Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Local Scene -- The Name on the Plaque, the Road to Hell and the Name on the Ballot

I've been writing about Tuesday's elections for the New Brighton city government and now it's time to draw a few conclusions.

The problems that New Brighton face are daunting and largely of the local government's own making. And I think a lot of the problems stem from misguided ambition. Let's be honest about one thing -- if a mayor sticks precisely to the job description in a city like New Brighton, it's not that exciting a job. New Brighton, like many communities, employs a fulltime city manager who handles the day-to-day administrative workings of the city. New Brighton has largely had highly competent administrators during this time and that has meant that, at least in terms of the services a municipality generally provides, there's not a lot for the local politicians to do.

Steve Larson, the incumbent mayor, strikes me as an ambitious guy, as was his predecessor, Bob Benke, who remains a crucial eminence grise in the local political scene. Benke earned the somewhat derisive nickname of "Bob the Builder" because he managed to get a number of municipal buildings erected during his time. If you go into New Brighton City Hall, you'll see his name on the dedication plaque in the entry of the building. It's one of the satisfactions of what would otherwise be a small bore job -- seeing your name on the entrance plaque, knowing that it will still be there for people to read long after you've left the fray. Let's face it -- people, especially politicians, love to leave footprints.

Larson has his name inside a few buildings around town, too, and one of the legacies he and Benke were hoping to have was the Northwest Quadrant project. If the project had come off as intended, it would have been a project that would have transformed New Brighton, with a densely populated residential and commercial mix in the New Urbanist style on the model of Orenco Station, a top-down project in suburban Portland that is one of the Holy Grails of those who enjoy seeing their names on plaques.

As it happens, the project has become a disastrous mistake. Unsightly yet productive businesses have been driven away and replaced with. . . nothing. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for land that will require extensive environmental abatement before it can be reused, with costs in the tens of millions. All the money for other development in the City is now tied to the Northwest Quadrant, meaning that stasis is about the best that can be hoped for in the rest of the city. Meanwhile, you can drive down Old Highway 8, a newly rebuilt and resurfaced thoroughfare with expensive lighting that illuminates a moonscape. It's a beautifully rendered pathway through nothing. For New Brighton taxpayers, who are on the hook for perhaps $100 million with almost nothing to show from Mayor Larson's development efforts, it's a well-paved road to hell.

Maybe Steve Larson could still get his name on a few plaques if he can just get by this election. Maybe he can turn all this around, with the help of a few reliable votes on the City Council. Maybe his real estate development acumen will improve now that he's sunk the city's fisc into this mess. Maybe the potential developers will pretend that the city is not desperate to salvage this project and will be willing to help the mayor out by being maganimous in future negotiations. Maybe this time, after failure upon failure, this good-hearted fellow Larson, who would like to remind you that he has given 32 years -- 32 years! -- of his life to public service, will get it right. All he needs is another chance, right?

Are you skeptical? You should be. We shouldn't reward this sort of performance. There's no reason to believe that Steve Larson will do a better job if only he gets another chance, and if only he can get his friends Graeme Allen and Char Samuelson to help him out. Right Hook at Boots On has explained the case against Allen and Samuelson quite well.

Fortunately for the citizens of our community, there are worthy alternatives. Dave Jacobsen will make a fine mayor. He has approached his campaign with a steady hand and he has a 39-year career in the corporate sector that bespeaks quiet competence and effective leadership. He has seen negotiations, he has dealt with environmental issues and he is coming to the office with no greater ambition than to serve the citizens of his community. Gina Bauman, who has served with great distinction on the City Council for the past 4 years, understands the challenges ahead and has the financial background to understand how to make things work. I cannot overstate the importance of keeping Bauman on the council. And for the second council seat, voters have the choice of either Paul Jacobsen, a man who has an extensive leadership background in the military who would bring a fresh, yet fiscally sound perspective to the council, or Walt Witzke, a longtime New Brighton resident who understands well the financial impact of past decisions and has a proven background in managing to do more with less in the corporate sector. Either man would provide valuable support on the City Council.

If New Brighton is going to get better, it needs better leadership. Tuesday is the day to make that happen.

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Week 8

Sorry we're late, folks, but I was watching my uncle in a play last night. But we know you can't really get the weekend started until you hear from the Benster, so we do have picks.

I know I feel that way, Benster. So, what have you selected for today?

Michigan State Spartys (-3 1/2) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. I wonder how Adam Weber will do, because his top wideout, Eric Decker, is down and out for the season. And that will put more pressure on the ground game and I think Sparty will win. Sparty the Spartan 28, Goldy the Gopher 21.

The Gophers are in trouble, young fella. The new offense is frankly offensive and they've turned a confident Adam Weber into a guy who doesn't know what he's supposed to do. And since he doesn't have a lot of talent around him without Decker, this won't be good. Tim Brewster might be in trouble, and soon. Spartans 27, Gophers 14.

Purdon't Boilermakers (+7) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. Way to go, Purdon't! I'm down with the upset of The Ohio State University, but you are going to be facing a desperate team, who is playing at home. Good luck winning today. Bucky Badger 31, Purdon't 10.

The Badgers come off a bye and have had a chance to refocus after two tough losses. I don't see a team left on the Badger schedule that they can't beat. And that would include the erratic Boilermakers. Wisconsin 27, Purdue 17.

Florida Tebows (-14 1/2) vs. Georgia Bulldogs at Jacksonville. Are you ready for a party? They call this game the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and I wouldn't be surprised if College Gameday was there. I've said it before -- Florida is awesome, even though I've hit them more than once with the Benster Curse. The Dawgs are gonna be roadkill. Florida 51, Georgia 2.

Really? Georgia's having a down year, but 51-2? I always enjoy your especially insane picks, Seabiscuit. Florida will win, but they'll have to earn it -- Georgia will see to that. Florida 27, Georgia 20.

Cleveland Burnt Siennas (+13) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. There's no Cedric Benson on the Browns. They are playing musical chairs with their quarterbacks and they don't have Braylon Edwards. All they have is Joshua Cribbs, a kick returner. Da Bearz can relate to that, because a few years ago all they had was Devin Hester. But now Hester has some help. Look for the Bears to run through the Browns defense like it was Swiss cheese. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz 40, Cleveland Burnt Siennas 7.

Hard to argue with your logic, Grasshopper. The Browns are really pretty awful this year. It's a nice gift for the Bears to have this game at this time. They need to rebound and they will here. Da Bearz 31, Cleveland 3.

St. Louis Sheep (+4) vs. Motor City Kitties. This game might set pro football back 50 years. Which works out well, because the Lions were actually good 50 years ago. I might just keep a tab on this game just to see what the final score is. Or, if anyone scores at all. Motor City Kitties 3, St. Louis Sheep 2.

So you're expecting a pitcher's duel, then? You might be right. The NFL has some really bad teams this year. And these are two of them. I really hope that they Lions aren't charging full price for this game. Favor the home team in this matchup of stink. Lions 14, Rams 9.

Minnesota Vikings (+3) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. In case you've been living under a rock, Number 4 is coming back to Green Bay tomorrow. And the crowd will be ready. I don't know which way to lean in this game, because even though I think A-Rodg will get knocked around a little bit, the Vikings won't have Antoine Winfield, which will hurt them because Greg Jennings will have some room to operate this time. Green Bay Packers 30, Minnesota Vikings 30.

A tie, huh? That would be interesting. A few thoughts here. Favre will play well enough and the Vikings will move the ball some on the Packers defense, but it won't be so easy. The key is Adrian Peterson. If the Packers can slow him down on the potentially wet turf at Lambeau, the Vikes may have some issues and Favre might start to try to take matters into his own hands. And all Packer fans are painfully aware of what happens in those circumstances. On offense, the Packers will get help from being at home. Jared Allen is a holy terror on artificial turf, but he is much less effective on grass. He'll probably get to Rodgers at least once or twice, but if Rodgers has time to operate, the Vikings will get scorched. Packers 31, Vikings 24.

In closing, welcome home, Brent. Now get off my lawn! Ben out!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Local Scene -- The Right Skill Set

Another quick thought about the upcoming election in New Brighton.

As voters, we are hiring managers. And a good hiring manager looks for candidates with the proper skill set to do the job.

New Brighton has a difficult task ahead and the Northwest Quadrant is a project that has gone badly awry. There are significant financial and environmental issues on the table that must be addressed if the city is to salvage its investment and minimize the impact previous decisions will have on taxpayers.

Whom would you rather have doing this? A corporate executive with years of project management experience and an exceptionally strong background in the real world considerations of environmental issues? Or a salesman, whose primary concern is closing the deal, often with only passing thought to the long-term ramifications?

Those are your candidates. More soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Local Scene -- Something to Remember

I'll be returning to the upcoming elections for New Brighton anon, but one thing that you should remember about all the candidates:

No one running is talking about cutting essential services, such as police and fire protection. And it's disingenuous for Mayor Larson to take credit for their performance. Our public safety personnel in New Brighton would perform admirably no matter who sits in the mayor's chair.

The question in this election is not about how the city spends the taxpayer's money on essential services. The question is how the current administration spent the taxpayer's money on other things. The mayor would prefer that you not think about that.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Truth to Power

Have you ever had a thought in your mind, but had a difficult time expressing it? Sometimes, if you're lucky, someone else will find the right words. James Taranto, the longtime house blogger/pundit at Opinion Journal, has done that for me today. Let's set this up. Taranto notes this exchange between Obama consigliere (or is that consigliera?) Valerie Jarrett and CNN reporter Campbell Brown:

BROWN: Officials have been very public about their feelings about FOX News and what they believe FOX News is and represents. And they made a point of coming out and saying it.

JARRETT: What we're saying is, is that we want the public to understand what's going on. When we saw the kind of distortions this summer, particularly directed at seniors, over health care reform, it was really outrageous. And I think what the president said in his message before Congress is, we're going to speak directly to the American people and make sure that they understand the truth. And so, certainly, if we see somebody distorting the truth, we're going to call them on the carpet for that. But we don't want to take our focus away from the core issues that are so important to the American people. Now, when there's all that chatter and distortion and false information, we have to disseminate -- we have to distinguish between truth and fiction.

BROWN: So do you think FOX News is biased?

JARRETT: Well, of course they're biased. Of course they are.

BROWN: OK. Then do you also think that MSNBC is biased?

JARRETT: Well, you know what? This is the thing. I don't want to -- actually, I don't want to just generalize all FOX is biased or that another station is biased. I think what we want to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And when we see a pattern of distortion, we're going to be honest about that pattern of distortion.

BROWN: But you only see that at FOX News? That's all that -- you have spoken out about FOX News.

JARRETT: That's actually not true.I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we're going to speak truth to power. When we saw all of the distortions in the course of the summer, when people were coming down to town hall meetings and putting up signs that were scaring seniors to death, when we have seen commercials go up on television that are distorting the truth, we're actually calling everybody out. So, this isn't something that's simply directed at FOX. We really just want the American people to have a clear understanding. There's so much at stake right now. We really don't have a lot of time for nonsense and distortions.

Emphasis mine. Gee, isn't this a target-rich environment? Let's consider what Jarrett is asserting here. She says Fox News is biased. But when the CNN(!) anchor Brown challenges her, she says she doesn't want to generalize about who is biased and who isn't biased, even though she just did it a minute before. And then Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the most powerful man on the planet, says that she needs to speak "truth to power." Think about that for a minute before we turn it over to the maestro. Take it away, Mr. Taranto:

Good for Campbell Brown for sticking up for a competitor (albeit at the expense of a lesser competitor). And it's pretty funny how Jarrett, after smugly asserting, "Of course they're biased," did not make a pretense of standing by her position when Brown asked a question she would have been prepared for if she had spent any time thinking this through.

Even more risible, though, is the claim that the administration "is going to speak truth to power." Hello, Valerie? Your boss is the president of the United States! No one is more powerful. As we suggested Friday, it really seems as if Obama and his men do not understand what it means to be president. Because their power is constrained--thank you, Founding Fathers!--they labor under the delusion that they are powerless.

This is exactly right. It is risible. Jarrett and her boss have substantially more power than any single news network. Fox News cannot control the agenda of this nation; it can only report on it and comment on it. And if the commenters at Fox News are persuasive enough, they might be able to move public opinion some, but they can only seek to influence. Obama can do much more, any time he sees fit. I don't know what Team Obama expected, but separation of powers has always been baked into the design of this nation. Presidents don't necessarily get their way. Nine different men have served as president in my lifetime and every one of them has received a comeuppance at one point or another. And every one of them has deserved it.

But there's another point to be made, and Taranto makes it well:

Yet while this is all hilarious, it is also scary when you think it through. Great power entails great responsibility. There is little to suggest that Obama and his aides appreciate their responsibility, and much, including their incessant complaining that the previous president did a lousy job, to suggest an attitude of total irresponsibility.

The job of those in power is not to "speak truth to power," though it would be nice if they spoke the truth once in a while. It is to exercise power responsibly. The effort to bully Fox News Channel would be an abuse of power were it not so pathetically inept.

Here's the thing, folks. We heard it loud and clear when Obama and his team rode into Washington: the adults are in charge now. It's long since time for these guys to start acting like adults. And whining about your predecessor after nine months is not how adults act.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The blogger has been very busy, so

Posting has been pretty light the past few days. I have a few things I'm working on, though, so please stay tuned. A few quick thoughts in the meantime:

  • Must Not See TV -- behold one of the most annoying panels possible (Ed Schultz, Barney Frank and Ralph Nader) discussing the role of government, as the man who gave you a large chunk of the banking crisis helpfully explains that "We Are Trying On Every Front To Increase The Role Of Government." Ya think?

  • This is plenty amusing. Money quote: “He is a man of perpetual promise. There used to be a cruel joke that said Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be; Obama is the Brazil of today’s politicians. He has obviously achieved nothing. And in the American context, to be the hero of five Norwegian leftists, is not exactly politically positive.” But he'll be sure to have an excellent table at the best restaurants in Stavanger. That's something.

  • Daniel Ortega pulls an end run to get the Nicaraguan Supreme Court to eliminate term limits. So why is this is a good idea? As you might recall, we're supporting Zelaya in Honduras, who wanted to do the same thing before he was deposed.

  • Lately I've been rereading Mike Royko's Boss, after nearly 40 years still the essential study on the career of Richard J. Daley and the Chicago Machine. If you want to understand Chicago politics, it's still an excellent place to start. Highly recommended.

  • I'm not prepared to talk about Brett Favre yet. Maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Obscene 2% Margin

One of the favorite talking points for those who are trying to foist Obama Care on the world is to point out the "obscene profits" that insurance companies make.

Not really:

In the health care debate, Democrats and their allies have gone after insurance companies as rapacious profiteers making "immoral" and "obscene" returns while "the bodies pile up."

Ledgers tell a different reality. Health insurance profit margins typically run about 6 percent, give or take a point or two. That's anemic compared with other forms of insurance and a broad array of industries, even some beleaguered ones.

Profits barely exceeded 2 percent of revenues in the latest annual measure. This partly explains why the credit ratings of some of the largest insurers were downgraded to negative from stable heading into this year, as investors were warned of a stagnant if not shrinking market for private plans.

About the only industry I can think of that operates at similar margins are grocery stores. If you want to argue that the government would do a better job than private insurers, fine. Go right ahead. But let's give this "obscene profit" thing a rest.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Real Czars of Genius

So tell me if you didn't see this one coming down Pennsylvania Avenue:

Even before the Obama administration formally tightened executive compensation at bailed-out companies, the prospect of pay cuts had led some top employees to depart.

And now that Kenneth Feinberg has broke out the terrible swift sword, how does it look?

At Bank of America, for instance, only 14 of the 25 highly paid executives remained by the time Feinberg announced his decision. Under his plan, compensation for the most highly paid employees at the bank would be a maximum of $9.9 million. The bank had sought permission to pay as much as $21 million, according to Treasury Department documents.

At American International Group, only 13 people of the top 25 were still on hand for Feinberg's decision.

So much of the senior leadership of these firms leaves. And the government wants the firms to pay the TARP money back, even though they've made it more difficult by chasing away the people who would be best-positioned to get the money back. Good plan!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Week 7

Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends.

Are you really going to quote Emerson Lake & Palmer lyrics, Ben?

Apparently, Decrepit. Might I remind you that, even though we tied last week, I would have beaten you if that Ravens field goal kicker hadn't choked. I think that the Benster Curse has struck again!

Well, mostly it's been your picks that have been cursed, Seabiscuit, but every week gives you a chance to redeem yourself. Not that you have, but --

Okay, wise guy. Let's get down to bidness.

Minnesota Golden Rodents (+16 1/2) vs. The Ohio State University Buckeyes. Who writes the odds? If you have been reading this series regularly, and you'd better have been, Ohio State has appeared a couple of times in the past and it seems that when they are in Columbus, the odds are always 15 points or more. This time I'm going to have to agree with Vegas. Minnesota has no offense to speak of, and with the game in Columbus, there's just no hope. Buckeyes 50, Golden Rodents 3.

That seems a bit harsh, Sparky, but I agree -- the Gophers have lost whatever offensive punch they used to have. Adam Weber has been a good quarterback, but he seems confused and tenative now. No surprise -- this is about the 3rd system he's learned since he came to the U. It's too bad, really, because Weber has a lot of talent. But the Buckeyes have more. Ohio State 31, Gophers 10.

Penn State Paternos (-4 1/2) vs. Meeshegan Wolverines. It's intimidating to play in the Big House, but as I've said repeatedly, Penn State is one of the best teams in the nation and will probably win the Big Ten. Fielding Yost has been dead for a long time and this is no "Point a Minute" squad, so unlike the fight song, Meeshegan (which is how Yost pronounced it) will not be the Victors, nor the Champions of the West this time. Penn State 31, Meeshegan 20.

Good history lesson there, grasshopper! And you are right -- there's a lot of history in Ann Arbor. The problem is that recent history hasn't been so good for Go Blue. And I suspect you're correct that Penn State is the better team. But not by much. Penn State 24, Michigan 23.

Texas Longhorns (-13) vs. Missouri Tigers. Decrepit picked this game and he has a reason, which I don't know. I don't know anything about Missouri, because I'm a Big Ten guy, but I do know something about Texas. I know about Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, who are the Big XII's version of Adam Weber and Eric Decker, but more talented. The eyes of Texas will be all over Missouri and will show the Show-Me State a few things. Horns 50, Mizzou 0.

Since my Badgers are on bye this week, I picked this game as a courtesy to my friend the Night Writer, who is a proud graduate of Mizzou and now is likely cursing (in a very polite and erudite way) my wayward offspring. You know what, Ben? Mizzou is actually pretty good. And I think they'll do much better than you think. How confident am I? This confident. Mizzou 31, Texas 27.

Minnesota Vikings (+ 4 1/2) vs. Pittsburgh Stillers. All good things must come to an end. The Vikings are going to be unmasked, because Pittsburgh has Troy "Impossible Hair" Polamalu. I mean seriously, how much gel does he use to keep that hair going? With hair like that, he ought to be on the Packers! But all beauty products aside, Pittsburgh gets Willie Parker back and they still have Rashard Mendenhall, who has done very well in Parker's absence. The Steelers are going to forge the Vikings. And it ain't gonna be pretty. Stillers 40, Vikings 10.

Really? You're serious, right? The Vikings are doing pretty well this year, although they've been pretty lucky twice so far. The football gods will eventually turn on them and it could be as soon as this week. But it won't be 40-10 -- this much I know. Steelers 27, Vikings 19.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-9) vs. Cleveland Burnt Siennas. Apparently Cleveland is still in the league, although if you checked the end zone, you'd wonder. With the exception of Joshua Cribbs on special teams, the Browns need a GPS to find the end zone on offense. Their defense is like Swiss Cheese and apparently the Packers got Ahman Green back this week. He could become the leading rusher in franchise history soon. Especially against the Browns. Packers 49, Cleveland 14.

The Browns aren't too good these days. That much is true. The Packers aren't as good as I'd like them to be. That is unfortunately true, too. But they'll have enough to win this game. And maybe, since they're getting all nostalgic and bringing back old players, maybe they can find a place for Tiger Greene or Harlan Huckleby. Or even John Hadl -- bet it wouldn't take 5 draft picks to get that dude these days. Packers 31, Browns 10.

Bear Down Chicago Da Bearz (+1) vs. Cincinnati Bungles (Who No Longer Bungle That Much Any More). Hey Bears fans! It's your worst nightmare! You're going to have to play against Cedric Benson. And Cincy is no longer the home of the Bungles. However, unfortunately Cedric, you're not going to get your revenge. I have to do something nice for Gino and Rich, who have suffered enough abuse from me. This one's for you, guys! Da Bearz 28, Bengals 21.

Actually, I like the Bears in this game too, youngblood. The Bengals have been winning games with their defense, but they lost their best defender to injury last week. It will be tougher to get a pass rush without Antwan Odom and I suspect that Jay Cutler will rebound from yet another lousy Sunday Night performance. Da Bearz 31, Bengals 24.

I think I'm likely being targeted by a bunch of people now, so if I'm on America's Most Wanted, don't be surprised.

I always wanted to have a famous son. Maybe not quite this way, though. But what the heck, it's amusing....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Let's Hear It for the MSM

We talked about ABC correspondent Jake Tapper's challenge to Robert Gibbs about Fox News the other day, engendering a lively response. Well, apparently the White House decided to up the ante today. They offered "Pay Czar" Ken Feinberg for a press availability to the White House press pool.

Well, most of the press pool, anyway. They planned to exclude Fox News. There's video at the link and it's worth watching.

Here's the good part -- the other news organizations in the pool refused the offer to interview Feinberg if Fox was excluded, so the White House backed down.

Allahpundit's typically spot-on and acerbic analysis asks all the right questions, to wit:

Decide for yourself what the most disgraceful aspect of this is. Was it the fact that Gibbs told Jake Tapper explicitly on Monday that the White House wouldn’t try to dictate to the press pool who should and shouldn’t be included — before doing precisely that? Was it Anita Dunn going out of her way to say she respects Major Garrett as a fair reporter — before the administration decided he didn’t deserve a crack here at Feinberg? Or was it the repeated insistence by Dunn and Axelrod that of course the administration will make its officials available to Fox — before pulling the plug today?

Good questions all, and worthy of discussion. But I would be remiss if I didn't say this -- hats off to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and the rest. They understood what this move meant and resisted it. The cure for speech you dislike is not to curtail it or to cut off access. The cure is more speech.


A few years ago, when I was a student at Beloit College, a friend prophesied about his future. John Ed said he would meet a waitress named Trixie at a rest stop and they would travel together in a vehicle he dubbed the Cancer Winnebago. My friend Sue and I thought the whole thing was funny but if you knew John Ed, it seemed possible. Sue and I told the story to our friend Marissa. She also thought it was funny but she got part of the story wrong and called it the Cancer Studebaker.

Sue, Marissa and I met freshman year. Marissa was a science major at Beloit. Sue and I were history majors. Even though we rarely took the same classes, we remained friends through college and beyond.

The three of us traveled a lot together, mainly in cars. While we were still students, we traveled from Beloit to Minnesota during spring break. We borrowed Sue's brother's Camaro. A total of five of us made that trip in Bob's Camaro. One summer, also while we were students, Sue and I drove to the East Coast. We visited Marissa and her family at their home in Connecticut. After we graduated from Beloit, we traveled to Europe. What a trip! One day I will never forget was the day we spent driving around East Berlin in a rental car that we had rented in West Germany. Our gas dwindled to less than a quarter tank. That was a big problem since we needed to either cross over the border into West Berlin or find a gas station in East Berlin that sold unleaded fuel. In those days, unleaded fuel was scarce in East Berlin. To make a long story short, we made it to a West Berlin gas station that sold unleaded fuel before we ran out of gas.

Years passed. Sue told me some bad news. Sue and I could still travel for pleasure. By a cruel twist of fate, years after John Ed's prophesy, part of it came true for Marissa. She was in the Cancer Studebaker with ovarian cancer doing the driving.

Five years ago, the three of us traveled to Beloit for our 15th reunion. Marissa looked good, she was in remission.

A couple of weeks ago, the Dilettante family took our Hyundai Sante Fe to Beloit. Sue's family traveled in their vehicle from the Chicago area to Beloit. Unfortunately, no Studebakers arrived in Beloit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stealing a meme from Mitch

You don't really steal a meme, you just reuse it.

The instructions:

Pick an artist or band, and then answer the questions using nothing but song titles from their discography.

Mitch answered the questions using The Who. Over in his comments, I used The Clash. And I reprint my answers here. If you'd like to play, either post your answers in the comments section, or do it on your own blog (if you have one) and send a link back here. Play on, playas!

Pick Your Artist: The Clash

Are you male or female? White Man in Hammersmith Palais (The Clash)

Describe yourself: Lost in the Supermarket (London Calling)

How do you feel about yourself? I’m So Bored With the U.S.A. (The Clash)

Describe where you currently live: Garageland (The Clash)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Safe European Home (Give ‘Em Enough Rope)

Your best friend is: Janie Jones (The Clash)

Your favorite color is: Atom Tan (Combat Rock)

You know that: Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad (Give ‘em Enough Rope)

What’s the weather like: Lightning Strikes Not Once But Twice (Sandinista)

If your life was a tv show, what would it be called?: The Right Profile (London Calling)

What is life to you? Career Opportunities (The Clash)

What is the best advice you have to give? Stay Free (Give ‘em Enough Rope)

If you could change your name, what would it be? Jimmy Jazz (London Calling)

Your favorite food is: Koka Kola (London Calling)

Radio Free Dilettante – 102109

Feel free to supply the narrative:

Last Five:
Get the Funk Out Ma Face, Brothers Johnson
Get Ready, The Temptations
Get Down Tonight, KC and the Sunshine Band
Immigrant Song, Led Zeppelin
Sing a Song, Earth Wind & Fire

Next Five:
I'm So Glad, Cream
Emotional Rescue, Rolling Stones
Cocktails for Two, Spike Jones and His City Slickers
Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon
Less Than Zero, Elvis Costello

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Local Scene -- Candidate Forum Notes

I will be writing more on the important campaigns for mayor and city council in New Brighton in the coming days, but for now I wanted to share a few impressions of what we saw last night at City Hall at the League of Women Voters forum:

  • Officially, the race for mayor is between the incumbent, Steve Larson, and Dave Jacobsen, a retired executive making his initial run at public office. Based on Mayor Larson's behavior last night, you would have thought that he was running against incumbent City Council member Gina Bauman. Bauman is the one person in the campaign who has direct knowledge of Mayor Larson's work in the past few years and has been Mayor Larson's most trenchant critic. There was an incident during the event that revealed some of the tension involved. During the portion of the program devoted to City Council candidates, Bauman made a specific point about health insurance for city government officials which apparently rankled Larson enough that he sent a note up to the moderator, who then "corrected" the information Bauman had offered. Because of the rules of the forum, Bauman was unable to respond. This was a bad show on the mayor's part and certainly a mistake by the moderator, who should have ignored Larson's entreaty.
  • For a first-time candidate, I thought Dave Jacobsen did pretty well. He's a very smart man and he has an excellent skill set for the position -- he's been a corporate executive with budgeting experience and he was responsible for a large part of his employer's environmental portfolio. He doesn't speak in soundbites and you have to pay attention to what he is saying, but he was authoritative as he spoke. If the first test of a challenger is credibility, Mr. Jacobsen passed easily.
  • There are seven candidates running for two seats on the City Council. The forum was a bit of a cattle call and it was somewhat difficult to sort out the candidates. Based on what I knew before the event, it had seemed like there were 4 credible candidates -- Gina Bauman, former city council member and State Representative Char Samuelson, political lobbyist Graeme Allen and newcomer Paul Jacobsen, who has an extensive military background. I would rank them somewhat differently today. Based on what we know at the moment, here's how I see it:
  • Bauman is clearly the best candidate in the field, and it's not even close. She is the only incumbent in the race. Considering that the city's governance has been problematic, one might consider her incumbency to be a problem; however Gina has been a consistent voice of opposition to the policies that have brought the city to the brink. She understands what needs to be done and is well-positioned to do the work. With a different cast of characters at City Hall, she would the one candidate in the field who could immediately bring about needed changes. No matter what else happens, it is imperative that Bauman is returned to the council, either as a reform leader or as a watchdog should Mayor Larson be re-elected.
  • At this point, it's pretty much a toss-up for the second seat among Samuelson, Paul Jacobsen and Walt Witzke, a longtime resident with extensive experience on various commissions in the city. Of the three, Witzke gave the best performance on Monday. He is a fairly soft-spoken, analytical man and he has thought long and hard about the issues facing the city and has come to well-reasoned conclusions. Like Dave Jacobsen, Witzke has established that he is a credible candidate. Paul Jacobsen is an outwardly impressive fellow and he clearly has outstanding leadership skills, but at times he didn't seem to understand some of the issues he was asked to discuss. He has a lot of upside potential, but he needs to get up to speed quickly, because the task at hand will not allow the luxury of on-the-job training. Char Samuelson has the most impressive resume in the field and has served the city with great distinction in the past, but she was very much off her game last night and seemed almost a little distracted. She also was the only candidate who explicitly said she would raise taxes. My guess is that won't play well, especially among the large percentage of New Brighton residents who are living on fixed incomes.
  • Of the remaining three candidates, Graeme Allen was probably the best, but to me was well behind Witzke, Jacobsen and Samuelson. Allen is clearly a bright guy and since he is very well plugged into the state government as a lobbyist, he does understand some of the issues facing New Brighton. Having said that, he also seemed quick to fall back on pat answers -- he talked about "investing" in the community several times, which generally is a coded way of saying he views your wallet as common property. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I suspect not. Allen would be well-served to spend some time in the private sector; my guess is that he would understand citizen concerns better with a broader overall perspective. W. Christopher Stedman, like Allen, is a bright and articulate young man. He comes to the race from the other end of the spectrum from Allen, as Stedman is an executive at Best Buy and like his employer, he seems like a savvy, effective marketer. Having said that, he didn't really provide any reason that the voters should select him. He spoke several times and I don't have any idea what he'd do on the council. The final candidate, Ron Meyer, is the sort of guy you'd love to have for a neighbor. He's an upbeat, enthusiastic guy who is full of energy and civic pride. He would make a great ambassador for the city; he and his wife are part of the royalty for the St. Paul Winter Carnival and it is easy to see why. Having said that, he didn't offer any reason to be elected other than his own persona. In a different year, in a different time, he'd probably be just fine on the city council, but with the challenges ahead the city needs leaders who have specific ideas for how to solve the imminent problems. From what I could tell, Meyer didn't offer anything beyond his dynamic personality.

We'll revisit the race again in the coming days, talking more about the issues. I also note that Right Hook over at Boots On has offered a detailed synopsis of yesterday's events. As always, his take is well worth your time.

Jake Tapper Asks a Good Question. Here's a Followup.

From today's White House press briefing:

Tapper: It’s escaped none of our notice that the White House has decided in the last few weeks to declare one of our sister organizations “not a news organization” and to tell the rest of us not to treat them like a news organization. Can you explain why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one –


Gibbs: Jake, we render, we render an opinion based on some of their coverage and the fairness that, the fairness of that coverage.

Tapper: But that’s a pretty sweeping declaration that they are “not a news organization.” How are they any different from, say –

Gibbs: ABC -

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Gibbs's response? "That's our opinion."

Here's another question that Tapper ought to ask. If the White House feels that Fox News is not a legitimate news organization, why does it continue to give Fox press credentials at the White House? Why is Major Garrett, Tapper's opposite number at Fox, even in the room? Wouldn't you like to hear Robert Gibbs explain that one?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lighning Round 101909

There are some people who suspect that Barack Obama doesn't like to fight. That's not true, but the people he chooses to fight are sometimes pretty interesting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Local Scene Part 2.5 -- See For Yourself

While I have more to say about the elections in New Brighton in the coming days, I would prefer that you not just take my word for it when it comes to this election, because the stakes are very high. It's far better that you see the candidates yourself to understand who the candidates are and which candidates deserve your support.

Fortunately, you get two chances to evaluate this year's field.

The first chance is tomorrow, as the League of Women Voters are sponsoring a candidate forum at New Brighton City Hall at 7 p.m. One week later, the Twin Cities North Area Chamber of Commerce will offer a similar forum, also at 7 p.m., also at New Brighton City Hall.

See you there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Week 6

Howdy, this is Benster and Decrepit.

Pardon me?

I'm sorry. Benster and D. Well Dad, you've been kicking my butt every week lately, but don't forget -- I've got a curse named after me!

Too bad it seems to be affecting your picks, grasshopper.

We'll see who's a grasshopper this week, Dad! Okay, let's begin.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (+17 1/2) vs. Penn State Paternos. Vegas seems to hate the Gophers and the Badgers! Anyway, Tim Brewster said he's going to take the Gopher fans to Pasadena. I'm thinking he might need to charter a bus. Penn State is a leading contender for the Big 10 title, and the game is in Happy Valley. Penn State Paternos 50, Gophers 17.

No love for Coach Brew! Well, I'm not sure. The problem the Gophers have is that they have Eric Decker and that's about it on offense. Penn State is usually smart enough to figure that sort of thing out. I don't think it will be a blowout, but JoePa will win another one this week. Penn State 34, Gophers 23.

Iowa Hawkeyes (+2 1/2) vs. Beloved Wisconsin Badgers. I'm a big believer that a record doesn't tell the entire story. Even though Iowa is nationally ranked and unbeaten, they don't strike my eye as very good. Ricky Stanzi, the Iowa quarterback, is not exactly a Heisman front-runner and the Badgers will pound the ball against the Iowa D. Bucky Badger 31, Iowa 20.

I'm struggling with this one. The Badgers were really odd last week at Ohio State. They were moving the ball at will against a very good Buckeye defense, but they couldn't seem to avoid self-destruction at the key moments. They'd better get that cleaned up against a very smart, disciplined Iowa team. Talent-wise, the Badgers are better. Will that be enough? Maybe this week, but I'm not confident about this pick at all. Wisconsin 21, Iowa 16.

Oklahoma Sooners (+3) vs. Texas Longhorns (in Dallas). Oh, baby what a game! This game could decide the Big XII South, it might have Big XII title game implications and even the national championship game. And with the presence of two big-time quarterbacks in Texas's Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, it could have Heisman implications. Bradford is a bit off on his timing after coming back last week from being hurt. I believe McCoy will be the better of these two quarterbacks, and with the game in Dallas the Horns should have the crowd behind them. Texas 60, Oklahoma 49.

Ben, did you think they were playing basketball? I don't see it being anywhere near this high-scoring, since these teams do play defense. I'm going to play a hunch here -- Texas hasn't really blown anyone away this year and the Sooners are pretty desperate. So I'm going to guess that the desperate team will win. Oklahoma 31, Texas 27.

Baltimore Ravens (+3) vs. Minnesota Vikings. The two icons of these teams, Ray Lewis and Brett Fav-ray, are old enough to be on Social Security. You can't deny that the Ravens defense is good, but AP is also good. So I believe that the Ravens will knock off the Vikings. Baltimore 35, Minnesota 10.

Wow, that's an interesting score! Can't see that happening. I suspect it will be close. One thing to remember -- the last time the Ravens saw Brett Favre, they beat him very badly, 48-3. It was the worst loss of Favre's career. Favre hasn't forgotten. I can promise you that. Vikings 21, Baltimore 17.

Detroit Motor City Kitties (+13 1/2) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. If you're a Lions fan, it has to stink. You are going into a place where you haven't won in nearly 20 years. Your starting quarterback is hurt, your star wideout is banged up and you're facing a team that got burned by their old quarterback on national television. Even though the Packers are probably going to be looking for Dad to be on the offensive line -- someone has to do it -- Rodgers shouldn't have to run for his life this week. Glorious Green Bay 49, Motor City Kitties 3.

The Lions aren't very good. But they aren't that bad, either. I suspect the Packers will win and probably will cover the spread, but they need to show me something more than they have so far. The best part of this game is that it gives me a chance to put up a picture of former Lion great Herman "Thunderfoot" Weaver. Green Bay 38, Lions 21.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+3 1/2) vs. Hot-lanta Falcons. Well, Atlanta has come back from the dead and really put a whipping on the 49ers last week. They have my fantasy league stud running back, Michael Turner (the Burner) and Matty "Ice" Ryan. And Roddy White. And Tony Gonzalez. All of these guys are going to have some fun in the Georgia Dome. Hot-lanta 30, Bear Down Chicago da Bearz 27.

This is not a favorable matchup for da Bearz. I suspect that they will have a hard time containing all of Atlanta's weapons that my son so dutifully catalogued. I do think Jay Cutler will have some success, but it won't be enough. Atlanta 27, Chicago 21.

Well, the State of Michigan and the State of Oklahoma will probably be sending an armed mob out to get me! That's all I've got to say. Mom, make sure to gather up all our canned goods! Ben out!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Local Scene Part Two -- The Mayor Leads, New Brighton Bleeds

Steve Larson has been the mayor of New Brighton for a decade now. If you were to imagine what a suburban mayor might look like, Larson's appearance would be almost prototypical. He's got the silvery mane, the ruddy complexion and the open smile of a small-town politician. And when you talk to him, he's usually a very pleasant fellow with a ready smile. It would be hard not to like the guy; the few times I've talked to him, he's been uniformly pleasant and engaging. In some respects, he's almost the mayor from Central Casting.

The problem is this: sometimes when you cast a movie, the movie doesn't have a happy ending. And if you made a movie of city government in New Brighton for the last decade, you'd think that the script was a horror show.

Mayor Larson has presided over the Northwest Quadrant project, which has turned into an enormous boondoggle. If you go down Old Highway 8 in the area north of 694, you see a moonscape. This was the land that was to become a vibrant multi-use development. This was the project that would bring New Brighton into the 21st century, the project that would be Mayor Larson's crowning achievement. When I first moved to New Brighton in 1997, that stretch of road wasn't beautiful, but it was home to a number of businesses that contributed modest but consistent revenue to the city's coffers and provided jobs for citizens in New Brighton and other surrounding communities.

What happened? You can get an excellent overview of the missteps at the Enlighten New Brighton website. Consider the following from Dennis Flahave, who has served on the New Brighton Economic Development Commission and has had a birds-eye view of the proceedings:

About six years ago when the City's consultants provided "cash flow" projections, I brought two prominent developers to the site to get their opinions of the viability of the project. I told then-city manager Matt Fulton of the developers' opinions: one stated that the project was too dense. The other did not feel that we would receive the high-end dollar projections on the townhomes due to the proximity of the two freeways and the noise associated with these freeways.

Let me make an analogy of the density issue. At The Lakes development in Blaine, the project has a density of approximately 9 units per acre. The density at the Northwest Quadrant is at 15 units per acre. To me this would be like backing out of your garage and into your neighbor's living room. However, the City decided to proceed with these cash flow projections.

While the plan called for mixed-use development, Flahave is correct: 15 units per acre is rather a lot. Many New Brighton homeowners live on 1/4 acre lots. Imagine putting 3 1/2 families in that space. Would you expect to get top dollar for a project like that?

As Flahave notes, the developers were skeptical and ultimately, because of poor initial pre-sales and environmental concerns, the developers backed out of the project. Did that stop the City fathers from going forward? Not at all. In fact, they doubled down. Flahave:

In this same time frame the city took $10.7 million out of surplus from other TIF districts and put the money into the Northwest Quadrant in the form of infrastructure such as roads, light poles, curbs, etc.

The City then purchased the Midwest Asphalt property for approximately $19 million on a non-contingent basis. With commercial purchase agreements in Minnesota it is normal to include environmental testing and inspection clauses. Why is this important? Answer, because if a property is found to be environmentally contaminated, the purchaser faces a potential unlimited liability to clean it up. I asked why the City waived its right to test and was told, "if we had done the testing, Midwest Asphalt would not have sold us the property."

Midwest Asphalt's reluctance to sign a contingent deal should have been a huge red flag. Not to put too fine a point on it, but buying a contaminated property on a non-contingent basis was lunacy. The city now owns this land and the costs of abatement will be huge. And while the City of New Brighton might be willing to buy contaminated land, no one else will be. So we're stuck with the cost until and unless the city pays the cost to clean up the site.

But there's more -- the current administration has taken to using creative accounting to minimize the visible impact of its decisions. Flahave:

The City is recently taking great pride in going to the Legislature to get permission for the pooling of our funds. This simply means being able to co-mingle funds - not a good thing as it makes it easier to obfuscate the performance of the individual Tax Increment Districts, no doubt a goal the City desires particularly as it relates to the Northwest Quadrant.

And as a practical matter, it pretty much puts all the City's eggs into one contaminated basket. Perhaps someday the City will be able to sell the NWQ property to other developers. Will they get anywhere near the money that was projected? I wouldn't count on it. Everyone in the Twin Cities business community is well aware of the city's plight and no one is eager to get involved in the development. Would you be?

So where does that leave the City of New Brighton under Mayor Larson's watch? Mr. Flahave runs the numbers thus:

In conclusion, we are currently $100 million in debt and have sold two commercial lots. We are exposed to an unlimited environmental cleanup liability on contaminated sites. Finally, the City now has permission to co-mingle funds making it harder to track the accounting by project. I feel that this is a total breach of fiduciary responsibility.

I would agree. Understand this -- "we" in this context doesn't mean the city government. It means the entire city. If you live in New Brighton, you own some of this liability. It also means that it will be exceedinly difficult to get additional development in town and it might make it harder for you to sell your home, too. Would you buy a home in New Brighton if you knew about the liability you might someday incur as a future homeowner? Or would you choose to live elsewhere?

While it wouldn't be fair to pin all of this on the mayor, he's been a major player throughout and these fateful decisions have happened on his watch. Mayor Larson is now asking for another chance. Would you give it to him?

Guilty Pleasures Part Fifty-Six -- It's Too Late for Joy to the Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves on the Indian Reservation Who Are Tired of Being Alone

I'm back! I'm Fearless Maria. Hey Dad, what time is it?

Think it's about 7:30, Maria.

Dad, you should know that it's Guilty Pleasures time! And now, since we've been doing lots of 80s lately, to dodge the 70s, now we're back to the 70s! Back to ugly! Back to terror! But just because the 70s were ugly and terrible, don't stop reading, because this might turn out okay! You never know!

Way to sell the idea, Maria.

So Dad, do you think it's time for Christmas carols?

Sure seems that way, considering it's snowed about 3 times this week.

Well, Three Dog Night says it is! Here's a traditional version of the classic Christmas carol from 1971!

Uh, Maria? I don't think that was a Christmas carol.

Sorry, I got confused, Dad, because all those guy's shirts look like wrapping paper! Don't you think they should have bows in the hair and go to cheerleading practice?

It's possible they do have bows in their hair, Maria. We just can't see them because the hair is so long and stringy.

I guess you're right, Dad. That wasn't a Christmas carol. So let me ask you, Dad -- is this a Christmas Carole? Or is it too hard to tell, because:

No, Maria, that's not a Christmas carol. It is Carole King, though. Are you getting confused by all this old music?

No, Dad. I'm just goofing around. That's what I'm supposed to do, right?

Sure, Maria. It's one of your strengths.

Hey, Dad! So, I have a question.

Okay, Maria. What would you like to know?

What the heck happened to these guys? You were showing these guys to me a while back and they were wearing Revolutionary War outfits with go-go dancers. But then, when they got to 1971, they looked like this:

I'm confused. Now they look like those Three Dog Night dudes! That's not an improvement! They're not even half reasonable!

I'm not sure, but they were hardly the only people who looked a lot different in 1971. And I can prove it to you.

Okay, Dad. Who else looked different?

Well, have you ever heard of Sonny and Cher?

Yeah, because a long, long, long time ago I remember you showed me a video of them.

Cher looked like was wearing curtains. As a matter of fact, ugly curtains.

Yeah, and Sonny was wearing a vest that looked like it was made out of shag carpeting. Kind of a home decor thing. Well, by 1971 she looked a little different. Actually, a lot different. Check it out, Maria:

You're right, Dad! Goodness gracious, now she's wearing shredded drapes, or whatever that dress is supposed to be! And what happened to her hair? Now it's all wavy and curly and really long. She doesn't even look like the same person!

She started to go for the Las Vegas look, Maria.

That was a bad bet, Dad! Guess what -- she didn't get 3 cherries on the slot machine -- she got 3 skull and crossbones!

Well, I do imagine that the people who did her hair appreciated her efforts. It probably was an all day job.

You know what, Dad?

What, Maria?

I'm getting tired.

Kinda like Al Green?

Dad, do you think that Al Green got a part-time job as a lifeguard?

How do you figure, Maria?

Look at what he's wearing! He's got on flashy shorts, a tank top and a sun hat! But I'm thinking those gold chains might not help him in the water. Or does he have a whistle on the end of it?

I didn't see one. I agree, it does seem like a slightly impractical lifeguard uniform, Maria. But you know what?

I know, it's time to whistle this edition of Guilty Pleasures to a stop. Vote, people! Pick out your favorite song in the comments. And you know what else, Dad?

No, what Maria?

If you need some help swimming, I wouldn't call Al Green.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How disappointing!

Remember a few weeks ago, when the Obama administration, in its infinite wisdom, sold out its ostensible allies in Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere by canceling the missile defense program that the Bush administration had begun? The notion we heard floated was that this concession to the Russians would be the good faith demonstration that would get them to agree to a larger sanctions regime against Iran.

Well, we got our answer today:

Denting President Obama’s hopes for a powerful ally in his campaign to press Iran on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday that threatening Tehran now with harsh new sanctions would be “counterproductive.”

The minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said after meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here that diplomacy should be given a chance to work, particularly after a meeting in Geneva this month in which the Iranian government said it would allow United Nations inspectors to visit its clandestine nuclear enrichment site near the holy city of Qum.

“At the current stage, all forces should be thrown at supporting the negotiating process,” he said. “Threats, sanctions and threats of pressure in the current situation, we are convinced, would be counterproductive.”
Man, how disappointing! There's more:

Mr. Lavrov’s resistance was striking given that, just three weeks before, President Dmitri A. Medvedev said that “in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.” American officials had hailed that statement as a sign that Russia was finally coming around to the Obama administration’s view that Iran is best handled with diplomacy backed by a credible threat of sanctions.

It also came after the Obama administration announced that it would retool a European missile defense system fiercely opposed by Russia. That move was thought to have paid dividends for the White House when Mr. Medvedev appeared to throw his support behind Mr. Obama on Iran, though American officials say the Russian president was also likely to have been reacting to the disclosure of the secret nuclear site near Qum.
Show of hands here: how many of you saw this coming right down Pennsylvania Avenue?

As our President would say: let me be clear. There's a reason why Theodore Roosevelt suggested the proper course is to speak softly and carry a big stick. Obama has done the opposite thus far. He's been proclaiming his administration's moral goodness everywhere he goes and has pretty much put the big stick aside. The Russians are an unsentimental lot. Seeing the stick laying on the ground, they have proceeded to shove it into a very personal and private place of the president. Perhaps he can paper over the wound with his Nobel Peace Prize or something.

Let Me Be Clear

Those four words are President Obama's favorite verbal tic. Ben Feller at ABC News noticed:

Presidents talk so much in public that is not surprising to find rhetorical patterns. Although Obama is known for a flair with the written and spoken word, his hardest mission is often to make complicated matters relevant to the masses.

So clarity, it seems, is of the highest order.

Terrorists? "Now let me be clear: We are indeed at war with al-Qaida and its affiliates."

Student testing? "Let me be clear: Success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results."

Iran? "Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies."

Auto bailouts? "Let me be clear: The United States government has no interest in running GM."

The president takes the phrase everywhere.

In Moscow: "Let me be clear: America wants a strong, peaceful, and prosperous Russia."

In Ghana: "Let me be clear: Africa is not the crude caricature of a continent at perpetual war."

In Italy, bemoaning poor U.S. leadership on climate change: "Let me be clear: Those days are over."

In Trinidad, announcing new aid: "Let me be clear: This is not charity."

Here's my question: do you think that the President is being clear in his intentions? And if you insert the word "perfectly" in between "be" and "clear," don't you hear the voice of another president from about 40 years ago, as one of Professor Reynolds's commenters pointed out here?


(H/T: Instapundit)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The College Where Everyone Knows Your Name

About ten days ago, we traveled to Beloit, WI to Beloit College for my reunion. Here is the latest news from the college.
  • The college has a new president.
  • The new science building is finished and it is beautiful.
  • The college and the city of Beloit are continuing to work together on projects that enhance the area. The latest project is turning the public library into a performing arts center.
  • The college had to cut quite a few staff positions last year.
  • Alums, if you have not heard from the college recently and would like to hear from the college again, consider contacting the alumni office. When the alumni office recently updated their database, my address was "updated" to the address that I lived at when I was a student at the college. No wonder why I never received any information about the reunion.
  • Professor John Rosenwald is retiring.
  • Dean Bill Flanagan is retiring.

Despite these changes, Beloit basically is still the same place that it has been for over one hundred and fifty years.

As a student attending the college, it sometimes felt too small. Now, looking back, I now see the small campus as a nurturing environment.

Benster spent a lot of time questioning us about the college. He was intrigued that he could go to a school like Beloit and do the things that we did over the course of four years. On Saturday, we were able to give him a taste of college life by touring the college radio station where Mr. D was a DJ, walking to the football stadium to watch the football game, showing Benster old issues of the student newspaper when Mr. D was the editor and sitting in a professor's office and talking about anything and everything.

Thanks Beloit for remaining a place where a chemistry major can add a poetry minor, where a professor invites you to his or her house for a meal and where fellow graduates want to hear your life story regardless of whether you are president of Sony Pictures or a stay at home mom.

The Local Scene - First of a Series

We have an important election coming up in New Brighton. We will elect the next mayor and 2 of the 4 seats on the City Council.

New Brighton is at a crossroads right now. The current leadership of the city has undertaken a huge development project that has gone badly awry. The Northwest Quadrant project has denuded a 1-mile stretch of Old Highway 8, from the 694 overpass up to Highway 96. When we first moved to New Brighton, this stretch was filled with a number of businesses, mostly industrial. They are now gone and the grand plans for redeveloping the area have fallen through. What you see when you travel Old Highway 8 today is largely a moonscape of fallow land.

As a citizen of New Brighton, I find the current situation problematic for many reasons. The businesses that were shooed away from the Old Highway 8 corridor were unsightly, but they contributed jobs and revenue to the city and those resources are no longer available. The land, which the City acquired through highly aggressive use of eminent domain, faces significant challenges before it can be redeveloped. And because the city fathers put all their eggs into this basket, other available monies for redevelopment elsewhere in the City are now tied up in order to service the debt on the undeveloped land.

It's been a boondoggle. So the question for the citizenry is this: ought we return the same individuals who chose this path for another term? And are you satisfied that they will do better next time?

My guess is that most people in New Brighton would recognize that things must change. But who are the people to bring about this change? That is the big question. And we will be looking at this question in the coming days.

Radio Free Dilettante — iTunes Challenges You to Parse This

As the O'Jays would say, there appears to be a message in our music today:

Last Five:
You Really Got Me, the Kinks
Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved, James Brown
Love Me, Love Me Now, Curtis Mayfield
Save the Life of My Child, Simon & Garfunkel
Don't Worry About the Government, Talking Heads

Next Five:
Got to Get You Into My Life, Earth Wind & Fire
You Ain't Going Nowhere, the Byrds
I'll Be Your Mirror, Velvet Underground
Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show, Neil Diamond
Cult of Personality, Living Colour

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lightning Round - 101209

Not much time, but here we go:

  • I wrote about the latest foul offering from the increasingly odious Garrison Keillor yesterday over at G. O. M. I worked for a number of years in foodservice during my Target years, so I have some knowledge of the subject. Keillor's assertions about how meat is processed, his casual libel of Cargill, McDonald's and Burger King, and his incredible statement about how the industry is somehow back to the 19th Century (not that he'd say how, of course) is really reprehensible. It's pretty sad, really.
  • The New York Yankees are really good.
  • President Obama told a largely gay audience over the weekend that he's going to get rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act. He could get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell today if he chose to. Will he? I'm not sure he'll be able to get rid of DOMA, though. Let's see if he actually will do these things. I would remind anyone who is interested in the subject of what Jim Geraghty has often said: all Barack Obama promises come with expiration dates.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Week 5

Howdy! We're back and we're gonna pick some games. Anything you have to say, Dad?

Other than you need to pick up the pace on your picking? No.

Well, let's get this baby rolling.

Purdon't Boilermakers (+3) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. I personally don't think Purdue is very good. With Coach Tiller retiring, their preparations might be off for a good part of the season. Gophers win the game. Minnesota 31, Purdon't 13.

Tiller didn't leave the cupboard bare at Purdue, but the Gophers should have enough to win the game. The funny part to me: we wanted that outdoor stadium here and now we have a Homecoming game scheduled on a morning where there's a thin coating of snow on the ground. As always, be careful what you want. Minnesota 27, Purdue 24.

Wisconsin Badgers (+16) vs. "The" Ohio State University Buckeyes. Vegas kinda tipped the scales a little bit! I would like to see the Badgers win, but I can't say that. Ohio State is just too good and they have the crowd on their side. The Ohio State University 30, Wisconsin 24.

I agree, Benster -- the spread is absurd. I'll tell you this much -- the Badgers have to love that spread, though, because it indicates no respect at all. And I'm not clear why Ohio State is considered so dominant, based on the times I've seen them this year. So what the heck: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 19.

Florida Gators (-7 1/2) vs. LSU Tigers. I'm probably Urban Meyer's most disliked person, because I might have had a hand in taking down Tim Tebow through the infamous Benster Curse. I don't think Tebow will play today. I'm going to call the upset: LSU 31, Florida 19.

Just a guess -- Tebow will play. And Urban Meyer will forgive you, Benster. Maybe no one else will, though. Florida 27, LSU 24.

Minnesota Vikings (-10) vs. St. Louis Rams. The Rams are probably the worst team in football. It's basically Steven Jackson and nothing else. Kyle Boller and Marc Bulger are not worth too much. Vikings will give them everything they want, and more. Vikings 40, Rams 3.

I tend to agree with you that the Rams are the worst team in the NFL. And that's why the Vikings better be careful -- historically, they cough up a hairball in these situations. They won't this time, but it won't be easy. Vikings 24, Rams 16.

Pittsburgh Stillers (-10 1/2) vs. Detroit Lions. The Lions might not be the worst team in the NFL, but they are still pretty poor. The Steelers will chew up the Lions offense and look for Big Ben to torch the secondary with Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward. Steelers 40, Lions 0.

No love for the Lions, I guess! Not that they deserve any. I see signs of life in Detroit, though. The Steelers need this one, though. And they'll get it. Stillers 27, Lions 13.

New England Patriots (-3) vs. Denver Broncos. I'll admit, I'm surprised by Mr. McDaniels, the new Broncos head coach. He's done a very good job so far. But all good things must come to an end. Bill Belichek is the Coach K of the NFL. The Patriots constantly win, and unlike the Blue Devils, there are no graduation or eligibility issues. Go you, Brady! New England 30, Denver 17.

We're picking this game because the beloved Packers and da Bearz are on bye this week. And since Kyle Orton is starting in Denver, it's just like picking a da Bearz game. After New England is done with him, Orton will feel like Bob Avellini. New England 34, Denver 21.

Get well, Tim Tebow! Gator Chomp!

Well all righty, then.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Other Awards Presented to Barack Obama Today

13. Champion, Pillsbury Bake-Off
12. JD Power & Associates Award, Best Mid-Size Sedan
11. Queen of Sheba
10. Playmate of the Year (thanks, Picklesworth!)
9. Lady Byng Trophy
8. Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval
7. Best in Show, Westminster Kennel Club
6. Cy Young Award
5. Buckeye News Hawk Award (and coveted Silver Sow)
4. Robert F. Lucas Memorial Lt. Governor's Award, Key Club International
3. Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
2. Miss Richfield 1982
1. Alice in Dairyland

In related news, the Tennessee Titans were declared the winners of Super Bowl XLIV today

Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize. A few thoughts:

  • The first point is obvious -- even if he were to ever deserve such a "prestigious" prize, it's way to early to tell. His administration has barely begun and it's absurd to give it to him now.
  • In the president's defense, I would say this -- even with his awfully thin resume, President Obama does deserve the prize more than Rigoberta Menchu, Le Duc Tho or Yasser Arafat did.
  • And when you consider that list of previous honorees, and also recall that Al Gore and Jimmy Carter have won as well, you begin to understand that the Nobel committee jumped the shark years ago.
  • And you know who's really gotta be angry right now? Bill Clinton. Clinton pretty much spent the last year of his presidency trying to do something, anything to help bring about a peace agreement in the Middle East. He didn't even get a sniff from the Nobel cabal. Obama makes a few speeches and he gets the prize. I tell ya, no respect.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A reminder for my New Brighton friends

Although it's been pretty quiet, we do have an election coming up next month. Among those on the ballot are the incumbent mayor, Steve Larson, who would like another tour of duty.

Does Mayor Larson deserve another term? Before you answer that question, you owe it to yourself to visit Enlighten New Brighton, a new website that has a lot of deeply useful information concerning the issues that pertain to this election.

I'll be talking about this election more in the coming days. But remember, knowledge is power.

Fickle Fingar of Fate

Do y'all remember the famous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate regarding the threat of the Iranian nuclear program. It was in all the papers and pretty much spiked any efforts that the Bush administration had been making to rouse the world for action against the Iranians?

I remember thinking it was pretty suspicious at the time. Now, thanks to our friends at the Wall Street Journal*, I know why:

When it comes to politicized intelligence in the Bush years, the critics may finally have a point. Perhaps the work of America's intelligence agencies was manipulated to suit the convenience of a small group of willful officials, intent on getting their way against the better judgment of their colleagues.

Except the intelligence was about Iran, not Iraq, and the manipulators weren't conniving neocons but rather the Administration's internal critics on the left.

That's one way to look at last month's revelation that Iran is building a secret second site to enrich uranium, among other emerging intelligence details. The Qom site—too small for civilian purposes but ideal for producing weapons-grade uranium—is supervised by Iran's Revolutionary Guards and was only declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency after Tehran got wind that the nuclear watchdogs knew about it.

But the more telling detail, as a recent White House "guidance paper" acknowledges, is that the U.S. has been "carefully observing and analyzing this facility for several years." That timeline is significant, because it was less than two years ago, in December 2007, that a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear programs asserted with "high confidence" that Tehran had "halted its nuclear weapons program" in the fall of 2003.
That timeline is significant. Indeed. And there's more:

Yet some of us noted at the time that the NIE added, in a crucial footnote, that by "nuclear weapons program" it meant "weapon design and weaponization work and . . . uranium enrichment-related work," rather than Iran's "declared" nuclear facilities.

And who decided to write the NIE the way it was written? The WSJ fingers Tom Fingar:

The NIE's main authors—including former intelligence official Tom Fingar and other internal critics of Bush Administration policies—downplayed this critical detail. Never mind that it was precisely Iran's "declared" nuclear facilities that constituted the core element of any nuclear-weapons program.
Wouldn't you like to know why Tom Fingar and his colleagues did this? I surely would.

*Anticipating the inevitable "this is an editorial, not a news story" cavil, I would remind my readership that the WSJ editorial page does its own reporting and has broken any number of important stories over the years.

res ipsa loquitur 100809

What if CO2 isn't the problem? It's awfully hard to tax solar activity.

Rember those higher ethical standards we would see now that the Republicans are no longer controlling Congress? Here's the latest.

Keith Olbermann explains why my friends at United Healthcare are the enemy! The enemy!

A challenge to the readership: what, exactly, is the point that Maureen Dowd is trying to make?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Baseball is a funny game

So, let's say you're a Twins fan, and a lot of people here are Twins fans. If at 4:06 this afternoon, a minute before game time, I had told you that:

  • Mop-up man Bobby Keppel would be the winning pitcher; and

  • Loose Cannon 1, Carlos Gomez, would score the winning run; and

  • Loose Cannon 2, Alexi Casilla, would drive in the winning run

would you have believed me? Would anyone have believed that? Of all the fascinating teams that the locals have put on the field in this decade, this may be the most astonishing team to win a division yet. I still don't know how it happened, but there it is.

Congratulations to your 2009 American League Central Champions, the Minnesota Twins.

Radio Free Dilettante – Soggy Tuesday Edition

Once again, iTunes notices something:

Last Five:

Crosseyed and Painless, Talking Heads
I Shot the Sheriff, Bob Marley & the Wailers
Stop! In the Name of Love, The Supremes
Clash City Rockers, The Clash
Sara, Fleetwood Mac

Next Five:

Stormy Monday, The Allman Brothers
It's Raining Again, Supertramp
When I Feel the Sea Beneath My Soul, Taj Mahal
Lounge Act, Nirvana
This Boy, The Beatles

I'm Sure There's a Logical Explanation. . .

. . . but I'm pretty hard-pressed to see it:

WASHINGTON - For the past five years, researchers in a modest office overlooking the New Haven green have carefully documented cases of assassination and torture of democracy activists in Iran. With more than $3 million in grants from the US State Department, they have pored over thousands of documents and Persian-language press reports and interviewed scores of witnesses and survivors to build dossiers on those they say are Iran’s most infamous human-rights abusers.

But just as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center was ramping up to investigate abuses of protesters after this summer’s disputed presidential election, the group received word that - for the first time since it was formed - its federal funding request had been denied.

“If there is one time that I expected to get funding, this was it,’’ said Rene Redman, the group’s executive director, who had asked for $2.7 million in funding for the next two years. “I was surprised, because the world was watching human rights violations right there on television.’’
Anyone have a theory?

Lightning Round

Only have a few minutes. Go!

  • We'll give ol' number 4 credit for having a nice game and a nice moment yesterday. In the long run, I remain confident that the Packers made the right decision, though. I've seen enough of Brett Favre to know that he'll break someone's heart again this year. And it won't be the Green Bay Packers.
  • We had a wonderful time back at Beloit over the weekend. The campus looks good and you get the feeling that there's new confidence at the school. The new president of the college looks like he's going to do an excellent job. And even the football team looks better.
  • "So I jump ship in Hong Kong and make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas. A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-galunga. So we finish the 18th and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."
  • In case you had any illusions about the role of media, especially the MSM, in today's world, this ought to disabuse you of those notions. CNN is a straight-up Praetorian Guard for the current administration.
  • I live in Minnesota. I know a lot of people who work for medical device manufacturers, especially Medtronic, whose headquarters is about 7 miles from where I live. Think they're interested in this?

Friday, October 02, 2009

That Dear Wisconsin Town

Off to Beloit for the weekend. Looks like its going to rain on us pretty much all weekend but that's okay. Fortunately, Beloit College had the foresight to construct actual campus buildings and we'll be able to duck inside if necessary. Have a good weekend and consider this one an open thread to discuss anything you like.

Baby Don't You Want to Go?

Chicago is eliminated for the 2016 Olympics. On the first vote.

A collective shadow of sadness and shock fell over the crowd. "Wow," people repeated. "Unbelievable." "So sad."

"This is just one collective hurt" said Henry McGee Jr, 52, and a small business owner who lives near Washington Park. "I'm really stunned. I thought it would be such a boom for the African-American community."

Under the big top at Washington Park, contortionists and clowns warmed up before the Universoul Circus, which was hosting a viewing party near the proposed Olympic stadium.

A man in a Bears jacket made a slashing motion on his neck.

"It's over," he said.

"I'm shocked," said Natalie McKnight, 29. "I thought with Barack being the chief spokesman, we were going to get it."
I was born in Chicago and lived there for 5 years as an adult. It's a great city, filled with great people. I don't agree with Chicago politics at all. But there's no excuse for schadenfreude. I live in the Midwest and there's no advantage to the largest city in the area being brought low.

I would hope that the organizers in Chicago would simply wipe off the dirt and get back to work. There are other opportunities available.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Week 4

So all right fellas, we're back. And did you notice something? I beat you last week, Decrepit!

Yeah, I noticed that, since you've mentioned it about every 10 minutes or so.

Just wanted to be sure, Dad. Okay, so let's get down to bidness.

Wisconsin Badgers (+2 1/2) vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers. Apparently there's another Minnesota vs. Wisconsin football game. But this one only features guys who play for 4 years. Both quarterbacks are very similar but I think the difference is going to be the ground game. Minnesota 28, Wisconsin 17.

So let me get this straight, youngblood. You think the difference is going to be the running game, but you've picked the team with the inferior running game to win? I'm confused. But not as confused as the Gophers will be at the end. It will be close, but the Axe goes back to Madison. Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 29.

Meeshegan Wolverines (+2) vs. Sparty the Spartan. Well, nothing like picking a good rivalry game. I have to say that Michigan looks pretty impressive to date and I don't see a lot of good things happening in East Lansing for the home club. Meeshegan 31, Sparty 23.

Here's the deal on this one, grasshopper. The Spartans are in a tailspin. If they lose this one, their season is pretty much over. The Wolverines are much improved, but it's always dangerous to play a desperate team on the road. Sparty 34, Meeshegan 27.

Lake Forest College Foresters (NL) vs. Beloved Beloit College Buccaneers. We're going to Beloit this weekend for Mrs. D's college reunion and we'll see some of this game while we're there. I don't know a lot about either team, so unfortunately for all you Beloit College fans, I'm going to have to pick against them. Lake Forest 21, Beloit 7.

You think I'm going to pick against my alma mater, young fella? No. Way. Jose. Let's give the Bucs a little love and remember that they beat LF last year. And they'll do it again in front of the soggy home crowd. Beloit 34, Lake Forest 19.

Detroit Lions (+10) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. Well Gino and Rich, I'm siding with you on on this one. Detroit is Detroit and Matt Forte, Jay Cutler and Devin Hester are all going to have some fun in the Windy City. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz 40, Motor City Kitties 0.

I don't think the Lions are that bad. But they won't win on Sunday. Da Bearz are actually looking like a pretty good team, as much as it pains me to say it. Da Bearz 31, Lions 20.

Baltimore Ravens (+2) vs. New England Patriots. Mr. Brady is back and the jury is still out on him, at least for me. I know a little bit about anatomy and coming back from significant knee damage is very painful. Especially when Ray Lewis is draped all over you. Unfortunately, it's going to be tough for the Ravens playing a desperate team at home -- that's my Dad's theory so I'm stealing it. New England 31, Baltimore 17.

Well, it's about time you pay attention to one of my theories, whippersnapper. And as it turns out, I agree with your analysis. New England 24, Baltimore 10.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (+3 1/2) vs. Minnesota Vikings. Well, where do we begin? #4 is going to be playing his old team in his new home, where he's struggled for most of his storied career. The Packers come into this game looking for some blocking, but facing the Williams Wall and Jared Allen, whose very face would make an excellent Halloween mask, but the dark side will prevail! That's right, I'm calling it! Packers 40, Norsemen 39.

I'd love for you to be right, Seabiscuit, but it's awfully hard to score points when your quarterback is lying on his back with a dude with a mullet on top of him. And I'm afraid that's what we're going to see. Oh, it pains me to make this pick, but here it is: Vikings 24, Packers 13.

Do you fellows remember when I said Tim Tebow was the man? Well, he got a concussion, which made me think about some curses in sports. You've heard of the SI Jinx, the Madden cover curse and maybe even the Campbell's Chunky Soup curse. Now there's the Benster and D curse. So maybe I should talk up #4, He Who Must Not Be Named, Benedict Arnold, and any other name for a traitor you could think of. There's your wisdom from Benster. Do with it what you will!