Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

I don't know how you feel about it, but 2011 can go away now. We'll send it away with three things.

First, a picture of Times Square as 1956 was about to arrive:

And then, another view of Times Square, circa 1969, as things were going to seed:

You have to love the giant cigarette. I got both of these images from the very interesting blog The Bowery Boys, which has a lot of cool images of New York and some interesting history, too. Definitely worth your time.

Finally, a hopeful 2012 prediction from the always excellent Jay Reding:

On December 21, 2012, the universe will end when the Mayan god Kukulkan descends from the heavens and decrees an end to all existence. Unfortunately for Kukulkan, he arrives in the middle of a Lady Gaga concert, where a blood-soaked feathered serpent would attract little notice. Disgusted by everything, he figures that non-existence would actually be better than what we have, so he ascends back up into the heaven and has a few too many glasses of wine with Zeus and Thor as they complain that no one actually believes in them any more.

So maybe we've got that going for us. Hope you have a great New Year's Eve and we'll see you next year.

State Central

The potentially momentous meeting of the Minnesota Republican State Central Committee is beginning as I write this. As has been well documented, the state GOP is a big mess right now. I've made the conscious decision to participate in party politics only at the BPOU level, so I don't have a dog in this fight. Selecting the new party chair is going to be tough and there's been a spirited debate concerning the relative merits of the potential candidates.

It looks likely that the decision comes down to either Pat Shortridge, a well-liked figure in GOP circles who most recently was a key player in the Marco Rubio campaign in Florida, or Terry McCall, who is from John Kline's district and from what I gather has ties to the Ron Paul wing of the party. There's also a third candidate named Todd McIntyre but he is likely to be an also-ran.

As I said, I don't have a dog in this fight. People whose opinions I respect differ on the candidates. My guess is that Shortridge would be better positioned to clean up the current mess, but McCall might be a better choice for rallying the troops and trying to secure the loyalty of the Paul supporters long-term. At this point, Shortridge is the better choice, but it's going to be important to ensure that McCall, and the constituency that he represents, has a strong voice in the party.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- New Year's Day Pro Edition

Old dude, the NFL season is about to end. Well, for some teams it is going to end. But not for the team I like.

So you're not rooting for the Jaguars these days?

I think all that Geritol you've been swigging is starting to eat away at your brain, Decrepit! Of course I'm not rooting for the Jaguars. We'll talk about the team that I do like the best soon enough. But first we have to unleash the HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE! about some other games. Watch me work.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+1) vs. Minnesota Webb-Footed Ponders. Well, both teams in this stellar matchup are NOT in playoff contention. The Vikings were apparently eliminated in the 3rd week of the preseason and da Bearz took the gas pipe last week up at Lambeau. So neither team has much to play for this week. Da Bearz are now using Josh McCown, best known to Vikings fans for this:

I never get tired of that. It just warms my adolescent heart. But anyway, back to the game. That was a long time ago and the Vikings are a very different team now. They mortgaged the future on He Who Must Not Be Named and then tried to apply a tire patch named Donovan McNabb. Meanwhile, the defense got old and now Adrian Peterson is a client of Dr. James Andrews, which is never a good thing. Da Bearz are playing out the string without Jay Cutler, who always seems to be questioned about his toughness, especially when he's buried underneath about 900 pounds of defensive linemen that da Bearz cannot block. Vikes 17, da Bearz 0.

I don't see it that way at all. I think the Bears see this game as an opportunity to salvage something out of what's been a very disappointing season. In the past many fans, especially Packers fans like me, have attributed any success the Bears have had to luck. Well, this season the Bears had no luck at all. I don't if it's karma or just the way things go, but even an old cynic like me feels a little sympathy for our tattered rivals. Of course, I'm happy to point out that the Packers are 4-0 against da Bearz in the 2011 calendar year, so I suppose I can be magnanimous. As for the Vikings, I wish Adrian Peterson well. Hope he returns to full health soon. Bears 24, Vikings 14.

Detroit Motor City Kitties (-3 1/2) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. So let me get this straight. The Lions haven't won a game in the state of Wisconsin since 4 years before I was born. The Packers are 14-1. And the Lions are favored? What's up with that? Well, actually I know what's up with that. The wise guys in Vegas think that the Packers are going to roll out the jayvee squad against the Lions in order to protect Aaron Rodgers and his high-flying pals from the wrath of Ndamukong Suh, last seen crashing his car into a tree in Portland. Now, that takes some guts -- they really love their trees in Portland. I don't know if the Packers will try to win this game or not; in fact I think they should sit the starters down and see if they can get D.J. Williams and Brandon Saine a touchdown or two. They might be able to do it. Will that be enough to beat a motivated Lions squad that wants to avoid a trip to New Orleans? Jayvee Team 24, Suh 21.

Did you know that the Packer quarterback in that 1991 game was none other than Mike Tomczak? The Packers actually have a nasty, largely forgotten history of employing old Bears quarterbacks. Tomczak, Jim McMahon, Jack Concannon and even Bobby Douglass were Packers for at least a little while. And if you look it up, Tomczak actually did an honest job that year for a Packers team that was terrible. Many things have changed since then, of course. I can't pick the Packers to lose, even though common sense would indicate that the Lions will win the game. Packers 27, Lions 19.

Dallas How Bout Them Cowboahs (+3) vs. New York Football Giants. It's quite possible that one of these teams will have the pleasure of hosting the Lions next week. These teams are now tied for the lead in the NFC East, both sporting lofty 8-7 records. There's a reason why these teams are both 8-7; they are inconsistent as teams can be. That makes picking the winner of this game pretty tough, actually. Will Tony Romo play lights out football, or will he revert to his 2007 form, in which he ended the season wearing a 12in. collar? Will Eli Manning throw for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, or will he get intercepted a half dozen times? G-Men 27, Choke Artist 7.

Just a hunch. That's all it is. I think the Cowboys are going to play well and will be in Green Bay in two weeks. Cowboys 31, Giants 24.

Since it's past the Old Dude's bedtime, we shall return on Sunday for our annual bowl game extravaganza and my annual rant against the BCS cartel. I've been doing breathing exercises all along so that I can't be stopped once I start uncorking my dazzling verbal destruction of those BCS cheeseballs! But until then, Ben out!

Throwing a Bone

Chew on this article from the New York Times for a while and let me know what you think. One passage to call out:

White House officials, however, counter that Mr. Obama’s detachment from Congress could end up benefiting him politically. After all, many Americans regard this Congress as dysfunctional, with abysmal approval ratings.

“We have a culture here where people actively dislike everything about this whole city,” one senior administration official said of Washington, adding, “the only leverage he has right now is as an outsider.” Another official argued that Mr. Obama’s perceived distance from Congress is partly why he is viewed as the clear winner of the payroll tax cut fight.

In fact, Mr. Obama’s re-election strategy involves running against Congress, particularly the Republican-led House, calling attention to its inability to pass even the simplest legislation without resorting to threats to shut down the government or default on the country’s debt.

Remind me again -- who runs the Senate?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Part Eighty-Four: Fearless Maria Meets 2012 Head-On, Plus a Bit of Bonus Social Commentary (interspersed throughout)

Fearless Maria is back.

Duh duh DUHHHHH! Cue the dramatic music. She's ALIVE! She's ALIVE!

Decided to make an entrance, then.

Well, we have to keep things interesting, you know, Dad! It's good for marketing! My line of Fearless Maria merchandise may be coming out any time now. It's a shame that that noob screwed up the paperwork, otherwise we'd have gotten the merch out before Christmas!

Wait, I didn't know you had merchandise.

Well, you never know what's hiding underneath my bed. And don't you go checking there now!

Well, it's hard to do that and do a blog post at the same time.

Well, some people can handle multitasking. Especially younger people. But I said especially. Not all.

So, what kind of merchandise did you have?

Well, I had a bunch of campaign merchandise all ready and raring to go, but then Fate intervened!


Well, no it wasn't really Fate. It was Foot. Learned Foot, to be precise. The corrupt political operative who runs the Kool-Aid Report and is now wanted at two blogs. But not necessarily this one.

Oh, so you're still mad at Foot because he wouldn't let you run for Mayor of the MOB?

I just think that he's prejudiced against fun people, that's all. And middle schoolers, too. That much seems obvious to me. What kind of stupid age discrimination against supercool agents of genius like myself is this? Just because I don't have back problems and a walker like you old people doesn't mean I'm not smart enough to run the MOB! Maybe I'll have to set up my own thing for the Undersecretary of the MOB. It will be a fair, clean vote. No one will get rejected. Not even someone's intestinal tract!

Seems fair. Do you feel better now, having uncorked that rant?

Oh, I could go on. But sure, I'm done. Now, what are we doing tonight for Guilty Pleasures, Dad?

Well, I checked the calendar and it appears we're at the end of the year.

But it only just started!

No, it's over now, for the most part. And it's time for 2012.

Oh my gosh, what songs are about 2012? There haven't been any written yet, right?

Probably not, but we can go back to the past. We usually do.

Surprise, surprise! Yeah, I know you know a lot of really old music, Dad. So old that some of their instruments were designed by cave men. Or maybe that Learned Foot guy.

You're really a little too young to be so bitter.

Well, who says I'm not being bittersweet?

I'm not even sure how to respond to that. So instead we'll plug in the first video. We'll start around 1965 or so, when even I was young. But Frank Sinatra was not:

Well, what do you think, Maria?

I didn't know that older people wore fedoras! I thought that was Bruno Mars's thing!

Actually, back in the day a lot of people wore them. And Frank was famous for his.

Did you have one in those days, Dad?

Well, I was about 2 when this song came out. So I probably had a "Junior Slugger" baseball cap.

Ah. Well, anyway, the song was good, obviously, but let me ask you this -- when you were 17, was it a very good year for you?

I think so, Maria. But I didn't spend a lot of time on the village green.

Why? Were you too busy playing wiffle ball with your friends, in your suit and tie and fedora?

That would have made it tough to play wiffle ball, actually.

You're not going to tell me anything about that, are you? Well, that's fine -- I'm sure I can get the truth out of Uncle Paul anyway. So let's move on. What's next?

Well, not long after Frank was getting all wistful, two other dudes were thinking about the future:

Look at that facial hair! And that one dude's head! It's like an oval head covered in fake hair! Not much to say about their clothing, because it's in black and white and I can't tell if it doesn't match like most of the videos you show me. I wonder why they thought they could predict all this stuff. Did they think they were oracles or something?

No, just a couple of folk singer types trying to make a living in the cruel, cruel world.

That explains a lot of things, especially that one guy's weird oval head. But we're just trying to get through 2012, so I'd rather not think about 2525! Do you have some other year?

How about this one?

It's the "Year of the Cat."

Well, shouldn't it be the Year of the Dog? Everybody loves dogs! And you know I want a dog! A sweet, lovable dog that would fetch your slippers, relieve stress and keep the food scrap population down and be a good addition to the family! Right? Right?

Actually, let's stay on topic.

Okay, cats then. I just think you want to avoid the topic of dogs. Cats are awesome, too, and I can see the connection between girls and a cat. Girls are smart -- cats are smart. Girls are independent thinkers -- cats value independence, too. Girls could be mayor of the MOB, Foot can be catty. It all makes sense now!

I don't think ripping the guy is going to get him to reconsider.

I know that, Dad, but if I tried to persuade him he'd probably just stick his tongue out at me and slam the door in my face. I can't even persuade you and Mom to get me a dog, so maybe I need to change my approach.

Well, did you like the song?

Sure. It's a good song. I like the piano solo and even though that video is right in the middle of the 70s,  they don't look completely ridiculous. They actually even look decent, which coming from me is a good compliment.

High praise, indeed, I'd say. Shall we move on?

Yes, Dad. Let's. I think it's time to turn the page.

Ah, yes, Bob Seger. I've heard this one before, Dad! The alto sax is very good on it and Bob Seger seems to be looking okay, although he might consider brushing his hair a little.

These days, he has a little less hair.

Well, see, if he'd taken my advice and brushed it, maybe it would have stayed in more! These people never listen to me. Just like Learned Foot. By the way, why didn't he call himself Learned Elbow? It's more catchy!

I'll be sure to pass your advice along, Maria.

That would do everyone some good. Okay. What else do you have?

Well, we can talk about the new year. Or let some Swedish people sing about it.

Ah, finally something to critique! Lots of outfits on this one! Number one: I see a lot of very silly hats that people got from the dress-up box.

That's actually a tradition in some places, wearing silly hats on New Year's Eve.

Oh, okay then, we won't critique that any further. Number two, I also see a lot of strange striped outfits, and I think I even saw one that looked like Kermit the Frog! Or is that part of the tradition, too?

No, I don't think dressing like Kermit the Frog is traditional.

Good to know. Number three, a lot of very ugly frills around on some of the costumes and on one of the members of Abba. And number four, don't you think the interior design of the living room is pretty boring? White on white? Tan on tan? Yawn on yawn?

Well, it's got that IKEA vibe going on. And after all, it is Sweden.

Oh, good point. But I don't shop at IKEA anyway. I just think some green plants would like nice. Or maybe a huge inflatable jumper thing. They were doing a lot of jumping in the video. Not as much as these guys, but a lot.

Now you're getting into Benster's territory with that link.

Well, I had to see if he was paying attention. And you know he tries to get into my territory all the time! "Word to your moms, I came to drop bombs?" Heck, what does that even mean? And you know I hate rap, so it's just to make a reference.

Well, you're nothing if not versatile, Maria.

Correct. All right, now do we have anything else?

Well, it's hard to get through a New Year without this one:

Some serious need to brush hair on that one! Well, maybe Bono was just trying to look punk, which is fine, I guess, if that's the look you're going for. And it was 1983, so actually it's acceptable. As for the song, well, I think it's pretty good. Although it seems a little sad for a new year. We'd like a new year to be a little more upbeat and hopeful, maybe positive even.

But nothing changes on New Year's Day. Or so they say.

I don't believe that, Dad! I think this new year is going to be great! But the best way to celebrate is to make other people happy. And you know what would make me happy?

If people would pick their favorite in the comments section?

Well, yes! So this year, people, amuse me and pick something! And meanwhile, Dad, let's talk about that dog....

Game Over

Michele Bachmann loses her Iowa chairman to Ron Paul:

In a surprise move, and a blunt reflection of the shifting fortunes of Republican presidential candidates ahead of Tuesday's opening voter test, Michele Bachmann's Iowa campaign chairman defected Wednesday night to Ron Paul's campaign.

State Sen. Kent Sorenson, who has strong ties to Iowa's Tea Party, was hired as a Bachmann staffer in Iowa, even before she announced her candidacy. He helped lead her campaign to victory in the Ames Straw Poll in August. Ever since, however, Bachmann's popularity has been in decline.

Recent statewide polling shows her running last among the six Republicans actively competing in Iowa. Paul, meantime, is in a tight race with Mitt Romney for first place in Tuesday's caucuses, the opening vote of the 2012 Republican nomination contest.

"It's difficult, but it's the right thing to do," Sorenson said, in announcing his decision before a crowd of several hundred at a Veterans for Ron Paul rally at the Iowa state fairgrounds in Des Moines.
What to make of this? A few thoughts:

  • Sorenson bet on the wrong horse and he's trying to trade in his parimutuel ticket in the middle of the race. You cannot get by with that at Canterbury Park, but you can certainly try in Iowa. Whether he'll get by with it is another matter. My guess is that Sorenson has hurt himself more than he's hurt Bachmann.
  • Loyalty is conditional and careerism is Job One in politics, so Bachmann shouldn't be surprised.
  • Paul and Bachmann don't really see the world the same way, so this is strictly about Sorenson.
  • If I were to guess, if Bachmann supporters decide to bolt now, they'd be more likely to support Rick Santorum than Paul.
  • Santorum might do a little better than people expect if the evangelical vote that Bachmann was courting heads his way. Then again, Santorum is Catholic and for some evangelicals, that's a bridge too far. It will be interesting to see how far evangelicals are willing to travel.
  • As a practical matter, Dave Weigel pretty much got the upshot for Bachmann: "This changes everything. Instead of having to drop out on January 4, Bachmann will have to drop out on January 4."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? XXIX -- Tiresias Perceives the Scene

I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest--
I too awaited the expected guest.

-- T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

Earlier today I questioned how Peter King, a nationally known columnist for Sports Illustrated, could be so certain in reporting that the Vikings were going to have a stadium deal. It seemed curious, especially given the great uncertainty in the Minnesota Senate following the departure of then-Majority Leader Amy Koch, who was rumored to be willing to deal on the stadium, even though she'd never said as much.

Well, now that we know the identity of Koch's replacement, there's reason to believe that King knew something we didn't know:

Senate Republicans have elected David Senjem to lead them into the 2012 session and election year following the sudden resignation of former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

The election — which took place at an initially secret meeting room in the Roseville Radisson hotel — lasted more than 11 hours. Senjem said he was elected after only one ballot. He was elected via a secret ballot.

Here's the key thing to know about Senjem. From the article:

Senjem, who was first elected in 2002, previously served as minority leader in the Senate. He has been a champion of racino legislation in past sessions. Gazelka, however, said neither gambling expansion nor a new Vikings stadium was part of the discussion.

Gazelka is Paul Gazelka, who will be one of Senjem's lieutenants, by the way. And whether or not Gazelka's assertion concerning the discussions prior to Senjem's selection are true or not, it's not particularly relevant. Senjem has carried a lot of water for racino; having a racino supporter in charge of the Senate changes the discussion concerning the Vikings stadium completely. Mark Dayton will sign anything that passes and the racino (or racinos -- could be one at both Canterbury and at Running Aces) would become the putative funding mechanism for a stadium. Senjem's old buddy Dick Day, former state senator turned carnival barker for the racino interests, has suggested that the racino can fund darn near anything. It may even make hundreds of julienne fries in seconds. I have no idea if any of that is actually true, although as a rule gambling revenues don't meet the projections. But if the governor believes it, that matters.

The skids are getting greased. And now all eyes turn to Kurt Zellers and the House.

Vikings to Arden Hills? XVIII -- So, What Does Peter King Know. . . .

And how does he know it? Writing for, pro football bigfoot Peter King tells us that a stadium deal is nigh:

Last week, a source with knowledge of the Vikings stadium situation told me it's not a matter of if, but when the club and state officials finish negotiations to build a stadium at one of three sites -- one favored by owner Zygi Wilf in suburban Arden Hills, or two in downtown Minneapolis. As I reported on NBC last night, you should look for the Vikings to build the stadium in Minnesota and drop out of play to be the team that moves to Los Angeles.
So the die is cast, apparently. So all this speculation about how the recent drama at the State Capitol has thrown things up in the air is just kabuki, apparently. I would not be shocked if the fix was in, but there's little evidence of that. For his part, King does remind us of one important thing that happened recently:

About six weeks ago, NFL CFO Eric Grubman went to Minnesota not to badger local politicians and the governor but to state a fact: If they waited until after the season to hammer out a deal with the Vikings, they'd risk losing control of the decision-making process. The implication was clear: The Wilf Family is not from Minnesota, and ownership had already pledged $425 million to the stadium effort, and if that wasn't going to be good enough to get a deal done, the family might have to look elsewhere.
King seems sure. Are you?


I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but something rather important changed in the most recent skirmish in Washington concerning the 60-day extension of the payroll tax. It's hiding in plain sight -- did you notice that we're now calling FICA a tax? And not an "investment?"

Two things worth noting here:

  • First, it's more honest, because FICA has never been anything other than a tax, considering that the federal government has always spent the revenues that it has received from FICA, pretty much on the spot. There's no lockbox or big vault that the feds keep your money in. They will (or might, depending on how old you are) pay you Social Security from whatever is available at the time you are allowed to collect it. And if the dollar happens to have the same valuation as a Turkish lira, tough luck, pally.
  • There's a larger purpose afoot in identifying FICA as a tax, though. In recent years Republicans have argued, often successfully, that nearly half of Americans don't pay income taxes. Because of the large income deductions that are in place, that has been true, but I've always thought that it was misleading, because nearly every American who files a W-4 form gets nicked for FICA, which does take essentially 13% of your income off the top. That's why the temporary rollback of FICA rates for this year can be called a "middle class tax cut." And in doing so, it allows those who love government to challenge the notion that nearly half of all Americans don't pay income taxes. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Good news of great joy

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

Jesus is here. Merry Christmas to you.

On the Case

I wrote about the issues surrounding the state GOP and its handling of the departure of Majority Leader Amy Koch. Sarah Janacek, who has long been one of the shrewder observers of the scene in St. Paul, has a long series regarding the matter over at her site. Just click on the link and keep scrolling. Much of what you'll read there rings true to me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

What do you think?

One thing I've seen from Ron Paul supporters repeatedly is an assertion that the reason Iran, and by extension the Iranian people, hate the U.S. is that the CIA installed the Shah in 1953.

Given that the Shah hasn't been a factor since 1979, and the mullahs have been in power since the shah was deposed, do you suppose that, today, the average Iranian is more upset about:

a) U.S. participation in the events of 1953; or
b) U.S. non-participation in the attempts to gain freedom from the mullahs in the past few years?

For a bonus question -- do you suppose that the average Guatemalan is also angry that the CIA helped to depose Jacobo Arbenz in 1954?

Lemme know what you think.

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Holly Jolly Christmas and Belk Bowl Spectacular Edition

You know it's that time of year when a young man's attention turns to the important things in life. Like, consumer electronics, girls and HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE!

But not necessarily in that order, right?

Well, I put them in whatever order I see fit, Decrepit. But for now, since we are sitting in front of this computer, why don't we pick some football games? You can handle that, right?

I'll try.

Okay then. Watch me work!

Louisville Cardinals (+1 1/2) vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack in the Belk Bowl, in Charlotte, NC.  Yes, kids, it's time to pick the Belk Bowl! Now, I know you have a number of questions concerning this event. For one, what the heck is a Belk? Well, our crack research team has determined that Belk is a chain of department stores located in the South, somewhat like Herberger's or maybe Fleet Farm but without horse trailering supplies. Then again, it is the South, so we can't rule out that they might have a bridle section in lieu of a bridal section. But then again, I'm sure you have another question -- who really cares? Well, certainly the good people of Charlotte must care a little bit about their Belk Bowl, considering that the Wolfpack is playing in the game. As a Badger fan, I am grateful to the Wolfpack for their dunderheaded decision to let Russell Wilson transfer. We really appreciate your stupidity, Wolfpack! Thanks, guys! But the question remains: who will win the game? Russell Wilson Alumni Association 21, Louisville 14.

Well, think about this from Russell Wilson's perspective, young fella. He had a chance to play in the Belk Bowl, but instead he's playing in the Rose Bowl. Of course, had Wilson stayed, perhaps the Wolfpack might have been able to play in the prestigious BBVA Compass Bowl instead. So in any event, it's all Belk, all the time for the Wolfpack. I'll pick Louisville for no good reason, which is about as much thought as the Belk Bowl requires. Louisville 27, NC State 21.

Minnesota Ponders (+6 1/2) vs. Washington Politically Incorrect Burgundy-Clad Football Squad. And you wonder why Redskins fans pay $40 for parking -- who wouldn't for the chance to see daring quarterback Rex Grossman at the helm? Well, I've seen Rex and as a Packer fan I was always deeply grateful for his ineptitude, rivaling that of fellow failed NFC North quarterback and contemporary Joey Harrington, who I believe is now a lounge act in a bar in Eugene. I think the Vikings should try and get Luck-y, if you know what I mean. Now that the Colts are winning some games, we could see a scenario in which Andrew Luck takes his talents to Winter Park. Or maybe Los Angeles, considering what's going on in the Legislature these days. Skins 42, Vikes 17.

Wow, there's a lot of textual density in that paragraph, Seabiscuit! Since I've never been that good at semiotics, I simply remind you that (a) Rex Grossman is a marginal quarterback and (b) the Vikings are probably due to win a game at some point. No luck for you, Vikings. Vikings 21, Redskins 16.

San Diego Chargers (+2 1/2) vs. Detroit Motor City Kitties. You can set your watch by it -- the Chargers are on one of their patented late-season rallies, which gets them a 5 or 6 seed in the playoffs and an early departure. It's always a stirring thing to watch, as Phillip Rivers throws beautiful spirals and Norv Turner stares blankly. It's not gonna happen this year, though. The Lions also have a shot at the playoffs and even though I hate to say this, I think they will get there this time. Hope they enjoy another trip to New Orleans and maybe your friend and mine, Hong Kong Dirty, can rough up Drew Brees enough that he won't be a factor later on. Lions 35, Bolts 31.

I think you're right -- it's going to be a wild one tomorrow in Detroit. And what could be more fun than spending Christmas Eve in Detroit, by the way? But I digress. Matthew Stafford is the key here -- if he gets hot, watch out. Lions 38, San Diego 27.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+13) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. I'm not sure da Bearz have ever been a 13-point underdog against the Packers. I'm also not sure that they should be in this game, either. A lot of people have been saying that the Packers are in trouble, but they've got it easy compared to a team that doesn't have its two biggest playmakers available. I think da Bearz will still fight it out, because that's what da Bearz always do. But I'm wondering if Josh McCown and Kahlil Bell, who appear to be the replacements for Jay Cutler and Matt Forte in this one, can score enough points. Can they score any points? Well, we know McCown can do this. And you know something, Decrepit? I never get tired of that. Packers 13, da Bearz 10.

I think the Packers have something to prove. And they will on Sunday. Just make sure that Devin Hester only handles the ball on the sideline. Packers 31, Bears 14.

Before we close, I would like to say Merry Christmas to all my faithful readers and to my family. Ben out!

In It to Win It

As you might recall, this feature nominated its stellar young blogger Fearless Maria to be Mayor of the MOB. Due to either (a) a mixup in our nominating paperwork, (b) an utterly arbitrary ruling by SOSFL Learned Foot or (c) both, Fearless Maria's nomination was rejected and instead I, Mr. D, find that I am the standard-bearer for our enterprise in this election.

That's fine -- as Foot rightly surmised, my plan was to have FM be the smiling face that hides various nefarious plots that others on the blog roster might undertake. As it turns out, my opponents include:

  • My friend and mentor, the estimable Night Writer;
  • The always-engaging, and heavily armed, Kevin Ecker
  • A young blogger and activist named Ben, who is decidedly not the Benster; 
  • The mysterious and obscure proprietor of the Red Squirrel Report; and 
  • Bobo the Talking Chimp
Now, I'm of two minds about this. First, if I'm in this thing, I intend to win. However, I'd prefer not to savage Night Writer because he is a wonderful fellow who deserves praise, nor Kevie Ecker, who is, as I mentioned, heavily armed. But you have to do what you have to do, so game on. If I win, I'll buy you boys a drink at the next MOB party.

The key to winning is to answer the various questions SOSFL Foot poses. The first question is posed here. And remember, the purposes of this election are twofold:  first, for entertainment only, since the position of MOB Mayor is entirely ceremonial; and more importantly, to drive as much traffic as possible to the Kool-Aid Report, Foot's charming and occasionally scatalogical site. So be sure to visit often -- Foot likes it when his Sitemeter resembles a winning slot at Mystic Lake. And remember -- support Mr. D for Mayor.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Stupid Wins the News Cycle

Based on what I'm told, the House Republicans are getting their butts kicked because they refuse to pass a temporary 60-day extension of the payroll tax cut, which the Democrats in the Senate apparently prefer.

There's a good reason for that opposition, which is the cost a temporary fix would impose on anyone responsible for dealing with payroll taxes:

"People need to realize what the Senate did, and kind of in a hasty way, they did something that is going to cause a lot of problems. By only extending the tax cut for 60 days, that's going to cause a lot of problems mechanically for businesses to implement it," the 57-year-old Mr. Gibbs said.

Employers who file tax paperwork on a quarterly basis, he said, will have to fill out payroll withholding forms twice, he said. "At least they should have made it for 90 days for the quarter. It's not workable."

The Senate over the weekend approved a bipartisan compromise, backed by President Obama, to extend the payroll-tax cut for just two months, while the GOP-dominated House approved its own bill for a 12-month extension. The tax cut will expire Jan. 1 if the two chambers cannot reach an agreement.

Emphasis mine. The Gibbs quoted here is a Republican congressman from Ohio, by the way. What he's saying is true -- payroll withholding is done on a quarterly basis and if the rates change, that means a lot of extra work recalculating things. For a small business, the time spent dealing with a midstream change is time they will not spend on their business. It might not seem like much, but in the aggregate such things add up.

As always, the problem is that (a) Republicans are terrible at explaining things; and (b) even if they explain things competently, there's an even money chance the MSM will not let the message get across. And taken together, (a) and (b) are why so many of us blog.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Being for the Benefit of Mr. Lambert, Seeking Guidance on Issues of Great Importance

Writing at MinnPost, enquiring mind Brian Lambert is demanding to know why "Minnesota's major conservative bloggers" aren't as concerned about Amy Koch as Mr. Lambert seems to be:

I am still looking and waiting for any of Minnesota's major conservative bloggers to say something about l'affaire Koch. The closest to date is Mitch Berg at “Shot in the Dark.”

Now, when you consider the major conservative bloggers in Minnesota, it's worth remembering that Ed Morrissey and the Powerline guys write for a national audience, so it's unlikely that they would spend much time on the issue. There are other bloggers with a more regional slant, especially Mitch Berg and Gary Gross, that I would consider part of the A-List. In my experience, neither Berg nor Gross are the sort to traffic in gossip or innuendo. It's not their thing.

Lambert knows this, of course, but on occasion Mr. Lambert's gig requires him to take a walk on the salacious side, to be a combination of Irv Kupcinet and Dan Savage. So, he's gotta stir the pot. And since (a) Mitch, Gary and the rest have better things to do than to analyze Sen. Koch's love life, and (b) have no requirement to write what Mr. Lambert wants to read in any event, that leaves Lambert without the explanation he craves. And of course Mr. Lambert needs an explanation, because his bien pensant audience needs the dirt. As one of Minnesota's minor conservative bloggers, and as a public service, I'll step into the breach and share my view of the matter. I wrote the following on Saturday:

Two stories in the last few days haven't helped things for Minnesota Republicans. The first, concerning the behavior of Amy Koch, now the former Senate Majority Leader following her abrupt midweek resignation, is the more salacious of the two, but far less interesting than the other. Koch should have known better and I'm glad she's gone. What else is there to say about it, really?
Now that a few more days have passed, I'm not convinced the story has become any more interesting. We can stipulate that Koch, at minimum, had a terrible lapse in judgment. We can also tut-tut her for not living up to conservative ideals. Please understand one thing -- it's just a variation on the oldest story around. As long as humans inhabit the planet, they will behave badly from time to time. People are sinners. And people who are in positions of authority are just as prone to sin as anyone else. In considering the importance of this matter, one might even suggest that at some point it might be time to "Move On." But I suppose that would be churlish.

There's one other factor at play here. It's evident that various members of the local chattering classes are attempting to suss out the identity of Koch's paramour. It's also clear that many of Koch's moral instructors on the Left are actively hoping that it turns out her liaison was with a certain well-known, and widely disliked, Republican operative who was fired over the weekend.

And let's face it -- because the well-known Republican operative has been very good at making DFLers look bad over the years, there's a great hope that this matter will provide a banquet of schadenfreude for all those who dislike the operative and wish to see him brought low. So, let's just say, for the sake of argument, that it turns out that the liaison was between Koch and the disliked Republican operative. Here's my question -- if it turns out to be true, would the matter be any more scandalous? If so, how?

I guess what I'd say to Mr. Lambert and the rest our friends on the left is this -- have fun with the story. Enjoy yourselves. Consider the revelation of the stupidity and self-inflicted pain of others to be an unexpected holiday gift that lifts your spirits in this, the most wonderful time of the year. Savor the cocktail of recriminations. After all, it would be churlish to deny you the pleasure of chortling at the pain of your enemies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Open Thread

Plenty to talk about, but not much inspiration this morning. Whatcha got?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Three Interesting Case Files for St. Peter

So, it's not every weekend when you have three people of the stature of Christopher Hitchens, Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong Il leave the stage. Hitchens was the brilliant essayist and public intellectual who skewered everyone from Henry Kissinger to Mother Teresa, yet still somehow became a favorite of many conservatives in later years because of his fearless critiques of radical Islam, among many other topics. As he fought and eventually succumbed to cancer, the avowed atheist Hitchens had millions of people praying for him, which caused him much amusement.

Havel was fearless, too -- a self-proclaimed man of the Left who was instrumental in fighting and eventually defeating the Communist regime that had ruled Czechoslovakia, via what came to be known as the Velvet Revolution. There aren't that many chain-smoking Frank Zappa fans who can change the fate of a nation (actually two nations, now that the Czech Republic and Slovakia have parted ways), but Havel did, leading a peaceful revolution and then serving wisely as one of the initial presidents of new republic. And my description of him hardly does justice to the man's importance on the world stage. He stands with Lech Walesa as a world-historical figure.

But the big news was the last of the three -- Kim Jong Il. North Korea is one of the most horrible places on earth, primarily because of the ministrations of Kim and the father he succeeded. North Korea has a starving populace, a million man army and, it is believed, nuclear weapons. It now has Kim's son at the helm, about whom little is known. South Korea, which is as prosperous as North Korea is destitute, has much to fear right now, as does Japan and even China. An army of that size, with all the modern weapons and no obvious leadership, is a very dangerous thing.

This world is a dangerous place, but as a Christian, I am eager to someday experience the next world. Hitchens disavowed the possibility of such a world and Havel, like Orwell, believed that God is dead. Kim would, by all accounts, be a prime candidate for Hell, but we don't know that. One of the greatest mysteries is that we do not, and cannot, know God's will. While it makes for an interesting parlor game, we cannot know what fate awaits these men. I expect we will be as surprised as they are.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Republicans in the News

Two stories in the last few days haven't helped things for Minnesota Republicans. The first, concerning the behavior of Amy Koch, now the former Senate Majority Leader following her abrupt midweek resignation, is the more salacious of the two, but far less interesting than the other. Koch should have known better and I'm glad she's gone. What else is there to say about it, really?

The second story troubles me a hell of a lot more -- the complicated tale of woe concerning Brandon Sawalich, an executive with Starkey Labs who had decided to throw his hat in the ring for chairman of the GOP. The Star Tribune, in a rectal examination a news story, tell us a number of things about Mr. Sawalich:

In what an official for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is blaming on a state clerical error, a candidate to head Minnesota's Republican Party was arrested this week outside baggage claim, then fingerprinted and photographed -- for expired vehicle tabs.

There's a message there -- your freedom is contingent on proper execution of bureaucratic clerical requirements. But there's more:

On Friday morning, airport police at first declined to explain why this offense, "intent to escape tax," warranted booking Sawalich. By midday, the chief spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) said that Sawalich should not have been accused of a gross misdemeanor, blaming the mixup on a clerical error by the state's Driver and Vehicle Services.

"We do not believe he had any such intent," said MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan. "Mr. Sawalich will receive a citation for failure to have current registration for his vehicle, which is a petty misdemeanor."

Hogan said that police were working on inaccurate information from the state that the pickup's tabs had been expired since June 2010, leading to a suspicion of intent.

They later determined that the tabs expired in June 2011, which reflects "a simple oversight" by Sawalich, Hogan said.

Perhaps there was an apology in there somewhere, but I don't see it. Of course, Sawalich should have paid for his tabs, although it's the sort of thing that would be easy to forget about. It beggars belief that a guy who is an executive with Starkey would have any reason to stiff the state over vehicle tabs. That's where the "intent" thing comes in.

For his trouble, Sawalich had to pay for his tabs, plus $138 to get his truck out of the impound lot and $60 for cab fare back to his house. I assume he'll have to eat that $200, even though there was no reason he should have incurred those costs.

Of course, those weren't the only costs he's paying:

On Friday, Sawalich dropped out of the race to head Minnesota Republicans, saying in an e-mail to activists that the party "cannot afford distractions for the uphill battle our party has in store."

That's tough, but he would have had an uphill battle to win the post anyway. One of the lingering problems of Tony Sutton's tenure is the sense that the state GOP wasn't paying attention to financial details, which is a real problem when you have to rely on voluntary contributions for your operations. Forgetting to pay for your tabs doesn't mean much in the greater scheme of things, but when attention to detail is crucial, such a problem is magnified.

So, Sawalich is out of the race, has paid for his tabs and is presumably going back to being a private citizen. End of story, right? If you thought so, you don't understand the modern media environment. The Star Tribune saw fit to add a completely gratuitous paragraph to the end of his account, detailing events in Sawalich's life that happened 8 and 10 years ago, respectively. If you want to see what they are, you can click on the link, but I'll not share them here. Sawalich is apparently 36 years old, which means that the events in question happened when he was less than 30 years old. In other words, even though he is now out of the race, Sawalich was Emmerized.

There's a message in that last paragraph -- if you would seek to be a prominent Republican, or even prominent in the inner workings of the party, you can expect to have every indiscretion of your life shared with the world. So you'd better damn well keep your light under a bushel.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- You Cannot Be Serious Edition

I'm telling you, Geritol Fan -- they made us go to the new Blogger format. I'm having a difficult time envisioning the HYYYYYPPPPPE! I'm 16 years old and finding myself resenting forced software changes. My goodness, is nothing sacred? Or am I turning  Decrepit well before my 20th birthday?

Hard to say, young fella. Are you resistant to change?

I live by the motto -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And because my mad prognostication skillz are intact, despite whatever technological barriers are placed in front of me, I soldier on. Watch me work!

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl -- Utah State Aggies (-1.5) vs. Ohio University Bobcats, on the Smurf Turf in lovely Boise, Idaho. Man, talk about a crappy bowl game! Two teams that are usually on the D-list in college football, playing in an outpost far removed from all civilization, on blue turf. You cannot be serious! This bowl game is the pits of the world! In fact, I don't really care who wins. But since we are duty-bound to pick one crappy bowl game each week during the bowl season, and this one is the crappiest one available this week, I will pull my unique analytical skills out and determine that Utah State nearly beat Auburn earlier this year, while Ohio University may have beaten the Heidelberg University Student Princes. So who wins? Aggies 17, Bobcats 10.

I'm kinda waiting for the Belk Bowl myself, but that's still 10 days out. A nice bowl of Belk is a traditional holiday favorite in Hungary, I understand. As for this game, I have no clue. I'll go with the other team just for giggles. Ohio University 24, Utah State 19.

New Orleans Saints (-6.5) vs. Minnesota Ponders Webbs. Actually, Christian Ponder hasn't been crossed out yet, but he's getting mighty close. He pretty much brought the stink last week in Detroit, while Joe Webb did his best to start a quarterback controversy on a 2-11 team, which is a pretty good trick when you think about it. Things have gotten so bad for our local Purple that KFAN is openly ridiculing the team that they carry as the flagship station of the Viking Radio Network. In fact, I would say that Christian Ponder is playing more like this than an NFL quarterback. He's got the hair to pull off a power ballad, but let's face it, one more bad performance and he'll be back on the pine. In fact, I don't think Ponder should necessarily assume he'll be the starter for this team in 2012. He's got a lot of work to do and he can't be like Social Security -- something I can't depend on in the future. As for the Saints, they'll win easily. N'awlins 100, Vikes 0.

Yeah, that margin of victory would be a pretty easy win. I don't think it will be that bad. Meanwhile, word to to the wise, Seabiscuit -- don't be dissing Ponder too much, especially since Mrs. D is fond of the dashing young signalcaller. But I agree, the Saints will win. Saints 34, Vikings 17.

Glorious Green Bay Packers (-13.5) vs. Kansas City Chefs. Meanwhile, the 13-0 Packers head to Kansas City, where they will encounter a team that fired its coach and seems ready to play Kyle Orton, who the Packers have already torched in the pre-Tebow era, and also generally because Orton is a former Bear with a really cheesy mustache. Is everything up to date in Kansas City? Not really. Pack will cruise. Champs 42, Chefs 7.

I sense little faith on your part for the home team. That seems right. Arrowhead Stadium is usually a very difficult place to win, but the Chiefs are hurting and the Packers have a chance to do something really special this season -- silence Mercury Morris. I don't see them tripping here. Packers 38, Chiefs  17.

Seattle Seabags (+3.5) vs. Bear Down Chicago da Bearz. Here's the thing, Decrepit -- the Seahawks are playing better these days, while da Bearz are still wheeling out Caleb Hanie. I know that everyone is jumping on the Tim Tebow bandwagon, but let's be real here -- there's no way that the Bears should have lost that game in Denver last week. That game was one of the worst choke jobs I've ever seen. And I enjoyed it immensely. Sorry, Gino. Seattle, believe it or not, has an outside chance to make the playoffs if  they keep winning. The Bears have a chance to go 7-9. Dare to dream, Tarvaris Jackson. Dare to dream. Seabags 7, da Bearz 0.

One thing is certain -- the Bears are having an interesting stretch. It's not often you lose your starting quarterback, star running back and have a backup wide receiver get nabbed by federal drug agents. The funny thing is, I'm glutton for punishment, so: Bears 20, Seattle 14.

I was going to pick the Lions game, but I was afraid that I'd make Ndamukong Suh mad and he might stomp me or something. So I'll let them play without me. Ben out!

In case you care

I finally got on Twitter. You can reach me here. I'm still not convinced that I can manage the 140 character thing, though. We'll see where it goes.

Late to the Party

I'd managed to resist watching any of the previous Republican debates, mostly because I think they are at best a dubious exercise. I did watch the second half of yesterday's shindig in Sioux City. A few thoughts:

  • The biggest surprise to me is that I liked Jon Huntsman. He has no chance, of course, but in some ways he's a better Romney than Romney. I would hope that if one of his adversaries does become president, Huntsman would have a role in the next administration.
  • Late in the debate, Michele Bachmann had a scrum with Newt Gingrich and after Newt brushed her aside, she asserted that she was a serious candidate. Bottom line:  if you have to make that assertion, you aren't a serious candidate. 
  • Rick Santorum is weird. Weird guys don't get elected president.
  • The Fox News folks gave Ron Paul the rope and, not surprisingly, he hanged himself. I understand what he's saying about people acting in their own interests, but the Iranian regime has been fighting a low-grade war against the United States since 1979. The Shah has been gone for over 30 years, so you have to question what motivates the regime. The Soviets wanted to rule the world, but Khrushchev, Brezhnev and the rest were, at bottom, rational actors. I'm not convinced the mullahs are. Beyond that, Paul comes across as a cranky old dude. Cranky old dudes don't get elected president, either. I understand he was very good in the first half of the debate, but in the part I saw he was awful.
  • Rick Perry seems to have righted himself, but I think his moment has passed. His answer about the 10th Amendment was excellent, though.
  • Mitt Romney looks the part, and he might do better in the general election than he will in the primary. The problem is that he has to get through the primary. He has to spend a lot of time explaining why he has changed his positions over the years and he's had a lot of positions. It's hard to play offense when you're constantly on defense.
  • Newt Gingrich is really, really good at soundbites. He's brimming with ideas. He'd be a great dinner guest. I just don't see him as president, though. We're going to need someone with a plan and a consistent vision, and the discipline to stay after it. Newt can't help himself with the spitballing. Unless he had an extraordinarily good cabinet and a chief of staff who could keep him on task and on topic, he'd be a disaster.
Bottom line? I'm still not convinced that any of these individuals is really ready to be president. Still, one of them has to be, because the Obama administration is a train wreck. Once we get through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, the field will be winnowed and it's possible that one of the candidates will look better.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

NR Nixes Newt

It was not that long ago when National Review was the go-to source for conservatives. My father had a subscription to NR for most of his life.

The key to NR was that William F. Buckley was at the helm. He was, for better or worse, the closest thing the conservative movement had to a true spokesman among the chattering classes. Buckley was one of the last of the public intellectuals and he enjoyed the jousting. NR also featured some interesting writers who weren't necessarily there for polemics, including the perceptive critic Terry Teachout and the acerbic back page columnist, Florence King.

What Buckley was never able to do, though, was find a successor. Buckley is gone, of course. And for me, National Review has been a dicey proposition for a long time now. I read the online version from time to time, but the writers it employs these days aren't appreciably better than what is available elsewhere.

That said, NR still has a strong presence on the conservative scene and it has now offered its view on the campaign. And we are told that Newt Gingrich should be straight out:

During his time as Speaker, he was one of the most unpopular figures in public life. Just a few months ago his campaign seemed dead after a series of gaffes and resignations. That Gingrich now tops the polls is a tribute to his perseverance, and to Republicans’ admiration for his intellectual fecundity.

Both qualities served conservatives well in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Gingrich, nearly alone, saw the potential for a Republican takeover of Congress and worked tirelessly to bring it about. Even before the takeover, Gingrich helped to solidify the party’s opposition to tax increases and helped to defeat the Clinton health-care plan. The victory of 1994 enabled the passage of welfare reform, the most successful social policy of recent decades.

Gingrich’s colleagues were, however, right to bring his tenure to an end. His character flaws — his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas — made him a poor Speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.

Hard to argue with any of that, but I wonder if the words will mean much in the current environment. Newt is doing well for one reason only -- he's the only candidate out there that seems to have the throw weight to slug it out with Barack Obama. To the extent that I have been paying attention, it seems like the goal of the entire campaign has been to get the unruly rank and file to learn to love Mitt Romney. The problem is that Mitt isn't especially lovable. NR's editors say this:

Governor Romney won our endorsement last time, in part because some of the other leading candidates were openly hostile to important elements of conservatism. He is highly intelligent and disciplined, and he takes conservative positions on all the key issues. We still think he would make a fine president, but time and ceaseless effort have not yet overcome conservative voters’ skepticism about the liberal aspects of his record and his managerial disposition.

That skepticism hasn't abated thus far. If anything, it's increased. As a practical matter, Mitt Romney has been running for president for at least six years now and, if anything, he's farther away from making the sale today than he was at this point in 2008. That's not a failure to communicate. That's a failure to show the leadership he supposedly has.

I know Barack Obama has to go. But I'm not sure that any Republicans in the race are ready to deal with the horrific mess they would face in 2013.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where's the Money, Jon?

The MF Global debacle is getting more interesting by the moment. The hearings concerning what happened to customer money are not exactly shedding much light on the matter, either:

Terrence Duffy, executive chairman of CME Group, told a Senate hearing that an MF Global staffer told one of his employees that Corzine knew $175 million the firm loaned to a European affiliate came from segregated customer accounts.

Duffy said CME Group provided the information to the Department of Justice, which is pursuing a criminal investigation into the eighth-largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Corzine has twice testified under oath that he was not aware customer funds were missing until Oct. 30, just before the firm's collapse.

Corzine, in case you didn't know, is Jon Corzine, the heavyweight veteran of Wall Street who was incidentally once a senator and governor for the state of New Jersey. CME, in case you didn't know, is the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The CME is where many of the agricultural commodities in the country are sold. And it turns out that a lot of the missing customer account monies belonged to farmers in the Midwest, including one guy the Star Tribune happens to mention:

Among those who are missing money is Minnesota farmer Dean Tofteland. He didn't mince words about what he thinks happened to $253,000 he had deposited in his futures and options account at the bankrupt brokerage.

"Commingling money is stealing money," Tofteland told members of the Agriculture Committee earlier in the day.

Tofteland, who raises wheat, corn and pigs in Luverne, stressed his sense of betrayal as he waits to see if he will recover the $253,000, plus another $100,000 he lost when he was forced to liquidate hedges held at MF Global.

"These funds were not an investment in MF Global," Tofteland told committee members, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who invited him to testify. "These funds were not a loan to MF Global. These funds were simply collateral required by the exchange as a guarantee for my promise to deliver the bushels that I priced."

Meanwhile, Corzine is into omerta:

As he did last week in the House hearing, Corzine offered no explanation of where the missing money went. Nor did Bradley Abelow, MF Global's president and chief operating officer, or Henri Steenkamp, the chief financial officer of MF Global Holdings Ltd. Both appeared with Corzine before the Senate panel.

Several senators grew openly frustrated with the trio's inability to answer questions or to give the names of individuals who could.

There's a much larger story here. We don't know the particulars, but we're going to find out soon enough. And there will be a lot more people than Dean Tofteland who are hurt.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

6 Years Ago Today

I was on my lunch hour. At the time, I was working for Bank of America and, while I didn't realize it at the time, the big financial bubble was about to burst, with implications that have bedeviled us ever since. I enjoyed my job as a financial analyst, but BofA had decided to close its location in the Twin Cities and consolidate operations on the West Coast. I was faced with a potentially life-changing decision:  do I stay with BofA and move my family to Portland, Oregon, or do I accept a severance package and stay in Minnesota?

When faced with a life-changing decision, you have to do some critical thinking. You have to weigh your options, consider the financial impact and the wishes of your children. You have to imagine how different your life would be. So I had a lot on my mind that day. And what did I do?

I started a blog. This blog.

As it turned out, starting a blog was as much of a life-changing decision as anything else I was contemplating that day. Over the course of six years, a total of 2,787 posts have appeared in this space. I've written most of them, with some assistance from my family. I've chronicled family events and the passing scene. And I've met some wonderful people.

Rather a lot has happened in the last six years. I ended up taking the severance and it took a long time to find a good job, although I did, eventually, not long before the bottom fell out on a lot of other people, including many of my BofA colleagues. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and got to meet neurosurgeons and endocrinologists. My kids have charged through their childhoods into adolescence. And the Packers have gone from being a 4-12 footwipe to a Super Bowl championship.

It's difficult to imagine what the world will look like in six years, given the amount of tumult we have seen since that quiet afternoon in 2005. I suspect the pace of change will only increase and that the challenges ahead will be especially daunting. The world doesn't seem nearly so happy in 2011 as it did in 2005. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if things look better in six years. And I fully expect to write another navel-gazer on the blog's 12th anniversary.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Home Truth

The great P. J. O'Rourke on fairness:

Yes, it's upsetting that some people have so much while other people have so little. It isn't fair. But I accept this unfairness. Indeed, I treasure it. That's because I have a 13-year-old daughter And that's all I hear, "That's not fair," she says. "That's not fair! That's not fair!" And one day I snapped, and I said, "Honey, you're cute, that's not fair. Your family is pretty well off, that's not fair. You were born in America, that's not fair. Darling, you had better get down on your knees and pray that things don't start getting fair for you."


This has become a story in recent days, because Newt Gingrich brought it up. He asserts that the Palestinians are an invented people and that the term has only been in general use since 1977.

I remember 1977 and I'm pretty sure that Newt is right. But it falls under the "true, but irrelevant" category. We are now nearly 35 years on from 1977 and things have changed. There will be, and must be, a Palestinian state of some sort in the future. What it looks like is still open to debate. The converse is also true. There has been a Jewish state called Israel since 1948. It must exist, too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Still Not Interested

I believe they had the 437th presidential debate in this cycle last night. From what I can tell, the sole purpose of these enterprises is to provide usable soundbites for the Obama campaign.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Getting Ready for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Edition

You know it's that time of year. The time of year when we start rolling out the crappy bowl games. In recent years we've honored the EagleBank Bowl and the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, but again this year we have some fine new bowl games to mock. Like the tradition-laden Belk Bowl, or the hugely popular Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. First question: what the heck is a Belk? Second question: who cares?

Actually, I know what a Belk is. It's a chain of department stores in the South. Apparently they beat out Herberger's for the honor. And I would like to again acknowledge how much I miss the Bowl.

Old dude, I'm never less than amazed at your command of completely useless information. I don't bother with that stuff, though. Because my job is to pick games with great style and bring the HYYYYYYYPPPPPPE! So let's get down to it. Watch me work:

Minnesota Ponders (NL) vs. Detroit Motor City Kitties. There's no line on this game because no one is certain whether Adrian Peterson and/or Christian Ponder will be able to play in this particular game. We do know that Ndamukong Suh will be watching the game from behind the wheel of his smashed-up car somewhere in mysterious Portland, Oregon. I'll bet Chrysler is thrilled to have him for a spokesman by the way. The Vikings are in total freefall and will get destroyed, I imagine, especially if they end up trotting out Joe Webb or Parsley Sage Rosenfels. Lions 24, Vikings 3.

I dunno. The thing about the Lions is that they are punks. That much has been established in recent weeks, as they seem to be especially good at losing their composure. I saw where Jared Allen said some disparaging things about the Motor City the other day, which is the sort of thing that will get people riled up all over again. I suspect that Allen is trying to mess with the Lions and their fans. Will it work? It could, but given that the Vikings might end up trotting out Alfred Anderson and Spergeon Wynn before the game is over, it doesn't augur well for the Purple. Lions 27, Vikings 14.

Bear Down Chicago da Bearz (+3 1/2) vs. Denver Tebows. So it's da Bearz versus the quarterback who seems to be the personal emissary of the Lord Himself. Talk about your morality play, good versus evil thing! Yeah, this is gonna be a game with a lot of fervor. The Broncos have been led by their overrated quarterback, but mostly they're really winning because of their defense, which has been mostly outstanding for the last two months. Tebow is decent, but let's face it; you can't win in the NFL long-term playing with a college option quarterback. After all, who could forget the great NFL careers of Jack Mildren and Jerry Tagge, right? Okay, those dudes played in college about 25 years before I was born, but I've seen the footage on ESPN Classic. And from what I can tell, Tim Tebow is exactly like them, except with a better haircut. In fact, Tebow Time will not come this week. Da Bears 21, Tebow Time 17.

Ya know, I was kinda thinking the same thing, but I'm required to disagree with you on at least one game, so I guess I'll have to go with the Broncos. What makes this decision easier is that the Bears are going with Caleb Hanie, who is playing more like Mr. Haney on Green Acres these days. Bears fans all over the world are pining for Jay Cutler right about now. Riddle me this: how many felt that way after the NFC Championship Game last year? Funny how our perceptions can change over the course of a calendar year, huh? Denver 17, Chicago 9.

Oakland Raiduhs (+11) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. The Raiders are coming back to Green Bay in December. The last time they were in Green Bay in December, Leroy Butler invented the Lambeau Leap. This was before I was born, but I've seen the video. The Raiders have been back to Green Bay since then, but it's always been in warmer weather. The early forecast for Sunday is that it's going to be cold. I sat through a cold game at Lambeau last year and it's actually a lot of fun. But not if you're the opposing team. The Raiders are going in without their top offensive threat, Darren McFadden, and that's not a good thing when your only hope to win is to outscore the Packers. Well, that's not gonna happen. Packers 28, Raiders 10.

When we were there that cold December day, the Packers scored 45 points on the Giants. Could they score 45 on the Raiders? They could. But I'll settle for one touchdown less. Packers 38, Raiders 24.

I am really getting excited about that Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, but that's a pick for next week. Ben out!

Albert's Bridge

Just a quick observation:

Albert Pujols is leaving the St. Louis Cardinals to play for the California Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and will get $254 over 10 years for doing so.

For the privilege of playing in Anaheim, he will pay, at minimum, a state income tax rate of 10.3%. Had he stayed in Missouri, he'd have paid somewhat less, 6%. Had he gone to Miami, he'd have paid no state income tax.

It's hardly surprising that so many athletes want to play in Miami these days.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

At the Dilettante BPOU

The scene: the dining room table at Chez Dilettante, a guarded location somewhere in the northern suburbs. A gathering is taking place among the team members of the Mr. Dilettante's Neighborhood blog, a successful non-profit enterprise that occasionally breaks triple digits on the Sitemeter, but only when one of the bloggers insults either the Minnesota Vikings or songwriter Eric Carmen. A conversation ensues:

Mr. D: Thanks to everyone for coming out this evening.

Fearless Maria: C'mon, Dad. We live here and it's cold outside. Where else were we supposed to go?

Mr. D: Okay, that's a fair point. The reason I've asked all of you to join me this evening is that we have an opportunity to participate in a grand civic endeavor.

Benster: Am I in trouble?

Mr. D: Not so far as I know. Why do you ask?

Benster: Decrepit, I'm 16 years old. Every waking moment could be grounds for my arrest at this point.

Fearless Maria: You sound a little paranoid, Benster. Then again, maybe you have reason to be.

Mr. D: Anyway, as I was saying, we have a chance to participate in an august political tradition. You may have heard that acting Secretary of State For Life Learned Foot has called for a new mayoral election for the MOB.

Fearless Maria: I've heard about that, Dad! It means you get to preside over the MOB as a benevolent despot. And then really old people with marginal social skills make fun of you.

Mr. D: You've been reading ahead, haven't you?

Fearless Maria: I'm not on the honor roll in middle school for nothing, Dad. I pay attention to things.

Benster: I'm in high school so I hang out with a lot of people with marginal social skills. This doesn't sound too hard to me. Do you need any particular credentials?

Mr. D: Well, based on the roster of previous mayors, it doesn't appear that you do.

Fearless Maria: Is it true that becoming mayor of the MOB affects your ability to spell properly? I heard about that Andee Applecowskee guy. I don't want to get in trouble with my fellow citizens I would serve!

Mr. D: I don't think you'll have any trouble with that. In fact, your spelling ability would be a real plus.

Fearless Maria: So, are you going to run, Dad? I know you're pretty power-hungry these days.

Mr. D: No, I don't think so. I'd rather be the power behind the throne.

Benster: Well, maybe I should run. I could use a few meaningless credentials to add to my college applications in a few years. Who are the potential candidates?

Mr. D: I'm pretty sure that most of the nominations thus far aren't serious. Someone nominated a blogger named Karl Bremer who isn't even a member of the MOB.

Fearless Maria: Well, who is he, then?

Mr. D: He's a guy with a mustache who lives in Stillwater and spends a lot of his time writing nasty things about Michele Bachmann.

Benster: Wait, a guy with a mustache who writes nasty things about Michele Bachmann? That sounds like Eric Black.

Mr. D: I could see how you'd make that mistake, Benster. The only difference is that Eric Black combs his hair a little more often.

Fearless Maria: Who cares about either of those guys? Is anyone else running?

Mr. D: It's hard to tell, Maria. The other nominees are a woman named Dog Gone and the intestinal tract of a University of Minnesota professor.

Fearless Maria: Wait, how could the intestinal tract of a professor run for mayor? Wouldn't the rest of him have to run, too?

Mr. D: Presumably, although it's been suggested that the intestinal tract would run as a ticket with Dog Gone.

Benster: Well, Fearless Maria likes dogs a lot. Maybe this Dog Gone would be okay.

Fearless Maria: And Benster likes eating a lot, which usually ends up involving intestines, so maybe this Dog Gone/intestinal tract ticket would work!

Mr. D: I suppose, but I've had the sneaking suspicion that this race needs an actual candidate.

Benster: You're not trying to get me to run for mayor against an intestinal tract, are you Decrepit?

Mr. D: Well...

Fearless Maria: Dad, actually that's kinda gross. I mean, really kinda gross. But then again, if this is just a fake candidate...

Benster: What it sounds like is that this race needs a little bit of HYYYYYYYPPPPPPPE!

Mr. D: Well, it needs something.

Fearless Maria: Maybe it needs some logical style advice and intelligence.

Mr. D: I'm sure of that, Maria. I've seen how some of these people dress and they do look like the road crew for Slade.

Fearless Maria: I dunno, though. I'm still in middle school and I'm not sure that I'm ready for the honor. Have you thought about drafting Uncle Stinger?

Mr. D: I thought about that, but Stinger hasn't written anything for the blog in nearly a year.

Benster: Yeah, but Johnny Roosh hasn't written anything for at least two years and he's been the mayor the whole time. I think Uncle Stinger's work ethic might be comparable.

Fearless Maria: Hey, Dad, if we came to talk here about Mayor of the MOB, and we're thinking about nominating Uncle Stinger, why didn't you invite him over? I feel like I'm missing something here.

Mr. D: Uncle Stinger's kinda busy these days. It really needs to be one of us, I think.

Fearless Maria: What about Mrs. D?

Mr. D: Nominating Mrs. D to be mayor of the MOB might be grounds for a divorce.

Benster: Well, that wouldn't be good. I love Mom and I do need someone to remind me to clean my room.

Fearless Maria: Stop it, stop it! I don't like where this is going! Bring it back to reality, twerps!

Mr. D: I assume you mean, "dear brother and dear father," right?

Fearless Maria: Yes, my dear father. But you have to admit, that was pretty twerpy.

Mr. D: Hard to argue the point, Maria. But anyway, where does that leave us?

Fearless Maria: Well, I guess I could present my credentials. I'm an "A" honor roll student, a member of the Art Club and I received 3rd place in the Barnes and Noble poetry contest last year. And I take pre-algebra, so my financial skills are going to be far superior to any of the other candidates.

Benster: Well, I'm a high school student and noted football prognosticator. I pretty much kick this guy's butt every week with my picks. And considering his blog is supposed to be humorous, I've told a lot more jokes than he has lately. And I've never actually met Sisyphus.

Mr. D: You've never met Sisyphus? That might be enough to clinch it right there. So who should our candidate be?

Fearless Maria: I suppose I could, Dad. But I want to be modest. Maybe you should be it, Dad!

Mr. D: Naah. What about you, Benster?

Benster: Well, I would like to add that meaningless credential. And certainly I should be able to beat out someone's intestinal tract. But I'm afraid it would cut into my NBA 2K11 time too much. I think Fearless Maria should do it, unless you can talk Brad Carlson into the job.

Fearless Maria: I don't think Brad would do it, Benster. He's too serious to do that. Can we nominate Gino, even though he lives in California?

Mr. D: I don't think so.

Fearless Maria: I guess you're right, Dad. He'll have to run for mayor of the COB. And Gino, if you're reading this, make sure to bring some corn.

Mr. D: Well, if Benster won't do it, and Gino can't do it, and the Stinger is hors de combat, that leaves you, Fearless Maria. Can you do the job?

Fearless Maria: All right, Dad. I'll do it. I'll do it for the MOB. I'll do it for the good of mankind! I'll do it for the cause of justice and decency! I'll do it for the dogs! Maybe once I cash my first mayoral paycheck, I can buy my own dog! Yippee doodah hooray!

Mr. D: Okay, it's settled then. Fearless Maria is our candidate. And every candidate needs a theme song:

Fearless Maria: Dad, I don't really like that song. Can I write my own song instead?

Mr. D: Sure, Maria. So your hat is in the ring?

Fearless Maria: I guess so, but don't make me throw my softball hat. That's special to me.

Benster: Sounds good, Maria. Now I have to write an attack ad against that intestinal tract. I'll just pretend it's part of the BCS. Ben out!

Almighty Dollar

Without directly stating it, Ann Althouse makes an important point about the role of money in campaigns, including the current effort to recall Scott Walker in Wisconsin:

Work for pay is honorable, even in politics. A political campaign isn't carried out entirely through volunteers. But money in politics matters. In fact, Scott Walker's antagonists lambaste him for his connection to monied interests. Some folks stress getting the money out of politics. They rail about Citizens United and so forth. That's one way to go, the wrong way I think, because it's not going to work and it violates freedom of speech. But part of freedom of speech — key to the majority's opinion in Citizens United — is the public's interest in receiving information. In this light, what is crucial when it comes to money in politics is that we the public receive information about who's spending the money and where.

Thus, what I want is to know to what extent signature-gatherers are being paid. Who is being paid, how much, and by whom? I want to follow the money.

I do, too. I've long suspected that the reason why so many liberals, especially those who rail against the Citizens United decision, object to "money in politics" is just that letting everyone, including corporate interests, participate equally makes the job of liberals tougher to accomplish.

The other question that needs asking beyond "who's spending the money and where" is the question that never seems to get asked: why? What do Scott Walker's opponents hope to gain from a recall? The obvious answers are more money out of the public treasury and the ability to keep that money flowing. Which brings us to the governor on this side of the St. Croix, Mark Dayton. The Star Tribune reports that Dayton isn't impressed with the forecasted budget surplus in Minnesota:

Projections of a surplus rather than a deficit may have caught Gov. Mark Dayton by surprise, but that doesn't mean he's giving up on his signature issue of taxing the rich.

"I'm not dropping that," Dayton said of his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. "We will come in with it as the lead in to the 2013 session, regardless of the outcome of the election."

I'm sure he's sincere about this. Which is why this election cycle will be so crucial for Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Vikings to Arden Hills? XXVII - Mostly Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I've written about the Vikings stadium issue rather a lot this year and because so little real news came out of yesterday's kabuki, I almost let it pass without comment. But there are two things that are new, so we return to the topic.

The biggest story is that the Vikings expanded their threat to leave:

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team has heard from two cities seeking an NFL team -- Los Angeles and another he would not identify. "I would let that city speak for themselves,'' Bagley said.
Where would that be? It's difficult to think of a U.S. market other than Los Angeles that isn't currently served. But it's worth remembering that the NFL has long been trying to reach markets outside of the United States. Would you rule out Toronto? Or Mexico City? I wouldn't. It's long been suspected that the Buffalo Bills might move to Toronto some day and it's been an open secret that the NFL would like to establish a base for operations in Canada. And while we often think of Mexico as a complete mess, there's plenty of money in Mexico City.

The second newsworthy piece is that an Ojibwe tribe is offering to get involved if they can get a casino out of the deal:

The committee also heard testimony on benefits and drawbacks of various gambling options and on use of public funds. Erma Vizenor of the White Earth Tribal Council pitched a proposal to build a tribal casino near the new stadium to benefit the tribe and help pay for the stadium.

Politically, this is where it gets interesting. The White Earth band is one of the largest in Minnesota and would love to have a casino closer to the metro area, but the Sioux tribes that operate Mystic Lake and Treasure Island would fight another casino tooth and nail. The metro area tribes give a lot of money to politicians in St. Paul, especially DFLers. That alone likely makes Vizenor's proposal a nonstarter, but it exposes some interesting political fault lines.

Not surprisingly, the Star Tribune buried the ledes in favor of plumping for the non-news aspect of the story, which is that R.T. Agonistes has decided that the Metrodome site is the best bet for a Minneapolis bid. We get the same litany of nonfactors that supposedly benefit the site:

Rybak said the presence of one (and eventually two) light-rail lines at the Metrodome and its lower costs compared to Arden Hills make the current home of the Vikings the best place for a new stadium. Proposals for sites at the farmers market and near the Basilica of St. Mary remain in the running, Rybak said, but will not have the city's official support.

"The bottom line is, we are prepared with existing revenue streams to put $300 million on the table,'' Rybak told senators, who heard 5 1/2 hours of testimony on stadium plans and ways to pay for them. Rybak acknowledged the revenue -- from city liquor, sales and lodging taxes -- is now dedicated to the Minneapolis Convention Center and may not be sufficient in the early years of the stadium project.

He said the Vikings' desire for activities outside the stadium led Minneapolis to consider ways to use the privately owned armory as an "event center field house, the centerpoint of a new game-day experience'' for the team's fans. In addition, he said, unspecified changes along 4th and 5th Streets between the stadium and armory could improve the fan experience.
Again, I point out that the Vikings don't give a damn about light rail and Rybak is still writing checks on other people's accounts, especially concerning the revenue streams. As for the Armory, unless the Vikings and the city can figure out a way to clear $1 million a game from concessions there, which would represent the money the Vikings would give up if they don't get their giant parking lot in Arden Hills, it won't matter.

After two meetings, nothing has really changed. The Vikings want what they want. It's up to Minnesotans to decide if they are willing to pay the price.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Lightning Round - 120611

Time is short:

  • I don't typically like judges imposing themselves into public policy, but the judge that stopped Mark Dayton's rush move to unionize day care workers did everyone a favor. There is no reason to believe that unionizing day cares does anything except provide an additional revenue stream for the unions. The judge suggested that the legislature might want to weigh in on the matter. And it certainly does.
  • The latest polling suggests that Ron Paul has passed Mitt Romney among potential supporters in Iowa. While I continue to believe there isn't a chance in hell that Ron Paul will ever be president, some of his arguments, especially those concerning the economy, do make a lot of sense. I actually preferred Romney in 2008, but in this cycle things look rather different and his technocratic style seems out of touch with the times. I suspect that events are in going to be in the saddle in 2012.
  • There's a lot that's wrong with college football right now. And the decision to put LSU and Alabama in the national championship game will not sit well with too many people outside of the southeast and the professional sports commentariat. Having said that, I have minimal sympathy for Boise State, which got shut out of the process again, because the entire thing revolves around something that Boise State can't really provide -- money. More people would rather see the Michigan Wolverines play in a major bowl game than care to see the plucky squad from Idaho. And the Michigan fan base can fill the stands in Louisiana much more easily than Boise State. That's just how it is.