Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lightning Round -- 043013

Quick thoughts. That's what we have.
  • Is it possible to think that the "I'm gay" announcement of Jason Collins is simultaneously (a) useful and (b) not nearly as courageous as people claim it to be? Anyone who follows sports beyond the superficial level knows the history of gay athletes in American sport -- they've been there forever, but they haven't made their sexuality public. I'm old enough to remember Dave Kopay, a running back who had a cup of coffee with the Packers in the early 70s. I also remember baseball's Billy Bean and the NBA's John Amaechi, all of whom came out after their careers were over. The only thing that really matters in sport is whether or not you can perform on the playing surface and that part hasn't changed. As for courage, watching the encomia that have been given to Collins from just about everyone in the sports world, and the fury that was unleashed on Mike Wallace and Chris Broussard for objecting, I'd say courage wasn't really required. The bandwagon is a juggernaut at this point. Be sure to check out the official reaction of the Miami Dolphins to what Wallace tweeted.
  • I know we're not supposed to care about Benghazi any more, but I think Darrell Issa is doing good work. If nothing else, he's helping to clarify the difference between a whistleblower and a snitch.
  • The Minnesota House knows what's good for you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A zippy thing

Driving in Minnesota is always, ahem, interesting. And there are a lot of habits that are difficult to change:
The zipper merge is aimed at curbing such behaviors as queue jumping, in which drivers move from the slower lane into the faster lane and then back to the slow lane closer to the merge point. It’s also aimed at preventing motorists who are in the faster lane from stopping abruptly and forcing their way into traffic. Some play “self-appointed trooper” and straddle the lanes so others can’t pass by. Motorists who impede traffic can be ticketed, said Lt. Eric Roeske of the State Patrol.
I see all these behaviors several days of the week on my commute, which takes me from my home in the northern suburbs to my office, which is more or less on the border between Burnsville and Savage. Minnesota drivers always merge at the first sign that a lane closure is coming and you will regularly see two lanes worth of traffic jammed into one lane, while the lane that is closed is empty for up to a half-mile before the merge point. It's a fascinating exercise and it's a behavior pattern that you don't see in other areas. You often see a variation on this behavior when you try to merge into traffic from an on-ramp. Cars in the lane where the merge point comes will refuse to move over to the next lane, even if there's no danger of encountering another car. It's passive-aggressive as hell. Personally, I always move over a lane if I can, or I'll slow down to let the merging driver in, but it's a courtesy that is only grudgingly given to me when I enter the highway. You just don't see this sort of thing in Chicago or Milwaukee or Kansas City.

The Star Tribune article notes the benefits of using both lanes, which should be evident but apparently isn't:
If followed properly, the zipper merge reduces backups, maintains uniform speeds in both lanes and creates a sense of fairness, said Sue Groth, director of the Office of Traffic Safety and Technology.

“We know that the majority of people understand that it is legal for them to use both lanes, but that they don’t because they don’t want to be the person that is perceived as barging in,” she said. “That is exactly why we want to educate people about the use of the zipper merge in construction projects when it is congested. We are hoping that by telling them it is OK — and in fact, we want them to do it because it helps reduce backups — they will be more willing to participate.”
But then, the Star Tribune undercuts the message by designating that using common sense only applies on certain stretches of highway:
In the metro area, the zipper merge will be used on Hwy. 169 at the Bloomington Ferry Bridge and between Crosstown and Hwy. 7 and I-694 and Hwy. 55.

It will be used on I-35 and I-35E through Lakeville and Eagan, and on I-494 between Hwy. 100 and Cedar Avenue.
Here's a thought. Can we use it on 35W during the rush hour, too? Or at any place where a bottleneck exists, which is all over the metro? Nah, it wouldn't be Minnesota Nice.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Social Event of the Season

Maybe it's just me, but I've long considered the White House Correspondents Dinner to be a gigantic middle finger to the rest of the country. It's a masturbatory exercise in which various politicians and the court jesters who purport to be journalists chronicling their great deeds pretend to stage a Friar's Club roast of one another.

Actually, it's not just me. Tom Brokaw, of all people, agrees:
“One of the reasons that I wanted to raise it on ‘Meet the Press’ — and I told [host] David [Gregory] beforehand, ‘I’m going to look for an opportunity to do that,’ is that we were at a point in Washington where the country had just kind of shut down on what was going on within the Beltway,” Brokaw told POLITICO.

“They were making their own decisions in their own states, in their own communities, and the congressional ratings were plummeting,” he added. “The press corps wasn’t doing very well, either. And I thought, ‘This is one of the issues that we have to address. What kind of image do we present to the rest of the country? Are we doing their business, or are we just a group of narcissists who are mostly interested in elevating our own profiles?’ And what comes through the screen on C-SPAN that night is the latter, and not the former.”
So Brokaw's concern is that the event erodes the credibility of the media. That's not it, actually. They really don't have much credibility and they don't much care what any of us think, a point Allahpundit drives home quite nicely:
There are lots and lots and lots of reasons to distrust and dislike the media, especially if you’re a conservative, but I’d bet not one in 100 people surveyed at random would name the WHCD as one of them. Not five in 100 would even know what the WHCD is. To treat this as some sort of problem is, however inadvertently, to minimize their real sins. No one would care about them spending an evening posing for pictures with the “Duck Dynasty” guys if they didn’t need to be browbeaten into covering the Gosnell trial. Have a ball tonight, water-carriers.
Yep. From time to time a little truth comes out, as in this remark President Obama made last night:
Some of my former advisors have switched over to the dark side. For example, David Axelrod now works for MSNBC, which is a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod. (Laughter.)
And then there was this little tribute to a local politician:
I am not giving up. In fact, I’m taking my charm offensive on the road -- a Texas barbeque with Ted Cruz, a Kentucky bluegrass concert with Rand Paul, and a book-burning with Michele Bachmann. (Laughter and applause.)

Bachmann isn't my favorite politician, either, but that's an astonishingly crappy thing to say about someone. Even Jim Graves winced at that one, I would imagine.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lightning Round - 042613

Same as yesterday -- not much time today, so a few quick thoughts:
  • I have no problem with sending Byron Smith to prison, since he essentially executed the two (likely) meth-head teenagers who were in the process of burglarizing his house. But to charge him with Murder One? Really? I don't know how you can premeditate killing people who break into your house. Dude might be psycho, but he's not psychic.
  • I'll say this much -- Vikings GM Rick Spielman is aggressive. Giving up half your remaining draft picks to take a 3rd guy in the first round suggests that the Vikings think they are closer to winning big than most anyone else does. Time will tell. I do like all three guys the Vikings took, but I wonder if the price was too high.
  • I suspect that Datone Jones will be a nice addition for the Packers. He certainly looks the part and you can't have enough pass rushers, especially when you play in a division with Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler.
  • Are we really going to get involved in Syria? By talking about red lines, we almost have to. If you think Iraq was bad and Afghanistan was ill-considered, just try wading into a civil war.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lightning Round -- 042513

All manner of things going on right now and not much time to discuss all of it. So let's shake down the thunder from the sky.
  • Another day, another proposed DFL tax increase, this time from the House. $2.6 billion more, or so they think. Not one Republican voted for this bill. Smart move, Republicans. The last thing you want at this point is for anyone to be able to call this thing "bipartisan."
  • Kermit Gosnell's defense team rested its case yesterday without calling a single witness. I certainly can understand why Gosnell wouldn't want to take the stand himself, but you would think that they would at least try to offer someone else to rebut the prosecution's case, which was thoroughgoing and gruesome. I suspect that a plea deal might be in the offing. I'm still having trouble writing about this case, because what this guy did was so monstrous it's difficult to talk about it.
  • The amazing NFL marketing machine kicks into gear today when the NFL draft begins. Benster and I didn't get around to our annual mock draft this year, but nothing he'd have come up with would be any more ridiculous than the spectacle itself. Yet I suspect I'll be watching some of it anyway. And if you get a chance to watch the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary on the 1983 draft, titled "From Elway to Marino," you should. It's a fascinating look at how the process looked some 30 years ago. Put it this way -- that world has changed. And I should mention that the entire "30 for 30" series has been brilliant.
  • While we continue to suss out the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers, it's worth remembering that there are all manner of bad guys out there who think they can kill because of their ideas.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tamerlan the Magnificent

The Boston Herald shares something that shouldn't surprise anyone:
Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned.

State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012 when the couple stopped meeting income eligibility limits. Russell Tsarnaev’s attorney has claimed Katherine — who had converted to Islam — was working up to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while Tsarnaev stayed at home.

In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.
So he let the wife work 80 hours a week and he stayed at home plotting revenge against his benefactors? I think he'd figured out America quite well. And let's be honest here -- do-it-yourself jihad is time-consuming and expensive, so state subsidies really help. It's tough to find the time to build pressure cooker bombs if you're stuck behind a desk. I'm not sure if you can buy ball bearings in bulk with an EBT card, but I'm sure the Herald will let us know.

Snark aside, there are some useful updates in the linked article, including this equally unsurprising synopsis of Tsarnaev's reading habits:
Relatives and news reports have indicated that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s descent into extremist Islam began around 2008 or 2009, when the ethnic Chechen met a convert identified only as “Misha,” began to become more devout, and sought out jihadist and conspiracy theorist websites, and the rabidly anti-Semitic propaganda tract, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

In 2009, he was quoted in a photo essay as saying, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them,” adding that he believed Americans had lost their “values.”

His uncle Ruslan Tsarnaev said it was around that time his nephew gave up drinking and was devoting himself to “God’s business,” while Tamerlan’s mother, now wearing a hijab — an Islamic headscarf — began relating conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to her cosmetology clients that she said her son had told her.
God's business often involves blowing 8-year old boys to bits. And while I can't speak for anyone else, if having values means reading anti-Semitic tracts, I'd rather be an antinomian.

A Better Minnesota Update

Here they come:
Senate DFLers are breaking from the governor’s tax plan and pushing for an income-tax increase that would reach down into what many consider middle class.

The comprehensive $1.8 billion tax overhaul plan released Tuesday would tap married filers’ taxable income above $140,000 a year. The DFL-controlled Senate also is seeking a dramatic increase in tobacco taxes and the first sales tax on clothing. To offset the sales-tax expansion, the Senate would lower the overall sales-tax rate to 6 percent from 6.875 percent.
The Star Tribune provides a handy synopsis of all the changes:

• Top income-tax rates, to 9.4 percent from 7.85 for net income above $140,000 (married) or $80,000 (single).
• Tobacco taxes to 94 cents per pack.
• Overall sales-tax rate to 6 percent from 6.875.
• Sales tax on clothing for the first time.
• Sports memorabilia, including jerseys, would be taxed 13 percent at wholesale level.
If this plan goes through, I'd imagine you'd see a whole lot of new Vikings gear on sale in Hudson. It has long been a competitive advantage for clothing retailers that Minnesota didn't charge sales tax on clothing. If it begins to do so now, even at an effective rate of 6%, it would be more than Wisconsin's rate of 5%.
This Better Minnesota is gettin' expensive.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Sky is Falling? No, That's Snow

So I thought about celebrating Earth Day yesterday, but I couldn't see much of the earth since it was covered in snow. As I write we are finishing up our third major winter storm of the month, which would be unremarkable except that, well, it's almost May.

So what does that have to do with Earth Day? Well, the invaluable Walter Russell Mead reminds us of some of the predictions that were offered when Earth Day was first observed in 1970:
By 1995, “…somewhere between 75 and 85 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.” Sen. Gaylord Nelson, quoting Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, Look magazine, April 1970.

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,” Earth Day organizer Denis Hayes, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.

“By the year 2000…the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America and Australia, will be in famine,” Peter Gunter, North Texas State University, The Living Wilderness, Spring 1970.
Must have missed all that. Still, given the way the endless Minnesota winter has progressed, this prediction seems pretty close to prescient:
The world will be “…eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970 [...]
The plows just came through and deposited a few more inches of ice age on my driveway, so I'm buying what this Watt fellow is selling.

Forecasting the weather even five days in the future is an awfully tricky business, so to a certain extent you need to give the Nostradami of 1970 a little slack. At the same time, it's also a good idea to give our current crop of Cassandras a little skepticism as well.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Boston Rag

I've been posting small things on the blog over the weekend because there's more to say about what happened in Boston last week than I can express adequately. You can pull on the threads a lot of ways and, frankly, I'm not certain which thread deserves the biggest tug. A few thoughts:
  • A lot of people are confused about the potential Chechen angle, which makes sense since the struggle between the Chechens and the Russians isn't particularly germane to life in the United States today. Then again, the internal struggles in Somalia aren't particularly germane, either, nor were the causes of the Irish Republican Army. While that is the case, it's never stopped people who come here from looking back to the old country and trying to remain involved in the events that drove them away. And I think that's often especially true for people who are really a generation removed from the struggle itself. From what I can tell, the Tsarnaev brothers were children when they came to America and the older brother didn't have much luck sussing out American culture and his place in a society that is as open and kaleidoscopic as our culture is.
  • I have recommended Eric Hoffer's book The True Believer on multiple occasions and I think it again is a source of significant insight into what the Tsarnaev brothers were thinking. The quote that I posted yesterday is on point, to wit: "Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life." It's become apparent that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was something of a loser. He tried boxing, but that didn't really work out. He tried other ventures and those didn't work out. He wasn't hesitant to knock his female companions around. He didn't fit, which made him susceptible to the call of a holy cause. Radical Islam of the sort that al-Qaeda espouses is operationally quite similar to any number of holy causes that have plagued us. After all, what is a higher calling than fighting evil? So if you kill a few 8-year old boys, that's just collateral damage.
  • I hate that Gov. Deval Patrick shut down Boston on Friday, but I've since read that shutting things down is how things often operate in Boston, especially when a bad snowstorm hits. That does explain what Patrick was thinking. Still, I'd be highly concerned that a local protocol becomes the norm elsewhere when the next terrorist strikes. Yep, I'm looking at you, Mark Dayton, the man who shut down his Senate office in 2004 when everyone else kept their heads.
  • If you'd ever wondered where the billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars that were spent on homeland security went to, we got a glimpse of it this week. Government at all levels has acquired a lot of firepower and equipment and much of it was on display in the streets of Boston last week. Does that comfort you, or trouble you? Think hard about your answer.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quote of the day

Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. -- Eric Hoffer

True believers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Or not

The Ice of Boston

Hey, the ice of Boston is muddy
And reflects no light
Like day for night
And I slip on it every time

Those are lyrics from a song called "The Ice of Boston" by a band called Dismemberment Plan. It's a song I like a lot, an amusing tale of a loser's New Year's Eve celebration in which he pours champagne over himself, talks to his mother and excoriates Gladys Knight and the Pips, roughly in that order.

If that seems like a nonsensical sequence of events, it's not a hell of a lot less sensical than what actually happened in Boston yesterday. We saw a single terrorist bring a metropolitan area with millions of people to a standstill. Does that trouble you? It should.

What should trouble you more is having people like this on the loose:

Miranda, Shmiranda

We'll learn a lot more about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I'm sure. What we've learned about Lindsey Graham is that he seems to view the Bill of Rights as optional. Tsarnaev is an American citizen. He's quite likely a mass murderer, too. I would very much like to see him tried and convicted. But we have laws not only to proscribe behavior from individuals, but also from government. And while it pains me to say it, Lindsey Graham is a greater threat to the American way of life than Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

We'll get to the shutdown of the city anon.

Friday, April 19, 2013

News Judgment

You know what the problem is with Fox News? As an organization, it can't get its mind right, apparently:

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” have openly campaigned for legislative reforms after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December, which left 26 people dead.
On Thursday, Mr. Scarborough, a registered Republican who promotes his conservative credentials as well as an independent streak, assailed the lawmakers who voted against the background check legislation. Citing the failed Senate vote as evidence, Mr. Scarborough said, “This party is moving toward extinction.”
That would come as news to Fox fans, who have heard comparatively little about the subject. While most of “Joe” was dedicated to guns on Thursday, Fox’s morning show, “Fox & Friends,” didn’t mention the word once. It focused instead on news about a Texas fertilizer plant explosion.
How dare anyone think about anything other than guns? News events in Texas aren't nearly as important as news events within driving distance of New York City, of course. But fear not, moral instruction was on the way:
Competitors were quick to pounce. Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, noted that ABC, CBS and NBC had broadcast special reports because they deemed the president’s remarks that important. He called Fox’s decision to skip it “a disgrace.”

Remember, you really aren't supposed to disagree with the narrative. Ever.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Almost a Johnny Cash Lyric

Max Baucus getting raucous:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Wednesday he fears a "train wreck" as the Obama administration implements its signature healthcare law.

"I just see a huge train wreck coming down," he told Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Wednesday hearing. "You and I have discussed this many times, and I don't see any results yet."

Baucus pressed Sebelius for details about how the Health Department will explain the law and raise awareness of its provisions, which are supposed to take effect in just a matter of months.

He hears that train a' comin, all right. Or is it more of a Neil Diamond/Barbra Streisand lyric?
Citing anecdotal evidence from small businesses in his home state, Baucus asked Sebelius for specifics about how it is measuring public understanding of the law. "You need data. Do you have any data? You've never given me data. You only give me concepts, frankly," he said.
You don't bring me flowers, or concepts. Or whatever. And remember, Baucus is up for reelection in 2014. And that means:

Oh yeah, that

You might remember this story:
CBS News has learned that multiple new whistleblowers are privately speaking to investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee regarding the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya.

The nature of the communications with the whistleblowers and their identities are not being made public at this time. But in response, the Oversight Committee yesterday sent letters to the three federal agencies involved: the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.
This is obviously wrong. How do you blow a whistle on something that doesn't matter? Remember:
What difference at this point does it make?

Must be a dog whistleblower or something.

il miglior fabbro

Jacob Sullum on Barack Obama's tantrum righteous rage reaction to losing the background check vote in the Senate yesterday:

Obama does a fine job of empathizing with the parents of Adam Lanza's victims. But that is something any decent human being should be able to manage. Where he has trouble, despite his lip service to the idea of putting himself in the other guy's shoes, is in empathizing with his opponents. He not only says they are wrong, which is to be expected. He refuses to concede that people who disagree with him about gun control are acting in good faith, based on what they believe to be sound reasons—that they, like him, are doing what they think is right. His self-righteous solipsism is striking even for a politician.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Just so you know

Only three months into his second term, Barack Obama is a lame duck.

A good question

John Fund on inspections done and not done:
It’s a stunning tale of bureaucratic neglect and incompetence. Despite its law against partial-birth abortions, Pennsylvania stopped regular inspections of abortion clinics in 1993. But regulators still received frequent — and credible — complaints about unsanitary or horrific practices taking place behind Gosnell’s clinic door. And they did nothing.

A 2011 grand-jury report singled out racism and politics for the “see no evil” attitudes. “We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion,” the grand-jury report stated. Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams, a liberal Democrat and one of the prosecutors in the case, maintains that abortion clinics are held to lower standards than other businesses are. In 2011, he asked, “How is it that we have more oversight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania of women’s hair salons than we do over abortion clinics?”
My guess? Because to inspect the charnel house of Kermit Gosnell would have revealed things like this:
Johnson worked as a janitor, maintenance man and plumber of sorts and he was the common-law husband of 51-year-old Elizabeth Hampton, who is herself Gosnell’s wife’s sister. He told jurors some of the morbid details that appear in the grand jury report — including how he threatened to quit working at the abortion clinic because he refused to pull any more flesh from aborted babies out of the plumbing.
There's no end to the horror with this case. Both links are worth your time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Common

We still don't know who detonated the bombs in Boston that killed at least 3 people and injured many more yesterday. It takes a particularly callous sort of calculation to strike at an event of this sort. For nearly everyone who runs in the Boston Marathon, doing so represents a singular, individual achievement, although one that takes place in the company of thousands of others who have sought the same goal. It also represents for many people a high point in their lives. To place a bomb near the finish line and to blow up those who are there to show support for the runners is about as nihilistic an endeavor as one could imagine.

Yet we watch the video and we see people coming to the aid of those who were killed or maimed. We see fear, yes, but we also see resolve. We are reminded that most people, when faced with the unspeakable, will respond in a way that affirms humanity. No matter what else we learn about this incident, or what else we experience, the instinct to help others runs strong and deep. And while it might provide little immediate solace to the families and friends of those who were hurt or killed yesterday, there is comfort in knowing that the hand of friendship is extended far more often than the fist of rage.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Better Minnesota Update

Here they come:
DFL legislative leaders are trying to convey a sense of calm and harmony, but beneath the surface they are scrambling to piece together a budget deal, sort out a funding shortfall for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium and avoid chasing off Mayo Clinic, the state’s largest private employer.

Heading into the session’s final stretch, Democrats also are digging in on tax increases despite heavy criticism from Republicans and business groups.

“We are not shying away from the fact that we need to raise taxes to invest in education and job creation and property tax relief,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Watch yer wallets:
To pay for their wish-lists, legislators are exploring an array of other taxes, including tobacco, alcohol, clothing and consumer services.
And if you've ever wondered why Alida Messinger, Gov. Dayton's ex-wife, was so keen to help put her former husband in the office, we might finally have a clue:
Dayton and legislative leaders have embraced increasing the tobacco tax, which could raise as much as $735 million over the next two years. Others are pressing for a nickel-a-drink hike on alcohol, which could bring in millions.

Dayton has remained cool to that idea, but political insiders are watching the issue more closely as a new lobbying force has entered the Capitol — Bill Messinger.

Messinger, who owns a business that specializes in helping people with chemical addiction, says that higher alcohol taxes could fund chemical dependency programs.

He is married to Dayton’s former wife, Alida. She is an heir to the Rockefeller fortune and mother to the governor’s two grown sons. Her millions helped get Dayton elected and the two remain close.
Enjoy your Better Minnesota, everyone!

Pensions and Pensees

The invaluable Walter Russell Mead noticed something:
An editorial in the deep blue New York Times on the Stockton, California bankruptcy case offers a peek into the future. The Times editors are suggesting that retired public sector unionized workers may have to accept cuts in the unsustainable pensions that union leaders foolishly negotiated and that pandering politicians foolishly promised.

The Times can’t quite come out and say it directly; this is as close as the Grey Lady can bring herself to the unpalatable truth:
Retirees, especially those who were awarded unsustainably generous pensions and health care benefits, should also come to the table by forming a committee, as the bankruptcy judge recently suggested.
For those who can’t read the delicate prose here, the Times is saying that retirees are going to have to take one for the team. The only reason to “form a committee” is to make the process of cutting your pension and health benefits more orderly and efficient.
I don't think you'll see a lot of enthusiasm for any committee work, so to speak. It's coming, though -- as we've discussed before, public sector pensions are in trouble at nearly every level of government and there's going to be one hell of a reckoning, coming sooner than later. And as Mead reminds us, the team may not be what the public sector unions think it is:
The Times editorial should serve as a warning to organized labor and to Democrats generally. The blue coalition breaks up when the money runs out, and gentry liberals like the authors and readers of NY Times editorials will not stand by labor’s side when the going gets tough. Keeping Democrats together as the blue model continues to run down will be an increasingly difficult task.

It's a whole lot easier to support the unions in the abstract than it is in the particular, especially if it's your own money on the line. And gentry liberals aren't any more fond of paying up than plutocrats.

Real News Network of Genius

I assume that few readers of this feature consider MSNBC a reliable news source. Here would be yet another reason to feel secure in that view. Pretty self-explanatory, actually.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Gosnell Matter

It's taken a long time for the mainstream media to come around to the reality of it, but it seems like the trial of Kermit Gosnell, who ran an abbatoir in Philadelphia that was thinly disguised as an abortion clinic, does merit a little attention, even though the narrative is well, a little problematic. Megan McArdle, donning her hairshirt, explains why:
So I'll tell you why I haven't covered it.

To start, it makes me ill. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the grand jury inquiry. I am someone who cringes when I hear a description of a sprained ankle.
But I understand why my readers suspect me, and other pro-choice mainstream journalists, of being selective—of not wanting to cover the story because it showcased the ugliest possibilities of abortion rights. The truth is that most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by "our side."

Of course, I'm not saying that I identify with criminal abortionists who kill infants and grievously wound their patients. But I am pro-choice.

What Gosnell did was not some inevitable result of legal abortion. But while legal abortion was not sufficient to create the horrors in Philadelphia, it was necessary. Gosnell was able to harm so many women and babies because he operated in the open.
Indeed. As has been documented, Gosnell's operation wasn't inspected for 17 years. And that's just part of the story. Increasingly, the story is that there really hasn't been a story. Or at least much reporting of the story. McArdle shares a damning photo of the press gallery at Gosnell's trial:

The presence of absence
Why the press blackout? There are excuses about, including this one, as related by Mollie Hemingway:
Then I decided, since tmatt has me reading the Washington Post every day, to look at how the paper’s health policy reporter was covering Gosnell. I have critiqued many of her stories on the Susan G. Komen Foundation (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Sandra Fluke controversy (she wrote quite a bit about that) and the Todd Akin controversy (you know where this is going). In fact, a site search for that reporter — who is named Sarah Kliff — and stories Akin and Fluke and Komen — yields more than 80 hits. Guess how many stories she’s done on this abortionist’s mass murder trial.

Did you guess zero? You’d be right.

So I asked her about it. Here’s her response:
Hi Molly – I cover policy for the Washington Post, not local crime, hence why I wrote about all the policy issues you mention.
Local crime. Can't be bothered. Not even's Kliff's Notes. So did Sarah Kliff write about the murder of George Tiller, the Kansas abortionist who ran a clinic that performed the same sorts of services that Gosnell provided, although with better hygiene standards? Why yes, yes she did.

When an abortionist is murdered, it's a national story. When an abortionist kills babies who are inadvertently born by snapping their spinal cords with a scissors? Local crime. Good to know.

For her part, McArdle recognizes the moral blind alley:
I could defend myself by saying that I wasn't aware that the Gosnell trial was going on. Abortion is not my beat, and the mailing lists that I am on weren't exactly blasting the news of this trial.
But that doesn't totally let me off the hook. I knew about the Gosnell case, and I wish I had followed it more closely, even though I'd rather not. In fact, those of us who are pro-choice should be especially interested. The whole point of legal abortion is to prevent what happened in Philadelphia: to make it safer and more humane. Somehow that ideal went terribly, horribly awry. We should demand to know why.
True. By now, an alert reader might also ask -- hey Mr. D, you haven't been writing about Gosnell much either? What gives? Are you part of the Media Industrial Complex, too?

And like McArdle, I have no excuse. It's easier to snark on the Vikings than it is to confront something as truly horrific as what Kermit Gosnell did. I have to do better as well. From what we've been able to learn about Kermit Gosnell, he appears to be a monster comparable to Manson, or Dahmer, or Gacy. Yet if you were to ask most people who he is, you'd get a blank stare. Any why is that? Back to McArdle:
Moreover, surely those of us who are pro-choice must worry that this will restrict access to abortion: that a crackdown on abortion clinics will follow, with onerous white-glove inspections; that a revolted public will demand more restrictions on late-term abortions; or that women will be too afraid of Gosnell-style crimes to seek a medically necessary abortion.
A revolted public is dangerous to many things that certain people hold dear. As Justice Brandeis famously observed:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."
Time for all of us to turn on the lights.

Friday, April 12, 2013


I try to keep things in perspective:

And what would be worse than having an odious scold like Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York? Oh, let's see:

America's Finest Newspaper Strikes Again

Declare the pennies on your eyes

They gotta have more money at the lege:
Taxes on clothing, over-the-counter drugs, and even dance lessons and tattoos could be back in play at the Capitol as Minnesota Senate DFLers continue to look for ways to raise revenue and reform the state’s tax system.

The Senate plan, released Thursday, resurrects pieces of a controversial tax proposal abandoned earlier this year by Gov. Mark Dayton. It would broaden the sales tax but also lower the overall rate to its lowest level in decades. Corporate income taxes would be trimmed, and the plan includes a yearly rebate for lower-income Minnesotans hit hardest by a clothing tax. Similar to a proposal in the House, the Senate package has a sports memorabilia tax to help pay the state’s share of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
Why now? Well, some legislators just can't give it a (ahem) rest, so to speak:
“We think his [Dayton’s] policies and principles were absolutely in the right direction. They were bold and thoroughly vetted,” said Sen. Ann Rest, a New Hope DFLer who is chairwoman of the Senate Tax Reform Division. “We hope to convince him this is the right time for reform and that Senate Democrats will stand firm with him in going that direction.”
As usual, the proposal includes the sort of "we'll throw you a bone" approach that pretends to help people, but really doesn't:
Unlike Dayton’s proposal, the Senate plan would tax all clothing purchases, not just those over $100. To ease the pain, the state would spend $66.9 million on the income tax credit for lower-income families. A family of four making $44,000 a year would get about $60 a year. The credit would shrink as family income rose.

To make up for the lost revenue, those who buy online goods, custom software, and box seats and suites at pro sporting events would have to pay sales tax. Clothing consumers would pay an additional $541 million in sales taxes over the next two years.
Do ya think that $60 will help a family much? Suppose you buy the kids four new outfits apiece for school and the total cost of this outlay is $500, which isn't an unreasonable expectation. If you figure the tax at about 6%, and it will most certainly be more in the metro, that would be $30. Now if Mom and dad buy anything for themselves, the other half of the $60 is gone. And since most people in the metro make more than $44,000 a year, this is going to be a good sized hit to most family budgets. And if you're a young single hipster on the make, Rest would like a word with you, too:
Other new tax targets: tattoos, dating services and personal lessons, such as those for dancing, golf or tennis.
When it comes to taxes, all Minnesotans can expect a personal lesson.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Meanwhile, back at the Vaseline Dome

The electronic pulltabs that were supposed to finance the new Vikings stadium aren't pulling anything, so now it's time for the dreaded foam finger frenzy:
Legislators are beginning a hard-nosed search for alternatives to electronic gambling to help pay for the planned Minnesota Vikings stadium, even as team officials met with state officials Wednesday to strategize about how to get more people playing the new barroom games.

They are being spurred by the feeble rollout of new electronic pulltabs games, which were to cover the state’s share of the $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Gov. Mark Dayton’s aides met with Vikings officials in private on the topic while in public, House Taxes Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, promoted a once-discarded idea: Taxing pro jerseys and foam-finger sports memorabilia.
Of course, foam fingers won't get you there, either:
Lenczewski formally revived an idea that was originally included in the 2012 Vikings stadium bill but was dropped along the way. She would apply a 10 percent tax on wholesale sales of professional sports memorabilia, no matter where it is sold — whether at a pro stadium or at Target. The tax would also be levied on rentals of stadium boxes and suites. It is projected to bring in more than $12 million per year — a little more than a third of what the state needs.
If we've learned anything throughout this process, it's this: projections don't mean much. So that $12 million that Lenczewski wants isn't going to pan out, either.

For their part, the Vikings are saying what we've suspected they would say all along, to wit: Not our problem. A deal is a deal.
“We’re opposed because this legislation fundamentally changes the agreement the Vikings negotiated with the state of Minnesota,” Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said. He described the team’s contribution of $477 million as considerable and said the Vikings do not believe they should pay more.
The Vikings, like everyone else in the NFL, subscribe to a version of what used to be called the Brezhnev Doctrine: what we have, we keep. And what they have is the legislature by the short hairs.

Paging Dr. Grubman

After the Mayo Clinic's majordomo mentioned that there were 49 other states that might want to have the Mayo Clinic, the matter of the money for Rochester came before the lege yesterday. Let's just say it didn't go well:

The “49 states” line was a sore point for committee members, who were seething over a comment Mayo President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy made to the Star Tribune Tuesday while speaking in Washington. If the Legislature didn’t pass the bill, Noseworthy warned, “49 states” are eager to help the Mayo Clinic relocate.

“It was a dumb thing to say. It was dumb, dumb, dumb,” said state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, adding that Noseworthy’s remark made him less inclined to vote for the bill. “Your CEO [was] going to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., and wagging a finger at the Minnesota Legislature. That’s what it looked like to me … I was thoroughly disgusted.”
Yep -- finger-wagging is the legislature's job. The Mayo needs to get its mind right. Alternatively, they could use a better threatmaker. About this time last year we were getting the alarums from the button man for the National Football League, Eric Grubman, concerning the Vikings stadium. Good times, good times:

"In the 20 years that I've watched teams change hands, a lot of things get talked about. But until things are really ripe, nothing happens. This is getting ripe," NFL executive vice president of business operations Eric Grubman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "You have a very dejected ownership. They've run out of options. They feel like they've done everything they've been asked to do and they can't get a vote. No one will answer the question, 'What is it going to take?'"

"The Vikings have said, 'Give us A, B and C, what would you like us to do?' They've been told A, B and C, and they've done that. And they still can't get through. So what makes anyone think it's going to be any better or different next year or the year after?"
Now see, that's how you make a threat.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Avenue of the Saints

Blizzard in the rearview
We’ve left where Frank and Jesse met their Match
Eddies and swales cross our path
A 2 inch tarantella of ice and caprice
Charles City, fifteen miles ahead
Plaything of the wind1

Sorting, sifting
A well-traveled path to destinations you’d
Not thought to seek
New experiences in old towns
History recorded on brown highway signs

We’re bound for Galesburg, where Lincoln and Douglas
Talked shop in ’58, a windswept prairie town
Where a prairie poet learned to cry over beautiful things,
Knowing no beautiful thing lasts2

Four hours ahead, Iowa 80 splatters neon to
The heavens, beckoning Peterbilts with
Hot showers and cold comfort
Past Herbert Hoover’s boyhood home

Whole damn thing seems like Hooverville

The boy’s dreams find focus
Tweaked in Buntrock Commons3, now borne
Downwind from Rock Island

The journey begins tomorrow
Three miles south of the Carl Sandburg Mall

1Cf. Carl Sandburg; in 1968, a tornado destroyed most of Charles City, Iowa, killing 13 people
2Sandburg, “Autumn Movement”
3The student center of St. Olaf College

Ask for them by name

Zygi Mayo

Hey, it worked for Zygi Wilf:
In blunt words aimed squarely at the Minnesota Legislature, the president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic warned Tuesday that the hallowed medical institution has “49 states” eager to have Mayo’s planned multibillion-dollar expansion if the state is unwilling to pitch in.

“We’re never going to leave Minnesota, and we don’t want to leave Minnesota,” Dr. John Noseworthy said in an interview at the National Press Club, where the CEO made a pitch for federal investment in health care and medical research. “But we’ve got to decide where we’re going to put the next $3 billion.”

That money would be part of a $5 billion, 20-year expansion in Rochester dubbed “Destination Medical Center,” which would require a half-billion dollars from state officials for infrastructure improvements.

“If they say yes, that’s great, we want to stay in Minnesota,” Noseworthy said. But, he cautioned, “If they say no, or you’re going to have to go for a bonding bill every year for the next 30 years, we’ll have to rethink about whether that’s the best use of our money.”
(Must. Avoid. Lame. Joke. About. Name. Noseworthy. Too. Easy.)

Maybe the good doctor knows of places that have an extra $500 million lying around, but a little skepticism is in order here. We'll know they're serious when you see dudes wearing lab coats and Helga Braids showing up in Mark Dayton's breakfast nook.

Brother Obama's Traveling Salvation Show

One of the most irritating things about Barack Obama is that he is perfectly willing to excoriate his political opponents for using the same tactics he favors. You may have noticed that he's been traveling across the country this week, using his big plane and his big megaphone, to campaign for gun control. At one stop he said the following:
President Obama criticized the proposed filibuster during a campaign-style event at the University of Hartford in Connecticut about 45 miles from the elementary school where 20 first-graders were shot and killed in December.

“Some back in Washington are already floating the idea that they might use political stunts,” said Obama, who was introduced by Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was one of the victims. “They’re not just saying they’ll vote ‘no’ on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they won’t allow any votes on them at all.”

Many in the crowd responded by chanting: “We want a vote.”
So, apparently flying around the country and conducting political rallies of this sort isn't a stunt. The ever-perceptive John Hayward offers the proper response:
How dare these Republicans attempt a political stunt! Don’t they know only Obama is allowed to stage those? Obama’s little dramatic productions come at substantial taxpayer expense, since not only have the President and his immense retinue been flying around the country to hold campaign rallies, but he’s flying eleven family members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims back to Washington aboard Air Force One so they can lobby for new gun control laws. With all due respect to these grieving parents, how can that avoid classification as a “stunt?” Shouldn’t this legislation face sober deliberation, and stand on its own legal and logical merits?

Of course not. If sober deliberation is used, the legislation fails, so ginning up emotion is the ticket. It's not surprising, though -- as we've noted countless times before, Obama's genius lies in the stagecraft of the political campaign and not in the give-and-take of negotiations, especially in Washington. All this has been amply documented, of course, and we've seen it repeatedly this year as we lurch from one crisis to the next.

Every president has a bully pulpit and they all use it with varying degrees of success, but at some point a president needs to move beyond this sort of thing. I don't see any evidence that Obama is capable of that.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Mrs. Thatcher

I don't know that I have much to add about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, who died yesterday. Although I should say this much:

A relative of mine posted the following on Facebook, noting the passing of Annette Funicello, who also left this world yesterday:

Who made the world a happier place? Margaret Thatcher or Annette Funicello?

Let’s see. One was an actress who starred in a series of enjoyable, light-hearted movies that captured the spirit of the beach culture of California, following a successful run in an ensemble television show of the 1950s. The other was a world-historical figure who was arguably the most powerful woman in history, whose famous resolve, strategic thinking and consistent statecraft during a dozen-year run as Prime Minister of one of the world’s great nations was instrumental in helping to topple a tyranny that spread across half a continent.

That’s a tough one. Maybe you could ask a Czech. Meanwhile, here's another perspective. Read it before you scoff.


Monday, April 08, 2013

Commuting the Sentence

Walter Russell Mead on commuting:
Some jobs need to be done face to face, and many jobs require at least some direct interaction among people who are physically together. But the average American commutes 25.4 minutes each way to work. The information revolution is reducing the need for commuting; fewer and fewer jobs now require that everyone drive to the same room, and as a society we are getting better at working cooperatively over distances. Whether you are a feminist, an environmentalist, an economist, a pro-family activist or just a person who wants to live a little better than you do, telework is a cause that you need to embrace.

One of these days one or both parties is going to realize that killing the commute is the kind of social change that Americans want their leaders to push. Until that happy day, we recommend deep breathing (but not near commuting thoroughfares) and music or podcasts that put you at ease. Stress kills, and death by commuting is a terrible way to go.
Emphasis is original. In this instance, I'm above average, since my commute typically is 40-45 minutes on a good day and can be much worse if I encounter weather or a wreck on the highway. I write for a living and most of my colleagues could do their jobs just fine from home, instead of heading to the cube farm that is our suburban office.

In our office, the corporate culture tends to work against telecommuting, because we tend to have a "drop in unannounced" style. People come into my office all day long to visit, ask a question or dump work on my desk, but only rarely do I get a phone call; there are days when my phone never rings. Some folks would call such an approach "collaborative," while others would call it rude. My team features a bunch of introverts, which makes the culture problematic at times, but there's a logic behind it; you can let a phone go to voice mail, but it's tough to ignore a person standing in your doorway.

So let's throw the question out for discussion. First, can you telecommute? Or if you don't, do you think your job could be done remotely?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Inevitable Grampa Sports Walkback

I've lived in the Twin Cities for over 20 years now and if there's any constant in the media world around here, it's this eternal pattern:
  • A coach is fired
  • Sid Hartman hates it and provide much hagiography upon said coach's departure*
  • The new coach is introduced
  • Sid is hostile to the new coach at the press conference, or to the athletic director/general manager who hired the new coach, or both
  • The subsequent column begins the process of hagiography for the new coach
We saw this again when Tubby Smith got ashcanned and new Gophers basketball coach Richard Pitino was introduced. Sid's Friday column was hostile, especially where Gopher AD Norwood Teague was concerned:
That’s why it made a lot of sense to hire Flip Saunders, with his experience as a coach in college and the NBA, but it was pretty evident that even though he was offered the job, he turned it down because he couldn’t operate under Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague’s terms.

Well, it turned out before and after the Saunders negotiations that it was difficult to hire a coach. Teague didn’t contact incoming coach Richard Pitino until Monday and hired him two days later, after Teague was turned down by a number of other candidates. And Teague didn’t contact Eric Musselman until a few days ago, and the son of former Gophers and Wolves coach Bill Musselman was available if Teague hadn’t decided to hire Pitino.
Today, after Sid took a few shots at Teague at the press conference, he's begun the lionization of young Pitino:
I’ve attended many news conferences at the University of Minnesota concerning new head coaches in major sports, and I don’t believe anyone made a better impression than Pitino did when introduced as the successor to Tubby Smith.
Heh. Guess I can't blame Sid. This shtick has worked since he attended the press conference introducing Bronko Nagurski. Why stop now?

*This does not apply to women's coaches for any team, who don't actually exist in el Mundo Sid.

Roger Ebert, RIP

Meant to get to this yesterday, but Roger Ebert has died. He was probably the most influential film critic in history and he was a hell of a writer. Didn't care much for his politics, but for the most part I thought his reviews were pretty much spot-on.

Ebert's "Glossary of Movie Terms" is a particular favorite, because nearly all the observations Ebert makes ring true and most are hilarious. A few examples:

Fallacy of the Talking Killer: The villain wants to kill the hero. He has him cornered at gunpoint. All he has to do is pull the trigger. But he always talks first. He explains the hero's mistakes to him. Jeers. Laughs.And gives the hero time to think his way out of the situation, or be rescued by his buddy. Cf. most JAMES BOND movies.

Bullitt Shift: Cars in high-speed chases can shift through more gears than they have. Cf. Steve McQueen's car upshifts more than 16 times.

Rising Sidewalk: No female character in an action film can flee more than 50 feet before falling flat on her face. Someone then has to go back and help her up, while the monster/villain/enemy gains ground.

Fallacy of the Predictable Tree: The logical error committed every time the good guy is able to predict exactly what the bad guy is going to do. For example, in FIRST BLOOD, law enforcement officials are searching the woods for John Rambo. A cop pauses under a tree. Rambo drops on him. Question: Out of all the trees in the forest, how did Rambo know which one the guy would pause under?
There are a lot more at the link. RIP.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Too late, baby

So, are we going to scuttle the Viking ship?
Minnesota should put plans for a new Vikings stadium on hold until it can figure out a better way to pay for it, some state lawmakers say.

Electronic pulltabs were supposed to fund the state's $384 million share of the new football stadium. But in their first year, e-pulltabs pulled in a dismal $1.7 million -- well below the $35 million a year needed -- forcing the state to scramble for alternative revenue sources, like electronic bingo games.

Instead of scrambling, state Sen. Sean Nienow says, Minnesota should slow down, put the entire stadium venture on hold, and figure out a secure way of paying for a new home for the Vikings.
I agree, but it's too late for that now. The agreement's been made and if the state tries to change the terms now, we'll be looking at multiple lawsuits that will only add to the overall bill.

The bill that Nienow and Rep. Mary Franson are proposing would delay the bond sale until the state figures out its financing. There's no chance that the bill will ever see the light of day, but I suspect that's not the point as much as it is to again shine a light on the performance of Gov. Dayton and the others who were responsible for this deal. While that's always a useful exercise, there's no reason to get our hopes up.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Son of a Preacher Man

So the Gophers finally hired a basketball coach, after supposedly being turned down by Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Fred Hoiberg, Flip Saunders, Mick Cronin, Andy Enfield and the cute girl in the chemistry lab. Their new coach is going to be Richard Pitino, son of coaching legend Rick Pitino:
Pitino, 30, was an assistant coach at Northeastern, Duquesne, Florida and Louisville — working as the top assistant under his father during the 2011-12 season. He accepted the position at Florida International last year, where he had signed a five-year contract with a base salary of $250,000 a year. Pitino’s buyout at FIU reportedly is also $250,000. Terms of the Minnesota deal are not yet known, but he can expect a significant raise. A news conference to introduce Pitino likely will be Friday.

Pitino, who led Florida International this season in his first year of head coaching, is less than half the age of Smith and the youngest of any Minnesota basketball coach since the Gophers’ original coach in 1897.
This hire actually may turn out well. It speaks well of young Pitino that he was willing to work for people other than his famous father. Among his other mentors is Billy Donovan, the highly successful coach at Florida who was in turn a protege of Pitino's father. Relationships in the coaching business often work this way and the younger Pitino seems to have made the right moves up to this point.

The goofy thing about this coaching search has been that neither Norwood Teague, the Gopher athletic director, nor his top assistant Mike Ellis, has said much of anything during the search period, which allowed speculation to run rampant. We don't really know if the Gophers actually made a job offer to any of the individuals that were linked to the job, although it's reasonable to surmise that most of the candidates would have been plausible.

The other thing that was likely painful for Gopher fans to learn is that the job isn't necessarily well regarded. While the Gophers are members in good standing of the Big Ten, they haven't been especially relevant in the conference for a very long time now. Over a dozen seasons have passed since Clem Haskins was run out of town and in the years since then, the Gophers haven't finished any higher than the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and mostly have been residing in the second division. It's a tough neighborhood, of course, but aside from perennial dogs Northwestern and Penn State and newcomer Nebraska, no team has been less successful than the Gophers in recent years. The national press did a lot of sneering at the news that Tubby Smith had been fired and it couldn't have been much fun to learn that at least some coaches apparently preferred life in the mid-majors to walking the ancient floors of Williams Arena.

It's easy to see why, though -- as much as people around here love the Barn, it's an old building and it has to be a tough sell to recruits who can see much more modern facilities elsewhere. And given the sense of entitlement that many young basketball players learn from their AAU experiences, the idea of playing in an antiquated facility can't be particularly appealing.

Can Richard Pitino change that dynamic? Perhaps, although it was telling that on KARE's 10 p.m broadcast last night, sports anchor Eric Perkins was openly speculating that young Pitino would be using this job as a stepping stone and wondered aloud how long he'd stay here. There's a lot of fatalism in the Minnesota fan base.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


I can't hardly believe it myself:
The ensuing judgment over the less-than-expected gambling revenue needed to fund the state's share of a new NFL stadium is premature and politically motivated, Gov. Mark Dayton said.  
You mean something happening in the State Capitol is politically motivated? Gasp, anything but that!
"What is there to investigate? I mean there were honest assumptions made," Dayton said. "If somebody thinks there was wrongdoing then they should definitely produce the evidence that would support that. Otherwise, it's slow getting off to a start. Everybody agree with that. We missed the projections. Everybody agrees with that. We're working to correct it."
 This might be news to the governor, but investigations are a time-tested way to determine if wrongdoing has occurred. Personally, I don't suspect "wrongdoing." But there's ample reason to suspect a lack of due diligence and a boatload of wishful thinking.

Pro tip, Mr. Dayton:  if you don't want to be held accountable for things you do, it's a good idea to avoid doing things like running for governor.

Oh, great

Something wicked this way comes:
Emboldened by its meteoric rise in Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party is spreading its tentacles abroad, amid fears it is acting on its pledge to "create cells in every corner of the world". The extremist group, which forged links with British neo-Nazis when it was founded in the 1980s, has begun opening offices in Germany, Australia, Canada and the US.

The international push follows successive polls that show Golden Dawn entrenching its position as Greece's third, and fastest growing, political force. First catapulted into parliament with 18 MPs last year, the ultra-nationalists captured 11.5% support in a recent survey conducted by polling company Public Issue.

The group – whose logo resembles the swastika and whose members are prone to give Nazi salutes – has gone from strength to strength, promoting itself as the only force willing to take on the "rotten establishment". Amid rumours of backing from wealthy shipowners, it has succeeded in opening party offices across Greece.
Bad ideas never really die, of course. And when times are tough, you'll get a Golden Dawn, or a Shining Path, or some other group. Frankly, the left/right distinction doesn't really mean that much. What does matter is that people who ought to know better (such as wealthy shipowners) think they can ride the tiger.

It won't end well.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

No Joy in Mudville

It has been reputed that the town baseball team in Stockton, California was the inspiration for the famous poem "Casey at the Bat," because they have long played baseball games on Banner Island, a place known as  Mudville. Some 125 years after Ernest Thayer wrote his poem, mighty Stockton has struck out:

Stockton, California, the biggest U.S. city to file for bankruptcy, won a judge’s permission to stay under court protection after he found that creditors didn’t negotiate in good faith with the city.

Creditors, including Assured Guaranty Corp. and Franklin Resources Inc. (BEN), argued that Stockton didn’t qualify for bankruptcy because its leaders didn’t negotiate a potential settlement in good faith and the city isn’t truly insolvent.

Why is Stockton, a city of nearly 300,000 people located about 80 miles east of San Francisco, in bankruptcy? Well, pretty much for the same reason that many individuals end up in bankruptcy:
Stockton joined cities across the country using the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to get out from under billions of dollars in obligations they couldn’t afford following the longest recession since the 1930s. Stockton rode a surge in new-home construction in the 2000s that preceded the housing crash and then a wave of foreclosures that sapped the city’s tax-revenue gains.
And there were other reasons:
The city is slated to stop paying for retiree health care on June 30 as part of a spending plan the City Council approved in June, citing a $417 million unfunded liability. The benefit had allowed workers employed as little as a month to receive city-paid health coverage for life for employees and spouses, City Manager Bob Deis said.
Emphasis mine. Think about that. Work a month, be set for life. Wonder why that didn't work out so well. But there was more, of course:
Born in the Gold Rush, Stockton struggled for decades, relying on tax revenue from farming and shipping at its deep- water port on the San Joaquin River. A housing boom in the early 2000s brought a surge in revenue as homebuyers, seeking refuge from soaring prices in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, flocked to Stockton, where starter homes cost around $400,000.

The city used the increase and issued debt to build a gleaming new arena and ballpark on its riverfront and to buy a new City Hall it later couldn’t afford to occupy.

Wow, money for ballparks and arenas? Thank goodness we'd never do anything like that here in the Twin Cities, but I digress. So what happened?
The Stockton metropolitan area last year had the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S., affecting one in every 25 homes, or almost three times the national average, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, California-based data provider.

And what else happened to all those folks who bought the $400K starter homes?

About 14 of every 1,000 residents in Stockton were victims of violent crime in 2011, a year in which the city was yet again the second most violent city in California.

In crimes per capita, only Oakland outpaces Stockton.
And where does Stockton stand in the bigger picture?
Nationwide, Stockton was the 10th most violent city on a list topped by Flint, Mich. Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland and Memphis, Tenn., rounded out the top five.

Meanwhile, other California cities have been queued up for the same thing. San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy last year:

The city, located 65 miles east of Los Angeles, could become the third municipality in California to seek protection from its creditors since late June. Stockton and the ski resort city of Mammoth Lakes have already filed in bankruptcy court.

A fourth city, Compton on the outskirts of Los Angeles, could be the next city to turn to bankruptcy protection. 

And there will be more.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Opening Day in the Upper Midwest

They have a retractable roof in Milwaukee, so people were a little more comfortable as the Brewers beat the Colorado Rockies 5-4 in 10 innings. Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the 10th inning:

Associated Press
Meanwhile, the fans at Target Field were dressed for winter, since it still felt like it on a pretty but cold April afternoon, as the Twins fell to the Detroit Tigers, 4-2:

Jerry Holt, Star Tribune
Yeah, it's cold out there. But it's baseball season. About time.

Opening Day

Baseball season is here. I can see it over the snowbanks. The Twins will host the defending AL Champion Detroit Tigers today at Target Field, while my beloved Milwaukee Brewers will lift the lid against the Colorado Rockies at Miller Park.

I'm not sure what we're going to see from either team this year, which ordinarily isn't a good sign. The Twins are probably 2-3 years away from being a contender, especially given that they are sending out Vance Worley as their opening day starter. There are some big arms in the Twins system, but they are a few years away from contributing, apparently. Worley is a righthander with marginal stuff that the Twins picked up from the Phillies in the Ben Revere trade and he's had a pretty rough spring. He's got a chance to win about 10-12 games this year, but he's not the sort of guy who is going to make you forget Johan Santana. I don't mean to pick on Worley, who is good enough to pitch in the major leagues, but he's not a number one starter. On a good staff, Worley would be, at best, a number three or four. The Twins do not have a good staff. Once this guy and this guy get there, it will be different, but that won't be until later, perhaps much later.

Meanwhile, the Tigers come to town with Justin Verlander, the best starter in the American League, on the mound. It's going to be cold out there today; it's possible the temperature will not get above freezing in the Twin Cities. I'll bet it will be a lot of fun for the Twins to try to hit Verlander, who can throw it about 98-99 miles per hour when he thinks it appropriate.

The Brewers will be sending their ace, Yovani Gallardo, out to face a guy I've never heard of, Jhoulys Chacin, for the Rockies. The Brewers played very well down the stretch last year but there are a lot of questions about their pitching beyond Gallardo, who should win at least 15 games this season. The Rockies appear to be a train wreck, so this isn't a bad way to begin the season. The Brew Crew should be much like they've been in recent years -- a very good team offensively, with dicey pitching. The key could be whether the gendarmes go after Ryan Braun for his (ahem) business relationship with Biogenesis, the Miami-based clinic that might have been providing performance enhancing drugs to major leaguers. Braun beat a drug test last year and I suspect that he'll be getting a whole lot of scrutiny for the rest of his career. If Braun continues to anchor their lineup, the Brew Crew will be dangerous. If he gets a suspension, they'll be toast.

This is the time to have hope, of course, but I don't see either the Brew Crew or the Twins being very good this year. If I were to guess, I'd pencil the Brewers in for a 3rd place finish in the NL Central (behind Cincinnati and St. Louis) and the Twins to bring up the rear in the AL Central, although Cleveland doesn't look like they're going to be much, either.

If I were to guess, I'd figure that the World Series will be Detroit vs. Washington. Which means both teams are likely doomed. Make your picks in the comment section.