Thursday, May 31, 2012

Home Truth


I want you to be better Kurt Bills. You are the nominee. You are the defacto face of our party now as our statewide candidate this cycle. This means a lot of us are counting on you and from time to time, we will get upset. Its going to happen again, and trust me, its not going to be nearly as bad as what the Democrats and friends in the media will do and say about you. So grow some skin, find a strong footing, and get your campaign up to speed.

My sentiments exactly.

Across the St. Croix

The recall election for Scott Walker is coming to a conclusion. I would expect additional polling to come out in the next day or so, but the average from Real Clear Politics shows that Walker is comfortably ahead of his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And, for what it's worth, the wise guys at Intrade put Walker's reelection chances at better than 90%. As I write, the number is 95.3%, but it fluctuates and if you happen to click the link, chances are it will be different.

It's fairly easy to understand what's happening, although sometimes you need a guide. If you are looking for a professional pundit's view, here's some advice -- don't listen to E. J. Dionne, who made this howler of an assertion:

At this point, preferring Barrett, an affable moderate liberal, to the conservative firebrand Walker is reason enough to vote the incumbent out, but the broader case for recall is important.

Now, your mileage may vary in terms of Barrett's affability and moderation, but to call Walker a firebrand is ridiculous. If anything, he's a bit boring on the stump, as anyone who has ever listened to a Walker speech could tell you. He has passed a number of major changes, but the word "firebrand" connotes someone who is militant and uncompromising in both actions and rhetoric. Scott Walker is no John Brown. If anything, he's kinda beige.

You can read the rest of Dionne's screed at the link, which rehashes the same arguments you've heard a million times concerning Walker's supposed evil ways. Either you'll find it compelling or you won't.

My own view hasn't changed much. Walker has changed the landscape in Wisconsin. There's no question of that. Even before all the drama began, I thought it would be an interesting to compare how Wisconsin and Minnesota compare in 2014, when Walker and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton will theoretically face the voters. Add in what's happening in Illinois these days, and we should have a good basis for comparison.

I'm pretty confident in making at least two predictions:

  • Wisconsin will be sitting in better shape than Minnesota in 2014, primarily because of Scott Walker's reforms; and
  • About the only thing Mark Dayton will have accomplished is ramming through a stadium for a billionaire
I also expect that Illinois will be coming hat in hand to the federal government for a bailout, which will not be forthcoming.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No Joke

When I was a kid, we always told Polish jokes, but ever since we witnessed the courage of the Polish people in standing up to the Soviet Union, and the amazing papacy of the man born Karol Wojtyla, most people have stopped picking on the Poles.

While I don't think what Barack Obama said yesterday was meant as an intentional slur, he's been in a lot of trouble for it today. And now the pressure is on:

Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said Wednesday he had written a personal letter to President Barack Obama urging him to do more to correct the record after Obama referred to "a Polish death camp" in a White House ceremony on Tuesday.

"I hope we will jointly act to make up for this unfortunate mistake. I believe that every error, every mistake can be corrected if it is given adequate consideration," Komorowski said in remarks posted on his official website.

It's important to be precise, especially if you are President of the United States, and this is an example where a misstatement can become something much bigger. While it is true that the most infamous of Nazi death camps, Auschwitz, is located in territory that is part of Poland, it is clearly wrong to suggest that it was in any way a Polish enterprise.

For his part, Obama sent out his usual surrogate, Press Secretary Jay Carney, to discuss the matter:

"He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland," Obama's press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing on Wednesday.

"And as we've made clear, we regret the misstatement and that simple misstatement should not at all detract from the clear intention to honor Mr. Karski, and beyond that, all those brave Polish citizens who stood on the side of human dignity in the face of tyranny," Carney said.
I believe Carney. However, what follows is problematic:

Asked whether Obama had plans to reach out to Polish leaders, Carney demurred. 
Now is not the time to demur. Writing in the Daily Beast, David Frum explains why:

Many of the Nazi death camps were located inside the territory that is now Poland, yes. But it was not Poland in 1942. Poland then was a conquered and enslaved territory. If we are to identify the killers by nationality—rather than by their Nazi ideology as would be most appropriate—then the camps were German, German, German: ordered into being by Germans, designed by Germans, fulfilling a German plan of murder. When they found local thugs to guard the victims and run the killing machinery, even those low-level wretches were very rarely Polish by language or self-conception: they were more typically Ukrainian, because many Ukrainians—with their own sufferings at the hands of Josef Stalin's Soviet regime fresh in mind—were willing to act as German allies in a war that was advertised as a war against the Bolshevism that had starved their fathers, mothers, and children to death in the early 1930s. But Poles? As a Polish friend of mine once bitterly put it, "The Germans despised us so much, they did not even want us as collaborators."
This is true -- the quintessential example of this phenomenon is the case of John Demjanjuk, who was implicated in the deaths of thousands of Jews at another camp located in Poland, Sobibor. Demjanjuk was a Ukranian. Frum also offers an example of how awful using the term "Polish death camp" really is:

You may say the Poles are over-sensitive. One might as well say that Americans are under-sensitive. The U.S. has had such a comparatively happy history that it's hard to think of a domestic analogy that would capture what Poles feel when the worst crimes of their worst oppressors are attributed—not to the authors—but to them. "The Hawaiian sneak attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor" is a pathetically inadequate approximation, but at least it gets the grammar of the insult. "The Belgian massacre of U.S. prisoners at Malmedy"? No, still not it. Aside from being morally inadequate, such analogies also miss the moral intensity of World War II for Poles. Their war did not end until 1989: they continue to live more intimately with the war's legacy even now, more than almost any other European nation. The medal to Karski was to be part of the process of laying painful memories to rest. It was intended too to strengthen the US-Polish relations that the Obama administration has frayed in pursuit of its "reset" with Russia. Instead, this administration bungled everything: past, present, and future.
Indeed. Now is not the time to demur. Now is the time to apologize. To do anything less would be to add injury to insult.

Eric Black Grinds His Axe

Kurt Bills is the likely GOP standard-bearer to run against Amy Klobuchar for the Senate this year. And Eric Black is not happy about it, it would seem:

State Rep. Kurt Bills, the presumptive Repub nominee for the U.S. Senate, has begun giving interviews (although not to me, despite repeated requests, which I continue to send to his campaign), but Bills continues to avoid giving clear answers to basic questions about his issue positions.

Eric Black is not going to be ignored, you see. Note to Eric -- public whining won't help your cause.

Since Black can't get his "get," he's forced to rely on other people's questions, in this case the questions of Cathy Wurzer and the more fortunate Eric, Eric Eskola.

Bills is asked to discuss differences between himself and Ron Paul. Black finds the discussion wanting:

Rep. Kurt Bills: Yuh, I think you have to look at, again, you agree on fiscal and monetary policy. But you also have to look at foreign policy and be very thoughtful about it. But then also have to bring your own positions to the table as well. Having a strong national defense is very important to me. But then I think it also is to the congressman. And how do you look at foreign aid? And can we just cap foreign aid at some level like Senator Jim DeMint and Sen. Mike Lee and Senator Rand Paul put out? So it’s how can you work with people, stay at the table and keep discussing things.
Black starts a snarkin':

Let’s pause here. That’s a full paragraph answer. What differences between his views and Rep. Paul’s has he specified? I score zero. For a second there, it sounded like he was going to declare some difference on military spending, but he ended up with the utterly vacuous statement that a “strong national defense” is “very important” to both himself and Rep. Paul.
Thanks for keeping score, Mr. Black. Further on, we get this:

Eskola: He’s for changing the U.S. relationship with Israel. I wonder what your view is on the U.S. relationship with Israel.

Bills: I think we’re a strong supporter of Israel when we don’t fund their enemies. When we don’t send foreign aid to countries like Egypt, we just sent $1.3 billion and a load of military equipment to Egypt last month. And that’s where I think we have to more thoughtful.

Which brings on more snark:

OK, we get it. Bills favors thoughtfulness (you’ll find that word in his first answer as well). The question was: Should the United States change its relationship with Israel? Bills says that he would cut off (or perhaps just reduce) the aid Washington sends to Egypt, a step that, so far as I know, Israel does not favor. And he identifies as one of Israel’s “enemies” a country that broke the Pan-Arab ban on peace and diplomatic relations with Israel in 1979 and has maintained a cold peace and semi-cooperative relations ever since.

We're a long way past 1979 and you might want to ask the Muslim Brotherhood about that, but we'll leave that aside for the moment. Official Scorer Black must rule on the play:

For lack of an opportunity to ask a follow-up question, one might take this non-answer as an effort to avoid addressing the politically fraught issue of whether Bills would – as Ron Paul does – favor a dramatic reduction in U.S. aid to Israel despite the tremendous support on the Republican right for that relationship.

Anyway, in term of describing his position on how (or whether) the United States should change its bilateral relationship with Israel, I would have to score this one a nullity as well. But we did learn that he wants to cut off aid to Egypt.
Later on, Agent Black finds another answer wanting:

Now it seems that Bills, who said in April that he favors ending the Fed, has backed off. But, again, if you read it closely, Bills didn’t quite say that, only implied it. I don’t pretend to be reading Wurzer’s mind, but this seemed to be one area on which she was not willing to settle for an implicit answer, and it turns out to be a good thing she didn’t because when she sought final clarity…

Wurzer: So it sounds like you’ve changed your mind from that April forum to now. Sounds like that’s been a bit of a change for you?

Bills: No, I also think that you can have free market banking. We had a Suffolk system from 1824 till 1858 in this country that worked. It wasn’t actually a system, it was a free market bank that handled the same characteristics that the fed has now, and instead of being the lender of last resort, the Suffolk system used market discipline to handle our monetary policy so I think we see a huge diversity within our United States history of money and banking that we could meld into if that’s part of the process over the next six years.

Black snarks again, but then makes a telling admission:

Now, one could try to construct a clear answer out of all this on Bills’ views on the Fed. If I had to, I would say he favors abolishing the Fed, but not right away when the world financial system is fragile. So he would favor a change in the Fed’s mandate to eliminate the current language that asks the Fed to use its leverage over the money supply to promote lower unemployment. But in the long run, he would work as a senator to create a different set of circumstances that would make it possible to do away with the Fed entirely and go back to something that existed in the mid-19th century. (By the way, the “Suffolk system,” operated only in the New England states, which I guess could be reconciled with the sentence: “We had a Suffolk system from 1824 till 1858 in this country that worked.” But that’s just a detail. This monetary policy stuff is way above my comfort zone.)
Emphasis mine. So what to make of this? A few things, I think.

  • Bills will need to sharpen his game a little bit. He is talking about a lot of things in a short time and most people aren't going to have studied the Fed and its role very carefully. He can't assume that people will understand what he's saying, especially since most people are going to hear what he says through a Blackian filter.
  • If Bills is smart, he'll be able to use the animus he's going to face to his advantage. Black is a guy who has been covering politics for about 750 years and while he no longer enjoys his perch at the Star Tribune, he's still a pretty good representative of the sort of Praetorian Guard that will surround Amy Klobuchar. 
  • Now, I'm grateful to MinnPost, because they have been generous in publishing a fair amount of material from this blog over the past few years, but anyone who writes for MinnPost needs to understand this:  MinnPost don't reach a very big audience. Bills really doesn't gain much from talking to Eric Black, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he hasn't sat down for an interview yet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vaseline Dome -- The Star Tribune Files an After-Action Report

So what happened to the opponents of the Vikings stadium, anyway? The Star Tribune wonders and writer Eric Roper asks the question:

As they considered the Vikings stadium deal last week, Minneapolis City Council members could look out at an audience of workers wearing reflective construction jackets and fans clad in purple and horns.

What was missing: a crowd of citizens angry about the city spending hundreds of millions on a stadium without holding a referendum.
Roper even detected a hint of astroturf not associated with the Metrodome:

Although the issue deeply divided the council and city voters, progressive activists that propelled a stadium referendum requirement into the city charter 15 years ago were largely absent when the provision faced its first real test. Even signs that occasionally appeared at forums and hearings, "Stop Stadium Taxes," were recycled from an earlier stadium push in Anoka County.
I wasn't aware of a requirement to print new signs, but we'll leave that aside. Roper offers two views:

Dave Bicking, a progressive activist who has run for council, theorized outside the council chambers after the final vote that anti-stadium activists are disillusioned by many local decisions that have ignored public opinion.

"People are disgusted," Bicking said. "They aren't ready to show up. I'm discouraged from that standpoint. I'd like to see 1,000 angry people here. But I also understand where they're coming from."

Another City Hall regular who has run for council, Michael Katch, interjected with similar sentiments. "The term 'You can't fight City Hall'... I think they pretty much have accepted that as a reality," Katch said.

A few thoughts:

  • Katch is correct -- you couldn't fight City Hall in this instance. Once Sandra Colvin Roy flipped her vote, the thing was going to roll regardless of what the long-term effect is going to be.
  • Opposition to the plan came from both the political left and the right, of course. In Minneapolis, the right is not a factor in any event. Because of the composition of the political left, there wasn't much chance of consensus forming. The labor unions have a lot of power and the trades really wanted this project.
  • While there are a variety of reasons why the stadium should not be built, the primary problem is how shaky the financing is. People won't really begin to understand that until after the thing is built and the bills start to come due. By then, many of the people who made this decision will be gone anyway.
  • In the end, passing a resolution is not a substitute for governing. The reason the 1997 city charter change was a dead letter is simple:  it became easy to see that circumventing it would not have a high enough political price. Perhaps some of the council members who voted yes to the stadium will be defeated in the next round of elections, but I doubt that will happen.
  • Sometimes you lose.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

The image I've posted is of an American cemetery in France, near Verdun. These graves are for soldiers killed in World War I. There are nearly 15,000 graves at the site. Over 53,000 Americans died in combat in World War I and 116,000 Americans in total died as a result. My grandfather fought in World War I and was able to survive. He was one of the lucky ones. And so am I.

My grandfather died in 1959, before I was born. I never did get a chance to know him, or to thank him for his service. He did get 40 more years, time enough to marry and raise a family that included my father. I don't doubt that each of these crosses represents a man who would have loved to have 40 more years to do the things my grandfather was able to do.

We remember those who gave their all on this day precisely because of the enormity of the sacrifice they made. Every one of these crosses represents a human life that was cut short, a dream unrealized. We owe these individuals our gratitude in ways that we cannot adequately express.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I hadn't changed the look of the blog for over a year now, so it seemed like time to do something a little different. One thing I've noticed is that most blogs are now going to a white background with black text, rather than reversing texts. I suspect that's more readable and so I thought I'd try it. Let me know if you like the new look.

I also updated a few links that had gone bad. Will probably do more of this in the coming days, as there are some blogs that now appear to be moribund and others that I find myself reading more often and are worth recommending. Keep watching the sidebar.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

An auspicious start

Found on the ol' Facebook:

Not sure what "libery" is, but it might have something to do with the tyranny of proofreading.

Line of the day

John Hinderaker:

What must Obama’s left-wing supporters make of his re-election campaign? No doubt they still trust him for the same reason they always have: they think he is lying. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Things That Make You Go Choom

David Maraniss, biographer of Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, now presents us with a new look at The Leader of the Free World, and ABC News has one amusing anecdote:

Maraniss portrays the teenage Obama as not just a pot smoker, but a pot-smoking innovator.

“As a member of the Choom Gang,” Maraniss writes, “Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends.”

The first Obama-inspired trend: “Total Absorption” or “TA”.

“TA was the opposite of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled,” explains Maraniss. Here’s how it worked: If you exhaled prematurely when you were with the Choom Gang, “you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.”

As one of Obama’s old high school buddies tells Maraniss: “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated.”

There's more at the link, including other Obama-related dope smokin' innovations and a discussion of the array of choices that an enterprising young smoker might enjoy:

Hawaii of the early 1970s [sic] was something of a pot-smoking Mecca.

“It was sold and smoked right there in front of your nose; Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, Kona Gold, and other local variations of pakalolo were readily available,” writes Maraniss.
I'm going to assume that ABC News meant the late 70s, because if Obama was smokin' dope in the early 70s, that would mean he was a tokin' pre-teen, which seems unlikely.

A couple of observations:

  • I'm a fan of Maraniss, especially of his outstanding biographies of Lombardi and Clemente, both heroes of my childhood. While his biography of Clinton wasn't necessarily an authorized biography, it wasn't necessarily unfriendly, either. You wouldn't have to be a conspiracy theorist to find the timing of this book a little interesting.
  • Ordinarily I wouldn't much care about what Obama did over 30 years ago, any more than I cared about what Mitt Romney did over 45 years ago. But there's another dimension to this story that should anger people. Simply stated, Barack Obama and his administration are quite fond of putting drug users away, often for long periods of time, as the invaluable Penn Jillette points out here in a profoundly NSFW way:

Hard to argue with any of that, especially Jillette's point that if the high school aged Barack Obama were to have run into the same law enforcement regimen that is in place today, it's quite possible that he'd have gone to prison. You would like to think that Obama would understand the implications of that, but it's not clear that he does. Or worse -- he does and simply doesn't care.

Who is Brett Kimberlin?

I'm not supposed to tell you who Brett Kimberlin is. Bloggers who discuss his (ahem) life's work have bad things happen to them. You really ought to know, though. So here's a good place to start.

Update: Gino weighs in.

The Vaseline Dome is Nigh

Yep, the Minneapolis City Council is gonna ram it through. Good luck, Minneapolis:

Despite bitter divisions, the Minneapolis City Council made a decades-long commitment to subsidizing professional sports with a 7-6 vote Thursday to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
And it also did this:

With its vote, the council also nullified a 15-year-old city law that requires voter approval of any stadium subsidies of $10 million or more. The momentous nature of the debate was not lost on council members, who frequently wondered aloud how it would be viewed by future generations. Supporters said it would create needed jobs and aid the city's budget, while opponents countered that it bypassed the will of the people and makes no economic sense.

"I'm not really sure I want to be part of a government any more -- at the state level and at the city level -- that behaves this way," said Council Member Lisa Goodman, an opponent of the plan.
To get an idea how government has behaved in this ongoing travesty, I call your attention to the stellar work of Ed Kohler, who runs one of the better portside blogs in the area, The Deets. Kohler has a long post, with plenty of video documentation, of the nature of the debate in the State Senate. It's an eye-opening and infuriating read and I recommend it highly. Kohler quotes Sen. Sean Nienow, who lays it out quite nicely:

If you vote for this amendment. You are voting to vacate the Minneapolis charter. You are voting to ignore the voice of the people. You’re saying “we know better than you. You weren’t smart enough to write your charter the right way. We need to vacate it for you. We need to take away those rules that you asked for. It’s inconvenient that it exists for us (never mind that you wanted it).” And that is just wrong.

That's precisely what happened. Perhaps the purple face paint will cover the stain.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Less than Paul Revere

They took the whole Senate seat
And put us off the public teat
Took away our ways of life
The cloakroom and the multiple wife

They took away our political traction
'Cause Martha Coakley got no action
With sixty years of Kennedy pluck
Lost to a dude with a pickup truck

Massachusetts people, Massachusetts tribe
So proud to live, so proud to die

They took the whole liberal nation
And locked us on this reservation
And though we wear a shirt and tie
We're still a blue state deep inside

Massachusetts people, Massachusetts tribe
So proud to live, so proud to die

But maybe someday when they learn
Elizabeth Warren will return
Will return
Will return
Will return
Will return

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Final Test of the Vaseline Dome

One last hurdle for the "People's Stadium" jamdown -- the Minneapolis City Council still has to give final approval and a vote is expected in the next day or two. Writing in the Start Tribune, Council member Gary Schiff takes one last look at the numbers and points out a few things that the mayor, the governor and the Helga Braiders would rather not discuss:

Minneapolis' share of the stadium costs is not limited to the $150 million construction costs often mentioned. In the financing bill, the city is also responsible for interest on the construction debt, plus ongoing operating, maintenance and upgrade costs over the next 30 years.

The minimum cumulative cost to Minneapolis sales taxpayers will be $675 million, while another clause in the deal allows the subsidy to swell to $890 million. Minneapolis is being given a white elephant -- with horns.
Or just the horns. But there's more:

The current plan is often sold as a plan to reduce property taxes. But Target Center's ongoing costs will simply shift from property to sales taxes. A family with a home valued at $175,000 will see a $14.28 reduction in property taxes, while continuing to pay the highest sales taxes in the country for the next 30 years every time they eat at a local restaurant.

Target Center's debt didn't go away. In fact, the city's debt obligations for Target Center increase under the plan due to scheduled renovations. The city is contractually obligated to upgrade the arena to today's NBA standards.

The Vikings bill sets similar contractual obligations for maintenance of the Vikings stadium. We're setting ourselves up to be financial participants in two professional sports league arms races.

All of this is true, but it likely won't matter. It would take an act of extraordinary political courage for one member of the City Council to switch to a No vote on the stadium, and I can't hardly blame the politicians in Minneapolis for not wanting to have a bunch of dudes with purple face paint trying to get into their breakfast nooks. Schiff's warnings will go unheeded for that reason.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Church vs. Obamacare

When is a compromise not a compromise? When lawsuits arise:

Some of the most influential Catholic institutions in the country filed suit against the Obama administration Monday over the so-called contraception mandate, in one of the biggest coordinated legal challenges to the rule to date.

Claiming their "fundamental rights hang in the balance," a total of 43 plaintiffs filed a dozen separate federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the requirement. Among the organizations filing were the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and The Catholic University of America. 
The key plaintiff here, at least symbolically, is Notre Dame, which as an institution gave President Obama a lot of credibility early on in his presidency, making him its commencement speaker in 2009. Having Notre Dame jump off the bandwagon is substantial.

The timing of these lawsuits is interesting, since the Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling on the constitutionality of Obamacare later this summer. It's entirely possible that these lawsuits are going to be moot.

I suspect there's a message in that, especially to the Catholic justices on the Court, of which there are several, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Sotomayor and Kennedy.

There is another message, though -- the Church, through its health care ministry, is a huge player in health care in this country. There are a lot of Catholic hospitals. If Obamacare survives the Court and the president survives the election, the Church may be getting out of the health care business. If the Church starts shuttering its hospitals, there are going to be a lot of communities that will be in big trouble.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Disco Scene at Xavier High - Part One

Let's forget the politics and think about the politics of dancing.

So we lost Donna Summer and Robin Gibb over the weekend, two of the biggest musical stars of the late 1970s. The disco era pretty much coincided with my high school years (1977-1981), waning pretty quickly after the summer of 1979.

When "Saturday Night Fever" came out at the end of 1977, disco became a sensation and the Bee Gees, who we mostly knew as a second-division British Invasion act, became superstars, singing falsetto over synths and strings at about 100 beats per minute, the mother lode for disco. We didn't get it. The disco scene didn't translate well to my hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin. There were a few discos around, most notably a place called the Fire Alarm on the east side of town, but it wasn't widespread. And while we certainly heard the music on the Top 40 stations, it wasn't the music that we liked very much. Disco was an urban thing, too -- they might dance to that stuff in Milwaukee or Chicago, but not in Appleton.

At least in the first part of my high school career, we weren't able to sneak into the bars. We had school dances in the school cafeteria after the basketball games, but disco wasn't the thing. Instead, we did strange things like trying to dance to Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" and Jerry Reed's "Amos Moses." You had to be there and you probably should be thankful that you weren't.

Of course, it was really the girls who were out dancing, while the guys were lined along the sides of the cafeteria, most trying to wait out the "fast songs" so we might then pick off one of the girls as they left the dance floor for a "slow song," usually something like this or this, with the goal of trying to get in on the last slow dance song, which was invariably "Stairway to Heaven." After Donna Summer's "Last Dance" came out, they'd try to sub that one in for the last dance, but it wasn't received very well, so it was back to Zep, perhaps the least propitious dance band ever.

Some 30 years later, it's easy to laugh at how silly the musical selections were, but I suppose it was just how things were in a place like Appleton, where they still had regular half-hour polka programs on local television in the 1970s. I remember watching those because my aunt and uncle were regulars on the show, almost like the kids on American Bandstand but a little more wrinkled. But watching Uncle Pete and Aunt Rita dancing along to the stylings of Alvin Styczynski was easier to understand than what was emanating out of Studio 54 at the time.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When You've Lost the Journal Sentinel

Unless there's a Memorial Day equivalent of the October Surprise, it's difficult to imagine that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is going to be ousted in the recall election taking place on June 5. He even got the tepid endorsement of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today:

But this election isn't about Tom Barrett. It's about Scott Walker.

Even if you disagree with Walker's policies, does that justify cutting short his term as governor? And if so, where does such logic lead? To more recall elections? More turmoil?

It's time to end the bickering and get back to the business of the state. We've had our differences with the governor, but he deserves a chance to complete his term. We recommended him in 2010. We see no reason to change that recommendation. We urge voters to support Walker in the June 5 recall election.
It's sometimes difficult to see what's happening in Wisconsin from across the St. Croix, but it seems pretty evident from the anecdotal sources I have at my disposal, especially my Facebook feed, that the Walker supporters are fired up and that there's not a lot of enthusiasm for the challenger, Tom Barrett. This election is a rematch of 2010 and Walker won that election pretty easily.

It's always been difficult to see what's happened since then as anything other than a tantrum. A commenter on Ann Althouse's blog summed it up neatly, if in a PG-13/R fashion. Since we try to keep this blog PG, I'm going to do a little cleanup, but alert readers will be able to guess the replaced Anglo-Saxon terminology:

Because the Democrats know that it's a losing proposition. "Hey Wisconsin, I think you should pay pay for my lavish pension, which you don't have, and my lavish benefits, which you don't have, and my gold plated health insurance, which you don't have, and be able to retire at 55, which you'll never do" is not going to win a lot of hearts and minds. No one is buying this "workers rights" and "save the middle class" #@%#@. And this "It's about the kids" crap from, @$%#@, it's about you.

Barrett cannot talk about Act 10 without talking about how he would pay for things if Act 10 went away....and the only way is higher taxation. Good. %@&@#. Luck.

Jobs? Ha ha. The Dems just #%@# canned the mine out of spite, costing the state hundreds of good paying jobs, many of them union.

This election is over. But Walker's campaign and it's volunteers are energized and are going to sprint through the finish line. Anecdotal, but friends and family who are anti-Walker are pretty silent on the recall. The daily ugliness on my Facebook page is gone. They know.

The daily ugliness on my Facebook page is gone, too. Last year was a fiesta of Walker-bashing and fist iconography, but no more. The recall hasn't turned out the way my lefty friends and family members had envisioned, and while the spectacle has been cause for a lot of heartburn, it shouldn't be surprising. The commenter on Althouse's blog summed it up nicely -- what the unions and their Democratic allies want is, in the end, a losing proposition. The public employee union model eventually costs more than the citizenry can afford. Scott Walker recognized this and took action.

There's a lesson in what's happening that has application in Minnesota, of course. Minnesota faces the same issues that Wisconsin has faced. Education Minnesota and WEAC are equivalent organizations, making the same arguments, using the same techniques. Because Mark Dayton was able to scrape together a plurality in the last election, we've been spared the drama up to this point. But it's coming. Minnesota's version of Scott Walker waits in the wings. The only real question is whether the avenging angel arrives in 2015 or later on.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bills Comes Due

The die is cast:

In lightning speed for a political convention, Rosemount economics teacher Kurt Bills was endorsed Friday as the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate on the second ballot at the Minnesota Republican convention in St. Cloud.

Bills, a first-term state representative, prevailed with 64 percent of the vote of 2,100 delegates.

Within minutes after thanking his supporters, his family and his competitors, Bills was telling reporters of his plan for the days ahead. “I’m going to show up Monday morning for my advanced economics class,” he said. “After that we are going to riding this bus that will be touring around the state.” His theme, he said, is to bring “econ 101” to Washington.

A few thoughts:

  • I didn't endorse anyone, because my view didn't particularly matter. I would have ranked Bills third of the three contenders. I thought that Doc Severson had more experience and it's been clear that Pete Hegseth has some amazing political skills and a compelling personal narrative. Bills has neither of these things, but he does have enthusiastic supporters and a good, if somewhat limited, message. More about that anon.
  • The victory, as should be obvious, is very much a victory for the Ron Paul supporters who have effectively taken over the apparatus of the Minnesota GOP. Paul's libertarian variant of conservatism hasn't necessarily earned him the support of the rank-and-file GOP members, but his supporters had a plan and have executed it brilliantly, with Bills as the beneficiary.
  • I support the notion of bringing "Econ 101" to Washington. Really, I do. The notion that a principled economist could make a difference in the Senate is appealing to me. But if we really want to send an economist to Washington, the GOP should have endorsed King Banaian instead. I'm not sure that the electorate is going to want to listen to an economist, especially when Amy Klobuchar is going to run a soft-focus, I-Care-About-You sort of campaign. Bills will have to figure out how to puncture that balloon without coming off as a purveyor of "eat your spinach" or somesuch.
  • Now that the Paul folks have won, they need to start being a little more conciliatory. I have no sympathy for a lot of the moderate Republican political types who were pushed to the side, but they did and do represent a constituency. There are a lot of Minnesotans who are broadly conservative, but not especially focused on the issues that Paul supporters typically cite. I see a lot of disdain among certain Paul supporters for such people, especially in the "warmonger" and "neocon" taunts that get thrown around. Winning an argument and winning an election are separate things and in order to get Bills elected, some of that sort of rhetoric needs to be, ahem, ratcheted down. Remember, "neocons" vote.
  • On that score, remember this -- while Severson and Hegseth will abide by the earlier pledges not to run against Bills in the primary, that doesn't preclude another candidate from entering the race. We won't really know if Bills has a clear path until June 5. So I'd strongly encourage the Bills campaign to get busy with the fence-mending.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Our Protean President

Let's say this at the outset -- I have no doubt that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and is a U.S. citizen. The evidence is clear and convincing. Having said that, the latest find from the Breitbart team is hilarious:

Breitbart News has obtained a promotional booklet produced in 1991 by Barack Obama's then-literary agency, Acton & Dystel, which touts Obama as "born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii."

The booklet, which was distributed to "business colleagues" in the publishing industry, includes a brief biography of Obama among the biographies of eighty-nine other authors represented by Acton & Dystel. 
Here is the image:

What does this tell us? A few things:

  • It would be inadvisable to rely on the fact-checking department at Acton & Dystel.
  • One would assume that Obama didn't write his own bio for this booklet, but that he would approve it before publication. If he did, he was either (a) sloppy or (b) willing to market himself in ways that are at variance with the truth. I also wouldn't rule out (c) both.

I wondered what "Business International Corporation" was, and a Google search revealed this article from the New York Times from 2007. The article is interesting reading and I recommend you click on the link. One quote deserves particular mention:

Some say he has taken some literary license in the telling of his story. Dan Armstrong, who worked with Mr. Obama at Business International Corporation in New York in 1984 and has deconstructed Mr. Obama’s account of the job on his blog,, wrote: “All of Barack’s embellishment serves a larger narrative purpose: to retell the story of the Christ’s temptation. The young, idealistic, would-be community organizer gets a nice suit, joins a consulting house, starts hanging out with investment bankers, and barely escapes moving into the big mansion with the white folks.”

In an interview, Mr. Armstrong added: “There may be some truth to that. But in order to make it a good story, it required a bit of exaggeration.”

Mr. Armstrong’s description of the firm, and those of other co-workers, differs at least in emphasis from Mr. Obama’s. It was a small newsletter-publishing and research firm, with about 250 employees worldwide, that helped companies with foreign operations (they could be called multinationals) understand overseas markets, they said. Far from a bastion of corporate conformity, they said, it was informal and staffed by young people making modest wages. Employees called it “high school with ashtrays.”

I've long believed that what made Obama successful in his 2008 campaign is that he was willing to be whatever you wanted him to be. That's hardly an unusual quality in a politician. Still, it's things like this that make you wonder, even 3+ years into his administration, who Barack Obama really is.

I'd also recommend you take a look at the blog post that Armstrong wrote that is referenced in the New York Times article.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Guilty Pleasures Part Eighty-Five -- Bring Out Your Dead

Fearless Maria is here, after a long stint away, mostly buried in math homework.

Creak. . . creak . . . moan. Moan. (Suddenly, a very hideous figure comes into view. It is a zombie, but then it removes its head, revealing the head of a normal suburban 12-year old girl)

Hey guys, did I scare ya?

I'm terrified. No, really, I am.

Yeah, well, I'm back from the dead. It was time to take a break from polynomials and get into some music! Even zombies like me have to get out and smell the flowers every now and then. Though the flowers of this blog are all stinky these days, because the politics killed them just like DDT!

I thought the flowers all died because the shadow of the Vikings stadium kept all the sunlight away.

See, you can't even stop with the politics now, Dad! You're supposed be on a rolling stone, not just a roll! Don't you see how boring this stuff is?

Well, I do. But I'm kinda boring myself.

Well then, get on the fun train, before all the hobos take your place! Besides, they're kinda stinky too for different reasons!

That's what I've heard.

Well, since I'm back from the dead, should we bring some other musicians back from the dead?

Yes. And unfortunately, it's been a tough year for popular music already. A lot of big names have left the world's stage, so to speak.

So they left the building, like Elvis?

You could say that, Maria.

I just did.

Good point. Shall we call the roll?


No, not  you, Maria.

Well, I am here. So spin some tunes, Dad! And don't make me pay a quarter. I need to save everything for college money. But first, I want you to know that I'm instituting a grading system with this one. People need to know where they stand, even if they're dead.

Good point. Okay -- we'll start out with this guy, Jimmy Castor. He was famous for some tacky novelty songs like the "Bertha Butt Boogie," but he could play it straight, too. Like this one:

I'm glad you didn't pick the Bertha Butt Boogie, Dad! In fact, this song is actually pretty good in my opinion, and with the usual bad 70s fashion choices, it works out, maybe, to be, a C-. Maybe even a C. I grade on a tough curve, you know.

You are tough. Are you just trying to keep people from crowding the honor roll?

No. . . maybe! C'mon, Dad, you have to go above and beyond to get an A around here! Maybe the next person could get an A.

Let's find out, shall we? Johnny Otis, come on down!

It's "Willie and the Hand Jive," with some really big background singers.

Well, I really like the piano and it seems to be a fun song, and he's dressed appropriately! Just in case you didn't know, guys, the suit and tie is a good fallback option, as compared to some of the other getups (cough cough Arthur Brown). Dad, should I remind people not to click that link?

That would be a good suggestion, yes.

Okay then people, listen to the smart guy with the English degree! Don't click the link! Really, I'm serious! As for Johnny Otis, I'd give him an A!

So Maria, do you think the background sisters were the Butt sisters from Jimmy Castor?

Dad, that's really crude and mean!

I know, but you know someone was going to mention it, so it might as well be me.

Well, that's true. So who do we have next?

Interestingly, we have one of the greatest soul singers of all, who was "discovered" by Johnny Otis. And I think they died the same day. In a song that I think will be the early leader in the clubhouse, we present Etta James:

So, if F stands for failure, what does A stand for? In this case, I think it stands for AWESOME! I really like this song, but I think going blind might be a bit extreme. How else could you look for the next guy, then?

Very practical thinking, Maria.

Well, thank you. And yes, Etta James gets an A.

So now we move on to perhaps the most famous musical performer to die this year, Whitney Houston:

How will I know? Well, one way to know is to stay away from the drugs, Dad! I do like the song, and the dancing is kinda cool, even if the outfits are sort of strange, especially that weird half bride/half groom thing in the middle. I give this one a B-, maybe? Not as good a song as Etta, but fun.

Fun is important. In fact, Davy Jones and the Monkees were all about fun:

That would be "Daydream Believer."

Well, it's a nice song. Fun, too, I suppose. The outfits are a little wacky in the 60s style, but acceptable. I give this one a B. Fun, but not great.

I think you're doing a good job on the grades, Maria.

Well, I get good grades, so maybe I can give good grades, too!

So far, so good. Now for something completely different -- one of the giants of bluegrass, Earl Scruggs:

It's a "Foggy Mountain Breakdown."

Wow, can he play that banjo! Yippie ki ay? Is that what they say? I'm not a big bluegrass person, but I do play the guitar so I know how hard it is to move your fingers like that! And the other instruments are a nice touch, especially the fiddle player, Lester Flatt. Dad told me he was a big deal, too. So, I give this one an A. But so far I like Etta James the best. Do you have more?

Why yes. Yes I do, Maria. It's the drummer for the Band, Levon Helm:

And it's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Now, for all the kids who are reading this -- wait, are there any kids reading this?

Maybe just you, or your cousins.

Well, okay then, cousins who are reading this, you should really try and take a leaf out of their book. They don't have anything wild or crazy or flaming going on in this. You can actually sit back, relax, and nothing takes away from what the music is. No flaming headdresses or outfits made out of rugs from the garbage can! This is classy stuff, Dad! I give it an A. But I still like Etta the best so far.

I understand. Now for something else that's completely different -- it's the Beastie Boys:

It's "No Sleep Til Brooklyn." RIP, Adam "MCA" Yauch.

Well Dad, how would you sleep if people were watching you? And all the screaming in this song, that would wake anyone up! And with the boxer shorts, they look more like the Bedtime Boys! Did they leave their blankies with their mommy and their teddy bear?

So you're not buying the bad boy act, Maria?

Ehh, they tried to put it in, but remember -- I hang out with 6th grade boys and they are a lot weirder than these guys! Even the ones that try to be bad -- I'm on to their little game. Yeah, sorry Bedtime Boys, but I'll have to give you a D.

Tough grader.

Wait, am I good, or am I tough? Make up your mind, Mr. Carlin! And as for you, I'd give you a -- wait, I'd better not grade my Dad. That might not be too wise.

Yes, you might want to keep that grade to yourself.

Okay, I will. What do you have next?

Perhaps the greatest backing band of all. Booker T and the MGs, featuring Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass:

"Time is Tight." Indeed it is.

Indeed it is, Dad. But I'll tell you, this music is tight. And if you're familiar with present-day slang, "tight" can be taken as a compliment. Nothing too flashy or weird in the outfit department, and nothing too weird in the scenery department. Everything is great in the music department. Just like the Band's song. I like this one slightly better than the Band, so it gets an A.

I like it, too. Now we move on to Chuck Brown, who died this week:

"Bustin Loose," with the Soul Train dancers, too!

And we probably should mention that Don Cornelius died this year, too, Dad. This song has got a good groove and I like it, but unfortunately the 70s outfits on the Soul Train dancers are pretty distracting, yeah. So unfortunately, it subtracts a little bit. I give this song an A-.

Okay, so we're down to the last person, who died today. The Queen of Disco, Donna Summer:

Indeed, it was her "Last Dance."

Uh, well, she is a good singer, but I'm not really a disco person, so I'm not sure. The song seems to be good, although the outfit is a little, well, you know, silly, or maybe skimpy, or both. Yeah, we'll go with both. So here's the question -- is she better than Etta James? And the answer is no. I'll give her a B.

Now it's time to turn over the grading to our readers. Which ones do you like the best? Let us know in the comment section.

That's right. You wouldn't want to not participate and get an F from Fearless Maria, now would you? You do know that this would go down on your permanent record. In my book. And my book is pretty important, people! So get voting!

I'd listen to her if I were you.

So, what's happening across the St. Croix?

Things aren't going so well on that recall election thingy. At least for the recallers:

A new Marquette Law School Poll shows that with three weeks to go until the recall election Governor Scott Walker has taken a six-percentage point lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, 50-44 percent, among likely voters. Just three percent say they are undecided. In the previous poll, taken April 26-29, Walker held a one-percentage point lead among likely voters, 48-47. Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch holds a 47 to 41-percentage point lead over Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell in that recall election, with 10 percent undecided.

Meanwhile, there's this:

With just three weeks until the June 5 recall election in Wisconsin, Democrats in the state are still waiting for a check they asked the Democratic National Committee to send. And the Obama campaign hasn’t given them any cash either.

“I think [there’s] the perception that there’s not enough overall national money, national support from both individual donors and D.C. coming through the door and we’ve got three weeks — we need that money now,” said a Wisconsin Democratic operative. “I think that’s individual donors from around the country, I think that’s the DNC, I think that’s labor, I think that’s super PACs, I think that’s whoever is willing to contribute to make that gap smaller.”
So what's happening? A few guesses:

  • From what I hear, a lot of people are just tired of it all. Wisconsin has been in continuous campaign mode for nearly 3 years now and while I'm not certain that Scott Walker has completely won over the populace, I suspect that there's a growing understanding that constant recalls are not particularly helpful, either.
  • I suspect the money isn't forthcoming from the DNC or the Obama campaign for a simple reason: they don't have as much as they thought they would. And as it turns out, the Obama campaign is going to need the money.
  • The larger problem for Wisconsin Democrats is this -- they don't have any good candidates to offer. Tom Barrett has lost twice before when he's run for statewide office. Kathleen Falk, who was the favorite of the screeching unions who forced all this drama in the first place, was not even compelling enough of a choice to get past the primary. Meanwhile, in the upcoming Senate race, the Democrats are sending up Tammy Baldwin, who is the very model of a Madison liberal, who is running behind two of her potential opponents.
So all this augurs well for Walker. Is what's happening in Wisconsin now a potential preview of what might happen in November? Maybe.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Two good choices

We'll find out who will get the Republican endorsement in the Senate race against Amy Klobuchar this weekend. I'm not going to make an endorsement for two reasons:

  • My opinion doesn't matter much; and
  • I'm really torn
There are three candidates in the running and all of them have their merits. Kurt Bills is most associated with the Ron Paul activists and may end up winning the thing if the organizational muscle the Paul supporters have developed is sufficiently strong, but I think Bills really ought to go back to the legislature and play a leadership role there instead of pursuing higher office at this time.

The other two candidates are both compelling. Doc Severson ran a strong campaign for Secretary of State in the last cycle and has done some very important work in party building, especially among groups that the GOP has traditionally had a tough time reaching. Mitch Berg makes a good case for him here.

Meanwhile, Pete Hegseth has done some tremendous work at the helm of Vets for Freedom and has also proven to be a formidable fundraiser, which will be pretty important given the advantages that Klobuchar has at her disposal. Andy Aplikowski has been blogging steadily on Pete's behalf for a while now and you can read a lot about Hegseth's merits at his place.

I won't be at the convention, but I suspect this endorsement battle will be contentious. No matter what happens, we're going to have a good candidate.

Good News

Guess the world isn't ending after all:

In a striking find, archaeologists in Guatemala report the discovery of a small building whose walls display not only a stunningly preserved mural of a brightly adorned Mayan king, but also calendars that destroy any notion that the Mayans predicted the end of the world in 2012.

These deep-time calendars can be used to count thousands of years into the past and future, countering pop-culture and New Age ideas that Mayan calendars ended on Dec. 21, 2012, (or Dec. 23, depending on who’s counting), thereby predicting the end of the world.

The newly found calendars, which track the motion of the moon, Venus and Mars, provide an unprecedented glimpse into how these storied sky-gazers — who dominated Central America for nearly 1,000 years — kept such accurate track of months, seasons and years.

I'm happy to hear this, since if the world ended on Dec. 21, we'd have had trouble figuring out our holiday sales.

I think Paul McCartney also tracked Venus and Mars in the mid-70s, but the Mayans had no comment about that.

Interesting if True

Some news on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case:

WFTV has confirmed that autopsy results show 17-year-old Trayvon Martin had injuries to his knuckles when he died.

The information could support George Zimmerman's claim that Martin beat him up before Zimmerman shot and killed him.
Yeah, it could support the claim. It sure could. More from the report:

WFTV has learned that the medical examiner found two injuries on Martin’s body: The fatal gunshot wound and broken skin on his knuckles.

When you compare Trayvon’s non-fatal injury with Zimmerman's bloody head wounds, the autopsy evidence is better for the defense, Sheaffer said.

“It goes along with Zimmerman's story that he acted in self-defense, because he was getting beaten up by Trayvon Martin,” Sheaffer said.

It could. Then again, to be fair, it could mean this:

But Sheaffer said there could be another explanation for Martin's knuckle injury.

“It could be consistent with Trayvon either trying to get away or defend himself,” Sheaffer said.

But we also learned this:

In the meantime, there’s new information surfacing about Zimmerman.

ABC News said it has obtained Zimmerman's medical report from the day after the killing. According to ABC, the report shows Zimmerman had a broken nose and abrasions on the back of his head.
As the post title says, interesting if true.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


As I mentioned last night, Gov. Dayton decided to add insult to injury yesterday by vetoing the one remaining legislative priority the Republican-led legislature had:

In a stinging coda to a divisive legislative session, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday vetoed a GOP-led package of business property tax breaks that were a top priority for many of the state's corporate leaders.

The veto came hours after a session-ending triumph for Dayton and a bipartisan group of legislators, when Dayton made a rare, ceremonial show in the Capitol rotunda of officially signing the bill to create a new $975 million home for the Minnesota Vikings.

A billion for the Vikings, bupkes for other businesses. Not surprisingly, the reaction wasn't happy:

"The governor showed a great amount of flexibility on his top priority, the stadium, and little or no flexibility on issues related to small-business job creation," said David Olson, president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
And the Republicans, who basically spent the last week trying to get something done as Helga Braid Nation sucked all the oxygen out of the Capitol Dome, were less than pleased:

GOP legislators say they now realize they should have insisted on the stadium and tax bills as a package deal to ensure that both became law. Rep. Greg Davids, chairman of the House Taxes Committee, accused Dayton of trading stadium votes from DFLers in return for vetoing the tax bill, robbing Republicans of a chief accomplishment.

"Dayton got everything he wanted," said Davids, R-Preston. "It was a finely crafted tax bill that he torched for political purposes."

Senate Taxes Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman said the bill offered a lot of relief for business for only a tiny burden on the budget. "This was a terribly unfortunate, very partisan veto and he did it at the expanse of all the cities and businesses of Minnesota," said Ortman, R-Chanhassen.

 So let's sum this up -- Dayton rams through the Vaseline Dome and then shows every other business in Minnesota his butt. And now the Republicans get to be on the business end of a few million dollars worth of Alida Messinger ads that they won't be able to counter.

After the cynical, scurrilous campaign that Dayton used to gain the governor's chair, it should have been evident to everyone on the Republican side that they were dealing with a guy who does not act in good faith. I hope the momentary praise was worth it for the Julie Rosens, John Kriesels and Morrie Lannings of the world.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Reward for Bipartisanship

Mark Dayton gives David Senjem his reward for helping to jam the Vaseline Dome home:

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a GOP-led package of business tax breaks that would have blown a $100 million hole in the state budget in coming years.

That's some nice stenography from Strib reporter Baird Helgeson, but we'll let that pass for the moment:

“It ignored my requirement that any future spending must be paid for and avoid adding to the next biennium’s projected deficit,” Dayton said in the veto letter.

The tax bill had been one of the top priorities of Republicans who control the Legislature and the state business community. Dayton vetoed a much larger tax bill two weeks ago, so Republicans scrambled to piece together a new, scaled down version.

Only to get slapped down again. And by the way, Governor, if you were so interested in "paying for" future spending, why the hell did you commit the state to half a billion dollars, at a minimum, for a new palace for Zygmunt Wilf? Wait'll the pull-tabs don't come close to paying for things.

But of course, this is only part one of the reward. Part two will be the flood of advertisements we'll be watching over the next six months castigating the "do-nothing" legislature. Maybe they can bring back the woman who kept braying "Tom EmMMMMMER!!!" in the last cycle and have her say "Kurt ZellERRRRRRSS!!!" or something.

Frogs and scorpions, people. The tax bill was a hell of a lot more important for the long-term health of this state than appeasing the NFL and the braying denizens of Helga Braid Nation. But instead of making Dayton sign a tax bill before he got what he wanted, you did it the other way around, and this is your reward. Congratulations.

Always with the Halos

I don't ever recall seeing any other president presented with a halo. Our current president gets one on the cover of Newsweek, along with is possibly a historically inaccurate assessment:

There has long been speculation that our first gay president was actually James Buchanan, although the evidence is circumstantial:

Anyone who bothered to look into his living arrangements, says James W. Loewen, an adjunct professor of sociology at Catholic University. Of course, in his new book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (The New Press), Mr. Loewen is speaking of the first Buchanan with Presidential politics in his blood, James.

Mr. Loewen, author of the best-selling Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New Press, 1995), sets out in his new, self-described “rant” to dispel the myths that befog the American landscape. In a chapter titled “You’re Here to See the House,” he recalls asking a tour guide at Wheatland, Buchanan’s mansion near Lancaster, Pa., whether the 15th President was gay. “He most definitely was not,” came the outraged reply.

This new book isn't so new, by the way -- it came out in 1999, but just to finish the point:

“Most likely was,” insists Mr. Loewen. Buchanan’s long-time living companion, William Rufus King, was referred to by critics as his “better half,” ‘’his wife,” and “Aunt Fancy.” Around Washington, the pair were known as the “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for gays and lesbians. And when King was appointed envoy to France, in 1844, Buchanan lamented to a friend that “I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.”
And there was an important historical component to this relationship:

The relationship may have been more than romantic. Mr. Loewen speculates that Buchanan, a native of a fiercely anti-slavery section of Pennsylvania, developed pro-slavery views out of sympathy with King, who served as a Democratic Senator from Alabama.

“It’s important to know that some of our leaders have been gay,” says Mr. Loewen, explaining why he outed a man often counted among the 10 worst Presidents. “To know that gay people did things, good things and bad things. You can’t just claim the heroes.”
By the way, back in Wisconsin, Rufus King has a high school named after him (in Milwaukee) and one of the streets that leads directly to the state capitol in Madison is King Street, which was named in his honor. This isn't surprising, since Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848 and King was clearly an important person in that era.

In the meantime, I'm amazed how many pictures there are of Obama with a halo:

And this:

And this:
And this:
And if you want to see more, lots more, click the link.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Coming Soon to Your Storage Shed

It's the president of the United States, speaking in front of someone's garage in Nevada. Word on the street is that if you vote for him in November, he might seed your lawn, too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Your Meme of the Day

So we learned this week that Mitt Romney had an early career as a "hairstyle commando." And Vidal Sassoon, who gained worldwide fame for his high-fashion geometric hairstyles that were first introduced at almost the same time that Romney wielded his wicked scissors, died the day before the expose appeared in the Washington Post.

Connect the dots, people. Connect the dots.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bad Things I Did in 1965

Since we're talking about things that happened, or maybe didn't, when Mitt Romney was in high school, I think it's important that I disclose some of the bad things I did in 1965:

  • I threw up all over my mother
  • I used up a lot of water by soiling diapers
  • I didn't share my blocks with my brother, although all he wanted to do was eat them anyway
Confession is good for the soul. If you were alive in '65, I'd also encourage you to share your peccadilloes in the comments section. I'm pretty sure Gino soiled a few diapers that year, and Rich might have, too, although since Rich grew up in Chicago, his family might have been able to arrange it so he could have a 19th Ward committeeman's aide simply follow the toddler version of Rich around with an early prototype version of a pooper scooper.

Welcome to the Vaseline Dome

Congratulations, Helga Braid Nation -- you've won.

Ending a decade of turmoil, the Minnesota Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a $975 million Vikings stadium meant to anchor the team in Minneapolis for a generation.

The vote ended a turbulent session that saw the project nearly die several times, only to get revived and then dominate the Legislature's final weeks, as opponents ultimately succumbed to intense pressure.

I'll probably do a longer post-mortem of this shameful spectacle in a few days, although there's not much more to say, really. I don't doubt that the new building will be very nice -- once we've spent well over a billion dollars for the thing, which it will be after the cost overruns, it's not going to be a dump.

The problem is an eternal one -- we have more Julie Rosens than we have Dave Thompsons, at least among those who are willing to run for office. And until and unless we address that issue, we'll continue to spend money we don't have for projects we don't need.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Who's In Your Wallet?

Crude, but I think you get my point.

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome XX -- Fire Up the Vaseline Truck

It's long been true that many bad decisions take place at 3:30 in the morning. Like this one:

The Minnesota Vikings have agreed to spend $477 million —$50 million more than they had planned — to get a new stadium under a deal that was given final House approval early Thursday morning.

The results of a furious, final stadium negotiating session were released after hours of closed-door meetings Wednesday, in which top lawmakers conferred with the Vikings and the state’s top business leaders out of public view.

The Senate, which had earlier passed different versions of the stadium plan, was expected to take a final stadium vote later Thursday.

As months of intense stadium politics at the State Capitol neared an end, the House voted 71 to 60 for the revised financing plan after a debate that finished at 3:30 in the morning.

So Zygi spends $50 million more than he planned, although it's not necessarily $50 million of his own money. And we're going to have this thing.

Not surprisingly, our politicians are pleased with themselves and the courage it took to spend money we don't have:

[Rep. Morrie] Lanning defended the state's efforts to get the Vikings to pay more for a new publicly owned stadium amid reports the team might leave Minnesota. "We have driven a very hard bargain," he said.
And the Vikings want you to know how selfless they are, too:

"The Vikings and the Wilfs have stepped up ... and made a huge commitment to Minnesota," added Lester Bagley, the team's vice president.

At this point, it's tough to be outraged, because it's simply business as usual. You had a bunch of politicians who were doing what politicians do. It's always easier to spend other people's money than it is to deliver tough messages, especially when a bunch of people in purple face paint and Helga braids are braying in your face. We want our bread and circuses and our politicians are only too happy to deliver them, especially the circuses. You can take all the public opinion polls you want and the fundamentals don't change -- people say they want the government to spend less and not to waste money, but we keep sending politicians to St. Paul and Washington who do it anyway.

For what it's worth, at least the sorry spectacle we've been treated to in this legislative session has driven home that, for all our self-proclaimed exceptionalism, there is no exceptionalism here in Minnesota. All it took was for Roger Goodell to come to town and everyone folded like a rummage sale card table. The $50 million added to the cost is a rounding error. The NFL got what it wanted and we're all going to pay for it, even if we never see a Vikings game anywhere other than on television.

And because so much of the final process was done in closed-door meetings that were dancing around the open meeting laws, I fully expect that the lawsuits are already queued up. It's full employment for a blogger, I tells ya.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Joy of Amateur Punditry

Usually the feedback loop isn't quite this short. This morning, in this feature, I said the following in the wake of the North Carolina referendum that banned both gay marriage and civil unions:

You won't hear much about Barack Obama's "evolution" on this issue, at least for the remainder of the campaign.

It only took 8 hours or so for that particular observation to become, ahem, non-operative:

President Obama endorsed same-sex marriage Wednesday, just hours after North Carolina adopted a constitutional amendment to ban it -- one of 41 states where same-sex marriage is illegal.

President Obama's declaration does not change any law, but it does inject a contentious social issue into the race for the White House.

"For me personally it is important for me to affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Mr. Obama said.

Got that one wrong. So it goes. The value of my punditry has a direct correlation to the price my readers pay for it.

There are plenty of political implications to Obama's decision to speed up his "evolution," but I'm not thinking about that today. We'll be talking about the politics for the next six months, I'd wager.

In the article I've linked, CBS News points out something that is worth mentioning because, in my view, it's absolutely crucial to understanding the larger dynamic on the topic of gay marriage:

Support for same sex marriage is generational and the president said today his children don't understand why same-sex parents would be treated differently.

"It doesn't make sense to them and frankly, that's the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective," Mr. Obama said.

Emphasis mine. If you have school age children, which I do, one thing becomes immediately evident; they are being taught, in no uncertain terms, that gay marriage is right and proper and that opposing it, for any reason, is wrong. The views you hear from young people on these issues are astonishingly unified on this topic, because questioning the idea of gay marriage is about the same as questioning gravity. It may be different in other parts of the country, or among parochial school kids or home schooled kids, but I'd wager that support for gay marriage among young people is, if not 100%, awfully close, especially among kids who attend public schools. It is a generational thing and those of us who are older are going to lose the argument in the end. Obama is just swimming with the tide.

And because of that impending reality, as I've thought about the issue, I've come to realize that my own views on the subject don't matter especially. I tend to be libertarian on social issues of this sort, because I have little interest in telling people how to live their lives; it's trouble enough living my own life. But since I am a free amateur pundit, I'm going to offer some views anyway.

I worry that we are simply embarking on the latest leg of what's been a 50+ year social experiment that has fundamentally altered the meaning of marriage, at least as far as it has been traditionally understood. And while we can find various counterexamples throughout history, especially if you consult with the right anthropologist, this statement shouldn't be especially controversial -- in most cases, in most societies, the primary purpose of marriage has been to provide a framework for the upbringing of children. Sex is part of the enticement and love is a happy byproduct, but given the amount of arranged marriages that have happened throughout history, romantic love has often been at best a tangential consideration.

The point I'd make is this -- marriage was, at one point, a much different deal than it is today. Plenty of couples take their marriages seriously and view their roles in a traditional sense. I have no reason to believe that plenty of gay couples wouldn't take their marriages seriously. But the traditional reasons and understandings of marriage aren't the same, especially in a world where the message is that marriage is about love, or (in some cases) simply codifying infatuation. We are also living in a world where a lot of people don't bother with marriage when they start a family. And as a practical matter, plenty of women are essentially married to the state because the men who happened to be the biological father of their children aren't available, or even expected, to provide for their progeny. And we are also living in a world where traditional sources of morality, especially certain mainline Protestant denominations, aren't especially interested in fighting for the traditional understanding. My Catholic Church is fighting, but it's getting the hell beat out of it, and a lot of my fellow Catholics are at best ambivalent about the wisdom of the fight. Our associate pastor gave a stemwinder of a homily on the subject last week and while some of the parishioners were applauding, a lot were sitting on their hands.

None of this should be surprising. In our world, in 2012, the traditional understanding of marriage is a tough sell, because the idea of sex when you want, with whomever you want, has a lot of appeal to most people. Once the widespread availability of the birth control pill gave at least some control of female sexuality to something other than the menstrual cycle, or a father with a shotgun, the game changed. And because the goal wasn't preserving a framework but rather seeking "love," no-fault divorce came next, because everyone deserves a chance at happiness, right? And since humans are human and sometimes don't get the birth control right, the legalization of abortion followed that. Each of these changes has had an enormous impact over time and in ways that we're only beginning to understand.

And since love is now the goal and since love is, for many people, simply the practical application of the biological imperative, it's tough to justify keeping gay people out of the party. Normalizing gay relationships was always going to be inevitable in such a world. If marriage is more about mutual self-actualization than it is about making sacrifices for the next generation, there's no good reason to keep gays out of it, at least as a matter of public policy. In some respects, it's almost surprising that all this didn't come sooner. I suspect that if the AIDS epidemic hadn't happened, we'd have reached this moment 15-20 years ago.

Sex/love is a hell of a lot more fun than abstinence. That's a given. And if sex/love is mostly decoupled from its end-stage biological implications, it's going to be the winning message. Even when social norms were a lot different, plenty of people were still looking for a little strange if they thought they could get by with it, because that biological imperative is powerful indeed. I live in a good sized metropolitan area. Over the course of any given day, I'm likely to see dozens of women who are attractive enough to momentarily attract my attention. I don't pursue the matter, but it's tough not to notice them. And I have no reason to assume that women don't notice attractive men, too. Nor, for that matter, would it be particularly surprising that gay men and women see the same things that I see, although their focus would differ.

The nagging, conservative voice inside of me tells me that there are good reasons for traditional marriage, but that voice isn't strong enough to counteract the cacophony of voices that proclaim otherwise, especially when the competing voices celebrate a biological imperative that's plenty strong without the chorus. A lot of people don't hear the nagging voice at all, or choose not to listen. No one enjoys being on the business end of nagging, no matter how sterling the motives of the nagger. So we're going to have gay marriage added to the buffet line of love, sooner rather than later, regardless of what the good citizens of North Carolina might think at the moment, or what is decided here in Minnesota later this year. I fully expect to be dead and gone by the time we take a reckoning of the wisdom of these decisions. Maybe that nagging voice I hear is wrong. But it would not be surprising if, some day in the future, it starts to regain strength.

Vikings to Plot of Land East of Metrodome XIX -- Festooning in the Senate

The Vikings stadium bill makes it through the Senate with an unexpected, and unpleasant, surprise:

One change, which has Dayton's support, would require Internet retailers such as Amazon to collect state taxes when Minnesota customers buy online. Minnesotans are already supposed to pay state taxes for such purchases, but only a tiny fraction do.

The change would bring in just $3.5 million a year, but is a top priority for local retailers such as Target and Best Buy, who argue that existing laws give an unfair advantage to online retailers.

Call it a political payoff to Target executive John Griffith for services rendered.

There's more, of course -- with this story there's always more:

"The Vikings didn't get everything they wanted," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief Senate stadium author, said before the final vote.

The team agreed.

Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said after the vote that the team remains committed to paying $427 million toward a roofed stadium at the Metrodome site. He had said that spending $532 million, as the House wants, is unworkable and did not publicly warm to the Senate's call for $452 million from the team.

But Rosen said she believed the team would have to spend at least the extra $25 million the Senate proposed. "Oh, yes. I do. Yeah," Rosen said.
I would expect the conference committee to find a number between $452 and $532 million, probably right around $500 million. But there's more still:

But the Senate, in a close vote, reversed itself and instead settled for a less stringent set of user fees that, while still opposed by the team, would augment the state's desire to use electronic bingo and pull tabs in Minnesota's bars and restaurants to pay the state's stadium share.

The user fees ultimately adopted include a 10 percent fee on the sale or rental of stadium suites, a 10 percent fee on parking within a half mile of the stadium during NFL events and a 6.875 percent fee on team jerseys and other league-licensed products sold at the stadium.

They backed off the initial proposal, which was essentially 10% on everything -- tickets, concessions, merchandise, stadium signage and the Vikings share of National Football League revenue sharing. That would have paid for a lot more of this monstrosity, but the Vikings would have rejected it.

Now comes the fun part -- the conference committee that will iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Kurt Zellers and David Senjem can pick anyone they'd like to be on the conference committee. Because I believe in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'd strongly recommend Sens. John Marty and Dave Thompson be part of the Senate team. And since it's important that the voice of a Minneapolis representative be heard, Zellers really ought to appoint Frank Hornstein, the authentic voice of Linden Hills.

And while I'm ordinarily loath to do it, I have to give our own State Senator, Barb Goodwin, a heartfelt thank you for pointing out something that needed to be said:

 "They're great businessmen," Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said of Vikings ownership, led by Zygi Wilf. "They certainly promised a lot of things here -- except the money."
Get used to it, Senator.

UPDATE:  I take the kind words back on Sen. Goodwin, who voted for the stadium anyway. Should have known better.