Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gunter glieben glauchen Kloppenburg

Joanne Kloppenburg concedes. About a month too late, but at least she didn't try to get Shirley Abrahamson to steal it for her. That's something. Congratulations to Justice Prosser.

Grandfathers and Empires

My friend Gino, who comments frequently here, made a typically provocative comment here yesterday concerning Memorial Day:

think of how many other grandfathers would still be here if our govt had minded its own affairs and left other to attend to theirs.
for me, this is a one lesson of memorial day that seems to be left out of the festivities.
Yes, I think we should think about this. The subject of grandfathers came up because I had mentioned that my own grandfather had served in World War I. My grandfather died four years before I was born, so I never had a chance to meet him or ask him about his experience. I have every reason to suspect his experience was pretty ghastly, though, as World War I was horrible. It was a war of trenches and poison gas and atrocities galore, a war that resolved nothing, with a peace that led to an even more horrific war 30 years later.

Our government places soldiers all over the world now, which makes us a reluctant imperial power, but an imperial power nonetheless. We have garrisons in nearly every place we've ever fought -- Germany, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan. We spend incredible amounts of money and put people at risk in many of those locations, for reasons that aren't always clear.

In the normal course of things, many of the men who have fought and died would have become grandfathers. Increasingly, women who one day would have been grandmothers are fighting and dying, too. Gino is correct -- we do need to think about why we are maintaing a presence in so many places, trying to bridge so many gaps, involved in so many disputes that aren't, at bottom, our concern. It's easy to say we're trying to make the world a better place. But are we certain that is the case?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

The numbers are astonishing, really. Over 116,000 military personnel died in the War to End All Wars. Over 405,000 died in World War II. Nearly 54,000 died in Korea and over 58,000 in Vietnam. Over 10,000 people have given the ultimate sacrifice in the various wars springing from events in the Middle East.

That is more people than the current population of Minneapolis and St. Paul combined. The sacrifice that these men and women gave for us are beyond the numbers, though.

My grandfather served in the War to End All Wars. I had a number of uncles who served in World War II and another uncle who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. They all made it back alive and were able to have families and lives, lives that brought forth dozens of new lives. My extended family has been greatly blessed to live in a nation that survived and thrived in large measure because so many others gave their lives.

If things had been just a little different, I would not have had the opportunity to write these words. My grandfather survived in 1918. There were a lot of men who went to Europe with him who would have been grandfathers, too, who didn't come home, who never had a chance to be grandfathers. That's only one reason why we need to remember. Every day we are here, we are blessed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Governor Dilettante?

I never thought it possible, but it turns out that the Star Tribune editorial page has my back. Apparently they recognize the importance of branding well enough to realize that these parts aren't big enough to have two dilettantes:

State Republican Party Chairman Tony Sutton took the political low road again this week, calling DFL Gov. Mark Dayton "a bored dilettante'' whose recent behavior has been "erratic.''
That's right, dammit. To paraphrase any number of advertising campaigns over the years, if you're going to have a dilettante, make mine Mr. Dilettante! Accept no substitutes.

While I appreciate the Star Tribune's efforts to protect my brand, which would be irreparably damaged if it ever became associated with the governor, the editorial itself is baked wind. Consider this cavalcade of dubious assertions:

Sutton's obvious allusion to Dayton's past mental health issues only solidifies the GOP hit man's reputation for tiresome personal attacks.
I suspect the luminaries at the Star Tribune editorial board know that one of the roles of a party chairman is to attack the other party. That's pretty high up on the list of duties in the job description. And if Dayton's past mental health problems are not fair game, why is that? Of course, the Strib is just getting warmed up:
The "dilettante" reference was cheap campaign rhetoric, but not nearly as objectionable as alleging that "madness'' is driving the governor's decisionmaking.
I suppose you could ascribe other factors to what is driving the governor's decisionmaking. I might ascribe factors like stupidity, willful blindness to the way the world actually works and slack jawed fealty to the public employee unions. But listing those factors, which add up to a version of madness if you think about the matter, wouldn't be likely to gain agreement in the office suite on Portland Avenue. But getting the vapors about rough language is part of this game. Continuing the litany of GOP sins, the editorialists aver:

A GOP news release on the website launch also said that party leaders were concerned that the governor is in "professional and personal shutdown mode.'' And party Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb got in on the act by dredging up Dayton's regrettable 2004 decision to shut down his U.S. Senate office in the face of terror warnings.
Oh, that nasty Brodkorb. The nerve of the guy, dredging up regrettable decisions. We have a narrative to control, people, and we can't have anything regrettable mentioned.

Of course, the governor doesn't always follow Marquess of Queensbury rules either, a point that the editorial grudgingly makes:

Although it should be noted that Dayton came close to a personal attack in calling the GOP's Tea Party legislators "radical" and "intransigent" earlier this week, he has done nothing to suggest that the pressure of the budget stalemate is too much to handle.

In other words, it's okay because it's always better to attack entire groups than individuals, which is why everyone was totally cool with Bradlee Dean's comments in the legislature last week. And there's an excellent reason that Dayton hasn't suggested that the pressure of the budget stalemate is too much to handle -- it would be a ludicrous assertion. Everyone knew this moment was coming. It's been on the docket since the moment Dayton took the oath of office.

Still, we should give the Star Tribune editorialists credit for their deep concern about GOP well-being:

Before launching his next scud, Sutton should consider the risks. The Star Tribune's letters to the editor mailbox has been overflowing since the end of the session, with a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction with both the governor and the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Sutton's methods could help tilt the balance of public opinion in the governor's favor at a time the GOP majority can ill-afford to lose support.
Angry letters to the editor? Gasp! Anything but that! Obviously the Star Tribune is correct -- the best thing the GOP apparat could do is cede control of the narrative to the Star Tribune, WCCO, KARE, MPR and the rest of the MSM. They'll be sure to give the GOP message the appropriate framing to ensure a successful resolution of the dispute. You'll know that it's true because Real Minnesota Republicans like Arne Carlson and David Durenberger will give the Strib-endorsed endgame their blessing. It'll be tidy.

Still, there's the nasty little matter of dealing with Sutton's impertinence. How best to do this? The Strib editorialists have a solution, of course, if only the GOP has the wit to choose it:

And here's a suggestion to House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, who must ultimately find some way to work with the governor: Get Sutton in a room, lock the door, and make it clear that his own erratic behavior isn't helping.

Those Strib editorialists. They are helpers. They just want to help.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Of course they did

It's all totally predictable this morning.

As expected, rogue Dane County judge (pardon the redundancy) Maryann Sumi struck down the budget repair bill in Wisconsin; and

Meanwhile, Brave Sir Mark Dayton vetoed the Voter ID legislation sent to him.

Both of these luminaries were in a position to do this, so they did. As it happens, there are ways around these roadblocks. Here in Minnesota, the Voter ID piece could end up being a constitutional amendment, while in Wisconsin there are multiple remedies available. I would expect these remedies to be implemented, sooner than later.

I could fulminate on these issues at length, but there's no point, really. You've read it before, here and elsewhere. So instead, let's have another open thread. As always, extra credit for those who can work in a song lyric into their comments.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? IX -- Mighty Coleman Strikes Out

The Vikings want to build a stadium in Arden Hills. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has a different idea:

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman floated a jumbo-sized plan Wednesday that would address Minnesota's stadium dilemma with a new statewide tax of 2 cents per alcoholic drink while keeping the Vikings in Minneapolis and moving pro basketball to St. Paul.

Coleman said his plan would raise $48 million a year for sports facilities. He said a Vikings plan to move to Ramsey County doesn't make sense; his plan would not move the team but send the Timberwolves and the Lynx to St. Paul to share the Xcel Energy Center with the Wild. Target Center in downtown Minneapolis would become a practice facility.

Coleman also would use the per-drink tax at bars and restaurants to build a St. Paul Saints ballpark in Lowertown and upgrade recreation facilities throughout the state.
The Vikings say:
"We're going to Arden Hills," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said repeatedly.
The Timberwolves say:
Timberwolves Vice President Ted Johnson said, "We are very happy with our home in Minneapolis. We continue to believe that the best path forward is the sensible solution of renovating Target Center."
Meanwhile, across the river:
Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson said that as much as the city wants the Vikings to stay, she called it "ridiculous'' to give up Target Center. "It provides us with events many, many times a year, many more than the Vikings playing at the Metrodome,'' she said. "We're a big enough metro to support two" arenas.
So Coleman's proposal is dead on arrival. Why did he even bother? A few guesses:
  • He doesn't like the idea of Ramsey County imposing a sales tax that doesn't directly benefit his community. That makes sense.
  • He wants more events in St. Paul and is perfectly willing to offer something he doesn't actually have (possession of the Vikings) to get it. That also makes sense.
  • He wants other people to solve his problems, as always. That also makes sense.
The problem? What might make sense for St. Paul doesn't make any sense for any of the players in Coleman's grand bargain. Minneapolis doesn't like losing to St. Paul, ever, and while the Timberwolves might be inept and largely moribund these days, they remain an amenity worth having. Turning Target Center into a practice facility begs a fairly significant question:  who would practice there, and what would be their incentive to do so? Maybe Coleman envisions the Timberwolves practicing at Target Center and then taking the light rail line to St. Paul. Can't blame him for that, I suppose -- someone needs to take that train.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Good News

My friend and fellow Grumpy Old Man Brad Carlson will now hold down the 3-4 p.m. slot on Saturday afternoons at AM1280 The Patriot, immediately following Mitch Berg and Ed Morrissey. Brad's very good and has done an excellent job over the past few years as a fill-in for other hosts on the Patriot. He will also be a gigantic improvement over what the Patriot had been offering in that time slot in the past -- we'll just leave it at that.

Home Truth

Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking before Congress yesterday:

This path of liberty is not paved by elections alone. It’s paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Don't Believe in Zimmerman

Bob Dylan turns 70 today. He's had a very long career and I like a lot of his music, especially his two mid-60s albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Having said that, I tend to think that many of the hosannas that have been showered upon Dylan are kinda ridiculous.

There's no doubt that he's a word-slinger of great skill -- consider these lines:

Well Mack the finger said to Louie the King
"I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don't ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?"
And Louie the King said, "Let me think for a minute son"
And he said, "Yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61"

Good stuff. What makes it better is the sneering voice and silly whistle that's deployed throughout the song. I've always believed that Dylan understood that the cult that surrounded him was a little silly. You see it especially in the D.A. Pennebaker documentary "Don't Look Back," which was filmed in that 1965 period when Dylan was moving from folkie to rocker. You get the sense that Dylan just doesn't believe the hype.

The title of this post refers to a line from John Lennon's song "God," in which Lennon says Goodbye to All That. What it comes down to for me is this:  you can appreciate Bob Dylan for a lot of reasons, but he's not someone who wants a cult all that much. And that's how it should be.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So let's get on with it, then

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...
                                    --The Impressive Clergyman, "The Princess Bride"

Let's be honest -- gay marriage ought to be an exceptionally low priority right now in Minnesota, but apparently we're now going to have the debate, and a constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in 2012.

At the bottom of this increasingly tedious discussion, there's a misconception about what marriage really is. Love, or more properly infatuation, often brings people together, but alone it's not likely to be the basis of a long-standing relationship. But how other people live their lives isn't especially a concern of mine.

Why traditional marriage matters to the state is because the individual arrangement of a man and a woman generally leads to children. Not always, but generally. And providing children with a stable home is a huge concern of every society. The happiness of the married couple? Not really a concern of the state, unless unhappiness leads to domestic violence.

Gay marriages by definition cannot lead to children unless there is an intervention of a third party. No matter what the law might say, that's the reality of nature. And, the "happily ever after" thing is baked into the historical marketing of marriage, but it's really secondary to the hard but necessary work of child rearing.

The gay couples protesting at the Capitol over the weekend think that having the imprimatur of the state will somehow complete them. It won't. But I wouldn't begrudge them the opportunity to make their case. The happiness they seek comes from someplace other than where they are looking, which they will learn regardless of how the vote comes out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture This

It doesn't appear the world is ending today, after all. So we have things to discuss on a rainy Saturday morning:
  • The recount is over in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election and David Prosser still won. That doesn't mean that JoAnne Kloppenburg is going away quietly, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. She has until May 31 to decide whether to challenge the results in court. While there's no reason to believe she will prevail, that's not the endgame. The hope is that the court case will drag on long enough to deny Prosser from reassuming his seat at the beginning of the next court term in August, which would make it easier to stop, at least temporarily, the initiatives that Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature have passed. In effect, it's the same strategy that the Clock Tower 14 used in fleeing the state -- delay, delay and hopefully run out the clock on any reforms.
  • Meanwhile in St. Paul, the budget issues took a backseat to the invocation of Bradlee Dean, who seeemed to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame even though it caused the Republicans a lot of heartburn. I could tell Dean screwed up because when the story was introduced on the local news last night, the reporter referred to the firebrand minister as "one Bradlee Dean." If you are referred to as "one ________," that's a bad sign. In the end, I don't suspect Dean helped the causes he believes in very much. But that's another post.
  • As for the other legislative issues, it's now clear that Mark Dayton is going to veto everything that the lege sends up, because he wants to spend, spend, spend. We're going to get a special session and, eventually, a governmental shutdown that does things like close state parks while the St. Paul bureaucrats continue to draw their salaries. This is tiresome stuff but has to play out, because we love our kabuki around here. I suspect the lege is going to win most of what they want in the end, because raising taxes is going to be a tough sell. This is all highly predictable stuff, which is the primary reason that I haven't been spending a lot of time reading the tea leaves in St. Paul this year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

So, what did Obama say about Israel and 1967, really?

Depends on whom you ask. Here are the words from a transcript:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
I suppose it depends on which lines we're talking about. Are we talking the entire West Bank, and, say, the Golan Heights, too? Or something less, or something else entirely?

To me, the key part of the statement is defining, precisely, what is a "viable Palestine." The experience of Gaza isn't especially encouraging on that score. Instead of getting on with the business of building something, Gaza has become a place of greater despair than it was prior to the last major peace effort in the 1990s. Hamas isn't going to change what it is and it's hardly surprising that the Israelis would want no part of negotiating with a group that is dedicated to driving Israelis into the Mediterranean.

I also bring up the Golan Heights because it is so important to Israel's ability to defend itself. Syria is unremittingly hostile to Israel and if it regained the Golan Heights, that would mean unremitting war on Israel's northern border. It's a nonstarter.

As is this related notion from the Obama speech:

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara'a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad.
Assad made his choice a long a time ago. He's not going to be a transitional or transformational figure, any more than Gaddafi can be in Libya. It's time to stop pretending otherwise.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? IX -- Road Rage

MnDOT finally coughed up a number on what it would cost to build roads that would be necessary for the proposed Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. While the number is smaller than first estimates, it's still a big chunk of change:

The Minnesota Vikings welcomed a $44 million drop in estimated road improvement costs for a proposed $1 billion Arden Hills stadium, even if team officials don't yet know how to finance the enhancements.

"It's progress and this makes it more manageable," Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said Wednesday after the state Department of Transportation released the lower estimate of $131 million, down from a minimum of $175 million. The estimate doesn't include $20 million in Interstate 35W improvements that were already in the works.
That's the headline, but as usual the local media buried the lede:

Dayton and the legislative sponsors told the Wilfs the state needs to be "full partners" in a new stadium's construction, ownership and operations. That vision doesn't entirely align with the agreement between the team and Ramsey County that gives the Vikings sole authority over construction and design.

The letter, signed by Dayton, Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said they are "neutral about where the Minnesota Vikings make their new home, so long as it is Minnesota."

Bagley said, "The solution is to make Arden Hills work. The solution is not to kill Arden Hills and bring the Minneapolis deal in the back door. The Minneapolis proposal is not viable. Introducing a Minneapolis bill makes no sense and we will not support it."
Emphasis mine. As we've mentioned throughout this series, the notion that somehow, some way Minneapolis can get back into the game is a non-starter. The Wilfs want that parking money and not only on game days. It's huge. Minneapolis can't provide it. Minneapolis can provide light rail, but it's a meaningless amenity to the Vikings and, truth be told, a detriment to any deal. If there was any doubt about that, Bagley has now put it to rest.

The list of improvements is interesting, too:

The latest roads proposal includes improvements at the Interstate 694/35W interchange, auxiliary lanes on 35W, reconstruction of the 35W/County Road 96 interchange and the Hwy. 10 site entrance. An internal site road is estimated at $5 million. The roads will be updated to accommodate some 21,000 cars expected to be driven to games
Whether the Vikings deal happens or it doesn't, most of these changes are long overdue in any event. The only change that wouldn't have happened anyway is the entrance from Highway 10. Anyone who has traveled on 35W during the rush hour will tell you that the "auxiliary lanes" are  long, long overdue, as is work on the 694/35W interchange. But that's another post.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

If you're going to be unfair to the French. . . .

You need to do it properly. Iowahawk offers le mot juste. Or, to be precise, a lot of them:

This morning, I hold it against the jejune American judge who, by delivering him to the crowd of photo hounds, dared treat this man of nobility as subject to the justice of the peasant.

I am driven to ennui by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along waving a stained hotel towel and accuse another fellow of any crime— even when the one accused has a pied-a-terre on the Left Bank and sits on several film prize juries.

I resent the New York tabloid press, a disgrace to the profession, that, without the least precaution and before having effected the least verification, has depicted Dominique Strauss-Kahn as a sicko, a pervert, borderlining on serial killer, a psychiatrist’s dream. In Europe such tabloidists would be thrashed, their backs writhing and glistening with sweat and blood from each stinging kiss of Dominique's beloved cat-o-nine-tails, until they had learned not to jump to such salacious conclusions.
'You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!'

Completely understandable

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave former President Jimmy Carter a well-deserved snub when he and his self-appointed cohort, former Finnish President Marti Ahtisaari offered to give an account of their latest adventures in North Korea:

Carter and Ahtisaari, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates, had been eager to give their readout of their meetings in North Korea April 26 and 27 to U.S. officials and press their case for a resumption of food aid to the Hermit Kingdom. The two are members of the Elders, a group of senior figures who have been informally engaging with regimes that official governments won't deal with, in the hopes of finding pathways to peace. They traveled to North Korea last month with former Irish President Mary Robinson and former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland. Other members of the Elders include Kofi Annan, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

But no one at the State Department would meet with them, so the trip to Washington was cancelled.
Why would Clinton do this? Oh, here's a reason:

Besides going to North Korea without any administration support, Carter alienated Washington's policy community when he declared at a Seoul press conference on April 28 that "to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation."

Former NSC Senior Director for Asia Victor Cha just happened to be in Seoul that day, staying in the same hotel as the Elders, and said that people in South Korea were very upset at Carter's remark.

"People who work on the food issue with North Korea know the very real problems of diversion to the military, and Carter's statement implied that China -- because it gives food unconditionally to North Korea -- is more of a human rights upholder in North Korea than the others, which was not well-received," Cha told The Cable.
Carter has done this sort of thing before, of course. He's always willing to use his status as a former president to stick his nose into matters where the his successors are trying a different tack. Hillary Clinton certainly hasn't forgotten the ways that Carter sandbagged her husband's presidency regarding North Korea.

The bottom line for South Korea has always been this:  the series of despots who subjugate their brethren in the North have always held a knife to the throat of South Korea. No one believes that South Korea is a model state, but there is little question that they have done remarkable things in the nearly 60 years since the war on the Korean peninsula came to an end. Meanwhile, the North is one of the worst countries in the world, a country bereft of everything except bad government. It's hardly surprising that the South Korean government would prefer not to feed the army that stands ready to make war on it.

Jimmy Carter has done some nice things in the 30+ years since he's left the White House, mostly with Habitat for Humanity. On balance, however, he's been much more of a hindrance than a help to his successors. It's time he stopped throwing spanners in the works.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Droit de Bureaucrat

You've probably heard the sordid tale of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund honcho who stands accused of an attempted rape of a hotel maid in New York over the weekend.

Apparently that's okay with Bernard-Henri Levy, noted French philosopher and defender of the similarly situated Roman Polanski. You've heard of "Birthers" and "Truthers," right? Meet the first "Rape Denierer," or something:

I do not know—but, on the other hand, it would be nice to know, and without delay—how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a “cleaning brigade” of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.

And I do not want to enter into considerations of dime-store psychology that claims to penetrate the mind of the subject, observing, for example, that the number of the room (2806) corresponds to the date of the opening of the Socialist Party primaries in France (06.28), in which he is the uncontested favorite, thereby concluding that this is all a Freudian slip, a subconsciously deliberate mistake, and blah blah blah.

What I do know is that nothing in the world can justify a man being thus thrown to the dogs.

Just so we're clear, "the dogs" would be us. Levy finds the American justice system to be problematic:

I am troubled by a system of justice modestly termed “accusatory,” meaning that anyone can come along and accuse another fellow of any crime—and it will be up to the accused to prove that the accusation is false and without basis in fact.
Somewhere, Emile Zola must be wondering what the hell happened to the French intellectual class.

Vikings to Arden Hills? VIII -- The Larger Game

Roger Goodell spends a lot of time in Minneapolis these days. And that might be a factor in what happens with the Vikings. The Star Tribune reports that the NFL commissioner will meet with Gov. Dayton and some of the lawmakers who are trying to get a stadium proposal done in this legislative session:

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the chief House author of the stadium legislation, said he has been invited to the meeting at the governor's mansion and wants to ask Goodell "what the NFL is prepared to do or not do" to help build a new stadium.

Lanning said he also hopes that Goodell might address having the Vikings and the league contribute more money to the project. "We would hope that would be a possibility, too," he said of the meeting.
You have to wonder about that -- it is my understanding that the Vikings are already leveraging any money that might be available from the NFL as part of the proposal as it is currently written. Goodell is taking this meeting as a courtesy, but I suspect not much will come of it, at least now.

The larger issue for the NFL is the ongoing lockout and related labor issues. Goodell came to town yesterday for another negotiation session with the NFL Players Association. The action has been here because the federal court proceedings involving the NFL always seem to take place in Minneapolis. And that might be the one factor that may save the Vikings for Minnesota.

As a practical matter, judges, especially federal judges, shouldn't take local considerations into account when rendering their decisions, but that's rarely been the case. Major League Baseball learned that in no uncertain terms when a local judge put the kibosh on actions that might have led to the departure of the Minnesota Twins. Legal maneuvering in the case of Kevin and Pat Williams kept the two Viking behemoths from serving a drug-related suspension for over 3 seasons. The judge who has ruled on many NFL-related cases over the years, David Doty, has been a thorn in the side of Goodell's two predecessors, just as Judge Susan Nelson has been in the current dispute. As long as the larger business of the league is contingent on what happens in a courtroom in Minnesota, the NFL will have to tread lightly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Happy to Have Someone Else Pay for a Better Minnesota

You always have to love the Minnesota Poll, because it's nothing if not reliable. Brian Lambert at MinnPost is all aflutter about the results that apparently show that Minnesotans would love some tax increases:

Grover Norquist, the high priest of the "No New Taxes" pledge, may need to buy the state GOP some new polling data. The Strib’s Minnesota Poll, released Sunday, showed that by more than a 2-to-1 margin, voters prefer a mix of spending cuts and tax increases rather than the GOP’s all-cuts concept.
I wasn't aware that Grover Norquist was involved in the current debate, but we'll let that pass for the moment. Man, we really love us some new taxes, apparently.

But do we, really? From the Star Tribune article Lambert cites, a few things that might make you wonder.

Dayton's proposal to raise taxes on high earners has substantial, but far from universal, support. Overall, 39 percent say their first preference is raising taxes on high earners.

A slightly smaller number, 37 percent, want lawmakers to look first at raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. Twelve percent of respondents prefer increasing fees for government services.

Any legislator hoping to introduce a last-minute proposal to raise the sales tax, take note: Just 7 percent of Minnesotans prefer that idea.

In other words, the Minnesotans polled like the idea of making someone else pay for government largesse. This is news?

What's perhaps a little more useful are the internals of the poll. Betcha didn't know that only 24% of Minnesotans consider themselves Republicans.

Results for the question about the best approach to solving the budget deficit -- primarily through service reductions or through a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts -- are based on interviews with 548 of the 806 respondents. The question was reasked in follow-up calls to all respondents because of a problem in the original wording of the question, and 548 of the respondents were reached. Results of a poll based on 548 interviews will vary by no more than 5.7 percentage points, plus or minus, from the overall population 95 times out of 100.

The self-identified party affiliation for that group is 35 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican and 35 percent independent. 
It's a wonder that the Republicans have any legislators at all in Minnesota, given those numbers. Yet somehow the Republicans, through some sort of Jedi mind trick or something, control both house of the Minnesota Legislature. It's deeply puzzling.

Just a guess -- the DFL knows full well that these numbers are, well, craptastic. But they'll let the Star Tribune and Brian Lambert go ahead and tell you that it's all true and real. Because the views of 548 adults (not voters, Mr. Lambert, just adults) ought to rule public policy discussions.

This just in

We're now about a quarter of the way into the season and the Twins have apparently caught a case of Minnesota Sports Team disease. The Toronto Blue Jays are a profoundly flawed team but they came into Target Field and kicked the crap out of the Twins this past weekend. Their slugger Jose Bautista put the lie to the notion that it's difficult to hit home runs in Target Field by hitting three bombs in yesterday's 11-3 beatdown.

The Twins have built up considerable good will in this market because they have been consistently entertaining for the past decade. The product they are putting on the field right now is abysmal. Will the eventual return of Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Jim Thome and sainted Joe Mauer make enough of a difference to overcome the other teams in the division, especially the red-hot Cleveland Indians? It's hard to see how.

A really good question

We learned over the weekend that Herb Kohl is going to retire from the Senate and that Paul Ryan, currently the point man on fiscal matters in the House as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is considering a run for Kohl's seat. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post asks an excellent question:

Ryan bypassed the chance to run against Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) in 2008. His decision to remain as House Budget Committee chair, a critical role this year, seems wise in retrospect. Ryan has played a critical role in taking on the president while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has proved to be an able conservative lawmaker.

The question then remains: if Ryan could run for Senate, why not the White House? A Senate campaign would require increased time away from family and the House. A Senate campaign would risk leaving him with no elected position. A Senate campaign would fuel accusations that his House work is motivated by a lust for higher office. A Senate campaign isn’t a necessity; there are other able contenders.

You see, each of the excuses often advanced for not running for the presidency applies equally to a Senate run.
I think so, too. There's a lot more at the link, including an excellent explanation of why Mitch Daniels can't carry the Ryan message as effectively as Ryan does it himself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lightning Round - 051511

I've been writing a lot about the Vikings stadium recently, but clearly there are other things going on. So let's weigh in:
  • I read all over the intertubes that Mike Huckabee is not going to run for president in 2012. Good. I've long thought of him as a Clintonian character and not just because he is also from Arkansas. I wish him well and remain pleased that I can avoid listening to him throughout the upcoming election cycle.
  • The recount in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race between David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg continues apace. Steve Eggleston is keeping a close (and gimlet) eye on the festivities. Kloppenburg isn't going to be able to close the gap without getting a lot of votes thrown out, but there's reason to believe she might try just that. Remember, we must count every vote unless the votes don't count up the way we want.
  • The news in the sports world has been uniformly grim around Minnesota. The Twins have been absolutely wretched all season long and we've learned in the last few days that the great Harmon Killebrew is entering hospice care and now have the shocking news that former Minnesota Wild enforcer Derek Boogaard was found dead in his apartment on Friday. Man, that's brutal stuff. I only remember Harmon Killebrew from the end of his career, when he was slowing down. Even then he was a fearsome sight at the plate, turning loose that big swing. Unless you lived in the market where a player plied his trade, you didn't get to see players much in the early 1970s -- ESPN was still nearly a decade away and the Twins weren't regulars on the NBC Game of the Week in those days. Since I grew up in Wisconsin, I didn't see that much of the Twins, but the local stations in Green Bay would show Twins highlights from time to time on their newscasts and so I saw a few of the bombs that Killebrew sent deep into the night at Met Stadium. He is much beloved around here and it's easy to see why -- he's been a positive force in this community long since his playing days ended. I hope that Killebrew is able to live his final days with a minimum of pain, secure in the knowledge that he will be remembered for a lot more than the home runs he clouted. For more perspective on Killebrew and his legacy, my friend Brad Carlson offers his thoughts.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? VII -- Dead But Too Dumb to Lie Down

P. J. O'Rourke once described Communism as "dead, but too dumb to lie down." The phrase seems equally apt to describe the recent machinations of various people purporting to represent Minneapolis in the Vikings stadium debate.

The Star Tribune put together a handy compendium of the goings on in Friday's edition, but the key statement didn't come from local business leaders, or Mark Dayton, or anyone else. The statement came from Lester Bagley, who has been Zygi Wilf's point man on the matter:

"Twenty thousand cars added to the road system on Sunday [for a game] costs $175 million? It's easy to kill stuff, particularly on stadiums, [but] I'm not casting aspersions," Bagley said.

Actually, Bagley is casting aspersions, but he's being careful about it, because he needs to be for the moment. He's talking about some of the math that's been floating around concerning the infrastructure costs involved in the Arden Hills site. The Vikings don't believe that the costs are real and they have reason to be skeptical. The cost may be even higher, but I tend to doubt it. The entire cost of the 35W/62 reconstruction, a far more massive project than anything envisioned in Arden Hills, was $288 million. For another comparison, the current cost of the Central Corridor light rail project is $957 million and counting. And that number has more to do with the current debate than anyone in Minneapolis or St. Paul want to admit, but that's another post.

Of course, no one really knows what the costs would be. There are a number of road projects already in the works that will greatly affect the viability of the Arden Hills site, including work on the 35W/694 interchange that began last summer and will continue regardless of what happens with the Arden Hills site. MnDOT will reconstruct 694 east of 35W, including the notorious bottleneck at the interchange with Snelling Avenue and U.S. 10, in the next few years as well. These improvements are long overdue. As a practical matter, you could assign these costs to the stadium product, but they aren't really part of the project cost. The road improvements are simply the cudgel that politicians opposed to the Ramsey County site are using to pummel the proposal.

Meanwhile, the gang in Minneapolis doesn't seem to understand a few things. But never fear, they've written a letter. From the article:

The business community's letter to Dayton and legislators reiterated their strong support for the city's stadium proposal on the site of the Metrodome, where the team has played since 1982. The letter was being sent by Home Field Advantage, a business and civic coalition that successfully backed a new stadium for the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.

"The Minneapolis plan is real," said Sam Grabarski, president of the Downtown Council. "One has to wonder if the Legislature has time to understand and debate any proposal. We have to believe that common sense will prevail."
There's a lot of nonsense in those two paragraphs. Of course the Minneapolis business folks want the Vikings to stay downtown, but they aren't willing to pony up any money to do it. And Sam Grabarski is hallucinating if he thinks the Minneapolis plan is real. The cavalcade of taxes and user fees that the Minneapolis plan would impose has even less chance of getting through the legislature than what's currently on the table in Arden Hills. And the mention of Home Field Advantage's success in getting Target Field built is both a classic non-sequitur and specious. The reason the Twins have their new palace is that Mike Opat and the Hennepin County Board made it happen. But Opat isn't playing this time, because he's already tapped every potential revenue source available. Of course Minneapolis wants a new Vikings stadium, but the variety of governmental players can't afford to provide what Wilf can get elsewhere.

At bottom, there's a fundamental disconnect between the vision Wilf has and the vision of the New Urbanist swells who occupy our local governments. Zygi Wilf has been to Arlington, Texas and has seen the Xanadu that Jerry Jones occupies. He's also been to Glendale, Arizona and has seen the empire that Bill Bidwill occupies. He wants one, too. He'll front some money to get a similar palace, but he aims to get a return on his investment. Our benevolent overlords picture a stadium in which contented citizens politely step from their light rail platforms and file into the stadium. It's a tidy vision that has nothing to do with the nasty, tooth and claw world of NFL owners.

And I'll close this installment with another question for team Minneapolis. Let's assume that the various Minneapolis folks manage to scuttle the Arden Hills project, the project that reflects Zygi Wilf's vision and serves as the model he clearly wants for the team. What would be Wilf's incentive to break bread with people who couldn't be bothered to listen to what Wilf wanted when it mattered, threw out a ridiculous 11th-hour proposal via a slavering media and then refused to take no for an answer?

The Metrodome lease is up at the end of 2011. If I had to guess, the future of the Vikings in Minnesota will be decided in the next 9 days. The Vikings are being polite now, because they have to be. If the legislative session ends without an agreement, things change.

Friday, May 13, 2011

We may be back

Blogger had an epic meltdown yesterday and everyone who uses it was out of commission for about 24 hours. It also appears that, at least for now, the last two posts I wrote here are gone. Perhaps Blogger will be able to restore them, but if not, True North did pick them up and you can read them there.

Part V

Part VI

In any event, you should be reading True North anyway. I'll have more soon.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? VI -- Sid Reads the Tea Leaves

You'll recall the other day that we commented at some length about the opposition that nonagenarian sports columnist Sid Hartman offered about the Arden Hills site that the Vikings want for their new stadium. Having said all that, it's worth recognizing that Sid is a realist. In his column for today, Sid serves as a microphone for the Vikings, especially for those who haven't been listening carefully:

I spent a long time with the Vikings owner and Lester Bagley, the team vice president of public affairs and stadium development, on Wednesday as those meetings were going on, and I am familiar with many people working on the project. There is no doubt that Wilf was very upset that the city of Minneapolis' $895 million stadium proposal by R.T. Rybak was announced to the media before the Vikings.
But that's not all:

This is another case where city officials tried to destroy a pro sports team like they did with the North Stars and the Lakers, and they came close to killing this one. I'm positive Wilf will not negotiate with any other site unless the current Ramsey County deal falls apart. And Wilf is determined to get it through the Legislature.
I'm pretty sure Sid has sussed this out properly. Minneapolis cannot offer what the Wilfs want. In fact, there was only place in Hennepin County that really provides the same potential as Arden Hills. That is Brooklyn Center, specifically the area where the largely derelict Brookdale Mall sits. That site never was a real contender, though, since Hennepin County is tapped out.

The folks in Minneapolis may not want to hear it, but they have no shot to land the Vikings. But I would take it a step further than Sid does -- I am also increasingly convinced that if the Arden Hills site gets scuttled, the Vikings will be strongly inclined to leave town entirely.

Minneapolis can scuttle the deal. It won't take much to do it, given the visible lack of support for action on the matter in this legislative session. Folks do need to understand that while Sid Hartman has been an alarmist more than once in his long career, he's also seen this movie before. Zygmunt Wilf is not Carl Pohlad. He has no real ties to this region. The hour is a lot later than people realize.

Vikings to Arden Hills? V -- Infrastructure

Not much changed on the Vikings stadium front, other than perhaps the occasional striking of a whetstone as the long knives are sharpened. So while we wait for the next act, a word about infrastructure.

One of the primary concerns about building a stadium in Arden Hills is the question of "infrastructure." I live about 5 miles from the proposed site and there is no question that it is lacking in amenities. I would assume that the main entrance would be built on the stretch of U.S. Highway 10 between its merge point with 35W (to the north) and the godawful intersection of Highway 10 and Ramsey County Highway 96. For those not familiar with the area, Highway 96 bisects Arden Hills and is the border between the sleepy suburban enclave that Arden Hills is today and the vast expanse of the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant. Hwy. 96 is a 4-lane divided highway and carries a lot of traffic throughout the day, mostly toward the neighboring communities of Shoreview, Vadnais Heights and tony North Oaks.

At this time, the intersection of Hwys. 10 and 96 is controlled with a traffic light. This has been a cause for massive bottlenecks for years. I have personally sat waiting at the corner many times. While this intersection is not really on MnDOT's radar screen, mostly because Hwy. 96 is not a state road, changing the configuration of the intersection has been a priority for everyone in the area for a long time. I have no doubt that the intersection would be addressed quickly if the stadium proposal moves forward.

There's no way to say this other than directly -- for the citizens of our area, the Vikings stadium would be a godsend, but not because of the amenity itself. What we want is someone to fix the traffic tangles. MnDOT has already started preliminary work on the notorious 35W/694 interchange and the awful stretch of 694 east of 35W, where it tangles with U.S. 10 and busy Snelling Avenue and all eastbound traffic gets shoehorned into one lane. It's not clear if these projects are part of the numbers that we're hearing concerning infrastructure, but these projects were already in the works, so it seems disingenuous to pretend that these costs are part of the stadium bill, as some interested parties (cough Minneapolis cough) are doing.

Of course, that points to the larger, eternal problem. You won't hear any number from anyone that reflects what the actual cost of this project will be. The Vikings have a number in mind, but that number is the ceiling of what they are willing to contribute to the project. Everyone else, from Ramsey County to the state, will be on the hook for the rest. And we'll talk about that anon.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? IV -- Game On

The Vikings came to Arden Hills yesterday. They would like to move in:

The Minnesota Vikings and Ramsey County announced an agreement on Tuesday to build a $1 billion football stadium with a retractable roof in Arden Hills, capping a furious day of last-minute negotiations and brushing aside concerns from Gov. Mark Dayton and others that the project may be seriously flawed.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, flanked by the team's iconic former coach, Bud Grant, described the deal as purple-clad fans broke into cheers and applause at a county public works facility. The team, trying to build momentum for a plan that already faces heavy skepticism at the State Capitol, showed a film that attempted to link the new stadium to the team's glory days, when it played in the cold at Met Stadium in Bloomington during the 1960s and '70s.

There's a whole lot to unpack about this story. We'll get to the politics in a later post, but for now I want to concentrate on two things:

1) What the Vikings are saying; and
2) What it means about certain assumptions the state government routinely makes:

Let's say this from the start:  I agree with the clear majority of Minnesotans that public money for a Vikings stadium ought to be off the table. We have bigger issues to deal with, now and later. Having said that, we need to recognize a few things.
  • The Vikings may talk about civic commitment and the emotional purchase they have on people in this state, but in the end those things mean far less than money. The Vikings prefer the Arden Hills location because they can make more money there than they could in any configuration in Minneapolis. Neither RT Rybak, nor Mike Opat, nor anyone else in the Mill City can provide what Arden Hills does.
  • The Vikings talked at some length yesterday about the importance of the fan experience, specifically tailgating. Tailgating is fun, but adding parking revenue to their coffers is much more fun for the Vikings than throwing a frisbee around or pounding a few Grain Belts before kickoff.
  • The Vikings aren't looking at their new stadium as a place to play -- they are looking at it as a place to be. I would imagine that if they can get control of the Arden Hills site, they will build more than just a Hall of Fame. I would fully expect they'd leave Winter Park as well.
  • Regarding infrastructure, one thing should be clear. Unlike Rybak, the Met Council and other random bien pensants around town, the Vikings couldn't care less about light rail. Repeatedly we have heard how access to light rail is a key selling feature for the proposed Minneapolis sites. It's not. The Vikings can't make any money from light rail, so it's useless to them. Dudes driving SUVs who are willing to pay $25 for a parking spot? That's useful.
  • The last-ditch Minneapolis proposal suggests that the politicians in Hennepin County overvalue what they bring to the table. Despite what Rybak and his pals said, the plan they proffered wasn't serious in the least. It had the vibe of a guy checking under the couch cushions looking for enough money to buy a pack of smokes.
  • I would assume that the Minneapolis politicians will now do everything in their power to sandbag the Arden Hills proposal. Let's just say this:  that would be a big mistake.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? III -- Game-changer or Game Over?

As a rule, politicians are universally impressed with their own handiwork. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak is no exception and he was quite proud of his application of cosmetics to a pig yesterday:

With the legislative clock ticking down, Minneapolis officials on Monday unveiled a billion-dollar "game changer" that would build a new Vikings stadium at the Metrodome site, fix up city-owned Target Center and cut property taxes, too.

There's also evidence that the proposal cures the heartbreak of psoriasis and turns a sandwich into a banquet. But how does it do all these things?

The plan includes a bevy of new or expanded taxes: admission taxes on stadium events, higher street parking fees on game days and extension of a downtown hotel, liquor and restaurant tax citywide. It also would institute a 0.15 percent sales tax, similar to one that Hennepin County imposed to help build Target Field.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor R.T. Rybak at a State Capitol news conference, would have the Vikings paying 45 percent -- $400 million -- of an $895 million roofed stadium on the Dome site.
So, how do the Vikings like that idea? About as well as you might imagine:

The team reacted coolly.

Lester Bagley, a Vikings' vice president, said the Vikings appreciated the proposal but that a $400 million contribution was too much. He also noted that playing in the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium for three years while the new field was built would cost the Vikings $40 million in lost revenue.

"$440 million for the site does not work, and it's not something we can support," Bagley said. "Three parties need to negotiate a deal, and this does not accomplish that."
We'll give Bagley credit for one thing:  he didn't just spit and say "feh" when asked for a public response. I have to assume that was his first instinct, though.

It's understandable that Rybak felt like he had to do something, anything at this point. The Vikings do bring a lot of money into the city of Minneapolis and it would be a civic blow if the team were to leave for the brownfields of suburbia. But there was no way his proposal was gonna fly. Does anyone really believe that the restaurants in town would want to shoulder the burden of collecting more taxes, or that people driving to the game would want to pay up to a $10 tax surcharge for parking? It's quite easy know to pay north of $30 for a parking spot near the Dome on game day now. Do you suppose the people would just accept that cost?

And what on earth was Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor doing there, anyway? I can see why he'd want to get in on some action to spruce up his playground, but linking the two seemed pretty silly. As a general rule, if you're going to announce a stadium proposal, it makes sense to have the owner who would be the tenant at the event, not the owner of a different team.

There are multiple reasons why the Vikings would prefer Arden Hills. We've touched on some of these already, but the Minneapolis proposal brings those reasons into relief. To recap:
  • Zygi Wilf is a real estate developer. The Arden Hills site gives him a chance to control a lot of prime real estate.
  • Wilf might be willing to pay part of the cost of the stadium, but he fully expects to get his money back. He'll have a much better chance to achieve that goal if he can control revenue streams from parking, development and the like. He won't be able to do that in Minneapolis, but he will in Arden Hills.
  • Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega will commit Ramsey County to a larger share of the cost than Rybak can offer for Minneapolis. As a Ramsey County taxpayer, I'm deeply unhappy about this. But for now, there's little I can do to stop it.
  • The season ticket buyers in the southern and western suburbs may bitch and moan about driving an extra 10 miles to get to the game, but if the alternative is watching the team leave town, they'll bite down hard and take it. Minneapolis can bray all it wants about the supposed advantage of light rail service, but the vast majority of fans still come to the game by automobile. And if the team builds in Arden Hills, they'll have a big ol' parking lot with lots of room for tailgating.
The Arden Hills site may not make it through the legislature this time around, because there are far more important issues than a Vikings stadium. But one thing is clear -- the Arden Hills proposal is the only one that has any chance. At this point, Minneapolis has to be rooting for gridlock.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? II -- Sid Stomps His Feet

Sid Hartman, the nonagenarian sports writer who has commanded a large chunk of the Star Tribune sports section since about the Benjamin Harrison administration, doesn't like the idea of Vikings moving to Arden Hills:

I can't get the least bit excited about the Arden Hills site, a location on the abandoned Army Ammunition Plant. It's a site that has so many infrastructure and soil problems that the cost will be prohibitive. There is one major benefit for the Vikings with the location in that the team would gain additional revenue from parking around the stadium, much more than it could at either the Metrodome or the Minneapolis Farmers Market.

Now, Sid's been grumpy since well before any of us were born, so you have to take this statement with at least two grains of salt. He's a company man and if the Vikings were to somehow find a way to stay near the Metrodome, it could potentially benefit his longtime employer, which owns a fair amount of real estate in the area. He's also a Minneapolis man and in the eternal struggle between the Mill City and the Capitol City, he cannot in good conscience support any advantage going to the hated rival to the east (and I don't mean the Packers).

Now, some of what Sid says is true -- there is no question that environmental abatement will be an issue in Arden Hills. And there's no question that infrastructure is an issue with the site right now. Neither of these problems are insurmountable, however.

What Sid doesn't tell you are the two reasons why the Vikings would be interested in moving to Arden Hills, which are:

1) In Ramsey County Commissioners Tony Bennett and Rafael Ortega, they've got two prime rube politicians who are more than willing to saddle their constituents with whatever debt is necessary to build the thing, thereby minimizing the out-of-pocket cost to the Wilf family, which owns the team; and

2) The Wilfs are real estate developers and there isn't a larger, better situated parcel of undeveloped land in the region than the site in Arden Hills. If they got control of the land, the Wilfs would build a lot more than a stadium and a parking lot on the site. There would be plenty of room for retail, other entertainment venues and, if they so chose, space to build a better practice facility and corporate campus than what they currently have in Eden Prairie.

It's pretty obvious why the Wilfs would be interested in the site. What's less obvious is why Ramsey County should want to dedicate a tax funding mechanism, essentially in perpetuity (does anyone really believe that a dedicated sales tax hike for a stadium would ever have a sunset provision?), to benefit a stammering dude from New Jersey. But that's another post.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills?

I've always thought it was a long shot that the Vikings would actually want to build a stadium at the old Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills. While there are distinct advantages to the Arden Hills site, especially all the space that they could want, there's a large problem in that the fan base of the team, especially those who are inclined to buy tickets, in the main lives south and west of the Twin Cities. But since Hennepin County is tapped out, and likely the city of Minneapolis is tapped out, too, if the Vikings want their new stadium, the only place that would have the ability to fund it is Ramsey County.

There's a lot to think about in this potential move, of course. First, I strongly suspect that the two members of the Ramsey County Board who are trying to drive this initiative, Tony "Remember I'm a Republican Even Though I Never Act Like One" Bennett and Rafael "Sure I'll Give You Someone Else's Money" Ortega, are way out in front of the public on this one. I'm not convinced that the citizenry of Ramsey County wants a sales tax hike for a pleasure dome for the Vikings. While Ramsey County is a small area geographically, it's going to be hard sell to the people who live in South Maplewood that they should be paying more for a facility that's a long ways away. From what I've read, the St. Paul crowd isn't so keen on it, either.

I'm going to write about this topic more in the coming days, as there's a lot to think about. If it turns out that the stadium is sited in Arden Hills, it will change my little corner of the world quite a lot.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Open thread

The death of bin Laden has kinda sucked all the oxygen out of the room this week and, to be honest, the rest of the news I saw this morning doesn't particularly interest me, so let's have an open thread. Oh, and be sure to vote for your favorite song in the latest Guilty Pleasures. Fearless Maria values your input!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part Seventy-Nine -- Fearless Maria Considers Seis Canciones para El Cinco de Mayo

Fearless Maria is here today and she's been thinking it's time for another music fiesta.

Hola! Puedo ir al baño, papa?

Really? We're just starting this and you already need to make a trip down the hall?

No, just joking, Dad! Had to show off my Spanish speaking skills! After all, we do have our final test on Wednesday. Or should I say, Miercoles?

That's fine, Maria. Muy bien.

Well, sabes que hoy es Cinco de Mayo, verdad?

So I've heard. It is Cinco de Mayo, but your Uncle Carlos says that Cinco de Mayo is an invention of the beer companies. But he doesn't like Corona very much, so I'm not sure if he's right.

So they're putting beer cans in the piñatas now, Dad? That would hurt if the thing broke open on your head! And isn't that against the law anyway?

Oh, I don't know about that. What I do know is that when you come by, you like to talk about music, right?

Well, of course I do! Me gusta musica! So what were you thinking about today? Something reflecting our complete lack of Mexican heritage, other than Uncle Carlos?

Well, Uncle Carlos pretty much has the market cornered on that. I'd do my heritage but we've already done Cheesehead rock a long time ago, so we can do songs that are at least Mexican-American. How does that grab you?

That sounds good, Dad! Where do we begin?

We can begin almost at the beginning of the rock era. There was a guy named Ricardo Valenzuela who was an early rock star, but we knew him as Ritchie Valens. Sadly, he ended up on the same plane as Buddy Holly and he died when he was only 17 years old, but he had some hits, including this one:

Well, I have to say that I really like that song, Dad! It's a lot calmer than the stuff we usually do around here! Cough cough Slade cough cough. And he seemed to be able to spell better than Slade, too! But if his name was Ricardo Valenzuela, why did he perform under the name Ritchie Valens?

Well, in those days some folks who were of Mexican-American heritage tried to soft-pedal their heritage. It seems strange now, but that's how it was back then. I have even more examples of that. If we move on to 1965, we can see this strange occurrence. It's a guy named Domingo Samudio who called himself Sam the Sham. What's weirder, he dressed up his band in strange Egyptian outfits. And it looked something like this:

Boy, Dad -- they really are walking like an Egyptian! So how weird is that? That seems confusing. Are the Mexican-American? Are they from the Middle East? Or maybe they followed Bugs Bunny and took the wrong turn at Albuquerque? I'm not sure what to think about that!

I don't know why, but it kinda makes me sad. But the thing was, there were a lot of people pretending to be something they weren't in those days. Consider these guys, who came from just across the border in Texas. It was 1965 and all the British Invasion bands were coming over, so they decided to pretend they were a British Invasion band, too. Not sure they fooled anyone, though. It's the Sir Douglas Quintet:

Well, Dad -- it looks like you are up to your old tricks again! With bad hair and cardboard castle backdrops, which you would probably find at Michael's Craft Stores! I'm not going into the details again and I still am hoping Michael's will send me a royalty check, but so far they haven't! Propaganda wannabes! Besides that, I'll bet the only castles these guys ever saw was at a White Castle hamburger stand! It's a good song to eat a slider to, though, Dad! Not that you've ever bought me a slider. What's wrong with White Castle, anyway? We all have to depend on our castle on the chessboard!

White Castle isn't usually on my radar these days, but we could take you there sometime, but only if Gino says it's okay, as I have come to rely on him for restaurant reviews.

Good thinking, Dad. Gino has our back! And the youth of America! But I need more music. Was anyone else hiding back in the 1960s?

I don't think you can hide your identity much more than calling yourself "? and the Mysterians." The lead singer's name of this band was Rudy Martinez, and he uncorked this garage band classic not long after Sir Doug and the boys left the charts:

I have a few questions for this Question Mark guy! Number one, did he really count all 96 tears? He must be a real nerd or something! Number two -- why hide your identity when Rudy can't fail? And if I took the castles from Sir Douglas, could I play chess on Rudy's shirt? I do like the song, however, and I think it's quite catchy. I thought the keyboard with the reverse keys was pretty funky, too! But why did these guys all try to hide their identities? That seems strange to me!

I don't really know, Maria. It's unfortunate. But things changed quickly just a few years later, when Santana arrived on the scene. I've shown you Carlos Santana before, but here's one of his better performances from about 1971 or so:

Wow, Dad, it almost looks like Carlos Santana has an Afro! I can tell it's the 70s now because the hair is really big on these guys! So what is Neshabur, anyway?

I don't really know, but I think it's about a town in Iran that Santana may have visited back then. I'm guessing he hasn't been back in a while, though.

Iran? Geez, we must have set a record for geography in this post! We've got Mexican-American people talking about Egypt, England and Iran, all in America! It's just like watching the Travel Channel except without Adam Richman trying to eat 9 lbs. of food in a single sitting!

Yep. But by the time the great Mexican-American band Los Lobos came around in the 1980s, they just did whatever they liked without worrying about hidden identities or strange towns in Iran. And they could rock it, as they did on this song from 1992, Dream in Blue:

These guys are a lot more modern and they seem to be wearing regular clothing. Guess that's the way it is. So why did they name their band "Los Lobos," anyway? Isn't that a little frightening? Or do they have a sponsorship with the Humane Society?

I assume they're trying to make the world forget about these guys.

Lobo? Aw, come on, Dad! Well, maybe that wasn't so bad -- at least they're learning their rhyming skills! But I guess the wimp factor is pretty much off the charts.

That's right. No wimps here. And now it's time to vote, right?

That's right, people! I hope you had fun learning about various random heritage as we showed off our Spanish skills! And no, we aren't serving any Corona Beer, either -- Uncle Carlos told us not to! So vote for your favorite in the comments section or else we'll bring out some real lobos and chase you right up a tree! Not really, but we do want your vote! Arriba musica!

Mendenhall Fumbles Again

It was a key moment in Super Bowl XLV. The Pittsburgh Steelers had clawed their way back from a large 1st-half deficit to threaten the lead of my beloved Green Bay Packers. Then the game turned again, when Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall fumbled the ball and the Packers recovered.

As it happens, Mendenhall also is prone to fumbling a bit in the social media whirl. Following the successful mission to take out bin Laden, Mendenhall got his Tweet on. My friend Brad Carlson explains:

NFL player Rashard Mendenhall, via Twitter, made some comments regarding the bin Laden assassination the next day. Perhaps he should have taken a little more time.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back on Monday tweeted: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."
Brad patiently explains that, well, Mendenhall might be mistaken:

To be fair, Mendenhall was a high school student when the 9/11 attacks took place. I'm certain he was honing his football skills which eventually lead to his receiving an athletic scholarship to the University of Illinois, thus he didn't have much time for television news. The fact of the matter is bin Laden made more than a few videos expressing his goal to destroy America and implement some sort of sharia law. He even openly bragged of how jet airliners flown into buildings was his brilliant idea.

That's how I remember it, too. But Mendenhall wasn't done. He decided to take things up a notch:

"We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style," he tweeted. Mendenhall has since deleted his 9/11-related tweet.
Mendenhall is hardly alone in such conspiracy mongering, of course. He's in the august company of Mos Def, Janeane Garafalo, Jesse Ventura, Bill Maher and America's philosopher-king and "Vatican Assassin," Charlie Sheen. So he's got that goin' for him.

I am disappointed that Mendenhall took down his Truther Tweet, because you'd like a fella to have the courage of his convictions. The other thing is, the Internet is forever and there's no memory hole.

So what are we to make of this, other than perhaps Mendenhall needs to adjust his chin strap a bit? Brad makes the salient point:

Naturally, Mendenhall's comments were met with much outrage and criticism. But Mendenhall also had his defenders, claiming he had every right to speak his mind freely. Once again, that's not the issue. Yes, Mendenhall has every right to speak freely, but guess what? Others have every right to react to his comments. It never ceases to amaze me (as well as frustrate me) that people decry criticism in response to someone's opinion. The fact of the matter is that "free speech" simply means you can say whatever you desire without the threat of your government seeking retribution (the obvious assassination threats to the President being a notable exception). THAT'S IT!! That doesn't mean you won't have detractors.

Yep. Free speech has never meant a free shot. And let's not mince words here -- for all the stupidity of those who went for the "Birther" foolishness, the belief that a government, even one in the clutches of Chimpy McHitlerburton, would be able to pull off such a despicable thing as killing thousands of its own citizens, is unhinged. Mendenhall can believe whatever he wants, but this sort of thing can't be condemned strongly enough.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Not especially interested

The clamor has begun regarding whether or not the United States should release photographs of Osama bin Laden after he got the lead buffet. President Obama says he's not going to release the photos:

In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that "we don't need to spike the football." He said that "given the graphic nature of these photos it would create a national security risk."

Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't. Personally, I have no need to see the photos. I already have a pretty good idea what they look like -- given how bin Laden was shot, there are probably small entry holes and he probably didn't have much left of the back of his head. Gruesome and not especially interesting, I say.

Do you really want to see these photos? And if so, why?

Good for Liriano

Up to this point, the Twins have been doing their very best to play their very worst and have been channeling the dispiriting pattern that other Minnesota sports teams have demonstrated lately. In other words, they've kinda sucked. Francisco Liriano did what a putative staff ace ought to do yesterday, pitching a no-hitter against the rival White Sox and making a 1-0 lead stand up.

Liriano has had a tough transition from his magical 2006 campaign, when he was an absolutely dominant pitcher who could throw 96 miles per hour fastballs and the most devastating slider in the baseball. You know the story:  he hurt his arm, lost the better part of two seasons and has scuffled along for the most part since then. He's not the same guy any more, but he pitched out of trouble over and over yesterday. The Whities are having their own issues, but they have sluggers galore and they are the sort of team that can knock a pitcher out quickly. Liriano found a way to tame them.

Will yesterday's win mean the Twins are ready to turn the corner and get back to playing better baseball? I hope so, but remain skeptical. It's tough to win when you're running out guys like Matt Tolbert and Rene Tosoni. The only guy on the team who has really done much of anything this season is Jason Kubel, who should be, in a normal Twins lineup, about the 5th best option. It was Kubel's home run that provided the margin of victory last night.

At best, a work in progress. Still, congratulations to Liriano, who found a way to get it done.

Leon Tells the Truth

A lingering question concerning the successful raid and dispatch of Osama bin Laden was this:  why didn't the U.S. tip the Pakistanis about it? CIA Director Leon Panetta goes all Howard Cosell and tells it like it is:

Months prior, the U.S. had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan. But the CIA ruled out participating with its nominal South Asian ally early on because “it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets,” Panetta says.
I'd have bet cash money they would have, too.

We have heard over the years about the dangers of unilateralism, but the truth of the matter has always been that we really don't have any allies in the region where bin Laden was hiding in plain sight. It is to Panetta's credit that he recognized this. It is also to the President's credit that he chose to believe Panetta and called the shot. While Iowahawk makes a very good point about some of the President's allies, the mission to dispatch bin Laden stands on its own merits, regardless of the motivations of the President's allies.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

50B to 41A?

That might be what we get in my neck of the woods from the proposed redistricting now. The map of the metro area is here (PDF):

If I read the map correctly, it means that New Brighton, Arden Hills and St. Anthony are essentially one half of the district, while Roseville and part of Maplewood is the other half. Right now it's all pretty much DFL territory, but that instead of voting on Barb Goodwin for the Senate, we'd be looking at John Marty. That sets up a different challenge. Marty is best known for (a) a disastrous run for statewide office back in the 1990s and (b) being the most sanctimonious scold in the Senate. It might be a lot of fun for a politician to run against Marty, actually.

For the House, it would mean that Kate Knuth would have to introduce herself to the voters of St. Anthony. That should be about a push, since the areas she would lose (parts of Fridley and Shoreview) would in the aggregate vote about the same as St. Anthony does. The key to winning the House district remains convincing the good citizens of New Brighton that their hometown gal made good isn't really serving their interests.

This may not be the final version, but it's pretty interesting. Stay tuned.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Osama is Dead

As usual, Night Writer came up with the right sentiment, via Mitch's blog:

‎”I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” – Mark Twain

That's about where I am on this one. A few thoughts:

I don't begrudge the President taking a victory lap last night. Osama bin Laden assumed room temperature because the President decided, despite some campaign rhetoric to the contrary, to maintain a sufficient amount of force in the field to reach and kill bin Laden. He took plenty of heat for this from his political allies but he stayed the course. That took courage and it would be churlish to pretend otherwise.

We do have to think about Pakistan's role in this matter. We'll find out more in the coming days, but early reports indicate that bin Laden may have been in the location he was found for rather a long time. The city where he was living, Abbottabad, is a military town, not a cave or a camp in the wilderness. It's long been clear that Pakistan is something other than an ally, but this revelation is even more troubling.

Bin Laden may be dead, but I wouldn't assume that Al Qaida is dead, nor are the larger movements in the Muslim world that Al Qaida commandeered for its own perverse purpose. Zawahiri is still at large. This isn't going to be over in our lifetimes. How we choose to deal with the Muslim world may change now and we should certainly think about whether we need to recalibrate our response. But we shouldn't assume that because the leader is gone, the movement dies with him.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hard to understand

Today John Paul II was beatified at the Vatican. And there was a snake in the garden:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived in Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, airport officials said Saturday, despite his EU-wide travel ban for alleged human rights abuses.

Alleged is putting the matter too delicately, of course, as Mugabe is one of the worst tyrants and butchers on the African continent. He has pushed his nation into ruin.

The reason/excuse proffered?

The Vatican did not personally invite Mugabe to the Sunday event, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press office

But a diplomatic relationship exists between Zimbabwe and the Vatican, a sovereign state that is not a member of the European Union

"It (the Vatican) cannot tell Mugabe not to come if he wants to take part, just like it wouldn't tell no to (U.S. President Barack) Obama or (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy, if they had wanted to come," Lombardi said.
I don't know about you, but I have a difficult time accepting that. Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy were both freely elected and serve at the pleasure of their citizens. Mugabe has been a dictator for rather a long time, conducting elections mostly for show. He's also a murderous tyrant. The comparison insults both Obama and Sarkozy.

As anyone who reads this feature knows, I'm a lifelong Catholic. Jesus tells us repeatedly that the way of the Christian is difficult and I understand that. As Catholics, we look to the Church for support and guidance as we walk through this world. We also expect moral clarity. There's not much of that if Robert Mugabe is in attendance. There were nearly 1.5 million people gathered today at the Vatican for the beatification. In that context, perhaps Mugabe was only a face in the crowd. I further understand that I do not know the condition of Robert Mugabe's soul and should be careful in passing judgment on him. The record seems to speak for itself, though.