Friday, May 31, 2013

The Easiest Victory Lap This Blog Has Ever Exprerienced

Saw this one coming right down ol' I-94.

So when our pal Michele Bachmann decided that she was through with running for Congress, I offered the following observation:
The guy this hurts most of all is Bachmann's scheduled opponent, Jim Graves, who will now face an unnamed Republican in a district that is strongly Republican and chock-full of potential candidates. The out-of-state money is going to dry up, because no one is going to bother writing a check to help out a guy who's positioned himself as a moderate Democrat. It wouldn't be especially surprising if Graves decides that it's a better move to drop out himself and go back to running his hotel chain instead. Who needs the aggravation?
Not two days later, word comes that Graves feels no need to stoop to conquer:
As of today, Jim Graves is going to indefinitely suspend his campaign for Congress from the 6th District.

Translation: He is not running. He is dropping out of politics to concentrate on his family and his business.
So now what? Mitch Berg had a suggestion the other day:
Tarry Not:   Does Tarryl Clark already have her U-Haul loaded up, or what?
She's probably filling the tank even as we speak. Personally, I'd suggest that the DFL go retro like they did with Rick Nolan and fish out an old reject from the past. Maybe Gerry Sikorski would like another go, or maybe Martin Olav Sabo or David Minge or Bill Luther. Or Zombie Bruce Vento.

So many choices....

Gee Club

Gordon Gee has stepped in it:
The president of Ohio State University said Notre Dame never was invited to join the Big Ten because the university's priests are not good partners, joking that "those damn Catholics" can't be trusted, according to a recording of a meeting he attended late last year.

At the December meeting of the school's athletic council, Gordon Gee also took shots at schools in the Southeastern Conference and the University of Louisville, according to the recording, obtained by The Associated Press under a public records request.

The university called the statements inappropriate and said Gee is undergoing a "remediation plan" because of the remarks.
Ooh, a "remediation plan!" Sounds like ol' Gordon has to get his mind right now. So what exactly did he say?
"The fathers are holy on Sunday, and they're holy hell on the rest of the week," Gee said to laughter at the Dec. 5 meeting attended by athletic director Gene Smith and several other athletic department members, along with professors and students.

"You just can't trust those damn Catholics on a Thursday or a Friday, and so, literally, I can say that," said Gee, a Mormon.
I'm a damn Catholic and I'm not particularly offended by this. The context of the remarks does matter. Gee was referencing the long-standing minuet between the Big Ten Conference and Notre Dame, which still has the most lucrative brand in college football. Ohio State and its conference brethren are by now quite tired of Notre Dame's antics and his mistake is a version of what's known as the Kinsleyan Gaffe, which is telling the truth at an inopportune moment. And while it's not right to cast aspersions on all Catholics, many of whom are quite trustworthy, we are often sinners on Thursdays and Fridays. I don't think I've committed a sin yet this morning, but I'll have ample opportunity once I get on 35W.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

What will they do?

I'll say this for Michele Bachmann -- she's really, really important to certain organizations. Consider our pals over at MinnPost, who have been engaging in a Bachmannalia ever since yesterday's announcement. Go to their page this morning and you see this:

Scroll down just a little and you get this:

I really think they're going to miss her.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Myron, May I?

Oh, snap:
Most Minnesota businesses dodged a sweeping expansion of the sales tax, but not logistics firms.

The final version of the tax bill, approved moments before the end of the legislative session last week, included an expansion of the sales tax on a handful of unlucky industries. One of them is warehousing and storage. Firms that repair electronic equipment and industrial machinery and those that sell telecommunications equipment also will be subject to the tax.

Logistics companies are baffled, and talking about moving their operations across the St. Croix River.

“Why wouldn’t I go to Hudson, and just ship across the border?” said Richard Murphy, CEO of Murphy Warehouse in Minneapolis. “The surrounding states are going to get business, and you’re going to see people pull back into Chicago, Des Moines and Kansas City.”
The good news for Murphy is that with the new bridge underway in Stillwater, it will be even easier to move across the border.

For their part, the brain trust in St. Paul are going all Alfred E. Neuman about it:
If it goes into effect, it will make Minnesota the only state to apply sales tax to warehousing, according to the Minnesota Trucking Association.

Companies like Murphy Warehouse charge handling fees, but also offer what they call “value-added” services, such as putting together assembly kits for clients or being able to ship products just in time for manufacturers. For now, it’s not clear how the sales tax will be applied. Murphy has 200 employees at 12 warehouses in the Twin Cities and one in Kansas City.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said hashing out those details, and figuring out what impact the tax might have on Minnesota’s competitiveness, are the reasons the tax won’t go into effect for nearly a year.

“That’s why we delayed implementation. If it’s serious enough, then we can reconsider it,” she said. “If I was one of them, I’d be feeding [Revenue] Commissioner [Myron] Frans all kinds of information.”
Uh, Sen. Rest? Why would you pass a law if you don't have at least some idea of the potental implications? I'm sure that Murphy can't wait to spend time playing Mother May I with Myron Frans. It's an excellent use of Murphy's time. Never mind talking to the hand -- talk to the Frans!

Take It to the Bridge

The long-awaited Stillwater bridge is officially underway and the politicians were there in force with their shovels:
Joining ceremonies near the old bridge were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, and Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy and Ron Kind. Minnesota was represented by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle.
It's long since past time for the bridge to be built, of course -- the ancient Stillwater Lift Bridge has been a problem for many, many years and this crossing will make it a whole lot easier for travelers to go from Minnesota to Wisconsin. It will also make life in Stillwater a lot easier.

One politician who was conspicuous by her absence was Cong. Betty McCollum, who ostensibly represents the Stillwater area and fought the bridge project with significant rancor. I'll give McCollum this much -- it would have been pretty ridiculous for a foe of the project to celebrate the groundbreaking.

Jim Graves Hardest Hit

You won't have Michele Bachmann to kick around any more:
With an early morning video message to supporters, embattled Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann announced she would not run for re-election next year.

"My dear friends, after a great deal of thought and deliberation, I have decided next year that I will not seek a fifth congressional term to represent the wonderful people of the Sixth District of Minnesota," Bachmann said in the Wednesday morning video. "I've never considered holding public office to be an occupation."
This a good career move, actually. She really didn't have much of a future in Washington, except as a talking head. And since she's leaving, all the touted "investigations" will likely go away without much further comment, because what's the point now, really?  My guess is that some network will hire her as a commentator and she'll still be on television, maybe even more than she is now. Personally, I hope she gets hired by MSNBC.

The guy this hurts most of all is Bachmann's scheduled opponent, Jim Graves, who will now face an unnamed Republican in a district that is strongly Republican and chock-full of potential candidates. The out-of-state money is going to dry up, because no one is going to bother writing a check to help out a guy who's positioned himself as a moderate Democrat. It wouldn't be especially surprising if Graves decides that it's a better move to drop out himself and go back to running his hotel chain instead. Who needs the aggravation?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Loose Cannon

Just what we don't need -- more freelance diplomacy. This time, it's John McCain, going maverick:
Leaders of Syria's opposition forces got a chance to make their case for increased U.S. support directly with Sen. John McCain when he slipped into that country for a surprise visit.
McCain, R-Ariz., favors providing arms to rebel forces in Syria. 
A State Department official said the department was aware of McCain crossing into Syrian territory Monday, but referred further questions to McCain's office. McCain spokeswoman Rachel Dean confirmed the Monday trip, but declined further comment.
Last time I checked, Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. As such, he and his administration have the right and the responsibility to set and direct U.S. foreign policy. I further understand that McCain lost the election to Obama some five years ago now.

Congress has a role to play in foreign policy to the extent that it controls the public purse. Certainly individual congresscritters can go on fact-finding missions and meet with representatives of foreign countries on a wide variety of issues. This is different. Syria is in the middle of a vicious civil war and it's unclear at best that there are any "good guys" involved in the conflict. Maybe John McCain can figure out who the good guys are, but I tend to doubt he understands matters any better than the folks at State do. At a minimum, he might consider sharing his wisdom with the Obama administration instead of going it alone. My suggestion would be that he go home and butt out.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

The American Cemetery, Verdun
This is a story worth thinking about on Memorial Day:
Desmond Doss, for instance, was a conscientious objector who entered the army in 1942 and became a medic. Because of his religious convictions and refusal to carry a weapon, the men in his unit intimidated and threatened him, trying to get him to transfer out. He refused and they grudgingly accepted him. Late in 1945 he was with them in Okinawa when they got cut to pieces assaulting a Japanese stronghold.
Everyone but Mr. Doss retreated from the rocky plateau where dozens of wounded remained. Under fire, he treated them and then began moving them one by one to a steep escarpment where he roped them down to safety. Each time he succeeded, he prayed, “Dear God, please let me get just one more man.” By the end of the day, he had single-handedly saved 75 GIs. 
Why did they do it? Some talked of entering a zone of slow-motion invulnerability, where they were spectators at their own heroism. But for most, the answer was simpler and more straightforward: They couldn’t let their buddies down.
We need to be mindful on this day about the many, many people who wouldn't let their buddies down.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Actually, this might not work

Michael Ramirez, as always dialed in:

What am I signing, Radar?
Although I still contend that this vision is more accurate, and also applies well to Mark Dayton:

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Boy Scouts

After wrestling with the issue in a very public manner for a few months, the Boy Scouts of America announced that they will no longer ban gay scouts from the organization. A few thoughts:

  • My son is a Life Scout and is working toward his Eagle badge. He's been involved in scouting since he was in first grade and it's been an important part of his life. He and I have been able to have a lot of fun together over the years because he's been a Scout.
  • I haven't ever known if any of the scouts in my son's troop are gay. It's quite possible that one or more of them were. It wouldn't have mattered, then or now.
  • The ban on gay adult leaders isn't going anywhere. My guess is that there are openly gay adult leaders in the organization now and they will continue to be part of Scouting. Their presence will simply be below the surface.
  • As you might recall, Scouting went through a sexual abuse scandal around the same time that the Catholic Church did, with much of the abuse taking place in the 1970s and 1980s. The bans came as a response to those abuses. It's not worth our time to rehearse the arguments about the policy here; I merely offer it up as an explanation.
  • Beyond the ban, Scouting also has implemented other procedures for adult leaders which are pretty effective, especially "two-deep" leadership, which means that at no time can any individual scout be alone with an adult leader. I am a merit badge counselor and when I meet with scouts to discuss their progress on their merit badges, I always have another parent scout leader present. This approach makes the possibility of abuse pretty remote.
  • Structurally, Scouting is a pretty loose organization. BSA can offer up whatever dictates it wants, but all troops have a chartered organization that sponsors and hosts the troop. Most of these organizations are local churches and many view homosexuality with a gimlet eye. My son's troop is sponsored by a local church and I don't know if they'll be interested in continuing to sponsor the troop because of this decision. We'll find out, I suppose. I do hope that gay-friendly churches and other civic organizations will step into the breach if individual troops start losing their sponsors. Put it this way -- they'd better.
  • As a parent, what makes Scouting great is that it has given my son chances to do things he wouldn't ordinarily have done. Our family isn't into camping at all. I've often said my idea of "roughing it" is going to a motel that doesn't offer continental breakfast. Because my son has stayed with it, he's had the chance to go camping dozens of times and he's gained a love of nature and the outdoors that he wouldn't have it had been up to my wife and me. More importantly, he's gained significant benefit from the wisdom of older scouts and the wide variety of adult leaders he's met as a result of his participation. And as an adult leader, I've been able to teach kids about citizenship and their role in the community and nation. Those experiences are hugely important to those who are involved in Scouting and to the nation as well.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let Us Now Praise Famous Chicagoans

Brian Urlacher announced his retirement yesterday. Urlacher served with great distinction for 13 seasons as the middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears, following in the footsteps of a string of all-time greats: Bill George, Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary, all of whom have busts in Canton, Ohio. I would fully expect that Urlacher will as well.

As most readers of this feature know, my team is the Green Bay Packers. The Bears are the eternal, ancient rival and so Bears middle linebackers have played a substantial role in the course of this rivalry. I only really saw Dick Butkus play at the tail end of his career, which was cut short because of the many injuries he suffered, so I never really got a sense of his greatness except through highlight packages from NFL Films. I saw plenty of Mike Singletary and Urlacher and while they were very different players, they were both great. And the common trait between the two is uncommon football intelligence. They both could understand what was happening on the field immediately and find a way to defeat the play that was coming at them. Singletary, who was undersized for the position, did it with sheer force of will, while Urlacher, who was just about the prototype middle linebacker, did it with astonishing athleticism.

Urlacher made a play in the 2010 NFC Championship Game that almost changed the course of NFL history. The Packers were going in for a touchdown that might put the game out of reach, when suddenly Urlacher struck:

Aaron Rodgers was able to bring Urlacher down, barely, and the offensively challenged Bears weren't able to overcome the Packers that day, but you see Urlacher's intelligence and talent on display in the video. A guy who is 6'4" and played at around 260 pounds shouldn't be able to move that well, especially in the latter stages of his career, but Urlacher could do it and he used his abilities to make big plays on a regular basis. He's leaving maybe a little sooner than he'd liked, but secure in the knowledge that he is one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Meanwhile, Back in the Magical Land of Obamacare

It's all going so well:

The Obama administration said Monday that it was cutting payments to doctors and hospitals after finding that cost overruns are threatening to use up the money available in a health insurance program for people with cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses.
The administration had predicted that up to 400,000 people would enroll in the program, created by the 2010 health care law. In fact, about 135,000 have enrolled, but the cost of their claims has far exceeded White House estimates, exhausting most of the $5 billion provided by Congress.
Under a new policy issued by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, “health care facilities and providers will get paid less” for providing the same services to patients in the federal program, known as the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.
In most cases, payments to health care providers will be capped at Medicare rates, which are substantially less than the commercial insurance rates they have been receiving. The new policy generally prohibits doctors and hospitals from increasing charges to consumers to make up the difference.

Oops -- you mean people aren't flocking to the program? Man, hard to imagine why. But fear not, since it's only a temporary problem:
When the federal program for people with pre-existing conditions ends on Jan. 1, 2014, many of them are expected to go into private health plans offered through new insurance markets being established in every state. Federal and state officials worry that an influx of people with serious illnesses could destabilize these markets, leading to higher premiums for other subscribers.
For this reason, federal and state officials say, they will try to recruit large numbers of healthy young people to buy insurance. Their premiums would help pay for the care of less healthy people.
Recruiting, they're calling it. As if you can choose to do something different.

Just so you know, young people of America, this is the drill: you get to pay more for insurance, and pay back those student loans you racked up, right now, even if you're rocking the barista job at the Starbucks. You need to be thinking about those less healthy people you're supposed to be subsidizing. Hope and change, kids. Maybe the less healthy people will throw a few extra nickels in the tip jar to help you pay for the premium.

This Was/Is Chicago

I've had more than a few people ask me why I rail against Chicago politics so often. I lived in the Chicago area for five years, from 1987 through 1992, and I got a good look at what it's like there. Chicago is a great place to visit and it can be a fine place to live, so long as you understand, and are willing to accept, a few things. John Kass of the Chicago Tribune shares an example:
One Sunday, I must have been 12 or 13, I decided to ask what I thought was an intelligent question that was something like this:

We talk politics every Sunday, we fight about this and that, so why aren't you politically active outside?

Why don't you get involved in politics?

There was an immediate silence. The older cousins looked away. The aunts and uncles stared at me in horror, as if I'd just announced I was selling heroin after school.
Asking why is often a dangerous business. Kass explains:
This is America, I said.

"Are you in your good senses?" said my father. "We have lives here. We have businesses. If we get involved in politics, they will ruin us."

And no one, not the Roosevelt Democrats or the Reagan Republicans, disagreed. The socialists, the communists, the royalists, everyone nodded their heads.

This was Chicago. And for a business owner to get involved meant one thing: It would cost you money and somebody from government could destroy you.

The health inspectors would come, and the revenue department, the building inspectors, the fire inspectors, on and on. The city code books aren't thick because politicians like to write new laws and regulations. The codes are thick because when government swings them at a citizen, they hurt.

And who swings the codes and regulations at those who'd open their mouths? A government worker. That government worker owes his or her job to the political boss. And that boss has a boss.

The worker doesn't have to be told. The worker wants a promotion. If an irritant rises, it is erased. The hack gets a promotion. This is government.

So everybody kept their mouths shut, and Chicago was hailed by national political reporters as the city that works.
This is the milieu in which Barack Obama learned politics. He brought a team of operatives from Chicago and put them in key positions in his administration. He knew that he could find plenty of workers in the massive bureaucracy of Washington who would be willing, even eager, to get with the program -- Lois Lerner of the Internal Revenue Service is just one example. The reason Chicago "works" is that the system has been in place for so long that people like Kass's father understand that they can't become an irritant. Silencing your foes is a big part of what makes Chicago work.

You can impose a system like that in a concentrated area and get by with it. Imposing it on an entire nation is another matter, especially in a nation where dissent is patriotic, as I am assured whenever the Right is in power. So if you want to understand why the IRS would single out Tea Party groups for abuse, or why a reporter for Fox News would be labeled a "co-conspirator" for reporting something the government finds inconvenient, you need to think back to the lesson that John Kass learned a long time ago. You need to keep your mouth shut.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Jamdown in St. Paul

It's going to take a while to sort out everything that happened in St. Paul in this legislative session. The Star Tribune provides a brief synopsis here. We'll be picking at these bones for a while, I'm thinking.

Horror in Oklahoma

The story in Moore, Oklahoma, is likely to get far worse in the coming days. There's not much I can do or say about it other than to offer prayers and suggest that you make a donation to the Red Cross or another relief organization.

Nothing on this earth is promised to any of us and yesterday was a reminder of that.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How a competing narrative forms

Great moments in furniture
You might remember this moment. There was Clint Eastwood, iconic film star and hobbyist politician, appearing on the stage of the Republican National Convention, doing some performance art with an empty chair. It was less than a year ago and while the Republicans loved it, the moment made many people wonder if ol' Clint was, well, losing it, especially since his attempt at a one-sided conversation didn't exactly rise to the level of a Bob Newhart bit.

As I've thought about the past few weeks and the parade of scandals/outrages/nothingburgers that we've witnessed, I've gone back to this moment. It's striking that a president would be presented as so disengaged from things that happen around him. And when the New Yorker starts getting in on the action, you know that the meme is getting legs:

President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to reassure the American people that he has “played no role whatsoever” in the U.S. government over the past four years.

“Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”

The President’s outrage only increased, he said, when he “recently became aware of a part of that government called the Department of Justice.”
It's satire. Yeah, sure.

Surprisingly enough, some people don't believe it, and they tend to be people who have long memories. Here's Bob Schieffer of CBS, summing things up quite nicely:
On the news that the IRS targeted conservative groups for burdensome scrutiny during the 2012 election, Bob Schieffer says, "Surely no one could be dumb enough to think you could get away with that in an election year. But they were! So, welcome to dumb and dumber."
Meanwhile, Bob Woodward, who as I recall was something of a player in the events of 40 years ago, ended up sparring with David Gregory on Meet the Press and said some interesting things, too:
MR. WOODWARD: Well, I-- I think you have to kind of step back and say what’s the theory of governing here.
MR. WOODWARD: And the theory is, it seems, oh, there are investigations of the IRS so we can’t interfere. There is this leak investigation of the AP, so we can’t get involved. Oh, there is an investigation of Benghazi, so we’re not responsible. The President and the executive branch need to govern on a daily basis and you can’t purchase immunity from governing.
GREGORY: But you can’t conflate all those things, Bob.
MR. WOODWARD: Yes, you can.
And this:
MR. WOODWARD: But some institutions have a no-surprise rule, which is you need to make sure the person at the top, who is the president in this case, he is constitutionally responsible for the whole executive branch, to be told about things that are going on that are bad. And you can’t kind of say, oh, that happened last year and they’re investigating. You need to stop the bad things right away.

Yep. And we're going to find out whether anyone made any effort to stop the bad things. And we're going to find out if crazy ol' Clint was just crazy, or if he had matters dialed in pretty well.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Happy birthday, Dad

My dad would have celebrated his 80th birthday today. I wrote a version of the following a few years back and I'm reposting it here today, with just a few edits here and there.

May, 1933 was a pretty grim time in our nation's history. The Great Depression was in full swing. On the 10th of the month, a monstrous tornado tore through the town of Beatty Swamps, Tennessee, killing 35 people. The World's Fair was about to begin in Chicago, promising a "Century of Progress." It was in this milieu, on May 19, 1933, my father was born in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Dad was the 4th child of Joe and Julia Heuring. He was to grow up in Kimberly, Wisconsin, a small town on the banks of the Fox River just to the east of Appleton. The fame of Kimberly rests with the paper industry and the village's name lives on in the name of Kimberly-Clark, which is most famous for Kleenex. Dad's father was a millwright and worked for the Institute of Paper Chemistry, which served as the training ground for many of the people who made the Fox River Valley the paper capital of the world. Dad had a fairly normal childhood in Kimberly and graduated from Kimberly High in 1952. After a few years of harmless young adult shenanigans, Dad went into the service and served in Europe during the late 1950s. He then came back and got his degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1963. In between all that, he managed to meet and marry my Mom in January, 1963; I arrived at the end of 1963.
Unfortunately, Dad isn't here to celebrate this milestone birthday, as he died in 1990. Dad's generation came of age at an interesting time in our nation's history - he came of age a few years before rock and roll arrived in earnest and his generation wasn't considered part of the "greatest generation." Like most people his age, Dad simply went about his business and tried to provide a good life for his family. For the most part, he was successful. It wasn't always easy, especially given the challenges that life put before him as the father of 7 children and the husband of a wife who struggled with mental illness, but he always approached his life with generosity and a sense of humor.
You don't get to choose the circumstances of your birth and while Dad came around at a tough time, he was a tough person in part because of it. Happy birthday, Dad.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Road Rage

Another reason to look askance at those who would bring Chicago politics to the rest of us:
Less than half the money exacted from Illinois taxpayers to pay for roads is actually used to pay for roads. The Illinois Auditor General has found that, of the $5.7 billion in the state’s road fund over the past two years, $2.7 billion went to cover salaries at the Illinois Department of Transportation, bond debt payment, and other “nondirect costs.”
Three observations:
  • Spending 47 cents on the dollar for things other than the services provided is not a sustainable way to operate over the long term.
  • The image that will always stay with me about the highway system in Illinois is this: back in the early '80s, we were on a family trip to a wedding in Ohio. We were stuck in an enormous traffic jam on the Tri-State and things where essentially stopped. As we went through a construction zone at about 2 MPH, there was a guy in a safety vest standing on the road holding a sign that said "SLOW." As we crawled past him, my brother rolled down his window and yelled "I can't believe you're getting paid for that." The guy in the vest flashed my brother a big grin. I'd bet dollars to donuts that the guy was a ward committeeman.
  • We were in western Illinois (on I-74 from the Quad Cities to Galesburg) about two months back and the roads there were pretty good. For that price, they'd better be.

Friday, May 17, 2013


We have higher gas prices in the Twin Cities than just about anyplace else in the country right now:
Even in 2008, it didn't get much above $4.00 here. It's $4.39 in my neighborhood. Yeah, we're a little cranky about it. What are you paying where you live?


It's tough to suss out all of the scandalous behavior that we're hearing about, but of the big three issues at play, the one that really matters the most is the behavior of the IRS. Peggy Noonan, apparently fully recovered from her 2008 swooning over the dreamboat candidate, zeros in:

All of these IRS actions took place in the years leading up to the 2012 election. They constitute the use of governmental power to intrude on the privacy and shackle the political freedom of American citizens. The purpose, obviously, was to overwhelm and intimidate—to kill the opposition, question by question and audit by audit.

It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of "frontline people" in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party's foes. It is not remotely possible nobody in the IRS knew what was going on until very recently. The Washington Post reported efforts to target the conservative groups reached the highest levels of the agency by May 2012—far earlier than the agency had acknowledged. Reuters reported high-level IRS officials, including its chief counsel, knew in August 2011 about the targeting.
You just can't have this sort of thing going on. I'm not a Tea Party person, but I'm largely in agreement with the concerns that the various Tea Party organizations raised, especially when they were successful in changing the national conversation in 2010. I never did understand why it seemed that the Tea Partiers seemed to go silent after the 2010 election. It makes a lot more sense now. Noonan details some of the tactics:

In order to suppress conservative groups—at first those with words like "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names, then including those that opposed ObamaCare or advanced the second amendment—the IRS demanded donor rolls, membership lists, data on all contributions, names of volunteers, the contents of all speeches made by members, Facebook posts, minutes of all meetings, and copies of all materials handed out at gatherings. Among its questions: What are you thinking about? Did you ever think of running for office? Do you ever contact political figures? What are you reading? One group sent what it was reading: the U.S. Constitution.

The second part of the scandal is the auditing of political activists who have opposed the administration. The Journal's Kim Strassel reported an Idaho businessman named Frank VanderSloot, who'd donated more than a million dollars to groups supporting Mitt Romney. He found himself last June, for the first time in 30 years, the target of IRS auditors. His wife and his business were also soon audited. Hal Scherz, a Georgia physician, also came to the government's attention. He told ABC News: "It is odd that nothing changed on my tax return and I was never audited until I publicly criticized ObamaCare." Franklin Graham, son of Billy, told Politico he believes his father was targeted. A conservative Catholic academic who has written for these pages faced questions about her meager freelance writing income. Many of these stories will come out, but not as many as there are. People are not only afraid of being audited, they're afraid of saying they were audited.
All of this will come out over the summer. The demands to see names and even Facebook postings represent intimidation on a grand scale. As the details become public, it won't be possible to pretend that this was just the unfortunate result of some rogue operation in Cincinnati.

Cartoon of the Year

The great Michael Ramirez, getting to the nub of the matter:

Thursday, May 16, 2013


So the supersecret, amazingly clever plan that Mark Dayton has to pay for the Vaseline Dome/Glass Menagerie is to add a little more pain to the smokers:
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to rely on new revenues from cigarette and corporate income taxes to help pay the state's share of a new Vikings stadium.

Myron Frans, commissioner of revenue, explained Dayton's plan to the Tax Conference Committee Thursday.

It would include two funding sources: approximately $24.5 million in one-time revenues from tax on the current cigarette inventory once the tax is increased. Dayton is proposing an increase from the current tax of $1.23 per pack to $2.52 per pack.
As Bob Casey always reminded us, there's no smoking in the Metrodome, but smokers better get a puffin' to pay for the new building.

So, do you honestly believe that the state is only going to get "one-time revenues" for coffin nails? Not a chance. Why?
The second source would be to end what Frans called a "tax avoidance" strategy that corporations with sales in Minnesota and elsewhere take advantage of under current law. Currently, he said, some businesses are able to avoid Minnesota corporate income taxes by attributing Minnesota sales to affiliates in other states.

The change, known as Minnesota Unitary Sales, would require reporting all those revenues in Minnesota, increasing a company's income taxes and revenues to the state.

Those revenues would be approximately $26 million in the first year and $20 million per year after that. The revenue would be used as the first backup plan for stadium financing, Frans said.

The money would be collected and deposited into the general fund, but would not be used for the stadium unless needed, Frans said.
Frans can say he'll close the loophole, but in truth he'll only be playing whack-a-mole with corporations who have the resources to hire clever finance people. The money he anticipates won't materialize, certainly not in the amounts he envisions. And then it'll be back to the smokers, assuming they don't start buying their smokes online, on the reservation or from smugglers.

Nope, darn the luck, the money is going to come out of the general fund. Dayton and the gang can deny it until the cows come home, but that's how it's going to be. But on the bright side, you have three years to save up the coin to pay for a personal seat license in the People's Stadium.
One Year Later, Still in Your Wallet

Yeah, it's getting a little spendy

Not what we need right now:
Gas prices jumped by nearly 40 cents a gallon overnight on Wednesday, shocking Minnesotans who likely will feel the sting of higher fuel prices well into summer.

Relief from four-buck gas could come by the Fourth of July, provided two major Midwest oil refineries are back on line by mid-June and the price of crude oil doesn’t continue to rise, according to AAA officials who monitor gas prices.

The average price of gas in the Twin Cities was about $3.85 on Tuesday, just slightly below the record average of $3.99 recorded in June 2008. By Wednesday morning, some pump prices hit $4 a gallon and higher, said Gail Weinholzer, a spokeswoman for AAA Minnesota/Iowa. A lot of callers complained about having to shell out $4.19 a gallon, she said. The lowest price reported to her was $3.99; the highest was $4.30 in the west metro.
I saw $4.19 everywhere I usually travel yesterday. On the other hand, good luck passing that gas tax increase about now, Minnesota Lege.

Eric Holder, Emersonian -- UPDATE, Wrong Man of Letters, Sir

UPDATE:  Oops -- I got confused. It was Emerson, but rather poet Thomas Gray who offered the lines "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Shouldn't really blog before I've had my coffee.

The great 19th Century American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson offered many brilliant observations, including this one, which is sometimes misunderstood, "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

As it turns out, "where" turns out to be the Justice Department, where ignorance is a growth industry, as newly minted skeptic Dana Milbank notes:
As the nation’s top law enforcement official, Eric Holder is privy to all kinds of sensitive information. But he seems to be proud of how little he knows.

Why didn’t his Justice Department inform the Associated Press, as the law requires, before pawing through reporters’ phone records?

“I do not know,” the attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon, “why that was or was not done. I simply don’t have a factual basis to answer that question.”

Why didn’t the DOJ seek the AP’s cooperation, as the law also requires, before issuing subpoenas?

“I don’t know what happened there,” Holder replied. “I was recused from the case.”

Why, asked the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), was the whole matter handled in a manner that appears “contrary to the law and standard procedure”?

“I don’t have a factual basis to answer the questions that you have asked, because I was recused,” the attorney general said.
This didn't pass Milbank's smell test:
In a sense, the two topics that dogged Holder most on Wednesday — the AP phone records and the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups — were one and the same. In both cases, Americans are being punished and intimidated for exercising their right of free expression — by the taxing authorities, in the conservatives’ case, and by federal prosecutors, in the reporters’ case.

I believe the term we're looking for here is "abuse of power."

Now it's hard to blame Holder for taking the Emersonian Gray stance here. Given what we already know about how things go in the Justice Department, it would be better for Holder not to have first-hand knowledge of how his underlings are behaving.

The Value of Superior Forecasting

Everyone agrees that plans work better if you have an accurate forecast of what to expect before it actually happens. I have to assume that it was brilliant forecasting that led to this plan of action:

Top IRS officials have been saying that a “significant increase”in applications from advocacy groups seeking tax-exempt status spurred its Cincinnati office in 2010 to filter those requests by using such politically loaded phrases as “Tea Party,” “patriots,”and “9/12.”

Both Steven Miller, the agency’s acting commissioner until he stepped down Wednesday, and Lois Lerner, director of the agency’s exempt-organization division, have said over the past week that IRS officials started the scrutiny after observing a surge in applications for status as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups. Both officials cited an increase from about 1,500 applications in 2010 and to nearly 3,500 in 2012. President Obama ask Mr. Miller to resign on Wednesday.

The scrutiny began, however, in March 2010, before an uptick could have been observed, according to data contained in the audit released Tuesday from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.
Emphasis mine. Yep, it had to be forecasting.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Glass Menagerie

Go, then! Go to the moon-you selfish dreamer!

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

-- Tennessee Williams, "The Glass Menagerie"

So we got a look at the plans for the new Vikings stadium the other day and it's very,well, glassy:
The nearly billion-dollar Viking stadium that will rise from the ruins of the old Metrodome will be big and bold, and it will put fans closer to the action than any other venue in professional football.

It’ll have giant pivoting glass doors that open to the downtown Minneapolis skyline and a roof that, while not retractable, will let in so much sunlight come game days, fans will feel as though they’re sitting outdoors.
I don't know why, but that level of hype always makes me think of this song:

We're supposed to be wowed by the nifty artists' renderings and whatnot and not think too much about the cost and that we still don't have a way to pay for this thing. We can choose to live with our illusions, but that reality doesn't go away just because we have cool looking pictures.

And about that paying for it part:

First, e-pulltabs virtually collapsed as a revenue source for the state’s share of the new Vikings stadium.Now the sports memorabilia tax, once thought to be a fallback plan, may also be doomed.
The deuce you say? Why would that be?
With only six days left in the legislative session, Senate leaders on Tuesday declared the idea of taxing sports memorabilia nearly dead, because of the effect it might have on a single corporation: Target.

Senate Taxes Committee Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearwater, said Tuesday that because the tax would be levied at the wholesale level, it would have a disparate impact on Target, which warehouses the sports memorabilia for its more than 1,700 U.S. stores in Minnesota.
Yeah, I suppose slapping a wholesale tax on gear that Target would ordinarily sell in Colma, California or McAllen, Texas, might be a wee bit of a problem. So now what?
“We’re hearing there’s this supersecret plan to fund the shortfall in the Vikings stadium. The governor hasn’t said what it is,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, the ranking minority member on the Taxes Committee. “We don’t know what their plans are. It seems, six days out, they would have a better framework at least for the close of session here.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he’s not worried. “I think they can find $25 million or whatever it takes” to fill in the gambling shortfall, he said.Legislators are looking at a wide range of other solutions, including corporate taxes, income taxes or even cigarette taxes to help fund the stadium.
Bakk can't "find" $25 million. But he can take it out of our wallets. And that's what's going to happen.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wake Up And Smell the Chicago -- The Thread of Narrative

Taken individually, the trio of scandals that are now bedeviling the Obama administration don't make a whole lot of sense. Why would anyone serving the President think it would be possible to get by with:
  • Running with a cock and bull story about a YouTube video being the cause of an obvious terrorist attack in Benghazi; or
  • Using the power of the IRS to audit and otherwise harass Tea Party organizations; or
  • Using the power of the Justice Department to seize phone records of the Associated Press?
The answer is narrative. It has long been evident that the Obama administration is all about maintaining a narrative and winning the news cycle. My suspicion is that the one true thing that Obama and his people know is how to mount a campaign. Successful campaigns are able to manage the flow of information and establish a narrative about the candidate. To a certain extent, all organizations try to do such things.

In each instance, gaining control of the narrative must have seemed quite important. In the case of Benghazi, it's important to remember that Obama's campaign had just spent a lot of time bragging about how al-Qaida was on the run. What happened in Benghazi made those boasts seem pretty hollow, so it was important to establish a story that made it less about the usual proclivities of terrorists and more about provocations by others.

Similarly, the Tea Party certainly has been a threat to the Obama agenda and in 2010, it was certainly making significant progress in motivating people to get involved in the political process, in many cases people who were in opposition to what Team Obama was trying to do. The temptation must have been quite great for people in the administration to rid themselves of these meddling priests.

While it's early, the reporting on the AP case indicates a similar pattern. The reason that Justice went after telephone records is that it was trying to figure out who was leaking information. Establishing who was contacting AP reporters would be key in stopping the leaks.

All of these moves are understandable. If your goal is to maintain your power base, adverse publicity is a real problem. And let's face it, damage control is no fun -- it's always better to be on offense, so the temptation to use available power to hamper your opponents is always tough to resist. Unfortunately for the president and his team, taken together these moves look pretty Nixonian. And members of Obama's own party are starting to notice:
Outraged Bay State Democrats are blasting President Obama for exhibiting a Nixonian abuse of power after the stunning news that the Department of Justice secretly obtained Associated Press phone records and the IRS targeted conservative groups — new scandals emerging against the backdrop of heightened Benghazi criticism.

“There’s no way in the world I’m going to defend that. Hell, I spent my youth vilifying the Nixon administration for doing the same thing. If they did that, there should be hell to pay,” U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano (D-Somerville) said about the IRS scandal. “Not only is it bad government and bad to society, it is horrendous politics. The worst thing you can do is give your opponent an easy hammer with which to hit you.”

“It doesn’t seem to be a couple rogue employees. This appeared to be a systemic issue,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-South Boston), who wants to investigate the matter as a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The committee already has scheduled a hearing on the issue for this week, Lynch said, adding, “No American should find themselves the target of the IRS or any other federal organization because of their political beliefs.”
Hard to argue with any of that. If politicians in deep blue Massachusetts are worried about these things and willing to issue full-on blasts of this sort, there's likely more revelations to come.

One last thing -- the AP scandal is the one that Team Obama is most likely to regret, because the MSM has been willing to accept and promulgate the Team Obama message all along. It's one thing to use your power against your enemies, but when you mess with your friends, you are asking for trouble. I suspect that the AP is going to be a lot less amenable to helping out Team Obama going forward. Don't spit in the face of your water carriers, kids.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Justice in Philadelphia

Kermit Gosnell is going away:

Former Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies authorities said were born alive before having their necks cut with scissors. A jury found Gosnell not guilty of first-degree murder in a fourth baby’s death.

In addition to the murder charges, the 72-year-old was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of former patient Karnamaya Mongar.

Gosnell was also found guilty of several other crimes including one count of infanticide, two counts of conspiracy, 21 of 24 counts of abortion of an unborn child of 24 weeks or more and 208 of 227 counts of violation of informed consent of an abortion.

In all, Gosnell was found guilty of 237 crimes. He will now face the death penalty in the sentencing phase, which will begin a week from Tuesday.
No matter what you think about abortion, or Roe v. Wade, or anything else, there was no defending this guy, who is a straight up monster. I have come to oppose the death penalty but it's cases like this that make it tough to maintain that stance.

The link, which comes from NBC News in Philadelphia, provides a very good synopsis of the particulars of Gosnell's many, many crimes. You should read it all, although I think most people would find the particulars horrifying.

Wake Up and Smell The Chicago -- Associated Press Edition

So you don't think Benghazi is much, and maybe you're not sure that siccing the IRS on Tea Party groups rises to the level of something or other. How about grabbing two months of phone records from the Associated Press? Mind-boggling:
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.

In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
There's a lot more at the link, which I'd excerpt, except that AP doesn't like it if you do that very much. Go read it in full.

Answering a Question That Isn't Being Asked

This is called framing the argument:
But this is my point: utter madness is what today’s Republicans do. You can present to me every logical argument you desire. Benghazi at the end of the day was a terrible tragedy in which mistakes, bad mistakes, were certainly made, and in which confusion and the CYA reflex led to some bad information going out to the public initially, but none of this remotely rises to the level of high crime. The IRS cock-up was just that, a mistake by a regional office.
That's the voice of Michael Tomasky, an ace purveyor of conventional wisdom, emoting about the possibility that Republicans are gonna try to impeach Barack Obama. It's almost nostalgic, the "doesn't rise to the level high crime" stuff that we heard over and over again, 15 years ago now, when ol' Bill Clinton was in office. Those rat bastard Republicans are at it again!

Ann Althouse makes the salient point:
Why do people say "logic" when they are obviously not talking about logic? He's talking about what the facts are, how to characterize the facts, and what the standard for impeachment is. None of that is pinned down. We always only have evidence of what the facts are, and currently we don't even have all the evidence of the facts. Whether the facts say "tragedy" and "confusion" and "mistakes" or something more nefarious hasn't been resolved.
I suppose there's someone, somewhere, calling for Obama to be impeached. There's no reason to believe it would ever happen, because:
  • Harry Reid would stop any effort in the Senate cold; and
  • If Obama were removed from office, Joe Biden would be president, and that would hardly be an improvement
My interest in Benghazi and whatever happened with the IRS is actually pretty simple -- I want to find out the truth. There are any number of questions that we haven't even approached yet. With respect to Benghazi, we need to find out (a) why Ambassador Stevens was there, especially since he had to know that he wasn't going to be protected; and (b) who decided to make the Nakoula video the key talking point that Susan Rice offered on the Sunday talk shows, and why. I have my guesses on both questions, but they are only guesses. It would be better to know the truth.

And as for those who are squawking about this being an effort to "get" Hillary Clinton, I'd say this: I don't much care about her, or her ambitions. If she's implicated in something that destroys her chance to run for president in 2016, too bad. One would think that the Democrats would have little difficulty finding another candidate to be their standard bearer.

Mother's Little Helpers

Most people spend Mother's Day by spending a little quality time with their mothers. Maybe they take Mom out to lunch, or buy her some flowers or a nice gift.

That's not what happened on Mother's Day in St. Paul:
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic legislative leaders reached a budget agreement Sunday that calls for $2 billion in new taxes and boosts spending for schools and property tax relief.

The Democrats are relying on a tobacco tax hike and the governor’s long-sought income tax increase on high earners to pay for the new spending. The budget outline scraps a proposed sales tax on clothing, but lawmakers continue to consider resurrecting at least part of a heavily criticized plan to tax businesses services.
We've been through this enough times to dispense with the arguments. All that needs to be said was said by Dayton himself:
“It’s a budget that is going to work for Minnesota. It’s going to put Minnesota to work,” Dayton said Sunday afternoon. “It’s going to fulfill our promises to invest in education and infrastructure. We’re going to see a better Minnesota as a result of this budget.”
Fortunately, we're only about 18 months away from having a chance to weigh in on whether or not taxing and spending more actually delivers a "better Minnesota."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"Wake up and smell the Chicago."

That's the apt summation given by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds as he offered links to a number of stories concerning the news that the IRS was targeting Tea Party-affiliated groups for additional scrutiny.

As alert readers of this feature know, I spent five years in Chicago, from 1987 through 1992. When I first came to Chicago, Harold Washington was the mayor. By the time I left, the Daley restoration had taken place. While it would be an overstatement to say that Washington was a reformer, he had made some efforts to change the long-standing system of spoils, patronage and intimidation that is the hallmark of Chicago politics. By the end of 1992, the spoils system was back in high gear.

It was in this time frame that Barack Obama came to Chicago and began his political ascent. We have heard that somehow Obama wasn't really part of all the usual corruption and self-dealing, that somehow he rose through the system without becoming tainted by it in any way. We saw a variation of this claim from Ace Commenter Rich earlier this week:
First off, let me thank you for printing the litany of failed Conservative Talking points you guys have been peddling for 5 or 6 years now. It's quite amusing, and gives me a warm fuzzy when I go down the list: TUCC-fail!, Bill Ayers-fail!, Khalidi-fail!, Daley-fail!, Blagojevich-fail!, Wright-fail!, Pfleger-fail!, Jackson-fail! and now, we can add Benghazi! Almost chronological too.
Yeah, it's all warm and fuzzy stuff -- all those nasty Republicans stepping on rakes. Since "The Great Gatsby" is on our minds again because of Baz Luhrmann's movie version being out in the theaters now, I'm reminded of this exchange from the book:

Who is he anyhow, an actor?" 


"A dentist?"

"...No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: "He's the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919."

"Fixed the World Series?" I repeated. 

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as something that merely happened, the end of an inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the singlemindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. 

"How did he happen to do that?" I asked after a minute.

"He just saw the opportunity." 

"Why isn't he in jail?" 

"They can't get him, old sport. He's a smart man."

For a long time now, that's been the conceit. They can't get him, old sport. There's nothing to all these stories. It all happened a long time ago. What difference does it make? Forward. Yeah, it's easy to see why that would make people feel all warm and fuzzy.

It's never occurred to a lot of people that one man could play with the faith of a lot more than fifty million people. And it's taken a lot of enabling to get to this point. We've seen assertions like this:
President Barack Obama goes into the 2012 with a weak economy that may doom his reelection. But he has one asset that hasn’t received much attention: He’s honest.
And this:
You can't even say it's election-year politics because the Republicans have been pounding this thing for over a year now. And not just the Republicans in Congress, the entire right-wing media propaganda empire has really seized on this because President Obama, his administration, has been remarkably scandal free. Really.
And this:
But I do think there are a couple of things that are character-logical that will guard against some of the common flaws of second terms. First, he’s a man of high integrity who has run a very clean administration. You can argue with this or that or behavior. There have been signs of insularity and arrogance, but there have been no scandals. And the rate of scandals plaguing second terms is extremely high. I think he’s less prone to that.
Did you believe those assertions? Or have you received this message?

Maybe Ace Commenter Rich's triumphalism will prove out and he'll be able to add this week's revelations to the list of "fail!" that makes him feel so warm and fuzzy. I'm not so sure, though, when you have the Washington Post weighing in with this level of outrage:
One line of questioning should focus on how the IRS’s procedures failed to catch this “shortcut” before its employees began using it. Another should center on how this misguided practice came to light, and on what the IRS planned and plans to do about it. Ms. Lerner was responding to a question when the news first came out; it’s not clear whether the government intended otherwise to disclose what had happened. Nor have officials been clear whether disciplinary measures have been taken.

Did some officials hope never to reveal this wrongdoing? Did others hope it could quickly get lost in the weekend news cycle? Misguided, if so. We hope to hear Democratic leaders as well as Republican ones loudly saying so.
Democrats holding this administration to account? Now that would be a reason to feel warm and fuzzy.


A happy reminder from National Journal:
The Internal Revenue Service’s admission that it inappropriately targeted conservative political groups for special scrutiny during the 2012 presidential election only gives congressional Republicans more ammunition as they try to defund and weaken the agency.

For the past few years, Republican lawmakers have sought to slash the funding of the IRS. Reducing the agency’s budget makes it more difficult for it to collect taxes and audit individuals. (Score one for Republicans who dislike high taxes).

But, more importantly, the IRS is also one of the key agencies that will implement the Affordable Care Act. Much of the funding stream for the incoming health care law, arguably the president’s signature legislative achievement, comes from two tax increases: a 3.8 percent hike on investment income for wealthy individuals, estates, and trusts, as well as an additional Medicare tax.
Don't you feel better now?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Just a suggestion

Maybe the Lege could go back to the gay marriage thing instead of doing things like this:

Defying the wishes of the governor, DFL senators Friday afternoon amended a transportation finance bill to include increases to gasoline and sales taxes for state highways and metro transit.

The move, if it survives further Senate and House action and resistance by Gov. Mark Dayton, would raise the gasoline tax by 5 cents a gallon and increase the metro sales tax for transit by a half-cent.
When **Mark Dayton** thinks you're raising taxes too much, it's like the comparison that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog makes at about 3:20 in this clip, which is needless to say NSFW:

Seriously, folks -- go work on that gay marriage stuff instead. Really.

Nice work, kids

That second term thing isn't going so well for President Obama. The Benghazi situation is not going away soon and this story looks to be a very big deal:

Lois Lerner, the director of the I.R.S. division that oversees tax-exempt groups, acknowledged that the agency had singled out nonprofit applicants with the terms “Tea Party” or “patriots” in their titles in an effort to respond to a surge in applications for tax-exempt status between 2010 and 2012.

She insisted that the move was not driven by politics, but she added, “We made some mistakes; some people didn’t use good judgment.”
And how! Yep, mistakes were made, all right. If you're going to tell folks that the IRS "singled out" Tea Party organizations and then in the same breath insist the moves aren't driven by politics, you're going to be hooted off the stage.

Someone decided that auditing Tea Party groups was a good idea. I think we can safely assume that we'll find out precisely who that someone is. And it won't go well for them. There's a lot more at the link and it's worth your time.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Gay Marriage in Minnesota

It's going to happen:

A bipartisan coalition in the Minnesota House passed a measure Thursday to legalize same sex-marriage, setting in motion what could be a historic turning point for gay and lesbian rights in Minnesota.

“All Minnesotans deserve the freedom to marry the person they love and we are proud to take this historic vote to ensure same-sex couples have that right,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFLMinneapolis.

The dramatic vote came after a sometimes passionate, three-hour debate that culminated when four Republican members privately wrestling with the issue joined a majority of Democrats to pass the measure 75-59. The debate raged as hundreds of advocates from both sides gathered outside the House gallery chanting, waving signs and praying.

Two thoughts:
  • If we're going to have gay marriage, it's far better that it come through the legislature than through a judge's edict. You can argue all day long whether the majority of Minnesotans actually support gay marriage, but what matters is that a majority of their elected representatives do. We sent these folks to St. Paul and they have decided the matter on our behalf. That's how the system works and if you really believe in the system, you have to let it work even when the results aren't amenable to your wishes.
  • My guess is that, in the short term, not much will change. What happens in the long term is a more interesting question. As I've said before, gay marriage is a longitudinal societal change with ramifications that will become evident only after many more years. And many of the people who regularly read this feature are likely to be pushing up daisies by the time the evidence is in.

Why bother?

Understanding the world requires some effort. Understanding what happened in Benghazi requires even more effort. Here's a screen shot of the Star Tribune's "Latest News" on their website this morning:

All the news that's fit to print
What this tells you is that, at least in the view of the largest local media outlet, Benghazi is less important than nine other stories and that the events of yesterday's hearing were talking about "confusion" and that there really wasn't any malfeasance at all. Just confusion..

There's no confusion at all about the larger meaning, really. Benghazi is a story that we are not supposed to acknowledge, except in passing. As we've learned repeatedly, it happened a long time ago and what difference does it make?

So why continue to talk about the story? Why beat your head against the wall and pretend that the pixels that fly around a lightly-read website will make any difference at all? Isn't just all a futile gesture, a fart in the wind?

For me, it matters because we need to establish the truth of what happened and to document it, even if the truth is ignored because it isn't especially helpful to people. We need to learn what really was going in Benghazi because there are still a lot of questions left to be resolved, including a crucial one -- what was Ambassador Christopher Stevens doing there at all? Even if we set aside the blame game, there's an important question involved in why an ambassador would be put (or put himself) in harm's way. This is a question that has yet to be answered. Maybe someday we'll find out.

I've never thought that Benghazi would turn into Obama's version of Watergate, or even his version of Iran-Contra, because there's little appetite among the chattering classes to do the investigative work necessary to explain the story to people who are otherwise engaged in things like the Arias trial or the discovery of the missing young women in Cleveland. We really don't have a national conversation of the sort that was possible in 1973, when most people got their news based on the editorial decisions of the New York Times and the Washington Post, filtered through the national news broadcasts of Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor and the like.

Having said that, the editorial decisions of the MSM still matter quite a lot, which is why the Benghazi hearings received less coverage yesterday than when Sally Field, Sissy Spacek and Jessica Lange testified before Congress about farm issues back the day, because they'd all happened to be cast in movies that were about farming.

So it goes. If it falls to a bunch of penny ante bloggers to talk about these issues, that's what we'll do. At least I will.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Apologies to Ernie K-Doe, the Yardbirds and Warren Zevon, among many others

Well there's a certain revenue source that Gov. Dayton's been sweet on, a long, long time.

What's its name?

He can't tell you. (Awwww.)

Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday that state officials are working on a new source of money to pay the state’s share of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Dayton would not reveal the source of money, but said the plan does not include the team paying a larger share of the new $975 million stadium to be built on the site of the Metrodome

He can't reveal its name, until it's his.

What's its name?

He can't tell you. (Awww.)

He tried to use e-pulltabs time and time again


Still no revenue appeared in the end

So there's a certain revenue source he's sweet on a long, long time.

What's its name?

He can't tell you. (Awww.)

I'm afraid not.

Shut up, Brian Lambert explained

So yesterday I gave an endorsement to our pal First Ringer's take on the Chris Kluwe affair. Oddly enough, local media snark merchant Brian Lambert wasn't as impressed and inveighed against FR over at MinnPost:
On the topic of Kluwe, who last time I checked had no problem attaching his name to everything he said, “First Ringer” on the conservative blog site “True North” says: “Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation — foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees. ... In truth, the media needs Chris Kluwe’s release to be about his vocal and abusive activism. Because admitting to solidarity with Kluwe’s political views, and his ability to deliver good copy to sportswriters and sports radio networks, is harder than portraying the SoCal punter as a victim of a 1st Amendment NFL crackdown. Does anyone seriously believe that if Kluwe had come out passionately against gay marriage (ala Matt Birk), and saw his production dive, that those arguing against Kluwe’s release today would be defending his penchant to ‘hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion?’ … Here’s hoping that Chris Kluwe finds the time to focus on realizing that being a public relations bully to those who don’t share his worldview isn’t the best way to advance what’s left of his career.” So help me out here. What comes first? "First Ringer's" bravery to speak out? Or his anonymity?

Okay, Brian, I'll help you out. The merits of FR's arguments aren't affected in any way by whether or not he writes under his own name or a pseudonym. I'd also mention that it's not especially brave to use ellipses to remove the context of what FR is talking about when he uses the term "foul-mouthed" to describe some of Kluwe's deep thoughts. I'd further  suggest that Lambert consider (a) the difference between bravery and bravado, and (b) whether FR's observation that "being a public relations bully to those who don’t share his worldview isn’t the best way to advance what’s left of his career" might also apply to a guy who works for MinnPost, too.

Clutching those pearls

Obamacare is still a dicey proposition politically and that seems to bother some of our betters, who are worried about the nefarious plots of scheming Republicans or something. Sounding the alarm, The New York Times breathlessly announces that water is wet:

A number of health insurance changes have already taken place, but this fall, just as the 2014 election season heats up, is the deadline for introducing the law’s core feature: the insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, where millions of uninsured Americans can buy coverage, with subsidies for many.
For the third time, Republicans are trying to make the law perhaps the biggest issue of the elections, and are preparing to exploit every problem that arises. After many unsuccessful efforts to repeal the law, the Republican-led House plans another vote soon. And Republican governors or legislatures in many states are balking at participating, leaving Washington responsible for the marketplaces.
The deuce you say! Really? Why would they do that? Well, the Times spells out the reason later on:
The stakes for the president are high. The ultimate success of the law, and in turn his domestic legacy, depends on how well the insurance marketplaces operate, and whether enough young Americans enroll for coverage.

While Friday’s event at the White House will draw attention to the law’s benefits for women who already have insurance, aides say that increasingly Mr. Obama’s outreach will be to uninsured Americans and those who buy their insurance because they do not get it from employers.

He will especially urge healthy young adults, those up to 35 years old, and minorities — groups in which he has “a lot of cachet,” Mr. Pfeiffer said — to sign up starting Oct. 1 for the new exchanges. Beginning Jan. 1, most Americans must have insurance or pay fines.

Without the participation of that generally healthy young population, insurance premiums for everyone else would increase — threatening support for a law already short of it.
Walter Russell Mead gets to the heart of the matter:
In short, the success of the ACA wholly depends on President Obama’s ability to persuade young people to voluntarily subsidize the old. If young people don’t agree to sign up for expensive plans full of benefits many of them don’t need, the oldsters won’t be able to afford the high cost of their plans.
Yep. Which is why there are fines John Roberts-approved "taxes" involved. Back to Mead:

This is an especially bad deal for younger generations, not least because the rapidly growing costs of health care (which the ACA doesn’t do enough to control) pretty much guarantee that they won’t be able to have the same kind of benefits as today’s middle aged by the time they reach their 50s.

The Democratic plan to make Obamacare work apparently boils down to a hope that the President can successfully abuse the trust that young people have placed in him by convincing them sign them up in large numbers for a bad deal.

Not just apparently.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Not sure if

this makes Congress any more slimy than it already is:
Disgraced ex-South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won his bid for redemption on Tuesday night, defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch for his old seat in Congress.

Sanford, a Republican who admitted an extramarital affair in 2009, was ready to quit politics for good if he was not victorious in South Carolina's 1st Congressional District. He will replace Republican Tim Scott, who was appointed to the Senate.
One thing seems clear -- it takes more than being a comedian's sister to win a seat in Congress in South Carolina. No word on whether the victory party took place on the Appalachian Trail, either.

il miglior fabbro

First Ringer has an excellent synopsis of the events surrounding the ashcanning of Chris Kluwe, former Vikings punter and all-around social media maven. He's done such a good job of explaining the matter that there's little reason for me to do anything except to offer a tip of the hat and a pull quote:

Kluwe’s value to the Minnesota Vikings was as a $1.4 million a year player at a reasonably expendable position. Simply put – you don’t get to be a distraction if you’re easily replaceable. And by every definition, Chris Kluwe is a distraction. Kluwe has run his mouth on issues beyond gay marriage. He’s been fined for “campaigning” for Ray Guy to get into the Hall of Fame. He’s appeared on the website Deadspin several times over the 2011 NFL Lockout where he attacked numerous players over their views.

Worse, Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees. Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.” His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.
I was thinking Dorothy Parker, but you never know. Anyway, go read the whole thing.

No mystery here

Megan McArdle notices something that shouldn't surprise anyone:
It looks like the Marketplace Fairness Act--the official name for a proposal to allow states to collect sales tax on internet sales made to their residents--will pass the Senate sometime today. It will have a tougher time in the House, where Republicans still aren't keen on supporting anything that smacks of higher taxes. Still, it's remarkable, at least because it shows that under the right circumstances, you can get at least some members of the GOP to support a tax increase. I wrote about this plan a couple of weeks ago, noting that the biggest issue with the bill is the disproportionate burden it will put on small businesses. Amazon can afford to pay a small army to hassle with states who claim that Amazon isn't paying enough tax. Mom's Cupcake Bakery and Cable Store cannot.
Yep. At this point, Amazon has achieved huge advantages in the economies of scale that collecting taxes for the gubmint can be fit easily into the ol' P&L. Eventually, we're all rent seekers.

Pardon me for bringing it up

After all, what difference does it make?
The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command Africa.

The account from Gregory Hicks is in stark contrast to assertions from the Obama administration, which insisted that nobody was ever told to stand down and that all available resources were utilized. Hicks gave private testimony to congressional investigators last month in advance of his upcoming appearance at a congressional hearing Wednesday.

According to excerpts released Monday, Hicks told investigators that SOCAFRICA commander Lt. Col. Gibson and his team were on their way to board a C-130 from Tripoli for Benghazi prior to an attack on a second U.S. compound "when [Col. Gibson] got a phone call from SOCAFRICA which said, 'you can't go now, you don't have the authority to go now.' And so they missed the flight ... They were told not to board the flight, so they missed it."

No assistance arrived from the U.S. military outside of Libya during the hours that Americans were under attack or trapped inside compounds by hostile forces armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and AK-47 rifles.

It all happened a long time ago. No sense in discussing it now. But in case you're interested, there's more at the link. Actually, quite a lot more.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Sorry, shouldn't bring this up

After all, it all happened a long time ago and in the end, what difference does it make? But here you go:

"Everybody in the mission" in Benghazi, Libya, thought the attack on a U.S. consulate there last Sept. 11 was an act of terror "from the get-go," according to excerpts of an interview investigators conducted with the No. 2 official in Libya at the time, obtained by CBS News' "Face the Nation."
"I think everybody in the mission thought it was a terrorist attack from the beginning," Greg Hicks, a 22-year foreign service diplomat who was the highest-ranking U.S. official in Libya after the strike, told investigators under authority of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Hicks, the former U.S. Embassy Tripoli deputy chief of mission, was not in Benghazi at the time of the attack, which killed Chris Stevens - then the U.S. ambassador to Libya - and three other Americans.

When he appears this week before the committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Hicks is expected to offer testimony at odds with what some American officials were saying in public - and on "Face the Nation" - just five days after the attack. Benghazi whistleblowers have rallied attention to discrepancies among the administration's reaction to the attack, which The Weekly Standard suggests was frayed by ever-evolving talking points that sought to remove references to al Qaeda.

On Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice hit the media circuit, appearing on all five Sunday talk shows to dispel the notion that the strike was a premeditated terrorist act and to perpetuate the case that it began "spontaneously" out of protests in Egypt. Rice's spot on "Face the Nation" that day was preceded by the new President of Libya Mohammed al-Magariaf, who said his government had "no doubt that this was preplanned, predetermined."
I know, no one cares about Benghazi. I've been told that repeatedly. Don't mean to bug ya. I'll be quiet now.