Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter at the Vatican

Love the moment -- could do without the incense, though
Luke 24

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.


Yeah, I've changed the template around again. Part of it is boredom, but much of the (ahem) experimentation stems from a larger issue, which is my growing dissatisfaction with what this blog has been over the past year or so. I enjoy blogging far too much to walk away, but I don't want to be just another macaw in the birdhouse, merely a repackager of bromides.

After 7-1/2 years of blogging, I find that I'm less interested in writing about politics than ever, especially in an era where politics are as comprehensively wrongheaded as they are now. So I need to start doing less of it and start writing about other things more. So I will. The politics won't go away entirely, because silence in the face of lunacy isn't acceptable. Yet, yet. . . this feature needs to be about more than that.

Friday, March 29, 2013


The year: 1970.

My old man 
He's a singer in the park 
He's a walker in the rain 
He's a dancer in the dark 
We don't need no piece of paper 
From the city hall 
Keeping us tied and true 
My old man 
Keeping away my blues

-- Joni Mitchell, "My Old Man"

Well there's a rose in the fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love honey
Love the one you're with, Love the one you're with,
Love the one you're with, Love the one you're with.

-- Stephen Stills, "Love the One You're With"

One year later, in 1971:

My friends from college they're all married now;
They have their houses and their lawns.
They have their silent noons,
Tearful nights, angry dawns.
Their children hate them for the things they're not;
They hate themselves for what they are-
And yet they drink, they laugh,
Close the wound, hide the scar.

But you say it's time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me -
Well, that's the way I've always heard it should be:
You want to marry me, we'll marry.

-- Carly Simon, "That's the Way I Always Heard It Should Be"

Contrast the messaging from 1966:

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do
We could be married
And then we'd be happy

Wouldn't it be nice

-- Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), "Wouldn't It Be Nice"

And a reminder from one of our greatest living moral philosophers:
I support every person's right to fall short of the expectations of an other, and that 'other's right to be feel let down and to nag accordingly.
Marriage ain't 'all that'.
Get 'that', and it's an easy conclusion...
No matter what happens as a result of the minuet that took place in Washington this week, we aren't getting 1966 back. Nor are we about to bestow it on anyone else.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Quotes of the day

Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves.
-- Eric Hoffer

You are like children in the marketplace/shouting to your playmates.
-- The Meat Puppets, "Reward"

The awful thing about life is this: everyone has their reasons.
-- "Rules of the Game," Jean Renoir

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spitballing Part Two -- History Lesson

Another manufactured symbol of solidarity, from my youth:

That didn't work so well. Ten years later, I saw some of these:

You'd be surprised how many people who wore shirts like that in the 80s now are sporting the red equal sign on their Facebook pages. Or maybe you wouldn't be.


So I was on the ol' Facebook yesterday and noticed that at least a dozen of my Facebook friends were sporting this image, or variations thereof:

Signs, signs, everywhere signs
Apparently this was to show solidarity for gay marriage, or something, because apparently the matter has become urgent now, or something.

I've long since grown tired of the whole debate, because (a) it really doesn't affect many people at all and (b) like most such urgent moral campaigns, the long term ramifications, for good or ill, will only become evident many years into the future. So why the urgency? Presented for your discussion, my theory:

I think the gay marriage debate is really a crisis of faith, but not Christian faith. I think it's really about the last 4+ years, in which we've had the Platonic ideal of a Secular Left leader at the helm of the country, a time in which most things have sputtered economically and otherwise.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, of course. We heard it ourselves, from the leader himself, right here in St. Paul, Minnesota:
The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment — this was the time — when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.
We're now about 5 years on from when those words were spoken, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and it hasn't quite turned out that way. So many people look to find a reason to believe, to see that Progress really is being made. I think the marriage debate is a way to affirm a secular faith that hasn't been delivering the goods. And in that sense, the debate is perfect. If the Supremes strike down Prop 8 and DOMA, the morality play reaches a satisfactory conclusion. If the decision goes the other way, the crusade continues with renewed fervor. We all need our heroes and villains.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

AlteredScale 3 is up

The third edition of the online journal Altered Scale is now up. I'm fortunate enough to have a couple of my poems included in this edition, but there's more, a lot more, for you, all just a click away. Check it out!

Life in A Better Minnesota

You might recall that the primary arm of the Mark Dayton propaganda machine was an organization called "Alliance for a Better Minnesota," which assured us that A Better Minnesota would be possible if only we'd be willing to give the keys to Mark Dayton.

And now we understand how A Better Minnesota operates:

Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration said Monday that state gambling regulators should have been clearer from the outset that they relied heavily on gambling companies themselves to estimate revenues from electronic pulltabs that would help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

“There should have been more transparency in this part of the process,” said Katharine Tinucci, a Dayton spokeswoman. The governor, she said, “was not aware of the particulars of where the information was coming from.”
It's long been evident that Mark Dayton isn't aware of many things, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at this admission, but, seriously? Considering all the people at the governor's employ, he couldn't be bothered to vet a proposal for a billion dollar project? Due diligence is for suckers, I guess, in A Better Minnesota.

Fortunately, the deliberations surrounding the Viking stadium were documented. And yes, the final bit of wisdom in the clip is pretty spot-on:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Early reported potential replacements for Tubby Smith

1. Zombie Bill Musselman
2. Zombie Cotton Fitzsimmons
3. Steve Yoder
4. Bill Fitch (back after 40+ years!)
5. Lou Henson (hairpiece only)
6. Cheryl Littlejohn
7. Gene Hackman (playing the role of Norman Dale)
8. Ken Howard (of "The White Shadow" fame)
9. Bruce Pearl (but only if he promises to wear his orange Vols jacket)
10. Zombie Minnie Pearl
11. The gopher from “Caddyshack”
12. Jerry Burns
13. A Van Gundy to be named later
14. Basketball Jones (Cheech & Chong song, played as a continuous loop throughout practices)

Cleanup on Aisle Six

I wrote a somewhat groggy and intemperate post last night concerning the problems with charitable gambling, the oxymoronic and morally problematic funding mechanism that our benevolent government has chosen for the Vaseline Dome. On reflection, I think something else needs to be said. Fortunately, the estimable First Ringer cuts to the chase:
All the finger-pointing in the world doesn’t help hide the reality that the responsibility for flawed legislation needs to rest with the political leadership that authored it....
Yes, Mark Dayton owns it. But so does Julie Rosen. And John Kriesel. And Morrie Lanning. It was a truly bipartisan thing and now we have the results. Back to you, FR:
For a funding mechanism that was originally billed to deliver $35 million in revenue per year, and continuously revised down to $17 million and then $1.7, the process of assigning blame should have been viewed as inevitable.
Enjoy the inevitability. But don't forget these folks:

My Harvin jersey needs to be subsidized, too

One last thing -- in my post last night, I said that we were getting about 10 cents on the dollar from the original estimate. That's not right. It's actually less than five cents on the dollar.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Easy Mark" Dayton

Mark Dayton wanted a stadium. They saw him a mile away:
The botched projections showing that electronic pulltab sales would explode in Minnesota and immediately start paying for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium were based largely on estimates made by gambling businesses with a vested interest in the new but untested form of charitable gaming, the Star Tribune has found.

Sales estimates were based on different kinds of gambling devices played in other states, made by national gambling equipment managers and vendors, according to e-mails obtained by the Star Tribune. Express Games MN, the first e-game vendor approved by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board, reviewed and analyzed the sales estimates that were part of the final stadium legislation.
Botched, they tell us. No, I don't think that's the right term. Botched would assume good faith and maybe ignorance. This was different, though. Ignorance is one thing, willful ignorance is quite another. And that's what we have here. Even David Schultz can see it:

The sales estimates were developed in the rush to find a funding formula for a new football stadium, and records show they were not challenged by the Department of Revenue or other fiscal analysts.

The Vikings lease at the Metrodome had expired, the team was threatening to move, and Gov. Mark Dayton and many legislators were committed to keeping the team in Minnesota.

Those estimates became the foundation for the state Department of Revenue’s projection that the new games would rake in $35 million for stadium funding by the end of this year.

In November, that figure was sliced to $17 million. In February, it was slashed to $1.7 million.

“There was a willful blindness ... driven by pressure politics,” charged David Schultz, a Hamline University political analyst and a professor of nonprofit law.

‘How do I build a model?’
No need, actually. The model has always been the same. Make a promise you can't keep and try to push the ramifications to the "out years." Well, boy howdy, we're at the out years already, before the first spade has entered the ground. The technical term for such modeling is "garbage in, garbage out." And the mounting pile has such an aroma that even Schultz, who has been one of the premier ratifiers of DFL conventional wisdom around these parts for a generation, has to acknowledge what everyone should have acknowledged a year ago:

Schultz believes the sales estimates went unchallenged because of their high stakes.

“This was a deal that was going to happen no matter what,” Schultz said. “The governor wanted a stadium. The money couldn’t come from the general fund. The charities had been asking for electronic games.”

With funding projections for the Vikings stadium now slashed by $33 million for this year alone, future estimates will be more accurate, Barrett and Massman said.

“Now they’re starting to be based on actual activity,” said Massman.

It's pretty much axiomatic -- the lies you tell other people can hurt, but the ones that really cost in the long run are the ones you tell yourself. "Actual activity" in charitable gaming was never going to get the Vaseline Dome funded. At about 10 cents on the dollar, you almost got a better rate of return from Solyndra. But I don't suppose that the lies Mark Dayton told himself will hurt very much, as long as he has Alida Messinger's attack machine available. But the lies we told ourselves -- at least the lies that those of us who wear the purple face paint and the Helga Braids told ourselves -- are going to be hitting our wallets. Because this stadium will go through and we will be paying for it. Count on it.

I suppose it's churlish to remind people that we should have known that the whole thing was crap a long time ago. Okay, I'm a churl.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Damage Control

Al Franken's got an election to win. Can't have people think he had anything to do with Obamacare:

The Senate voted for the first time Thursday to make it a priority to repeal a newly implemented tax on medical devices. The 79-20 vote was only a sense-of-the-Senate measure; it contained no details and set no policy except to say that repealing the tax could not add to the federal deficit.

A separate bill will be required to actually put the repeal in motion. That bill must find a way to replace the $20 billion to $30 billion the tax is expected to raise over the next decade.

Nevertheless, supporters of the repeal, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, said they believe Thursday night’s vote was a major symbolic victory.
Symbolic victories are the same as moral victories in sports. They aren't really victories. Al Franken owns Obamacare. And the medical device tax isn't all that he owns:

As this start date draws near, evidence is piling up that ObamaCare will:

Boost insurance costs. Officially the "Affordable Care Act," ObamaCare promised to lower premiums for families. But regulators decided to impose a 3.5% surcharge on insurance plans sold through federally run exchanges. There's also a $63 fee for every person covered by employers. And the law adds a "premium tax" that will require insurers to pay more than $100 billion over the next decade. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation expects insurers to simply pass this tax onto individuals and small businesses, boosting premiums another 2.5%.

Push millions off employer coverage. In February, the Congressional Budget Office said that 7 million will likely lose their employer coverage thanks to ObamaCare — nearly twice its previous estimate. That number could be as high as 20 million, the CBO says.
Investor's Business Daily has more examples at the link. And as for simplification, consider this:

The administration is caught in a bit of a bind here. On the one hand, Obamacare is tricky business. In order to figure out how much Americans will pay, the federal government needs to collect lots of information, everything from the size of the family to its income to whether any family members are Alaska Natives (which would make them eligible for additional services through the Indian Health Service). It’s hard to collect all that data in a way that isn’t a bit complex.

At the same time, the whole goal of the Affordable Care Act is to maximize health insurance enrollment. That puts a premium on making the applications simple and easy to use—not the kind of documents that you’d get half way through and give up on.

But the Post, ever hopeful, reminds us of this comforting notion concerning the 21-page proctology exam of an application:
Most Americans will never see this form. Most who access health insurance through the exchange are expected to do so online, not in paper.
Well, that's very different. Everything is better online.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

College Road Trip

We're back from a few days on the road. The Benster is beginning his college selection process and we went traveling through the largely frozen Midwest to check out a few possible landing spots.

The value of higher education is questionable these days. Most of the places we looked at are going to net out at about $50K/year, which would be far more than we could ever pay. Financial aid will likely cover a large part of the bill, but the key will be to find a way to foot the bill without saddling the family with crushing debt. Also key is finding a job that is better that doesn't involve a tip jar.

One thing becomes evident on these trips -- colleges have been devoting significant coin to feather their nests in recent years. My alma mater, Beloit College, has been buying up buildings and renovating them for a number of years now; they bought the old city public library and have turned it into a performing arts center, a multi-million dollar renovation. Now, the college is pursuing the purchase of an old power plant, a massive space that would be turned into a student activities Taj Mahal.

It's easy to see why this is happening. One of the schools we visited on our trip, St. Olaf, has conference facilities that compare favorably to the spaces in a modern office tower. Another school we visited, Cornell College in tiny Mount Vernon, Iowa, is awash with construction and renovation projects all over campus. I'm not clear how these projects will improve the quality of a Cornell education, but it surely will look pretty.

I'm a believer in the value of a liberal arts education, mostly because it took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. It's not certain that prospective employers place similar value on such an education. It's one of many things that we'll have to weigh as we go through this process.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Reading is Fundamental, But. . . .

Many years ago, when Benster and Fearless Maria were in elementary school, the last weekly newsletter of the year always encouraged the students to keep reading during the summer because it would help the students academically next year.  The newsletter also joked that it is almost impossible to read too much.

I have been reading another blog for the last couple of years.  The blogger posts her goals once a week.  Under her Family/Marriage/Mothering Goals category, she routinely writes about the books that she will read individually with her children.  A separate goal in this category is to read to her children during lunch and dinner.  These reading goals are always in this category and in fact, often are the only goals that she posts in this category.

Is it possible to read too much?

Are you reading too much if your main or only goals for your family and your marriage are reading?  Are you reading too much if you inhale your own meal in order to spend the rest of the mealtime reading to your children?  Are you reading too much if you read to your children at mealtime instead of conversing with them?

What do you think?


It's not a lot of fun driving from Minnesota to Illinois in a blizzard. But I will say this -- MnDOT and the Iowa equivalent thereof did a hell of a good job clearing the roads.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Programming Note

Posting is going to be light for the next few days. Places to go and people to see, all that rot. Updates as warranted.

1000 Words

The headline is perfect:

Obama flies a 747 to Chicago to tout his fuel-saving plan
But the picture (and caption) are even better:

Sometimes I think the guy is impervious to irony.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Time to change things up

Got tired of the Minneapolis skyline, so we changed the look of the blog a bit. I may do a bit more of that from time to time. Trust that you'll still get the same semi-competent content, however.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

As a proud Cheesehead in Minnesota, at times I've found it difficult to follow the activities of individual members of the Green Bay Packers. Of course, they all seem to cross the St. Croix eventually, which makes it easier.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Housekeeping Followup

Putting the dreaded captcha back into the comment section has stopped the spambots cold, so we're going to stay with it for now. I'll continue to investigate workarounds, though.

Francis and the Curia

It's going to take some time to understand the man who now heads the Church of Rome, but this much seems certain -- one of the first and most important jobs that Pope Francis has is dealing with the Curia, the entrenched bureaucracy at the Vatican. Eric Reguly of the Globe and Mail explains why:

The Curia has about 2,000 employees, who work only six-hour days, and it is considered an Italian power base. In one form or another, it has existed for more than 1,500 years, initially employing the notaries that served the Pope, later expanding into a chancery that would advise the Pope on papal business. Mr. Reese said that in the medieval and Renaissance eras, it functioned essentially as a royal court, similar to the ones that served – and fed off – Europe’s most powerful monarchs.

The royal court era still twitches. Note that the cardinals are called “princes of the church” and are treated like noblemen. But acting like professional bureaucrats might be better suited to a global institution dealing with secular duties like ensuring that its bank meets international money-laundering standards; cracking down on bishops who covered up thousands of cases of sexual abuse by priests; preventing the torrent of leaks that erupted into the ongoing “Vatileaks” scandal.

It's quickly become apparent that Francis doesn't have much patience for the royal court idea. His own career in Buenos Aires suggests a very different model and one that I believe is needed. As Archbishop Bergoglio, Francis was known for his modesty, eschewing the official archbishop's residence, living instead in a small apartment. He cooked his own meals and was a regular rider of the city buses. While I'm sure we won't see Francis riding the buses in Rome, his example would be a good one.

The challenge with dealing with an entrenched bureaucracy is that bureaucrats are very canny about defending their positions and prerogatives. Francis will need some help on that front and he might have an intriguing lieutenant coming with him:

There is a “probability” that Manila Archbishop Luis Cardinal Tagle may serve in the Roman Curia under the papacy of newly elected Pope Francis, Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said Thursday.

“It is not only possible, it's probable,” Cruz said in an interview on GMA News TV's “News to Go.”
Tagle has made a name for himself in Church circles and was considered by many to be a papabile. He is significantly younger than Francis (only 55) and shares a similar worldview:

Both Pope Francis and Tagle are also known for their simple ways—Tagle used to take his cheap bike to go around villages when he was bishop of Imus in Cavite, while Cardinal Bergoglio was known as a modest man from a middle class family who rode the bus to work.

“(I)n a way, he resonates with the message of Cardinal Tagle that the Church needs to listen and should become simple,” [Fr. Joe] Quilongquilong added.
One of the primary reasons the Church falls short is that it fails to be simple. We all deal with myriad complexities in our lives and rather than confront things head on, there's an understandable tendency to job things out to the professionals in order to simplify things. But there's a difference between simplification and abdication of responsibility. When the Church relies on its administrative expertise, it can lose sight of the core role it has, which is to claim more souls for the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pope Francis

Pope Francis
Habemus papam. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is now Pope Francis. A few thoughts on an important day:

  • Most people who were trying to come up with lists of papabile somehow missed Bergoglio. In some respects, it's easy to see why. This is not a flamboyant man. If the reports I've read are accurate, he has eschewed many of the trappings of grandeur that are available for cardinals within the Church. He did not live in the Archbishop's residence in Buenos Aires, preferring instead to have a small apartment. He cooked his own meals and was known for taking public transportation.
  • The name Francis is fraught with meaning. He apparently chose it to honor Francis of Assisi, who is one of the most venerated saints of all and certainly one of the most beloved, known for his ministry to the poor and to animals. St. Francis of Assisi also founded the Franciscan order. Which leads me to the next point.
  • Pope Francis is not a Franciscan. He is a Jesuit, the first Jesuit to become pope. The Jesuit order is known for many things, including a great dedication to education and propagation of the faith, but also for strict interpretation of Church teachings and, in recent times, for being a source of liberalism within the Church. From what I've been able to gather, Francis is not a liberal by any means.
  • I suspect that the name Francis not only honors St Francis of Assisi, but also honors another Jesuit, St. Francis Xavier. Francis Xavier was the great missionary who brought the faith to Asia, including India, Japan and China. I suspect that Francis understands that missionary zeal is needed again. I further expect that one of the places he's liable to find in need of missionaries is Europe itself.
  • Having a Pope from South America has great meaning as well. As I've argued here before, the greatest energy within the Church is now in the Southern Hemisphere and having a pontiff who has ministered in South America is highly significant.
  • Having said that, Francis certainly has roots in Europe, especially Italy. As is the case with many Argentinians, his ancestry is Italian and the choice of the name Francis also reflects that heritage, as Francis of Assisi is the patron of Italy.
  • I am somewhat surprised that the conclave ended up delivering an older man; Francis is 76 years old and will turn 77 at the end of this year. I thought there was a good chance that a significantly younger man would emerge from the process, but given the challenges ahead, perhaps it is a good thing that an older, less outwardly ambitious individual is now the successor to Peter. From all accounts, humility does not mean subservience in his case. Perhaps the largest problem the Church faces, at least administratively, is the sclerotic nature of the Curia, the permanent bureaucracy at the Vatican. Francis is enough of an outsider that he can be a change agent there.
I'm sure we'll learn much more in the coming days. I am hopeful.


I hate to do it, but I've turned comment verification back on. The spambots are running wild on older posts and it needs to stop. If I can find a workaround I will, but I have to put an end to it. More later. Thank you for your support and understanding.

Another must read

The post below details the problems of Detroit. Meanwhile, in Illinois:

For the second time in history, federal regulators have accused an American state of securities fraud, finding that Illinois misled investors about the condition of its public pension system from 2005 to 2009.

In announcing a settlement with the state on Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Illinois of claiming that it had been properly funding public workers’ retirement plans when it had not. In particular, it cited the period from 2005 to 2009, when Illinois also issued $2.2 billion in bonds.

The growing hole in the state pension system put increasing pressure on Illinois’ own finances during that time, raising the risk that at some point the state would not be able to pay for everything, and retirees and bond buyers would be competing for the same limited money. The risk grew greater every year, the S.E.C. said, but investors could not see it by looking at Illinois’ disclosures.
There's more, a lot more, at the link, including this happy bit of news:

The S.E.C. noted that Illinois had passed a law in 1994 allowing itself to put less than the required amount into its pension system each year. It is not the only state to have done so. For the next 15 years, Illinois issued annual reports showing that it was on track with its lawful schedule, even as it fell further behind the real-world amount needed to pay all current and retired public employees.

By 2003, the state was so far behind that it issued $10 billion of bonds and put the proceeds into its pension funds to make them look flush. The main underwriter of those bonds, Bear Stearns, was later found to have made an improper payment to win the business, figuring in the corruption trial of a former governor, Rod R. Blagojevich.

In 2005, the state passed another law, giving itself a holiday from making even the inadequate annual pension contributions called for by its 1994 schedule. It said it would offset the missing money with bigger contributions from 2008 to 2010, but then did not do so. By 2010, the reported shortfall of the pension system was $57 billion, and senior officials were warning that the system was at risk of breaking down completely.

And of course Sammy should have no trouble bailing out Illinois, right?

A must read

If you only read one thing today, you ought to make it this article from New York Times concerning the disaster that is Detroit, Michigan. Here's the part that ought to terrify you:

The big structural imbalance was hard to see building up, because until 2008, when a new accounting rule took effect, cities like Detroit were not required to keep track of their workers’ lifelong health care bills. That is why Mr. Boyle found a $7.2 billion promise that no one knew about. Detroit’s general-obligation debt to its bondholders, by contrast, was a little less than $1 billion that year, safely within the city’s legal debt limit, then $1.4 billion.

But while the numbers are particularly grim here, the basic story line is hardly unique. The same path, long and slow, can be found from Providence, R.I., to Stockton, Calif.

To preserve cash, the city resorted to increasing its workers’ future pensions at contract time, instead of raising their pay. That helped balance the immediate budgets, but set up a time bomb sure to explode as more workers retired.

The cost of the retirees’ pensions also grew because of an inflation-protection feature that compounds every year. Detroit cannot renege on paying the benefits, at least outside of bankruptcy, because the State Constitution makes it unlawful to reduce pensions after public workers earn them.
We are going to find out there are a lot more stories of this sort in the coming years. But here's the punchline:

None of the decisions, experts here say, will be simple, and some wonder whether Detroit can be saved at all. Some 700,000 residents now live in this vast 139-square-mile city that once was home to nearly two million people. That number may fall to close to 600,000 by 2030 before the population begins to rise again, one regional planning group projects. By pushing costs into the future while its population is shrinking, Detroit has left the people least able to pay with the biggest share of its bills.

“Detroit is a microcosm of what’s going on in America, except America can still print money and borrow,” Mr. Boyle said.
For now, at least. But good luck with sustaining that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lord Have Percy

Not going to Seattle
So the Vikings shipped Percy Harvin off to Seattle yesterday. It's an interesting move, to put it mildly. Harvin might be one of the most talented football players on the planet, but he's also a head case without peer. Although we're not likely to get the real skinny on why Harvin was sent away, you can assume that it had something to do with the mysterious end of last season, in which Harvin essentially was gone from the team after an ankle injury.

The Vikings have had a long history of wide receivers with somewhat interesting personalities; in their own very different ways, Cris Carter and Randy Moss were troublesome personalities. You can get wide receivers who aren't divas -- the Packers have had a bunch of them in recent years. Still, Harvin is an exceptional player when he wants to play and it's tough to replace a guy like that. The Seahawks must believe that Russell Wilson can help Harvin get his head on straight. It will be interesting to see.

Happy birthday, Mills!

I wrote this piece a few years back and it seems appropriate to dredge out of the archives. Happy birthday to the best friend a guy could have, then and now.

As you grow up, you make friends. If you're lucky, you have good friends, people who care about you and who are there for you during the good times and the bad. If you're really lucky, you have a friend like my great friend, Mark Miller.

Mills and I grew up together in Appleton, Wisconsin, mostly in the 1970s. It was a good place to grow up and probably as good a time as any. There was a lot of weirdness in the air during that time, but not in Appleton, which remained almost blissfully removed from the churning larger world. We grew up in a town filled with tidy houses and general prosperity. The major industry in town is papermaking, which is about as recession-proof an industry as one could imagine. Most Appletonians lived quite comfortably. While there was a pocket of poverty on the outskirts in the mysterious place known as Koehnke's Woods, if you grew up in Appleton chances were good that you had a nice house, an intact family and enough money for candy when you were little and gas to cruise College Avenue when you got older.

Not actually a boyhood idol
Mills and I were largely inseparable during our childhoods. We were prime devotees of faux sports all year long -- Wiffle ball in the spring and summer, Nerf football in the fall and Nerf basketball in the winter. We would play Wiffle ball all day long with other neighborhood friends and my brothers. We would keep track of our home run statistics; most years Mills would end up with about 400 homers and I would usually have a few less. Once fall arrived, we would return to the open field in the park across the street from my house and re-enact the highlight packages we'd seen during halftime of the game. Since the highlights we saw were often of games on the West Coast, we would be John Brodie and Ted Kwalick, or perhaps Daryle Lamonica and Fred Biletnikoff, or maybe John Hadl and Harold Jackson. In those days, the Packers weren't really capable of highlights, of course; it was hard to get too excited about Jon Staggers and Jim Del Gaizo. As we played, we'd be humming the soaring orchestral strains that accompanied NFL Films, straining to get our pre-pubescent voices to sound like John Facenda. And during the winter, we'd retire to Mills' basement, where his father had set up a full-court Nerf basketball court. We would play for hours, pretending to be Doctor J or Rick Barry or Bobby Dandridge or Hank Finkel or McCoy McLemore. Okay, we didn't really pretend to be Hank Finkel or McCoy McLemore.

It's easy to remember those days and smile about them. We had a lot of fun. But it wasn't just playing. As we played, we would talk and think and dream about the wider world beyond our little town. And even in playing faux sports, or walking around town, or cruising up and down College Avenue with the rest of the kids later on, we started to understand the larger world and our place in it. Today, nearly 40 years on, it's clear that a lot of my understanding of the world comes from the time I spent with my great friend Mark Miller. Today is his birthday. Happy birthday, good sir. Thank you for the great gift you have given me.

Pour yourself a tall cool one

Enjoy that beverage, kids, even in New York City:

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed on Monday to appeal a judge's ruling that struck down his pioneering ban on large sugary drinks sold by the city's restaurants, movie theaters and other food service businesses just a day before it was to take effect.

The judge called the ban "arbitrary and capricious" in an 11th-hour decision that dealt a serious blow to Bloomberg, who has made public health a cornerstone of his administration, with laws prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and parks; banning trans fats; and requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts.

Have one
Arbitrary and capricious are only the beginning of the problems with the law, of course. What made it arbitrary is that it didn't apply universally -- you could still buy a Big Gulp at a gas station in some benighted area like Staten Island. What makes it capricious is that there's nothing particularly magical about 16 ounces vs. a larger size.

There is no doubt that drink sizes have become larger over the years -- I used to think it was great when I could have a 16-oz. glass returnable bottle of Coke or Pepsi instead of a 12-oz. can, which were the only choices back in my youth. Nowadays the standard plastic bottle is 20-oz. or even larger. You may not need that much, but you know what? It's none of Bloomberg's business.

For his part, America's Nanny insists he will prevail, despite that meddling judge:

At a press conference, Bloomberg said the judge's ruling was "totally in error" and promised to keep pressing his effort to combat a growing obesity epidemic linked to heart disease and diabetes. He has successfully fought off past court challenges to the smoking ban and the calorie count rule.

"Anytime you adopt a groundbreaking policy, special interests will sue," Bloomberg said. "That's America."
Indeed. And God Bless America.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lightning Round - 031113

Daylight Savings Time may have started, but my brain isn't yet engaged. When in doubt, bring the lightning!

  • Does the usual "fire the fireman" approach that the White House is taking with the sequester trouble you? Patterico has a useful rant on the subject.
  • Gov. Dayton is apparently finding that it's not that easy to raise taxes, even when you have a legislature full of DFLers. But of course it's always time to have raises.
  • If you wonder why Mark Dayton is governor, here's a hint. As always, it's easiest to spend someone else's money.
  • The papal conclave begins tomorrow. I have no idea who will emerge, although I would hope the new Pope is (a) not part of the Vatican bureaucracy and (b) not European. But that's just me.
  • Also, I don't think there's much chance the next Pope will be from the United States.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Wacko Birds and the Gelding in the Pasture

So John McCain didn't like Rand Paul's filibuster very much. He said as much:
While McCain has been a fierce critic of the Obama administration, he has also tangled with members of his own party, particularly the new crop of lawmakers including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), darlings of the conservative grassroots.

When I asked him if "these guys" -- having just mentioned Amash, Cruz and Paul by name -- are a "positive force" in the GOP, McCain paused for a full six seconds.

"They were elected, nobody believes that there was a corrupt election, anything else," McCain said. "But I also think that when, you know, it's always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone."
Says the man who has spent more time in front of television cameras than just about any other Republican not named George W. Bush in the last 20 years. But I digress.

There's something more fundamental going on, of course. McCain has had a long career and while he's never been my favorite, I've never doubted that his heart was in the right place. He genuinely loves his country and he suffered greatly as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But his role has been to confirm the conventional wisdom, which he has done throughout his career. He's considered a maverick because of his willingness to offer loud opposition to the policy initiatives of his own party.

McCain first came to the Senate in 1987. While that's hardly the longest tenure among that body -- Patrick Leahy has been on the prowl since 1975 -- it's an awfully long time. While McCain has been in Washington, the size and scope of government has continued to increase, essentially on the same track since the Great Depression. If McCain ever meant to change that trajectory, the moment has long since passed. He's grown comfortable with his prerogatives. He's got his pile and his place in the history books. It's a good life and there's little reason for him to embrace anyone who is calling for change. It's easier to dismiss the concerns that Rand Paul offers than to deal with them. There's no incentive, really, if you're John McCain.

We refer to people like McCain as "old bulls." I think he's more of a gelding, actually -- he might serve a useful purpose if you're trying to ride him to a particular, familiar destination, but he's not very likely to father any new ideas. And the question we need to ask is this -- what sort of a bird is Rand Paul? Is he a mockingbird? A raven? Or a canary?

Friday, March 08, 2013

The tribune of the people

While the Rand Paul filibuster was going on, the question arose -- what are other senators saying? Brad Carlson wondered that, too. So he checked the ol' Twitter feed and found that Amy Klobuchar had her attention focused in a different place:

Klobee's most recent tweet occurred at 6:19 pm CT Wednesday, when Paul was approximately 7-1/2 hours into his filibuster. It was as follows:

A gust of helium

Focused like a laser on the important issues of the day.

Go read this

Walter Russell Mead might be the most perceptive guy around writing about politics these days. His latest essay is typically astute and you should read it. An excerpt:

A few years ago, Republicans wouldn’t have experienced quite this kind of infighting over foreign policy. Ron Paul and his scrappy, sometimes scruffy supporters disagreed, but most GOP leaders were united around a big defense budget, tough enforcement of laws like the propagandistically named “Patriot Act,”a globally assertive foreign policy and a hard line on the GWOT.  No longer. The McCain-Rand controversy is but the latest sign of a widening chasm in the Republican party. In the recent debate over the sequester, many Republicans signaled that they would accept cuts to military spending if it lowered the federal debt. And a growing number of conservatives are joining far left writers like Glenn Greenwald in their criticisms about the way the Obama administration is using drones in US foreign policy.

After the 2012 election, the media focused mostly on the divide between social and fiscal conservatives in the GOP, but these recent events suggest that another civil war is brewing between two groups of hawks: war hawks and debt hawks. On the one hand, the GOP is still full of people like Senator McCain who see the preservation of a robust foreign policy—drone strikes, big budgets and all—as the most urgent issue facing the United States. On the other hand, there is a small but growing and vocal group of Republicans who view the national debt as a bigger threat to US interests than Al Qaeda, Red China and the Russians combined.

More, a lot more, at the link.


It's a dog-eat-dog world and in 2014 Norm Coleman isn't going to be wearing Milk Bone underwear

Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman said late Thursday night that he would not run for anything next year.

"Public service is an important part of my life. It will remain so even though I will not run for public office in 2014," the Republican said on Twitter. "(I) want to mentor a new generation of optimistic, limited government focused leaders who aren't afraid to find common ground to solve problems."

Three thoughts about this:

  1. Good.
  2. Finding common ground with people who hate you is a fool's errand.
  3. For all his faults, Coleman still was miles ahead of his, ahem, successor.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Enjoy the Silence

America's Mayor Nanny is at it again:

Now listen up, if you can.

Mayor Bloomberg — who has already cracked down on smoking, junk food, trans fats, salt and super-sized drinks — is embarking on a new crusade: preventing New Yorkers from going deaf.

Hizzoner’s health officials are planning a social-media campaign to warn young people about the risk of losing their hearing from listening to music at high volume on personal MP3 players, The Post has learned.

“With public and private support, a public-education campaign is being developed to raise awareness about safe use of personal music players . . . and risks of loud and long listening,” said Nancy Clark, the city Health Department’s assistant commissioner of environmental-disease prevention.

I suppose it would be churlish of me to suggest that one way to help people's hearing is to simply have Mr. Bloomberg shut up. C.S. Lewis still has the right response concerning Bloomberg and his ilk:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
As Lynyrd Skynyrd asked, nearly 40 years ago now, does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.

The Filibuster Show

Sen. Rand Paul uncorked an old-fashioned filibuster yesterday, speaking over 13 hours into this morning on the topic of drone strikes against U.S. citizens, with particular attention to presidential orders of same.

It's not so easy a question as it should be. We have to remember a few things:

  • We do give everyone the right to use deadly force when threatened with same, at least in theory.
  • In practice, we don't always follow through -- ask George Zimmerman about that.
  • The reason we don't is because viewing a threat level is going to be subjective.
My rule of thumb on government power is this -- do not grant power to a government unless you are prepared to accept the use of said power on yourself. A lot of conservatives didn't worry much about the Patriot Act when George W. Bush was in power, but now they are quite worried because Barack Obama has the same power. Conversely, you mostly get silence from liberals these days on these issues -- ask Cindy Sheehan about that.

I don't suspect you can unpack a 13-hour filibuster in a blog post, but there are a few things that need to be said. First, on balance Sen. Paul is correct; from what I can tell, the use of drone strikes has become increasingly indiscriminate over time. I'm not sure you can pin that entirely on Barack Obama, however. Second, those of us who are advocates of the 2nd Amendment need to remember that the 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th Amendments are equally important. It won't do to pick and choose on these issues. The point of the Bill of Rights was to constrain governmental power in very specific ways. The government we have now has lost constraint over time. It's going to take a long time to roll things back, but first we need to decide whether we want to roll anything back. It's hard to argue that limited government is popular when Barack Obama gets reelected.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Hugo Chavez, R.I.P.

I was always taught to not speak ill of the dead, at least on the day they pass from this world to whatever place they might be headed. Tell you what -- if you want to understand the sulfuric essence of Chavez, try this piece from the late and much-missed Christopher Hitchens. An excerpt:

In the fall of 2008, I went to Venezuela as a guest of Sean Penn's, whose friendship with Chávez is warm. The third member of our party was the excellent historian Douglas Brinkley, and we spent some quality time flying around the country on Chávez's presidential jet and bouncing with him from rally to rally at ground level, as well. The boss loves to talk and has clocked up speeches of Castro-like length. Bolívar is the theme of which he never tires. His early uniformed movement of mutineers—which failed to bring off a military coup in 1992—was named for Bolívar. Turning belatedly but successfully to electoral politics, he called his followers the Bolivarian Movement. Since he became president, the country's official name has been the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. (Chávez must sometimes wish that he had been born in Bolivia in the first place.) At Cabinet meetings, he has been known to leave an empty chair, in case the shade of Bolívar might choose to attend the otherwise rather Chávez-dominated proceedings.

It did not take long for this hero-obsession to disclose itself in bizarre forms. One evening, as we were jetting through the skies, Brinkley mildly asked whether Chávez's large purchases of Russian warships might not be interpreted by Washington as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. The boss's response was impressively immediate. He did not know for sure, he said, but he very much hoped so. "The United States was born with an imperialist impulse. There has been a long confrontation between Monroe and Bolívar. … It is necessary that the Monroe Doctrine be broken." As his tirade against evil America mounted, Penn broke in to say that surely Chávez would be happy to see the arrest of Osama Bin Laden.

I was hugely impressed by the way that the boss scorned this overture. He essentially doubted the existence of al-Qaida, let alone reports of its attacks on the enemy to the north. "I don't know anything about Osama Bin Laden that doesn't come to me through the filter of the West and its propaganda." To this, Penn replied that surely Bin Laden had provided quite a number of his very own broadcasts and videos. I was again impressed by the way that Chávez rejected this proffered lucid-interval lifeline. All of this so-called evidence, too, was a mere product of imperialist television. After all, "there is film of the Americans landing on the moon," he scoffed. "Does that mean the moon shot really happened? In the film, the Yanqui flag is flying straight out. So, is there wind on the moon?" As Chávez beamed with triumph at this logic, an awkwardness descended on my comrades, and on the conversation.

Open Thread

About 6-7" of snow on the ground this morning, which means a particularly ugly commute for me. So whatever deep thoughts I might have to offer this morning will have to wait. Feel free to offer your own deep thoughts. I will throw out this wisdom from Steven Wright:

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Still Here

The sequester hasn't killed us yet. But watch your back.


As you might know, the Benster has become a fanatical supporter of Everton, a Liverpool-based team that plays in the Premier League. Since one of my duties as a father is to try to make sense of things my children are into, I've started following the Premier League as well and am following a North London-based team, Tottenham Hotspur. I don't know how I ended up picking the Spurs, but I suppose it's because their name is more amusing than, say, Wigan.

Yesterday the Spurs played their biggest rival, another North London team, Arsenal, known far and wide by their nickname, the Gunners. The game is called the North London Derby and was played at Tottenham's home, White Hart Lane. As it happens, Tottenham is currently doing very well in the Premier League, sitting in 3rd behind the two famous Manchester-based clubs, Manchester United and Manchester City, both of which are essentially arms of international conglomerates. Arsenal is sitting about 5th in the standings, so this was a very big match. Tottenham won 2-1.

Perhaps the most notable soccer fan in the conservative blogosphere is Paul Mirengoff of Powerline, who is also an Everton fan. Since Everton is in 6th position, he had interest in the Tottenham/Arsenal match. He happened to notice that the Fox Sports broadcast prominently featured Piers Morgan, the blowhard Brit currently in the employ of CNN who is best known for (a) incoherent argumentation and (b) his fanatical anti-gun views. As it happens, Morgan is a also a fanatical Arsenal fan.

Mirengoff had some fun at Morgan's expense and you can read his account here. But he missed the lede: how can it be that Piers Morgan is a Gunners fan?

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Taking It Well

I haven't spent a lot of time lately on politics in Wisconsin, because for the most part the fun stuff is done. And after yesterday, the dream died for a lot of deranged lefties in Wisconsin:

Just like that, the lengthy John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's aides and associates is over.

Nearly three years after the probe was launched, retired Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim signed an order shutting down the secret investigation.

In all, Milwaukee County prosecutors brought charges against six individuals as a result of the probe, which was opened in May 2010. Of those, three were former aides to Walker while he was Milwaukee County executive, one was an appointee and another a major campaign contributor.

No additional charges will be filed.

That didn't sit well with one Graeme Zielinski, who is communications director for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. And he demonstrated his displeasure by comparing the governor to an infamous figure via a series of Tweets that he subsequently deleted from his feed. But the Internet is forever:

.@govwalker spent more than Jeffrey Dahmer to beat criminal charges.
— Graeme Zielinski (@gjzielinski) March 1, 2013

.@govwalker had better lawyers than Jeffrey Dahmer in beating the rap. Clear that he committed crimes.
— Graeme Zielinski (@gjzielinski) March 1, 2013

What do @govwalker and Jeffrey Dahmer have in common?
— Graeme Zielinski (@gjzielinski) March 1, 2013
Pro tip, Graeme -- it's too soon. If you'd gone with Ed Gein or James Duquette, you'd have been just fine.

Zielinski offered a heartfelt apology on his Twitter feed, which seems less than heartfelt in the larger context. See for yourself:

Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, I Can't Help Myself
There's a lot more of this sort of thing on his feed if you have the stomach for it. If you choose to dive in, bring an oxygen mask.

Here's the thing -- I'm totally with Voltaire when it comes to free speech. Love it. And let's face it -- Twitter is a festival of moonbattery. What's striking in this case is that the moonbat in question is being paid for his speech. It tells you a lot about a political party that they'd have a guy like this in charge of communications. 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Hey Man, Pull My Pull Tab

Least surprising Star Tribune lead of the year:

Six months after the state approved a plan to fund a new Vikings stadium with charitable gambling, sales of electronic pulltabs and bingo are running nowhere near initial projections. 
Gross revenues for the games are $7.5 million — just over one-fifth the $35 million projected last May. Projections for tax revenue from all charitable gambling, forecast at $17 million this fiscal year, are expected to be scaled back with Thursday’s state budget forecast.
That's gross revenues, of course. Net revenues are a lot less. And why is it failing? Again, the answers aren't particularly surprising:
Getting the electronic games into bars and restaurants has been stalled by long waits for background checks and license approvals for manufacturers and vendors. Plus, there’s been little to no product competition or marketing, and many charities have been waiting for their own game vendors to get licensed.
Red tape? Here in the land of the Minnesota Miracle? And worse, reality is harshing the mellow over in St. Paul:
“I think the projections were just too high, which is unfortunate because we are judging success or failure on them,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, chair of the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, which oversees gambling.
No, Representative Atkins, that's not it. What's really unfortunate is the state is on the hook for at least $348 million for the Vaseline Dome and there's no way to pay for it except for raising taxes, on top of all the other things that the Lege is trying to do right now.

I'd suggest a $1000 monthly surcharge to anyone who showed up in the Capitol last year wearing purple face paint or Helga Braids. While some might consider such a measure to be a little punitive, it would have a better chance of funding the stadium than electronic pull tabs.

Meanwhile, Ed Kohler, who has been uniformly excellent in his analysis of this boondoggle, has a few thoughts on the worthies who are involved in this "charitable" enterprise. Give it a read.

A Storm Front in the Arab Spring

Perhaps Rep. Maxine Waters was a little confused when she said that sequestration could cost the country 170 million jobs, which would result in an unemployment rate of 126.8%. High unemployment rates do happen, however. Consider an example -- life isn't very good in Egypt, a place with 74% unemployment for people under the age of 30. The invaluable Walter Russell Mead explains:
The economy is in a meltdown. And the situation on the ground will only be exacerbated by the hordes of young people (under-30s make up an estimated 60 percent of Egypt’s population) unable to find work to pay for the rising costs of basic goods. Radwan is right, the time bomb in Egypt is ticking. There is nothing worse for an unstable country than a restive, and hungry, youth. The only question now is, when the explosion comes, what will rise from the debris?
We may not like the answer very much. The Financial Times offers further explanation:

Ashraf al-Araby, the planning minister, said last week that the government was aiming for a growth rate of 3 per cent in the current fiscal year ending in June 2013.

But to soak up some 700,000 new entrants to the job market every year, without even significantly denting the backlog of the unemployed, the economy needs to grow by 7 per cent and above.

Mr Radwan describes as a “time-bomb” the high rate of joblessness among people under 30, which is 74 per cent according to government figures.

“I expect unemployment to increase because there are no signs that the economy is picking up,” says Mr Radwan. “Already some 1,500 [business] establishments have shut down.”
We'll be hearing a lot more about all this soon, I suspect.

Worse Than I Realized

Man, this sequester thing is bad stuff:

170 million jobs? That's all the jobs in the United States, plus 36 million more! A related question, concerning whether sequestration will cause the country's temperature to fall to Absolute Zero, is currently before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and I fully expect a report anon.

Wait -- if everyone loses their job, how will I ever get the report? Dang, this sequester is dastardly.