Thursday, April 30, 2009

Guilty Pleasures Part Forty-Four -- Ben Picks, Maria Comments

Enough swine flu and deficit spending -- it's time for some music, y'all. As usual, I have my partner in crime Fearless Maria with me and she asked her brother Ben for some suggestions for this week. Did Ben come through for us, Maria?

Well, what do you know? For once, he actually got into some real Thursday stuff. Not so much that he wants to help us write it, of course. But he did give me some suggestions.

Well Maria, are they any good?

Well Dad, all I can say is that first song has a little bit of change in it. Especially the outfits! It's David Bowie, performing, you guessed it. . .

That one goes back to about 1973 or so, when Bowie was doing some kind of theatrical stuff. Lots of makeup, huh, Maria?

I agree. Lots of strange and weird makeup! Strange but true! When he turned to face the strange changes, when he turned his head to put on the strange makeup! I think he looks a little bit like a raccoon, if you ask me!

Well Maria, raccoons like to dig in trash cans and maybe that's where he got that makeup! Anyway, let's move on. So what did Ben pick next?

Hmm, it says on this piece of paper that he picked Hannah Montana! Just kidding, he picked Tom Cochrane, singing this one:

It's a good song, Dad, but what's with the fat dude in shorts eating the popsicle? I don't quite get the message on that one!

I don't know, Maria. Maybe he borrowed the outfit from Gino? Or maybe he got it from these guys.

Sorry Gino, my dad wrote that. I hope you don't think we're hippies now!

Somehow, I don't think that Gino thinks we're hippies, Maria. At least he knows that you're not a hippie. Anyway, so what else did your brother leave for us?

Ben said this was his recital. He thinks it's very vital, for him to rock a rhyme that's right on time. . .

That's a tricky choice, Maria. Do you know who the guys with the cards are?

That's easy, they're jerks!

Well, maybe they are. But they are actually magicians named Penn and Teller. They don't really scam people with card games.

Well, did Penn and Teller really act like Run DMC in Japan?

No, but they might have performed a magic show in Japan.

Their best trick -- make the jerk disappear!

They'll be happy to know that you aren't a big fan, Maria. But we'll move on. What did Ben suggest next?

I think Ben suggested some Bobby Sherman! Dad, can we veto that one?

By all means, let's veto that one! Seriously, what did he suggest?

He thought this one would be good. Bet you didn't know this, Dad, but Ben is a secret bagpipe fan!

Really, Maria? I find that a little hard to believe.

No, it's true, Dad! See for yourself!

I don't think that's really a bagpipe song, Maria.

I know, Dad. That just brings our ratings up. It's called creative journalism!

I think the term you're looking for is creative license, Maria, and your creative license might get suspended if you're not careful. Anyway, what else did he suggest?

Dad, I think you'd better call the cops!

Why would I call the cops, Maria?

Because Ben just confessed to a horrible crime!

Ben did? Really?

Yeah, Dad. Says so right here. He said

You know what the good news is, Dad? He didn't shoot the deputy!

Well, that is a relief!

I don't think he shot the sheriff, either. I made that part up. More creative journalism!

Creative journalism, eh? A couple more outbursts like that and you'll probably get hired by MSNBC.

Dad, I can't go work for MSNBC, they have those child labor laws. Tell me, do the child labor laws mean I don't have to do my homework?

Nice try, Maria. Anyway, you may have to do your homework later, but now the other people have to do their homework by voting.

If you don't do it, you'll be going to Principal Dilettante's office! And you'll stay there 24/7 until you vote!

Just a reminder

Just go click the link

This link. Yeah, you should. (h/t: Nightwriter)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Time is Tight

Time is tight. Goodness, time is tight.

  • Had my last religion class teaching tonight, so I missed Obama's 100 Days Victory Tour press conference, but he did say this (h/t: Instapundit): OBAMA: "Number one, we inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit. ... That wasn't me. While it's probably a waste of breath to point this out, I would be remiss if I didn't. The Democrats controlled Congress in 2007-2008. They held the purse strings. Last I checked, Obama was the junior senator from Illinois during that time period. So yes, Mr. President, it was you.

  • Stinger points out that Congresswoman Bachmann was as silly as the Democrats in discussing the swine flu epidemic. He's right, of course. She's having fun being a distaff Bob Dornan these days and that's fine. But Stinger is also right that if you're going to make bold statements, they should marry up with the facts.

  • We finally have our baseball schedule for Ben's team. He is playing on an in-house team, but that doesn't mean he gets to avoid travel. He's got two games on the schedule up in Forest Lake. It's pretty amazing, actually. Look for reports on Shoreview Red in the coming weeks.

  • On a personal note, this is my 1,400th post on Mr. Dilettante. Guess I had more to say than I thought....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another Reason Why You Shouldn't Play Politics with the Swine Flu

Because it will bite you in the ass. That's why.

Turns out that, contrary to breathless reports from yesterday, the money that was in the stimulus bill for flu pandemics was already removed. By none other then Senator Charles Schumer, as the first link demonstrates.

Another Frog Volunteers to Carry the Scorpion

It took long enough, but the inevitable seems to have happened and Sen. Arlen Specter, the preeminent fan of Scottish jurisprudence in the U.S. Senate, has decided to play for the other team:

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter's decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota. (Former senator Norm Coleman is appealing Franken's victory in the state Supreme Court.)

"I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary," said Specter in a statement. "I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election."

For his part, President Obama says he is thrilled:

President Obama was informed of Specter's decision at around 10:25 a.m., according to White House officials, and reached out to the senator minutes later to tell him "you have my full support," and we are "thrilled to have you."
Sure he is, Sen. Specter. He's already decided to give you a present:

ALBUQUERQUE — In a dramatic move yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew the air quality permit it issued last summer for the Desert Rock coal-fired power plant, which is slated to be built on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners region just southwest of Farmington, New Mexico.

The action drew praise from critics of the plant and blistering commentary from its proponents.

So do you suppose that the EPA is going to be providing any support for new coal-fired plants? Or are they just picking on Native Americans? And if memory serves, don't they mine a whole lot of coal in Pennsylvania? That should help the ol' reelection campaign.

Good luck, Senator Specter. Can't say that we'll miss ya.

Your Government at Work

It's always something.

  • I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to send Air Force One, accompanied by a military escort, on a low fly-by of lower Manhattan. But it wasn't a good idea. Unsurprisingly, New Yorkers are a just a little bit skittish about that sort of thing.

  • I wasn't aware of this until yesterday, but it's good to know. Apparently the Centers for Disease Control and pretty much all other public health efforts in this country have no money at all to battle the swine flu. No really, it's true. Apparently, if these agencies didn't get money from the stimulus bill, the researchers are forced to use specimen jars as tin cups and beg for money. Mostly because of Susan Collins and Karl Rove. I just can see Collins now, twirling her Snidely Whiplash mustache. I guess the only reasonable conclusion is that Republicans are just heartless bastards.

  • Speaking of heartless bastards, House Minority Leader John Boehner has called for release of CIA documents detailing what Congress knew about the programs that some are now calling torture, especially the efficacy of the programs. Good. If we're gonna have a witch hunt, let's make sure we get all the witches.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Notre Dame Takes One on the Chin

Mary Ann Glendon refuses to provide cover to Notre Dame:

Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.

First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

There's more in the letter, but that is the gist of it. I've written a few posts about this matter in the past month and plan to write at least two more in the coming days. Let's just say that Glendon's decision pretty much exposes Notre Dame's game for what it is.

Leo Notices Something

The ever-vigilant Leo Pusateri shares this nugget:

"This bill proposes the most significant tax overhaul in 20 years," said the bill's chief author Rep. Ann Lenczeswki, DFL-Bloomington.

In addition to the tax hikes, Lenczewski's bill removes a variety of tax breaks for homeowners and businesses. Charitable contributions, the mortgage interest tax deduction and the property tax deduction for homeowners are eliminated and replaced with a tax credit based on income. The bill also eliminates several business tax breaks, like the Research and Development credit and parts of the governor's JOBZ program.

Lenczewski said she wants to clean up the state's tax code. "Which is to sweep the tax code clean of all of the preferential treatment and subsidies and things we can't afford anymore and instead bring a fairer, more progressive income tax to Minnesotans based on the ability to pay," she said.

Hey, what a great idea! Let's eliminate any shelters available and just get to taxing the snot out of those bastard rich people! What could go wrong?

Go read the Leo's whole piece, in which he even provides the appropriate music. And the appropriate conclusion:

It has proven to be axiomatic that when liberals get ahold of vast amounts of power, they will inevitably over-reach.

No doubt about it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Eagle Scouts

I was privileged to attend an Eagle Scout ceremony this evening. My son is a Boy Scout and one of the members of his troop earned his Eagle designation earlier this year and the official ceremony was today.

You have to do a lot of things, and do them well, to become an Eagle Scout. Most kids aren't up to the challenge. The kid who earned his eagle is an impressive fellow. He's going to be playing NCAA Division II football and he's been an obvious leader and role model to the other scouts in my son's troop. He's a bright, personable young man and he'll go a long way in life.

We even had a few local politicians at the ceremony, including one or two with whom I've crossed swords in the past. Such an occasion is a time to put politics aside and I was glad that they took the time to be there, because recognizing the achievements of young people is something that politicians ought to be doing.

We will need leaders to emerge from the generation that is coming of age right now, because the world they inherit will be even more complicated than the one that the current politicians face now. We will need leaders who are resourceful, work hard and have a demonstrated record of achievement. We will need Eagle Scouts.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The NFL's Administrative Exercise in Group Dynamics

You have to give the NFL credit for having mad marketing chops. For over 30 years now, they have worked with their corporate partner ESPN and have managed to turn the NFL draft, which is nothing more than an administrative exercise, into a spectacle that draws millions of viewers.

Back in the day, I used to be a draftnik. I can remember sitting down with my pal and fellow Packer fan the Anonymous Truck Driver for a long day of watching Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, various other dudes in suits and approximately 25 minutes of commercials per hour. 20 years ago, ATD and I sat down in his apartment in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago and tuned in attentively as our beloved Packers selected the man who would finally turn a moribund franchise around. He'd recently been on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was being touted as potentially the best player to ever play his position. We could barely contain our glee that the cleated messiah had arrived, the man who would return the Packers back to glory after nearly 25 years in the wilderness. He was Tony Mandarich.

Just goes to show that no one knows nothin' about nothin' when it comes to these things. Still, the allure was there and yes, I was interested enough in what was happening to do a little checking on the festivities this afternoon. They were all there -- Berman, Kiper, Mort and various other members of the Greek chorus of gridiron has-beens who draw a salary from ESPN these days. In the 20 years since the arrival of Mandarich, Kiper has turned into something of an institution, still with the most impressive car dealer finance manager 'do on television. They have better gizmos but the patter is strangely unchanged, that fey Draftspeak with its rhythmic cadences about explosiveness, high motors and knee benders -- all of those are Good Things to a draftnik.

Twenty years on, what's most interesting about the draft is how tribal it is. The manic Jets fans ring the balcony of Radio City Music Hall, chanting J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS! Over on the other side, the Giants fans, generally more patrician but still voluble, rumble their disapproval over this pick or that. Meanwhile, the team executives huddle and confer, trying to sort out the rumors and the feints that the other teams provide. It's all pretty damned, silly, really, but it is oddly compelling.

As for the players who were actually selected. . . . my beloved Packers selected a guy named B. J. Raji with their first pick, an enormous nose tackle from Boston College who weighs about 30-35 pounds more than Mandarich, who was considered absolutely massive 20 years ago. Following that, they selected USC linebacker Clay Matthews, who has impressive bloodlines; his father and his uncle both played in the NFL for about 1000 years apiece. Meanwhile, the Vikings selected wide receiver Percy Harvin of Florida in the first round. Harvin is a tremendous talent and a first-class headcase; in other words, a prototypical NFL receiver. The Vikings are used to head case wide receivers, so he should do fine. In the second round they picked a guy who has just about the best football name I've ever heard, a huge offensive lineman with the Dickensian moniker of Phil Loadholt. These days, any offensive lineman is a loadholt, I'm thinking.

Happy St. Mark's Day!

It's not one of the big ones in the church year, but today is the feast day of my patron, St. Mark. The story goes that Mark was an early follower in the Church associated with St. Paul and St. Barnabas. He wrote the second Gospel around 60 A.D. and later went on to Alexandria in Egypt, where he was one of the first people involved in establishing the Church there. He was martyred around 68 A.D.

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four and it is said that, since Mark was known to have been an associate of St. Peter, it represents a record of the life of Jesus in the view of St. Peter.

My parents were traditional Catholics and most of my siblings carry the names of saints. You could do worse than having St. Mark for a patron.

I, For One, Appreciate Our Adversarial Fourth Estate

Sometimes we take it for granted, but the committed lions of the Fourth Estate are truly a bulwark for liberty. Their willingness to look at the day's events with a gimlet eye and their ability to coldly, rationally assess the leading figures of the day are essential to the continuing health of the commonweal.

Then there's CNN's Bill Schneider:

The first President Bush was criticized for being out of touch with ordinary Americans. Do people think Obama understands the problems of ordinary Americans? Yes -- 74 percent.

Jimmy Carter was not considered a strong leader. Ronald Reagan was. Does the public think Obama is a strong leader? Yes -- 76 percent.

Richard Nixon turned out not to be honest and trustworthy. Do people think Obama is honest and trustworthy? Yes -- 74 percent.

Is Obama the superpresident? So far, so good.
I've been able to get a copy of the original draft of the article that Schenider prepared for CNN's 100 Days extravaganza, which the CNN honchos had to spike because their fact checkers weren't able to independently verify claims 3 and 7:

Feature: Little known facts about our 44th president, Barack Obama.

By Bill Schneider
CNN Senior Political Analyst

Barack Obama's tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.

Barack Obama counted to infinity - twice. He then used the numbers as a basis for his FY 2010 budget.

Barack Obama does not hunt because the word hunting infers the probability of failure. Barack Obama goes killing.

If you can see Barack Obama, he can see you. If you can't see Barack Obama you are truly an impoverished soul.

Barack Obama sold his soul to the devil for his beatific good looks and unparalleled ability to read a teleprompter. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Barack gave the devil a 25 DVD set of great American movies and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night he checks his closet for Barack Obama.

Barack Obama built a time machine and went back in time to stop the JFK assassination. As Oswald shot, Barack Obama met all three bullets with a 1000 word speech repudiating the Monroe Doctrine, deflecting them. JFK's head exploded out of sheer amazement.

Barack Obama has already been to Mars; he was stunned to learn it was a CIA rendition site.

They once made Barack Obama toilet paper, but it wouldn't take shit from anybody. However, you can get Barack Obama jewelry at J. C. Penney.

A blind man once stepped on Barack Obama's shoe. Barack replied, "Don't you know who I am? I'm Barack Obama!" The mere mention of his name cured this man blindness. Sadly the first, last, and only thing this man ever saw, was the glowing visage of Barack Obama, which so inspired that blind man that he immediately went off to join AmeriCorps but was tragically killed when he was hit by an SUV.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Who Framed Ken Lewis?

I wrote earlier today about the astonishing deposition of B of A CEO Ken Lewis. As a reminder, here's what the Wall Street Journal reported:
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Department chief Henry Paulson pressured Bank of America Corp. to not discuss its increasingly
troubled plan to buy Merrill Lynch & Co. — a deal that later triggered a government bailout of BofA — according to testimony by Kenneth Lewis, the bank’s chief executive.

Mr. Lewis, testifying under oath before New York’s attorney general in February, told prosecutors that he believed Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke were instructing him to keep silent about deepening financial difficulties at Merrill, the struggling brokerage giant. As part of his testimony, a transcript of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lewis said the government wanted him to keep quiet while the two sides negotiated government funding to help BofA absorb Merrill and its huge losses.

Lewis did as he was told and B of A went through with the transaction, with disastrous financial results. Why would someone like Lewis, a CEO who understands full well his fiduciary duty to all the stakeholders at B of A, do this?

Under normal circumstances, banks must alert their shareholders of any materially significant financial hits. But these weren’t normal times: Late last year, Wall Street was crumbling and BofA faced intense government pressure to buy Merrill to keep the crisis from spreading. Disclosing losses at Merrill — which eventually totaled $15.84 billion for the fourth quarter — could have given BofA’s shareholders an opportunity to stop the deal and let Merrill collapse instead.

“Isn’t that something that any shareholder at Bank of America…would want to know?” Mr. Lewis was asked by a representative of New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, according to the transcript.

“It wasn’t up to me,” Mr. Lewis said. The BofA chief said he was told by Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson that the deal needed to be completed, otherwise it would “impose a big risk to the financial system” of the U.S. as a whole.

When the story first broke, a lot of people wondered what exactly Lewis meant when he said "it wasn't up to me." Now we know. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has released a letter detailing Lewis's deposition (PDF format) and the answer is quite clear. Paulson and Bernanke made an offer that Lewis couldn't refuse.

Lewis had learned from his CFO that Merrill's financial situation was even worse than initially understood and Lewis now sought to get out of the deal because the financial deterioration represented a "material adverse event." No dice, said Henry Paulson. AG Cuomo's letter picks up the story:

Immediately after learning on December 14, 2008 of what Lewis described as the "staggering amount of deterioration" at Merrill Lynch, Lewis conferred with counsel to determine if Bank of American had grounds to rescind the merger agreement by using a clause that allowed Bank of America to exit the deal if a material adverse event ("MAC") occurred. After a series of internal consultations and consultations with counsel, on December 17, 2008, Lewis informed then-Secretary Henry Paulson that Bank of America was seriously considering invoking the MAC clause. Paulson asked Lewis to come to Washington that evening to discuss the matter.

At a meeting that evening Secretary Paulson, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Lewis, Bank of America's CFO, and other officials discussed the issues surrounding invocation of the MAC clause by Bank of America. The Federal officials asked Bank of America not to invoke the MAC until there was further consultation. There were follow-up calls with various Treasury and Federal Reserve officials, including with Treasury Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke. During those meetings, the federal government officials pressured Bank of America not to seek to rescind the merger agreement. We do not yet have a complete picture of the Federal Reserve's role in these matters because the Federal Reserve has invoked the bank examination privilege.

Emphasis mine. So what was the pressure that Bernanke and Paulson brought to bear on Lewis and the rest of the honchos at B of A?

Bank of America's attempt to exit the merger came to a halt on December 21, 2008. That day, Lewis informed Secretary Paulson that Bank of America still wanted to exit the merger agreement. According to Lewis, Secretary Paulson advised Lewis that, if Bank of America invoked the MAC, its management and Board would be replaced:

[W]e wanted to follow up and he said, 'I'm going to be very blunt, we're very supportive of Bank of America and we want to be of help, but' -- as I recall him saying 'the government,' but that may or may not be the case -- 'does not feel it's in your best interest for you to call a MAC, and that we feel so strongly,' -- I can't recall if he said 'we would remove the board and management if you called it' or if he said 'we would do it if you intended to.' I don't remember which one it was, before or after, and I said, 'Hank, let's deescalate this for a while. Let me talk to our board.' And the board's reaction was of 'That threat, okay, do it. That would be systemic risk."

Again, emphasis mine. I don't know what you call it when the Chairman of the Fed and the Treasury Secretary make a threat of that sort. In the real world, I'd call it extortion. It's a hell of a charge for Lewis to make. And it turns out it's true. Returning to AG Cuomo's letter:

In an interview with this Office, Secretary Paulson largely corroborated Lewis's account. On the issue of terminating management and the Board, Secretary Paulson
indicated that he told Lewis that if Bank of America were to back out of the Merrill Lynch deal, the government either could or would remove the Board and management. Secretary Paulson told Lewis a series of concerns, including that Bank of America's invocation of the MAC would create systemic risk and that Bank of America did not have a legal basis to invoke the MAC (though Secretary Paul's basis for the opinion was entirely based on what he was told by Federal Reserve officials).
Again, emphasis mine. Do we know if this opinion has any validity? Hard so say, because as you'll recall, the Fed ain't talking. How convenient.

So the bottom line was this: you had two powerful government officials, including one (Bernanke) who isn't really accountable to anyone, essentially holding a gun to Lewis's head. Nice.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, "why didn't Lewis just fall on his sword? That would have been the honorable thing to do and it might have saved B of A shareholders from suffering huge losses." And you know what? It probably would have been the right thing to do for those reasons and one other -- it would have exposed for all to see what the entire TARP bailout program really was about. But hindsight is always 20/20. And had I been in Ken Lewis's shoes, I sure the hell don't know what I would have done.

There's one other thing: Lewis had a duty to disclose to his shareholders what the impact of this transaction would be. According to Cuomo, Lewis wanted to do the right thing. So how did that one play out? Let's go back to Cuomo:
Despite the fact that Bank of America had determined that Merrill Lynch's financial condition was so grave that it justified termination of the deal pursuant to the MAC clause, Bank of America did not publicly disclose Merrill Lynch's devastating losses or the impact it would have on the merger. Nor did Bank of America disclose that it had been prepared to invoke the MAC clause and would have done so but for the intervention of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

Lewis testified that the question of disclosure was not up to him and that his decision not to disclose was based on direction from Paulson and Bernanke: "I was instructed that 'We do not want a public disclosure.'"

Gee, I wonder why that is.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven, of course. It was bad enough that the federal government had spread moral hazard in a systemic manner throughout the housing boom by implicitly guaranteeing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But now, the feds have given everyone associated with B of A a crap sandwich to eat. On a personal level, I have a number of friends who worked for B of A who have lost their jobs this year. It's possible that they might have lost those jobs anyway, but it's easy to suspect that Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke were the ones who made their suffering possible.

Me, I'm having a hard time blaming Lewis and the B of A board for their actions. They had a choice: fall on the sword or march into a bayonet. They have chosen the bayonet. If there's a lesson to be learned in this sordid tale, it's this: you would be well advised to stay away from any industry that could fall under government control. The next bayonet may have your name on it.

Ken Lewis confirms my suspicions

As readers of this feature likely know, I worked for Bank of America for 3 years earlier in the decade. It was the most go-go time of the housing boom/bubble and things were going great guns for the Bank, including our line of business. B of A has always been aggressive in expanding its reach, but it struck me as passing strange that it would agree to acquire Merrill Lynch last fall as the financial crisis first became clear, especially since Merrill was hemorrhaging money at the time. The acquisition has just about killed B of A and the effects have cost many people their jobs, including many of my old friends with the Bank.

CEO Ken Lewis is an aggressive businessman, but he's never been a fool. So why did B of A go through with what was clearly a bad deal? The Wall Street Journal has now provided the reason (via Hot Air):

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Department chief Henry Paulson pressured Bank of America Corp. to not discuss its increasingly troubled plan to buy Merrill Lynch & Co. — a deal that later triggered a government bailout of BofA — according to testimony by Kenneth Lewis, the bank’s chief executive.

Mr. Lewis, testifying under oath before New York’s attorney general in February, told prosecutors that he believed Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke were instructing him to keep silent about deepening financial difficulties at Merrill, the struggling brokerage giant. As part of his testimony, a transcript of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Lewis said the government wanted him to keep quiet while the two sides negotiated government funding to help BofA absorb Merrill and its huge losses.

Under normal circumstances, banks must alert their shareholders of any materially significant financial hits. But these weren’t normal times: Late last year, Wall Street was crumbling and BofA faced intense government pressure to buy Merrill to keep the crisis from spreading. Disclosing losses at Merrill — which eventually totaled $15.84 billion for the fourth quarter — could have given BofA’s shareholders an opportunity to stop the deal and let Merrill collapse instead.

“Isn’t that something that any shareholder at Bank of America…would want to know?” Mr. Lewis was asked by a representative of New York’s attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, according to the transcript.

“It wasn’t up to me,” Mr. Lewis said. The BofA chief said he was told by Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson that the deal needed to be completed, otherwise it would “impose a big risk to the financial system” of the U.S. as a whole.

Emphasis mine. Awfully nice of Paulson and Bernanke to expect Lewis and my friends who have now lost their jobs to fall on their swords, huh?

Official Washington is all aflutter about torture memos and similar minuets this week and the various portside windbags on Capitol Hill are primping and putting on their makeup to have hearings about it. Forget all that. You want to have a Truth Commission? Let's get to the truth of this matter. If what Lewis is saying is true, and based on my experience as an old B of A hand I have no reason to believe it isn't, this is one of the worst things that has ever happened in Washington. And yes, it happened on George W. Bush's watch.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Comedy Gold Part Two

You know what's a great way to celebrate Earth Day? Flying from Washington, D.C. out to Iowa in a 747 to give a speech.

The president flew all the way out to midcountry in his large airplane to the Hawkeye State to talk about saving the environment and developing green energy, which a 747 isn't. But who would ever point out such an inconsistency if it didn't involve evil automobile chief executives in their private jets?

As the Instapundit (who deserves a hat tip for this one) would say -- Heh.

Comedy Gold

The idea of Senate Democrats demanding a Truth Commission:

The chairmen of both the Senate and House Judiciary committees. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, are proposing an independent "Truth
" and Conyers also is planning committee hearings of his own. His panel is populated with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, a prescription for a bitter fight.

Sounds good. Might I suggest that Christopher Dodd would make an excellent chairman for this commission? Maybe they could hire Eliot Spitzer to be lead prosecutor, or he could split time with Bill Clinton.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Country's in the Very Best of Hands

A rhetorical question -- he really can't be that stupid, can he?

Today President Barack Obama opened a door that his chief of staff and his press secretary had closed in recent days, suggesting that it is possible that his administration may attempt to try former Bush hands who were involved in formulating interrogation rules for suspected terrorists:

While the Bush-era memos providing legal justifications for enhanced interrogation methods "reflected us losing our moral bearings," the president said, he also that he did not think it was "appropriate" to prosecute those CIA officers who "carried out some of these operations within the four corners of the legal opinions or guidance that had been provided by the White House."

But in clear change from language he and members of his administration have used in the past, the president said that "with respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws and I don’t want to prejudge that. I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there."

This is stupid, stupid, stupid. Breathtakingly stupid. Stupid on steroids. Doubleplus Unsmart stupid. Meta-stupid, even.

Let's do a thought experiment. What happens if Eric Holder decides to go forward and charge the former Bush hands? What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities.

  • The Bush hands (probably John Yoo, perhaps Alberto Gonzales and maybe even Evil Dick Cheney) lawyer up. In order to mount their defense, the lawyers demand reams of classified documents, especially those that would be exculpatory. Does Obama dare release classified information?
  • Suppose the administration denies the request for the information. What does the court do? Which federal judge wants to be the one to oversee a Star Chamber? Line forms at the left. And if no judge accepts the assignment and throws the case out, Obama has managed to humiliate his entire Department of Justice.
  • If the administration releases the information, what happens to it? Does it remain classified? Or do we give away information that would be highly useful to those who still have a little grudge with the U.S.?
  • Meanwhile, the Obama hands who are now responsible for administering the War on Terror (or whatever we call it these days) now have a decision to make. Do we take bold action when needed, or do we go into a bureaucratic fetal position, knowing full well that the next administration may take a similar avenging angel approach to the work they are currently undertaking? What would you do?

Look, we can agree to disagree about whether the Bush administration "lost its moral bearings" or not. We can even put up with a certain amount of preening and moral vanity from Obama and his team, which should last until they are faced with the next attack. But woe betide Obama and all his people if we are attacked and his team fails to take action because it is afraid that at some point in the future, it will be put in the dock because its political enemies call for retribution.

I'm hoping that Eric Holder is smart enough to do a cursory "investigation," cover his boss's ass and bury this breathtakingly stupid idea once and for all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Meaning of Notre Dame — III

Parts I and II are linked

Any organization that has been in existence for 2,000 years will have a certain amount of subtlety and the Catholic Church is no exception. One of the most obvious outward symbols of the Church is its long-standing hierarchical structure, and especially the central role of the Bishop of Rome, better known as the Pope.

It is certainly true that Catholics look to the Pope for moral instruction and leadership, but the widespread notion that the Pope dictates how individual Catholics behave is a fallacy. The Pope's representatives are the bishops, but they have less loyalty to Rome than you might think, and certainly less control over their flocks than the popular conception would have. In addition, there have always been many independent power sources within the structure of the larger Church – the religious orders are the most prominent example, but other Catholic institutions have long had wide latitude in how they conduct their affairs. Which brings us back to Notre Dame.

As I discussed earlier, the University of Notre Dame is one of the most prominent Catholic institutions in this country. For many Catholics, especially in the Midwest, it is a pre-eminent symbol of the Church. This is equally true for non-Catholics, who may know little of Catholic doctrine but recognize Notre Dame as a quintessentially Catholic institution. That means that the public actions of Notre Dame are bound to influence the perceptions of Catholics and non-Catholics about what Catholics believe and the values that Catholics put forward.

As is now well known, Notre Dame has invited President Obama to give the commencement address to this year's graduating senior class. Given Notre Dame's importance, it is hardly surprising that President Obama has decided to accept the invitation.

Just about every college would want to have the POTUS give a commencement address; it's obviously a huge thing and Notre Dame has had other presidents speak before, including President Reagan in 1981 and President Bush in 2001, and Presidents Eisenhower, Carter and George H. W. Bush as well.

The invitiation of President Obama has proven to be far more controversial than the earlier invitations, primarily because of the President's very public record regarding abortion. All of the other presidents except Carter were pro-life. And no other institution in the United States is more publicly pro-life than the Catholic Church. So the tension is obvious. And the protests have been fierce.

A group of prisests from The Order of the Holy Cross, which founded Notre Dame, has called for the school to reconsider the invitation. John D'Arcy, the bishop of the South Bend/Fort Wayne diocese where Notre Dame is located, will not attend the ceremony. The archbishop of this Archdiocese, John Nienstedt, has made his opposition to Notre Dame's decision quite clear and has pledged to withhold support for Notre Dame in the future. The Cardinal Newman Society, an organization that represents in varying degrees the interests of Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S., has sponsored a petition that as of this writing has over 320,000 signatures. It's an impressive array of voices. But the assembled voices haven't changed a thing.

Why is that? Well, consider the response of Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, the most powerful churchman in the Midwest and an official advisor of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. While Cardinal George is quite critical of Notre Dame for extending the invitation to President Obama, he has stopped short of calling for the invitation to be rescinded:

"The reason for the strong reaction lies in the growing dismay among many, after years of discussion and organizing, over their inability to stop the killing each day of about 4,000 unborn babies," Cardinal George said in the statement.

"The indications now that the present administration intends to solidify the right to abortion as a permanent civil rights law, without possible qualification of any sort, add to that dismay and increase frustration," he added.

"Abortion is a society-dividing issue."

That much is true, undeniably so. But the Cardinal is not willing to use his office to bring pressure on Notre Dame.

The statement said Cardinal George has not urged Notre Dame to "disinvite" the president. "He said that both the president and his office should be respected and that the university could not and should not rescind an invitation to the president of the United States," it said. "The president's views are well known as are his reasons for them; he is not himself the issue here."

It's absurd to suggest that Obama is not the issue; if John McCain, a pro-life politician, were president, no one would have objected to the invitation. But we'll let that pass. The more important issue is that George is unable or unwilling to get involved. In fact, he essentially admits his own impotence in the matter:

Cardinal George said "those who were upset about the invitation should let their opinions be known to the university, not to him or other bishops, since the bishops do not control or manage the university."

In other words, if you object, you're on your own. The bishops in the U.S. have been uncertain trumpets on any number of issues for some time now and the message from George is clear: no matter what Bishop D'Arcy, or Archbishop Nienstedt might feel personally, the bishops as a group aren't about to bring any pressure to bear on Notre Dame. So the show will go on.

Next: Catholics and politics in the United States in 2009.

Every Picture Tells a Story, Don't It

Courtesy of the Heritage Foundation

An excellent question

From Steve Chapman:

The country has gotten into a painful fiscal predicament because both parties have let us believe we can have more and more goodies from Washington at no additional cost. The recent explosion of federal spending has succeeded in one way: It has exposed that assumption for the fiction it was.

Like Bernie Madoff's investors, we now face the bleak truth that the comfortable future we expected is gone. Everything the federal government is doing will be forcibly extracted from our future earnings. The tea party protesters see that and are angry. Can the rest of the country be far behind?
I have a feeling about that -- it may take a little while, but the ground that's been shifting under our feet is not done shifting by any means.

The continuing GM minuet

GM will cut 1600 jobs. So far, it's white-collar management jobs. At this point the big costs still reside with the current assembly workers and, more importantly, with the retirees who are living large for the moment.

The party is almost over, though. GM will not survive unless a lot of people take a lot of concessions. It's going to get a lot uglier in the coming months.

So what happens in the end? I suspect that Buick and Pontiac will disappear, Saturn and Saab will be spun off and you'll have a company that makes Chevrolets, Cadillacs and GMC trucks. And if it gets worse, look for the GMC marque to disappear, too.

The UAW will be very angry about all this, but it's been inevitable for a long time now.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Baseball Season About to Start

As followers of this feature know, I'm an assistant youth sports coach. This year my son is 13 and he is now playing in the North Star League, which involves in-house programs from a number of the surrounding communities in the northern suburbs. We have our roster and had our initial team meeting last night. I'm excited about coaching this team, because we have a number of kids that we've coached before on the squad. Ben has a number of friends on the team and that makes it a lot more fun for him. Ben's team has the inspiring name of "Shoreview Burgundy," because they will be wearing burgundy colored uniforms, more of less the same color that the Phillies used to wear in the Mike Schmidt era. In past years, Ben has worn facsimile uniforms of pro teams (he's been a Met, an Angel, a Giant, a Phillie and a Brewer twice), but now he's representing Shoreview Area Youth Baseball. I'll have to come up with a nickname for the team for the purposes of this blog and suggestions are welcome.

Youth sports are in a tough position right now. The traveling programs require a tremendous commitment from the kids and their families and the costs involved have become ridiculously expensive. I'd wager that a family with a kid in a traveling baseball program can assume that they will spend 5-6 days a week on baseball and that the total outlay for fees, equipment, travel and related costs could easily be $2000/year when it's all said and done. Basketball has similar challenges and hockey and football are even worse. While there's no question that the overall performance level of kids is far superior now because of the intensive training they receive, I've long suspected that there's not a hell of a lot of joy involved in the process. The kids we coach in the in-house program compete hard and often do wonderful things on the field, but no more than a small handful of them will be able to make even their high school teams. That's not such a bad thing, though -- there's a lot of life to be lived and kids need to have balance and options in their lives. And while I suppose there are lessons to be learned by scrambling to get to a game several times a week and touring fast food locations in Brainerd and New Ulm, they aren't necessarily lessons that my son needs to learn.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Working Blue

It's been a strange week. The primary political story of the week was the series of Tea Parties that took place on Wednesday. Much of the media coverage of the events was pretty dismissive, which isn't especially surprising, given the worldview gap between many of the participants and those who work in the media. What was surprising was the persistence of MSM types referring to the participants in these events as "teabaggers" and to describe the events as "teabagging."

I'll stipulate that I'm not always the most sophisticated fellow around -- I grew up in eastern Wisconsin and these days I spend most of my time traveling from my home in one benighted suburb to my job in another benighted suburb. Somehow I'd managed to get through the first 45 years of my life without ever hearing of the term "teabagging," which I've now learned refers to a sexual practice favored in certain quarters that I do not frequent. To my knowledge, teabagging doesn't happen on the turnip truck from which I fell.

So if teabagging means a sexual practice, why on earth would MSM members like Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, David Shuster and Andrew Sullivan refer to those who were exercising their right to free speech as "teabaggers?" Scott Johnson at Powerline has a theory:

There is not only something funny going on here, there is a story here. These supposed journalists and their networks (or publisher, in Sullivan's case) have rather seriously insulted the citizens who colorfully took to the streets to air respectable views in a most civil fashion.
There's no doubt that there was an insult embedded in the messaging, but I think what's really at play here is how fundamentally unserious our media betters are. Sometimes I suspect that the MSMers are jealous of the adulation heaped upon Jon Stewart, the comedian who runs a fake newscast on Comedy Central, and the repeated use of the term "teabagging" gives them the chance to be as naughty as they think Stewart is. Never mind that Stewart is probably the biggest purveyor of conventional wisdom out there -- making fun of hicks is as daring as a Ole and Lena joke. It's the newsman as Bart Simpson, getting the bartender to ask for Anita Mantohug. I understand the impulse -- I once got away with letting fly an X-rated reference over my high school's P.A. system, an especially good trick when you go to a Catholic school. But you'd like to think that trained media professionals would be past that sort of thing. And I would also suggest that people who proffer such juvenile behavior really don't have standing to sneer at the provincials.

Of course, you can go too far the other direction, which brings us to the curious column that George Will let fly the other day. I'm not sure if Will lost money on Levi Strauss, but he came out with a ringing denunciation of those who wear blue jeans:

Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

You tell 'em, George! I'll get off your lawn, too.

This is such a cavalcade of nonsense that one hardly knows where to begin. Sometimes the best place to begin is with a world-class fisker like James Lileks, who looks at a few of Will's assertions thus:

We can gather much from this, aside from the fact that the tea was tepid when served that morning, which always puts one in a querulous humour. We can assume he hasn’t seen more than two seconds of “King of the Hill,” a very clever show that’s firmly on the side of the folk who share his instincts and understands their culture far better than Mr. Will does. (Hank Hill is a man haunted by Oughts of all sorts, constantly parsing the demands of modern life with the Oughts that arise from being a middle-aged Texan father who deals with propane. And propane accessories.) The self-contented sneer against animation suggests no disrespect for the thing itself, but rather the moving drawings aimed at adults. They should content themselves with the amusing engravings in Punch, which stay in one place and do not excite the blood.

As for allowing gamers to vote - well, tart, puckish disapproval noted, and keenly felt. I admit that I have used my computer to construct large theme parks, defeat Jedi masters, secure nuclear material in rogue states, and slog through Hell itself. Imaginary pursuits all, and hardly befitting an adult. I should sit myself in a large stadium and watch men in striped suits stand around and spit while waiting for another man to hit a ball with a stick, and I should do this 100 times a year, and I should also issue rhapsodic encomiums to the timeless American nature of watching men stand around and sit an wait for another man to hit the ball with the aforementioned stick. This is what adults do. Unless they are doing it in a simulation on a computer, in case the franchise should be withdrawn. (The vote, not the major-league endorsement of the game.)

I should go the game in a suit, of course.
Indeed. That's how they did it in 1947, back when we prized individualism. And I'm guessing George would have more credibility if he didn't wear things like this in public. But I digress.

Why do people wear jeans? They are functional. They are comfortable. They are durable. I wear jeans almost every day. Am I making a statement? Not really. I just figure that linen trousers aren't a wise choice when I'm coaching 3rd base in a Little League game, to name just one thing I tend to do. I've sat in a cubicle in a suit and I've sat in a cubicle in jeans and a polo shirt and the only difference is that I'm more comfortable (and thus more productive) when I wear clothes that don't constrict my movements. I can only surmise that, having failed on his investment in Levi Strauss, George has decided to go long on One-Hour Martinizing.

One last thing: the people making teabagging jokes are wearing suits. Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Guilty Pleasures Part Forty-Three -- What's Old, Pussycat?

If it's Thursday, it must be time to break out the Guilty Pleasures and once again I have my trusted assistant/consultant/partner in crime Fearless Maria with me to help out. We've decided to set the Wayback Machine to the year 1965.

There were a lot of great songs in 1965 -- it was the year that the Rolling Stones first arrived in force in America and it was a time when the Beatles were at the top of their form. And there were great songs coming out of Motown, Memphis and all over the British Isles. It was the dawning of a new era.

Dad, if you don't get to the songs, this post will turn out to be the yawning of a new era.

Good point, Maria! Okay, let's start at the very top song of 1965 according to Billboard. So do you think it was the Beatles, the Stones or a Motown great? Naaah. It was these guys, who look like refugees from a Shriners convention, duded up in a way that probably would earn them either a fatwa or. . . what would you say, Maria?

Maybe the International Prize of Weird. That's what I say, Dad. Now give it up for Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, performing:

So that was the most popular song of 1965, Maria. What do you think?

Well, I hope that woman standing in the middle gets paid for working with those clowns! That couldn't have been too much fun! Rating: whatever!

Well, you'll be happy to know that there were a few people who knew what they were doing in 1965, unlike those clowns you just saw, Maria. Consider these two suave individuals, dressed to the nines in their supercool tuxedos. It's the Righteous Brothers, singing:

What do you think of those guys, Maria?

Well, they've got much nicer suits than that Sam the Sham guy. It's a great song, too -- I know Mom really likes that one a lot. One thing I noticed, though, Dad. You like songs with go-go dancers, right?

Why yes, Maria. Yes I do.

Well the dancers in the back on that song aren't exactly going anywhere, are they? They could probably step it up -- they look like no-go dancers to me! But it's a great song, like Mom says. Rating: snappy!

Okay, let's move on then to the Beatles, who were definitely at the top of their game in 1965.

Yes, Dad, the Beatles are way better than those Sam the Sham jerks!

Well I agree. And if they're going to win the contest, they might need a little:

Dad, do you see poor Ringo in the back with the umbrella? If anyone needs some help, it's poor Ringo! Someone should help him hold the umbrella so he can go play his drums! Someone should help them get out of the snow, too! Rating is: wacky but awesome!

Now for something completely different, Maria. We've done teen idols before, but this guy was really good at making the ladies swoon. I'm not sure why, but check this out. It's Tom Jones, doing inventory on his face as he belts out the ever-popular:

Dad, why do the girls scream when he points at his nose? That's kind of odd, don't you think?

I'm not going to argue with you, Maria.

And why would a pussycat be delicious, Dad? That doesn't make any sense at all! I think the guy needs to stop pointing at stuff and just stick to singing! Rating: Weirdo!

I guess you had to be there, Maria. Anyway, here's the last one. These two had a little different idea of how to dress. From what I can tell, the guy is wearing an area rug and the girl is wearing curtains or something. It's Sonny and Cher, in all their goony glory, with their huge hit:

So how do you like those guys, Maria?


Man, you're tough, Maria! Well, let's see if our voters are more gentle in their assessment of the assembled talent than you are. Pick yer fave and vote in the comments! Anything you want to add, Maria?

Hmm, well. . . remember to check out Fearless Maria and I'll try to do a new post this weekend. But one other thing, Dad --

What's that, Maria?

I'm sure glad you didn't pick out Herman's Hermits!

Yeah, we dodged a bullet on that one.

The difficulty of achieving work/life balance

A lot of people have a tough time separating their work life from their home life. I'm sympathetic to that issue, because a lot of jobs make it difficult to do that. Sometimes events in one place can lead to somewhat bizarre outbursts in the other. If you've been in the working world for any length of time, you've seen this dynamic play out and it's often quite a tough thing to witness and can even be a little embarrassing.

Consider the case of a woman named Jan Schakowsky. As it happens, Schakowsky is a member of Congress, representing a district in the Chicago area. That's not an easy job, of course -- Chicago politics are famous for rapacity and it's not generally an environment where being soft-spoken or circumspect is a recommended way to do business. So perhaps it wasn't surprising when Schakowsky, a Democrat who is loyal to President Obama, spoke out against the tea parties that took place yesterday in a manner that seems, well, a little intemperate:

"The ‘tea parties’ being held today by groups of right-wing activists, and fueled by FOX News Channel, are an effort to mislead the public about the Obama economic plan that cuts taxes for 95 percent of Americans and creates 3.5 million jobs," Schakowsky said in a statement.

"It’s despicable that right-wing Republicans would attempt to cheapen a significant, honorable moment of American history with a shameful political stunt," she added. "Not a single American household or business will be taxed at a higher rate this year. Made to look like a grassroots uprising, this is an Obama bashing party promoted by corporate interests, as well as Republican lobbyists and politicians.”

It's a bold statement when you use Daffy Duck's favorite word to describe your opponents. Based on the coverage I've seen of the events, the protests seemed spirited, sometimes irreverent and clearly heartfelt, but despicable? It makes you wonder if Rep. Schakowsky was having a bad day or something when she said it.

Turns out she was:

CHICAGO (AP) — The husband of an Illinois congresswoman pleaded guilty Wednesday to tax violations and bank fraud for writing rubber checks and failing to collect withholding tax from an employee.

Robert Creamer, a political consultant married to four-term U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, could face four years in prison on the two felony counts when he is sentenced Dec. 21.

I'm guessing that if anyone in Congress is sensitive to the vagaries of the tax system these days, it would be Rep. Schakowsky. So what did her husband do, specifically?

The indictment alleged Creamer caused a series of insufficiently funded checks and wire transfers to be drawn on accounts he controlled as executive director of the Illinois Public Action Fund. According to the indictment, he allegedly then used the inflated balances to pay the group's expenses and own salary.

Creamer pleaded guilty to one count each of bank fraud and failure to collect withholding tax. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped several other counts.

You might even argue that her husband's behavior was, well, despicable. But let's just assume that he wasn't able to maintain the proper work/life balance. Or is that account balance?

(h/t: Instapundit)

Radio Free Dilettante – 041609

In which iTunes is definitely trying to tell me something:

Last Five:

I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink, Merle Haggard
U Got the Look, Prince
Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
So It Shall Be, k.d. lang
God Loves a Drunk, Richard Thompson

Next Five:

My True Story, the Jive Five
I Saw the Light, Todd Rundgren
Lifetime Piling Up, Talking Heads
The Goodbye Look, Donald Fagen
Let Him Dangle, Elvis Costello

Tea Leaves

I know that there was a Tea Party yesterday evening at the Capitol, despite the, shall we say, circumspect coverage of it from some local media. I also know that there were quite a number of people there. While I've already voiced my skepticism about these events before, now that they have happened, the next step is to see if the protests turn into something more than just a one-day event.

Conservatives are, in the main, involved in politics on the Cincinnatus model. They get involved when they see something that needs doing, then they return to their plow. There are certainly plenty of conservative political junkies around, and it seems like every single one of them has a blog, but you don't tend to see that many conservative political activists around.

There have always been more liberals involved in politics in this country, for the obvious reason that a lot of liberals tend to make politics their life's work. When you watch the campaigns at the local level, this becomes especially clear. In our house district (50B), if you see Republicans out dropping literature or knocking on doors, you can almost be certain that the volunteers are people who live in the district. The DFLers always have plenty of hessians from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Friends of this blog have seen people like Phyllis Kahn out doing literature drops in our neighborhoods. It's more than just an interest for many on the other side of the aisle.

One feature of the Tea Parties as they played out is that they were expressly non-partisan and, in some cases, just as critical of the GOP as they were of the Democrats. That's understandable, given the way the Republican majorities acted during the Bush administration. But can a non-partisan movement gain enough adherents to force change in what is a two-party system? Or do folks have to choose? That's a far more interesting question. And it's something we have to talk about.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just checking. . . .

So, I heard there was one of them Tea Parties today at the Capitol. Might not be true, though, because I don't see any evidence of it on the Star Tribune website. If anyone can provide independent confirmation, let me know!

UPDATE (4/16/09, 7:30 a.m.): I owe the Star Tribune an apology: they covered the event prominently, even giving it a picture and article above the fold on the front page of this morning's dead tree edition. Credit where it's due!

res ipsa loquitur 041509

The Onion has been pretty hit-and-miss in recent years, but here's a direct hit.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Still bulleting

Stuff is happening faster than I can write about it. But I can at least weigh in.
  • No time to take a bow, apparently, since the Somali pirates are at it again, attacking a U.S. cargo ship today off the coast of Kenya. They weren't able to get on board, thankfully. It may be time to stop worrying about the water and going after these dudes on the shore. I'm guessing the Navy has just the stuff to deal a few blows.
  • The endgame draws near in the interminable Coleman/Franken battle, with it now quite likely that Al Franken will actually go to Washington. Norm will keep battling, but while he continues to have a good argument, he doesn't have a good remedy available. What I'd like to see come of this -- a change in the law so that, going forward, an election this close is decided by runoff rather than by which side has the better lawyers.
  • I wrote earlier today about the risible, content-free white paper that DHS put out concerning the threat of right-wing extremists. As usual, John Hinderaker at Powerline delivers the appropriate smackdown. Go read it.
  • Gino mentioned something else that I should have written about -- the death last week of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed by a drunk driver following his 2009 pitching debut. It's hard to know what would have happened to Adenhart had he been someplace else at the fateful moment -- whether he would have had a glorious career or turned out to be a short-lived sensation like Mark Fidrych, or simply a journeyman. It's unspeakably sad that we'll not find out.

I'm doing my best not to incite you

But don't worry -- if I get out of line, the Department of Homeland Security has your back.

The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement officials about a rise in "rightwing extremist activity," saying the economic recession, the election of America's first black president and the return of a few disgruntled war veterans could swell the ranks of white-power militias.

A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.

"It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration," the warning says.

Emphasis mine. I'll try to be more careful. Really -- wouldn't want to do anything that would cause anyone to "reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."

So beginning today, just to be safe I'm going to ignore any directives from Gov. Pawlenty or New Brighton Mayor Steve Larson and I recommend that all my readers do the same.

Gotta get our minds right, people.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy days need bullet posts

A lot to talk about and never enough time. But here's a start:

  • They say death comes in threes and it did today in a really odd parlay. The first person was Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Philadelphia Phillies and the second "Voice of Doom" for NFL Films after the departure of John Facenda. Kalas had a rich, distinctive voice and was most famous for his "outta here" call on each home run. He also got to call the last out of 2008 World Series as his beloved Phillies pulled it off. Kalas died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 73.

  • The second person to leave this world today was Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, who apparently died in an accident at his Massachusetts farm at the age of 54. Fidrych was a colorful righthander who had a phenomenal rookie year with the Detroit Tigers in 1976, going 19-9 and filling stadiums all over the American League. He wore long, curly blond hair under his cap and was compared to Big Bird, the Sesame Street character. He was also well known for grooming the mound and talking to the baseball before he threw it. He was never able to recapture the success of that first season, as a series of injuries kept him off the field until he eventually had to retire in the early 80s. I was 12 years old that summer and it seemed like he was on television every time he pitched. Along with the tall ships and Nadia Comaneci, he was an indelible part of a moment that seems ever more evenascent.

  • The last person to die today was Marilyn Chambers. You'll have to do your own research on that one, although these guys can probably help.

  • Oh, one more story about death. As you've likely heard, the Navy Seals were able to get 'er done in the waters off Somalia, killing 3 of the pirates who were holding the captain of the Maersk Alabama hostage and freeing Captain Richard Phillips in a daring and highly successful mission. It's a happy ending all the way around and congratulations are in order to the Navy for conducting a successful mission. Oh, and congratulations are also in order to the Commander in Chief.

  • And now for something completely different. I heard from Craig Westover today, who is announcing a new effort called Grassroots for an Open Republican Party. Craig is one of the most universally respected conservative voices in Minnesota and he has, along with Marianne Stebbins, come up with a pretty compelling website that outlines some very good ideas for where the GOP should be going, especially in Minnesota. Craig and Marianne have laid out 7 guiding principles, and I think they are pretty good, to wit:

1. Just government protects Individual Sovereignty, Private Property and the Rule of Law.

2. When government is not granted an authority by Constitution, government cannot claim it.

3. Government must be no larger than required to carry out its Constitutional Obligations.

4. A Free Society cannot be "perfect." A “perfect” society cannot be free. Individual Liberty is a higher value than collectivist “perfection.”

5. In a Free Society, one must respect the Liberty of others to live by values different than one’s own.

6. Personal Liberty and Economic Liberty are inseparable.

7. All government policy must be debated, judged, and justified by these Principles.

I think that Craig and Marianne are on the right track. I'll be watching their work closely and would encourage you to give their website a look and, if you are interested, to join the conversation they are fostering there.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

He Is Risen

Mark 16

The Resurrection

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.

2 Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

3 They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?"

4 Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large.

5 Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.

6 And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.

7 "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"

Take a bow

I'd been avoiding the controversy over whether or not Barack Obama bowed to the Saudi despot Abdullah during the G20 summit, mostly because (a) clearly he did and (b) I didn't think it was, in the greater scheme of things, that big a deal.

What is a big deal is lying about it. Which is what Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs did the other day.

Word to the wise, guys: there are cameras everywhere and just about every public thing a president does is recorded and disseminated. You keep doing that sort of thing, people beyond the Royal Order of Wingnuts are going to start to question your credibility.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Just Read It

The Night Writer discusses Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a giant of the 20th Century that far too few people know.

Feel the love

Since it's Good Friday, I'm not supposed to have any red meat. But that doesn't mean we can't serve some up. From columnist Gerald Warren in the Telegraph, a retelling of one aspect of President Obama's triumphant European tour:

Then came the dramatic bit, the authentic West Wing script, with the President wakened in the middle of the night in Prague to be told that Kim Jong-il had just launched a Taepodong-2 missile. America had Aegis destroyers tracking the missile and could have shot it down. But Uncle Sam had a sterner reprisal in store for l'il ole Kim (as Dame Edna might call him): a multi-megaton strike of Obama hot air.

"Rules must be binding," declared Obama, referring to the fact that Kim had just breached UN Resolutions 1695 and 1718. "Violations must be punished." (Sounds ominous.) "Words must mean something." (Why, Barack? They never did before, for you - as a cursory glance at your many speeches will show.)

President Pantywaist is hopping mad and he has a strategy to cut Kim down to size: he is going to slice $1.4bn off America's missile defence programme, presumably on the calculation that Kim would feel it unsporting to hit a sitting duck, so that will spoil his fun.

Watch out, France and Co, there is a new surrender monkey on the block and, over the next four years, he will spectacularly sell out the interests of the West with every kind of liberal-delusionist initiative on nuclear disarmament and sitting down to negotiate with any power freak who wants to buy time to get a good ICBM fix on San Francisco, or wherever. If you thought the world was a tad unsafe with Dubya around, just wait until President Pantywaist gets into his stride.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Guilty Pleasures Part Forty-Two -- Children, Please Don't Try This at Home

It's no secret that we like music at Mr. Dilettante. And again I have my advisor Fearless Maria with me. So what should we look at this week?

Well Dad, one thing I've noticed is that sometimes rock stars have some, well, interesting ideas about what they should wear when they are performing. Can we look at a few songs where people have made choices that they probably regret now and/or humiliated themselves?

Oh, that's a great idea, Maria. I'll bet we can find some really good examples on the YouTubes. For example, consider these guys, who were kind of a bargain basement version of the Mamas and the Papas, except not as talented and less good looking. Waay less good looking. It's Spanky and Our Gang, performing (sort of) on the Smothers Brothers show, with:

The 60s were pretty weird, Maria. What is your rating of this one?

Dad, my rating is: horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Strange and wacky is no way to go through life, Dad! Dad, did it get any better in the 1970s?

Not especially, Maria. First, we can go back to 1970, to one of Uncle Mike's favorite bands, Funkadelic. They were so confused that sometimes they called themselves Parliament, too. But that's a different issue. Believe it or not, they got weirder than this. Check it out:

Dad, I'm not sure what thing they have, but I sure don't want it! Did you see the guy with the conehead in the back? He should have made it orange, then he could have been a traffic cone! I'd sure avoid that! My rating is: Creepy!?!?!

So you think those guys were creepy, Maria? I can top that. Check out this one from around 1973, on the Midnight Special. You get the Four Tops introducing Todd Rundgren, who performs:

Dad, I think he was actually appearing on the Midnight Stupid! What on earth was he thinking? Ben was watching this and he ran away! My rating: Who spilled makeup on that weirdo? Tell me, now! Hello, it's Trouble!

I hate to tell you this, Maria, but he dressed himself like that on purpose. What that purpose was is pretty hard to figure out, though! Anyway, we're not done yet!

Try these guys out. They were part of that wonderful musical year of 1974, when good taste took a year-long holiday. It's Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods, performing:

Well, they're not heroes, that's for sure! They're being fools with their lives just by wearing those terrible outfits! You could land a plane on the collars of those jumpsuits! My rating: Odd.

You know what the scary part is, Maria?

I'm not sure I want to know, Dad. But you're going to tell me anyway, right?

Well, of course I am, Maria. The scary part is that these guys weren't the most foolish guys around in 1974. This guy was even more tasteless. But he's not part of this contest.

So the last one of the night is these guys, who had a lot of hits back in the 1970s. I'm always fond of trombone players with turbans myself, so I'm going to call to your attention K.C. and the Sunshine Band, singing:

Dad, I'm not sure that's the way I like it! But that was interesting. Rating: OK. So what else is left to do, Dad?

Well, we get to ask people to vote for their favorite of the group in the comments section.

Dad, do you think that anyone will like these ones?

Only one way to find out, Maria. Everybody vote!


Yes, Maria?

Aren't you forgetting something?

Oh, yes. Maria wants you to visit her at her blogs! She has two, just so you know.