Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The stories you get to hear

So, apparently there was a pretty substantial outbreak of tuberculosis in Jacksonville, Florida, back in 2012. Were you aware that 13 people died? I'm guessing not. It turns out that reporting the story, even as a retrospective, was difficult, because reporters weren't given access or information.

File this one under "dawn breaks slowly":
The stories aren’t always as consequential or as dramatic as a TB outbreak, but Singer’s experience is shared by virtually every journalist on the government beat, from the White House on down. They can recite tales with similar outlines: An agency spokesman — frequently a political appointee — rejects the reporter’s request for interviews, offers partial or nonresponsive replies, or delays responding at all until after the journalist’s deadline has passed.

Interview requests that are granted are closely monitored, reporters say, with a press “minder” sitting in. Some agencies require reporters to pose their questions by e-mail, a tactic that enables officials to carefully craft and vet their replies.

Tensions between reporters and public information officers — “hacks and flacks” in the vernacular — aren’t new, of course. Reporters have always wanted more information than government officials have been willing or able to give.

But journalists say the lid has grown tighter under the Obama administration, whose chief executive promised in 2009 to bring “an unprecedented level of openness” to the federal government.
A few observations:

  • Yes, under Obama we do have an unprecedented level of openess. Essentially, we have none.
  • It's a little late in the game to start bitching about it, don't you think? We've seen the same things going on without interruption since 2009.
Hey, but they wrote him a letter:

The frustrations boiled over last summer in a letter to President Obama signed by 38 organizations representing journalists and press-freedom advocates. The letter decried “politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies” by spokesmen. “We consider these restrictions a form of censorship — an attempt to control what the public is allowed to see and hear,” the groups wrote.

They asked for “a clear directive” from Obama “telling federal employees they’re not only free to answer questions from reporters and the public, but actually encouraged to do so.”

Obama hasn’t acted on the suggestion. 
Of course he hasn't. He doesn't want reporters, he wants stenographers. Another example, from the story:
When Dina Cappiello, until recently the national environment writer for the Associated Press, asked the Interior Department for federal data about bird deaths on wind-energy farms in 2013, she says, she met a stone wall. The industry-supplied information, the agency told her, was “protected” and couldn’t be released because it would harm a private interest.

Cappiello suspected a political motive for the department’s silence: The Obama administration supports the development of wind power, and release of the data might undercut public support if it showed that wind farms kill large numbers of protected species, such as eagles and falcons.

She filed a FOIA request for the records. No dice. “I still haven’t gotten an answer,” she said recently.
And yet another:
The reaction was even more aggressive when Cappiello began asking the Agriculture Department for interviews for a story about the environmental degradation caused by converting non-crop land into cornfields for ethanol production, another administration initiative.

The agency went on the offense, telling officials in the field not to talk to her and her co-writer. A public affairs official further instructed his colleagues not to provide the reporters with the names of farmers for interviews, as they had routinely done for other stories.

“We just want to have a consistent message on the topic,” the official, Jason Johnson, wrote in an e-mail. Cappiello filed another FOIA request for the directive — and noted the e-mail’s existence in her story about the land-conversion policy.

“I think the thread here is that all of these stories are questioning the goals and policies of the administration,” she said. “All of these have the potential to set off controversy.” While government press officials often talk about having “a consistent message,” Cappiello said, “they never seem to insist on having ‘a truthful message.’ I wonder why.”
Why? Because shut up. That's why.

This is all great, useful, muckracking from the Washington Post, the great newspaper that employed the reporters who helped to bring down Richard Nixon. But where does the article appear? Take a look:

It's the little blue type that matters

Yep -- the article is in the "Style" section. Not on page one, because that's reserved for stenography. Not even on the op-ed page, because that's reserved for the courtiers like E. J. Dionne. No, if you want to find out about the systematic stifling of the press, you need to go to the Style section, where the article is the fifth story listed, behind the latest dispatch on Justin Bieber and the fawning profile of Jon Stewart's replacement on the Daily Show. See for yourself -- here are the first three articles featured this morning:


And here are the next three:


These are editorial decisions. And the editors of the Washington Post apparently think it's more important for you to consider the career path of Justin Bieber than it is to consider how the Obama administration operates. If the Post had operated in the same manner 40 years ago, we'd have spent more time talking about Bobby Sherman than Watergate.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Because screw you. That's why.

More questions you shouldn't be asking:
Senate Republicans are renewing efforts to learn why Huma Abedin, a top assistant to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was allowed to keep working at the agency under a special, part-time status while also being employed at a politically-connected consulting firm.

The new requests are being made by Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, following revelations that both women used a private Internet server and email accounts for State Department correspondence.

Grassley says the earlier requests to the department have been largely ignored, so the new ones have gone to the department’s inspector general and to Secretary of State John Kerry, seeking their involvement.
They won't get an answer, though. A lot of people don't want to know the answer. So screw you.

My guess is that, someday, we'll find out the whole story, and it will go something like this -- Hillary Clinton green lighted her employer's insane foreign policy with the tacit understanding that she would be able to use her position to become insanely rich. The scandal won't really be about Benghazi as much as it's about the money. It usually is. And Huma was cashing in, too, because she was a friend and confidante of Hillary. It's nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, in Chicago

From his perch at the Chicago Tribune, John Kass asks the question:
The oligarchs who run Chicago don't want to consider the unthinkable — at least not publicly.

Yet as the campaign for mayor of Chicago between Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and Mayor Rahm Emanuel enters its final week, some oligarchs are worried.

They're probably wondering: What if Rahm really loses this thing?
At this point, winning may not be that pleasant, either. Chicago is in a hell of a lot of trouble right now as the pensions and the corruption start to come home to roost, to paraphrase a famous Chicagoan that we're supposed to forget. More, a lot more, at the link.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Warhol and social media

In the future, everyone will be Emmanuel Goldstein for 15 minutes.

Point of order

We've been informed that Indiana is now the Worst Place in the World because it now has a Religious Freedom law that apparently compels every damned bakery in the entire state to deny gay couples wedding cakes or something.

So how many states have similar laws? Well, check out the map:

Somewhere, Orville Faubus is scratching his head
Maybe someone can explain to me why Indiana is such a horrible place now, while Rhode Island is not?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Houthi's March

How does an all-out, Sunni vs. Shia, war on the Arabian Peninsula sound to you?
The turmoil in Yemen grew into a regional conflict Thursday, with Saudi Arabia and its allies bombing Shiite rebels allied with Iran, while Egyptian officials said a ground assault will follow the airstrikes.

Iran denounced the Saudi-led air campaign, saying it "considers this action a dangerous step," and oil prices jumped in New York and London after the offensive.

The military action turned impoverished and chaotic Yemen into a new front in the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Why would the oil prices jump? Take a look at a map of the region:

Location, location, location
You can do a lot to disrupt commerce on the Red Sea if you control Yemen. And for now, the Shias under the direction of Abdul Malik al-Houthi are making the standard threats:
Rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi angrily accused the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel of launching a "criminal, unjust, brutal and sinful" campaign aimed at invading and occupying Yemen.

"Yemenis won't accept such humiliation," he said in a televised speech Thursday night, calling the Saudis "stupid" and "evil."

The Houthis, who have taken over much of the country, mobilized thousands of supporters to protest the airstrikes, with one speaker lashing out at the Saudi-led coalition and warning that Yemen "will be the tomb" of the aggressors.
The aim of his patrol is not a question rather droll. And, as Walter Russell Mead explains, the stakes are pretty high:
Events in Yemen continue to accelerate much faster than many experts predicted, and the potential for widespread sectarian war between Sunni and Shi’a grows more acute by the day. In some ways this portends even more trouble than ISIS’s fight against Iran’s proxies in Syria and Iraq: that fight is both bloody and strategically important, but ISIS is also an enemy of the Sunni powers (whose rule it wants to overthrow). Now, the Saudis and their allies are clearly prepared to confront Iran’s allies head-on.
I don't see a lot of good options right now.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Horticulture gone amok

I don't like cabbage, so this is truly horrifying:
A cabbage the size of a Buick won the annual statewide growing contest for third-graders, with the student grower watering the monster every day last summer to get it as big as possible.

Riley Olbrantz of Newman Catholic Elementary School/St. Anne in Wausau was named the winner in the Bonnie Plants Third Grade Cabbage Program, for growing a 28.6-pound beauty of the O.S. Cross cabbage variety.
Here's the winner:


The O.S. Cross Variety was also a very underrated Robert Ludlum novel.

We're ready

The tsunami drill is coming:
Coastal Californians will receive a tsunami alert Wednesday morning on television and radio that the NOAA says may or may not include the word “TEST.”

As part of National Tsunami Preparedness Week, officials will conduct a test of the tsunami warning system in the coastal regions of central and southern California at approximately 10:15 a.m. PDT.

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) release states, “Some television systems are programmed to scroll a standard emergency alert text message and in some cases, the message may not contain the word “TEST.” An audio message will say that the message is only a test, but if the volume is turned down or otherwise unheard, viewers may not realize the message is a test.”
We aren't worried:

Tsunami? We got this!


Why Illinois can't have nice things

Pension reform? We've got yer pension reform right here, pal:
In the midst of Illinois’s worsening pension woes, here’s one egregiously odious example of abuse: a retired union lobbyist spent one day as a substitute teacher, and is now receiving a pension for it (at $31,485 per year) thanks to pals in the state’s General Assembly. The Chicago Tribune outed this arrangement back in 2011, whereupon the state reduced his benefits, but—get this—the man is now suing on the premise that the reduction was unconstitutional under state law, and if he wins, he’ll see his benefits increased. That’s on top of the other state pension he has from a job as a legislative aide.
If you've ever heard it suggested that it would be a better world if teachers were paid at the rate of professional athletes, this would be a way to make it happen.

So where does the money come from? Excellent question, since Illinois has a 12-figure pension liability -- over $100 billion -- that it's not going to be able to cover. Do you think the feds (meaning you and me and some dude in Fort Wayne) will come riding to the rescue? Not when the federal debt is in the trillions.

There is a solution:

Six signatures on the bill -- that should do it
I'm not positive, but one of those signatures appears to match Jack Lew's scrawl. That's 50 million deutschmarks, baby!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ted Cruz is running for president

In case you care. Not sure I do, but he's in. So who do you like? You can vote for more than one candidate. In fact, I encourage it.

Your preferred candidate for president in 2016 is?
 
pollcode.com free polls

Just as bad, really

No one should be surprised that Terry McAuliffe, the Dem operative who managed to become governor of Virginia, asked for and got special treatment from Homeland Security:
Not long before he became governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe received special treatment on behalf of his electric-car company from a top official at the Department of Homeland Security, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

McAuliffe was among several politically powerful individuals from both parties, including Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), seeking special visas for foreign investors through a program administered by the department. But intervention on behalf of McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company by Alejandro Mayorkas, now the department’s No. 2 official, “was unprecedented,” according to the report.

The long-anticipated report found no evidence of law-breaking. But members of the department’s staff perceived Mayorkas’s actions as “politically motivated,” and the report concluded that he had “created an appearance of favoritism and special access.”
Both parties did it, the Washington Post assures us. Here's the funny thing, though -- if you read through the article, they can't name a Republican who did benefit. About 23 paragraphs into the article, after we learn about favors for McAuliffe, Reid and longtime Pennsylvania politico Ed Rendell, we get this:
In addition to McAuliffe, Mississippi Republicans also pressed DHS officials for more rapid approval of the visas.
Pressing and getting are two different things, of course.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Our man in Jerusalem

I'm linking this article from The Hill for two reasons -- one, because it confirms something some of us suspected:
President Obama's role during the Israeli elections was larger than reported, according to a pollster for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

"What was not well reported in the American media is that President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu," John McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said in an interview on John Catsimatidis's "The Cats Roundtable" radio show broadcast Sunday on AM 970 in New York.

"There was money moving that included taxpayer U.S. dollars, through non-profit organizations. And there were various liberal groups in the United States that were raising millions to fund a campaign called V15 against Prime Minister Netanyahu," McLaughlin said.
That might be why Obama has been so angry about the result. I'd also like to get clarification about the taxpayer dollars, but that's a subject for another time. I do want to call attention to the head honcho for V15, however (emphasis mine):
After Netanyahu's win, V15 co-founder Nimrod Dweck said in an interview with Ronan Farrow aired on MSNBC's "Jose Diaz-Balart" that "not a single cent" of State Department or taxpayer money had gone to their campaign.

"These are false allegations and they have nothing to do with reality," Dweck said.
Always trust content from Nimrod Dweck.

After all

"After all, the law is the law."

What does that comment mean to you?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Meanwhile, in Madison

If you thought that things were settling down, think again:
At Tuesday evening's Madison City Council meeting, Young, Gifted and Black Coalition leader Brandi Grayson spoke directly to Police Chief Mike Koval about the death of Tony Robinson: “We know the facts, and when they come out, this city will erupt. This city will f-ing erupt. And the blood and whatever takes place after that will be on your hands and the mayor’s hands.”
Does that sound like a threat to you? Koval thinks so:
Koval sat through the public comment period that City Council had added to its Tuesday agenda, saying later he has no problem with people questioning his department, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

But on Wednesday morning, he sent an email to all alders with a different tone.

“Last night, I sat patiently listening to people accusing MPD of everything from being sanctioned murderers to racists. Given the nature of the proceedings, I was left with no recourse to respond to any of these diatribes, falsehoods and shock value missives,” Koval wrote.

He wrote that people can attack him all they want, but he has a duty to speak up when the people who work for him “have to contend with unchecked, unilateral attacks on them and the legacy of the MPD.”

“I failed them by not being able to go to bat for them under the constraints of the hearing protocols last night,” Koval wrote. “In short, your collective silence is DEAFENING and that is why I chose to write to you today. Don’t think that I haven’t noticed or that my employees haven’t noticed—we have!”
Back to Grayson:
“What will happen after this non-indictment will mimic Ferguson, and that, my dear, will be on your hands,” Grayson said, again speaking directly to Koval. “And you can no longer scream that we are not Ferguson, 'cause we are Ferguson. We are the worst city in the nation for black people and every one of you should be ashamed of yourself.”
That sure sounds like a threat, and a patronizing one at that.

We've been writing about police conduct, and misconduct, a fair amount in recent days. We want our police to do better and be less intrusive in our daily lives. At the same time, we want them to protect us from people who would do us harm.

Are we being fair, or even consistent? It's a good question. There is every reason to believe that Ms. Grayson is planning to incite a riot on the streets of Madison. I have no idea if Madison is he worst city in the nation for black people, as she claims, but I would be curious how she came to that conclusion.

More to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Saint Amy's Amendment Dilemma

Poor Amy Klobuchar -- confounded by her own staff:
An aide to Sen. Amy Klobuchar knew about the controversial abortion language stuck into a bipartisan measure to help victims of human trafficking before her boss voted on it, but failed to say anything, a spokeswoman acknowledged Thursday.

The proposed measure, which had strong backing from members of both parties, stalled in the U.S. Senate last week when Democrats — including Sens. Klobuchar and Al Franken — say they discovered language in the bill that restricts federal funds for abortions and emergency contraception.

Both Klobuchar and Franken voted for the bill in late February on the Judiciary Committee. Franken has said he regrets his vote and believes the Republicans “slipped” in the abortion language, also called a Hyde Amendment. Klobuchar said she didn’t know the language was in the bill when she voted for it.
As always, you have to pass the bill to find out what's in it. A few observations:

  • This is a very old practice in Washington and the Democrats and Republicans have done it for years. The Hyde Amendment has been around for a very long time. Henry Hyde, an Illinois congressman who was a long-time pro-life champion, first added it to legislation in 1976. Democrats have been fighting to get rid of it ever since, because taxpayer funded abortions are hugely important to certain parts of the Democratic Party's coalition. Including, it would appear, Amy Klobuchar.
  • If you were around during the Reagan era, you probably remember the Boland Amendment. This was the brainchild of Edward Boland, a backbencher Democrat from Massachusetts who was a pal of Tip O'Neill, the legendary Boston pol who was Speaker of the House during the 1980s. The Boland Amendment barred the president from providing assistance to the Contras, who were fighting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The Democrats regularly added it to budget bills that gave President Reagan a choice -- either sign the bill and allow your hands to be tied, or veto it and shut the government down. The Boland Amendment was treated as holy writ, spoken of in reverent tone, When Reagan's team tried to bypass this poison pill, it led to the Iran-Contra scandal. You would hear Democrats say, "why, that monster Reagan, he's violating the Boland Amendment!"
  • Klobuchar is a few years older than I am and has made politics her life, so she's old enough to know all this.
While the "staffer" hasn't been officially thrown under the bus, you can hear the engine revving in the background:
“A staff member who reviewed the reintroduced bill had seen the Hyde provision in the bill but did not inform the senator. The senator was not aware that the provision was included until last Monday,” e-mailed Klobuchar’s spokeswoman Julia Krahe. “The senator takes responsibility for the work of her office and missing the provision and she is focused on moving forward to find a way to fix the bill and protect victims of trafficking.”
Klobuchar has been able to skate on a lot of topics for years because everyone "likes" her. She's particularly embarrassed on this one because she is a sponsor of the bill, so claiming ignorance seems a stretch. As the Star Tribune article mentions, she declined an interview request. We should keep asking the questions anyway.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gino makes an observation

We've been having a lively discussion on a post I wrote last week, concerning, mostly, the role of police officers as agents of the state. I wanted to pull out one comment from Gino for further discussion:
oh yeah... and let's talk about 'sobriety checkpoints' that have nothing at all to do with catching drunks, and more about cops getting easy overtime pay (this is documented), and impounding cars (the city takes a share of the impound fees, documented also, that are charged by the brother of the mayor who owns the tow business...)

if yer registration is out of date, your car is impounded. if your drivers license is a day or two expired, your car is impounded. these impound fees start at over 5 Benjamins on the first day, increasing every day thereafter...

guess which class of people is further victimized by these acts?

guess which class of people routinely lobbies for such checkpoints to pad their paychecks?

these dont occur after midnight, when the drunks are on the road. they happen tween 6-9 pm, when the most cars can be stopped and impounded.
so, yeah, yer a blue collar man, struggling to make your way, lucky enough to pick up a few hours OT that day (maybe to catch up on your registration fees?)... yer the one getting popped and impounded...
by the neighborhood 'heros'... er, i mean, bullies...

and all you did wrong was drive home from work.
Technically, that's not entirely right -- you are required by law to keep your registration up to date, so if you don't, you're breaking the law. But what should the punishment be? Is impounding the car a reasonable solution? And are sobriety checkpoints a false flag operation, as Gino suggests?

I would argue that impounding a car for an expired driver's license is a ridiculous punishment and it creates a lot of perverse incentives for law enforcement. I would also argue that if it's happening in California, where Gino lives, it's likely to spread to Minnesota and other states. Are you okay with that?

Bibi survives

The Jersualem Post says it wasn't really that close, either:
The Israeli elections took a dramatic turn in the early morning hours on Wednesday as official tallies from nearly all precincts indicate that Likud has opened up a significant lead over Zionist Union, a far cry from the virtual dead heat that television exit polls had reported Tuesday evening.

With 99 percent of precincts reporting before dawn on Wednesday, the Likud has emerged as the clear, undisputed victor in the elections.
I don't understand Israeli politics well enough to suss out which party is which and what they all stand for, but one thing is clear enough -- the Israelis understand the nature of their neighborhood better than anyone else. Benjamin Netanyahu will remain prime minister.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hey man, pull my finger

Historically, it's not been a good idea to give the Germans the finger. Not that it apparently stopped the man who is now finance minister of Greece:
The Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has been invited to Berlin during a new low in Greco-German relations, after the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, was forced to deny “giving the finger” to Germany in a two-year-old YouTube video.

The German leader, Angela Merkel, invited Tsipras for his first visit to Berlin since he came to power in January on an anti-austerity platform that has led to clashes with Greece’s creditors, including Germany.

This is soon after Varoufakis, appearing via videolink on Günther Jauch, one of Germany’s most-watched political discussion programmes on the state TV channel ARD, was shown a video of himself criticising the Greek government for accepting the European Union’s bailout conditions.

In the video, filmed at a conference in Zagreb in May 2013, the finance minister said in English: “Greece should simply announce that it is defaulting, just like Argentina did, within the euro in January 2010, and stick the finger to Germany” – at which point he appeared to raise his middle finger – “and say, ‘Well, you can now solve this problem by yourself’.”
Here is Mr. Varouakis in action:

The ol' Milwaukee skyline
When Frau Merkel summons you, you know the trouble is coming.



There's a confrontation brewing. The next 6-9 months are going to be very interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of the term.

Monday, March 16, 2015

This is all we do and we do it well

RIP Jack Prescott:
Prescott, a practicing attorney for more than 50 years until 2009, died March 4. He was 87.

In 1986, about a year after lawyers were allowed to appeal to the public, Prescott began doing television commercials. He crafted the catch phrase to get around the laws of the day that forbid lawyers from advertising that they are “specialists.”

The pitch became seared on the minds of television viewers, sometimes running 25 times a week on Channel 9, and included his declaration of being “the busiest bankruptcy lawyer in Minnesota.”

The ads worked, Prescott said in a 2002 Star Tribune interview, because he looks honest. “They seem to do better during the soaps. I don’t know why,” he said.

Actually, I think we do know why -- if you're home watching the soaps when you'd ordinarily be working, you might be encountering a bit of financial difficulty. But that's not the point of this post.

Although I thankfully have never needed the services of Prescott & Pearson, ol' Jack has been of service to my family. Jack's office is in New Brighton, on Old Highway 8, next door to a small, old school Dairy Queen that hardly has any seating, although it does have a few outdoor tables. When the kids were younger we'd sometimes eat our ice cream on the steps in front of Jack's office if the outdoor tables were occupied -- this would be in the evening, after they'd closed for the day. I'd pretend to be Jack Prescott and do his shtick line in an exaggerated voice and the kids would laugh and laugh. The kids would try it, too, but they'd start laughing before they could get the words out. It's a great memory. And I should mention that Jack Prescott was a good bankruptcy attorney.  After all, it's all he did and he did it well.

These old school pitch guys are fading from the scene now -- you haven't seen Ray "Menards Guy" Szmanda on television in a long time, either:


I'm a copywriter and I suspect we often overthink what we do. There's great value in direct expression. Jack Prescott understood that.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Nothing is what it seems

Tom Cotton is the newest Emmanuel Goldstein because he was the lead signatory on the letter to the mullahs, which supposedly undercut the Leader of the Free World's diplomacy.

Let's set the Wayback Machine to July, 2008. You might remember, although I'm guessing you don't, that the former Leader of the Free World was involved in talks with the mullahs via a six-way diplomatic effort. The New York Times noted that things collapsed:
International talks on Iran’s nuclear ambitions ended in deadlock on Saturday, despite the Bush administration’s decision to reverse policy and send a senior American official to the table for the first time.

The presence of William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, was one of the most important encounters between Iran and the United States since relations were severed nearly three decades ago. And it was part of a rare show of unity among the six negotiating partners — the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — who pressed Iran to accept compromise.

But Iran responded with a written document that failed to address the main issue: international demands that it stop enriching uranium. And Iranian diplomats reiterated before the talks that they considered the issue nonnegotiable.
So why did this happen? Was it bad negotiating? Or did something else happen. Last year Michael Ledeen suggested a reason:
During his first presidential campaign in 2008, Mr. Obama used a secret back channel to Tehran to assure the mullahs that he was a friend of the Islamic Republic, and that they would be very happy with his policies. The secret channel was Ambassador William G. Miller, who served in Iran during the shah’s rule, as chief of staff for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and as ambassador to Ukraine. Ambassador Miller has confirmed to me his conversations with Iranian leaders during the 2008 campaign.
Ledeen could be lying about this, I suppose. An enterprising reporter might see if Mr. Miller is available. So what would Obama's reason be? John Hinderaker has a suggestion:
So Obama secretly told the mullahs not to make a deal until he assumed the presidency, when they would be able to make a better agreement. Which is exactly what happened: Obama abandoned the requirement that Iran stop enriching uranium, so that Iran’s nuclear program has sped ahead over the months and years that negotiations have dragged on. When an interim agreement in the form of a “Joint Plan of Action” was announced in late 2013, Iran’s leaders exulted in the fact that the West had acknowledged its right to continue its uranium enrichment program.
Did they? Well, let's see. Direct from the Iranian news service:
“The (nuclear) program has been recognized and the Iranian people’s right to use the peaceful nuclear technology based on the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and as an inalienable right has been recognized and countries are necessitated not to create any obstacle on its way,” Zarif said in a press conference in Geneva on Sunday.

“The (nuclear) program will continue and all the sanctions and violations against the Iranian nation under the pretext of the nuclear program will be removed gradually,” he added.

He said the next six months will be a serious start towards “the full removal of all UN Security Council, unilateral and multilateral sanctions, while the country’s enrichment program will be maintained." "Production of 5-percent-enriched uranium will continue in the country similar the past,” Zarif continued.

“None of the enrichment centers will be closed and Fordo and Natanz will continue their work and the Arak heavy water program will continue in its present form and no material (enriched uranium stockpiles) will be taken out of the country and all the enriched materials will remain inside the country. The current sanctions will move towards decrease, no sanctions will be imposed and Iran’s financial resources will return,” he continued.
It's possible that a lot of people are lying about all this. Hinderaker makes a salient point:
In view of these events, it is deeply ironic that the Democrats are accusing 47 Republican senators of undermining Obama’s position in the negotiations for a final agreement. Unlike Obama, they have done nothing in secret. They have published an “open letter” that is intended for the Obama administration and the American people as much as for Iran’s leaders. The letter spells out basic truths relating to our Constitution and the Senate’s role in ratifying treaties. Unlike Obama’s secret overture to Iran, the GOP senators aren’t discouraging Iran from dealing with Obama so that they can get a better deal later. On the contrary, their letter strengthens Obama’s bargaining position. He can say, “Even if I wanted to, I can’t give in on nuclear enrichment. It would never get through the Senate.” 
Ironic isn't the term I'd use. I'll not actually use the terms I'd prefer to use because I don't like to work blue. Hinderaker is right, of course. The letter to the mullahs was an open letter for a reason; Cotton and his colleagues wanted people to understand what was going on and they were quite open about it. No back channels for this crew.

So, will Iran get the bomb? Hard to say. Other countries aren't waiting to find out, though:
As U.S. and Iranian diplomats inched toward progress on Tehran’s nuclear program last week, Saudi Arabia quietly signed its own nuclear-cooperation agreement with South Korea.

That agreement, along with recent comments from Saudi officials and royals, is raising concerns on Capitol Hill and among U.S. allies that a deal with Iran, rather than stanching the spread of nuclear technologies, risks fueling it.

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family, has publicly warned in recent months that Riyadh will seek to match the nuclear capabilities Iran is allowed to maintain as part of any final agreement reached with world powers. This could include the ability to enrich uranium and to harvest the weapons-grade plutonium discharged in a nuclear reactor’s spent fuel.

Several U.S. and Arab officials have voiced concerns about a possible nuclear-arms race erupting in the Middle East, spurred on by Saudi Arabia’s regional rivalry with Iran, which has been playing out in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen in recent months.
This is going so well.

This is going well

Dateline: Ferguson, MO:
Two officers were shot in front of the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday, authorities said, as demonstrators gathered after the resignation of the city's police chief in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report alleging bias in the police department and court.

A 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer from St. Louis County was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference. Both were taken to a hospital, where Belmar said they were conscious. He said he did not have further details about their conditions but described their injuries as "serious."

"I don't know who did the shooting, to be honest with you," Belmar said, adding that he could not provide a description of the suspect or gun.

He said his "assumption" was that, based on where the officers were standing and the trajectory of the bullets, "these shots were directed exactly at my officers."
Sure glad that the Justice Department released that report. It really calmed things down.

Kerry calls in an airstrike on his own position

I have to say the reaction to Tom Cotton's letter has been so over the top that it's amusing. Here's a typically subtle example that I saw on the interwebs:

Those bastards!
So the Republicans have sandbagged what, exactly? Let John Kerry explain:
[Kerry] told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the letter undermined U.S. foreign policy and was legally incorrect.

"We've been clear from the beginning: We're not negotiating a, quote, legally binding plan," Kerry told the panel. "We're negotiating a plan that will have in it the capacity for enforcement. We don't even have diplomatic relations with Iran right now."
Emphasis mine. So if the agreement doesn't bind Iran to certain behaviors, what exactly is the point of all this? Back to Kerry:
Negotiators from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia hope to seal a framework with Iran by month's end and a comprehensive agreement by July. Kerry scoffed at the notion that Obama's successor would discard a deal reached between so many powerful governments and adhered to by Iran.

"I'd like to see the next president, if all of those countries have said this is good and it's working, turn around and just nullify it on behalf of the United States," he said. "That's not going to happen."
Really? I wrote yesterday about the endgame in Vietnam, in which Congress wiped its butt with the agreement that Nixon signed.

As a reminder, here is the text of Cotton's letter:
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.  For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
Obama, Kerry and the rest of the folks at the table have no intention of going to Congress for approval. They know they won't get it. As for the letter itself, it's mostly correct. I would grant Kerry the notion that a future Congress can't modify any agreement that he negotiates, but it's highly likely that a future Congress will simply ignore it, so it's a distinction without a difference.

Setting all the other kabuki aside, the real question before us remains -- is there any reason for the U.S. government to trust that Iran would abide by any agreement?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Okay, then

When the New York Times won't help, you're in trouble:
Mrs. Clinton’s explanation that it was more convenient to carry only one device seemed at odds with her remark last month, at a technology conference in Silicon Valley, that she uses multiple devices, including two kinds of iPads, an iPhone and a BlackBerry. She said then: “I don’t throw anything away. I’m like two steps short of a hoarder.”

At one point on Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton said the emails she had deleted contained “personal communications from my husband and me.” But on Sunday, a spokesman for Mr. Clinton told reporters that the former president had “sent two emails in his life.”
You'd think the Clintons could get their stories straight by now.

A history lesson

Walter Russell Mead and Nicholas M. Gallagher with a useful reminder:
The classic case of a Congress voting to override a presidential assurance to a foreign leader came in 1975. When President Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam in 1972, the spirit and letter of the agreement guaranteed South Vietnam’s independence; what’s more, President Nixon promised Nguyen Van Thieu, President of South Vietnam at the time, that the United States would come to the South’s rescue if the North broke the agreement and attacked. But the PPA was not a treaty, and the Senate did not ratify it. Nixon was later forced to resign because of his role in the Watergate scandal, and in early 1975 North Vietnam attacked the South. President Ford, seeking to honor both the spirit of President Nixon’s signature to the Paris Peace Accords and his promise to Thieu, asked Congress for money for military aid for South Vietnam.

With overwhelming Democratic support, Congress refused to provide aid and South Vietnam went down the tubes. As the embittered Thieu said in a final address as his country collapsed, “At the time of the peace agreement the United States agreed to replace equipment on a one-by-one basis. But the United States did not keep its word. Is an American’s word reliable these days? The United States did not keep its promise to help us fight for freedom and it was in the same fight that the United States lost 50,000 of its young men.”
If the President of the United States wishes to negotiate a treaty, he'd better get the support of the Senate. You might recall that Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, but he never submitted that treaty to the Senate for approval, because he knew he'd get hooted down. Presidents would like to bind their successors, but they can't.

On the matter of Iran, this president, at this time, doesn't have the support of the Senate. I'm not entirely convinced that the letter Tom Cotton and the other senators sent to Iran was a wise move, but it's absurd to claim it was outrageous, to say nothing of treasonous. Back to Mead and Gallagher:
The Constitutional problem therefore isn’t that Congress is trying to micromanage the President; the problem is that the President is trying an end run around Congress on a matter of the greatest importance. President Obama has the right to conduct whatever policy he wishes towards Iran as long as he stays within the bounds of American law; he cannot, however, bind future Presidents and Congresses unless the legislative branch weighs in. Writing a letter to the Supreme Leader of Iran might not have been the best or the most tactful way to make the point, but Senators have an obligation to their institution and to the Constitution to uphold their right to review long term international commitments made in America’s name.
We have a Congress for a reason.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Submitted without further comment

New York Times, March 10, 2015:
The White House has berated Senate Republicans for writing to Iran’s leaders warning them against a nuclear agreement with President Obama, saying their letter skirts the Constitution and sends a dangerous and conflicting message.

In a lengthy and harshly worded statement released late Monday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Senate veteran of more than three decades and a former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he could recall no other instance in which senators had written to the leaders of another country, “much less a foreign adversary,” to say the president had no authority to strike a deal with them.

“This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States,” Mr. Biden said. “Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.”
Members of Congress are always writing ''Dear Colleague'' letters to other members, promoting a bill or noting an event. Now 10 Democratic lawmakers have written a ''Dear Comandante'' letter that is kicking up a fuss on Capitol Hill.

The letter is addressed to Daniel Ortega Saavedra, the coordinator of the junta that rules Nicaragua. In it, the lawmakers commend his Government ''for taking steps to open up the political process in your country'' and urge greater efforts toward freer and more open elections.
The 10 authors include Jim Wright of Texas, the majority leader; Edward P. Boland of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and other senior Democrats in the foreign policy field. The letter tells Mr. Ortega that it was written ''in a spirit of hopefulness and goodwill'' and voices regret that relations between Nicaragua and Washington are not better.

The writers stress that they all oppose further money for rebel campaigns against the Sandinista Government. In a veiled reference to the Reagan Administration, the letter says that if the Sandinistas do hold genuine elections, those who are ''supporting violence'' against the Nicaraguan leaders would have ''far greater difficulty winning support for their policies than they do today.''
Forbes, August 28, 2009:
Picking his way through the Soviet archives that Boris Yeltsin had just thrown open, in 1991 Tim Sebastian, a reporter for the London Times, came across an arresting memorandum. Composed in 1983 by Victor Chebrikov, the top man at the KGB, the memorandum was addressed to Yuri Andropov, the top man in the entire USSR. The subject: Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“On 9-10 May of this year,” the May 14 memorandum explained, “Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant [John] Tunney was in Moscow.” (Tunney was Kennedy’s law school roommate and a former Democratic senator from California.) “The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.”
Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.”
New York Times, April 4, 2007:
Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, met here today with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and discussed a variety of Middle Eastern issues, including the situations in Iraq and Lebanon and the prospect of peace talks between Syria and Israel.

Ms. Pelosi, the third-ranking elected official in the United States after the president and the vice president, is the most senior American politician to visit the country since relations between the United States and Syria faltered in 2003. Her visit has been criticized by President Bush and other administration officials, who have sought to isolate Syria diplomatically.

The visit is being seen as a strong signal of reengagement with Syria by the United States, which in recent years has sought to isolate the country diplomatically, and appears to have raised the profile of Mr. Assad internationally. But it remains unclear how the development is being received by other countries in the Middle East that have uneasy relations with Syria.

Start seeing pink slips

The ax is swinging on Nicollet Mall:
Layoffs have begun to sweep through Target Corp., even as the company’s CEO assured Gov. Mark Dayton Monday that the retailer will maintain a robust headquarters in Minneapolis after the cuts.

Some vice presidents were terminated last week, employees told the Star Tribune, in the first of what the company has said will be “several thousand” job cuts.

One employee who declined to be identified said that probably a couple of dozen upper managers were let go Monday and gone by lunch. The employee said broader cuts were expected Tuesday.

“The mood is pretty somber, about what you would expect,” the employee said.
There's no single reason for a mass layoff; it's always complicated. The Strib's Lee Schafer hits a key reason:
Those jobs will go away starting now and over the next couple of years as Target’s top leaders rethink what headquarters people should be doing. The goal is to simplify, to have folks accomplish most tasks faster and to just stop doing a bunch of others.

This means it’s not really an example of a company letting people go because it can’t afford to pay them. It’s more the case that several thousand people who report daily for work at Target need to leave because they are mostly just getting in the way.
We've talked about this before -- the actual work of running a retail operation can be difficult, but the key is putting your front line people in a position where they can succeed. For Target, that means making sure the stores understand the direction and have the ability to adapt what they do to the local market. If you have a top down leviathan at HQ, that becomes more difficult. A commenter in the online version of Schafer's article sums up the challenge well:
The myopia and arrogance of the company can be astounding. I once ran the NPV for a potential investment and was asked by my supervisor, "Did you use Target's method of calculating NPV?" I was confused by the question and asked if she meant, did I use Target's discount rate? No, she thought Target had a separate way to perform this standard financial calculation. When I politely explained that it doesn't really vary from company to company, she rolled her eyes at me and got very annoyed. Again, not making this up.

Once I decided to leave and began my job search, I did less - much less - actual work and asking questions, and started doing more of the Target-y things (signing up for Fast, Fun, and Friendly events, organizing group outings, sitting at the front in group presentations, and - yes - smiling in hallways). By the time I put in my notice I was winning awards for being a model employee, though most days I really couldn't tell you what I did.
Calculating NPV, or net present value, is straightforward. There are dozens of computer programs that can help you do it and any halfway accomplished Excel jockey can figure it out if you know what the discount rate is. Target has squadrons of finance people who spend their days working on such things and such work is necessary.

What's not necessary is the HQ pageantry. Back to our commenter:
Someone more clever than myself put it this way: "Target puts the 'cult' in culture." I worked at Target HQ for five years. It is too often an organized personality contest. Want to get ahead? Forget about actually being good at your job. Focus instead of networking pleasantly, singing the company song, and shaping your personality into the Target mold. Too often advancement wasn't based on performance, but on how "Target" or "Brand Right" you were judged to be. I must stress that I am not making this up, but I was once reprimanded because, "Our VP sees you in the hallway and you're never smiling."
I saw this trend coming when I worked there, although it wasn't yet in full bloom. I got more credit for being on the Target Volunteers HQ Committee than I did for doing my job. It was all about visibility.

I don't envy Brian Cornell. He's going to be dispatching a lot of good people. Some of the VP level people made a lot of money and it's going to be difficult to find comparable jobs. It wasn't sustainable, though. These days have been coming for a long time.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Noodling around

I'll get bored with this eventually, but here are a few more images that I've played around with:

Cross country race at Anoka High School, September, 2014

Venice Beach, California, December, 2014
Pasadena, California, New Year's Day, 2015
Old Main, Knox College, October, 2014

Los Angeles, from Griffith Park Observatory, December, 2014

Image is everything

Matt Drudge has been playing an interesting game lately involving Martin O'Malley, who until recently was governor of Maryland. In between running his usual stuff, he's been putting up a lot of striking imagery of O'Malley:

He's a handsome rascal
That image appears today, in the following context:

Save us, Obi Wan O'Malley, you're our only hope
And in case you're not swayed by the old school black and white, here's some beefcake of O'Malley the rocker, which Drudge ran last week:

My next song is "I got yer gun show loophole right here, baby"
So he's Governor Ubermensch, apparently. My usual go-to O'Malley image is one that you see a lot on Hot Air:

Yeah, my friends call me Shemp. How did you know?
You can do amazing things with images these days. I took the following picture when I was out in California last year. This was on the I-210 freeway, around Glendale, CA:

Twilight on the 210
If you play with the image a little bit, it becomes a lot more apocalyptic:

Bad news in Cali
We can do more to manipulate images than ever before. And by the time the next election cycle is complete, you can bet that your eyes will deceive you a few times.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Here comes the parade -- maybe not?

I was fully expecting that the story out of Madison, in which police shot 19-year-old Tony Robinson after a struggle, was going to go all Ferguson. Maybe it won't, though. While the AP report in the Star Tribune buries the inconvenient truth in the 19th paragraph of their report, and you have to click to page 2 to get to it, the reporting does confirm what we suspected yesterday:
Wisconsin's online courts database shows that Robinson, a 2014 graduate of Sun Prairie High School, pleaded guilty to felony armed robbery in October and was sentenced in December to three years' probation. A police report said he was among four teenagers arrested in a home invasion in which the suspects were seen entering an apartment building with a long gun. They ran with electronics and other property and three of the four were captured. A shotgun and a "facsimile" handgun were recovered, according to the report.
A few thoughts:

  • Ordinarily you'd expect someone who committed a felony armed robbery to be in prison, but Wisconsin has a problem there, since it has one of the highest incarceration rates for African-Americans in the country. It's not particularly surprising that a first-time offender might not go to prison. 
  • The area where the incident took place, known as Willy Street, is a bit of a hippie enclave, on the south side of the isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona. It's known for food co-ops, street fairs and the like. Areas to the east of Willy Street neighborhood, especially when you get closer to Fair Oaks Avenue, are often pretty poor and crime tends to be a problem. As a whole, Madison is a wealthy town but most of the money is on the west side. It's a formula you see all over the country.
  • At some point, people will start to realize that Socialist Workers agitators with their bullhorns are essentially as useful to a community as the Westboro Baptists are. So far, Madison isn't taking the bait. Let's see what happens in the coming days, though.


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Here comes the parade -- Updated

It's better to be at the front of the parade than behind the horses, so I'm going to stake my position: I blame Scott Walker.
A Madison police officer shot and killed a 19-year-old man after he assaulted the officer, police say.

Police responded to reports of shots fired on Williamson Street at 6:29 p.m. Police confirmed an incident on the 1100 block of Williamson Street.

Madison Police Chief Michael Koval said officers responded to a disturbance call where it was reported that a person was jumping in and out of traffic, and possibly responsible for a battery.

Koval did not yet name the person killed at a Friday night news conference but Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, identified him as 19-year-old Tony Robinson, a recent graduate of Sun Prairie high school.
Sun Prairie is a suburb of Madison, directly to the east. As usual, Ann Althouse has a good seat on the parade route:
Speaking through a bullhorn that has a "Socialist Worker" sticker on it, a woman addresses a crowd: "I want you to take this opportunity to understand and connect with [the family's] hearts. A black teenager, a black boy, was viciously killed and murdered by Madison Police Department." She also says that if things don't change, "then we will have a Ferguson in Madison." Someone in the crowd cries "We do have a Ferguson in Madison."
Here's the video, with a NSFW warning:


If you want to understand where this is headed, here's a screen shot of a Tweet that spells it out pretty quickly.

Few details are currently known, but the narrative is established
We'll come back to this when we actually know something.

UPDATE:

We may know some things. First, let's show everyone the picture that you're likely to see on the news of Mr. Robinson:

A photogenic young man
Here's a picture you're somewhat less likely to see:

A mug's game
This would be a mug shot of Tony Robinson, of Madison, following his arrest for an armed home invasion. As it happens, he was convicted in October of last year of armed robbery, a Class C felony in Wisconsin. As it also happens, he was not sent to prison.

Is this the same guy? Maybe not, but the resemblance is strong. We'll continue to watch this story.

Friday, March 06, 2015

You get to see what you get to see

Hillary Clinton wants you to see her emails. But only the ones she releases:
Hillary Clinton says she wants the public to see her e-mails. But there are some that voters may never see: the ones she didn’t give to the government.

Clinton used a private server and e-mail address while U.S. secretary of state, and the law doesn’t force her to release any of the e-mails that she hasn’t turned over to the State Department.

Clinton, through spokesmen, said she turned over all e-mail about public business when she was the nation’s chief diplomat, and other messages may include notes to friends and personal contacts.

Open-government advocates say that’s not the point: the public should have a complete record of official e-mail communications, but Clinton’s may forever have gaps.

“There really is not a way to force an agency to turn those over, because they are not under the agency’s control,” Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpentheGovernment.org, a coalition that works to make more government records public, said. “They are not government records until they are turned over.”
So why would such an upstanding public official try to avoid full disclosure?

Here's a possibility:
The Washington Post reported last week that foreign sources, including governments, made up a third of those who have given the foundation more than $1 million over time. The Post found that the foundation, begun by former president Bill Clinton, has raised nearly $2 billion since its creation in 2001.

Foreign governments and individuals are prohibited from giving money to U.S. political candidates, to prevent outside influence over national leaders. But the foundation has given donors a way to potentially gain favor with the Clintons outside the traditional political limits.
Okay, that's not fair. I'm sure it was all above board. The Clintons never do anything unethical. So shut the hell up, haters.

Just so you know

We are negotiating with Iran. Deep thoughts from the Iranian foreign minister:
ANN CURRY: So how does Iran want to annihilate the regime of Israel, since you're making the difference?
JAVAD ZARIF: We don't want to annihilate. We don't want to--
ANN CURRY: Well, the Supreme Leader--
JAVAD ZARIF: --annihilate anybody.
ANN CURRY: --tweeted that--
JAVAD ZARIF: We have-- the-- well, what he says--
ANN CURRY: --it should be annihilated.
JAVAD ZARIF: It-- it should be annihilated. 
Okay then.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Start seeing red

It's a sign of the times:
Target Corp. is the dominant employer in downtown Minneapolis. The 10,000 people on its headquarters payroll are a prime clientele for bars and restaurants around Nicollet Mall. Many of them live in the urban core.

So the company’s newly announced plan to empty thousands of desks over the next two years could significantly interrupt the momentum of an increasingly vibrant city center.

“They’re the No. 1 employer — that’s the whole story. They are the anchor downtown,” said Russ Nelson, president of NTH real estate and project management. “There are Target vendors, the other professionals that serve them, the lawyers.”
Beyond everything else, the Sword of Damocles manner of the announcement isn't helping people much, either:
“A lack of information breeds uncertainty,” said John Budd, industrial relations chair at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “Alleviating uncertainty requires open communication and high levels of transparency.”

As the news spread Tuesday, Cornell and other executives were still on stage taking questions from analysts. No one brought up the number of people being affected by the cuts, part of a $2 billion cost-reduction program. When an analyst asked how Target can minimize the friction and distraction of downsizing, Cornell said he appointed a senior executive to lead it. “We recognize it is a time of significant change,” he said.
And a certain scion of the family that began Target isn't too crazy about things, either:
Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that Target Corp. layoffs will create a "very, very, very difficult situation" for thousands of Minnesota families. Noting the decision has already been made, Dayton said he nonetheless requested a meeting with CEO Brian Cornell to hear his rationale for plans to lay off several thousand employees in the next two years, largely at the company's downtown Minneapolis headquarters.

"I did not receive any kind of advance notice," Dayton said Wednesday morning in response to a reporter's question. He said he and Lieutenant Gov. Tina Smith, his frequent emissary to the business community, want to meet with Cornell "as soon as possible."
A few thoughts:

  • If nothing else happens, the news underscores an important point about Target Corporation -- sentiment doesn't mean much. The company razed the first store in the chain, T-1 in Roseville, without thinking twice about it. The history of that building meant nothing. The real estate did. The bottom line on the ol' SCCR (Targetspeak for a P&L) is the only thing that matters.
  • Businesses are required to report mass layoffs to the state government, so Dayton's concerns are legitimate. The reporting requirement allows the state time to prepare for processing unemployment claims and other transition costs. The other issue is that the layoffs kinda harsh the mellow on the booming Minnesota economy narrative. To be certain, Target didn't decide to cut a substantial part of its payroll because of government intrusions per se, but those haven't helped much, either.
  • I am concerned about the collateral damage to other businesses. A lot of companies maintain office space in Minneapolis precisely because they are Target vendors. The buildings near Target HQ are full of vendors and suppliers and a few of them will need to rethink their tenancies. The downtown bars and restaurants rely on Targeteers for a lot of business as well; if there are, say, 5,000 less people prowling the skyways during the day it's going to have a big impact.
  • Morale has to stink at Target Plaza right now. Being on the business end (pun intended) of a corporate downsizing is quite demoralizing. Getting the work done becomes even more difficult because employees get fatalistic and apathetic. That's a tough position.



Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Nothing new

Netanyahu came to Congress and the cry came out -- he said nothing new:
President Obama said "there was nothing new" in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech on Iran to a joint meeting of Congress.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said, "the prime minister didn't offer any viable alternatives" to the possible deal being worked out with Iran on its nuclear program.
That wasn't the point of Netanyahu's speech, nor is it Netanyahu's job to broker a different deal. The simple point he made is that Iran is not to be trusted. And there is ample reason to believe that.

So what did he actually say? Let's go to the transcript:

So you see, my friends, this deal has two major concessions: one, leaving Iran with a vast nuclear program and two, lifting the restrictions on that program in about a decade. That's why this deal is so bad. It doesn't block Iran's path to the bomb; it paves Iran's path to the bomb.

So why would anyone make this deal? Because they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse?

Well, I disagree. I don't believe that Iran's radical regime will change for the better after this deal. This regime has been in power for 36 years, and its voracious appetite for aggression grows with each passing year. This deal would wet appetite -- would only [whet] Iran's appetite for more.

Would Iran be less aggressive when sanctions are removed and its economy is stronger? If Iran is gobbling up four countries right now while it's under sanctions, how many more countries will Iran devour when sanctions are lifted? Would Iran fund less terrorism when it has mountains of cash with which to fund more terrorism?
While it's hard to believe, Netanyahu is correct -- the mullahs have been running the show in Iran for 36 years. I don't see much evidence that they will moderate or change their stated goals. Yes, there is nothing new in Netanyahu's speech, but it's always useful to get a reminder of who we're dealing with. One other thing; Iran will have the bomb well before any restrictions would expire.

The day you're hired, the bullet is fired

As most readers of this feature know, I worked for Target for nearly a decade. There was a saying in the field organization about working for the ol' bullseye -- the day you're hired, the bullet is fired. The plain meaning: unless you can outrun or otherwise avoid the bullet, you were eventually going to be gone. The sound of metaphorical gunfire rang out in downtown Minneapolis yesterday:
 Target Corp. will cut several thousand jobs at its Minneapolis headquarters over the next two years, taking the knife to itself as never before as it adapts to changing shopper habits.

The move could deal a sharp blow to the downtown area, where Target is the largest employer with 10,000 people at its Nicollet Mall offices. The company aims to produce $2 billion in annual savings through the layoffs and other initiatives.
Several thousand doesn't narrow the scope down very much and it's gotta scare the hell out of the Targeteers in the building. I tend to think of "several" as meaning more than 4 or more, which would mean that as many as half the people working at 1000 Nicollet Mall are going to be looking for new work soon. That's tough.

The rationale does make sense:
“It allows us to be a much more agile, effective organization,” Brian Cornell, Target’s chief executive, said Tuesday after a meeting with investors and analysts where the plan was revealed.

“These are some really tough decisions we’ve had to make, but these were the choices that were right for the business and right for our shareholders.”
It's been a dozen years since I worked for Target, but I've continued to observe what's happened there with interest. Agile is the key word -- successful businesses are decisive and it's tough to be that way when you have to run an idea past a dozen people first. I recall many days where nearly my entire day booked with meetings, often process related. I'd have to work on the weekends just to have uninterrupted time to get tasks done. The larger an organization becomes, the more bureaucratic it is and the more likely it will be festooned with layers of management. That's where Target is today.

These days I still work for a retail company, but a much smaller, privately held entity. I know nearly everyone in senior management personally and would be able to get an idea to them without having to run it by a dozen people first. It's a much better place to be. Still, my experience at Target was invaluable. The company does an excellent in teaching business fundamentals, especially how to move a number in a P & L. While I don't have to do that very much in my job now, understanding the process is a competitive edge.

Other companies in the Twin Cities and elsewhere will have the chance to bring on some talented new people as the Targeteers leave the building. While the news appears to be gloomy, there will be greater opportunities ahead.