Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Just so you understand

You'd think this would be obvious. You'd be wrong:
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: I find it astonishing that he goes around making speeches in which he deplores the state of the economy, the growing income inequality, chronic unemployment, staggering middle class income, and it's as if he has been a bystander, as if he's been out of the country for the last five years. It's his economy; he's the president.

He's talking as if this is the Bush economy, I don't know, the Eisenhower economy, and he just arrived in a boat and he discovers how bad the economy is. This is a result of the policies he instituted. He gave us the biggest stimulus in the history of the milky way, and he said it would jump start the economy. The result has been the slowest recovery, the worst recovery since World War II, and that is the root of all of the problems he's talking about, the income inequality -- the median income of the middle class of Americans has declined by 5% in his one term. So who's responsible for that? Those were his policies. He talks about this in the abstract and he actually gets away with it in a way that I find absolutely astonishing, it's magical. This is his economy and he's pretending he's just stumbled upon it. And the policies he proposes are exactly the ones he proposed and implemented in the first term.
The he in question is the Leader of the Free World, the most powerful man in the world. But you have to understand -- this is Allegory of the Cave stuff. We're watching the shadows on the wall. You're not supposed to mention the last 4-5 years. Don't think about Obamacare, or Cash for Clunkers, or Solyndra, or the multiple pivots to the economy. Can't think about any of that. The good news? Krauthammer works for Faux News, so he can be ignored. And if you're to pay attention to anything Charles Krauthammer says, it's this observation from 2008:
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously said of Franklin Roosevelt that he had a "second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament." Obama has shown that he is a man of limited experience, questionable convictions, deeply troubling associations (Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, Tony Rezko) and an alarming lack of self-definition -- do you really know who he is and what he believes? Nonetheless, he's got both a first-class intellect and a first-class temperament. That will likely be enough to make him president.

Back to that same old place

Baby, don't you want to go?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed the books on 2012 with $33.4 million in unallocated cash on hand — down from $167 million the year before — while adding to the mountain of debt piled on Chicago taxpayers, year-end audits show.

Last week, Moody’s Investors ordered an unprecedented triple-drop in the city’s bond rating, citing Chicago’s “very large and growing” pension liabilities, “significant” debt service payments, “unrelenting public safety demands” and historic reluctance to raise local taxes that has continued under Emanuel.
It gets worse:
In last week’s report, Moody’s noted that the city’s total fund balance at the close of 2012 was $231.3 million and that Chicago has just $625 million in “leased asset reserves.” Had the city fully funded its $1.5 billion “actuarially required contribution” to its four under-funded city employee pension funds in 2012 alone, “these two reserves would have been entirely depleted,” Moody’s said.

The “unassigned” balance is $33.4 million. Experts recommend a cash cushion of at least $200 million for a budget the size of Chicago’s, according to the Civic Federation. The city ended 2009 with an unallocated checkbook balance of just $2.7 million.

The new round of borrowing brings Chicago’s total long-term debt to nearly $29 billion. That’s $10,780 for every one of the city’s nearly 2.69 million residents. More than a decade ago, the debt load was $9.6 billion or $3,338 per resident.
This is the problem of the blue state model -- you make promises you can't keep and kick the can down the road, hoping that somehow the day of reckoning will stay in the future. It's clear that the day of reckoning is getting close. As usual, Walter Russell Mead sums up the matter well:
It hasn’t all hit the fan quite yet, but Chicago seems perilously close to real trouble. The city is all out of money, and with an imploding public education system and harrowing levels of violence, it is losing residents fast. Illinois, which itself lost more than 800,000 people to out-migration in the past two decades, is essentially Chicago on a larger scale, with hundreds of billions in unfunded pension liabilities and complete political sclerosis. The state cannot bail out Chicago, and judging by the feds’ reluctance to even lift a finger for Detroit, Chicago shouldn’t expect much more.

Stories like these tend to expose the pointlessness of a lot of American political debate. Defenders of the blue social model will prattle on about its many virtues, and they certainly have some accomplishments to point to. But ultimately the blue model is no longer a matter of choice: cities like Detroit and Chicago and states like Illinois will eventually have to shift away from blue policies whether they like them or not. When the money runs out, one of the luxuries you can no longer afford is self-deception.
And of course we're doubling down on all these things in Minnesota. Perhaps it will work out better for us, because we're special.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Say It Ain't So, A-Rod

If you thought the punishment meted out to Ryan Braun was tough, wait'll you see what baseball might do to Alex Rodriguez, according to the New York Daily News:
If Alex Rodriguez is intent on appealing his looming suspension in an effort to stay on the field and protect his contract, commissioner Bud Selig is prepared to throw the book at the steroid-stained Yankee by invoking one of his office’s most extreme privileges — the right to take action against a player to preserve the integrity of the game, the Daily News has learned.

By invoking that rarely used power — embodied in Article XI, Section A1b of the game’s collective bargaining agreement — Selig would attempt to effectively keep Rodriguez from ever returning to the field by bypassing the grievance procedure outlined in the joint drug program MLB operates in conjunction with the Players’ Association, sources told The News.

Rodriguez would be suspended immediately for interfering with MLB’s year-long investigation into Biogenesis, the South Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to the aging infielder and other players, and would later be hit with an additional suspension for violating baseball’s drug program.

MLB investigators believe Rodriguez attempted to intimidate witnesses and purchase incriminating documents to keep them out of the hands of baseball officials.
We're basically in Hal Chase/Shoeless Joe Jackson/Pete Rose territory here. And there's going to be a fight about it, but apparently Selig is willing to go to the mat on this one:
Selig is believed to be so determined to keep Rodriguez from ever stepping on a Major League Baseball field again that he is risking a reopening of the collective bargaining agreement or even a federal court case with his decision to bypass the usual grievance procedures and exercise his power to take action on an issue “involving the preservation of the integrity of, or the maintenance of public confidence in, the game of baseball.”

By basing his treatment of Rodriguez on that clause, Selig is effectively bypassing the arbitration-based procedures in place for doping cases, which are laid out in the Joint Drug Agreement, baseball’s collectively bargained anti-doping policy, and putting the appeals process in his own hands.
I'm ambivalent about all this. I've made the point before; baseball players have always sought an edge and were known for cheating in various ways. Gaylord Perry became a Hall of Fame pitcher in large measure because of his use of the spitball. There is evidence that Babe Ruth used doctored bats. And when it became evident that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were engaged in better living through chemistry through their baseball passion play in 1998, I don't recall MLB offering any refunds to the fans.

While I don't believe A-Rod merits any sympathy, I do think he merits due process. Baseball is going through a moralistic phase right now, similar to what happened in the wake of the Black Sox scandals of the early 1920s. Selig, like all commissioners, wants to be Kenesaw Mountain Landis, but he's on dangerous ground here. If he gets overturned, a lot of bad things could happen to the game.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The kid with the quick hands

I mentioned earlier today that I wanted to write about some different subjects. Unfortunately, what follows wouldn't have been my first choice.

Bob Drexler died yesterday. Bob was Xavier Class of '83, two years younger than me, a classmate and great friend of my brother Pat. Bob was part of a huge family; I think there were at least a dozen Drexler kids and he fell somewhere in the middle of the pack. It seemed like there was a matching Drexler for nearly any kid who attended XHS from about 1975 to around 1990 or so. His older sister Kathy was in my class; his younger sister Margaret was in my brother Paul's class. The Drexlers had certain things in common -- most of the Drexler boys were short, excellent athletes and champion drinkers when they reached maturity, and all the Drexler girls were saintly in comparison.

The first time I got to know Bob was when he was the secret weapon on the St. Joe's basketball team. This would have been about 1976, and Bob was a 6th grader who was talented enough to play with the 8th grade team. I went to St. Mary's and St. Joe's was our arch rival. The two parishes and schools are only about two blocks apart from one another in Appleton, both a block or so from College Avenue, the main drag. Historically, St. Joe's was the German parish in town and St. Mary's was the Irish parish, but by then the distinctions didn't mean very much. My cousins went to St. Joe's and we went to St. Mary's and you got to know most of the St. Joe's kids eventually, because you played with them in the parks and against them in Little League or in the neighborhood pickup games. Bob was a little guy but was an excellent basketball player, because he was exceptionally quick and could steal the ball from your point guard and then sprint down the court for a layup before you realized what had happened.

Our eighth grade coach was Mr. Balliet, whom I wrote about here. As we prepared for the annual holiday game against St. Joe's, much of our strategy concerned how we would deal with Bob Drexler. Mr. B had to caution our guards about Bob and we ran plays to keep the ball away from him. I can still hear Mr. B's voice -- "you have to watch out for that Drexler kid -- he has quick hands!" The game, as usual, was a war and St. Joe's came out on top at the end, in large part because Bob kept stealing the ball. We ended up with a better record in the league that year, but the loss to St. Joe's really hurt.

As always happened, the St. Joe's kids and the St. Mary's kids ended up going to school together at Xavier and all the bitter rivalries would fade. My brothers and I were friends with Bob and some of his brothers, especially his younger brother Paul, who was affectionately known as the Red Scourge for his less than subtle approach with the ladies. We spent a lot of time sharing laughs and beer in the Appleton bars once we got older and Bob and my brother Pat were very close.

As my life began to unfold, I saw less of the Drexlers. They went through good times and sad ones as well -- Kathy, my classmate, ended up being a very young widow, and Bob ended up marrying a gal from Minneapolis named Debbie. Debbie's kid brother is Jonathan Yuhas, the local weather guy, and I remember being amused at seeing Jonathan introducing Bob and his family on television during the State Fair a few years back. Bob had a successful career in logistics and he and Debbie ended up in Delray Beach, Florida, where Bob worked for a large office supply retailer. Yesterday, Debbie and their daughter came back from church and found Bob in their home, unresponsive, either from an asthma attack or a heart attack; we're not sure which. Bob had yet to reach his 50th birthday.

As I write today, we're a long way from Christmas, 1976. I've lost a number of my classmates over the years but for some reason, Bob's death brings me up short in a way that's tough to pin down. Bob was a great guy -- funny, warm, clever and generous. He and his brothers and sisters were an important part of our lives growing up and it never seemed like Bob would leave so soon. It's a reminder that we need to enjoy each day, because tomorrow is not promised. If you're inclined, I'd appreciate it if you'd say a prayer for Debbie and their children. I know I will.


Vacation Mode

I spend a lot of time on politics here, but I've always been ambivalent about it, because I find much of what politicians do distasteful at best. We've been building a leviathan state in this country for the better part of 100 years now, really since the time of Woodrow Wilson, and it's now at the point where things are so sclerotic that the future is going to involve a lot of pain, no matter what course we choose.

It's good to get away from all that and while I'll still be writing about politics a lot, I suspect, I'm going to spend the next few weeks writing about some other things. Our family is going on vacation later this week and we'll have a chance to see a few things we haven't seen before. We'll talk a little about that, but also we'll talk a little bit about what's happening outside of the usual parameters of this blog. We're at a point in our lives where some big changes are afoot and things aren't going to be the same any more, so it doesn't make sense for this blog to remain the same.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Getting ugly in Egypt

There's not a lot of spring left in the Arab Spring:
Egypt's interior minister on Sunday pledged to deal decisively with any attempts to destabilize the country, a thinly veiled warning to supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi occupying two squares in Cairo in a month-long stand-off with the security forces.

The warning came as authorities said that the death toll in weekend clashes between Mohammed Morsi's Islamist backers and security forces near one of those sit-ins had reached 72, in the deadliest single outbreak of violence since the July 3 military coup.

"I assure the people of Egypt that the police are determined to maintain security and safety to their nation and are capable of doing so," Mohammed Ibrahim told a graduation ceremony at the national police academy. "We will very decisively deal with any attempt to undermine stability," said Ibrahim, who is in charge of the police.
Security and safety aren't necessarily what Ibrahim says they are, of course. It's a very dangerous time right now.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Same as it ever was

The New Republic has a history of employing fabulists, so this correction is about par for the course:
This article has been corrected. Zimmerman called various law enforcement officials 46 times, not just 911, as originally stated. He made the calls over an eight-year period, not over the course of 15 months, as originally stated. The original sentence also cited a call Zimmerman made about a seven-year-old boy; the clause has been removed as it implied that Zimmerman was reporting suspicious activity. It appears that Zimmerman made the call out of concern. We regret the errors.
I really don't want to write about the Zimmerman case, but this sort of thing is so endemic that it's obligatory to call it out, especially since I'm still seeing people on my Facebook feed talking about Zimmerman profiling a 7-year-old boy. It's important to note something else; while one could assume a certain confusion between normal police calls and 911 calls, the author of the article, who is a law professor at Stanford University, certainly should know that calling the police non-emergency number about open garage doors and 7-year-old boys wandering around unattended is hardly the, ahem, profile of an, ahem, "an edgy basket case," or that an average of six calls a year to the police is hardly out the the ordinary. So other than arguing from falsehood, it's a pretty good article.

I suppose it would be uncharitable of me to say this, but I suspect that The New Republic regrets getting caught yet again more than they regret the errors. You would think that a magazine that employed Stephen Glass would be able to check easily verifiable facts in an article they published. You would be wrong, of course. 

Having said all that, The New Republic is hardly the only news outlet engaging in this sort of thing, as William Saletan of Slate notes:
Did George Zimmerman get away with murder? That’s what one of his jurors says, according to headlines in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and dozens of other newspapers. Trayvon Martin’s mother and the Martin family’s attorney are trumpeting this “new information” as proof that “George Zimmerman literally got away with murder.”

The reports are based on an ABC News interview with Juror B29, the sole nonwhite juror. She has identified herself only by her first name, Maddy. She’s been framed as the woman who was bullied out of voting to convict Zimmerman. But that’s not true. She stands by the verdict. She yielded to the evidence and the law, not to bullying. She thinks Zimmerman was morally culpable but not legally guilty. And she wants us to distinguish between this trial and larger questions of race and justice.
We're never going to be able to discuss the "larger questions of race and justice" if those orchestrating the discussion aren't willing to report things as they are, rather than as they want them to be. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dopey

In case you weren't paying attention, the War on Drugs is still on. First, the local angle, in which the federales decided that there's something hinky in Hinckley:
Law enforcement agents uncovered fields of marijuana plants in east-central Minnesota worth $4.1 million during one of state’s biggest drug busts in years.

Busloads of agents seized more than 5,500 marijuana plants Wednesday in a predawn raid of land east of Hinckley, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The focus of today’s effort was to locate, document and destroy these plants before they could be harvested and enter the illicit drug market,” Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said in a statement. Officers from local, state and federal agencies executed the federal search warrant.
Meanwhile, in Washington state,  (h/t TalkLeft):
The shelves at the Bayside Collective off of Madrona Beach Road were picked clean of marijuana Wednesday after agents with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided the medical marijuana dispensary with guns drawn about 11 a.m.

Federal agents raided a number of medical marijuana collectives in the Puget Sound region Wednesday, with the majority of the law enforcement activity taking place in King and Pierce Counties, according to local dispensary employees.

The raid at the Bayside Collective was the only one in Thurston County, according to an informal poll of local dispensary owners. Seattle DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
There's a federalism issue here, since marijuana is ostensibly legal in Washington state:
Washington state legalized adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana last fall. And Washington has a law that makes it legal for certain establishments - marijuana "collectives" - to provide marijuana to medical marijuana patients as long as they meet certain criteria.

However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. The Washington State Liquor Control Board is currently working on setting up rules for the distribution of state-authorized recreational marijuana.
Oh, there are so many issues here, more than I can count up in an early morning blog post, but here are just a few:

  • We are throwing enormous resources at interdicting marijuana and we're using quite a lot of lethal force to do it. The guns are drawn in Olympia and there were "busloads" of agents in Hinckley. You can hear a whole lot of bitching about the sequester, but there's little evidence that the War on Drugs is getting short shrift in federal funding.
  • We are going to reach a point soon where the federalism issue comes to a head. I can't imagine that folks in Olympia, or Tacoma or Seattle for that matter, are very happy about the feds going around and trashing establishments that meet state criteria. There's going to be a confrontation about this eventually and there's no guarantee that the resolution will take place across a conference table.
  • While it's generally the case that most people like their marijuana for recreational reasons, there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and there's no point in pretending otherwise. If you were a patron of the Bayside Collective and needed marijuana for a medical reason, the feds are telling you to piss up a rope.
We're coming to a time in which traditional political labels and packaging aren't going to fit. The real conflict that's going to animate our discussion going forward is the battle between those who believe in state power and view initiatives like the War on Drugs as legitimate, and those who believe in limiting the power of the state to send SWAT teams to places like Olympia and Hinckley. You're going to have to choose sides on this one soon, because there's a lot more to the discussion than dope smokin'.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Another good summary

Walter Russell Mead:
There are innumerable variables in the climate system that could be responsible for the warming slowdown. These scientists have identified some of the likeliest culprits, but one professor admitted that they “don’t fully understand the relative importance of these different factors.”

That’s a big problem, considering most green legislation aimed at reducing emissions calls for measures to prevent very specific degrees of warming. This recent warming plateau is exposing our limited understanding of climate, and it’s effectively killing the rationale for green policies that limit growth and, at the most basic level, try to force people to do things they would rather not do. The biggest cause of climate skepticism isn’t evil oil companies and campaigns of disinformation; it is the inability of greens to refrain from overstating their case and insisting dogmatically and self righteously on more certainty than the frustrating facts can give.
More at the link.

A good summary

Guy Benson:
As for the political climate, Republicans introduced a controversial bill; liberal lawmakers fled the state to avoid votes while Leftists occupied the capitol, spewed vile hatred, and leveled chilling threats.  Who is primarily responsible for the incivility in Madison, again?  Livid and defeated, Democrats launched a costly do-over election campaign against Walker, indicting him with some of the objections raised in the editorial above.  When the dust settled, the people of Wisconsin decisively chose to let Governor Hitler McDivisive retain his job.  Walker won by a larger percentage, and with more raw votes, than in his original race.  Now, as their membership craters, Wisconsin’s government unions despair. Behold, the wages of choice.  Government union workers — the very people who opposed Walker most strenuously — have discovered that their membership isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be:  These dues aren’t worth it…I can spend my own money better…buh-bye.  It’s this phenomenon that explains government union bosses’ vituperation and desperation throughout 2011 and 2012.  The anti-Walker hordes weren’t out there for “the children,” or to champion any of the other arguments they trotted out.  The calculation was pretty straightforward and self-interested, really. They knew this law would spell their demise because it would liberate their own people to evaluate the true value of membership, and to say no thanks.  And oh by the way, Walker’s budget reforms have proven to be a demonstrable success, an outcome the Journal-Sentinel editors concede.
More at the link.



Speaking of naming protocols

This thing is more fun than a bag of hammers:

New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has vaguely confirmed allegations from gossip website the Dirty that he sent sexually explicit chat messages and photos to additional women. "I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out, and today they have,” he said in a statement. Later, he admitted in a press conference that some of these liaisons happened after he resigned from Congress in 2011.

One of the specific claims in the Dirty’s reports is that Weiner used a Yahoo account with the pseudonym “Carlos Danger” to email photos of his penis—a fact that Weiner has not confirmed or denied.

Want a fantastic online sobriquet like Carlos Danger? You’re in luck. Type your first and last names into the fields below and click “Get My Name” to find your personal pseudonym.
So I typed my name in and it came up with Efraín Trouble; better still, Benster's name came up as Salvador Badass. Go plug your name in and post it in the comments.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Naming protocol

Actually, no, I don't care about the royal baby. I'm happy for the couple, but all the hoopla is silly. So in that spirit, I import to the blog my list of suggested baby names for the young royal, which I posted on Facebook yesterday:

Sparky
Fielder
Sal
Luther
Spaghetti
Linus
Buford
Shecky
Vader
Inigo
Clyde (Fearless Maria's suggestion)
Dennis the Peasant
Earl Scheib
Bink
Keyser Sose
Dudley
John Ed
Klaus
Pinky
Bootsy
Del
Boris
Ferdinand
Rusty
Chopper

Other good suggestions from the FB comments include:

Gamera
Otis
Squiggly
Bubba
Ponyboy
Chester
SharkNado
Metta World

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Ryan Braun, Gone

The drug cops finally busted Ryan Braun yesterday and he's going to be suspended without pay for the rest of the season. Scott Miller from CBS Sports gives him the what-for:
Monday, I watched Braun accept a suspension without pay for the rest of this season, 65 games and about $3.5 million worth, and lamely say, "As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes."

Fine time to get religion, isn't it? With his Brewers in last place, 18½ games out? Cutting a deal when he's making a mere $8.5 million this summer, before his salary increases to $10 million next year, $12 million the year after that and then leaps to $19 million in 2016?

What we already suspected, but sadly learned beyond reasonable doubt the minute he signed off on this deal, is that Braun is a phony and a liar. And he is the worst kind of liar: the kind who stares straight into your eyes as he's lying to you.
Hard to argue the point. More at the link.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Go figure

Good thing he decided to get out of the car:
George Zimmerman, who has been in hiding since he was acquitted of murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, emerged to help rescue a family who was trapped in an overturned vehicle, police said today.

Zimmerman was one of two men who came to the aid of Dana and Mark Gerstle and their two children, who were trapped inside a blue Ford Explorer SUV that had rolled over after traveling off the highway in Sanford, Fla. at approximately 5:45 p.m. Thursday, the Seminole County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The crash occurred at the intersection of I-4 and route Route 46, police said. The crash site is less than a mile from where Zimmerman shot Martin.

By the time police arrived, two people - including Zimmerman - had already helped the family get out of the overturned car, the sheriff's office said. No one was reported to be injured.

Zimmerman was not a witness to the crash and left after speaking with the deputy, police said.
Meanwhile, the article also explains why he's been in hiding:
An indication of the animosity toward Zimmerman is the number of threatening phone calls being received by a woman in Winter Park, Fla.

Lori Tankel told ABCNews.com that someone had incorrectly posted her cell phone number online thinking it was Zimmerman's. She said she started receiving threatening calls within an hour after the jury had reached a verdict on July 13.

"They were saying things like, 'Zimmerman? Is this George? We're going to get you, we're going to kill you,'" she said.

Her cell phone number is only one digit off from Zimmerman's, she said.

Tankel said she received at least 80 phone calls within one day of the jury's not guilty verdict. While the threats died down during the week, she said they ramped right back up again on Friday and continued through the weekend.

"Those phone calls were extremely malicious," she said. "I think at that point, they kind of knew it wasn't George Zimmerman's number, but they were still going to harass me."
I suppose they were, ma'am.

Silver Connection

Ordinarily a personnel move among the various organs of Big Media isn't particularly interesting, but this one is very interesting for a number of reasons -- Nate Silver, perhaps America's most famous stat guy, is leaving the New York Times for ESPN:
At ESPN, Mr. Silver is expected to have a wide-ranging portfolio. Along with his writing and number-crunching, he will most likely be a regular contributor to “Olbermann,” the late-night ESPN2 talk show hosted by Keith Olbermann that will have its debut at the end of August. In political years, he will also have a role at ABC News, which is owned by Disney.

An ESPN spokeswoman declined to comment on Friday night. Mr. Silver declined to comment. The employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Silver’s deal could be announced as soon as Monday.
Silver's main claim to fame relates to his essentially calling the results of the last two presidential elections, along with most of the results of the downticket races as well. What's particularly surprising is that he's throwing in with Olbermann, who might be the biggest ego in an industry that's filled with titanic ones.

The move tells you a couple of things, I suspect. A few thoughts:

  • The New York Times might still have tremendous prestige in certain quarters of this nation, but a defection of this magnitude is a bad sign. The Times once was able to keep its top talent around; perhaps that's no longer the case.
  • Despite protestations to the contrary, Olbermann is clearly going to be bringing his politics to ESPN. 
  • ESPN has become increasingly problematic over the years, mostly because they've become too powerful in the sports world. I enjoy several of their programs quite a lot, especially Baseball Tonight, along with their usual game coverage. They have let politics enter into the equation more often than I'd prefer, but day to day they don't go into the subject much and mostly stick to sports. If that's changing, it would be even more problematic.
  • While the political views of most sports fans vary widely, it's always a good bet to assume that sports journalists are going to be lefties. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that sports, especially professional sports, are often in bed with big government. Every major sports pundit in the Twin Cities was shilling for a new Vikings stadium and they all were shilling for Target Field, Xcel Energy Center and Target Center before that.
  • It's worth watching whether the creeping politicization of ESPN hurts their business. I watch sports for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important is that it provides a break from the politicization that you find in so many other parts of our lives. ESPN is going to be getting some new competitors soon, most notably the NBC Sports Network and the new Fox venture. Is adding a political component the right bet? 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Housekeeping

Dinking around with the template again -- Elmer Gantry had a nice run, but it's time for something different. Not sure I'll stay with the Surrender Dorothy for long, but we'll see. Will probably do a little sidebar pruning, too -- a few blogs are going dead and there are others that I might add. As always, we're here to serve.

Motor City Kitty

The problem with Detroit is pretty simple -- the city doesn't have any money. And a lot of people want what little money there is. Walter Russell Mead explains it well:
Detroit’s situation seems almost unprecedented, and it’s not clear how the city can best respond to it. The unions’ biggest problem is that Detroit simply cannot pay their pension claims without destroying city services. Detroit doesn’t have the money to provide even minimal services to its current population while paying off the large numbers of retired workers, many of whom hail from times when the city was larger and richer.
And as long as Detroit can't pay for minimal services, especially police and fire protection, very few people will want to live or do business there. Back to Mead:
Because there is no money, there is no solution that gives the unions the relief they seek.  Total obedience to the state constitutional mandate might not be possible, and that’s a problem. The government can pass a law saying that everyone has a constitutional right to a free trip to the moon, but if it doesn’t build the spacecraft that can get you there the right is void.
The mandate that Mead discusses is a provision in the Michigan state constitution that prohibits cutting promised pensions to municipal workers. However, no right is void if there's a way to make someone else pay for it, which is why it's a certainty that Detroit will be coming to Washington for relief. If such relief is given, Washington won't be in a position to turn away Chicago, or the State of California, or any other entity that asks for similar relief. And while these other entities may not be ready to ask yet, they will be coming; Detroit's situation might be more dire than it is elsewhere, but the dynamics are the same. And since the federal government is only $17 trillion in debt, you have to wonder where it's going to come up with the money. I think we know the answer, by the way -- it won't. Or perhaps we'll have dollars like Weimar Republic deutschmarks. Or both.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

il miglior fabbro due

The estimable First Ringer, doing the job that needs to be done. Just click the link, m'kay?

il miglior fabbro and the Macguffin

Elizabeth Scalia makes the salient point about Obama's speech:
But then I read his remarks, and watched the video, and found myself agreeing with much of it. It might be the best speech President Obama has made about anything, in a while. I agree with Chris Wallace (and Zimmerman’s brother) that this wasn’t stoking racial tensions or trying to further divide. In watching the videotape, I was actually touched by some of it, and Obama has never touched me, before.

And yet….

And yet….

A part of me cannot help but think that the only reason President Obama addressed this story so personally today was to get these other headlines off the table, and thrown down into the memory hole:
Scalia doesn't enjoy being cynical. Actually, in my experience I think very few people enjoy being cynics. But it's long been evident that cynics hold a lot of sway in the world and Barack Obama is one of the boldest cynics I've ever seen.

I use the title "il miglior fabbro" for posts in which someone wrote something that states a point so well that it tops anything I might write on the subject. While I don't agree with some of Scalia's conclusions about the case, the piece is very good and well worth the click. I would be remiss if I didn't add that the list o' links Scalia provides is far more important to read.

The Zimmerman trial is what Alfred Hitchcock called the "Macguffin," something that moves the narrative but ultimately doesn't mean much in the larger scheme of things. Hitchcock used MacGuffins in many of his movies, but one of the best recent examples is the glowing briefcase from the 1994 film Pulp Fiction:



Everyone is quite concerned about the glowing briefcase, but it has virtually nothing to do with what happens in the movie. Similarly, what happened to Trayvon Martin that night in Florida has virtually no import in how you live your life. Most of the linked items Scalia provides have far more importance, but I can assure you that, because Barack Obama gave his speech yesterday, very few people will be talking about these other matters. Which is precisely why he stepped to the podium yesterday.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Can't Forget the Motor City

There'll be singing, swaying, and records playing
Dancing in the streets

It's pretty astonishing when you think about it, but here it is: Detroit is bankrupt.
Once the very symbol of American industrial might, Detroit became the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy Thursday, its finances ravaged and its neighborhoods hollowed out by a long, slow decline in population and auto manufacturing.

The filing, which had been feared for months, put the city on an uncertain course that could mean laying off municipal employees, selling off assets, raising fees and scaling back basic services such as trash collection and snow plowing, which have already been slashed.
You have to wonder what they could sell, and what the market would be. It's certainly not real estate, as this depressing post from Powerline reminds us -- below is just one of many pictures of blight and ruin:


That house was once a magnificent place. But right now, the engine of midcentury American commerce is something out of Ozymandias.
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
It doesn't matter what you wear, just as long as you are there.

While we were asleep

Not much coverage of this issue that I could find:
The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel.

That is a bombshell—such a big one that it managed to emerge in spite of an unfocused, frequently off-point congressional hearing in which some members seemed to have accidentally woken up in the middle of a committee room, some seemed unaware of the implications of what their investigators had uncovered, one pretended that the investigation should end if IRS workers couldn't say the president had personally called and told them to harass his foes, and one seemed to be holding a filibuster on Pakistan.

Still, what landed was a bombshell. And Democrats know it. Which is why they are so desperate to make the investigation go away. They know, as Republicans do, that the chief counsel of the IRS is one of only two Obama political appointees in the entire agency.
That's the dispatch of Wall Street Journal cub reporter Peggy Noonan, now fully awake from her 2008 dreaming. We aren't hearing much about the various scandals these days, because a lot of people would prefer not to talk about them. Noonan is right, though -- if an Obama political appointee directed decisions of the IRS that effectively took a lot of Tea Party groups off the field during the 2012 election cycle, that's huge news. More, much more, at the link.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

How do you boycott something no one reads?

You might have heard about Rolling Stone's newest cover boy, a fella by the name of Dzhohkar Tsarnaev. Predictably, a lot of people aren't amused and about half the usual places where you might buy a Rolling Stone are refusing to carry this particular issue.

Hell, I think you have to give Rolling Stone credit. I haven't had the inclination to discuss anything they've published for years, and neither has much of anyone else for a rather long time now, so this ginned up controversy is a master stroke. It's almost a pop culture version of the stunt The Progressive magazine pulled back in the 1970s, when they published instructions for making a hydrogen bomb and managed to get themselves hauled into federal court. If you're an old dude like me, you might remember this cover:

It's the bomb!
While the cases aren't exactly analogous, especially since the likelihood of Rolling Stone getting hauled into court is just about nil, the editorial thought process involved is certainly the same -- what can we do to get people talking about our publication? Giving a terrorist's self-photograph the Glamor Shots treatment and putting on the cover is a pretty savvy way to do it.

The thing is, once this issue turns into fish wrap and the next issue comes, Rolling Stone will need another sensational cover subject. So let's take a poll -- what figure of outrage should RS put on its next cover?

Who should be the next controversial Rolling Stone cover subject?
  
pollcode.com free polls 

Vote early, vote often -- it's the American way!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Freedom of Speech

More than twenty years ago, noted cultural conservatives Ice-T and Jello Biafra made the following point:

We should be able to say anything, our lungs were meant to shout
Say what we feel, yell out what's real
Even though it may not bring mass appeal

They also made a few suggestions about potential activities that the city of Columbus, Georgia, might undertake that seem ill-considered, even anatomically improbable, but that's the thing about free speech -- done correctly, it's likely to make someone angry.

So what's this all about? In a column for USA Today, Glenn Reynolds talks about new guidelines from the Justice Department concerning journalism:
Last week, stung by reactions to phone-snooping on reporters (and, in at least one case, a reporter's parents), the Justice Department issued new guidelines for dealing with the media when investigating leaks. Many people are cheering these guidelines, but I'm not sure they're good enough.
Reynolds makes two points, both crucial:
I have two problems: First, in the incidents mentioned above, according to Associated Press President Gary Pruitt, the Justice Department violated its old guidelines. If the Justice Department didn't follow its own rules before, why is it more likely to follow the new rules? Ultimately, it's hard to trust an administration that seems to see every legal requirement as, like ObamaCare, waivable when inconvenient.

My second problem is more general. Does this policy protect anyone doing journalism, or just members of the establishment? The Justice Department talks about protection for "news media" (the guidelines don't use the word "press") but doesn't provide any guidance on just who that is. Presumably, if you're drawing a paycheck from the New York Times or Gannett (the parent company of USA TODAY), you're covered. (But note that, not too long ago, the Obama administration was claiming that Fox News, home of James Rosen, one of the key targets of recent Justice Department snooping, was not a "legitimate news organization.") If the Justice Department can pick and choose in this fashion, the guidelines don't mean much.
As a reminder, here is the text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Of course, a "guideline" from an Executive Branch agency isn't a law, but it certainly could have the force of law, especially if it's the law enforcement branch of the federal government that is promulgating it. One might assume that the courts would eventually slap Eric Holder and his pals down, but it would take time and a lot of mischief could ensue in the meantime. Back to Reynolds:
Government licensing of the press is one of the biggest First Amendment no-nos. But if the government is in the business of deciding who counts as a "legitimate news organization" -- and, more importantly, who doesn't -- then the result looks suspiciously like a licensing scheme of some sort.

It also looks kind of clubby. Washington is already rife with crony capitalism, but if these protections are limited to Big Media journalists it starts to look a lot like crony journalism. The administration gives journalism's old-boy-network a pass, in exchange for not rocking the boat too much, while leaving itself free to go after the very outsiders who are most likely to do hard-hitting investigations.
I'm not, nor will I ever be, a "legitimate news organization." I'm just a guy running a family blog. And I suppose the likelihood that my rantings will ever gain the scrutiny of the feds is pretty low. But it's awfully difficult to think of a reason that the feds should have any right to issue any guidelines about my credentials for ranting, absent a direct threat made to a government official. And suggesting that a government official ought to be drummed from office is not a direct threat, by the way. Not yet, at least.

The rule of thumb never changes. In matters of government, you should never grant power to your friends that you wouldn't be willing to grant to your enemies. And when it comes to "guidelines" for journalism, it's a power that deserves constant and unyielding opposition. Or as our cultural conservative friends suggest:

The Constitution says we all got a right to speak
Say what we want Tip, your argument is weak
Censor records, TV, school books too
And who decides what's right to hear? You?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Random Observations

Since the national conversation seems to be about the Zimmerman case, and I have nothing further to say about it, here are a few other random thoughts about other matters. Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • It's early, but I really think Pope Francis is on the right track. He's concentrating on first principles and trying to speak directly to the people. That's something popes don't do very much, but now is an excellent time for it.
  • Changing the Senate rules to essentially defang filibusters, which Harry Reid seems likely to try in the coming days, would be a very bad idea, which ol' Harry would discover if control of the Senate went back to the Republicans. Never give power any power to your allies that you wouldn't be willing to see your adversaries use against you.
  • Gas has gone up about 40 cents/gallon in the last week. Of course it is, since we're going on vacation soon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ballad of a Thin Insurance Commissioner

You walk into the room
With your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked
And you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you’ll say
When you get home

-- Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"

One of the best parts about Obamacare is that it's going to require people to put a lot of personal information out there in order to get insurance. Yep, you'll be standing naked in front of someone with the equivalent of a pencil in his hand. Of course, that means the person with the pencil will need to be above reproach. Will they be?
As California prepares to launch its health care exchange, consumer groups are worried the uninsured could fall victim to fraud, identity theft or other crimes at the hands of some of the very people who are supposed to help them enroll.

The exchange, known as Covered California, recently adopted rules for a network of more than 21,000 enrollment counselors who will provide consumers with in-person assistance as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. In some cases, they will have access to personal and financial information, from ID cards to medical histories.

But the state insurance commissioner and anti-fraud groups say the exchange is falling short in ensuring that the people hired as counselors are adequately screened and monitored.

Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones also said the exchange does not have a plan for investigating any complaints that might arise once the counselors start work. That means consumers who might fall prey to bogus health care products, identity theft and other abuses will have a hard time seeking justice if unscrupulous counselors get hold of their Social Security number, bank accounts, health records or other private information, he said.

"We can have a real disaster on our hands," Jones, a Democrat, said in an interview.
Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

On the other hand. . . .

This Florida case might very well be an injustice, if you believe the reporting of CBS News:
A Florida woman who fired warning shots against her allegedly abusive husband has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Marissa Alexander of Jacksonville had said the state's "Stand Your Ground" law should apply to her because she was defending herself against her allegedly abusive husband when she fired warning shots inside her home in August 2010. She told police it was to escape a brutal beating by her husband, against whom she had already taken out a protective order.

CBS Affiliate WETV reports that Circuit Court Judge James Daniel handed down the sentence Friday.

Under Florida's mandatory minimum sentencing requirements Alexander could receive a lesser sentence, even though she has never been in trouble with the law before. Judge Daniel said the law did not allow for extenuating or mitigating circumstances to reduce the sentence below the 20-year minimum.
Or is it? (Link is PDF; here are three screen shots from the prosecution's motion in opposition for immunity):


That does seem a wee bit inconsistent with the initial article. But there is a follow-up and in that follow-up article, CBS News points out something interesting about the case:
Alexander's case was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the Florida State's Attorney who is also prosecuting George Zimmerman. Alexander was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and because she discharged a firearm during the incident, the case fell under Florida's "10-20-life" law, enacted in 1999, which mandates a 20-year sentence for use of a gun during the commission of certain crimes.

Corey initially offered Alexander a three year deal if she pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, but according to CBS affiliate WTEV, Alexander did not believe she had done anything wrong, and rejected the plea. Her bet did not pay off: the jury in the case returned a guilty verdict in less than 15 minutes.
Angela Corey appears to be the Keyser Sose of the Florida justice system.

It appears that Alexander was guilty because she went back to her car and got the gun, then fired it. That's not self-defense, nor is it Standing Your Ground. I think you can argue successfully that Marissa Alexander did commit a crime that day. But should what she actually did merit 20 years? At least at first glance, you would think not. Mandatory minimum sentences are always politically appealing, but in real life they don't work so well. There is a problem here, but it has nothing to do with Zimmerman or even Marissa Alexander. Rather, it's the "10-20-life" law.

Zimmerman

I could say a lot about it, but I'll leave it at this: in order to convict George Zimmerman, the State had to prove its case. It didn't come close. As the old saying goes, if the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If neither the facts nor the law are on your side, bang the table. If you watched any of the case, you saw that the prosecution spent nearly all of its time banging the table, while the defense argued both the facts and the law.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Bad Faith Commenting

I've long liked Ann Althouse's blog. Althouse is a law professor at UW-Madison and while her impulses tend to run toward conventional wisdom-style academic liberalism, she's often been willing to buck that trend. She and her husband, Laurence Meade, also did an excellent job of on-the-ground reporting during the protests in Madison back in 2011.

Her blog had one feature that was always especially interesting -- in general, her regular readers often were far more conservative than she is, and because of that her comment section tended to be very, ahem, lively. It apparently got a little too lively last week and Althouse turned her comments off, because of what she termed "bad faith commenters." There was always a bit of performance art going on in the Althouse comment section, but now the show is closed. She's entitled to run her blog as she sees fit, of course, but it has changed the nature of her blog considerably.

I've never had this problem, of course, because I don't have nearly as many commenters and those who do comment here tend to be civil for the most part. Her experience does raise a question worth considering -- what would be a "bad faith comment," to you? I'm still taking comments, so let me know what you think.

Oops

Yes, people who run businesses will change their behavior when government changes the rules:
Several Wegmans employees say the grocery chain is cutting health insurance benefits for its part-time employees, as a result of provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Wegmans has previously been applauded for its health benefits, and has consistently made the list of Fortune magazine's list of the top companies to work for. Wegmans has been praised for voluntarily offering health insurance to part-time employees, The Buffalo News reported. By law, an employer is obligated to offer health insurance only to full-time employees who work 30 or more hours each week, or 130 hours each month.

Many Wegmans employees said the change in eligibility requirements was related to the Affordable Care Act, a controversial 2010 healthcare overhaul dubbed "Obamacare" that requires employers to provide "affordable" health insurance if they have more than 50 full-time workers. If they don't they could face thousands of dollars in hefty penalty fees, though the implementation of this provision was recently postponed until the end of 2015.
If you like your health care, you can keep it. Or maybe not.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Fast Lerner

As John Marshall reminded us, the power to tax is the power to destroy, which is why it's not a good idea to have IRS employees who enjoy their job too much. Patterico notices something from back in 2011 about an IRS official who has been in the news lately:
Lois Lerner, the IRS’s director of tax-exempt organizations who is overseeing the investigation, says many schools are rethinking how and what they report to the government. Receiving a thick questionnaire from the IRS, she says, is a “behavior changer.”
Lerner and her crew, it is now well established, set out to change the behavior of a whole lot of Tea Party organizations in the run-up to the 2012 election.

I'm sure we'll all enjoy the IRS's exciting new role in Obamacare. We should get a whole lot of behavior changers outta that one.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

News You Can Use

Don't have a heart attack in Detroit:
Frank Ponder, 45, who works at a hospital here, said major changes in the city, even bankruptcy, now seem all but certain. “Everybody had all these ideas about saving Detroit, and nobody’s ideas actually worked,” he said. “At a certain point, you have to stop fooling yourself.”

The East Side house in which Mr. Ponder lives, once owned by his grandmother, is the only one on his block that appears to be occupied. He has been saving money for years in hopes of moving this fall to a suburb, Warren — and he expects to just walk away.

“What can you do?” he said. “Sell it? On that block?”

While corporations announced this year that they would donate money to the city in part to lease new emergency vehicles, there have been times in 2013, the authorities acknowledge, when only 10 to 14 of Detroit’s 36 ambulances have actually been in service. Some of the city’s emergency medical service vehicles have as many as 300,000 miles on them, so they tend to break down.

All this helps explain why Mr. Ponder said he, as so many here, would try to get himself to a hospital before seeking help from Detroit.

“If you have a heart attack, you’re dead,” he said. “There is no such thing around here as ‘in case of emergency.’ ”
More -- a lot more -- at the link.


When the flowchart doesn't flow

The National Journal notes what should have been evident from the get-go:
As far back as March, a top IT official at the Department of Health and Human Services said the department's current ambition for the law's new online insurance marketplaces was that they not be "a Third-World experience." Several provisions had already been abandoned in an effort to simplify the administration's task and maximize the chances that the new systems would be ready to go live in October, when customers are supposed to start signing up for insurance.
A "Third-World experience" might be preferable. Then again, what did you expect, really? If you want to understand why Obamacare is such a cluster, look at this cluster of a chart:

The National Journal also provided a punchline; wait for it
With admirable understatement, NJ also adds:
To get a sense of what the Obama administration is up against, take a look at this chart, provided by Dan Schuyler at Leavitt Partners, a consultancy helping states build exchanges. (Bear in mind, this chart is supposed to simplify and explain.)
Emphasis mine. Be sure to stop by the Federal Data Services HUB & APTC/CSR for a nosh.

About that HUB, allow me to share an anecdote: the Benster went in for a physical for Scout camp, which will take place later this month. I took him there and was amazed at the level of intrusiveness and the dozens of questions that he faced from both the nurse and the doctor at the clinic. The whole visit had a kind of white coated Stasi vibe to it. The gubmint is asking doctors to collect enormous amounts of information on patients these days. Given the cavalier way the government seems to handle this data, that HUB could be a real problem soon. There are commenters who argue it already is.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Train in Vain

While much attention has gone to the plane crash in San Francisco, a more significant disaster took place in Quebec over the weekend, when a tanker train full of crude oil from North Dakota derailed and caught fire. The death toll stands at 13 and there are a lot of people who are still missing. And now people are starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, rail isn't the best way to transport oil:
Canadian investigators are trying to determine what caused a parked train with 72 tank cars to begin rolling and then derail early Saturday morning, triggering fires and explosions in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed at least 13 people. Many others are still missing.

The tank cars were loaded with oil in New Town, N.D., by Wayzata-based rail carrier Dakota Plains Holdings, and were destined for a refinery in New Brunswick, according to World Fuel Services Corp., the shipper’s parent company.
New Town to New Brunswick is a long way to go. And there's a pretty good chance this ill-fated train traveled through the Twin Cities before it reached Quebec.

Why are the trains transporting oil? I can think of three reasons:

  • Environmentalists don't much like pipelines, as the contretemps over the Keystone XL pipeline prove, and fight construction every step of the way.
  • Rampant NIMBYism and the aforementioned environmentalists have essentially stopped the construction of new oil refineries in the United States.
  • Politically connected people who own railroads benefit from the first two reasons:
Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC is among U.S. and Canadian railroads that stand to benefit from the Obama administration’s decision to reject TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL oil pipeline permit.

With modest expansion, railroads can handle all new oil produced in western Canada through 2030, according to an analysis of the Keystone proposal by the U.S. State Department.

“Whatever people bring to us, we’re ready to haul,” Krista York-Wooley, a spokeswoman for Burlington Northern, a unit of Buffett’s Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK/A), said in an interview. If Keystone XL “doesn’t happen, we’re here to haul.”
So what do the environmentalists propose? Keeping the oil in the ground, of course, and rely on wind and solar, which aren't going to keep things running.

In this case, you can't put the blame on Buffett, since the carrier was Canadian Pacific. And unsurprisingly, no one is saying much, as the Star Tribune reports:
Much of the rail industry remained silent Monday. Canadian Pacific, whose U.S. headquarters is in Minneapolis, said it had no comment out of respect for the Lac-Mégantic victims. Dakota Plains officials did not return phone calls, and directed them to the shipper and venture partner, World Fuel Services, which said it “is deeply concerned for all those impacted by loss of life and destruction caused by the tragic accident.”
Blame will get meted out in due course, since it always does. The larger, more important question is finding a way to minimize the potential for future disasters of this sort. The bottom line is that the oil won't be staying in the ground and it will be used.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Consensus

It's hard to know what's going to happen in Egypt, but on the bright side, the culprit for what's happened is pretty well established:
As rival camps of Egyptians protest for and against the toppling of President Mohamed Morsi, there is a rare point of agreement: America is to blame.

Anti-Americanism, which has long been an undercurrent here, is erupting again as Egyptians battle over the future of their country. Each side accuses the United States of backing the other and alleges conspiracies in which the Obama administration is secretly fostering dissent in an attempt to weaken Egypt.

It's a damned if you do, damned if you don't quagmire in which the U.S. appears to have alienated both sides, underscoring waning American influence and credibility as it attempts to navigate the turmoil.
Apparently the speech in Cairo didn't help much. I blame George W. Bush.

Best wishes to Mrs. Kerry

I slagged John Kerry over the weekend and he deserves it. However, he doesn't deserve this:
Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and heir to a ketchup company fortune, was hospitalized in critical condition Sunday while on Massachusetts' Nantucket Island.

Heinz Kerry was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on Sunday night after doctors at Nantucket Cottage Hospital stabilized her, said Glen Johnson, a spokesman for Kerry. The secretary of state was with his 74-year-old wife as an ambulance first transported her to the island hospital, and also during her transfer to the Boston facility.

A spokesman for the Nantucket hospital said Heinz Kerry arrived in critical condition, although doctors were able to stabilize her. But neither the family nor hospital officials had released any more details about her medical emergency or her condition Sunday night.

"The family is grateful for the outpouring of support it has received and aware of the interest in her condition, but they ask for privacy at this time," Johnson said.
Whatever is wrong, I hope she feels better soon.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

I Know a Boat You Can Get On, or the Rime of the Well-Coiffed Mariner

The State is mighty, but the Secretary of State? Maybe not so much. He's quite the mariner, though:
As regime change was unfolding in Egypt, Secretary of State John Kerry spent time on his boat Wednesday afternoon in Nantucket Sound, the State Department acknowledged to CBS News on Friday, after repeatedly denying that Kerry was aboard any boat.

"While he was briefly on his boat on Wednesday, Secretary Kerry worked around the clock all day including participating in the President's meeting with his national security council," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, naming a series of Egyptian and international officials Kerry had spoken with on Wednesday.
It was a transparently stupid thing to do:
A "CBS This Morning" producer spotted Kerry on his boat Wednesday afternoon on Nantucket, where Kerry has a vacation home. When "CBS This Morning" senior producer Mosheh Oinounou tweeted about the sighting, Psaki issued a denial, calling the tweet "completely inaccurate" and said Kerry has been "working all day and on the phone dealing with the crisis in Egypt."

Also on Wednesday afternoon, the White House released a photo of the president and his national security team meeting in the situation Room. Kerry was not present in the photo, but his office said he did participate in the meeting via a secure phone line.
Sail on, Sailor
He wasn't in the Situation Room because he was on his yacht, as the CBS News producer who took the picture was able to demonstrate. Here's the picture of Kerry, resplendent in some butt ugly floral print shorts, aboard his sturdy vessel:

This isn't complicated, really. No one expects Kerry, or any other government official, to be on duty 24/7. In most cases it's preferable if they aren't on duty, especially a guy like Kerry. And I'm perfectly willing to believe that Kerry was participating in the meetings via phone while he was tooling around on his yacht. I'm prepared to imagine that Kerry is capable of multitasking. And if the issue is perception, that's just silly:  Kerry almost won the presidency in 2004 and by now everyone knows that Kerry has a crapload of money. The idea that he might be on his yacht wouldn't be particularly surprising or even controversial. I don't begrudge him enjoying the benefits of his wife's inheritance; it's nice work if you can get it. Just don't lie about it. Or at least look at the Twitter feed closely enough to see if there are pictures attached.

And in any event, Kerry's looked far worse.








Friday, July 05, 2013

Pardon me for bringing it up

I've been told repeatedly by my ace portside commenters that I shouldn't mention Benghazi, but this is an interesting story from Sharyl Attkisson, the determined CBS News reporter who won't go quietly:
Marine Corps Col. George Bristol was in a key position in the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) chain of command the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. As such, he's high on the list of people that some Republican members of Congress want to interview. But they don't know where he is and the Pentagon isn't telling.

Pentagon spokesman Major Robert Firman told CBS News that the Department of Defense "cannot compel retired members to testify before Congress."

"They say he's retired and they can't reach out to him," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told CBS News. "That's hogwash."
Well, we do have a picture of Col. Bristol:

The kids from Bristol are sharp as a pistol when they do the Bristol Stomp
It's odd that he'd disappear, but I have a thought as to where he might be:

Check the van down by the river


Thursday, July 04, 2013

The perfect ending to the story

Exactly the proper denouement:
The rest of the world may not want him, but NSA leaker Edward Snowden has at least one potential taker: Anna Chapman. The ex-spy tweeted yesterday, “Snowden, will you marry me?!”

The former Russian spy may have sympathy for the man who spilled top-secret documents. Chapman, after all, is no stranger to run-ins with government authorities.

The 31-year-old had been posing as a real-estate agent in the United States in 2010 when she was accused of gathering intel for Russia. She and nine others were deported back to Russia in a prisoner swap.
The shark has been jumped.



Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The ZIP Code at 50

It's been 50 years since the Postal Service first introduced ZIP codes. At first, the reaction wasn't necessarily welcoming. Consider this Peanuts strip from the fall of 1963:

95472 was Schulz's ZIP code, by the way
As it's turned out, however, the larger meaning of ZIP codes has very little to do with how the mail is delivered; rather, a ZIP code's larger meaning is demographic:
“The post office built this system of little geographical areas and laid it down on a map of the United States and it made sense for delivering mail,” said Jay Coggins, an applied economist at the University of Minnesota. “And it turned out to be a very convenient way to measure all sorts of socioeconomic and health numbers.”

Banks and insurers now use ZIP codes to analyze mortgage risk and set premiums, real estate firms use them to organize listings and retailers use them to decide where to build new stores. A recent analysis by the Postal Service’s Office of the Inspector General and IBM estimates the annual value of ZIP codes at $9.5 billion.

The largest benefits are enjoyed not by the post office or large-scale direct mailers, said Jeff Colvin, a research director at the Office of the Inspector General.

“People outside the Postal Service and even outside the mailing industry seemed to get more benefit over a long period of time than the savings to the Postal Service and to people who do mail-related stuff,” Colvin said. “It was really people outside of that who used the division of the country into ZIP codes for all kinds of purposes to organize their own businesses.”
You can learn quite a lot from ZIP codes, actually. Over the course of my life, I've lived in the following ZIP codes:

60804   Cicero, Illinois
54911   Appleton, Wisconsin
54914   Appleton, Wisconsin
54915   Appleton, Wisconsin
53511   Beloit, Wisconsin
60304   Oak Park, Illinois
55105   St. Paul, Minnesota
55126   Shoreview, Minnesota
55112   New Brighton, Minnesota

I'm pretty sure that Cicero had a different zip code when I lived there, but my parent's apartment would now be in 60804. These days, the 60804 ZIP code is an area that is primarily Hispanic:


It's also a place with young people and, not surprisingly, annual income is not very high, either:

Below average
When I was a young man, I moved back to the Chicago area for five years, to an area that is essentially adjacent to 60804, but is very different, at least economically. That would be Oak Park, Illinois, with the ZIP code of 60304:


There are a lot less people in 60304 than in 60804, and those who are there are much more affluent, too:

Above average
These days, I live in the 55112 ZIP code, which is pretty close to average for Minnesota. Demographically, it's not especially diverse:

Not exactly a melting pot
And incomes are, well, average:

We are generic
If you study the numbers, the most affluent place I've lived is the 55126 ZIP code, while the poorest was 60804, although 53511 (Beloit, Wisconsin) is not significantly higher. There are reasons for all this, of course -- Cicero, Illinois has never been a particularly wealthy area and has generally been a place where people start out and move up when they can. Although I spent more than 20 years outside of the Chicago area, I would imagine that I was hardly the only person who once lived in 60804 who was able to move to 60304, only a few miles away, yet have a significantly better standard of living.

Similarly, 55112 and 55126 are adjacent areas, but there's a significant difference in income. Households in 55126 have a median income about $20,000 higher than their neighbors in 55112. For most people, the difference isn't that stark, but it's significant. And because 55112 and 55126 are mostly in the same school district, you see some interesting differences between the two high schools in the district. If you want to see the difference in a concrete way, check out the student parking lots at Mounds View (located in 55112, but serving mostly kids in 55126) and Irondale (serving primarily 55112 kids). You'll see a very different assortment of vehicles in the lots.

Charles Schulz sensed something important was happening in the fall of 1963 when he introduced the character "555 95472." He didn't know the half of it. All those numbers tell stories. And in case you're interested, the income levels in 95472 aren't that much different than 55112. The price of a home in 95472 is triple that of 55112, however, and those costs have a pretty large effect on how people live. But that's a different post.

Meanwhile, in Egypt

Things are falling apart:
Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, vowed to protect his presidency with his life on Tuesday night, hours before an ultimatum from the leader of Egypt's armed forces is due to expire.

In a defiant late-night speech, Morsi raised the stakes in the standoff between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military – the two most powerful groups in the land – as supporters and opponents of the president clashed in deadly gun fights across the country.

It leaves Egypt braced for its most decisive day since the revolution, with its military preparing to suspend the country's constitution and potentially cripple the authority of its first democratically elected leader.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) made clear that it would stick to an ultimatum it gave Morsi on Monday that urged the embattled president to respond to a wave of mass protests within 48 hours or face an intervention which would in effect subsume his government. Scaf has given no indication it will waive its ultimatum, which expires at 5pm on Wednesday.
It's easy to lump Egypt in with the rest of the Arab world, but it's a mistake to do so. The Egyptian military has a lot of weaponry at its disposal, thanks to well over 30 years of bipartisan largesse from the United States. There are almost 83 million people who live there, which makes Egypt the largest country in the Arab world by a significant margin. By contrast, Saudi Arabia has perhaps 25 million. Egyptians are dealing with the reality that many countries in that part of the world have encountered: you can't eat jihad.

Morsi can argue he is a legitimate ruler, but he'll only remain in power if the military abides it. This could get really ugly.