Saturday, March 31, 2012

New SD41 -- Quick and Dirty

UPDATE (4/1): It is true -- Tom Tillberry did not get the endorsement for District 41A and Connie Bernardy did. A report here from the liberal blog The Cucking Stool.

I got back a little while ago from the Republican SD41 convention, held at the Eagles Club in New Brighton. There's a lot more to unpack than I have time for at the moment, but here are the highlights:

  • We decided to remain a unified Senate District BPOU, instead of breaking into separate house districts. This will probably work well going forward, but it led to a lot of logistical issues over the course of what was a long day. The reasons behind it are worthy of a post or two, but we'll let it be for now.
  • We did endorse candidates for district offices:  Gina Bauman will be our nominee for State Senate. The endorsed candidate for house district 41A is Dale Helm. The endorsed candidate for district 41B is Laura Palmer. This is potentially a very strong slate of candidates.
  • Although I haven't confirmed it independently, the word is that on the DFL side, incumbent representative Tom Tillberry, lost his bid for DFL endorsement to Connie Bernardy, who had preceded Tillberry in office but had retired in 2006. This is a somewhat surprising development and it could make things interesting for the upcoming race.
I'll write a longer, followup piece anon. As is often the case, it was a very long day and I actually had to leave before the convention wrapped up. More soon.

Friday, March 30, 2012

No Schadenfreude, but

Okay, it is a little amusing:

For nearly a year now, Al Gore and Joel Hyatt have been building their liberal cable news channel, Current TV, with the mercurial television anchorman Keith Olbermann at its center.

This week, the center collapsed.

Current said on Friday afternoon that it had fired Mr. Olbermann — one of the nation’s most prominent progressive speakers — just a year into his five-year, $50 million contract. It was the culmination of months of murky disputes between Mr. Olbermann and the channel that he was supposed to save from the throes of ratings oblivion.

You want the funny part? Dig this:

Current was also founded on the values of respect, openness, collegiality, and loyalty to our viewers. Unfortunately these values are no longer reflected in our relationship with Keith Olbermann and we have ended it.

We are moving ahead by honoring Current's values. 

So how does Olbermann's former employer honor its own values? By hiring Eliot Spitzer, of course.

If you don't remember Spitzer, and who could blame you, here's an astringent little synopsis of his career from the NYT article:

But they immediately named as his replacement Eliot L. Spitzer, the former governor of New York, who took over Mr. Olbermann’s 8 p.m. time slot on Friday night. It represents Mr. Spitzer’s second shot at an 8 p.m. talk show; in 2010, two years after he resigned the governorship after he admitted having patronized a prostitution ring, he led a short-lived show on CNN. It was canceled in mid-2011.
Nothing honors values quite like hiring a high-profile john.

Right now I'm reading a book about another of Olbermann's former employers, ESPN, called "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN." It's an interesting book and it serves as a reminder of the days, now nearly 20 years ago, when Olbermann was one of the funniest guys on television. Like a lot of sports guys, he had ambitions beyond what is known in the media biz as "the toy department." And even then, he had a reputation for being a pain in the butt. There's no disputing Olbermann's talent, but hubris always gets you in the end.

Meanwhile, in Canada

We see a glimpse into the future:

Canada's Conservative government said Thursday that it is raising the retirement age to 67 from 65 for pension benefits as the finance minister introduced a federal budget features the biggest cutbacks since the mid-1990s.

Jim Flaherty presented a budget that sees cuts of a total of $5.2 billion in annual federal spending, including scrapping the money-losing penny, in the government's first budget since the Conservative party won majority rule.
I would be very surprised if the United States doesn't adopt similar measures very soon, regardless of who wins the election. I fully expect to be working up to the age of 70, assuming I make it that far. A long retirement isn't going to be in the offing for anyone except gubmint workers.

Hanging Curveball of the Year

Baseball season is here, so it was good of Governor Dayton to serve up what has to be the hanging curveball of the year:

A frustrated Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that charitable gaming representatives were not “on the same planet” with state officials in trying to resolve a funding problem that is stalling plans for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

“I don’t see the charities and the [state] Commissioner of Revenue, Myron Frans, on the same planet in terms of their analysis,” the DFL governor told reporters.
Too easy. Waaaaay too easy.

Is it the shoes?

Or is it being threatened with a big legal boot?

 An elderly couple has reached a settlement with Spike Lee after the pair said they had to leave their Florida home after the director help spread a Twitter posting listing their address as that of the man who shot an unarmed teen.

The couple's attorney, Matt Morgan, announced the settlement Thursday. Morgan says Lee called them to apologize for retweeting their address. Specifics of the settlement weren't disclosed.

Elaine and David McClain are in their 70s and say they have a son named William George Zimmerman, who lived in their Sanford area home in the mid-1990s. They say he is no relation to 28-year-old George Zimmerman, who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26.

I'm glad the McClains are getting something for their trouble.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Five years ago -- in medias res

It was Friday, March 30, 2007. And after 4 days in the hospital for tests and observation, I was going home. Before I was discharged from United Hospital, I met with the surgical team that would perform my operation the next week. I was told that I would have the surgery and then would be spending at least two days in intensive care post-surgery, with probably 3-4 days in the hospital after that.

Once I was discharged following the surgery, I would be under strict orders to maintain a low profile and take about 2-3 months for a complete recovery. Activities would have to be limited and, under no circumstances, was I to drive anywhere.

"We're very strict about this because you need time to recover," one of the nurses told me. "Now we know that taking this much time off could pose a financial hardship, but you really need to recover."

For what it was worth, taking the time to recover was not an issue at all for me, because I had nowhere to go anyway. Other than the Minnesota Workforce Center, that is.

I had been unemployed for months. My employer, Bank of America, had decided to close its facility in Bloomington in the spring of 2006 and to consolidate operations in Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb of Portland. I had been offered the chance to relocate, but in considering the financial and social considerations of moving across the country, we decided not to take the offer. Instead I got to train my replacement and take a severance package. And in between everything else, I started this blog, so I'd have something to do over my lunch hour.

Finding a job had been difficult, because I was what you might call a "tweener." I had been a program analyst and team lead for B of A, managing the day-to-day financial reporting for B of A's corporate relocation mortgage business. I had even become one of approximately 34,925 Assistant Vice Presidents of the bank, which looked good on my business card, if nothing else. So I had done well in my 3+ years with the bank, but I was a bit nontraditional -- in fact, I'm pretty sure that I was the only analyst in the company who had a bachelor's degree in English and no additional schooling. I could do the job because I had learned a good deal about finance from my previous employer, the relentlessly metric-driven Target Corporation.

So while I had a good story to tell in an interview (Worked for Two Fortune 25 Companies! Successful! Adaptable!), my background left a lot of corporate recruiters puzzled, especially when they saw my resume. To say the least, my educational background was a mismatch for the sorts of finance jobs that I wanted to pursue. And while I had a strong writing background, not too many advertising teams were looking to hire a financial analyst as a copywriter. I had started looking for freelance gigs, but nothing had happened yet.

And while the economy in 2006-07 was stronger than it is now, warning signs were flashing all over. One of the reasons we didn't make the move to Portland was that we saw we would end up paying a very high price for a home -- while the housing market in Portland had softened a little since the go-go days of 2003-05, the prices were still astronomical, about 10-15% higher than in Minneapolis. And as it happened, a number of my colleagues who went to Hillsboro ended up losing their jobs with B of A later on, as the overall market tanked and B of A began to take on water.

By the time I went to the hospital, the severance had run out and most of my unemployment benefit was exhausted, too. We had scaled back greatly and weren't in financial difficulty yet, but things were starting to get a little dicey. So the idea of dealing with major surgery was pretty daunting.

Fortunately, Mrs. D had insurance coverage for the family, so we weren't looking at ruin. But while I could take 2-3 months to recover, things were looking to be pretty tough afterwards.

I tried to stay positive -- this post I wrote at the time seems pretty upbeat, considering the circumstances. But I was wondering how much longer I could maintain the facade.

As I suggested at the time, prayer was going to matter:

Prayers are greatly appreciated. I'm trying to keep my composure about all this and I can feel God's hand in the events. He will take care of me, with your help.
I would find out how true this was in the days and weeks to follow:

Next:  getting ready

Welcome to the Boomtown

It's happening again in Clintonville:

Clintonville police say they received about 65 calls Tuesday night, from people reporting three or four loud booms. Officials say the calls came in from 10:35 until 11:40 p.m.

Authorities say the reports came from the same part of the city that has been experiencing the booms for more than a week, but there were also some reports farther west, including Clinton Avenue. Several callers told police that these booms were stronger than those from last week, but no damage has been reported.

Clintonville is a pleasant little town about 40 miles north of where I grew up. There are dozens of other towns like it in Wisconsin, except they don't have seismology issues. You have to wonder what's causing all this, but I know this much -- it gives me the flimsy pretext I need to post a video:

No actual residents of Clintonville were harmed in this presentation.

The Badgers Get Another QB

The news out of Madison is good for UW football, as former Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien will transfer to Wisconsin, following the path of Russell Wilson:

College football fans can point to the obvious similarities: O'Brien left a school from the Atlantic Coast Conference and will be able to play right away in 2012, because he will graduate in mid-May. Wilson came to UW last summer from North Carolina State and led UW to the Rose Bowl in his only season.

"Obviously, our paths are kind of similar, coming from the ACC to Wisconsin," O'Brien said in a teleconference. "But it's a new year, a new season, 2012 has yet to be written. ... So I don't compare myself to him at all.

The quarterback situation in Madison has been odd in recent years, mostly because the players that Bret Bielema has recruited to play the position keep getting hurt. Because of the NCAA rule that allows players who have graduated from their first university, but have eligibility remaining, to transfer immediately to a new school, UW has been able to solve the problem twice.

While it has to rankle the other schools in the Big Ten that the Badgers have been able to make this work twice, it may not happen again for a long time. And if the early reports on Phillip Nelson are correct, the Gophers will prefer their quarterback of the future to whatever mercenary wears the big W on the helmet.

Home Truth

Protein Wisdom on the real meaning of Obamacare:

Again, to the left — the ideological ruling class left, as opposed to the useful idiots they keep about screeching for “social justice” in lieu of having to actually reach into pocket and pay for such things voluntarily — this battle was never over health care.  That was but the facade.  This was an attempt to fundamentally redefine the relationship between citizen and government. It was an attempt to build on the already flimsy sham that was Wickard in order to assert federal control over every aspect of our lives — and to do so while (perversely) claiming a Constitutional basis for doing so.

If it fails, we shouldn’t rejoice so much as begin asking how we ever got this close to living under soft tyranny in a country built on a foundation meant to protect us from what has become — and will remain — a predatory federal authority always looking for ways to expand.

True dat. And the punchline:

And it seems that’s the case regardless of which Party establishment holds office.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wrong Zimmerman, Sir

I'm probably going to stay away from much more comment on the Trayvon Martin case for a while, because it's now clear that the story is a lot more complicated than the morality play a lot of people were envisioning initially.

One thing does deserve mention, though. In the course of trying to gin up anger toward George Zimmerman, certain people did despicable things. One was Spike Lee, who once directed a film called "Do the Right Thing." Riddle me this -- is what's described here the right thing?

With Twitter and Facebook continuing to explode with posts purporting to contain the address of George Zimmerman, property records and interviews reveal that the home is actually the longtime residence of a married Florida couple, both in their 70s, who have no connection to the man who killed Trayvon Martin and are now living in fear due to erroneous reports about their connection to the shooter.
As the Smoking Gun notes, Lee apparently got up long enough from watching the Knicks to get his tweet on:

The mass dissemination of the address on Edgewater Circle in Sanford--the Florida city where Martin was shot to death last month--took flight last Friday when director Spike Lee retweeted a tweet containing Zimmerman’s purported address to his 240,000 followers.
One little problem:

The residence on Edgewater Circle is actually the home of David McClain, 72, and his wife Elaine, 70. The McClains, both of whom work for the Seminole County school system, have lived in the 1310-square-foot lakefront home for about a decade, records show.

Turns out that there was a man named Zimmerman who once lived at the residence. He is the son of Elaine McClain, but his name is William George Zimmerman and he is not the droid you are looking for. George Zimmerman lives four miles away.

Nice job, Spike.

Enumerated Power

Most people don't typically spend a lot of time studying constitutional law or even the Constitution itself, so the current debate at the Supreme Court is useful as a remedial civics lesson.

Most observers seem to think that the government lawyer tasked with defending Obamacare had a bad day yesterday. And I suppose that's true, since it's by definition tough to defend the indefensible. The conversation seemed to turn on the idea of enumerated powers. Everyone has long concluded that Justice Anthony Kennedy is the key vote and this observation seems crucial:

Kennedy: [H]ere the government is saying that the Federal Government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act, and that is different from what we have in previous cases and that changes the relationship of the Federal Government to the individual in a very fundamental way.

This is the classic conservative argument on the matter. If the government can compel you, via an individual mandate, to buy a product or service, it can pretty much compel you to do anything. We've been headed for this moment for a long time, given the numerous ways that the federal government has used the Commerce Clause to regulate and control vast swaths of the overall economy. The indvidual mandate is the really the endgame of the argument; if it is constitutional, the federal government's power is absolute.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Five years ago -- reality sets in

The following morning, I awoke in a bed at United Hospital. I'd been given some pain medication to help manage what was now a lower-grade but consistent headache. Before I'd been able to get a little sleep, I'd been awake for about 36 straight hours, between the onset of the headache and the wait for an MRI. Mrs. D had gone home to take care of the kids, but now it was morning and they were back at school, so she had returned to the hospital, where she would stay with me until the evening. My in-laws were now aware of the situation and were able to help out with the kids.

Modern medicine can perform amazing feats, but it rides on an raging river of  paperwork and tests. All day long it seemed like an endless parade of nurses with needles arriving for various endocrinology baseline tests. I would be pushed all over the hospital and to the medical office building adjoining the hospital for various visits with doctors, nurses and paperwork. Our health insurance card was getting photocopied so much that it seemed like it would begin glowing.

Then came another test. I was wheeled over to the opthamologist's office across the street, with various elevator trips and cruises through the tunnel system connecting the buildings. This test was an important one, because it would be a thorough evaluation of my formal visual fields.

The young opthamologist put me in a chair and placed my chin on a support, with a brace holding my forehead in place. In front of me was a grayish panel with tiny diodes that would flash lights in random places. I had to click the button I held in my hand each time I saw a light.

It was difficult to see the lights in any event, as I couldn't wear my glasses, but I gave it a go. I went through a battery of tests. After I was done, the opthamologist shared the results.

"Here's what you need to know -- it's evident that the adenoma is causing pressure on your optic nerve and it's affecting your vision. You probably don't realize it, but you have lost about 30% of your vision."

I was stunned. I hadn't noticed it, since the change happened gradually as the tumor had grown. There are two ways to explain what had happened. The easiest way to explain it is this:  my vision was like what you see when you watch a letter-boxed widescreen movie on an old television with the 4:3 aspect ratio. The image you see is narrow and there are black boxes at the top and the bottom of the screen. The difference is that in a letterbox, you do see the complete image; it is just compressed.

Another, better way to explain what I was, and was not, seeing is this: if you've ever seen a game at Wrigley Field and had seats in the back of the lower grandstand, your view of the field is obstructed by the upper deck, which cuts off the sky. You can see the infield and the outfield, but you can't track the flight of the ball on a popup, because the upper deck obstructs your view. In essence, my vision was gone above and below where the obstruction was. He showed the test readout. I had missed every flash above and below a line.

As you can imagine, this was distressing. I asked if the vision loss was permanent. The news was, well, guardedly optimistic. "If the surgery does what it should do, you should be able to regain your normal vision, but it's not guaranteed."

But there was another factor to consider. Because of my vision loss, I was no longer allowed to drive a car. While this would not be a problem while I was in the hospital, it would be a major problem in other ways.

Later that day we met again with the neurosurgeon to discuss the timing and action for the surgery. Given the schedules involved and the time it would take to get the insurance company to figure things out, surgery would likely have to wait for a week. I would remain in the hospital for further observation and testing for another day or two and would then return the following week for the surgery itself. I'd be sent home with medication to control pain, but other than that it was time to wait.

Next:  the circumstances of life while awaiting brain surgery.

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome IV -- Round Those Heels

The City Council pulled a flip worthy of Greg Louganis:

A majority of the Minneapolis City Council now backs Mayor R.T. Rybak's plan to fund a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis, setting up a last-ditch effort by Gov. Mark Dayton to persuade reluctant Republican legislators to support the project.

The surprise announcement Monday that seven council members had signed letters of support seemed unlikely just a week ago, when seven members publicly opposed the plan. But after heavy lobbying by stadium backers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy abandoned her insistence on a citywide referendum and gave Rybak the majority he needs.
No need to be coy, Colvin Roy?

"I didn't change my mind," Colvin Roy said Monday. "I made up my mind."

I don't believe that, but we'll leave it aside for a moment. This development does change the dynamic pretty significantly, however. For stadium opponents, the situation was a nice setup: as long as the Minneapolis City Council was unwilling to support the bill, the legislature wouldn't move. And without legislative support, the City Council had no reason to move.

What really happened to Colvin Roy? According to the Star Tribune, she and another council member, Kevin Reich, were (ahem) persuaded:

Colvin Roy and Reich were under intense pressure from labor groups. Dan McConnell, business manager for the Minneapolis Building and Construction Trades Council, said he spoke with both Colvin Roy and Reich over the weekend -- as well as stadium opponents on the City Council. Colvin Roy said she hasn't talked with McConnell about the stadium since at least last week.

"We had people talking to them that were constituents from their wards," McConnell said.
Construction workers have a lot of tools and certainly they have enough rhetorical power sanders to round a politician's heels, especially in Minneapolis.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Five years ago -- the diagnosis

By the time we finally got to the clinic, the headache was starting to dissipate a bit. My speech had largely returned to normal and my vision wasn't as blurry. My normal doctor wasn't available, so I saw the on-call doctor. He asked me a few questions about the headaches and then we talked about vision. He started to test my peripheral vision and, apparently, I got a few of the answers wrong. At that point, they did a test of what are called my formal visual fields, which measure vision from side to side and up and down. I didn't do so well at that, either.

The doctor then sent me to St. Paul Radiology, which was about four miles away, for a CT scan. We had the scan done and were told to go back to the clinic. By the time I had returned to the clinic, the doctor was waiting for me. The CT scan indicated that something was wrong.

"We saw something on the CT scan. We aren't 100% sure, but based on the tests and the symptoms you'v described, you most likely have a pituitary adenoma."

So what is a pituitary adenoma?

"A pituitary adenoma is a tumor on your pituitary gland."

A tumor. Holy shit. The doctor could sense right away that I was scared and reassured me. "One thing you should know about pituitary adenomas is that in 99% of the cases, they aren't cancerous. What I'm concerned about is your vision, though, so we'll need to admit you to the hospital for observation and an MRI."

What I would learn is that, although I hadn't realized it, I had gradually lost 25-30% of my peripheral vision, mostly up and down. The reason was the tumor was pressing against my optic nerve. I would need to have more testing done to confirm this. The MRI would confirm whether or not there was a tumor.

"So if I have a tumor, what happens?"

"If it turns out you do have a tumor, you'll need an operation to have the tumor removed. We'll start making some calls and we'll have a neurosurgeon talk to you once you get to the hospital. He can tell you more about what will happen."

By the time I got to the hospital, I found out how popular a guy I was becoming. One of the amazing things about modern medicine is how many doctors you can meet if the situation requires it. Over the course of the next six hours, I met an otolarynologist (ear, nose and throat doctor), a neurologist, an endocrinologist and, eventually, the neurosurgeon. It seemed like half the doctors at United Hospital were there to make my acquaintance that day.

Each doctor told me something new. The otolarynologist explained that if the surgery were required, he would assist the neurosurgeon. The good news is that they wouldn't have to cut open my skull to get to the tumor, but instead they would reach it through my nose and nasal cavity. In fact, I wouldn't even have an outward scar.

The endocrinologist explained that if the tumor was indeed there and surgery was required, much of my pituitary gland would need to be removed. The pituitary gland is the master gland that controls all the other endocrine functions in the body. I could live without the pituitary, but it would mean that I'd be on medication for the rest of my life.

The neurologist had looked at my case and thought that while the tumor, assuming it was there, was likely the primary cause of my headaches, I might still have some headaches following surgery because I might be a migraine sufferer as well. He would watch things.

Finally, the neurosurgeon came to visit. He apologized for the delay, but he had performed surgery that ran a little longer than he'd expected. He looked at the chart and the test results and told me flat out -- you're almost certainly going to need the surgery. "The good news is that this tumor is almost certainly benign. Pituitary tumors are almost never cancerous. If you're going to be saddled with a tumor, you picked the right one."

I assumed he wanted me to feel better about it. I wasn't so sure that I did, though.

The wait for the MRI went well into the night and eventually I was able to get in for it after midnight. If you've ever had an MRI, you know this -- it's not a lot of fun, especially if you are claustrophobic. They strap you in tight and brace you so your head can't move. Then they put a scanner down so that it essentially touches the tip of your nose.  Then they put you into the tube. And there you sit for about an hour, with a machine that sounds like a jackhammer blasting away. It's not a lot of fun, but it's the only way to know for sure.

And an hour or so after the MRI was done, the diagnosis was complete. I had a pituitary adenoma. Typically a pituitary gland is about the size of a pea. Mine was about three times that size. Surgery would be required. I was going to be spending a lot of quality time in the hospital.

Next:  more tests, more concerns.

Five years ago - the onset

It began, as it usually did, suddenly. One thing was slightly different this time -- instead of the pain beginning from behind my left eye, as it usually did, this time it began behind my right eye. That was a bad sign, since when the pain began behind the right eye, it was usually going to be a bad one. And this one turned out to be the worst one of all.

I'd been having headaches for most of my adult life and, from time to time, they had been severe. I'd had a variety of tests done before, CT scans and the like, and the reason for the headaches was never quite clear. The symptoms didn't match the classic migraine, but I tried Imitrex and other similar medications, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. The headaches tended to be a Sword of Damocles hanging over daily activities, though, which made them especially problematic. A number of family events were destroyed by the onset of a headache -- a trip to the State Fair cut short, a sudden departure from TwinsFest, a 4th of July that ended suddenly and turned into a trip to urgent care.

I was used to carrying various analgesics in my pocket -- sometimes Advil, sometimes aspirin, sometimes something stronger if I could get it. The one thing that seemed to work best was a drug called Fiorinal, which combined aspirin, caffeine and butalbital (a mild barbiturate). It would knock out the headache but it would also pretty much bring an end to the day. I wasn't supposed to use it much and most of the time I didn't have any. As it happened, I didn't have any that day.

What I had was pain. I was up most of the evening, trying to figure out how to get the pain to stop. I took some aspirin, then more, then more still. No relief. As the morning light began to shine into our windows, I was straight up in agony, screaming in pain. The pain was cascading through my head, throbbing behind both eyes now, each pulse a spasm of pain. I needed help, but we still had normal things to do -- the kids had to get on their buses for school. By now, they were almost used to the spectacle of a father who was screaming in pain. I'm not sure you ever really get used to it.

This headache was the worst yet and then it started to seem sinister in other ways. My vision started to blur. My speech started to get harder to understand. Was I having a stroke? Was it an aneurysm? I'd had those things ruled out before, but perhaps this was different. Or was I just in so much pain that my body was trying to slow me down? The kids had to get on the bus for school; I knew that. Would I see them return? Not long after the kids were on bus for school, we set off for the clinic. By then the headache, which had been ramping up to a full rage all evening long, was starting to subside, but just a bit. As we left for the clinic that morning, I said to my wife -- "I can't live with this any more. We need to find  some answers." As it happened, we were about to find out many things.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

This should start the healing

Wow. Just wow:

 The U.S. Justice Department could bring a hate crime charge against the shooter in the killing of black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin if there is sufficient evidence the slaying was motivated by racial bias and not simply a fight that spiraled out of control, legal experts and former prosecutors say.
I wouldn't trust any U.S. Justice Department, whether you have Holder, or Reno, or Ashcroft or Gonzales at the helm, to be able to determine what a "hate crime" is.

There's one other thing that's interesting about this paragraph. Did you catch the "not simply a fight that spiraled out of control" part? Based on what I've been reading, I would have thought that the shooter, one George Zimmerman, basically blew young Mr. Martin away in cold blood. There was a fight?

Actually, you could have learned that if you'd been reading the foreign press. The Daily Mail had a much better account of the state of play in this case than anything I'd seen in our local paper.

Meanwhile, back to the AP report and the testimony of an expert on hate:

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton, who has been appearing at rallies with Martin's parents to call for an arrest, said the Justice Department should investigate the case as a hate crime.

"Any time you have a pattern of engagement based on someone's having a particular group in mind, that qualifies for hate crime inquiry," Sharpton told The Associated Press.

Yep. Ask an expert.

So what should we conclude? Based on what I can tell from approximately 1000 miles away, my tentative conclusion is this:

1) Zimmerman was out of line, at least initially. It appears he started the fight and he's therefore likely to get in some trouble.

2) Having said that, once the fight was on he did have a right to protect himself.

3) The grand jury that will convene in the case should get enough evidence to determine whether Zimmerman should be charged. If I were to guess, the charge will be manslaughter.

4) No matter what the grand jury decides, someone is going to be pissed off about it.

5) And the chance that this case will further the cause of understanding and healing is approximately zero.

The P-C Fesses Up

As you likely know, I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, a decent-sized city (about the same size as St. Cloud) in the eastern part of the state. The local newspaper in Appleton, the Post-Crescent, was once an independent publication but is now part of the Gannett chain. And like most Gannett properties, it tends to take a center-left view on things.

So I'm not particularly surprised to learn the following:

Last week, the Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team broke a story that appeared in The Post-Crescent, exposing 29 circuit court judges who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker. It was a story we were proud to bring to you. It was watchdog journalism in its finest sense, a role we take seriously.

Today, in the interest of full transparency, we are informing you that 25 Gannett Wisconsin Media journalists, including nine at The P-C, also signed the Walker recall petitions. It was wrong, and those who signed were in breach of Gannett's Principles of Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms.

A few thoughts:

  • I think the P-C understands the threat that such information presents to their corporate standing. There is really no point in even debating the premise that the news media, especially certain chains like Gannett, have an institutional bias to the Left, so it's hardly surprising that "journalists" would hold leftish views. It's important to Gannett to pretend that they aren't biased, even though it's really the sort of thing that's hidden in plain sight. What I wonder is this -- does it really affect how people view the Post-Crescent? The paper, long a conservative publication on the model of McCormick's old Chicago Tribune, had been trending left for years, even before the Gannett acquisition. And from what I can tell, it's much less of a factor in local news coverage than it was back in the 1970s.
  • I've long held the view that bias is fine as long as you don't try to hide it. There's something to be said for the British newspapering model, where everyone knows that the Guardian is a lefty paper and the Telegraph is a righty paper. You know what you're getting. And in my experience, because the Guardian is unaplogetically leftist, it can be tougher on the Left, because it can afford to be honest about the Left's faults.
  • Increasingly the notions of "ethics" and "ethical conduct" are losing any real meaning. In the political world ethics investigations are usually a way to deliver payback, not to uncover wrongdoing, as the most recent fishing expedition against Geoff Michel has proven here in Minnesota. 
Bottom line:  I'm happy that the Post-Crescent decided to fess up. Confession is good for the soul, of course. But there's no reason to believe their political coverage, or editorial cheerleading for Democrats, is going to change. I'm guessing that people back in Appleton will take this revelation for what it is: newsworthy but not necessarily news.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I hope. . .

. . . that the Trayvon Martin case is as straightforward as it's being portrayed.

Per se

It has to be great to be President of the United States and yet have no responsibility for what happens. Remember Solyndra? Not Barack Obama's fault:

President Obama is defending government investment in companies trying to create new energy sources, while seeming to distance himself from one of the more controversial programs: Solyndra.

"This was not our program, per se," Obama said in an interview aired today on radio's Marketplace program, discussing the now-bankrupt solar company the president visited in 2010 to tout his new energy program.

So you have to wonder -- if Solyndra wasn't Obama's program, what was all this about?

Several key White House offices were involved with the Obama administration’s messaging plans and other preparations as the collapse of the taxpayer-backed solar company Solyndra was imminent, newly released documents show.

The latest White House documents delivered to House Republicans on Friday again highlight the extent to which senior administration officials braced for the fallout as Solyndra – a company President Obama had personally visited – was about to go under.

A White House memo that noted the danger of “imminent bankruptcy” at the end of August 2011 says, “OMB, DPC and NEC have been working with press and OLA to be prepared for this news to break.”

Acronym translation: OMB is the Office of Management and Budget, DPC is the Domestic Policy Council, NEC is the National Economic Council and OLA is the Office of Legal Affairs.
You'd assume that if Solyndra wasn't the Obama Administration's responsibility, per se, there wouldn't have been so much heavy lifting involved in "working with the press," doncha think?

I also wonder if Obama's successor will get to blame him for the first three years on his administration. Perhaps accountability is only for former presidents, per se.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Outrageously Outraged

Bill Maher, the self-styled "politically incorrect" sorta-comedian, has lately been getting some attention he'd rather not have. In the mostly contrived outrage over Rush Limbaugh's recent, ahem, commentary, Maher has found himself on the defensive for his penchant for referring to certain female politicians as, ahem, pejorative terms for specific body parts. Maher penned an op-ed for the New York Times that has a request that actually makes a certain amount of sense:

I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.

Over at Hot Air, Allahpundit makes an important point about the inherent dishonesty behind "civility," especially in the modern political context:

 Maher is a target of opportunity to some extent because he just dropped a cool mil on Obama’s Super PAC, which they accepted without a second thought, so from his perspective the reaction may very well look contrived. Why, he’s been doing “c*nt” gags for years and only now, when dear Rush is threatened, is there a sustained outcry about it. Obvious fakery.

But it’s not fake. People have grumbled about him all along, as he’s no doubt well aware. There just hasn’t been any sustained attention to him because ultimately who cares? His job is to tell the left they’re superior to the right; he’s just a little nastier and a little more entertaining about it (emphasis on “a little”) than MSNBC is. To some extent, in fact, precisely because he’s a provocateur, getting too angry at him plays into his hands by stoking his self-styled image as a bad-boy truth-teller who knows how to wound the other side. No one wants to feed a preening troll by showing him how much he irritates you, so usually we all just grumble for a day and move on. Doesn’t mean the irritation’s not real, though, and it doesn’t mean that wearily letting him slide time after time somehow waives the right to revisit that sincerely-felt irritation later. 
Allahpundit is 100% right in the observation about what Maher's job really is, which is bias confirmation. Personally, I don't pay a lot of attention to Maher because he rarely merits any attention, which makes honoring Maher's request pretty easy, actually. But the larger point is this: even in asking people lighten up, Maher is really just trying to do the same thing Media Matters tries to do -- control the terms of the debate. So while I get the point, and even agree, forget it. Game on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saints Behind the Glass

As you likely know, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came down hard on the New Orleans Saints yesterday for their malfeasance in instituting and funding a bounty system on opposing players. The jaw-dropping move was suspending Saints coach Sean Payton for an entire year, without pay.

The news is a fiesta for the water cooler, especially here in Minnesota, where there's a sense that what the Saints did to Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship game was instrumental in denying the Vikings a chance at another trip to the Super Bowl. It's impossible to know, really, but as a somewhat disinterested observer it's easy to understand why Vikings fans would feel that way.

Goodell likely had ulterior motives in coming down so hard on the team. The issue of player safety has never been more prominent in my lifetime and the pending lawsuit against the NFL by former players had to be top of mind for Goodell and his fellow honchoes. The NFL is ever mindful of public relations and if they had not come down hard in this instance, the lawyers for the former players certainly would have been asking some uncomfortable questions.

That said, sometimes the savvy p.r. move is actually the right move. The people who play in the National Football League are by definition making a bit of a Faustian bargain when they participate in the game -- it's just not healthy to get hit repeatedly by world-class athletes traveling at high rates of speed. Most players understand that, but the price is nasty later in life, as people like Dave Duerson found out. Duerson, one of the best defenders on the great Chicago Bears teams of the 1980s, committed suicide last year. He had specifically asked before he died that his brain be tested, and the test results showed that he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That's a tough thing to face and it was more than Duerson could apparently handle.

To the extent such things are baked into the game, there's only so much the NFL can do to mitigate the damage. But what it can do is ensure that institutionalized malfeasance gets dealt with severely. The Saints fans might be complaining about it, but in the end all of us who enjoy watching a violent game should applaud Goodell for not sparing the Saints.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I.D.'ing the Problem II -- The Street Where You Live

I did not vote in the 1992 presidential election. And there's a tale behind it that relates to the post from earlier today.

From the summer of 1987 through the fall of 1992, I lived in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Mrs. D and I moved to Minnesota in the fall of 1992. We moved into our apartment on Sunday, November 1. We signed a 1-year lease for an apartment (in St. Paul, near Macalester College) that day and paid our rent and a security deposit. We would get new identification as Minnesotans shortly thereafter.

Election Day fell on November 3, 1992. We assumed that we were not yet eligible to vote in Minnesota, because we had just arrived. We could have voted absentee back in Oak Park, but we thought that would be the wrong thing to do, because we didn't want to cast our vote in a place where we no longer lived. I had an excellent understanding of the candidates on the ballot back in Oak Park, including my then-Congressional Rep, Cardiss Collins. But it hardly seemed appropriate to weigh in on her performance in office when I was no longer her constituent.

Should we have voted in Minnesota? Some would argue that yes, we had a right to vote. We could have had someone, maybe even our landlord, vouch for us at the polling place, because we had signed a 1-year lease. In order to vote in Minnesota, you are supposed to have lived at your current address for 30 days. While we had not been in place long enough under state law to be eligible, from what I have learned we likely would have gotten by with voting that day if we'd had someone vouch for us, especially since we had a signed lease in our possession.

We both thought it would have been irresponsible to vote, though, given the circumstances. I didn't know anything about the candidates on the ballot, other than the candidates for the presidency. If I had voted that day, I would not have known enough to make an informed decision. My new congressman was the late Bruce Vento, about whom I knew nothing. His opponent that day was a University of Minnesota professor named Ian Maitland, about whom I also knew nothing. Based on the party label alone, I would have likely voted for Maitland, but I wouldn't have been able to explain why. Should you vote for someone if you know nothing about them? I thought not. And now, 20 years on, it still seems like the right decision.

As it happened, Mrs. D and I lived in that apartment in St. Paul for over 2 years. When we got to the 1994 election, I had learned plenty about Bruce Vento and felt quite comfortable and justified in voting for Vento's opponent in that election.

So why bring this up? I think we need to taking voting more seriously. Let's be clear -- I understand why people bristle when you argue that voting is a privilege, rather than a right. If you are a naturalized American citizen over the age of 18, yes, you have a right to vote. But I will always believe that you need to treat your vote as precious and understand that when someone says it's a privilege to vote, they are saying something important about the meaning of voting. In the United States, voting is actually consequential. Your vote does matter and does get counted. Elections have turned on a single vote.

And this is why residency is an important part of voting. People should have an interest in what happens at the local level in the place that they live. They should learn what the issues are, understand who represents them and cast their votes based on their judgment of how the candidates are likely to perform in office and how they will represent local interests. Now, I suppose it is possible that some people who tend to be a little more transient are keen observers of the political scene. I also suppose that a person who moves 4-5 times a year might understand enough about the candidates on the ballot to make an informed decision on the relative merits of the candidates. But let's be honest about it -- the chances are good that the ballot cast would likely be based on party ideology, rather than the actual merits of the candidate.

That doesn't bother a lot of people, apparently. They are less concerned about the thinking behind the vote than making sure the vote is counted. Perhaps that's how we ought to view the matter, but it doesn't seem right to me. Does it seem right to you?

I.D.'ing the Problem

It was a long debate, but the Minnesota House finally approved putting Voter I.D. on the ballot as a constitutional amendment yesterday. If the Senate approves later in the week, the final vote could come by the end of the week.

The discussions over Voter I.D. are particularly irritating because they never really get to the heart of the issue. The problem that no one really wants to face is why having a valid identification is such a problem for a lot of people -- one reason in particular is something no one wants to discuss. If you move around a lot, there are a lot of costs involved in keeping your identification up to date.

You have to renew your driver's license in Minnesota once every four years. I paid $24 for a renewal last year. If you move, you need to pay $13.50 for an update. As a practical matter, a lot of people don't want to bother with that cost and don't get a replacement license each time they move.

Why is this? Neither side wants to admit it, but there are some people who live in Minnesota who move a lot. Renters are one class, but there are rather a lot of people who bounce around from place to place and really don't have a fixed address. Someone I know very well works in a public sector job. In the course of doing her job, she is often required to ask people for identification. She has told me that on a daily basis, presenting a current i.d. is a problem for some people. When she inquires, as she must, if the address on the identification card is current, the answer is often "no, I live someplace else now" or "I live over South" (that would be South Minneapolis) or somesuch. In a surprising, and mildly alarming, number of cases, the individuals don't bother carrying a driver's license at all, which is especially interesting since the place my public sector confidante works is in a suburban location in which the vast majority of visitors arrive via car.

So what is the problem? Is it the fee structure for getting an i.d.? Is it the hassle of taking time out of work to get to the DMV? Is it just laziness? Are a lot of people going Galt and resisting the entreaties of their government? Do some people simply resent having to show their papers, please? Or are a lot of people living here without identification because they are here illegally?

Those are questions that I can't answer. And a lot of those questions are ones that we are hesitant to ask in a polite society. While I am convinced that the primary reason the DFL doesn't want Photo I.D. is because it makes it easier to cheat, we still need to address the mechanisms involved in getting proper identification.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Ethics of Ethics Charges

It's a scandal, I tells ya!

A pair of DFL legislators on Monday charged that a top Senate Republican lied about his knowledge of an affair between a staffer and former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and brought the Senate into "dishonor and disrepute."

In an ethics complaint filed against Sen. Geoff Michel, the former deputy Senate majority leader, the Democrats raise charges stemming from Republicans' handling of Koch's relationship with former staffer Michael Brodkorb. In December, announcing Koch's decision to resign from her leadership post, Michel said he had only recently learned of the relationship, but he later admitted he had known about the relationship for months.

Ooh, that is bad. Politicians never shade the truth during a press availability.

Seriously? That's it? No wait, there's more:

Michel, an Edina Republican who lost his leadership post in the wake of the episode, said the complaint is "about politics and payback and has nothing to do with ethics. The DFL wants a few more headlines."

Said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook: "It appears like he was trying to execute a coverup."

A coverup of what, precisely? The affair itself? His knowledge of the affair? Was he supposed to tell someone the minute he learned about it? If so, who? Is there some sort of father-confessor that needs to learn about such things?

So what's the point of it, really? Do these investigations and tribunals and kabuki actually improve the functioning of the Senate? Or are they simply a waste of time of a particularly self-indulgent sort? Well, it's really about payback:

Bakk and Pappas said Michel should publicly apologize on the Senate floor. Such acts of contrition are not unheard of in the Legislature. In 2006, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, apologized on the Senate floor to settle an ethics complaint lodged over incorrect statements he made about the state Supreme Court's intent to act on gay marriage issues. Michel was one of the signers of that complaint.

At some point you need to ask those sorts of basic questions. And then you have to ask another question -- what does "ethics" mean in this context? It's ludicrous on its face to say that Michel brought the Senate into "dishonor and disrepute" in this instance. Anyone who deals with state government beyond the level of a high school civics class understands that however lofty the goals of an institution, it will fall short in nearly all instances, because every institution we have requires the presence of human beings, who are fallible.

It's long been the case that ethics charges are less about maintaining ethics than conducting the business of political payback by other means. In most cases, the hacks from one party charges the hacks from the other with malfeasance, while dismissing their own malfeasance should payback arise. I would fully expect that, if the DFLers ever regain power, Tom Bakk will do something that could trigger ethics charges and he'll get paid back for this little stunt.

Lather, rinse, repeat. You know what would really be ethical, Sen. Bakk? If you'd stop wasting our time and resources on crap like this.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Real Former Congresswomen of Genius

And another frog notices the scorpion on her back:

"I would have never voted for the final version of the bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic hospitals and Catholic Colleges and Universities to pay for contraception,” Dahlkemper said in a press release sent out by Democrats for Life in November. "We worked hard to prevent abortion funding in health care and to include clear conscience protections for those with moral objections to abortion and contraceptive devices that cause abortion. I trust that the President will honor the commitment he made to those of us who supported final passage."

That would be Kathy Dahlkemper, D-PA, who represented a district in Pennsylvania and got the boot in 2010 in large measure because of her Obamacare vote. And if you think that the President will "honor the commitment he made to those of us who supported final passage," you still haven't seen the scorpion on your own back yet.

Judge Doom

News you can use, and trust me, it will be used:

More than two dozen Wisconsin judges from 16 counties were among the tens of thousands of people who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, according to a newspaper analysis.

The review by Gannett Wisconsin Media found that 29 judges, or about 12 percent of the state's approximately 250 county-level judges, signed the petition, the Sheboygan Press reported Sunday ( ). Milwaukee County had the most judges sign the petition at 11, or about one-fourth of judges in the county.

So why would you do that? If you're supposed to be seen as impartial, what's the justification for being a partisan? Here's one explanation:

"What I did by signing the recall petition is say that the people of Wisconsin should be allowed to vote again for governor," said Milwaukee County Judge Charles F. Kahn Jr. "I did not support any candidate and I did not support any political party. This is a substantial and important distinction."
No, actually it's not a "substantial and important distinction." Kahn knows that the governor serves a 4-year term and will certainly face the voters again in 2014. The reason governors get a four-year term is precisely because they need to be able to do the job without facing imminent re-election campaigns. And let's be blunt here -- only one political party wants the recall, so for Kahn to claim he's not supporting any political party is baked wind.

And if you've been following the case, you also know this:

Still, at least one judge has been under scrutiny. Dane County Judge David Flanagan has been under fire for not disclosing his support of the recall before he issued a temporary restraining order against a Walker-backed voter ID law. The Wisconsin Republican Party has filed a complaint with the state Judicial Commission, arguing that Flanagan should have revealed that he signed the petition.
It should be obvious what the problem is here. In a world where everything is politicized, if the judiciary is seen as politicized, it loses legitimacy. To the extent that at least these judges were honest enough to admit their partisan nature, it's useful information. What's maddening is sophistry of the sort Kahn provides for a justification for his actions. He understands that, as a Milwaukee County judge, there's little chance he'll have to account for his partisanship, but frankly he shouldn't have the chance to rule on anything political on a going forward basis.

Another judge had a better take on the matter:

"When you sign up for this job, to some extent you compromise your ability to express your own political beliefs one way or the other," said Brown County Judge Marc Hammer. "I think if you're asked to judge the conduct of others, you need to be mindful of what your conduct is."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Don't Mess with Rutherford

Don't know if you caught it, but President Obama took a shot at ol' Rutherford B. Hayes, our 19th president and the the guy with the most impressive beard of all the bearded presidents. Our President said:

"One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: 'It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?'" Obama said. "That's why he's not on Mt. Rushmore."

"He's looking backwards, he's not looking forward. He's explaining why we can't do something instead of why we can do something," Obama said. 
Of course, like many things Our President says, it wasn't necessarily true. Cue New York Magazine:

We thought it was a bit unsporting of Obama to attack President Hayes, who is quite unable to respond. So we called up the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, where Nan Card, the curator of manuscripts, was plenty willing to correct Obama's ignorance of White House history. Just as soon as she finished chuckling.

"I've heard that before, and no one ever knows where it came from," Card said of Hayes's alleged phone remark, "but people just keep repeating it and repeating it, so it's out there."

Wait, so Hayes didn't even say the quote that Obama is mocking him for? "No, no," Card confirmed.

So what did Hayes actually say?

She then read aloud a newspaper article from June 29, 1877, which describes Hayes's delight upon first experiencing the magic of the telephone. The Providence Journal story reported that as Hayes listened on the phone, "a gradually increasing smile wreathe[d] his lips and wonder shone in his eyes more and more.” Hayes took the phone from his ear, "looked at it a moment in surprise and remarked, 'That is wonderful.'"

And there's more:

In fact, Card noted, Hayes was not only the first president to have a telephone in the White House, but he was also the first to use the typewriter, and he had Thomas Edison come to the White House to demonstrate the phonograph. "So I think he was pretty much cutting edge," Card insisted, "maybe just the opposite of what President Obama had to say there."

Other than that, nice job, Mr. President. These pictures are from the Rutherford B. Hayes Meme Generator, and there's a bunch more that I found quite amusing. And some that make important points:

Of course, I fully expect that the jokes our president tells in 2152 about Barack Obama will be pretty darned funny, too.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Breaking News from 1858

I really don't want to write about Michael Brodkorb, but since he's not going away quietly, apparently we're going to have to discuss the matter. For those of you who don't know, Brodkorb is a longtime Republican operative who went to work for the Republicans in the state senate in 2011, serving as the communications director for the caucus. At some point during the past year, Brodkorb began an affair with Sen. Amy Koch, who was serving as the Majority Leader.

By the end of the year, the other Republicans in the caucus had enough of this situation and took action. Koch was forced to resign her leadership position and Brodkorb was ashcanned. Now Brodkorb is back with a retinue of lawyers and wants money. And he's willing to expose the Peyton Place that apparently is St. Paul:

Fired Minnesota Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb is threatening to seek sworn statements from legislators and staffers who may have had trysts to prove he was treated differently for having an affair with former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

Brodkorb is a longtime GOP operative whose work as a blogger and strategist played a role in bringing Republicans to power at the Capitol. His attorneys say they are prepared to take sworn depositions from romantically linked legislators and subordinates in order to help his potential gender-discrimination lawsuit. Brodkorb is seeking more than $500,000 in damages and legal costs, and his suit is based on what his attorney called "new and creative" legal reasoning.
Just what we need, "new and creative" legal reasoning. So what are we looking at?

The Senate's private attorney dismissed the former staffer's claims as a fishing expedition. But the allegations got the Capitol rumor mill buzzing over whom, precisely, Brodkorb could identify.

Neither Villaume nor a legal document from Brodkorb's side provided any hint of which lawmakers might face deposition, which would be done privately.
Privately, eh? Yeah, sure. Meanwhile, the grey eminences from both parties would rather not go there:

"Not me," said Steve Sviggum, who replaced Brodkorb. Sviggum served as the House Republican leader and then speaker for more than a decade, until 2006. Asked whether he knew of a single lawmaker other than Koch who had an affair with a staffer, he said: "We are going to let the attorneys handle this. You are pushing me in a way I don't want to go."
As for Sviggum's old DFL sparring partner, Roger Moe?

Roger Moe, a DFLer who served as the Senate majority leader for two decades, also demurred about whether he knew of lawmakers who had sexual relations with staffers during his time.

"If I did, I wouldn't tell you," said Moe, now a lobbyist.

Roger that, Roger. I've seen your caucus and I'd rather not think about the implications of knowing such things. So what is the "new and creative" legal theory behind this walk on the sordid side?

At its heart, Brodkorb's legal case is that he was fired even though female staffers who had affairs with lawmakers were kept on or transferred to other state jobs. Brodkorb said he was treated differently, a case of gender discrimination.

"Similarly situated female legislative employees, from both political parties, were not terminated from their employment positions despite intimate relationships with male legislators," his attorneys said.
Well, that's unfortunate if it's true, but you know what? I don't care. I don't know Michael Brodkorb but he has been a major player here for a long time now. His old blog, Minnesota Democrats Exposed, was very effective in rooting out malfeasance and for that, I am grateful. But it's become evident that Brodkorb has lost his perspective here. The reason he went to St. Paul in the first place was to be a reformer. You can't be a reformer with your pants around your ankles.

We've dealt with louts for as long as I can remember. I'm old enough to remember the fates of Wilbur Mills and Wayne Hays, to say nothing of more recent examples like Gary Hart, Anthony Weiner, Mark Foley and countless others. The problem has never been the shtupping per se -- the problem is the abuse of power involved. I suppose it's a measure of progress that we now have female politicians behaving as badly as their male counterparts, but it doesn't excuse any of it. And rather than find out who else has been making the beast with two backs, I'd rather that those involved would just go away.

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome IV -- He Said, She Said

Orphans rarely have so many parents as the Vikings stadium seems to have. Or not have. One thing is certain -- neither party seems to want to own the vote to move the project forward:

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the lead Senate stadium author, said a Senate panel Wednesday could not pass the proposal because DFL senators changed their votes at the last minute.

In a new twist on the politics surrounding the stadium project, Rosen said it was DFLers on the panel who had suddenly switched their votes. “People changed their votes. [It] came down from leadership – wasn’t on our side,” she said.

That darn DFL. But on the port side of the aisle, Tom Bakk says nyet:

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk disputed what happened. Bakk said he was willing to pledge four DFL votes on the 14-member Senate Local Government and Elections Committee for the proposal. Republicans, who hold eight seats on the panel, were only willing to put up three votes, he said.

“I have six members of the committee. I was willing yesterday to put up four votes – half of what it would have taken to pass the bill along,” said Bakk.

“They were only willing to put up three votes [out] of their eight committee members,” he said. “They have eight members, and they can only find three?

“Why would I put up the majority of the votes? I didn’t write the bill,” said Bakk. “If I’m going to put up the majority of the votes, then I want to write the bill.”

Which leads to the question that never gets asked in these situations. What's stopping you from writing the bill, Senator? Go ahead and write the bill.

What we have here is a variation of the Prisoner's Dilemma. Politicians on both sides of the aisle might think it desirable to have a new Vikings stadium, but neither side wants to own the responsibility for it, from a political standpoint. Which leads to yet another question -- why wouldn't you want to own the bill, if you think it's desirable?

It's not that complicated, really. Either we value the bread and circuses enough to fund them, or we don't.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome III - False Start

It didn't go so well for Vikings stadium supporters at the Capitol yesterday:

Negotiators for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium scrambled to rework the plan Wednesday after it stalled in a crucial first committee hearing amid bipartisan complaints that the proposal remains deeply flawed.

The setback came days after the nearly $1 billion project's highly anticipated unveiling, leaving DFL Gov. Mark Dayton -- the stadium's biggest State Capitol backer -- blasting Republicans and stadium opponents for doing "hatchet work" on the legislation and not saying what they would support.
Well, that's what tends to happen when you roll out an incoherent project, Governor. So what to do? Turn Kurt Zellers into Emmanuel Goldstein, that's what:

The proposal's swift struggles shifted the spotlight to Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who now could single-handedly scuttle the legislation if he does not approve a procedural exemption by late Friday. Zellers has said he would not grant the stadium proposal any special legislative favors in the House, where it is sitting with no committee hearing scheduled.

Zellers said he would wait until Friday to decide the stadium's fate.

By not acting, Zellers could slam the door shut on a stadium deal this session, likely renewing speculation that the Vikings owners could push to move the team.

We need a photo opportunity, we need a procedural exemption, or else we'll end up in a cartoon graveyard, apparently. And Dayton doesn't find this stuff amusing:

"It gets to be, really, the theater of the absurd," said Dayton, who appeared visibly frustrated.
No, Governor. What's absurd is rolling out a project without a reliable funding mechanism or even the buy-in of others who need to support it to go forward. The electronic pulltabs are not going to be a panacea, which led to a classic "dog ate my homework" moment during the hearing:

Sen. Julie Rosen, the chief Senate stadium proposal sponsor, conceded that negotiators were scrambling to come up with a backup plan in case charitable gambling revenue fell short. The financial uncertainty came amid criticism from charitable gambling organizations that want more tax relief in the legislation, which could further reduce the state's take.

"In the event that not enough people gamble, what is the backup plan?" asked Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, who has co-authored a rival proposal to give the Vikings only a state loan for the project.

"We're working on that," said Rosen, R-Fairmont.

She said perhaps a sports memorabilia tax or a special state lottery game for the stadium would "blink on" in case new gambling revenue falls short.

So the revenue fairy and the magic unicorns need to take the field. Meanwhile, R. T. Rybak is having trouble getting the votes he needs on the Minneapolis City Council:

In a sign of the multitude of problems facing the project, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak acknowledged that he also did not yet have a majority of the City Council supporting the project.

"We have some support," the mayor said. "We need a little more support."
Yep. And John McCain needed a little more support in 2008, too.

This is getting embarrassing. There's a lot more at the link.

Take it to the bridge

It's a done deal:

President Obama signed legislation Wednesday authorizing construction of the long-awaited St. Croix River bridge, ending decades of debate, planning and litigation with the stroke of a pen.

The president's signature comes two weeks after Congress gave the needed environmental clearances for the $690 million project, the largest public works project in state history.

Not that there wasn't some heartache involved, especially on the DFL side:

"Basically, the bill is done, and the bridge will be built," said U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who authored the final legislation granting the project an exemption from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a landmark environmental law authored by her political mentor, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
The strange tag team that brought this thing to fruition consisted of Klobuchar, Al Franken and Michele Bachmann. Among those opposed were Mondale, Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison. A few thoughts:

  • I came to Minnesota at the end of 1992. Throughout those 20 years, this bridge project has been an ongoing debate. Had the bridge been built at any point before now, the project would have cost significantly less than it will cost now.
  • The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was the main bulwark for the environmentalists who have been blocking the project. It's always struck me as strange that this law would even apply here. If you look at the artist's rendering of the bridge that accompanies the Star Tribune article, you'll note a feature on the Minnesota side of the river -- the giant smokestack that accompanies a power plant. You can see that smokestack in Stillwater and you can see it when you cross the I-94 bridge, some six miles to the south. The St. Croix has always been a working river -- millions of logs were sent down the river to Stillwater in the late 1800s and early 1900s, so it was passing strange that this law even applied to the St. Croix.
  • Life will improve immeasurably for people living in Stillwater. The Lift Bridge has been antiquated for at least 40 years and it pulled massive traffic through the downtown area, much of which was bound for the Twin Cities and beyond. The new bridge will take the huge trucks out of Stillwater.
  • Some are grumbling that the primary purpose of the bridge is to make development in western Wisconsin easier. Certainly it will, but it doesn't mean that Minnesota necessarily will lose business or population to Wisconsin. We can do rather a lot of things to keep businesses and people on the Minnesota side of the bridge, but it will mean improving the business climate so that Minnesota can compete. Competition is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More tomorrow

Three things to mention:

The St. Croix bridge is on the way.

The Vikings stadium is going nowhere.

Breaking news from December, 2011.

I'll probably write about one, or maybe two of these tomorrow. The two things that actually matter, that is.

Deep South

Rick Santorum wins Alabama and Mississippi. What does it mean?

  • It should mean that Newt Gingrich is out. He's enough of an egotist that he might want to stick in there for a while longer, but there is no way he can win and I assume he realizes that.
  • Mitt Romney hasn't clinched the deal yet by any means. Some people argue that a Mormon can't win in the South, but not that long ago many of the same people argued that a Catholic can't win in the South, either. In my experience, southerners are a little more (ahem) nuanced in their thinking than they get credit for, especially among northerners. We all have our biases; some biases are more socially acceptable at cocktail parties. Northerners, especially northern liberals, prefer to ignore their biases, but that doesn't mean the biases aren't present. All other things being equal, a southern conservative might prefer a Catholic candidate to a Mormon candidate, but in this instance I think the difference is that Santorum is a lot closer to social conservative issues than Romney is. And if Romney eventually wins the nomination, the notion that conservative southerners would not vote for him is ludicrous, especially given the alternative.
  • Since the general election is going to turn on economic issues, Romney still has a better chance of winning the GOP nomination, and the election, than Santorum does. Although I would say this -- if this gets to be essentially a two-man race, Romney could be in trouble.
  • Santorum has turned out to be a much better candidate than I ever thought was possible. About my only exposure to him in the past was occasionally hearing him as a guest host on Bill Bennett's morning radio show. He was terrible at it, so I assumed he wouldn't be able to connect with voters out on the hustings. That has not turned out to be the case.
  • Ron Paul will keep plugging along, because it's about all he has to do at this point. He'll keep collecting delegates here and there and will eventually extract something from the nominee. To my mind, that's a good thing, because the issues he raises need to be part of the conversation.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I've been told rather a lot lately that President Obama is cruising to re-election, so this seems a little, ahem, counterintuitive:

(CBS News) President Obama's approval rating has hit the lowest level ever in CBS News polling, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times survey. The drop may be partially attributable to rising gas prices.

Just 41 percent of Americans approve of the job Mr. Obama is doing as president, according to the poll, conducted from March 7 to 11. Another 47 percent disapprove of his performance, up from 41 percent last month.

Mr. Obama's approval rating was 50 percent last month.
Considering how we've spent the better part of two weeks learning that the greatest threat to the nation is what Rush Limbaugh says about law students, there must be another reason: And it's the obvious one:

The average U.S. price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped 12 cents over the past two weeks. The poll found that most Americans, 54 percent, believe gas prices are something a president can do a lot about.

Americans have historically felt that a president can control gas prices, though experts attribute changes to a variety of factors, many outside of a president's control. They also felt this way when gas prices spiked during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
I believe this is what they call being hoist on one's own petard. A few guesses on what is happening:

  • In large measure, people decided what they thought about Barack Obama a long time ago. This is why his campaign has largely been about demonizing the other guys.
  • I agree that gas prices are largely beyond a president's control, but symbolically Obama has made some bad decisions. Scuttling the Keystone XL pipeline was stupid, because it reinforced a lot of other messages, especially concerning energy policy generally. Much of what we thought we knew in 2009 turns out to be not so true, especially concerning (a) the promise of "green jobs" and (b) the available supply of oil.
  • While the folks screaming about the supposed "war on women" are loud, they don't necessarily speak for as many people as it might appear. The recent discussions about forcing Catholic employers to provide contraception is a reminder to people that Obamacare is coming. People may not talk about it on a day-to-day basis, but they haven't forgotten about it, either.

Not even a Jackson on the nightstand

Will you still love me tomorrow? Arlen Specter found out:

Former Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) writes in a new book that President Obama ditched him in the 2010 election after he helped Obama win the biggest legislative victory of his term by passing healthcare reform.

Specter also claims that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did not uphold his promise to grant him seniority accrued over 28 years of service in the Senate as a Republican.

Well, once they had your vote, Arlen, you were just another backbencher. The article we quote is from The Hill and it is comedy gold. You should read the whole thing, but here are the two key things. First, here's what Specter got for switching parties:

Specter believes Reid acted with “duplicity” while managing the party switch. Specter said Reid promised him that he would be recognized on the seniority list as a Democrat elected in 1980, but failed to deliver on it.

Had Specter been given the seniority he was promised, he would have become chairman of the powerful Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee and next in line to chair the Judiciary Committee.

Instead, Reid stripped Specter of all his seniority by passing a short resolution by unanimous consent in a nearly-empty chamber, burying him at the bottom of the Democrats’ seniority list.

Specter found out about it after his press secretary emailed him a press account of the switch. Specter was floored that Reid had “violated a fundamental Senate practice to give personal notice to a senator directly affected by the substance of a unanimous consent agreement.”

What fun would that have been? Meanwhile, there's this jaw-dropping assertion concerning conversations Specter claims to have had with Bob Dole:

Dole, who served as Senate Republican leader from 1985 to 1996, was initially angry with Specter but then told him he made the right decision.
Specter recounted a long conversation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center 18 months after the switch.

“Dole told me I had done the right thing, that I had done a terrific job as a senator, been involved in a lot of projects, been very active, and hadn’t gotten credit for a lot of the stuff I had done,” he wrote.

“I said, ‘Bob, I think that it’s very meaningful when you say that I did the right thing, in the party change.’

“He said, ‘Well,’ and then paused and thought for a few seconds. Then he said, ‘I probably would have done the same thing.’ ”
Sure he would have, Arlen.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bensterology -- Benster and D Pick Your NCAA Brackets, Baby!

Okay, so we've all heard of "Bracketology," the made-up term for professional dorks who spend their lives analyzing college hoops for a living. This is an exciting development for socially challenged dudes who now get out of their parent's basement and onto ESPN. Well, I'm not a professional dork. As a high school superstar, I'm still a dork in training, but let me tell you this, old dude -- I can pick the games with the best of the dorks!

That's true. You did win the office pool last year. Stunned and amazed my coworkers, as I recall.

And I hear they are really bitter about it. Enraged, even. But this time, because I'm such a good and giving person, I'm going to share a little bit of wisdom with the vast Dilettante Nation audience! Why? Because I can. Watch me work!

South Region! This is the region where the University of Kentucky "Cheating" Wildcats are the #1 seed. John Calipari is well known for leaving programs about a half-hour before they go on multi-year probation for recruiting violations. Of course, by going to Kentucky, he can continue a proud tradition of cheating weaseldom, dating back to that old racist dude, Adolph Rupp.

You keep ripping on Kentucky that way and they won't even let you eat Kentucky Fried Chicken any more, young fella.

Oh, I'm not done with them yet, Geritol Fan! This year's Kentucky team has a stellar 32-2 record, with almost all underclassmen playing the key roles. And that is where the problem is. Anthony Davis is a stud. There's no question about that. But can he handle the pressure of leadership with so much youth on the team? And how about their 7-man rotation? Will that be able to hold up against deep teams like the hated Dukies? And look who is waiting for them, potentially, in the second round? An athletic Iowa State team, featuring former Hopkins stud/Dinkytown Police favorite Royce White, with a potential matchup against Indiana following that. You might recall that Indiana dealt the Fighting Caliparis a loss earlier this season. And if they get through all of that, it's the Dukies or perhaps a freakishly athletic Baylor team. Can Kentucky run that gauntlet. The word here is NO. My pick to emerge -- DUKE.

I don't like Kentucky much, either. But I think they have more talent than anyone else in the region. I'll go with Kentucky.

West Region! Hey look, it's our old pal Sparty! And the Spartans are playing very well right now. They steamrolled through the Big Ten tournament and got a #1 seed. There are some tough teams in this bracket, including some teams that will be tough matchups for the Spartans. The #2 and #3 seeds are Mizzou and Marquette, both very tough, guard-oriented teams. The Tigers come at you in waves, with four guys who score in double figures and approximately 7 members of the Pressey family. The old dude tells me that Paul Pressey, the father of the various Presseys who play for Mizzou, was a heck of a player in his day. So you have to worry about the Tigers. As for Marquette, they have the Big East Player of the Year in Jae Crowder and a really tough, smart lead guard in Darius Johnson-Odom. This is the best team that Buzz Williams has had at MU and compares well to the Dwayne Wade team that made the Final Four in '03. Sparty is rock solid, as always, and Draymond Green has been a special player this year, but I'm not sure they match up well enough with my pick. My pick to emerge -- MARQUETTE.

I could see my beloved MU squad pulling it off, too, but I like Missouri in this region. If Sparty has a weakness, it is at guard. Mizzou is loaded with guards. And in the tournament, guards can carry a team to a championship. See Kemba Walker for an example. I'll go with Mizzou.

East Region! The #1 seed here is Syracuse, which has had a very good season while dodging various scandals that mostly relate to events that happened there years ago. I don't think Syracuse can make it out of their region this time, because while their defense has caused problems for most of their opponents this season, the team I favor will have the skills to deal with the matchup zone. That team would be Florida State. I've seen the Seminoles in action a few times this year and I've been impressed. Not too many teams stroll into Cameron Indoor Stadium and face down the Dukies, but the Seminoles did it. Not too many teams beat Carolina. But the Seminoles did that, twice. You might notice some similarities between this team and the team I picked to win it all last year, the UConn Huskies. They both played really tough down the stretch and have a player who is insanely clutch. Last year we saw Kemba Walker own everyone. This year, meet Seminole star Michael Snaer. This dude is a cold-blooded assassin. He shot down the Dukies at the buzzer and had the game of his life against North Carolina. This kid should make every coach shake in their boots. Or at least their really expensive suits. This team is dangerous and I can see Snaer launching a game-winner right over the top of the Syracuse matchup zone. My pick to emerge -- FLORIDA STATE.

This the region where the Badgers play. This is not the best Wisconsin team but I could see a potential run because Jordan Taylor can take over games. The problem for the Badgers is that they run into Vanderbilt early and might not make it past the Commodores. I can see Florida State getting to the regional final, because the #2 seed Ohio State has been up and down this year. In the end, though, I like Syracuse, although the young fella makes a pretty good argument. I'll go with Syracuse.

Midwest Region! This region, to me, looks like the weakest of the four. North Carolina is the #1 seed and is a quality team with a solid front line, but the rest of the top four seeds are suspect. I have not been convinced that Kansas is that good and Georgetown is the weakest #3 seed in the field, while Michigan might be a #6 seed cleverly disguised as a #4. Ordinarily, with a field like that, you might expect upsets in this region, but I'm having a hard time finding them. If you're looking for a big upset, watch out for Belmont against Georgetown. That could happen. I also wouldn't be surprised to see San Diego State get to the Sweet 16. I'd also warn Kansas not to sleep on St. Mary's. But realistically, none of that is going to matter much, because Carolina is clearly the class of the region. My pick to emerge -- NORTH CAROLINA.

Hard to argue with any of that. Carolina is the best team here and it's not close. I'll go with North Carolina.

So here you go -- the Benster Final Four goes like this:


Meanwhile, Decrepit has picked:


We'll come back and take another look at things after the weekend, including actual picks of Sweet 16 games and more wisdom from yours truly. But for now, Ben out!

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome III -- Charters and Their Discontents

One of the primary hurdles concerning the attempted stampede going on for a new stadium is a provision in Minneapolis city charter, which states that the city cannot commit more than $10 million to a stadium project without a referendum. Writing for the Star Tribune, reporter Eric Roper finds the original sponsor of the provision in an unusual place:

In his backwoods sanctuary more than 200 miles north of Minneapolis, Bob Greenberg was rousted from his hunter-gatherer lifestyle earlier this month when politicians announced plans to subsidize a new Vikings stadium without a vote of the people.

The news brought Greenberg back to his former life, when he wrote the city charter amendment that now poses the greatest hurdle to supporters of a Vikings stadium in Minneapolis -- mandating a citywide vote on stadium subsidies of $10 million or more. Seventy percent of city voters approved that language in 1997 during talks of a new Twins ballpark, but it now faces its first real test as the Legislature considers a bill to ignore it altogether.

"I did not write this charter amendment to prevent the building of a stadium," said Greenberg, a former Twin Cities activist who moved into a woodland tent two years ago and lives off the land, including roadkill. "But only to force the city to put it before the voters."

Now, fifteen years on, R. T. Rybak wants to turn this charter provision into roadkill.

Can the city simply bypass the provision? Some argue it can be done and cite a path. Back to the Star Tribune:

City voters have resisted stadium subsidies before. In 1973, they approved a charter amendment meant to prevent city funding of what would become the Metrodome.

The prohibition of city bonding for more than $15 million on infrastructure projects without a referendum -- which remains in the charter -- was later skirted by issuing the bonds through separate agencies.

The ineffectiveness of that 1973 amendment arose during a committee discussion of the 1997 proposal, according to meeting minutes. Carlson felt politicians were circumventing the 1973 amendment and was unhappy to hear the state could override the wishes of city residents. "Carlson was surprised that it seemed to make no difference what the residents want," the minutes said.
The Carlson quoted in this instance is Barbara Carlson, the ex-wife of former Governor Arne Carlson, who ran a gadfly campaign for mayor back 1997.

This is all a useful history lesson and explains, in large measure, the difference in the disparate treatment Ramsey County got concerning their financing proposals. Since the Minneapolis City Charter is apparently written on Charmin, it can be ignored or bypassed, while the need for a referendum in Ramsey County, it would seem, could not be ignored. You can draw your own conclusions about the larger meaning.