wasn't a paparazzi, was he?

No, he was a business consultant, actually.

Well, spotting bad clothes is my business, so you'd better cue up another video, mister!

Okay. Here you go, then -- to the 70s, with Jackson Browne:

Wait, are you sure that's the 70s, Dad? They don't look that ridiculous at all! The lady backup singer looks like she used a few too many of her 64-pack of Crayolas on her outfit, but really, that's not bad. When I want bad 70s, I expect you to step up your game!

I'll try a little harder next time, sweetheart. I hate to disappoint you.

Okay, well, I don't want to lose sight of our theme. It's about running away, right? So maybe we can look at the Beatles?

Hey, it's the Rock Band version of the Beatles! You know, you need to get me that game, don't you, Dad? Maybe you could get me that instead of my paycheck!

You were anticipating a pretty big paycheck, apparently. But if you're going to earn it, you need to critique the song, right?

Okay, well, those aren't really the Beatles on the video, but I will say that the Beatles were mostly well dressed, at least until 1967 or so, then they got a little weird. But I don't think they were as weird as Bootsy Collins. You did see that link I snuck in there, right Dad?

Sure. Everyone loves Bootsy. But he's not part of the contest. So now we return to the late 1970s. I have two from that era for you. First, let's go to 1978 and the debut of a band that made it very, very big. It's Van Halen:

So, David Lee Roth says he lives his life like there's no tomorrow? Well, there's no tomorrow when you're wearing a shirt with no buttons and then everyone starts chasing you and you end up in jail. That's running with the devil, all right! Maybe he should beg and borrow some buttons from Auntie Heidi! I'll bet she can fix him up!

Not a bad idea, Maria. I think a little careful tailoring is in order on that one. Meanwhile, a year later we heard this, from Pink Floyd:

Dad, you know what? That singer is kinda bossy. Telling people to clap before he even starts singing? Doesn't he have to earn their clapping? Next thing you know he'll be stage diving and telling people to catch him. Or maybe he expects the audience to make him a sandwich? I think I'd run, too!

Well, what's happening is we're running out of time for this one, Maria.

That's good news, because I was afraid you were going to break out this one. Or worse yet, this one.

I'm not that mean, Maria. I would never do that.

Thank goodness! Tell you what, people -- vote for your favorite in the comment section. Dad, I bet I know which one Gino is going to pick!

Maybe he'll surprise us, Maria. You heard the young lady -- vote! And no hiding in Illinois, either!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Do You Have Scott Walker in a Can?

I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part!

-- Otter (Tim Matheson), Animal House

By now you've likely heard that some lefty prankster got Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on the phone by pretending to be Mortimer Duke or something. I'm sorry, I had the wrong evil zillionaire brother. It was apparently David Koch, whom I fondly recall as a stalwart right tackle for the Green Bay Packers teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. No, I'm sorry, I got that wrong. That's Greg Koch. David Koch is a zillionaire industrialist plutocrat who apparently is evil because he and his brother Sparky give money to Republican candidates, including Scott Walker.

Do I have that last part right? I guess Koch's brother isn't named Sparky. But it really doesn't matter. The point is this -- the brothers Koch are apparently shadowy figures who own the tea party lock, stock and barrel. They also own the right-wing blogosphere and, apparently, the mortal soul of Scott Walker. And until about two years ago, I'd never heard of either of them.

Why would that be? Well, Koch Industries is privately held and they don't put their brand name on that many things. I have not pursued a career in the businesses that Koch maintains. We have a company here in Minnesota that is quite similar, Cargill, which until the last five years never curried much attention in the news media. There are probably people out there who think that Cargill is evil, too, but as long as the McMillan and Whitney families stick to their knitting and ocean-going vessels filled with orange juice concentrate, they'll probably not draw too much fire. And, as always, I do appreciate the lefties letting me know who Emanuel Goldstein is this week.

As it happens, Walker took that phone call from a prankster who pretended to be David Koch. The call was recorded and has been bouncing around all day. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has helpfully provided a transcript, which you can read here. Of course, I do have a few thoughts.

First, I would be curious what the David Koch has to say about all this -- although I understand he favors libertarian causes, I somehow suspect he wouldn't refer to Mika Brzezinski as a real "piece of ass." Walker didn't bite on that provocation, of course. Hell, for that matter I wonder what Mika Brzezinski thinks of it. The one thing you can always count on from lefties is very casual, off-hand sexism, in the service of a greater good, of course. But I'm sure Mika is reassured that her looks can be used as a cudgel with which to belabor benighted midwestern politicians.

So what does it mean, really? Not much, I'd say. There's no "smoking gun" in the transcript that makes Walker into the Snidely Whiplash type that some folks imagine him to be. In fact, what's striking about it is how "on message" Walker remains throughout the call. Other than saying he'd "thought about" some false flag operations, which he (a) did not carry out and (b) reveals to someone carrying a false flag, or that there was a plan afoot to have the prodigal donks return for a meeting as a ruse to get a quorum call, there's nothing especially nefarious.

And what do these lukewarm revelations really do to change the needle? Not much, I'd say. The bottom line is that Walker's opponents are still in a very weak position. Walker doesn't have to compromise at all. Walker is also likely correct that if the hidin' Senate Dems have been accepting any money from outside sources to fund their little escapade, they'll have to answer to J. B. Van Hollen, the Wisconsin attorney general. That's not going to go well for them, either. They will have to come home. When they do, the vote will take place and Walker will get everything he wants. And the circus will move on to Ohio.

The conservative commentator Mary Katherine Ham put it quite well today:

“Between prank calls & running squealing from confrontation, it’s unclear whether left wants to make policy or attend my 12th bday party.”

That's about it. Fear not, though, fevered portsiders -- here in Minnesota, Brave Sir Mark Dayton will protect the public employee unions, all the way through June, at least.

Follow the Money

If you want to understand why what's happening in Wisconsin has been so contentious, it helps to look at this chart from Open Secrets, which tracks political giving for the past 20 years. Fully 12 of the top 20 political donors are labor unions. The largest public employee union, AFSCME, has given over $43 million, nearly all to Democrats. And of the top 20 donors, only one, the National Auto Dealers Association, significantly favors Republicans.

By the way, Koch Industries, which has lately become the big bogeyman for those on the Left who decry the influence of money in politics, sits at #84, while Target Corporation, much derided locally for becoming involved in the 2010 governor's race on Evil Tom Emmer's behalf, is not among the top 140 donors.

What Scott Walker is doing represents an existential threat to the way unions and the Democratic Party operate. It's clear, when you look at the numbers, that the Democrats absolutely, positively, gotta have union money in order to survive. And because they do, the Democrats are absolutely loyal to the wishes of their paymasters. Although it's been less remarked upon, the real issue with Walker's initiatives, from a union perspective, is that the sum of the reforms will make Wisconsin a "right-to-work" state, ending the closed-shop advantage that unions currently enjoy there. If the unions have to collect their own dues, they lose a lot of leverage. And the Democrats lose a lot of money. If I were dependent upon such a system, I'd fight like hell to preserve it, too.

Other major non-union donors, such as AT&T (#2) and the National Association of Realtors (#4), tend to split their money between the two parties. They are in the game because they operate in heavily regulated industries and the political money they provide is paid to the political parties for the same reasons that local shopkeepers might wet the beak of the local crime boss -- it's protection money.

It's a cliche, but it's true -- you'll never be able to get money of politics so longs as the politicians are a position to dictate how money is made. Poke around that list a little bit more -- you'll learn a lot.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Madison Time

Still there, of course. A few more thoughts:
  • One thing does need to be said -- whatever you think about the merits of the situation on either side, and despite the irritating street theater and crappy behavior of the protestors, they aren't being irrational. If I had a sweet deal, I wouldn't want to give it up, either. The problem is the same as it always is in these cases: it's very easy to confuse your self-interest with the general interest. Which leads to the next two items:
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal (link is from Hot Air), Stephen Hayes asks a question for which he likely knows the answer. “In Tucson, the president called on Americans to honor the victims with a ‘more civil and honest public discourse’ that would ‘help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.’ Perhaps it’s unfair to expect him to answer for the offensive language and actions of Wisconsin’s protesters, though Joe Kiriaki is an Obama donor and Lena Taylor was an Obama superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention. But given his words just a month ago, is it too much to ask him to emphasize now that he meant what he said?” He didn't mean it, Mr. Hayes. And it is too much to ask.
  • Ann Althouse, the UW-Madison law professor and blogger who has been following events in her neighborhood quite closely, notes how a teachable moment can go really, really wrong. As it happens, some of the teachers are now asking students to write an essay about what they did during their, ahem, break, hoping to incorporate "lessons about Wisconsin labor history." Althouse asks two really good questions. First, "What grade does a kid get if he says he demonstrated in favor of Scott Walker? Or if he says he stayed home and played video games?" You'd like to think it wouldn't matter, but can you be sure?
  • Then there's this, also from Althouse: "Look, the teachers should leave the children out of their political struggle. They've already deprived them of nearly a week of the teaching they signed on to deliver. The students should receive, immediately, substantive educational lessons of the completely normal kind. Leave the politics, indoctrination, ideology, and political discipline out of the classroom. Children are required to attend school. The teachers who hold these young bodies and minds captive owe them pure, rich education. It's a disgusting violation of trust to do anything else. I can't believe people who are fighting to preserve their job benefits would even think to appropriate the children this way. It's mind boggling." It's only mind-boggling to someone who doesn't confuse their self-interest with the general interest.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Fair Question

A brave and selfless teacher from Wauwatosa speaks truth to power and ups the ante by bringing Scott Walker's kid into the, ahem, debate:

Michael Mulvey, a high school algebra teacher in Wauwatosa — the town Walker represented for a decade in the Legislature here — lapped the circular balcony over the main floor with a sign that read, “Scott, I taught your son algebra. My son just turned 5. Does he deserve a good education?”

I suppose that's a fair question. As a parent, Mulvey has every right to pursue a high quality education for his son. If Walker gets by with forcing teachers to help fund their own pensions, how will Mulvey ever afford the tuition at Pius XI High School?
Meanwhile, Ann Althouse reports that Madison schools will be closed for the 4th consecutive day. Remember, everyone, it's all about the children.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Doctored Evidence

Both Gateway Pundit and Ann Althouse are reporting that a group of doctors have set up a booth near the Wisconsin state capitol building and are writing doctor's notes excusing protestors from work. Big Government has video.

I would hope that both the doctors and the public employees involved would understand that they are both defrauding the state government if they submit those notes. I would also assume that J. B. Van Hollen knows it, too.

I would have a lot of admiration for these public employees if they have the courage of their convictions sufficient enough to risk discipline from their employers for taking a stand. If an employee attempts to add fraud to their growing list of transgressions, to hell with them. And as for the doctors, I would imagine that professional sanction would be in order as well should those notes get turned in.

It's Saturday now. The notes presumably would not be turned in until Monday. Sunday is always a good day to examine one's conscience. I'd strongly recommend that anyone involved in this effort does that.

Now it gets interesting

The Tea Party is coming to Madison today. They'd have been there earlier but they weren't able to call in sick.

I have a feeling this is going to be a problem. Ann Althouse is worried, too:

Yes, the anti-Scott Walker side has its outside agitators. I don't think that necessarily helps the protesters win over the people of Wisconsin. (As I've said.) By contrast, Scott Walker and the GOP legislators have looked like they are focused on the public good, doing what needs to be done for the people of Wisconsin, which I think is a persuasive political message in Wisconsin. You want to switch that to Republicans versus Democrats in a hardcore political standoff? By bringing in your own outside agitators? Is that good Tea Party style? I don't think so!

Of course, we've crossed that bridge rather a long time ago and the stakes here are waaay beyond what happens in my home state. Althouse is arguing this a Wisconsin matter and should remain so:

And if you come in from out of state, I don't particularly want you here, but you need to know — whatever you've read about "thugs" and signs with cross-hairs and Hitler — Wisconsin people are really polite. If you don't understand that and behave extra-well, you will look like a lout — and that's even before the Democratic-friendly media do their usual work of trying to make you look bad.

I hope Wisconsinites do show up today — on all sides of the debate. Be there. I will. Let's be good citizens, interact with each other, try to understand what's going on and who thinks what, who cares about Wisconsin and who's there to take advantage of the spotlight for nonWisconsin purposes. May the greater good prevail.

A noble enough sentiment, I suppose, but Althouse knows this is only about Wisconsin in the same way that the Spanish Civil War was about Spaniards. (And no, I'm not comparing either side to the Fascists or the Communists -- just the dynamic involved.) For both sides, this is the tip of the spear and a proxy battle for larger issues. If Gov. Walker can get the public sector unions under control in the state where AFSCME got its start, there's little reason to believe that the change can't be replicated elsewhere. As we've discussed here earlier, Ohio and other states are watching very carefully.

On the other side, this has become a real test of public sector union power. That's really a distinction not worth making, though, since the union movement is mostly about public sector unionism these days. The key to this power is that the unions have such sway over the Democratic Party that when that D's are in power, the union is on both sides of the bargaining table when the matter of public sector compensation is involved. That is why public sector compensation has been been on autopilot for the last 20-30 years. It's also, as a matter of naked self-interest, a damned good deal.

I'm a heartless conservative so I fully understand the allure of naked self-interest. But pursuing one's self-interest doesn't require gaming the system. And since the system as it currently works puts my children on the hook for bills they'll be hard-pressed to pay, it's pretty easy to support what Scott Walker is doing.

Most importantly, the action the unions are taking are explicitly designed to nullify the results of the 2010 election. Walker's predecessor, Jim Doyle, was an old-school Dem pol who hosted a pretty good party for 8 years at taxpayer expense. Walker and the Republicans who now control the legislature were running explicitly on an anti-Doyle reform agenda. Because Wisconsin is a closely divided state politically, the vote was close, but Walker won the election pretty handily in most parts of the state. Wisconsin voters also sent Russ Feingold into retirement, flipped two congressional seats, the 7th and 8th, from blue to red, and narrowly lost in the 3rd. The verdict of the voters was pretty clear that change needed to happen. The public unions, through their ownership stake in the Democratic Party, refuse to concede that point. I don't think they'll get by with it in the end. But it's going to a tough fight in the meantime and what's happening in Madison will eventually happen in Columbus, Lansing and other places as well. It could even happen in St. Paul eventually, although AFSCME, Education Minnesota and the limousine liberal team have installed a firewall.

So for now, we'll just have to watch the show. And for my Wisconsin readers, if you're going to be in Madison, Mitch Berg has some excellent advice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Three More Observations on Wisconsin

Two by others, one by me:

First, the others. Mitch Berg has a frequent commenter at his blog named "Terry," who made this observation:

I, for one, will not work until I am 70 so public employees can retire at 55.

Me neither. The editorialists at the Wall Street Journal offer the following:

Madison's school district had to close Thursday when 40% of its teachers called in sick. So much for the claim that this is "all about the children." By the way, these are some of the same teachers who sued the Milwaukee school board last August to get Viagra coverage restored to their health-care plan.

Now the last observation is a bit of a cheap shot, but it's helpful reminder of how important. . . well, you can write your own punch line for that. But the first observation is crucial. In this case, the children are props at best, human shields at worst and future wallets to be hoovered.

Now, my observation. It's 2011 and the hour is very late. Scott Walker has made choices to head off the coming crisis which strike people as distasteful. If the unions and their allies stop Walker now, the crisis will not go away and a future governor will have to make choices that are significantly more distasteful, and painful, than the choices Walker has made.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Clock Tower 14

Lesson of the day -- don't make categorical statements. Why? Because they can bite you in the butt. Earlier today I made a quick post about what's going on in Wisconsin and wrote the following: No matter what happens in the end, the worst sin committed here was having the teachers bring their students down to protest.

What I didn't count on was this -- the Democrats in the state senate taking their ball and going off in a huff:

Democratic State Senators who protested the budget repair bill by leaving the state have been found.

The lawmakers are in the Best Western Clock Tower Resort in Rockford, Illinois.

They went to the Clock Tower because they must realize what time it is. They are also, apparently, immune from understanding how risible they sound:

According to the Twitter account of Democrat State Senator Chris Larson from Bay View, "For those looking for us, we are right here, standing with the people of Wisconsin."

Hey, if you're going to stand for Wisconsin, who doesn't think of doing it in Illinois? Who doesn't remember the stirring vision of Fighting Bob La Follette, progressive icon and pride of the Badger State, defending his handiwork from the parking lot of Ike's Motel in Beloit, just steps from the southern border? Our modern solons have taken matters to the next level, 20 miles south!

Meanwhile, Profile in Courage Larson has more to say on the matter:

When asked by TODAY'S TMJ4's Tom Murray why he would not divulge his location, he said "I don't want those details to take away from the message being sent by the people of Wisconsin."

The people of Wisconsin are getting Larson's message loud and clear, all right. Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, the reasoned behavior of the protesters is reassuring to those who are left behind:

Walker and Republican leaders have said they have the votes to pass the plan.

That didn't stop thousands of protesters from clogging the hallway outside the Senate chamber beating on drums, holding signs deriding Walker and pleading for lawmakers to kill the bill. Protesters also demonstrated outside the homes of some lawmakers.

Emphasis mine on that last part. The "we know where you live" gambit is always an especially attractive move.

It's not difficult to understand how things came to this pass. If Scott Walker succeeds in his quest to take back some of the power of the union, it will signal to every other governor facing a budget crisis, which is most of them, that it is possible to scale back the power of the public sector unions. Ohio Governor John Kasich is watching carefully, as is Nikki Haley in South Carolina. Governors who see the disaster that looms are taking action, with Walker in the lead. The whole world is watching.

Besides that, the Senate Dems in Wisconsin are hiding because they are utterly beholden to the swells who have spent the day pestering people in the state capitol. They cannot accept the defeat they received at the polls in November because they must continue to feed the beast. They must either come home carrying their shields and Walker's scalp, or they must be brought home carried on their shields. Given that choice, hiding out at a Best Western in Rockford probably looks pretty good.

Meanwhile in Minnesota, Gov. Brave Sir Mark Dayton is sipping his kombucha and pretending that he can rip $6.2 billion out of the hides of the most affluent wage-earning Minnesotans through a diabolically clever combination of his halting rhetoric, magical thinking and mesmerizing Marty Feldman stare. Or something. But that's another post.

Three Quick Thoughts About Wisconsin

Just three.
  • Just a guess: these angered workers have more money in their pockets if their unions hadn't poured so much money into the losing campaign of Tom Barrett.
  • Harold Meyerson gets his geography wrong. The scene in Madison is not similar to Cairo. It's similar to Athens.
  • No matter what happens in the end, the worst sin committed here was having the teachers bring their students down to protest. If these teachers get their way, these students at the ramparts will be the ones paying up the wazoo for all the pensions and other benefits the teachers are demanding now. It takes a extra special sort of chutzpah to try something like that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Ginkgo and the Money Tree - UPDATED

[NOTE: I had to correct something that was wrong in this piece. See the note at the end.]

This spring, I'm getting a new male ginkgo tree in my front yard. And it's free!

Well, it's not really free. And therein lies a tale.

I'm getting a new ginkgo tree because local ordinances in New Brighton specify that single family residences must have a city-owned, city-provided boulevard tree. The boulevard tree on my property, likely planted when my house was built in the 1960s, was a green ash tree. The key word there is "was," because it's gone now. The city identified it as a weak tree at risk for the emerald ash borer (EAB) and, in an effort to keep other ash trees in the city from suffering the ravages of the EAB, the city cut my tree down last fall, along with 68 others in the city. The city will ultimately remove hundreds more trees and replace them.

Because the city decided to take this action, and because it requires that boulevard tree, the city decided to provide replacement trees for those whose trees were removed. Mrs. D and I have selected a male ginkgo, which is known for being exceptionally hardy and resistant to the rigors of disease and the hurly-burly of suburban life. It's believed that gingko trees in Hiroshima survived the atomic blasts of 1945. At some point in the spring, the city will come back to my property and plant the new tree. Male ginkgos are quite lovely and I'm sure we'll enjoy the new tree quite a lot.

I said it was free. It's not, of course. As the city mentions on its website, it has committed a lot of resources to this project. It has also lined up preferred contractors to handle treatment of additional ash trees that residents have on their property, provided guidelines for what should happen and how trees must be treated, along with requirements for removal if necessary.

The city took these actions because it felt it had no choice. As it happens, Ramsey County is now under a quarantine because EAB has been discovered in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, an area south of the state fairgrounds and less than 5 miles from where I live. The standard view on EAB is that it is a grave a threat to ash trees as Dutch Elm disease was to the elm trees that were decimated throughout the United States in the 1970s and 1980s. In a number of cases, fallen elms were replaced by ash trees, strangely enough. And there are thousands of ash trees in New Brighton.

I'm of two minds about this. The expense involved in this project is pretty substantial for a small city like New Brighton, which has plenty of other problems to deal with. The city claims ownership of boulevard trees and therefore it does not require its citizens to pay for the cost of the tree. That seems equitable, although one could question whether or not the city should require boulevard trees. The city could easily have required residents to pay for the cost of the trees and even a portion of the removal costs, too, just as the city would assess us if they rebuilt our street. I don't know what the city paid to remove my old ash tree, but it was likely four figures. I'm glad they didn't ask me to pay these costs, but should my neighbors be subsidizing my new tree? While I have no doubt that the new tree will help me personally, will having a ginkgo tree on my boulevard improve the city enough to justify the expense?

These are the sorts of granular questions that cities, and citizens, must deal with. We are in the midst of a great debate now concerning what governments do and how they spend the money they collect. One of the larger questions hovering over the state now is the fate of Local Government Assistance (LGA), which has been a financial lifeline for some communities and a source of discretionary income for others. New Brighton was supposed to collect $65,619 in LGA monies last year, which is about what it likely spent on the first phase of this EAB project. As it turned out, New Brighton didn't get any money, as the link demonstrates. Minneapolis collected a lot more.

Mark Dayton wants to keep LGA pretty much intact, which might help New Brighton buy some more ginkgo trees for my neighbors next year, although not necessarily, since New Brighton hasn't received LGA in some years. Whether or not we can afford the LGA money tree is just one of many questions we need to answer in the coming months.

[NOTE: In the original version of this post, I asserted that New Brighton had collected $65,619. Upon rereading the chart, I realized that the LGA monies that New Brighton was slated to get did not, in fact, come to the city at all. In some respects, that result makes the story even more interesting as an example of how monies that are collected statewide end up being allocated elsewhere. Minneapolis was slated to get over $90 million, but ended up getting $63 million.]

A Profoundly Unserious Governor

Just a guess: Dan Hindbjorgen was in the recording studio yesterday afternoon.

I'm frankly at a loss to come up with the right term for the insane proposal that Mark Dayton uncorked yesterday. Steaming pile? 55-gallon drum of sewage? Dead raccoon in an interoffice envelope?

It's hard to come up with the appropriate imagery for the proposal we got from this profoundly unserious man, who has used his brand name surname to pursue a career in politics that has been desultory at best and risible at worst. Baird Helgeson and Rachel Stassen-Berger do their level best to carry Dayton's water in the Star Tribune:

Outlines of an epic legislative battle emerged Tuesday as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a budget that would raise taxes on wealthier Minnesotans by $4 billion while requiring relatively modest spending trims.

Dayton said that under his proposal, nearly 95 percent of Minnesotans would pay no additional tax. Instead, only the top 5 percent of earners — about 138,000 filers — would see an increase in income and property taxes.

You caught that, right? If you're not part of the fortunate 5 percent, it's all good, right? No tax increase for you, boobie!

It's crap, of course. Dayton's explanation?

“This is about restoring tax fairness in Minnesota and asking our most affluent residents to help us out,” Dayton said, noting that in previous years, high earners have paid a smaller share of their income in taxes than the middle class.

Forget that fake politeness. Dayton isn't asking. He's demanding. If his plan were to go through and one of these evil Scrooge McDucks didn't pony up the dough, there would be legal sanctions.

Here's the thing -- even if Dayton's plan were to go through, it wouldn't generate anything close to the amount of money he claims it would. One of the greatest advantages of making a good living, especially in the modern era, is that a high salary or income is almost always the sign of having transferable skills. The talented professional, the entrepreneur, the rainmaker -- they have choices. They do not have to pay more money just because Brave Sir Mark stands before them. If you have the skills to make a high salary in Minnesota, you surely can make a high salary in Florida, or Texas, or South Dakota. But in those places you get to keep more of your money.

How much more money? Dayton is proposing a top tax rate of 10.95% and a "temporary" 3% surcharge on incomes above $500,000, along an additional property tax for people with especially nice homes. The effective tax rate for the recipients of Dayton's request becomes 14%, which is higher than anyplace else in the country. Do you suppose that's going to be a magnet for professionals and entrepreneurs to come to Minnesota? And if you ran a business and saw this coming, would you refuse to take Dan Hindbjorgen's phone call, because you love Minnesota so much that you're happy to pay whatever the hell Mark Dayton thinks you should pay?

Fortunately we now have a Republican legislature that will stop this insanity in its tracks. Helgeson and Stassen-Berger are correct that we're going to be looking at an epic legislative battle this year. We have to, because if Mark Dayton's proposal wins, Minnesota is going to lose.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Green Banner

The last time we saw unrest in Iran, a number of bloggers turned their flag green, in solidarity with the color chosen by the protesters to the foul regime of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and his mullah handlers. Twice now such protests have been put down with massive shows of force and eventually most bloggers returned their flag to whatever color it had been before.

I never did, because I've always assumed that the protests would return. And in the wake of recent events elsewhere in the Middle East, the protests are back. And so is the iron fist of the regime:

Iranian members of parliament on Tuesday called for the death penalty against several opposition leaders who they say incited the unrest in the country.

At an open session of parliament, pro-government legislators chanted "death to Mousavi, Karroubi and Kahatami," referring to opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi and former reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

More than 220 lawmakers said in a statement that the trio should be held responsible for the unrest. "We believe the people have lost their patience and demand capital punishment" for the opposition leaders, the statement said.

Hardliners have long sought to put high-ranking opposition figures on trial, but the calls for the death penalty signaled an escalation in their demands.

I fully suspect that "the people" have lost their patience, but it isn't with Mousavi, Karroubi or Khatami. The mullahs are nasty, ruthless people and they have demonstrated that they have little compunction about killing their own citizenry. They might kill these men -- I have no doubt that they would if they feel that they can get by with it. And they might, for at least a while. This is not going away, though.

Monday, February 14, 2011


That's what President Obama proposes to spend over the next 10 years. Here's the claim, according to Jake Tapper at ABC News:

President Obama later today will propose a 10-year budget plan that would increase the national debt by $7.2 trillion over 10 years -- $1.1 trillion less than if it weren't implemented.

That, of course, assumes a government that is run on the current ruinous trajectory. Thus, it's a meaningless comparison. Tapper explains the true meaning of the budget:

The plan shows that Obama will not take the lead on any aggressive measure
to eliminate the nation’s $14 trillion debt. This sets up the Obama administration on a collision course with Republicans, who are calling for serious deficit reduction and spending cuts. On Friday night, House Republicans unveiled a spending bill to fund the government for the next seven months that they say will reduce the president’s requested spending levels this year by at least $100 billion.

How much difference would $100 billion make? Some, but not close to enough. Why? Back to Tapper:

The President will today propose a budget for 2012 in which the U.S. government would take in $2.627 trillion and spend $3.729 trillion. The 2012 budget deficit would be $1.101 trillion, less than this year’s projected $1.645 trillion deficit.

So if the Republicans got their way, the deficit would only be a smidge over a trillion dollars.

Here's the bottom line -- as Tapper notes, at no point in the next 10 years does Obama assume we'll spend less than we take in. Does anyone think that's sustainable?

The day of reckoning is coming, y'all. And our children better reckon that they have some very tough decisions to make, because my generation (Obama is two years older than me) has kicked the can down the road, too, just like our generational older brothers and sisters, and all who came before us.

Walker's PATCO Moment

So here's the question: are public sector unions to blame for the explosion of government spending that now threatens government at all levels?

As we discussed earlier, the new governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is proposing some pretty dramatic cuts in public sector salaries and wages, along with essentially cutting public sector unions out of the equation entirely.

This is an interesting question, since I have family members who are public employees in the State of Wisconsin. A cousin of mine is a schoolteacher, while my sister is an attorney who works for the Department of Public Instruction. Both are on the business end of any potential cuts that take place.

It's easy, probably too easy, to vilify public employees. We all can offer anecdotes of indifferent or actively hostile people who work for the government -- the guy on the road crew holding a sign that says "SLOW" while you pass him at 5 MPH, the clerk at the DMV who takes delight in making you go through the line 2-3 times -- that sort of thing. My sister and my cousin aren't like that at all. Most public employees aren't, and it would churlish to pretend that they were.

Still, public sector unions are a big problem, precisely because they are obstacles to reform. Gov. Walker let it slip that he was talking to the National Guard about manning certain jobs if the unions chose not to acquiesce to his demands. I don't anticipate that you would see Guardsmen teaching elementary school or working at the Department of Public Instruction, but you might see them serving as prison guards.

Unions have claimed, correctly, that they aren't the whole problem. One factoid I've seen tossed around (I won't link to it because I haven't verified it) is that state salaries are only 8% of the total budget in Wisconsin. The argument that followed was this: why is Walker concentrating his efforts on only 8% of the budget? That won't make any difference!

This is a version of the same argument that Minnesota's governor, Brave Sir Mark Dayton, used as justification for his veto of the initial budget bill that the Republican legislature sent him. Dayton is demanding a comprehensive solution and rejects what he calls "piecemeal" solutions. It's pretty easy to see the problem with this line of argumentation -- if you start to take potential solutions off the table because they only address 8% of the problem, or because they don't address every problem, it becomes well-nigh impossible to imagine any scenario in which the rest of the problems get addressed, whether it's 92% or some other figure.

Early in Ronald Reagan's presidency, he took one action that made it clear he meant business -- he fired all the air traffic controllers affiliated with the PATCO union that went on strike. And, for the most part, they stayed fired. It was a tough thing to do, but it made clear to the other public sector unions, and the nation, that Reagan wasn't joking around. Walker doesn't appear to be joking around, either.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fun with Federalism

Chances are you've heard the various states termed "laboratories of democracy" or somesuch. My home state of Wisconsin is taking a very different approach than two of its neighbors right now and it's going to be a fascinating thing.

Wisconsin's new governor, Republican Scott Walker, is not showing state employees a lot of love:

Gov. Scott Walker said Friday that thousands of state workers would be laid off if the Legislature does not adopt his budget fix that cuts public worker benefits and takes away almost all union bargaining rights from public workers.

A Walker aide confirmed that the benefit reductions would cost the average state worker thousands of dollars a year, or roughly 8% of his or her salary.

Walker also signaled that in a larger budget plan coming later this month he would trim aid to municipalities and let local officials deal with those cuts at least in part through savings on public employee costs.

Meanwhile, here in Minnesota, our new Governor, Brave Sir Mark Dayton, vetoed a spending bill with actual cuts:

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday quickly vetoed the first bill to reach his desk, a Republican budget-cutting measure that the Senate had passed just three hours earlier.

No one should have been surprised. The new Democratic governor had signaled for weeks that he opposed the approach taken by the House and Senate Republican

The bill would have cut state spending by $901 million over the next two years, making a down payment on plugging a projected $6.2 billion budget shortfall.

And on Wisconsin's southern flank, in January the lame duck Illinois legislature gave its residents a massive increase in the state income tax:

Patrick J. Quinn, the governor of Illinois and a Democrat, praised the decision of state lawmakers — in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday — to raise the individual income tax rate by about 66 percent as a necessity to avert the state’s “fiscal emergency,” which includes a budget deficit of more than $13 billion, about $8 billion in unpaid bills to social service agencies, pharmacies and others, and a sinking bond rating.

So, at this time in 2013, which state is going to be in the best shape among the three? Which will be in the worst shape? Place your bets in the comment section.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kings of Leon

The comedian and social observer Will Rogers used to say that all he knew was what he read in the papers. Turns out he's not the only one.

Last night I wrote about Leon Panetta getting bad information about what's happening in Egypt from his underlings at the CIA. That's a bad thing, right? You know what's worse?

The administration appeared as taken aback by Mr. Mubarak’s speech as the crowds in Tahrir Square. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, testified before the House of Representatives on Thursday morning that there was a “strong likelihood” that Mr. Mubarak would step down by the end of the day.

American officials said Mr. Panetta was basing his statement not on secret intelligence but on media broadcasts, which began circulating before he sat down before the House Intelligence Committee. But a senior administration official said Mr. Obama had also expected that Egypt was on the cusp of dramatic change. Speaking at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, he said, “We are witnessing history unfold,” adding, “America will do everything we can to support an orderly and genuine transition to democracy.”
Emphasis mine. Think about that for a minute. The head of intelligence is basing his views on media broadcasts? Why bother having spooks at all? All we know is what we get from the news readers on CNN or MSNBC or (heaven forfend) Fox News? Worse still, why would unnamed (natch) "American officials" admit such a thing? Did they somehow think such an admission would make people think better of anyone involved, including the president?

Our government looks like a bunch of impotent fools when we start making official pronouncements based on what we pick up from the news feeds. That benefits no one. I don't even know where to begin to solve these systemic problems, but putting someone in charge of the CIA who actually understands something and ashcanning Leon Panetta might be a start.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Meanwhile, Back in Cairo

Mubarak says he's not leaving and the White House is apparently surprised by this, or at least Leon Panetta is:

From Tahrir Square in Cairo to the halls of the CIA, Hosni Mubarak's decision to hold on to the presidency of Egypt caught observers by surprise and created deep uncertainty about how that country's transition of power will proceed. CIA Director Leon Panetta was so confident Mubarak was leaving that he told House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers at a hearing early Thursday that there was "a strong likelihood that Mubarak will step down this evening, which will be significant in terms of where the hopefully orderly transition in Egypt will take place."

It's not a good thing when the head spook doesn't know what's going on. Why he doesn't know is the interesting question. Michael Ledeen has a theory:

We have been reminded yet one more time that our “intelligence” experts are operating on the basis of some amazingly politically correct and demonstrably false stereotypes that have very little to do with the often ghastly realities of the real world. Those stereotypes include the (false) conviction that Sunnis and Shi’ites can’t work together, that the root problem of the Middle East is Israeli intransigence, that even the most fanatical Muslims (i.e. the Iranian tyrants) are amenable to reason and “really” want to make a deal with us, and that Mubarak can be overthrown by the news media and demonstrators, especially young ones. The Panetta statement is a form of wish-fulfillment, not serious intelligence. Serious intelligence officers were obliged to tell him, and he was obliged to tell Congress, that we did not know what Mubarak was going to say.

The men and women who are responsible for this latest intelligence failure come from the same bureaux and agencies that fed us the ridiculous National Intelligence Estimate that claimed Iran had stopped its quest for atomic bombs, after all. The latest nonsense is of a piece with the earlier stuff.

But telling the truth about our knowledge of Mubarak’s intentions would have revealed that we lack important sources at the highest level of the Egyptian regime. I hope we’re better connected to the Egyptian Army leaders.

I do, too. I believe that the CIA has been failing for a very long time now. We don't seem to know things we used to know. I suspect the reason is that the spooks tend to be insular and are bureaucrats first and operatives second. They are highly skilled in the art of the damaging leak, but not so good at ferreting out what's really happening.

Ledeen goes further than I would in identifying Obama's world view as a factor in the failure of our intelligence operations -- go back to the link if you want more -- but I agree with his conclusion:

Meanwhile, as I have been saying ever since 9/11, we need a thorough purge of the Intelligence Community. We need fewer analysts, tougher minded officials prepared to deliver accurate news even if their superiors don’t want to hear it, and a system that permits our top officials to identify talented underlings, instead of pushing forward intelligence-by-committee that has proven to be wrong so often.

We don't control the events in Egypt, but we should be able to have enough knowledge about what's happening to not be blindsided. This is a problem that spans presidents of both parties and decades now. Change is needed.

Hanging Curve Ball

Good thing that pitchers and catchers report in about a week, because I could use a little practice personally. I surely missed a hanging curve ball this morning in my brief piece on Mark Dayton's risible "State of the State" address. I quoted him hectoring the Republicans about the importance of never shutting down the government. Quoth Governor Brave Sir Mark:

On the night of 9/11, I stood with my fellow United States Senators and Representatives on the steps of our Capitol to assure our fellow citizens that our government had not shut down, would not shut down, could not be shut down.

It is absolutely unthinkable that we would even contemplate doing so here in Minnesota. So, I ask you, legislators; I invite you; I implore you — to join with me now, right here in our Capitol and pledge to the people of Minnesota that we will NOT shut down their government, our government — not next July 1st, not any July 1st, not any day ever.

As astute observers Night Writer and Bike Bubba rightly point out, Mark Dayton is just about the last guy to decry shutting down government. Remember this?

U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota, closed his Capitol Hill office Tuesday until after the November 2 election, fearing a possible terrorist attack that could harm his staff or visitors.

However, U.S. government officials said there was no new intelligence concerning a possible attack, and authorities said congressional members have not been advised to close their offices.

"There's no new threat or information pertaining to a threat that's come in. We continue to advise (people) to take caution ... but there's no new information that we've put out," said Sgt. Contricia Ford of the U.S. Capitol Police.

There were 99 other Senators and 435 Members of Congress at the time. Not one shut down his office, although they all were privy to the same information that Dayton had. Just thought you needed a reminder.

Perpetual Motion Machine

Mark Dayton lays down his marker:

On the night of 9/11, I stood with my fellow United States Senators and Representatives on the steps of our Capitol to assure our fellow citizens that our government had not shut down, would not shut down, could not be shut down.

It is absolutely unthinkable that we would even contemplate doing so here in Minnesota. So, I ask you, legislators; I invite you; I implore you — to join with me now, right here in our Capitol and pledge to the people of Minnesota that we will NOT shut down their government, our government — not next July 1st, not any July 1st, not any day ever.
Unthinkable? Really? Never mind the non-sequitur of comparing 9/11 to the normal scrum involved in a state legislative session. What Dayton is really saying here is that the government is so important that its imperatives trump all other considerations. Does he really believe that? Do you?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Out of commission

Have been sick the last few days, which is why blogging has been minimal. There's some bad crud going around the Twin Cities right now and I got it. A few very brief thoughts -- hope to resume normal blogging soon:
  • If his first State of the State address is any indication, Mark Dayton is in waaay over his head. Mitch Berg does a suitable fisking here.
  • If the Huffington Post is worth north of $300 million, I bet this feature is worth at least a greenback dollar. I guess the biggest surprise to me about the deal that Arianna Huffington made is this -- AOL is still in business? Wow, who knew. Meanwhile, the market doesn't think much of the deal, either.
  • Meanwhile, if you haven't had enough of football, here's a link to an article at CBS Sports that should be good for an argument or two -- writer Pete Prisco puts together an all-time power ranking for NFL teams. Let's just say Packers fans will like his conclusions more than fans of the Purple. I'd also say I thought he was being unfair to the Vikings, but maybe I'm just feeling magnanimous these days.

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Fan's Notes XLV

Quite a game, as my beloved Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl XLV, 31-25 over a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team. A few thoughts:

  • Much will be made of Aaron Rodgers and how he has escaped the shadow of Brett Favre. To be honest, I thought he'd done that a long time ago. He's a different sort of quarterback than Favre and, for the way the Packers are built, probably a better one. What made Favre so fun to watch was the way he could turn a terrible situation into something magical, but throughout his long career he'd do things that would leave you shaking your head. To me, Rodgers is more of a Tom Brady type of quarterback, a guy who knows what needs to happen and then executes it. It's also a better long-term formula for success.

  • When we look back at this year, what I think is most notable is how tough-minded the Packers were. They lost their most important defensive player, Charles Woodson, in the middle of the game yesterday, but they didn't blink. We never saw much of Pat Lee or Jarrett Bush in the regular defenses this season, but when they needed to be there, when it mattered most, they were able to play well enough to make things happen. Mike Tomlin, the excellent coach of the Steelers, referred repeatedly this past week to "the standard," which is the notion the Steelers have that no matter who is in the game, they will play up to the high standards of the Steelers organization. Yesterday, when the Packers absolutely had to have it, guys like Bush and Lee played at even a higher standard.

  • I saw it pointed out by someone, probably on Facebook, that if the Packers hadn't been the beneficiaries of a questionable call or two in their first game against the Vikings, that they never would have been in the playoffs. I don't suspect that's true, because it assumes that the rest of the season would have played out exactly the same way it did. That's not how things work. But it does point out how little margin for error there is in football. I believe that if the Packers were to play the Steelers 10 times, they would probably split the series right down the middle. The Packers could have, maybe should have, swept the Bears this season, but the Bears could very easily have swept the Packers. Branch Rickey said that luck is the residue of design. The reason that the Packers were able to win is that they had a superior design this year. Next year, there's a pretty good chance that someone else will find a way to crack the code. There's reason to believe that the Packers may be even better than they were this year -- imagine what Jermichael Finley might do when he returns. But that might not be enough to get the Packers back to the Super Bowl. There's a reason why the NFC has sent 10 different teams to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years. It's damned difficult to get there.

  • I'm not old enough to remember the Lombardi years, but in comparing this team and the great 1996 Packers squad, I think you'd have to give the edge to the 1996 team, which was absolutely loaded. But when it comes to the enjoyment of the journey, this season beats that one by rather a lot. There were several times when I thought the Packers were dead this year, especially after the debacle in Detroit, but somehow the Packers managed to fix the problems and get on a roll for the ages. I think a lot of us expected 1996 to happen, but this year was a bit of a surprise. But again, luck is the residue of design and good fortune comes to those who put themselves in a position to experience it. And when you combine the Super Bowl victory and the great run the Badgers put on this season, 2010-2011 goes down as the best year of football I've ever experienced. It may be the best one I'll ever experience, too. That's why you have to appreciate it for what it is.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Congrats to Mitch Berg

Mitch Berg's blog, Shot in the Dark, celebrates its 9th anniversary today. While Mitch is one of many excellent conservative bloggers in Minnesota, his tireless efforts and amazing output at SITD continue to be impressive.

Mitch explains how he got into the game:

I was working at a dying little dotcom nine years ago. I was reading a Time article on the “new breed of young conservative intellectuals”.

They profiled Andrew Sullivan and his “blog”. I checked it out. I saw the link to

And when I got home, after dinner, I set the thing up, and it was off to the races.

And it's been quite a race. In the time since Mitch got started in 2002, a lot of wonderful blogs have come and gone, in many cases because blogging is a time-consuming thing and life often intervenes. Even more have launched, then petered out, because blogging well is exceptionally difficult. The audience is out there but while you can gain its attention in any number of ways, keeping the audience requires more than talent; it also requires the stamina to maintain a consistent level of performance. I was late to the party and I missed the first five years of Mitch's work, but he's been a key influence and unwitting mentor to this feature for the last four years. I suspect that most of the starboard side bloggers in the state would categorize Mitch in the same way.

Some people would argue that blogging is a mug's game and it's true to a certain extent; while we might achieve a modicum of influence, a lot of blogs aren't much more than the equivalent of the wise guy on the barstool who is not shy about sharing his opinion, whether solicited or not. A few bloggers have made it big; the most notable example locally is Ed Morrissey, Mitch's radio partner and the key player at Ed deserves everything he's achieved, but he's the rare case. Most of us who blog, Mitch included, are still working schlubs who face the blank screen each day more as a labor of love than as a means to professional advancement. The next nickel I make on this enterprise will be the first one I make.

And that's fine, really. Those of us who focus attention on politics are the modern-day equivalent of pamphleteers. Mitch has done much better at the blogging game than most people, yet most Minnesotans wouldn't recognize his name. Still, many of the Minnesotans in positions of power know who he is and take his words seriously, because they know that while he would never claim to speak for anyone other than himself, what he says reflects what many Minnesotans believe. And by sharing what he believes, consistently and with zest and good humor, Mitch Berg has elevated the level of political discourse in this state. That's an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Game -- XLV, Baby!

The Packers are in the Super Bowl! You know I'm feeling the HYYYYYPPPPPEEE!!!!!

So I've heard, Seabiscuit.

No, it's not South St. Paul High School. It's the Green Bay Packers. Cue the John Facenda! Old dude, I wasn't even around during the Lombardi era, but you can feel it when you walk into Lambeau. And now that I've had my taste, I want more. Oh my, yes. I want more.

Well, as it turns out, they are going to play the game in Jerry Jones's Xanadu:

In Arlington did Jerry Jones
A stately pleasure dome decree
Where Wade, the clueless coach had ran
His fortunes to the garbage can
Unto a team crappy

What brought that on? Now you're stealing from Coleridge? This isn't Poetry Night, Decrepit! I didn't even bring my bongo drums! You were one of those beatnik dudes, weren't you? Enough of the finger snapping and the berets. We got a game to pick, Geritol Fan! Watch me work!

Pittsburgh Stillers (+2 1/2) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers, in Super Bowl XLV. First things first -- we need to give a shout-out to our pal Brad Carlson, who has already made his pick, which you can find here. As shameless Vikings rubes go, Brad is all right with us, but don't tell anyone we said that. If you remember back to 2003, it looked like the Packers were in trouble and then they got on a roll. That team ultimately fell short, but they remind me a lot of what we've seen this year. The Packers have seemed to be dead on at least 2 or 3 occasions earlier in the season, especially after they lost a terrible game to Detroit at Ford Field and Aaron Rodgers suffered a second concussion. The following week, Matt Flynn almost became a folk hero in Green Bay by giving the Patriots a real scare in their own house. And since then, with Rodgers back at the helm, the Packers have been laying waste to the rest of the league. The old dude and I saw it start that day in Lambeau, when the Packers crushed the New York Giants 45-17. It was such a bad scene that the Giants ended up stuck for an additional night in the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton because of the first of what, 36? Yeah, I think it's 36 blizzards to hit the East Coast this winter. I bet Tom Coughlin really enjoyed another night in Appleton after getting that beatdown.

But the storm that was really raging came out of Lambeau, baby! Down went the Bears. Down went the Eagles. Down went the Falcons. Down went the Bears again! Oh, and by the way, Bears fans, those 2010 NFC North Division Champion t-shirts you enjoyed so much make excellent fabric for a crying towel! Yeah, I said it. Deal with it. Anyway, back to my brilliant analysis.

For the second time this year, the Packers are facing a quarterback with great talent and criminal tendencies. We all know Roethlisberger rhymes with offender and he's not likely to be the next contestant on The Bachelor, either. Can I get an amen on that, ladies? But the guy can play quarterback and tackling him is like trying to tackle a Pepsi vending machine. Not that I've tried that personally, but that's what I hear. Anyway, he's a tough customer and he's been here before. That means the Packers defense will need to be pretty tough this time around. If B. J. Raji or the Claymaker can get to Big Ben, they need to knock him down. Who knows, we might even get to see Dennis Dixon, who once almost won the Heisman Trophy and helped to hold the Steelers together while Roethlisberger was busy being suspended for his improper dating techniques. Kids, don't try that at home.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers has been kicking butt and taking names. The last time the Packers played on a fast track surface, they scored 48 points and could have ran it up even more. The Steelers are better than the Falcons, but they can't really cover all the Packer receivers at the same time. The Steelers also can't back off the run entirely, since James Starks has been pretty good in the postseason. It's really a tough thing to defend the boys in Green and Gold right now, which is great for us Packer fans.

So what's going to happen? It's entirely possible that we may see the new overtime rules in effect for this game. The Packers have always been within 7 points of their opponents this season, even when trailing, so if they go to the lead early it's going to be a problem for the Steelers. Packers 34, Steelers 27.

What, the Packers aren't going to win by 70? You're disappointing your fans, grasshopper!

Look, you fugitive from the AARP, I have to call it the way I see it. Don't make me come over there and deal with you again.

Well, all righty then. Guess I'd better get back to the game. Actually, Benster's analysis is pretty spot-on in this one. I suspect that the Steelers are going to miss Maurkice Pouncey rather a lot and that Raji will have a big game, but I assume the Steelers had a contingency plan available all along. Roethlisberger is really good at extending plays, so it's important that the Packer pass rush get home early. Clay Matthews will be heard from in this game.

I wouldn't discount the Steelers trying to run the ball, though. Rashard Mendenhall is a good running back, probably the best one the Packers have seen since they dispensed with the Vikings in November. I would expect the Steelers to try to use him pretty extensively, at least early on. That means that the big beef up front for Green Bay needs to be tough.

On offense, the Packers must get the ball out quickly. I think the Steelers can be had, but they need to account for Troy Polamalu and the two pass rushing linebackers, James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley. Chad Clifton is getting to the end of the string and he needs to play one of the best games of his life. By the way, I expect Polamalu to blitz, potentially a lot.

Here's my hunch -- on offense, one of two guys needs to make a play for the Packers early. If either James Jones or Jordy Nelson gets on the scoreboard in the first half, the Packers win comfortably. If not, game on. But in the end, I am confident that the Packers are the better team. Green Bay 37, Steelers 28.

Well, after Sunday it won't be long before pitchers and catchers report. But right now, I'm ready for some football! We're going to watch the game at my grandparent's house this year, so if you hear some really loud yelling in Arden Hills, that's us. And you'll hear us. I can promise you that. Until next season, Ben out!

Radio Free Dilettante -- Awaiting the Moment Edition

Haven't done one of these in a while. Maybe it was time?

Last Five:
Working for the Man, Roy Orbison
I Would Die 4 U, Prince and the Revolution
Angie, The Rolling Stones
Get Me to the World on Time, Electric Prunes
You Sexy Thing, Hot Chocolate

Next Five:
Bitter Green, Gordon Lightfoot
Night Time is the Right Time, Ray Charles
When I Write the Book, Nick Lowe
Eight Miles High, The Byrds
There Is No Time, Lou Reed

National Brotherhood Week

Tom Lehrer had it right:

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks
And the rich folks hate the poor folks
All of my folks hate all of your folks
It's American as apple pie

Do you doubt that? Then watch the video of attendees of an event organized by, among others, Common Cause, decrying the Koch Brothers. These bien pensants offer some peculiar ideas for how best to deal with Clarence Thomas, apres an impeachment that is of course not currently on offer and not going to happen. Ed Morrissey helpfully transcribes some of it:

Granted, the cameraman is trying to get the people to say something outrageous, but he also doesn’t have to try very hard. He asks people at the rally what “we” should do after impeaching Clarence Thomas to get justice for Anita Hill, and he gets some mighty interesting answers: Send him “back to the fields.” “String him up.” “Hang him.” “Torture.” One older woman wants his wife Ginny Thomas strung up as well. A younger and more creative woman wants Justice Thomas’ toes chopped off and forced-fed to him. Thomas isn’t the only one to get the necktie treatment; one protester wants Fox News executive Roger Ailes to get hung as well.

Common Cause later reacted to this video as follows:

Common Cause’s 40 year history of holding power accountable has been marked by a commitment to decency and civility – in public and private. So we are of course outraged to find that a few of those attending the events around a gathering Common Cause helped to organize Sunday near Palm Springs voiced hateful, narrow-minded sentiments to an interviewer in the crowd.

We condemn bigotry and hate speech in every form, even when it comes from those who fancy themselves as our friends.

As well it should. But then they say this:

Anyone who has attended a public event has encountered people whose ideas or acts misrepresented, even embarrassed, the gathering. Every sporting event has its share of “fans” whose boorish behavior on the sidelines makes a mockery of good sportsmanship; every political gathering has a crude sign-painter or epithet-spewing heckler.

That's true. It would be nice if we'd get a little more acknowledgment of that the next time some dumbass (or provocateur) shows up at a Tea Party event. But I kinda doubt that lesson will be remembered.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Game On

It's not calming down in Egypt:

Five anti-government protesters were shot dead in Tahrir Square early Thursday, and hundreds more were injured, as the bloody clashes between demonstrators and government loyalists continued for a second day.
And this concerns the perpetually concerned:

The prominent watchdog group Human Rights Watch condemned the Egyptian government for what it called "organized attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators" Wednesday and asked that those responsible be prosecuted.

Point of order: who's going to do the prosecuting? But I digress. We continue:

The statement said Egyptian security forces did not try to stop the attacks by "pro-government provocateurs armed with petrol bombs, sticks, and whips" and called on the United States and the European Union to intervene.

"The events in Tahrir Square and elsewhere strongly suggest government involvement in violence against peaceful protesters," Kenneth Roth, executive director of the rights group, said Thursday. "The U.S. and other allies should make clear that further abuse will come at a very high price."

We used to call this sort of thing writing checks on someone else's account. I don't doubt for a moment that the pro-government people are a bunch of paid thugs. I don't suspect that many people wake up in the morning and say to themselves, "gee, what can I do to help out Hosni Mubarak today?"

But I have an honest question -- what should the U.S. and the European Union do? I'm not sure there's much they can do besides the jawboning that Obama administration has been doing. There's almost no chance that we'd send troops to the area. Economic pressure is probably a moot point right now. The Egyptian military, ever mindful of its prerogatives, has not taken sides. They could be decisive but my guess is that they have little stomach for actually running the government.

I realize that human rights groups are going to say their piece and that reporters on deadline are going to include such statements in articles, but no one who matters is going to take Kenneth Roth seriously.

We are spectators. And that is what we'll remain.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Things I Wouldn't Admit Publicly Department

Uh, really?

White House chief of staff William Daley told reporters that Washington had no warning of today's events, which came as a surprise after President Barack Obama's "cordial" phone call with Mubarak yesterday, NBC News' Andrea Mitchell reports.
Let's think about this for a minute. Mubarak goes to the airwaves and announces that he's willing to leave at the end of his term. The protesters say no, you need to leave now.

So let's say you're Hosni Mubarak, a member in full of the He-Man Despot Club. What would you do? Unleash the hounds, of course. And the White House is surprised by this? Really?

Things We Can't Afford

Everyone wants a new toy these days, it seems. Now comes word that it's necessary to update the Target Center and spend $150 million to do it. No one is quite sure how it will be done, or who will pay, but apparently it's needed. The renovations are more than the initial construction cost of the building, which is only 20 years old but is now somehow antiquated.

Maybe it's just me, but I am finding it very hard to attend professional sporting events these days. If you are going to bring in a family of four to Target Field to watch the Twins, you can reasonably expect the experience to cost you $150 or more. Benster and I were able to go to a game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay earlier this year thanks to a highly generous gift from my brother. The face value of the tickets in question, good but not great seats, was $83 apiece. The reported ticket prices for the Super Bowl are significantly larger than a mortgage payment for most people in the Twin Cities.

I don't know where it ends. If I didn't know better, I'd say this feels like a bubble. And I don't know better.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Next verse, same as the first

So we have a federal judge in Florida declaring Obamacare unconstitutional. A few thoughts:

First, it wouldn't surprise me if Judge Vinson is right, but I'm not a constitutional scholar and therefore my views are just that. What I do know is that the folks who drafted the legislation, whoever they are, made it pretty easy for Vinson to strike the whole thing down, as Jennifer Rubin points out in her blog at the Washington Post. She quotes the opinion as follows:

Having determined that the individual mandate exceeds Congress' power under the Commerce Clause, and cannot be saved by application of the Necessary and Proper Clause, the next question is whether it is severable from the remainder of the Act. In considering this issue, I note that the defendants have acknowledged that the individual mandate and the Act's health insurance reforms, including the guaranteed issue and community rating, will rise or fall together as these reforms "cannot be severed from the [individual mandate]."

In other words, as Rubin explains:

Oops. Not some crazy judge, but the administration was the source of the notion that the individual mandate can't be severed from the rest of the law.

But it's not just the administration; it seems Congress did its part to contribute to the invalidation of the whole statute. Judge Vinson observes that "the Act does not contain a 'severability clause,' which is commonly included in legislation to provide that if any part or provision is held invalid, then the rest of the statute will not be affected." He observes that this defect is not necessarily determinative. However, "The lack of a severability clause in this case is significant because one had been included in an earlier version of the Act, but it was removed in the bill that subsequently became law." Oh, now, there's a problem.

It's a problem because judges do look carefully at legislative intent when they rule. They have to, of course -- it's crucial to understanding why a law has been passed. Not surprisingly, because Obama, Reid and Pelosi were in such a hurry to ram the thing through, they got sloppy.

Second, since Obamacare is inevitably headed for the Supreme Court, does Vinson's ruling matter? I suspect it does, since the Supremes will take his reading of the matter into account.

Last, although I'd love to see Obamacare get thrown out entirely, Vison wisely did not halt implementation of it for now. I hate judicial overreach and have been critical of judges who singlehandedly take the law into their own hands. The best guess is that we get an expedited review of Vinson's ruling and that the matter heads for the Supremes soon. And at that point, Anthony Kennedy gets to play divine right monarch yet again. Sigh.