Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Santorum, OutKast, Punch and the New Left

Another thought on the subject of snobbery. But first, a muscial interlude from a place you might not expect:

I know you'd like to think your **** don't stink
But lean a little bit closer
See that roses really smell like poo-poo-oo
Yeah, roses really smell like poo-poo-oo

-- "Roses," OutKast, 2003

Academe is full of roses. Which might be what Rick Santorum was trying to say, in his somewhat demagogic style.

Sometimes you need to call in someone who is a smidge more, ahem, erudite than your typical politician, to get the message across. Enter Steven Hayward, writing at Powerline:

Instead, we should entertain the idea that in calling Obama a “snob,” Santorum has actually struck very close to the philosophical core of the contemporary Left.  And my witness for this case is a long ago article from the late John Adams Wettergreen titled, “Is Snobbery a Formal Value?  Considering Life at the End of Modernity,” published in the March 1973 issue of the Western Political Quarterly.  (Only available online if you have J-STOR access, unfortunately.)  This very theoretical article surveys the leading thinkers of the “New Left” at the time, including Marcuse, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and especially the French Hegelian, Alexandre Kojeve, whose own peculiar gloss on Hegel’s “end of history” became the basis of Francis Fukuyama’s blockbuster book The End of History and the Last Man.
When we start namechecking French Hegelians, we're headed for the weeds, of course. But Wettergreen's point does come into focus, in discussing the career of William Makepeace Thackeray, who edited the venerable British humor magazine Punch in the 1800s. Just to keep track, this passage quotes Hayward, quoting Wettergreen, quoting Thackeray. Pretty meta, but stay with it:

 Now Thackeray’s Book of Snobs was intentionally anti-snobbist and so it seems that snobbery may have had some content, something worthy of opposition. What was it in snobbery that Thackeray opposed? In a perhaps too serious moment, he wrote: “As long as [newspapers publish a "society page"] how the deuce are people whose names are chronicled in it ever to believe themselves the equals of that cringing race which daily reads that abominable trash?” . . .
One might argue that Thackeray's opinion was a bit snobbish, but we'll set that aside. Back to Wettergreen:

According to Thackeray, the footman who grovels before the royal footman is equally a snob with the royal footman (or the royalty itself) that expects such groveling. Today, when all footmen have disappeared, Thackeray’s understanding remains: anyone who thinks that he is superior (in a way that society ought to take notice of) is a snob. In the age when groveling is strictly taboo, in the classless society, only the expectation of groveling can produce a snob. Therefore, in modem times snobbery has progressed from the objective condition of the lower or lowest class to the merely subjective preference for an upper class. This late kind of snobbery, almost the reverse of original snobbery, is what Kojeve hopes will save man’s humanity.
So let's reel it back a bit. Here's Hayward again:

Likewise, today’s leftists have so fully absorbed their own “betterness” over the rest of us that they can’t be bothered with a serious philosophical defense of it.
Based on my experience, there's some truth to this observation, but not enough to be entirely satisfactory. I do pick up on a tone of dismissiveness among many college-educated people, especially from my tribe -- that is, liberal arts majors. Certitude in anything is dangerous. If anything, I'm a lot less certain that I understand the world than I was 20-25 years ago.

Is certitude due to college education? Probably not. I certainly encountered Hegel, Marcuse, Heidegger and Sartre during my college years. And I also read Baudelaire's "The Flowers of Evil." Which brings us back to OutKast.

I suspect that Rick Santorum and many of his critics both believe their **** don't stink. What Santorum's more educated enemies recognize in Santorum is something they often fail to see in themselves, which is certitude. It's no surprise that what often drives Santorum's critics to their greatest rage is his views on matters sexual. It was also no surprise that one of Santorum's greatest enemies, Dan Savage, has turned Santorum's surname into a term for an, ahem, especially nasty byproduct of a specific form of sexual activity. Santorum offers, with his sweater vest and his particular form of piety, a direct challenge that many people had hoped was buried a long time ago.

If you can get by with refusing to deal with someone simply through being dismissive of their concerns, or through ridicule, you're going to come across as a snob, or worse. And Santorum, since he tends to intersperse a measure of ridicule in his piety, throws it right back in a way that pushes people's buttons. This is a populist moment, but not necessarily in an economic sense. Santorum understands this in ways that Mitt Romney never will. In the end, the Santorum candidacy will fail. It deserves to. But by raising these issues, he's giving both sides of the culture war a chance to look at some things that ought to make everyone involved uncomfortable. As Baudelaire said:

Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre délicat,
—Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!

Knuth Knixed

This is a bit of a surprise:

 State Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-50B) will not seek re-election this year, she said in a statement at her legislative website.

Knuth represents a small portion of southeast Fridley (see PDF map). She was one of two incumbent representatives in a new House district that includes all of the city of Fridley as well as parts of other cities.

Last week a new redistricting map put Knuth in new House District 41A with Tom Tillberry, who lives in Fridley.

We've criticized Knuth quite a lot in this space, especially because of her AGW fixation, but it is a shame that she decided not to challenge Tillberry, who is one of the least impressive members of the legislature, and that's saying something.

It's likely that Knuth decided to step aside because she lost a lot of her old district. She is a New Brighton resident and the city was cut in half, which cost her a large portion of the electorate that had supported her. Tillberry kept significantly more of his old district, which would have put Knuth at a big disadvantage.

It's hard to say what will happen next, but I suspect Knuth will be back.

William Jennings Santorum

He's so populist:

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum lit into President Obama at a Americans for Prosperity Tea Party event in Troy, Michigan over his advocacy for higher learning. “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college,” Santorum sniped. “What a snob!”

Snob? So what did he mean?

“Not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands!” Santorum added. “There are good decent men and women who go out and work hard every day and put their skills to test that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
Our man Santorum is playing the populist card, of course. He senses a fair amount of resentment in the voting public and is trying to ride that tiger. In the end it won't work, but it's easy to understand why he's doing it.

The problem is that Santorum is only half-right in his analysis.

  • What he's saying about working with one's hands is true and I'm not aware that anyone is disputing it. High school is pretty much a universal experience in this country and we've all known plenty of people who would have no interest in a college education.
  • His point about liberal college professors and indoctrination is a trickier one. Anyone who tells you academe isn't a leftist redoubt is lying. Whether the liberal professors are actually trying to indoctrinate people is another matter. If you are truly paying attention in college, you quickly figure out the differences between the lessons you are taught and the lessons that you learn. Sure, a lot of people go to college and get "indoctrinated," in a manner of speaking -- my college friends on Facebook are the ones most likely to post tendentious leftist talking points. You can surmise who the conservatives are by watching who doesn't respond to the paeans to Rachel Maddow. 
  • This behavior among the college educated is less an indictment of college than it is an example of what Harold Rosenberg meant when he talked about the "herd of independent minds." But a college experience doesn't make people think that way. You bring that mindset with you to university.
  • Where Santorum goes terribly wrong is at the end. I don't see any evidence that Barack Obama wants to remake anyone as an individual. He's quite ambitious about reordering society, but that's not the same thing. Reordering society is a big deal, but because Santorum makes a claim that the facts don't support, it makes it easy to dismiss the legitimate points he's making.
It's difficult to know if the things that Santorum says are heartfelt or if he's just more effectively cynical than other politicians who play these cards. Either way, the approach has only limited effectiveness. And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Folly of Assuming Anything

If anyone tells you that they know how this election cycle is going to run, assume they are fools. A couple of financial morsels to chew on this morning. First, the Greeks get the bad news:

Greece’s credit ratings were cut to “Selective Default” by Standard & Poor’s after it negotiated the biggest sovereign debt restructuring in history. 
S&P dropped Greece’s rating from CC, two levels above default, after the government added clauses to its debt designed to mop up investors unwilling to take part in the exchange, the New York-based company said in a statement today. 
The downgrade follows a reduction last week by Fitch Ratings to C, while Moody’s Investors Service has said it will cut the nation to its lowest rating.

All the restructuring in the world isn't going to change the facts. The Greeks are headed into something that will be very, very bad. Meanwhile, how does 15% inflation in the U.S. strike ya?

The annual inflation rate in the United States could hit 15% by late 2013 or early 2014, and the Federal Reserve may be powerless to stop it. 
While much can change the risk of inflation, the single most important driver of a rise in the general price level is the relationship of the money supply to economic activity. 
Since the economic meltdown began in 2008, the Fed has pumped an unprecedented amount of money into bank reserves. In 2011 alone, adjusted bank reserves increased at a compounded annual rate of 47.1%. As these bank reserves filter into the business and consumer economy, the risk of inflation rises.
Why would this happen? Let IBD explain:

Banks are currently holding about 15 times more than the roughly $100 billion in reserves required by the Fed, or $1.5 trillion. Historically, banks — which make profits primarily by lending out money, not keeping it — have held only 1% or 2% over required reserves.
Even at the current lending rate, the money supply has been growing faster than the economy. In December 2011, M2 — the money supply measure that includes currency, checking accounts, savings accounts, money-market mutual funds, and traveler's checks — grew at a year-to-year rate of about 10%. The U.S. economy during this period grew at 2.8%. 
Assuming no changes to the financial or payments system, this translates to a potential inflation rate of 7.2% (10% less 2.8%). This is basic monetary policy arithmetic. But it only considers money currently in circulation. Given the current volume of bank reserves, more money is certain to enter circulation, increasing the risk of even higher inflation.

Someday we're going to look back at what Ben Bernanke has been doing and realize how horribly he has performed.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Three Feet High and Rising

It is a good thing that redistricting only happens once a decade, because it's kinda confusing, especially at the local level. At the congressional level, things are starting to come into focus a bit, including here in the Fighting 4th CD, a DFL bulwark for over 60 years now.

The incumbent is Betty McCollum, who has alternated between being an ineffectual backbencher (when the GOP has control) to being a reliable sycophant for Nancy Pelosi (when the Democrats have control). She's been in the seat since 2001 and has been largely invisible in areas of her district that are not part of St. Paul proper; in general she's treated Larpenteur Avenue as a sort of demilitarized zone. Since she can reliably expect 70% of the votes in St. Paul, and many of the St. Paul suburbs are purplish, that has meant she has had little trouble winning elections.

In the past two cycles, the Republicans offered top notch candidates with outstanding credentials, both of whom got absolutely nowhere. Ed Matthews and Teresa Collett, in a normal congressional district, would have wiped the floor with Betty McCollum, but there was no way as the 4th was configured.

This time around, things are different. Population growth in the suburbs has forced the 4th CD to grow and it now includes areas that should be much more amenable for GOP candidates, especially in prosperous Washington County. And while nothing is assured until the 4th CD Republican convention, the likely candidate to oppose McCollum is Dan Flood. I met Flood recently and was impressed -- he's a smart, tough-minded guy. He's going to have a tough battle to get much traction, since McCollum will do her best to ignore his candidacy and avoid debates at all costs, but it won't be as easy this time. We'll be watching this race closely.

On the Medical Marijuana Beat

Medical marijuana hasn't really been a front-burner issue in Minnesota, but it has been on West Coast and Brian offers a good synopsis of the state of play in Washington. The State of Washington, that is. Click the link and learn a few things, because the issue will come to Minnesota eventually.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


As Glenn Reynolds would say. The ever-plucky Red Squirrel espies an epic fail:

On Friday, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney rented the spacious digs of the 65,000-seat Ford Field, the home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, to detail his economic plan for America.

What he got was a public relations blooper reel, with press photographers taking photos of a near-empty football stadium.

As it turned out, only 1,600 people came. Usually, it's impressive when someone speaks in front of almost 2,000 people. But, when you rent out a football stadium, and there are over 60,000 unoccupied seats, AND you can almost fit your entire audience in one of the end zones, you need to ask your advance people:

"Now, what were we thinking?"
I'm thinking they were Santorum moles.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Know Your Enemy

Writing for the Atlantic, Megan McCardle finds her recent mail from the Obama campaign to be amusing:

I just received a new mailer from  Even before the primaries are finished, Obama is apparently kicking off the campaign against his now-inevitable opponent: the Koch brothers.
They're at it again, those Koch brothers. So what are they doing? Let Obama-Biden tell you. You may want to look away though, because it's really nefarious:

Friend --
In just about 24 hours, Mitt Romney is headed to a hotel ballroom to give a speech sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a front group founded and funded by the Koch brothers.
Those are the same Koch brothers whose business model is to make millions by jacking up prices at the pump, and who have bankrolled Tea Party extremism and committed $200 million to try to destroy President Obama before Election Day.

I have it on good authority that the Koch Brothers also throw turds in the punchbowl and were the men who shot Liberty Valance. Bet the weasels are twirling their Snidely Whiplash mustaches, too. They'll get you, my pretty, and your little Veep, too!

McCardle is interested in this, especially since we've never had a tag team president before:

I know it's customary to whine about the permanent election, but I confess, I'm excited to see this one unfold.  Sure, it was historic to have our first black president--not to mention the first president who was a professor at my alma mater--and I don't mean to take anything away from that.  But it would also be a pretty big landmark to have our first joint presidency.
I gotta tell you -- it's not a sign of strength if your campaign has to go all Emmanuel Goldstein on a couple of plutocrat dudes who aren't even running for president, especially when the Obama campaign certainly has the full support of other plutocrats. But hey, it's hard to escape unless you have scapegoats.

RIP, Barney Rosset

They don't make 'em like this any more:

Barney Rosset was a publisher, not an author, and struggled for decades to write the story of his brave and wild life. But few over the past 60 years had so profound an impact on the way we read today.

The fiery and publisher Rosset, who introduced the country to countless political and avant-garde writers and risked prison and financial ruin to release such underground classics as "Tropic of Cancer" and "Lady Chatterley's Lover," has died. He was 89.

A lot of what the guy published is far less interesting stuff than it's claimed to be -- in the end, a lot of left-wing, avant garde stuff is frankly a little boring. And while you can safely live your life without ever having to slog through "Lady Chatterley's Lover," it's better to have the choice.

The Braun Case

Ryan Braun beats the rap:

Ryan Braun, the reigning most valuable player in the National League and one of baseball’s brightest young stars, has become the sport’s first player to successfully appeal a positive drug test and, as a result, escape a 50-game suspension.

In a 2-1 vote, the panel that heard Braun’s appeal agreed that valid questions had been raised about the manner in which the test sample was handled. Braun was tested on Saturday, Oct. 1, as his Milwaukee Brewers team was making its first appearance in the postseason in three years and, according to two people in baseball with knowledge of the case, the test collector first took the urine sample home and stored it in his refrigerator for two days before having it shipped to a laboratory in Montreal.
A few thoughts:

  • As a Brewers fan I'm happy about this, but I'm going to try to be objective. It's possible he did cheat, but following protocols is crucial for any program to be taken seriously. If it is indeed true that the courier kept the sample in his refrigerator for 48 hours before sending it in, that's clearly a chain of custody issue. The integrity of the drug testing program relies on the chain of custody being clean. 
  • If the suspension had gone through and this news had leaked out later, and it would have, it would have called into question the entire program. By overturning the suspension, MLB actually saves face.
  • And rest assured, MLB will be testing the crap out of Braun for the rest of his career. And they should.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vikings to (Insert City Here) -- Moments of Clarity

So the first bill concerning a Vikings stadium that was introduced in the lege yesterday doesn't seem to be following the narrative:

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, introduced legislation to build a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills in Ramsey County. Money from authorizing electronic bingo and pulltabs would help the state pay for it. The stadium, according to the legislation, would open no later than June 2016, feature a roof, have parking for 21,000 cars and have at least 65,000 seats.

The Vikings would contribute at least $425 million toward the project, according to Hamilton's proposal. Ramsey County would contribute $10 million yearly "as funds are available," and the state would contribute $549 million for construction and $101 million for any needed surrounding public infrastructure.

Now, we've all been told that Arden Hills is out and that Minneapolis is going to be the site. That may turn out to be the case, but this proposal, even though it is likely to go nowhere, is actually very important. Why is that? It matters because it is the first plan that acknowledges the truth: no matter where a stadium might be built, there is no reliable local funding portion available.

The Arden Hills site got sandbagged because Ramsey County wouldn't be able to come up with the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state seems to demand, mostly because raising the revenue would require a referendum that would likely fail. Somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, we have been led to believe that Minneapolis would be able to come up with more money. That's an assumption that doesn't have a lot of evidence to back it up. In fact, the maximum that Minneapolis would be able to raise, absent a referendun on the matter that would likely fail, is about $10 million.

By writing the legislation in the way he did, Hamilton points out the fundamental issue. He calls on Ramsey County to pony up $10 million a year "as funds are available." He's the first person to acknowledge the truth -- funds may not be available. And by doing so, he focuses attention on the entity that will have to pony up the money, which is the state government itself.

So how does the state come up with the $650 million? Or will it? And most of all, should it, since it requires writing big checks that the taxpayers have to make good? That is the real debate concerning this stadium and it's long since past time we had it.

Meanwhile, another bill clarifies matters further:

Bagley however took a dim view of another stadium plan that is scheduled to be unveiled Thursday by three Republican state senators -- two of them freshmen.

Bagley said the team had been briefed on the plan, and said an early version included having the state pay for stadium infrastructure costs and offer a 5.9 percent, low-interest loan to the team and others to build the project. The plan, according to Bagley, would have the team and its business partners pay more than 80 percent of the stadium's cost and is not site-specific.

As a reminder, Bagley is Lester Bagley, the Vikings executive who has been on point for the stadium debate.  And of course he doesn't like this second plan, because if the Vikings had to take on additional business partners to get the stadium built, those business partners would expect a return on investment, which would not be forthcoming. It's also why unnamed business partners would not be forthcoming, either. The cynical assumption that the Vikings have made, and that the various politicians involved in this charade have made, is that even though they know there won't be a real return on investment for the stadium, they can get by with it by diffusing the outrage in the out years. The plan has always been the same: get a bill passed, get it built and put the costs on the state's tab. Kinda like they do with light rail and all the other boondoggle projects that politicians love.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain of Lino Lakes, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie and Sen. Pam Wolf of Spring Lake Park scheduled a news conference to outline the plan Thursday.
You wouldn't want to play poker with any of these senators. They are pretty adept at calling bluffs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A little more on redistricting -- local flava

In trying to make sense of the new Senate District 41, we see two things that will make it interesting:

  • Too many DFLers, not enough seats: In the new 41A, in the northern half of the district, two current DFL legislators are paired: Kate Knuth and Tom Tilberry. As faithful readers of this space know, Knuth has largely used her "local girl makes good" narrative to win the old 50B district for the past few cycles, all while building a profile that marked her as potentially a rising star in the DFL. The way the district is drawn, she has a problem, though -- she loses half of her stronghold in New Brighton. Tilberry, for his part, is not the sort of person who is likely to step aside for Knuth. Meanwhile, in the new 41B, Carolyn Laine, who currently represents the old 50A district, is probably well situated for a run at the new district. There are two potential candidates on the Republican side, but one of them might go 3rd party. That situation is pretty fluid.
  • What happens to the Senate seat? The word we've heard is that Barb Goodwin was always intended to be a placeholder in the seat, someone who could hold it until a different, younger candidate came along. I don't know Goodwin's intent for this cycle, but from what I've heard she may not choose to seek re-election in this cycle. That means a potential open seat, which would theoretically clear a space for the Knuth/Tilberry conundrum. Except. . . there's another potential candidate out there. Connie Bernardy, who served out of Fridley from 2001-2007, would be the "next in line" candidate for the seat. It's likely that the Republican candidate will be Gina Bauman, who currently serves on the New Brighton City Council. 

Shot to the Heartland

We gave Powerline's John Hinderaker a little nudge the other day about his advocacy of Mitt Romney, but it has to be said --Hinderaker is an outstanding blogger. Go read his epic takedown of Peter Gleick and marvel.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

First Glance at Redistricting

So how did it turn out? A few very early thoughts:

  • Our area was 50B; it is now 41B. 50B, which was primarily New Brighton and Arden Hills, was split three ways. The north half of New Brighton is now in 41A, along with most of Fridley, while 41B is now the south half of New Brighton (essentially south of 694), St. Anthony and Columbia Heights. That means that Kate Knuth is no longer my representative and Carolyn Laine is. District 41 is, alas, pretty bluish.
  • Arden Hills is now in 42A, along with the north half of Shoreview and Mounds View. That is a more Republican area and will be good news for those folks. The other half of 42 is more interesting, as it comprises the south half of Shoreview, a portion of Roseville, Vadnais Heights and Little Canada. Should be a competitive area.
  • It appears that I remain in the 4th Congressional District, but barely. The fighting 4th has been a DFL stronghold forever, but the incumbent, Betty McCollum, cannot be happy with the way the lines were drawn. She needed to pick up some territory in the eastern metro and she now has Woodbury, Lake Elmo and Stillwater in her district. That's largely Republican territory and it means that her district is more suburban than urban. She can count on getting about 145% of the vote in St. Paul, which helps her cause, but she's going to have some work to do. One way to tell if Betty is nervous -- watch what she does concerning the proposed bridge over the St. Croix River south of Stillwater. She has noisily opposed the bridge for a long time, but now the residents of that area, who mostly support it, are going to be her constituents. She may need to do some fancy stepping on that issue.
  • Everyone on the left is chortling because, at this point, Michele Bachmann is in the 4th District and would have to run against McCollum if she stayed there. Bachmann would only have to move a few miles to run in the 6th and I fully expect she will. Too bad, because a Bachmann/McCollum race would be comedy gold. The new 6th is strongly conservative, by the way.
  • It looks like John Kline's heavily Republican 2nd district did cede some territory to the 1st, where DFLer Tim Walz was already getting nervous. At first glance, I think it could have been a lot worse for Walz, but we'll see.
Lots more to study on this.

Awaiting the Redistricting

The big news in Minnesota is due later today, when we learn how the redistricting will turn out. A few things to note:

  • On the local scene, there's a pretty good chance the Republican plan, or something close to it, will go through. If that is the case, New Brighton and Arden Hills will be joined with St. Anthony and Roseville, rather than Columbia Heights and Fridley, which are DFL strongholds. That would make things very interesting. It's also possible, under another plan, that the senate district could extend north into Anoka County.
  • The congressional districts will be very interesting to watch. The 8th district has been traditionally centered around Duluth and the Iron Range and has been a DFL stronghold, but in recent years it started to become exurban, reaching the northern fringes of the Twin Cities, especially in conserative Chisago County. And as we know, the 8th flipped in the last election as Jim Oberstar, who had been in Congress  for approximately 172 years (I may have to check that figure) got ousted. It's possible the 8th may become more exurban still, or that the Duluth area might become part of a huge northern district with DFLer Collin Peterson representing it. Meanwhile, DFLer Tim Walz in the 1st District has to be nervous, because John Kline's south suburban and heavily Republican 2nd CD will need to shed some voters. Depending on how it shakes out, the 1st could be a candidate to flip.
  • As Minnesota's population becomes more exurban, it's trouble for the DFL. It's also trouble for all the plans to pour money back into the central cities. We're seeing a little of this dynamic in the ongoing saga of the Vikings stadium. If you are looking for a hidden reason why so many people are finding it so urgent to get the stadium deal through in this session, there it is. When the next legislature enters, it could be far less friendly to building a stadium if a deal isn't struck in this session.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Affirmative Case

It's getting frustrating for the Mitt Romney camp and some of its more vocal supporters in the blogosphere. Writing for Powerline, John Hinderaker goes off on Rick Santorum:

With Santorum launching one social issues bomb after another, there is no time to talk about the economy. Is this the Democratic Party’s dream, or what? In a national poll that came out today, Santorum is leading Mitt Romney by eight points among likely Republican voters. Can Republicans possibly be that foolish? Is it conceivable that a president with Obama’s lousy record could coast to victory, virtually by default, because the Republicans nominate a candidate who would rather talk about gynecology than debt? At the moment, that prospect does not seem far-fetched.
Well, yeah, they could possibly be that foolish. But why is that? Hinderaker's colleague Scott Johnson understands why:

Mitt is an inspirational candidate. The problem is that what he inspires is intense apathy among a substantial number of conservatives and Republicans. They (we) resist him. Santorum is the recycled non-Romney who now benefits from this resistance. He may be the last non-Romney standing. Among the previous beneficiaries of the resistance to Romney are Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Santorum, Gingrich and now Santorum again. The logic of a Romney candidacy has been insufficient so far to wear down the resistance of a large share of conservatives and Republicans.
And Johnson makes an equally important point:

The inclination of Republican primary voters and caucus goers to support Gingrich or Santorum is not the sign of a character flaw or mental defect on their part. It is a sign that Romney is a problematic candidate for the party whose standard bearer he seeks to be. Decrying the failure of Republican voters for failing to fall in line behind him seems to me something less than a winning argument.

Yep. What we need to hear from Romney, and from his supporters, is the affirmative case for why Romney is a better candidate. We got a passing look at the Romney parade here in Minnesota a few weeks back and the result was a Santorum victory. I was in the caucus and I can tell you, the people who attended weren't wild-eyed True Believers or slack-jawed morons. They were my neighbors. They are concerned about many things, some of which Romney can address. But he needs to do a better job if he's ever going to make it. And he didn't make the sale among those who were gathered at Mounds View High School that day.

Hinderaker, to his credit, has written often and well concerning Romney's credentials. The problem is this:  you have to go to the Powerline archives to read those pieces. What you see on the front page now is a frustrated guy savaging Romney's opponent. I understand the impulse -- half the fun of blogging is going after your opponents. But in the end, if you want to build a winning campaign, making the affirmative case is the better path. And if you have to make the same argument repeatedly, that's fine. The audience continues to change.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The four best words in the English language

Lotta charts and doom and gloom in the last few days, but then I've also heard the four best words in the English language today:

Pitchers and catchers report.

Let it fly, Carl Pavano. And welcome back.

Photo from Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

St. Paul Explains and Yet Another Chart

Following up on yesterday's post concerning demographics, Brian "St. Paul" Ward is noting something similar over at Fraters Libertas:

No society has ever survived, let alone prospered, by eliminating it’s future generations. It is contrary to any conventional morality. As Mark Steyn has been pointing out for years, this ‘live for today, don’t think about tomorrow’ attitude is contrary to the principles of basic economics. And it’s contrary to an elemental survival instinct.

Yet those advocating this belief have yet to pay a political price for it. In fact, Obama’s approval ratings have increased since this controversy reared its gruesome head, evidence that this has become the dominant thinking of our culture. A sobering, depressing realization.

Lest anyone think there's some sort of misogynist theme developing here, let's also consider the role that young men play in this dance, which is substantial and maybe even decisive. Consider this chart (via Althouse):

As you will note, there's a strong correlation between the level of debt (and potential default) in the Eurozone  and the rate of young men (ages 25-34) who still live with their parents.

There was a movie a few years back called "Failure to Launch," which was a sort of dystopian romantic comedy, which talked a bit about this problem. And it does point out the dilemma that young women face: even if they wanted to start having children in sufficient numbers to keep the welfare state going, there aren't as many good marriage candidates out there as there once was. A man who can't maintain his own household might make a decent potential paramour, but he isn't a very good marriage prospect.

After I graduated from college, I spent a grand total of one month living with my parents, which was during the summer of 1987, before I moved to Chicago. I've been on my own ever since. For men of my generation, this was normal and expected behavior. There's a lot of evidence that it's not expected behavior any more. I realize that jobs are scarce now and for some young men that's a problem, but I get the sense that by turning the ages of 20-30 into an extended adolescence, we're making it a lot harder to keep things going.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Eyes on the chart, people

So why does all the sex talk seem off base? Check out the chart:

And what's more alarming is that it appears that our current goverment doesn't (pardon my French) give a shit, as Mark Steyn explains in a piece for Investor's Business Daily:

Just to emphasize, this isn't the doom-laden dystopian fancy of a right-wing apocalyptic loon like me; it's the official Oval Office version of where America's headed.

In the New York Times-approved "responsible budget" there is no attempt even to pretend to bend the debt curve into something approaching re-entry with reality.

As for us doom-mongers, at the House Budget Committee last Thursday, Chairman Paul Ryan produced another chart, this time from the Congressional Budget Office, with an even steeper straight line showing debt rising to 900% of GDP and rocketing off the graph circa 2075.

America's Treasury Secretary, Timmy Geithner the TurboTax Kid, thought the chart would have been even more hilarious if they'd run the numbers into the next millennium: "You could have taken it out to 3,000 or to 4,000" he chortled, to supportive titters from his aides.

Has total societal collapse ever been such a nonstop laugh riot?

"Yeah, right." replied Ryan. "We cut it off at the end of the century because the economy, according to the CBO, shuts down in 2027 on this path."
But hey, we'd rather talk about those prudish Republicans and their sexual obsessions than consider that we have a fundamentally unserious person at the helm of Treasury.

But actually, in an important way, sex is at the root of our problem. Or, rather, the intersection of reproductive freedom and public policy. Steyn explains:

I notice that in their coverage NPR and the evening news shows generally refer to the controversy as being about "contraception," discreetly avoiding mention of sterilization and pharmacological abortion, as if the GOP have finally jumped the shark in order to prevent you jumping anything at all.

It may well be that the Democrats succeed in establishing this narrative. But anyone who falls for it is a sap. In fact, these two issues — the Obama condoms-for-clunkers giveaway and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 900% by 2075 — are not unconnected.
How so? Back to Steyn:

In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren — i.e., an upside-down family tree. As I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, "If 100 geezers run up a bazillion dollars' worth of debt, is it likely that 42 youngsters will ever be able to pay it off?"

Most analysts know the answer to that question: Greece is demographically insolvent. So it's looking to Germany to continue bankrolling its First World lifestyle.

But the Germans are also demographically exhausted: They have the highest proportion of childless women in Europe. One in three fraulein have checked out of the motherhood business entirely.

A nation that did without having kids of its own is in no mood to maintain Greece as the ingrate slacker who never moves out of the house.

And we have similar issues here in the United States. Back to Steyn:

The United States faces a mildly less-daunting arithmetic.

Nevertheless, the Baby Boomers did not have enough children to maintain mid-20th century social programs. As a result, the children they did have will end their lives in a poorer, uglier, sicker, more divided and more violent society.

How to avert this fate? In 2009 Nancy Pelosi called for free contraceptives as a form of economic stimulus.

Ten thousand Americans retire every day, and leave insufficient progeny to pick up the slack. In effect, Nancy has rolled a giant condom over the entire American economy.

So the issue is a simple one of demographics: we can't afford the promises we've made. Two things have happened since Social Security began: average life expectancy has gone up significantly and we have stopped having enough children to fund the bipartisan promises of Social Security (FDR's tab), Medicare (LBJ's tab), prescription drug benefits (W's tab) and all the rest of the blandishments of the welfare state. There are not enough young people to pay for all of it. I don't expect my kids to come up with the money, because they won't be able to.

I don't know that any of the candidates, except for Ron Paul, are really talking about these matters. Instead, we've spent the last two years running trillion dollar deficits and cutting the payroll taxes which are theoretically supposed to be the seed money for Social Security. Well, not really -- that's been a lie of long standing, of course.

But hey, those nasty Republicans are against reproductive freedom! We need to keep constant vigil on safeguarding the unfettered use of our genitalia! Perhaps that should be the priority and the election should be about keeping Rick Santorum out of your bedroom. I'd simply suggest that if we choose to concentrate on such matters in this election cycle, some day we'll be asking the age-old question: is the f@%#ing you're getting worth the f@%#ing you're going to get later on?

Stones Like Gibraltar

This is astonishing (h/t to Cousin Dan):

"So this company is a great example of what American manufacturing can do in a way that nobody else in the world can do it," Obama told the assembled workers this afternoon at the Everett, Wash., Boeing plant.   "And the impact of your success, as I said, goes beyond the walls of this plant.  Every Dreamliner that rolls off the assembly line here in Everett supports thousands of jobs in different industries all across the country. Parts of the fuselage are manufactured in South Carolina and Kansas," Obama also noted before mentioning factories in other states.

So why is this astonishing? Well,

The NLRB tried to close that South Carolina plant, though, after union workers in Washington argued that Boeing had built the new factory in South Carolina -- which is a right to work state -- in retaliation against the Machinist Union strikes that had slowed production in Washington state. 
Oh yeah, that was it. So whatever happened with that?

The NLRB dropped the complaint in December after Boeing signed a new contract with the machinists.
That's what they call a "public/private partnership." Nice company you got there, Boeing. Be a shame if anything happened to it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eyes on the ball, people

The rise of Rick Santorum is good news for the Democrats, the thinking goes, because his (ahem) controversial views on matters of the boudoir will trump any discussions about other issues.

Well, maybe. Still, those other issues aren't going away. Two examples for your consideration this morning.

First, consider this report concerning Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) getting in the face of acting OMB director Jeffrey Zients:

Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., challenged Office of Management and Budget Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients to resign this morning, unless he could substantiate his claim that President Obama's budget does not increase spending.
"Do you propose to spend more money over the next ten years than what the Budget Control Act and current law would cause us to spend?" Sessions asked.

Zients really didn't want to answer that, because the answer would have been yes. Which led to Sessions asking a followup:

After much more equivocation and evasiveness from Zients, Sessions asked: "If you are incorrect in saying that you do not increase spending more than current law, would you consider resigning your office?"
Zients refused to answer that question too.

Well, yeah. He can't answer it, because to answer honestly would require admitting that the Obama administration considers the Budget Control Act a dead letter.

Meanwhile, Ann Althouse calls our attention to something else that our man Zients needed to explain -- how the individual mandate is not a tax, when simultaneously the Obama administration is telling the Supreme Court that it is:

But of course, the government is arguing in the Supreme Court that the individual mandate is a tax, authorized by Congress's taxing power. Read the brief for the United States — PDF — beginning at page 50:

The “practical operation” of the minimum coverage provision is as a tax.... It amends the Internal Revenue Code to provide that a non-exempted individual who fails to maintain a minimum level of insurance shall pay a monthly penalty for so long as he fails to do so. 26 U.S.C.A. § 5000A. The amount of the penalty is calculated as a percentage of household income for federal income tax purposes, above a flat dollar amount and subject to a cap. Id. § 5000A(c). It is reported on the individual’s federal income tax return for the taxable year, ibid., and “assessed and collected in the same manner as” other specified federal tax penalties. Id. § 5000A(b)(2), (g).

Althouse susses out the reasoning for all this:

Well, I suppose it depends on what the meaning of the word "tax" is. It's one thing for the purpose of political argument: Democrats in Congress didn't want to call it a tax when they were jamming it through, and Obama doesn't want to call it a tax now as he's promoting a budget with no new taxes for those making less than $250,000 a year. But for the purposes of legal argument, you might want to characterize it as a tax. The serious question is whether the Supreme Court will accept that characterization for the purpose of upholding the law, even though for political purposes the word was not — and is not — used.

And the answer to that question depends on whether the Justices think that analysis of the political dynamics matters in the interpretation of the scope of Congress's enumerated powers. Whatever the vigor of the Court's role here — and obviously much is left to Congress's political will — it is crucial for the people — exercising their political pressure on the Congress that works its political will — to see what is happening. Even in the thrall of judicial restraint, the Court should reject an argument based on fooling the people about what Congress is doing. The people are especially vigilant about new taxes, so denying that something is a tax is an important maneuver in the political arena. If that move is made to ward off public outrage, it should not be easy to turn around win the favor of judges by calling it what you did not dare tell the people it was.

If I were doing these sorts of things, I guess I'd rather talk about contraception, too. Talking about sex tends to be a useful way of deflecting attention to the other ways people are getting screwed these days.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Vikings to a Plot of Land East of the Metrodome?

Can you feel the excitement?

There could be news today or Friday about new plans to build a Vikings stadium along the back side of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale said Thursday morning.

An agreement involving the Vikings, Minneapolis and the state would lay the foundation for a bill to be introduced this session.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley agreed there could be an announcement soon, although he couldn't say exactly when. "We're making good progress," he said. "There are a couple issues left to clean up. It's a complicated agreement."

An agreement, eh? Kinda like what Tony "Charmin" Bennett had, right?

Well, maybe this time it's for real. You never know. We get this cautionary note from Ted Mondale:

"There are five to seven items we need to button up," Mondale said, adding: "We hope to have an announcement for you in the next couple of days."
A potential translation, for those of you who do not speak Mondalese -- in this context, "items" could mean "Minneapolis City Council members."

There are a number of things to remember. First, the city of Minneapolis charter limits the amount of money the city can spend for stadia to an amount that's about the equivalent cost of a highball at Hubert's, unless there is a referendum on the matter. It's worth noting that even the threat of a referendum pretty much killed Bennett's legacy quest in Arden Hills. So the local financing portion is pretty dodgy.

Second, the White Earth tribe is willing to be the deus ex machina/ATM for the deal, but good luck with getting their proposal past the tribes that run the other metro-area gaming ventures and their protectors in the lege. And even if the White Earth tribe and its supporters are able to thread that needle, will the money they would ostensibly generate cover the state's portion of the financing, or the portion that is supposedly the responsibility of Minneapolis? One would assume that the White Earth portion would be the state's ante.

One other question that has yet to be addressed -- if the White Earth are going to build a casino, where would they build it? By the Dome? Block E? Last I checked, you don't have to pay for parking at Mystic Lake or Treasure Island. There's not a lot of free parking in downtown Minneapolis. Or are the high rollers going to arrive on the light rail line?

Perhaps the agreement could allow building the casino someplace else. They might want to consider Arden Hills; rumor has it there's a lot of land out there. 

In other words, you may hear about an "agreement" tomorrow or in the next few days. But until and unless a lot of other things happen, the agreement will mean about as much as the tattered papers that Tony Bennett ruefully clutches in his hand.

Cognitive Dissonance and the State of the State


The DFL governor, who just last week called Republican leaders "too extreme to lead," asked them to pass his bonding bill, vote on a Minnesota Vikings football stadium and vacate the State Capitol for several years to accomplish a major overhaul of the aging structure.

The DFL governor in this case is Mark Dayton, of course, and he was giving his "State of the State" message, which was, as are many things in Dayton's world, filled with, ahem, cognitive dissonance.

In a refreshingly candid dispatch in the Star Tribune, Rachel Stassen-Berger had the temerity to point out something that seem to have been forgotten lately:

The speech was in sharp contrast with his address last year, when Dayton praised the "constructive relationships" he and Republicans had, calling it "unthinkable" that the state would face a shutdown over partisan differences. 
Of course, there is this:

Since his first State of the State speech, he has survived a historic government shutdown and has seen his poll numbers soar while voter ratings of the Legislature have tanked.

There's a reason for this. Actually, a couple of reasons. There's no question that Republicans shot themselves in the foot with the Amy Koch issue, but what's been best for Dayton is that he's largely been out of the public eye in recent months. Back when the shutdown happened, people seemed to understand that Dayton, at a minimum, shared responsibility with the lege for the shutdown. But since then, the focus has been somewhere other than Dayton's job performance.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dave Thompson figured it out:

"I found it to be a cry for bipartisanship, while at the same time taking shots at Republicans," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville. "I don't know that that's helpful."
There's actually a lot of cognitive dissonance going around these days. Public opinion polls have been very good for Dayton, while at the same time showing broad support for a number of measures (Voter I.D., Right to Work) that he's been blocking with his veto pen. As this session rolls on, people will be reminded of who Mark Dayton is. And it wouldn't be surprising if some perceptions start to change.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When is a compromise not a compromise?

When there's no compromising going on, that's when:

First the Obama administration managed to alienate both its liberal supporters and its religious critics by pushing and then pulling back its HHS contraception mandate. Now the White House has succeeded in hitting the political sour spot yet again by producing a compromise designed to placate the Catholic bishops…without consulting the Catholic bishops. 
A "compromise" that is imposed by one side, and that can be taken away at any time, is not a negotiation, an agreement, or a compromise. It's a diktat, kids. And that's why the bishops are still rejecting it, despite the bleatings of E. J. Dionne and others. Walter Russell Mead asks the salient question:

This isn’t political rocket science. Given the bishops’ openness on the issue, all the administration had to do was sit down with the conference and work out a mutually agreeable compromise before making the first announcement about it—let alone the second. Is this a deliberate choice of polarizing tactics to solidify the base, or simple ineptitude and arrogance? 
I don't think it's an either/or question. And remember what Jim Geraghty has observed: all Obama promises come with an expiration date.

Ball's in your court, (almost) Cardinal Dolan. Wanna carry that scorpion across the river?

Cats in a Sack

As I was flipping around the radio on my drive in to work yesterday morning, I heard this little bon mot from Cris Carter, describing his onetime teammate, Randy Moss:

"The one thing you have to address with Randy Moss is not a conditioning thing," Carter said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning." "It's not an age thing. ... I believe it's the elephant in the room. It's that thing called quit.
"And Randy, not like any other superstar I've met, he has more quit in him than any of those other players. So I need to address that. That's what [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick did when he brought him over from Oakland [in 2007]. He told him he wasn't going to have it. But Randy, when things don't go well, like no other player I've ever been around or associated with, he has a quit mechanism in him that's huge. That needs to be addressed before he signs with any team."

Not surprisingly, Moss wasn't too pleased with that assessment and offered a toxic tweet:

@criscarter80, its sad how u stroked ur own ego when u were suppose to b my mentor!then u wonder why karma bites u in the [expletive]! #goodlukwhof

The hash tag at the end is the knife in the ribs, of course -- Carter has, for reasons that aren't necessarily clear, been scratching on the gate at Canton for the past five years and hasn't made any headway. There have always been odd cases of certain players getting snubbed for no good reason (can I get an amen, Jerry Kramer?), but the case of Carter is an especially curious one.

As a Packers fan this is all amusing, but it's also a reminder of something else -- no matter what else you think of the Vikings and their long-running stadium drama, they have had some remarkably talented people in their organization. It's also a reminder of how boring the current team really is.

Gino brings to our attention. . . .

one of the most appalling articles I've ever read. Go over to his place and see for yourself.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Just a question

I'm getting more anonymous commenters these days and sometimes they aren't especially civil. But in the midst of one brave anonymous screed that got posted last night, I found something worth discussing. Let's think about this statement:

People like Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity parroting a bunch of sexless white men who are hopelessly fearful of what lies between a woman's knees makes most people wanna puke. And the polls bear this out, BTW.

We'll set aside the incoherence about Matthews and Hannity, but let's think about the statement "the polls bear this out." I've seen variations of this same argument elsewhere -- apparently because an indeterminate number of Catholics, but likely a lot of them, don't follow Church teachings in re contraception, the Church's teachings are therefore a dead letter and can be ignored. And this reality is borne out by some unnamed "poll."

So riddle me this -- which faith tradition puts its beliefs up to a vote? I'm unaware of one, although I suppose there's some Our Lady of Perpetual Plebiscite somewhere. Help us out -- if you know of one, share it with the audience.

Monday, February 13, 2012


It had been a long time since I'd done any work on the blogroll on the sidebar. I've noticed that a number of blogs that we've been recommending are dead, so I've culled those. I've also added a few new ones, including the blog of Brian, who has been a regular and valued commenter here and at Gino's place, and our plucky new blog friend, The Red Squirrel. I've also added a few others and updated a few addresses that needed to be changed.

Be sure to check these links out.

Real Rioters of Genius

So you had 100,000 rioters out burning things in Athens last night. Gino asks a simple question at his place:

Their country is broke. I wonder if any of these protesters have a better solution.
Meanwhile, I have a question, too. Since one of the primary industries of Greece is tourism, how will scaring off the tourists help matters?

I kinda get the impression that people aren't exactly thinking things through in the cradle of Western Civilization.

Vikings to Nowhere in Particular

After a while, it gets more difficult to care about the ongoing saga of the Vikings stadium. A few things have happened in recent days that merit discussion, but we'll keep it brief.

  • Ramsey County officials came up with a new funding proposal for Arden Hills but it went nowhere, because it took away what the Vikings liked about the original plan, which was sweet, sweet parking revenue. So what do we learn? The "fan experience" business was crap. It was always about the money. It always is.
  • The Star Tribune reports this morning that legislators aren't too interested in moving the stadium up on their priority list. It's not too surprising, since the NFL essentially foreclosed the option of moving the team for this year. I do suspect that various suits in the NFL office are watching what happens during this session, though, and if they don't like what they see, the league might give Zygi Wilf et al. the green light to seek something else for 2013.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Homilies and the Real World

It's been an interesting week for the Catholic Church in re politics in the United States, so I was wondering if our priest would touch on the political developments in his homily today.

Today was designated at World Marriage Day in the church. Writing for the local archdiocesan publication The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop Nienstedt laid out his agenda:

It would be my hope that all priests and deacons will use the Sunday liturgies of World Marriage Day to speak to their congregation about the natural and supernatural realities of marriage and encourage couples of all ages to remain open to the graces of this sacrament.

At the same time, I encourage clergy and laity alike to review the church’s teaching on marriage, which is set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, part two, article 7, paragraphs 1601 to 1666.
The pastor at my parish was equal to the task, and then some. He spent a significant amount of time in his homily talking about Church teachings on the matter. We then prayed the prayer for marriage, and following Communion, a married couple who will be leading my parish's efforts to pass the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota gave a short presentation on their plans.

What was interesting was to watch the reaction of at least one parishioner I know, who was seated in a pew not far from me. He is a prominent figure in our parish, a fellow who has given much of his time to the parish as a catechism teacher, an usher and as a communion minister. He is also one of the most hard-core Democratic Party supporters in the north metro and has shared a great deal of his time, talent and treasure to elect politicians who actively oppose Church teachings.

In the last cycle, this parishioner was a key supporter of Barb Goodwin, who is now our state senator and who has an interesting view concerning the value of life. I transcribed Goodwin's appearance on a local show with the Atheists for Human Rights, in which Goodwin sneered at Catholic hospitals with the host of the show, Marie Castle:

Castle: We could go in for, uh Catholic hospitals too, where they deny uh, certain services to people because it has to conform to uh, Catholic doctrine, and that includes the end of life care, and uh, there’s a lot of that where they just think uh, they have this theological position where they just think that suffering is good for your soul. Well, if you don’t believe you’ve got a soul, or if you don’t believe it’s supposed to suffer, why should you suffer because of somebody else’s religious beliefs?

But they have this thing about, uh the meritorious nature of suffering, and that only God can decide when you’re going to die. And uh, well, then, medical care just keeps you alive – you shouldn’t have medical care? So uh, there’s all that and uh, it really conflicts with reality, that the reality is that people suffer and we have to stop people from suffering and that we have to relieve it and we don’t make it worse.

Goodwin: Right, exactly —

Castle: And they’re making it worse.

Goodwin: They’re making it worse.

I've made this point before, but it's worth repeating. The thing that non-Catholics often don't understand about the Church, and Catholicism generally, is that while there is a hierarchical structure, there's a lot of autonomy at the local level. John Nienstedt, as the archbishop of this diocese, can call on the priests to speak about the intersection between faith and politics, but he really can't compel it. As it happens, the pastor at our parish chose today to speak on the issue of marriage. I don't know if they delivered the same message at St. Joan of Arc, but I rather doubt it.

At the same time, the pastor well knows that this parishioner supports politicians like Barb Goodwin, who sneer at Catholic values. As a pastor, he cannot compel the parishioner to comport his behavior to Church teachings. And as a pastor who must rely on parishioners who are willing to help the parish, he needs the help of the parishioner. This is the dance that Catholics often undertake, at both the clerical and lay level.

Every time I see this parishioner campaigning for someone like Barb Goodwin, I cringe, because he has to know there's a disconnect between what his faith teaches and what he supports. But I do not know the condition of the parishioner's soul, nor do I know what sorts of discussions he has had with our pastor about his political activities, either in the rectory or in the confessional booth. Presumably his conscience is his guide.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Campaign and Its Discontents

At this point, no one really knows who will be the standard-bearer against Barack Obama in the fall. There's clearly a lot of discontent among conservatives who pay attention to politics. Writing at Powerline, John Hinderaker is getting close to disconsolate:

So, do I think the 2012 election is slipping away from conservatives, Republicans, and the American people? Yes, I do. This is a year in which it was incumbent on conservatives to pursue, soberly, the overriding goal of evicting Barack Obama from the White House. We didn’t do that; in fact, it wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that we made fools of ourselves by chasing one will o’ the wisp after another. I fear that in November, we will pay the price.

So do you believe that? I don't. A few thoughts:

I suspect much of what is bothering Hinderaker is that his horse, Mitt Romney, is not running well. I understand the disappointment, but frankly I'd rather learn he's a lame candidate now than in September. Why is Romney turning out to be such a disappointment? Let's turn to our old pal Peggy Noonan, whose 2008 swooning over The One seems to have worn off, for an explanation:

The Romney campaign is better at dismantling than mantling. They're better at taking opponents apart than building a compelling candidate of their own. They do not seem capable of deepening his meaning, making his stands and statements more textured and interesting. He comes across like a businessman who studied the data and came up with the formula that will make the deal.
A particular problem is that he betrays little indignation at any of our problems and their causes. He's always sunny, pleasant, untouched by anger. This leaves people thinking, "Excuse me, but we are in crisis. Financially and culturally we fear our country is going down the drain. This guy doesn't seem to be feeling it. So why's he running? Maybe he thinks it's his personal destiny to be president. But if the animating passion of his candidacy is about him, not us, who needs him?"
I think that's spot-on. Romney has a presidential skill set, but he's clearly too technocratic to understand the larger issues. And as we discussed earlier this week, it's long since past time for Romney to make an affirmative case for why he should lead, rather than having his campaign trash his opponents. The longer the campaign goes on, the more clear it becomes that the reason Romney won't make an affirmative case for his campaign is because he can't make one.

So where does that leave us? At this point the guy who ostensibly has the momentum is Rick Santorum. While I still don't see him being president, he's doing better than I would have imagined he could. One thing to watch in the coming days is how the Left starts to treat Santorum. In some ways, he's even more of an affront to the cultural sensitivities of our betters than Sarah Palin is. If you doubt that, consider this broadside from John Cassidy, providing a little cultural anthropology from his redoubt at the New Yorker:

To educated liberals of almost any description, Santorum is an abomination. It’s not just that he’s a pro-life, anti-gay, anti-contraception Roman Catholic of the most retrogressive and diehard Opus Dei variety. It’s his entire persona. With his seven kids, his Jaycee fashion code, his nineteen-seventies colonial MacMansion in northern Virginia, his irony bypass, he seems to delight in outraging self-styled urban sophisticates: the sort of folks who buy organic milk, watch The Daily Show, and read the New York Times (and The New Yorker, of course).

Cassidy is a Brit, so he takes a bit of an outsider's view here. It's helpful, because in explaining what makes Santorum so, ahem, distasteful, he also understands why Santorum is rising:

But it’s precisely his in-your-face, street-corner conservatism that makes Santorum potentially a strong candidate.
As he has displayed in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, and Missouri, he is attractive to Republican inhabitants of small towns and rural areas, many of them alienated Evangelical Christians who take it as an article of faith that President Obama is merely the public face of a secular conspiracy intent on altering their country beyond recognition. And Santorum isn’t just a religious candidate. With his hardscrabble roots and message of economic populism, he can also appeal to less devout but economically squeezed middle-income Republicans and Reagan Democrats, of whom there are many. Although his pledge to restore American manufacturing to past glories isn’t very believable, it does signal to voters that he cares about bread-and-butter issues.
I think there's a lot of truth to that observation, too. The next few weeks are going to be fascinating.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Vikings to Duluth?

Well, why not?

State Sen. Roger Reinert introduced a proposal Thursday to move the Minnesota Vikings to Duluth by planting a new stadium on the site of an old U.S. Steel plant.

Reinert said the site is ready now, sparing state leaders from complex land issues that are dogging several potential downtown Minneapolis sites.

“Minnesotans already come to Duluth to recreate,” said Reinert, a Duluth DFLer. “Most importantly, we have a site, 500 acres, with buildable land around it.”
And since our various DFL legislators so love their choo-choo trains, our man Reinert even has that factored into the mix:

Reinert said a new passenger rail line will be operational by 2015, allowing Twin Cities residents to quickly get to Duluth for games and other events at a new stadium. He said the distance between Minneapolis and Duluth is the same as from Milwaukee to Green Bay, where the Packers have a successful franchise and a thriving stadium.
I have a better idea. Let's just cut out the middleman and all the land use worries and really leverage our love of trains. We should build the stadium on a series of rail cars. It can then be transported around the state and the Vikings can play home games anywhere they'd like. It could be in Arden Hills one game, Duluth the next, then Minneapolis and perhaps Crookston if they're feeling saucy.

I'd especially look forward to a potential game in New Brighton. There's a set of train tracks only a block from my house and for at least one week I could make some serious coin charging for parking spaces on my front lawn, just like they do it by the state fairgrounds. Why shouldn't I personally benefit from this economic bonanza?

Lest you think I'm being silly, riddle me this -- is this suggestion of a mobile stadium built on rail cars any more absurd than most of what we've heard up to this point? Think carefully before you answer.

A Question for the Audience

Ace commenter Rich made an interesting observation yesterday:

[T]wo of the 'guesses' I think you missed in your analysis of last night's results are, a few weeks ago, Evangelical leaders met in Texas to settle on one candidate to back. They chose Santorum. I am gussing that last night, we saw some of the first results of that decision. Additionally, I would speculate that there is a Mormon bias at play. No one likes to admit this, but I am guessing that there is a Bradley-Effect corollary at play here. I am sure it weighs, at least partly on some folks decisions.
Since I'm not an evangelical and I ended up voting for Ron Paul for fiscal reasons, neither of these considerations entered into my mind. And while I would imagine there's a certain amount of anti-Mormon bias out there, I strongly suspect it is overstated, as is the notion that "Evangelical leaders" have that much control over how people vote, especially in Minnesota. My guess is that for many voters, Santorum was the best available "Not Romney" on offer, since Paul's views are a nonstarter for a lot of people.

So here's the question -- is Rich on to something, or not? And if you voted for Santorum in the caucus straw poll, what was your primary motivation for doing so? Okay, that's really two questions.


Had a small dustup yesterday on a thread in which a commenter decided to take a passing mention of gay marriage and turn it into a much bigger deal than I'd intended.

I really, really don't want to talk about gay marriage, because of all the things that are going on right now, it's way down the list of issues that matter. But this needs to be said -- if we're going to have gay marriage, this is how it should be brought about:

The Washington legislation cleared the state House of Representatives by a vote of 55-43, a week after the state Senate passed it by a 28-21 vote. Democrats, accounting for the lion's share of support for the bill, control both legislative bodies in Olympia.
Legislators pass laws. Governors sign them. If the state of Washington wants gay marriage, and the citizenry there elects officials who write it into law, more power to them.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Santorumized for Your Protection

So it turns out the Rick Santorum won all three contests yesterday. What does it all mean? I don't know, but I have a few guesses:

  • Social issues aren't necessarily going to be the prime mover in this election, but two things have happened in recent days that help Santorum. First, the decision that Obama and his minions have made in dictating to the Catholic church concerning insurance mandates has raised a lot of eyebrows. There are a lot of people who are only nominally Catholic in this country, but those who are committed churchgoers are getting an earful right now. And Santorum, as a committed churchgoing Catholic, has likely received some benefit.
  • Second, the gay marriage decision from the 9th Circuit might have helped Santorum's cause. To be honest, the conservatives I talk to aren't really thinking that much about gay marriage in this cycle, but the  way it's being jammed down our throats is not helping. The process has become a slow-motion version of Roe v. Wade. Santorum is quite forthright on this issue as well, so those conservatives who worry about this issue know he will champion that cause.
  • The message I got from Romney this week, as he turned attention to our state, has been a very negative one. He doesn't tell you why he's the better alternative; instead, he carpet bombs his opponents with negative advertising. I got a lot of mail from Romney's organization that told me of the many sins of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, but I never got a sense of why Mitt Romney is a better alternative. The man has been running for 6-8 years now. You would think he'd have honed that message first. Because he has the money and the muscle, Romney stands a good chance of being the last man standing, but he won't have earned much goodwill for the general election if he continues on his current path. It's long past time for Romney to start making an affirmative case for his campaign. That he hasn't provided such a case up to this point suggests he might not have one. That's a good thing to discover in the primaries. 
  • Maybe Newt Gingrich has another comeback in him, but at this point I don't see it. He clearly didn't have much support in Minnesota and while he came here late, it didn't help him much at all. As much fun as he is to listen to in small doses, especially when he's excoriating the MSM, he doesn't wear well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

New Brighton Precinct 1, HD50B (for now)

Well, we had our touch of the political process this evening. I was over at Mounds View High School for the District 50B GOP caucus. It was pretty well attended, as most of the seats in the MVHS auditorium were filled. The DFLers were there too, but we didn't see much of them, as they didn't have much to do. There were 72 people from our precinct who attended.

This is a bit of a strange time, because redistricting is coming down in the next two weeks and no one really knows what the districts will look like. Currently our house district includes New Brighton, Arden Hills, a portion of Shoreview and a portion of Fridley, while the other half of the district is primarily the remainder of Fridley and Columbia Heights. Demographically, it's a district that leans DFL, especially on the western side. It's possible that our precinct might be connected to St. Anthony and Roseville, or Shoreview and Lino Lakes, depending on how the districts are drawn. St. Anthony and Roseville have voted DFL in recent years, but are not as solid as the Heights or Fridley. If we join Shoreview and Lino Lakes, the district becomes pretty GOP friendly. That adds a certain level of uncertainty, especially for prospective candidates for state office. A lot will shake out at the senate district convention.

As for the vote in our precinct, it was close. It lined up as follows:

Rick Santorum   27
Ron Paul            25
Mitt Romney      12
Newt Gingrich     7
Herman Cain       1

From what I can tell, that is a similar result to what happened elsewhere in the state, as it appears that Santorum has won the straw poll vote. There was a message in the vote, I suspect, which is that the Republican electorate hasn't exactly settled on Romney yet and that they would like the process to continue.

To be honest, I don't suspect that either Santorum or Paul will be the eventual nominee, but I'm reasonably certain that both of them would ultimately like to move Romney closer to their respective agendas. The problem is that there's not a lot of overlap there. Santorum has scored recently because he's offered the most forthright criticism of Romneycare, while Paul's overall warnings about the monetary system and the dangers of our profligate ways are certainly a factor for many voters.

After a lot of thought, I ended up casting my vote for Paul, because I'm more concerned about financial issues than social issues, at least in this cycle. While I understand the appeal that Santorum offers, especially on social issues, my concerns about his statist ways were too much for me to overcome. As for Paul, I am alternately amused and offended by his bizarre foreign policy notions, and troubled by the Eric Hoffer-call-your-office nature of some of his more, ahem, ardent supporters, but there's no denying that he has a point regarding the way the government has been mortgaging our future. And in truth, Paul knows that he's not going to be president, so it was important to send a message to the guy who will likely carry the Republican banner. While the overall message in the Santorum/Paul split may not provide specific guidance on policy questions, Mitt Romney needs to consider why 72 reasonable souls in a swing district gave him only 1 out of every six votes cast. If Mitt would like some help understanding the reasons, he might start consider climbing out of his campaign pillbox and start listening a little bit.

Vikings to Amorphous Parcel of Land Somewhere East of the Metrodome?

There really hasn't been a lot of news on the Vikings stadium front these days, despite the kabuki going on in various locales:

Appealing for City Council support for a new Vikings stadium, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak surrounded himself with construction workers on Monday and said the project would create more jobs than any "single action that you can take."

Rybak and Barb Johnson, the City Council president, did little to disguise that the press briefing was an overt attempt to apply political pressure for the project, which does not appear to have the backing of a council majority. Rybak did not directly answer when asked whether he had majority support for a city subsidy package and chose instead to remain optimistic about the project's political chances.
In other words, they are talking about a project in which there is no land secured, no money secured and the political support needed to make it happen is, at best, theoretical:

"The momentum is on our side at City Hall," Rybak said. "We need to get the last couple of votes there."

But Rybak and Johnson were joined by just one other member of the 13-person City Council at Monday's briefing, Diane Hofstede.

"It's no slam dunk," Rybak said. "Clearly, we have issues."

No kidding. We could call the new stadium the Hallucinationdome, perhaps. Oops, we shouldn't forget the corporate sponsorship. Perhaps it could be the Wells Fargo Hallucinationdome or something.

Meanwhile, back in Ramsey County, "work" continues on a stadium:

On Tuesday, Ramsey County is expected to consider a $20.6 million contract for soil cleanup at the former munitions plant in Arden Hills -- the Vikings preferred stadium site -- that would cap the cost for hazardous material abatement, demolition and remediation. The action would move the county closer to buying the 430-acre site from the federal government for $28.5 million.

Ramsey County already is seeking bids from architects for the stadium.

But both actions do not deal with a larger issue: How Ramsey County would raise $350 million locally for the project.
Yeah, that money thing is pesky, isn't it? I will say this -- getting the remediation figured out for the Arden Hills site is a necessary task for the county, regardless of whether or not this project goes forward. The land will be developed in some way, eventually. Whether the land will (or should) become Zygi World is another matter, but in any event the work will need to take place.

Nothing has really changed, of course. The bottom line is the same as it has always been -- the Vikings will pay a certain amount of money to build a stadium and the state of Minnesota will have to pick up the rest. The "local portion" of the money is not going to materialize in either Minneapolis or Arden Hills. There's no reason to believe that the Minneapolis City Council is going to ignore its own charter and there's equally no reason to believe that the citizens of Ramsey County will agree to tax the snot out of themselves. So it's up to the state to come up with the money in either event. All the posturing and kabuki press conferences in the world won't change that.

Monday, February 06, 2012

The Maltese Frog

 You gotta convince me that you know what this is all about, that you aren't just fiddling around hoping it'll all... come out right in the end!

       -- Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, "The Maltese Falcon"

So do you remember Douglas Kmiec? He is the former Reagan hand who is quite noisily Catholic and was leading the charge to get Catholics to support Barack Obama in 2008. For his many labors on behalf of The One, Kmiec was rewarded with an ambassadorship to Malta, a post he held until last year. It didn't always go so well for Kmiec, who was involved in a fatal traffic accident that killed a nun, and who was essentially forced out because the State Department felt he was too busy writing polemics and not spending enough time meeting with the fourth undersecretary of Sidney Greenstreet, or whatever it is they do in Malta these days.

Despite all that, Kmiec has remained loyal and has been willing to carry water for Obama, even as rumblings concerning Obamacare's potential impact on Catholic healthcare were becoming increasingly dire. As recently as November, Kmiec let fly with a defense of his benefactor in the pages of the National Catholic Register:

At present, however, both political parties are remiss in not reminding the body politic how the principle of religious liberty actually operates. This has permitted some media voices, like the Washington Post's Michael Gerson, to perceive religious hostility where there is none. There is no violation of religious liberty when HHS announces a temporary (or permanent) regulation requiring all employers -- religious or nonreligious, Catholic or not -- to provide employees with an insurance benefit for artificial contraception. Yes, it would be more congenial if the HHS administrative process adopted the Catholic view of contraception over that of other churches, but that declination was a choice the church herself since Vatican II has conceded belonged to Caesar. Had the HHS regulation gone farther and demanded a religious employer to affirmatively endorse or require the use of artificial contraception or any other choice contrary to its own teaching or face a penalty, that would violate the principle of religious liberty.

While there is no constitutional violation of religious liberty in the HHS regulation requiring that coverage allow for the informed choice of all consumers, and therefore, HHS is not duty-bound to allow a Catholic employer exemption, why HHS went out of its way to promulgate an unduly narrow religious exemption intruding upon religious employer hiring policies and their ability to be of service to Catholics and non-Catholics alike illustrates a type of blunder-headedness on the part of some Obama subordinate officers playing into the hands of single-issue Catholics and other partisans. The intrusive exemption shows more disrespect for faith than the president's own value commitments.
In other words, Kmiec was hoping that his friends would stop making him look bad.

Well, as we know, the decision came down. The mandate is in place and now Kmiec is stuck:

Kmiec, who served in the Reagan administration, noted that he urged Obama last year to grant an exemption, explaining that such a move “would be an opportunity to be more sensitive to religious freedom than the law requires.”
Asked whether he will back Obama in 2012, Kmiec replied in an email, "Until I have an opportunity to speak with the president, I am for now (unhappily) without a candidate."

It turns out that Michael Gerson was right after all. So the Maltese Frog wants to speak with the scorpion he carried across the river. Good luck with that, Mr. Kmiec. I do hope that the president does take your call.

I certainly wish you would have invented a more reasonable story. I felt distinctly like an idiot repeating it.

  -- Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo, "The Maltese Falcon"

Caucus Time

Tuesday is caucus night in Minnesota and I'll be going to mine, which takes place at Mounds View High School.

What I don't know, even yet, is who will get my support. It's a difficult decision among four flawed candidates:

  • Mitt Romney is not consistent and while he's less apologetic to be a Republican than, say, Jon Huntsman was, his only real conviction seems to be that Mitt Romney ought to run things.
  • Newt Gingrich is a loose cannon. He's a great guy for generating ideas, but the job description is leading the executive branch of the federal government, not running a public policy seminar.
  • Ron Paul is correct about monetary issues, but his foreign policy isn't realistic. You can regret, as I do, the extent to which the United States has become an overextended imperial power, but you can't just walk away from the empire.
  • Rick Santorum seems the sort who has no issue with big government, so long as it can be directed to his interests.
So I'm still not sure what to do. If you are going to the caucus tomorrow, which candidate gets your support? And why?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Road to Damascus

Things continue to get worse in Syria. If this dispatch from the Telegraph is accurate, things could get even more ugly:

In his first full-length newspaper interview, General Mustafa al-Sheikh, who has taken refuge in Turkey, gave an apocalyptic insider's view of the state of the regime – despite its attempt to reassert control this weekend.
He said only a third of the army was at combat readiness due to defections or absenteeism, while remaining troops were demoralised, most of its Sunni officers had fled, been arrested, or sidelined, and its equipment was degraded.
"The situation is now very dangerous and threatens to explode across the whole region, like a nuclear reaction," he said.
I'm going to hope that he was using "nuclear" metaphorically.

We have no good options here. There's neither the will nor the wallet for the United States to get involved with this mess, which is now pretty much a full-blown civil war, and frankly I don't see that it would lead to anything other than more death for American soldiers, without any chance of making things better there.

So what do we learn from this? I suspect that events are in the saddle, much more so than they have been in the postwar world. If you think you know what's going to happen, you are almost certainly wrong.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Benster and D Pick Your Game -- There's Only One Left Edition

Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends. First, we need to do a bit of housekeeping. I noticed that my 2nd cousin Dan, who often comments on the blog, was mad at me for not picking the Pro Bowl.

He did mention something about that, yes.

Well, while I don't want to start a family feud with my own kin, I need to explain something to our beloved cousin. I don't pick fake games! This is also why we never pick Iowa State games, or Lawrence University games, in this venue. Well, we might pick Lawrence if they play Beloit, but we'd prefer to avoid that.

What do you have against Iowa State?

Nothing, although I've noticed that Dan is a Cyclone fan so we need to give him a little grief, like we do to Gino. But now we have to turn our attention away from cheap shots and instead consider the football game in Indianapolis. So I heard that it was the New York Football Giants playing the New England Patriots. So many ways to approach this. But I have the best way, the way of the Benster. Watch me work!

New York Giants (+3) vs. New England Patriots, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana. Did someone say Indiana? Well, time to break out R. Dean Taylor!
Oh, how can you refuse it? Lord, I can't go back there. Of course I've not spent a lot of time in Indiana, but that doesn't stop me from knowing how to pick this game. This New England team has an amazing offense, but also has a terrible defense. I don't know if you've noticed this, but they are so short on defense that they've been running out a wide receiver named Julian Edelman as a nickel back. Edelman is a poor man's Wes Welker and might be able to contribute on offense, but do you think he'll be able to cover Hakeem Nicks? Or Victor Cruz? Heck, I'm not sure he could cover Pablo Cruise. The old dude told me to stick that one in there -- I don't usually listen to lame stuff like that. But anyway, back to my brilliant commentary. If Rob Gronkowski can't go full speed, the Patriots are going to have problems. Welker is a great player, but he can't do it by himself. Tom Brady is still awfully good, but it looked to me like he was a step slow against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. And the Giants get after quarterbacks. Giants 27, Pats 10.

All of those points are spot-on. But it's funny -- everyone I've seen has been picking the Giants, yet the wise guys in Vegas still are giving the Giants 3 points. What do they know that we don't? I think what they know is that the Patriots have two things going for them. First, this is probably the last, best chance this particular team has to get the glory, since Brady is getting up there in age. Second, Bill Belichick is pretty good when he has an extra week to gameplan an opponent. I'm not confident in this pick, but I think Brady gets one more ring. Patriots 31, Giants 24.

Well, that's it for this season. It's been a fun season, although I'm not sure why, all of a sudden, this post has been filled with bad 70s soft rock. I mean, we don't like this stuff very much at all. By the way, don't click on any of those links that the old dude polluted my comments with. He's a very mean old man. Seriously, I beg of you, don't click on those links. Or this one. It's like listening to Lite FM and you really, really don't want to do that. Ben out!