Sunday, July 31, 2011

Looks like there's a deal on the debt ceiling

Which is fine. Nothing really changes until we:

1) Get rid of baseline budgeting;
2) Get serious about entitlement reform; and
3) Retire a bunch of the current politicians in Washington, St. Paul and elsewhere.

The party is over, kids. If you think our children and grandchildren are going to have the wherewithal or the willingness to pay our bills, you're lying. Especially to yourself.

Friday, July 29, 2011

More Football

They are playing political football in Washington these days and it's not all that interesting, really. The "crisis" over the debt ceiling is likely overblown and really only has meaning in that it's becoming apparent that there are too many people associated with government who just don't give a damn what happens, because they'd rather win elections than solve problems.

NFL news is more interesting right now. So we'll get to that instead.
  • We talked about Donovan McNabb coming to Minnesota the other day, but the other news concerning the locals is the departure of Sidney Rice, who decided he'd rather make money in Seattle than stay here. I'm not convinced that losing Rice is that big a deal for the Vikings. He had a great season in 2009 but he's had trouble staying on the field in the other years he was here. I suspect the Vikings can find more cost-effective options someplace else. I'd be looking at Braylon Edwards, although there's another possibility, about which more in a moment.
  • I'm not sure if Bill Belichick is a genius or simply has started to believe his own press clippings, but his moves yesterday were certainly worth a raised eyebrow. Chad Ochocinco is an irritant at times, but ultimately he's pretty harmless and has the talent to help the team. Picking up Albert Haynesworth is a different matter. The key for the Pats is that they didn't give up much to get Haynesworth, but from what I can tell the big defensive lineman is the sort of guy who can tear a team apart. I wouldn't hire him under any circumstances.
  • As a Packer fan, I'd like to thank the Chicago Bears for jettisoning Greg Olsen. Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz doesn't like tight ends and that entered into the decision, apparently. I always thought Olsen was the most dangerous guy on the Bears offense. No matter how many ways Martz draws things up, it's going to be easier to defend the Bears now that Olsen is gone.
  • As usual, my beloved Packers aren't doing much. The majority of the speculation seems to surround the fate of wide receiver James Jones, a talented guy who has been a key contributor at times for the Packers in recent years, but who also has a habit of dropping passes on really big plays. It's possible that he might end up staying in Green Bay, which Aaron Rodgers would like, or he could easily end up playing for either the Bears or the Vikings. The Packers have always seemed to have a talented receiver who couldn't quite get it together over the years -- three earlier examples of this were Derrick Mayes, Bill Schroeder and Robert Ferguson. All those guys ended up going someplace else and none of them were factors for their new teams. I don't know if Jones would end up the same way, but I suspect that Jones has a better chance of success if he stays in Green Bay. I'm not sure the Packers really want him, though. If rookie Randall Cobb comes through, they may not need him. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fox on the Run

You, you talk about just every band
But the names you drop are second hand (second hand)
I've heard it all before

              -- "Fox on the Run," by the Sweet, circa 1975

Sometimes I get the impression that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was a fan of the Sweet. Consider this testy exchange with Ed Henry of Fox News:

Henry asked at the briefing when Obama's plan might be submitted to the Congressional Budget Office.

"Ed, I understand, we can do this again, OK?" Carney said. "Has the speaker of the House shown you the positions he took in detail in the negotiations that were designed actually to achieve a compromise, as opposed to having a show vote?"
I'm sure John Boehner has Henry on the speed dial. But that doesn't answer the question. So Henry persists:

Carney's explanation was once again that these deals have to be worked out in secret. But Henry pressed on -- why not have a senator take up Obama's detailed plan and introduce it as a bill?

"We are six days away," Henry said.

"Chuck -- I mean Ed, you know, the speaker walked away from this deal," Carney said.

"You say it's a great deal so put it out there," Henry said. "Let the American people -- "

"I think I've answered the question," Carney said. "I mean, I know you're creating a thing here for Fox..."

Henry, who hardly pulled punches when he sat a few seats over for CNN, chided Carney, "That's not what I'm doing. You know better than that."
One thing has been evident throughout this whole mess -- the only negotiations that are really going on are the ones between John Boehner and the members of his caucus who are loyal to the Tea Party movement.

I don't blame Jay Carney for getting mad, since he's being asked to defend a president who has been largely hors de combat throughout this whole thing.

The reason Obama won't submit any plan to the CBO is that if he does, the CBO will have to score it. And since the devil is in the details, the details can't bear much scrutiny.

There is no Obama plan. It's much easier to bash Fox News than it is to deal with the dereliction of duty that the President of the United States is currently providing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It begins

Football, that is. Much will change in the coming days, but in the wake of the news:
  • The Star Tribune reports that the Vikings are pursuing Donovan McNabb in a potential trade from the Redskins, but only if McNabb reworks his contract. I would imagine that McNabb will agree, since his current contract is meaningless if no one is willing to pay for it. It certainly makes sense for the Vikings to find a competent guy to run the show, especially so that their rookie QB Christian Ponder doesn't get killed right away. At this point in McNabb's career, he's not that good a quarterback, but I suspect the Vikings know that and won't ask him to do things he can't do. To put it in terms that Vikings fans would understand, McNabb is better than Gus Frerotte but not as good as Warren Moon. And he's probably better than any other alternative out there.
  • The Vikings have also signed the immortal Devin Aromashadu from the Bears. I can only assume that Marty Booker wasn't available. And given their experience with Bernard Berrian, the Vikes have to know that taking wideouts from Chicago is a proven strategy.
  • Meanwhile, my beloved Packers cut ties with Nick Barnett. That was pretty much inevitable, since he's had a tough time staying on the field in recent years and they've already committed serious bucks to A. J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. Barnett was a good Packer, but it's a brutal business. He'll find a job someplace.
  • Benster is a teenager and has only infrequently experienced bad Packer football, so it's difficult for him to understand how terrible the Packers were back in the 1970s. I found a fascinating book at the library that features statistics, rosters and the like for the Packers over the years. In 1977, the Packers went 4-10, which was pretty typical in those days. What I found fascinating is that they only managed to score 134 points for the entire season -- less than 10 points a game. We've come a very long way since then.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Moody's Don't Play Kabuki

The debt ceiling is a secondary issue. The amount of debt is the real issue:

Only seven days stand between the U.S. and the effects of a credit default. But a downgrade of the nation’s stellar AAA credit rating seems a lot more likely, and a lot sooner.

The White House had been alerted repeatedly over the past month by rating agencies that without a strong, long-term plan to restructure the country’s debt, they would lower America’s credit rating as soon as this Friday, according to two officials familiar with the process. The White House was warned that the deal would have to be significant—and not a short-term fix over the next few days to avoid a credit drop.

We can't keep spending money we don't have. The party is over.

Just a question

Not a lot of time this morning, so I have a question. Well, maybe two or three questions.

Even though, between ample polling data and my own personal observation, it's become increasingly clear that President Obama is not well-regarded these days, especially where job performance is concerned, it's considered a given that he will be a formidable candidate for reelection because he's such a great fund raiser. I've seen multiple reports that claim Obama's fundraising apparatus will deliver north of a billion dollars for his campaign.

Do you believe that? Who will provide the money? And what do you suppose Obama donors assume they will get for their money?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Same crap, different packaging

I saw it dozens of times over the last few days -- someone pointing out that the murderous dork who blew up Oslo and shot dozens of people at a youth conference was a "conservative Christian." Google it and you get about 102,000 hits this morning. Well, 102,001 after I post this.

As I thought about this, it didn't make much sense. There's nothing especially conservative or Christian in blowing up government buildings or killing young people in cold blood. It makes for a nice narrative, but nice narratives are always suspect.

And while I have no stomach for reading the 1500 page screed that Anders Breivik posted on the internet, other people get paid to do so and we learn things, as in this report (H/T Instapundit)

Parts of the manifesto written by the suspect in Norway's terrorist attack were taken almost word for word from the writings of "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski.

The passages copied by Anders Behring Breivik appear in the first few pages of Kaczynski's manifesto. Breivik changed a Kaczynski screed on leftism and what he considered to be leftists' "feelings of inferiority" — mainly by substituting the words "multiculturalism" or "cultural Marxism" for "leftism."
Not only that, he did a little plagiarism:

He used at least one portion verbatim: "Feminists are desperately anxious to prove that women are as strong and capable as men. Clearly they are nagged by a fear that women may NOT be as strong and as capable as men."

I broke out Eric Hoffer yesterday for a reason. Hoffer wrote the seminal work The True Believer some 50 years ago now, in which he detailed the habits of mind of the fanatic. One of the key points that Hoffer makes is that the cause espoused is less important than the striving for the cause. The habits of mind are what drive the fanatic. Or, to let Hoffer speak for himself:

However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.
And the people who die at the hands of a fanatic die for the same reason.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


We try, we always try, to figure out What It All Means, when we face something like the two-stage rampage of death that one man unleashed on Norway the other day.

I have no idea what it all means. And neither does anyone else, really. I can hazard a guess or two, but that's all they would be.

I suppose that one could read through the 1500 page manifesto/screed/diary of a madman that Anders Breivik apparently posted on the Web. It wouldn't be any more edifying than reading the screeds of the Unabomber.

I could suggest that one consider the words of Eric Hoffer, who said:

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.
And who also said:

The savior who wants to turn men into angels is as much a hater of human nature as the totalitarian despot who wants to turn them into puppets.
But in the end, that doesn't tell you What It All Means, either. There is something inside Anders Breivik that drove him to commit horrific crimes, in the same way that there was something inside Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kaczynski. We ascribe whatever meaning we see fit, mostly in the service of flattering our own worldview. Inevitably, it's simultaneously more simple and more complicated than that. Which is why I can't tell you What It All Means.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? XII -- Your Move, Zygi

The special session has come and gone and now the Minnesota state government is slowly grinding back into operation. The potential legislation authorizing a new Vikings stadium got nowhere, which isn't particularly surprising. And thus begins the game of chicken.

For his part, Gov. Mark Dayton said that the current proposal was "incomplete and unsatisfactory," which is the same thing a lot of us said about Dayton's budget proposal, but we'll leave that aside. As a practical matter, what it means is that the Vikings are now going to be free to leave at the end of this season. Would they?

I'd wager they'd prefer not to move, but they won't hesitate if they don't see some movement soon. At this point Dayton would have to call another special session to deal with the issue and it's unlikely that will happen. The Vikings won't stay in the Metrodome any longer than they have to and have said as much.

Most of the speculation concerning a potential move surrounds developments in Los Angeles, which has not had an NFL team since the 1990s. At this time the two most likely teams to move to the market are the San Diego Chargers or the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Chargers play in a decrepit stadium and there's little chance that the team will get a new stadium. The Jaguars play in a nice stadium, but there simply aren't enough people in the Jacksonville market to maintain a team there for the long term. Both teams have a better reason to move than the Vikings do.

Still, there's no assurance that the Vikings won't be able to get there first. From a financial perspective, the Vikings look much like the Cleveland Browns did in 1995. As anyone in Northeast Ohio can tell you, that didn't work out so well. And while I'm as skeptical as anyone about the benefits of giving Zygi Wilf a new billion dollar playground, he's going to get one someplace. Minnesotans have a decision to make. And if the Vikings don't get what they want, there will be a lot of fans who will find autumn Sundays to be "incomplete and unsatisfactory."

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Benster has been playing some form of organized youth baseball since he was very little. He's been a Met, Angel, Giant, Phillie, and Brewer (twice). That was Little League. Since then he's been a member of Shoreview Red, Shoreview Cardinal and Shoreview Green.

If you count that up, that's 9 seasons of baseball. And we always count things up in baseball. Going to practices and games have been a central part of our lives for a very long time now. And with the season now over, that's done, as the offerings for youth baseball after the age of 15 are desultory, especially for kids who aren't going to play high school ball.

I've been an assistant coach for most of Benster's teams. We've had some wonderful coaches over the years and a few really awful ones. As it happens, most of these teams didn't have very good won/loss records, but no one really remembers that. What I hope that the Benster does remember is that he had a chance to play, to make friends and to have some fun. Youth sports are supposed to be fun, although you'd have a tough time convincing hockey families of that when they are driving to Bemidji for a weekend tournament in the teeth of a snowstorm, or sitting at a rink at 5 a.m. for practice time.

I also hope that Benster got more out of the experience than a bunch of hats with a big S on the front. I suspect he did, though. And while I won't miss scrambling to get from my office in Burnsville to get Benster to a 6 p.m. game in Forest Lake, we'll remember that once we got there, it was worth the trip.

This just in

The shutdown is over. The spin is beginning.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Migraine headaches are an awful thing, but they can be controlled. Apparently Michele Bachmann has trouble with them from time to time and the Daily Caller has taken note:

The Minnesota Republican frequently suffers from stress-induced medical episodes that she has characterized as severe headaches. These episodes, say witnesses, occur once a week on average and can “incapacitate” her for days at time. On at least three occasions, Bachmann has landed in the hospital as a result.

“She has terrible migraine headaches. And they put her out of commission for a day or more at a time. They come out of nowhere, and they’re unpredictable,” says an adviser to Bachmann who was involved in her 2010 congressional campaign. “They level her. They put her down. It’s actually sad. It’s very painful.”
Sounds bad. But is it true? There's a lot of nonsense in these paragraphs. First, and I know this because I dealt with severe headaches for many years, stress doesn't, in and of itself, trigger headaches. In fact, some of the worst headaches I had were on low-stress days. I had many high-stress days that were headache-free.

Second, if it were really true that Bachmann was having weekly episodes that can incapacitate her for days at a time, she'd be on disability, not a member of Congress.

Third, how would the "adviser to Bachmann who was involved in her 2010 congressional campaign" know specifically what Bachmann was feeling?

Fourth, it would be a matter of public record if Bachmann had a propensity for missing public events unexpectedly, which would be true if she were truly incapacitated. Eventually that sort of thing gets around. The article cites four events, including one that goes back to 2006.

You need to understand two things about severe headaches. First, because they are multifactorial, there's a lot of trial and error in diagnosing the cause. I tried about a dozen medications and regimens in the 15+ years I dealt with the matter before we discovered the real cause -- a pituitary tumor.

Second, because of the trial and error involved, you do end up trying a lot of medicines. Stopping a migraine before it gets out of hand is key and it's hardly surprising that Bachmann would have to carry a number of different medications with her. You don't always have the luxury of dealing with one at onset.

Bachmann may or may not be a good candidate for president. She seems to deal with her headaches just fine, though, including the one the Daily Caller tried to administer.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Blogito ergo sum - Part One

If there's anything bloggers like, it's a bit of navel-gazing. And John Hawkins has prophesied the slow death of the right-wing blogosphere.

Hawkins blogs for a living. Most bloggers don't, of course. Even for a guy like Mitch Berg, who has a pretty substantial daily audience, a day job is required. Personally, I've been at this for 5 1/2 years and I've never once had a day where I merited more than 300 page views. My top traffic day remains the time, 3 years ago now, when I made a mildly disparaging reference regarding the solo career of Eric Carmen.

Steve Eggleston, the excellent Milwaukee-based blogger who holds court at No Runny Eggs, has a smart take on the matter:

Honestly, what we’re seeing is quite similar to the consolidation the left side has seen. Indeed, William Jacobson noted that in his piece.

How much of that is consolidation at the top, how much is just more voices out there, and how much of that is social media sucking the life out of everybody is up for grabs. Way back in the day, Charlie Sykes established the Rule of Five, saying that one couldn’t really follow more than 5 blogs very closely. While he was way off on the 5 number, especially with the advent of RSS feeds, there is a very-real limit to how many blogs one can follow. Trust me on this one; I can’t keep up with all 400+ feeds I try to.
I certainly think there is consolidation -- even a guy who is as prolific as Mitch has made room at his place for smart local bloggers who don't have a lot of time to write, including my friend and former Truth vs. the Machine colleague First Ringer. And Steve is right -- there just isn't enough time in the day to follow everyone.

But does that mean the right wing blogosphere is dying? I don't think so. We'll come back to the reasons anon.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dog Days

There's really not a lot going on right now. The state shutdown is still on, but will be resolved eventually. The NFL labor dispute is still on, but will be resolved eventually. The big debt ceiling debate in Washington is still on, but will be resolved before August 2. There's no lurid "Trial of the Century" going on for me to ignore.

So go ahead and talk about what interests you. The thread is open.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Joy of a Working Sump Pump

We've been having computer issues and it's made it difficult to get posts done, but we got another reminder of how petty most of my complaints typically are when we turned on the local news last night. The video attached to that KARE report shows a flooded parking lot in an apartment complex in New Brighton. That apartment complex is about five blocks from where I live. Another news report showed residents in a St. Anthony townhome complex called Mirror Lake Manor who were dealing with about a foot of water in their units. Mirror Lake Manor is directly behind our home.

So how much water did we get in our basement? Not a drop. In fact, we didn't even realize the carnage that happened all around us until we watched the news. As it turned out, the torrential thunderstorm that hit us on Friday night and Saturday morning dumped about 5 inches of rain in about a 2 hour period in our area. 35W, which runs about a mile to the east of our home, was closed at the 694 interchange. Valentine Park in Arden Hills was transformed into a lake and the little league field there, where both our kids have played was under about 2 feet of water.

I don't know how it can happen that you can remain dry when there is flooding all around you. Our house sits about 20-30 feet higher than the affected part of Mirror Lake Manor, so I'm certain some of the water that landed on us made its way down there. To my knowledge, none of my neighbors on our street had any flooding at all. We don't sit on particularly high ground, but when you get that kind of water, there's not much you can do. Water will find its level and it will show no mercy when it does.

We're now in for a week in which the weather will be more like Jakarta than Minnesota. I'm really going to try not to complain that much about it, considering how fortunate we were on Saturday morning.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Big Payback

There's limited utility in reading comments on the internet (except here, where all our commenters are erudite and regularly offer genius level insights on the passsing scene). As I read the various accounts of the apparent resolution to the government shutdown here in Minnesota, it became evident that many of our moral tutors on the Left are convinced that the voters are going to punish the Republicans at the polls in 2012 for refusing to accept whatever the hell it was that Mark Dayton was offering, other than tax increases.

Do you believe that? I don't. We are now 16 months away from November 2012. At a comparable point four years ago, most people had no idea that the economy would go into a gigantic tailspin and it was certain that John McCain's presidential campaign was doomed. Well, the second part turned out to be true. I'd be willing to wager that the economy will be the issue in 2012, but it's going to be difficult to pin everything that's gone wrong in the last 3+ years on the Republicans.

Do you think the Republicans are going to get hammered in 2012? Or is it more likely that the Democrats will suffer the wrath of the electorate, starting with Barack Obama? Now remember, you're the most erudite commenters on the World Wide Web. Make us proud.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Meanwhile, somewhere in New Jersey

Zygi Wilf is tapping his foot.

High Life and Low Comedy

In the end, even though the state government shutdown is apparently close to resolution, the citizenry of Minnesota is learning some important things about how state government typically operates.

Yesterday's drama is a classic in the annals of boneheadedness:

The MillerCoors brewing company landed in the cross hairs of Minnesota's government shutdown Wednesday when state officials said it would have to stop selling its beer in the state because of expired licenses.

The Department of Public Safety told the brewer it must stop distribution in Minnesota and devise a plan to pull its product from the shelves, including Coors, Coors Lite, Miller Lite, Miller High Life and 35 other name-brand beers. That would decimate choices for consumers. MillerCoors supplies 38 percent of the beer sold in Minnesota, and the state is one of the top five markets in the country for the brewing giant.
So why did this happen?

The problem stems from brand label registrations that brewers must renew with the state every three years, showing the label on each brand of beer. MillerCoors attempted to renew in mid-June, but, according to company officials, sent the state a check for more than the required amount. Green said the company followed up with a new check, which the state received June 27.

But on June 30, one day before the government shutdown, the company received a letter from the state that its brand licenses had expired. State employees who would typically renew those licenses have been deemed noncritical during the shutdown and laid off.

There's some astonishing stuff in those two seemingly mundane paragraphs. Let's think about this:
  • “MillerCoors attempted to renew in mid-June, but, according to company officials, sent the state a check for more than the required amount.”  If someone overpaid you, would you send the check back? Or would you cash it and let the sender know about the overpayment? A normal operation would cash the check and then (a) either send a refund check back, or (b) offer the check writer the option of having a credit on its account. Not the State of Minnesota, though. Accounts receivable really isn't that difficult to master.
  • “Green said the company followed up with a new check, which the state received June 27.”  June 27 was a Monday. The shutdown actually took effect at the end of that week. I don't know about you, but where I work the expected level of service for handling a routine administrative task would be to handle it within a day, especially if it involved money coming into the organization. Of course, a normal organization with a multi-billion dollar scope would offer the option of electronic payment and wouldn't bother with paper checks, but we can leave that aside.
The thing that's really maddening about the episode is that, while the bureaucracy is apparently incapable of letting MillerCoors comply with the law, the enforcement apparatus is ready to pounce, although it's not clear what they would do to enforce the law. Would they come into every point of sale with guns blazing and confiscate all the MillerCoors products? Would they waylay beverage trucks on the highways, forcing them to stand and deliver? Would they set up checkpoints on the border? And where would the financial resources come from to execute such a plan?

To sum up, what we have here is a government that (a) cannot get out of its own way and (b) has no compunction about getting in the way of people who are conducting a legitimate business, for utterly arbitrary reasons. I think we call this sort of thing a Teaching Moment.

Overtaken by events

I had a post about the shutdown that I started this morning that I was hoping to finish over the lunch hour, but it may be moot:

Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday morning that he is willing to accept Republicans' June 30 budget offer, which would close a $1.4 billion budget difference by delaying payment of school funds and borrowing against the state's tobacco settlement.

"This is the only viable option that's potentially available," Dayton said.

Not surprisingly, the lefties are pissed. Jeff Rosenberg, writing at MNpublius, says the following:

In a speech just a little while ago, Governor Dayton announced that given the MNGOP’s stunning intransigence and his own desire not to extend the pain of the shutdown, he will accept the GOP’s June 30th offer. He did, however, insist that they drop their social-policy poison pills from the bill.

What’s stunning about this to me is what really allowed the Republicans to achieve such a victory. The polling clearly indicated that the public sided with the governor; politically, Dayton could have held out longer than the MNGOP. But this is all about trying to end the shutdown vs. trying to “win.”

Well, yeah. You play to win. A few observations:
  • The problem Dayton has faced from the get-go is that his only leverage was to hold a knife to his own throat. The government workers he laid off are his foot soldiers and had the most to lose from a shutdown. The effects of the shutdown to this point are mostly annoyances to those outside the public sector. If you weren't planning a trip to a state park, or trying to get a driver's license, you weren't likely affected that much.
  • The GOP could argue, and has argued, that they had funded the government with the budget bills they passed. Even if the evil, heartless Republicans were inclined to change the bills, they were powerless to do so as long as the governor refused to call them back into special session. While the reportage of the event has largely sidestepped that reality, anyone who has been paying attention knew it anyway.
  • One of the dangers about public polling, especially of the sort that is regularly offered as a substitute for news, is believing it too much. My guess is that the more detailed internal polling that all politicians do was decidedly less positive than Jeff would care to admit. I'd also guess that the trendline was getting worse by the day.
  • The MillerCoors contretemps that emerged yesterday was probably the most ridiculous example of why the shutdown is going wrong for Dayton. Dayton's friends in the press had to report the reason that the license had expired. It wasn't corporate malfeasance on the part of the hegemonic beverage company, but rather it was bureaucratic stupidity of the most banal variety. The idea that a company would have to remove its products from thousands of store shelves in Minnesota, because the state couldn't figure out how to cash a check with an overpayment, is deeply embarrassing for all involved. If you're an average person, do you want to pay for more of that level of service? It's the sort of attention the government can't afford. The entire justification for the licensing regimen that the state undertakes was becoming the subject of ridicule. As Machiavelli pointed out, if you're a politician, you can survive being hated so long as you are feared. If you become a figure of mockery, your prospects aren't as good.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Well, yeah

In regard to government workers, for whom I expressed "a modicum of sympathy" yesterday, our friend Gino says:

hold on a minute...

the unions have put these people into power and driven states to this economic brink, in no small part due to the bennies the unions demanded in exchange for their votes.

its no too much a stretch to say they've shat their own bed, and now they can lay in it.
And that's true, of course.

I think you can decry the abuses of the public sector, while at the same understanding that most people who work for the government are honorable. The unions that represent government workers are quite often less than honorable, which is where things get sticky. Someone quite near and dear to me is a member of ASFCME, mostly because she has to be. I would wager that her local spends a lot more time and resources on politics than on representing its members in the workplace.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shutdownpocalypse Day 12 -- Random Thoughts

Since absurdity is the order of the day, let's flip through a few things:
  • As is to be expected, the plight of state workers continues to be all over the news. We've given them a few shots 'round here recently, but one thing really ought to be said: if anything, the state workers who are now marooned on Planet Dayton are the biggest pawns of all in this game. It's long been an expectation among public servants and bureaucrats that they will have job security, if nothing else. That's been a tough thing for private sector workers to swallow, given how tough the overall job market has been for the past few years. Still, I suspect a modicum of sympathy is in order:  we all plan our lives based on certain assumptions and it's jarring when those assumptions are undermined. There are larger forces at work in this shutdown and while it's easy to think, "hey, welcome to the real world" when you consider the plight of these folks, they weren't really prepared for what was coming.
  • According to today's Star Tribune, Dayton is now willing to drop "tax the rich" and now wants to hike sin taxes and eliminate certain tax breaks. It's difficult to know if that's sincere or not, but it does prove one point: this shutdown is less about principles than it is about keeping the money machine alive. And in that sense, it's the same war as what has been happening in Wisconsin. It's just being fought differently here.
  • Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the first of the recall elections is today. One of the features of the recall elections is that there are "fake" Democrats running in primaries, including some guy who is running against Shelly Moore, the excitable Ellsworth teacher/WEA bot who wants to boot Sheila Harsdorf in the district immediately across the St. Croix. Since the entire purpose of the recall effort is to nullify elections that were duly held, I'd strongly recommend that all votes go to the "fake" candidates, and that would include "fake" Republicans running recall efforts against the "fleabagger" Democrats. The nonsense needs to end.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Just sayin'

I don't know how the Twins have managed to go from 17-37 to contention at the All-Star Break. But they have. At a minimum, Twins fans should probably thank the Chicago White Sox.

Can You Feel the Despair?

It's now Day 11 of Shutdownpocalypse. And the despair is palpable.

Well, not really. Chances are that if you only deal with the government on an as-needed basis, you haven't even noticed it that much. Especially coming into St. Paul, traffic is noticeably lighter. You don't get the highway travel information from MnDOT, but the local radio stations are finding ways to improvise.

Are there people who are suffering? Sure. The businesses in downtown St. Paul that cater to state workers aren't enjoying things much, as the Star Tribune reports:

State workers and their much-sought-after dollars have disappeared from St. Paul since the shutdown began, sending businesses scrambling to survive. They are cutting hours and staff and hoping the stalemate resolves itself before sharp declines in sales send them nosediving toward oblivion.

"I don't know even if we're going to make it for rent next month," said Alinda Saurez, of Pickerman's Soup and Sandwiches in the Securian Building skyway.

Many lunch spots downtown are being hit especially hard. They've relied heavily on the state offices just steps away, including the departments of Public Safety, Health, Employment and Economic Development, and a Driver and Vehicles Services office.

Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, estimates the shutdown has taken about 3,000 state workers away from downtown. Businesses can probably endure for a week or two, but anything longer is concerning, he said.

"It's really important to remember that we have a very fragile economic recovery," Kramer said. "If you're a small retail operation ... people would be amazed how thin the margins are. If your business goes down 30 percent, you're going to have to make some significant adjustments on the spot."
I don't doubt any of that, especially the margins for skyway retailers, who tend to pay significant rent for the ability to reach people on a very limited basis. And it is unfortunate that such businesses are suffering, especially since all this could have been avoided.

Of course, were a major downtown St. Paul employer to pull up stakes, the impact would be the same initially, and worse in the long run. The government workers will come back eventually. If Securian or Ecolab or the Travelers left, these same merchants would likely be out of business, too.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Shutdown Memes Part II -- Nothing We Can Do Except Suffer

Jana Shortal at KARE 11 reports that the evil shutdown is causing problems for charities:

ROBBINSDALE, MN -- Make no mistake, the showdown in St. Paul is wreaking havoc in every Minnesota city.

On Thursday night, the kick off for Robbinsdale's annual Whiz Bang Days got kicked in the pants.

The wine and beer tasting at Sacred Heart Catholic School that people come to by the hundreds was cancelled due to the state not being able to process the liquor license.
 So why would that be?

All licenses to sell alcohol, either for a fundraiser or a full blown bar have to be handed down by the Department of Public Safety's alcohol enforcement division and they aren't open.

"They are closed and that is one of the sad realities of the shutdown, some services we aren't going to be able to provide," DPS spokesman Doug Neville said.
And Shortal has the parade of victims lined up and ready to march:

And so even though the Sacred Heart school held up their end of the bargain and paid for the license it didn't get done.

The main fundraiser for the school was called off.

"It affects all the small people, our catholic school; it might affect scholarships coming to the school so that trickles down to the kids in the state of Minnesota," [Sacred Heart Prinicipal Karen] Bursey said.

The five thousand dollars raised at the wine tasting will not come in and the money already paid to hold the event is lost too.
Let's stipulate that everything in this report is true; there's no reason to suspect otherwise. But don't you have any other questions about this? I do:
  • Why is licensing for liquor a state matter in the first place? Is this not a function that could be handled at the county, or even municipal level? If the issue is one of uniformity, it would not be difficult to draft model language that could be used as a guideline at lower levels of government.
  • Would it not make more sense to have such functions handled at a lower level anyway? I would be willing to wager that the City of Robbinsdale would know if there were any adverse effects related to the staging of this event, i.e., police reports, property damage, etc. I also assume that Sacred Heart isn't serving Thunderbird or hard liquor at this event, so it should be an easy thing to process a license.
  • If this is an annual event of long standing, as it appears to be, why must Sacred Heart go through the hassle and expense of reapplying every year? Is there a compelling reason, other than job security for the bureaucrats at DPS who process the forms, to require a renewal of the license every year? Could you not design a limited liquor license that is date- and event-specific and that ran for, say, 5 years?
One key to understanding the shutdown is knowing that it's more about preserving the power and influence of the government than it is about the services government provides. It's not necessarily Jana Shortal's job to think through the larger implications of the stories she and her colleagues at KARE 11 choose to report, but we have an obligation to think critically about what "essential services" really are. More importantly, we have an obligation to think about whether it is essential that essential services are undertaken in St. Paul, and how the services are rendered.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Of course they do

The St. Paul City Council opposes the half-cent sales tax increase for Ramsey County that would fund the county's portion of the cost of a Vikings stadium in Arden Hills. I'd like to chalk that up to fiscal sanity, but there's no reason to believe that.

The real reason they oppose the sales tax increase is that it makes goods and services in St. Paul among the most expensive in the metro area. And that's because the government in St. Paul is already taxing the snot out of its residents. They'd rather you not think about that.

Stillwater Proving Ground

I'm still trying to avoid devoting too much attention to the presidential race, but one thing that has been striking has been the early performance of Michele Bachmann, who represents my neighbors in MN CD-6. While a lot of things could, and likely will, change in this race, so far Bachmann seems to have established herself as the most plausible challenger to Mitt Romney on the Republican side of things.

The secret to Bachmann's success, up to this point, is that she's been incredibly disciplined about staying on message and avoiding the sorts of misstatements that often trip up candidates. Staying on message is a tough thing to do. And I think you can give some of her hometown enemies some of the credit for that.

Ever since Bachmann has burst on the scene, she's had critics, including some incredibly vociferous bloggers in her home district. If you follow the Minnesota blogosphere, chances are good that you've heard of the Dump Bachmann blog, or know of some of the others who have spent a great deal of time trying to stop Bachmann from succeeding. They have been absolutely relentless in their attacks, yet they have not come close to defeating Bachmann in any race. And the more I think about it, I'm increasingly convinced that one reason she is able to keep her focus is that she's learned how to deal with her critics. The best way, quite often, is to avoid dignifying the criticism with a response.

Any conservative politician who wants to succeed has to run a gantelet of institutional critics. Bachmann has faced a sneering Greek chorus her entire career and it's become clear that she's not afraid of them. That same lack of fear comes out in her media appearances with the broader MSM. Back in 2008, Sarah Palin was not ready for what she faced. I get the sense that Bachmann understands what's ahead and is quite well prepared for it.


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Getting the Band Back Together

I've often thought it unfortunate that there's no political equivalent to Branson, Missouri, the Ozarks burg where has-been musicians build their own theaters and perform nightly for crowds that appreciate their work. Jim Stafford, the goofball who had a number of novelty hits in the mid-70s, has a nice setup down there.

If there were a political equivalent to Branson, it would be a great place to put Arne Carlson. He could strut around on stage in his yellow Gophers sweater and regale his pals about the glory days and curse those Republicans who won't listen to reason, i.e., Arne Carlson. Unfortunately, as the Star Tribune reports, he's touring out in public again:

Meanwhile, a clan of Minnesota political elders moved to step into the budget dispute as Minnesota heads into its sixth day of a widespread government shutdown.

Former two-term Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat, on Tuesday convened an ad hoc budget group chaired by bipartisan former lawmakers and commissioners charged with developing a "third way" to end the impasse by week's end.
Arne Carlson was the king of the third way back in the day -- the DFL would propose and Carlson would kvetch and then sign the bill. The scope of government has grown inexorably under every governor since Floyd Olson and Carlson did nothing to stop it. Ever since he left office, he's been making life hell for Republicans in this state and was quite ostentatious in supporting various Democrats to high office, most notably Barack Obama in 2008. It's hardly surprising that he's more comfortable working with Walter Mondale than he is with Kurt Zellers or Amy Koch, who matter a lot more to this process than Carlson ever will.

So is Mark Dayton, of course. Here's the giveaway about the "third way":

Dayton, who previously sought a court-appointed mediator for the budget dispute, gave the group his help, aiding in its formation over the weekend and offering Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter as a resource.

Schowalter wasn't available to testify at a legislative hearing last month, but he's got time for Arne Carlson.

There's a reason Dayton keeps seeking "mediators" and ad hoc committees and the like; he's looking for some sort of authority figure to bless his machinations. Then he can say, "of course I have to raise taxes on the rich -- the mediator says so, and so does a former Republican governor. Really, my hands are tied here."

Personally, I'd rather listen to Jim Stafford. At least he can be entertaining.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Shutdown Memes

One recurring theme I've seen from the risible coverage of the government shutdown is the idea that many government workers are in real trouble because they are living "paycheck to paycheck."

Why would that be? A few possibilities:
  1. They really are underpaid and are struggling to make ends meet in this cruel, cruel world.
  2. They take their personal finances as seriously as they take state finances.
  3. Because a government job is usually a sinecure, they didn't see a need for saving for a rainy day, because it never rains on government workers, especially those with pensions.
Maybe you have a different guess, but those are mine. So here's the question -- does the first possibility seem like the most likely one?

Steal From the Best

If you're going to boost an idea from someone else, it's always a good idea to find someone who has good ideas. So with a hat tip to my friend Gino, I'm stealing one of his ideas, which is a twist on an open thread.

So what should you do? Ask me a question in the comments and I'll respond. I might not answer your question to your satisfaction, but I'll respond.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Birthday, U.S.A.

Brother Ray tells it.

A world we don't inhabit

It's probably time to say a few words about the matter of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French plutocrat who was alleged to have raped a hotel maid in New York. It looks like the case against him is falling apart, but he's not out of the woods yet, as a second accuser has now come forward:

The lawyer for French writer Tristane Banon announced today that his client intends to file attempted rape charges against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in Paris. “I will send the complaint to the public prosecutor’s office tomorrow,” lawyer David Koubbi told the French weekly L’Express, “and they will receive it on Wednesday.” The move comes only days after prosecutors in New York conceded that their case against Strauss-Kahn had been weakened by questions surrounding the credibility of a maid who has accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her in May at the Sofitel Hotel in New York.

The accusations offer its own punchline:

The 32-year-old Banon has accused Strauss-Kahn of sexually assaulting her eight years earlier in an empty Parisian apartment where she was conducting an interview with him for a book on the “biggest mistakes” of well-known public figures.

Perhaps Strauss-Kahn thought a "demonstration project" was necessary?

I dunno -- have you ever assumed that you were entitled to have sex with someone just because the idea occurred to you? It would be awfully difficult to be a functioning human being if you operated that way, don't you think?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Pioneer Press Tells Its Readers Something Useful

Telling the truth is always useful:

What we have here is a failure to compromise. Much of the state budget could have been passed, but the governor chose not to get those parts of the deal done. At midnight the lights went out unnecessarily on lots of state workers and government functions tied to parts of the budget that could have been passed. At the 11th hour legislators proposed a lights-on measure that would have kept the government running for a few more days. The governor dismissed it as a gimmick.

In other words, bring on the pain - an unnecessary infliction of pain. But, as they say, sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. The DFL governor is apparently thinking he can inflict enough pain on the state to force the Republican Legislature to its knees.

Let's be clear. The Legislature passed a complete budget and sent it to the governor. He vetoed it. Meanwhile, the governor has yet to put forward a full budget himself. Instead, he put forward a set of numbers without the details to back them up.
If you read the Star Tribune, you would not know that. If you watch WCCO and KARE television, you would not know that, either. But there's more:

Problem is, taxing the rich is a Band-aid, not a solution. We already have one of the higher state income taxes in the nation, so clearly high income taxes don't produce balanced budgets.

And if you think even higher income taxes in an already high tax state are the answer, take a look at how things are going in New York, California and New Jersey. Those states have even higher income taxes than we do and still have all the same budget problems, if not worse.

It would be much easier to get behind the soak-the-rich agenda if were working for other states, but it's not. Or if the governor had a budget of his own and would explain to us how this approach will work not only in the upcoming biennium but in the one that follows and that one that follows that.

What's the plan? Tax the rich, then tax the rich again, then tax the rich again?
The governor doesn't have a plan. The governor has a worldview. He's been able to get by with that up to this point in his career because he's never been in a position where he has to make executive decisions before now. Now that his worldview has come up against the shoals of reality, he's trying to bend the world, or at least the State of Minnesota, to his worldview.

It's good that the Pioneer Press editorialists have begun to call him out. In order to solve the problem we have, we need the people who buy ink by the barrel to start telling us the whole story. There's a lot more in the editorial I linked -- make sure you read the whole thing.

There's a reason why Mark Dayton went into politics instead of his family's business. The bright people who run Target Corporation have to make executive decisions that make sense and that produce results. If Mark Dayton had wished to pursue an executive career there, he'd have gone nowhere.

Politics is easier than business, as long as you have the right gig. It was easy for Dayton to be state auditor, because he had a professional staff at his disposal that was largely responsible for defined duties, which freed him up to spend most of his time doing something that fits his worldview and skill set -- being a scold. Even though Dayton was a terrible United States Senator, he really couldn't do too much damage there because he was one of 100. Even when Dayton made the bizarre decision to close his office in 2004 because of terror threats that only he saw, Minnesotans were insulated from his actions, because the other senator, Norm Coleman, picked up the slack.

Now Mark Dayton is governor. There was nothing in his career to suggest he had the ability to be an effective governor. He was supposed to have a DFL majority in the lege that would give him what he wanted. He was supposed to be Henry Blake, a guy in a fishing hat who signed whatever his minions brought to his desk. Perhaps he has hidden executive talents that will see him through this mess of his own making, but I doubt it.

Friday, July 01, 2011


It's on. A few thoughts:
  • The single smartest move yesterday was that the Republicans brought most of their caucus to the Capitol to show they were ready to work. This has forced at least some news outlets to admit that nothing can happen until Gov. Dayton calls the legislature back into session. You could see the pain on the face of KARE news anchor Mike Pomeranz last night as he had to tell his viewers that the governor refused to call the legislature back into session. Having to report Dayton's refusal blows away one of the key talking points that Dayton and his allies have been using, which is that the legislature won't do its job. At this point, Dayton isn't allowing the legislators to do their job. More on that in a moment.
  • Continuing with something we've noticed here before -- at one point in KARE's newscast, as they were coming back from a commercial break, they had live footage of Dayton speaking. Oddly enough, there was no audio, but we were treated to about a minute of the governor grimacing and looking profoundly uncomfortable. As is often the case, Dayton has trouble communicating his message unless it is properly prepackaged.
  • Dayton's rationale for not calling the lege back into session is that, supposedly, he needs to have a complete budget deal before he'll bring them back. It goes along with the same line he's been offering all year, which is that he doesn't want a "piecemeal" solution. This is nonsense, of course. What Dayton wants is for the legislature to rubber stamp his agenda. He won't agree to an incremental approach because the minute he does so, his agenda is on the table. More importantly, if the lege goes back into session, he loses control of the situation.
  • I was amused at one claim made in a television ad concerning the shutdown, in which someone who is dressed as a MnDOT worker talks about there being no guard rails on the roads. So are we to assume that, prior to the shutdown, MnDOT took down all the existing guard rails? Or that, once this matter is resolved, if Dayton doesn't get his way any future road construction won't include new guard rails, because MnDOT won't be able to afford guard rails because those rat bastard Scrooge McDuck Republicans want Minnesotans to be DEAD DEAD DEAD?