Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jeff Anderson, Pick Up the White Courtesy Phone

An op ed article for the Washington Post offers a gentle suggestion (emphasis mine):
If religious leaders and heads of state can’t keep their pants on, with all they have to lose, why does society expect that members of other professions can be coerced into meeting this standard? A more realistic approach would be to treat violations in a way that removes and rehabilitates the offender without traumatizing the victim. The intensity of criminal proceedings, with all the pressure they put on participants, the stigma, the community and media scrutiny, and the concurrent shame and guilt they generate, do the opposite of healing and protecting the victim. Laws related to statutory rape are in place to protect children, but the issue of underage sex, and certainly of sex between students and teachers, may be one in which the law of unintended consequences is causing so much damage that society needs to reassess.
That approach worked out pretty swell for the Catholic Church. But hey, why not go for the full Nabokov, right?
I’ve been a 14-year-old girl, and so have all of my female friends. When it comes to having sex on the brain, teenage boys got nothin’ on us. When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the sexual boundaries between teachers and students were much fuzzier. Throughout high school, college and law school, I knew students who had sexual relations with teachers. To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can’t consent to sex. Although some feelings probably got bruised, no one I knew was horribly damaged and certainly no one died.
But then there's this cautionary tale, in which the writer seems not to notice the notion of cause and effect:
Pretty much every woman I know has been sexually harassed in at least one, and usually many, of her jobs and/or academic settings. I was fired from a waitressing job in Boston in 1979, during my first year of law school, after I refused to sit in the manager’s lap like the other girls. I would have much rather seen that sleazebag dragged through the legal system than certain teachers I considered friends despite their sexual relations with students that today would land them in jail.
So unwelcome sexual advances should be illegal, then. That's certainly the best way to construct a legal system, making it contingent on subjective judgments.

Friday, August 30, 2013

August 30, 1990 (Repost)

I wrote this piece four years ago. It still says everything I want to say today, so if you'll indulge a repeat, here it is.

I'd set my alarm clock early, because I knew that it was going to be a long day. My father had had a heart attack two weeks before and had undergone quadruple bypass surgery a few days later. He'd been in the hospital for two weeks now and things weren't going well.

As I packed my bag for a visit, I was listening to the radio. A song that had been popular that summer, "Way Down Now," by World Party, was playing and I was absent-mindedly singing along:

Won't you show me something true today
C'mon and show me anything but this

I didn't know the half of it.


August of 1990 had already been a very eventful month. Jill and I had been edging ever closer to marriage and we were very excited about it. We'd been ring shopping earlier in the summer and I finally had managed to squirrel away enough money to get the ring. I'd placed the ring on Jill's finger 3 weeks before, on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis. As soon as we got off the plane, Jill's mother noticed the ring and leaped into action. By the time the weekend had concluded, we'd already had a line on the church and the reception hall.

A week later the call had come from my brother that Dad had a heart attack. Jill and I were on our way to Appleton the next day. My brother had told me that although he'd had the heart attack, he was okay and that the prognosis was good. Still, we decided to find out for ourselves.

My brother's report had been accurate. Dad seemed fine when I talked to him on the phone. Jill was delighted to show her future father-in-law the ring. When we walked into Dad's hospital room, he seemed in good spirits. Jill smiled when she saw him.

"You know, when a couple gets married, it's the father of the bride who's supposed to have the heart attack, especially when he thinks about the bill," Jill said.

My dad laughed out loud. "Tell your father I had the heart attack in solidarity with him," he said. While Dad was still in the hospital and surgery awaited, it seemed like the worst was over, so we returned to Chicago and our lives after the weekend.

The surgery was going to be tricky -- a quadruple bypass. The prognosis was good, though -- we had been assured that as many as 90-95% of people who had the surgery were able to get out of the hospital within weeks and resume a normal life. The odds seemed good.

But things had not gotten much better. The surgery turned out to be complicated and complications from surgery began almost immediately. After another week, my brother had called again and told me I should come home.

I didn't own a car, so the trip home was complicated. I climbed aboard an Amtrak train at Union Station and rode it to Milwaukee. I met my sister at the station and we drove the two hours back to Theda Clark Regional Medical Center in Neenah, the hosptial where my dad was being treated.

As we drove, we talked about everything except the problems Dad was having. My sister had attended a concert at Alpine Valley over the weekend, a concert that ended in tragedy when Stevie Ray Vaughan and members of Eric Clapton's road crew were killed in a helicopter crash. Vaughan had performed there that night with Clapton and Robert Cray and my sister had felt that Stevie Ray had blown everyone else off the stage.

"It was an unbelievable concert, Mark," she said. "But I can't believe that he died. You just don't know what's going to happen, do you?"

I thought about that. I knew what she meant. But there was a long silence.

By the time we got to the hospital, things were seeming pretty dicey. Dad had been in intensive care for a few days and was drifting in and out of consciousness. We spent a lot of time sitting in an outside area overlooking the Fox River. At the time I was nearly a pack-a-day smoker and they weren't especially interested in having me pollute the waiting room. We weren't allowed to visit Dad; only my stepmother could go in. I could peek my head into his room, but I'm not sure he knew that I was there.

Dad's best friend was a pathologist named Charles Awen who lived in Oconto, Wisconsin, a small town about 70 miles north of Appleton. He wasn't involved in Dad's case but he'd been in to see Dad and I could tell that he was worried when I talked to him.

"I don't know, Mark. He doesn't look too good," Dr. Awen said. "The problem he's had is that he's been confined to bed for so long and he's had a lot of blood clots that have formed. He's at risk for a pulmonary embolism."

"Is there anything I can do, Dr. Awen?" I asked, even though I knew the answer.

"Not really. He's being treated for it now, but it's going to be tough."

Dr. Awen was right. It was going to be tough. By late afternoon all my siblings were at the hospital. We got a report from the doctor who was treating Dad. He told us he was cautiously optimistic. He also told us that we really didn't need to hang around the hospital, because there wasn't much we could do for him at this point. My brother Pat, who at the time lived in Milwaukee, asked if he thought Dad would make it through the night. The doctor seemed to think that wouldn't be a problem, so my brother returned to Milwaukee.

The rest of us went to George Webb, a classic U-shaped diner that is straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. We tucked into massive plates of greasy food and told bad jokes and laughed. It was an enormous release of tension. We had taken the medical staff's counsel to heart and were hopeful that maybe the storm would pass.

By 10 o'clock, we were all back at the big house on Railroad Street. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and laughter. So much so that I almost didn't hear the phone ring. But I did and I answered it. The voice on the other end was matter of fact and frankly a little chilling.

"This is Theda Clark. You need to get back down here. Things have taken a turn for the worse."

"We're on the way," I said. And we were.

We were there in 15 minutes. As Dr. Awen had feared, a large blood clot had broken free and had traveled to Dad's lungs. He was having difficulty breathing and needed emergency surgery. The doctor asked my stepmother if she would authorize it.

"Of course I do! What are the odds of success?"

"Not good," the doctor replied. "Less than 10%."

"Do it. We're going to the chapel to pray."

And we did. We prayed hard. I don't know that I'd ever prayed so hard in my life, before or since. We'd called my brother and he was tearing down U.S. 41 back to Neenah, hoping against hope that he could be there to help in some way, any way.

I know that God hears our prayers. And I know that God answers our prayers, too. But for whatever reason, the prayers weren't answered in the way we would have hoped. Dad passed away about a half hour after we'd arrived back at the hospital. When we went in to see him, we noticed that his fingers were clamped to the side rails of his hospital bed, as if he were fighting to the very end. He wasn't ready to leave, any more than we were ready to have him leave.

It had been 15 hours earlier, in my apartment in Chicago, that I'd heard the song that followed me like a nagging argument all day long.

Won't you show me something true today
C'mon and show me anything but this

All these years later, I still wish I'd been shown anything but this.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Document dump

The Star Tribune reports that the Wilfs have taken their shoebox of receipts and dumped it on the desk for sorting:
After a public dispute between the authority and the team last week over access to the Wilfs’ finances, the Wilfs turned over a “substantial amount” of personal information over the past two days dealing with their finances and legal affairs, Kelm-Helgen said. Representatives of both sides met into the night Tuesday and again Wednesday to comb through documents.

“They’ve got volumes of information there,” said Lester Bagley, a team spokesman.

“We’ve basically gotten all the financial information that we’ve requested,” Kelm-Helgen said. “We have complete financial information. Now we have to verify the accuracy and sort of follow the tracks.”
Kelm-Helgen is Michele Kelm-Helgen, majordomo of the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, the nifty new bureaucracy created to oversee this dog's breakfast. A few comments:

  • While the issue of the Wilf's ability meet their commitments is important, there's another question that no one really seems to want to ask. Why would you want to go forward with a deal with someone who has defrauded their business partners in the past?
  • Elsewhere in the article, Kelm-Helgen avers that the NFL is "100% committed" to the deal. The league is prepared to pony up $200 million, or about a fifth of the current estimated cost of the new stadium. If we're doing the math correctly, they're 20% committed.
  • While I'd like to assume there is what is known as a "Chinese Wall" in place, it's interesting that the politically connected Dorsey & Whitney law firm is involved in this audit. Dorsey is Walter Mondale's firm and Ted Mondale is in charge of getting the thing built. You have to wonder what will happen if something comes up in the course of the audit that might raise even more red flags about the Wilfs.


Do you know this man? He is Tim Scott and he is a United States Senator from South Carolina. At the moment, he is the only African American in the United States Senate. And he was not invited to participate in yesterday's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. You would think that Sen. Scott might have been part of the event, but apparently African American Republicans need not apply.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A trouble-free organization

Human beings do bad things to one another all the time, which is the primary reason we have a system of justice and police forces. You'd like to think that the human beings who function within this system would behave well, but chances are good they won't, at least some of the time. Which makes this Star Tribune dispatch both astonishing and troubling:
Of 439 cases involving Minneapolis police misconduct handled by a new office created last fall, not one so far has resulted in discipline of a police officer.

Police department officials say those numbers obscure gains made in responding to citizen complaints about police behavior, but skeptics say the few cases of actual discipline confirm that the new system is not working any better than the one it replaced.
Damn, that MPD is good. But can that be for real?
Indeed, the lack of discipline resulting from the 439 cases has raised eyebrows.
“It certainly would raise red flags about the objectivity of the office,” said Brian Buchner, vice president of the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. “People should be asking questions and the council should be asking questions about whether it’s effective … Any time you have as significant a revamping as has been done in Minneapolis, the decisionmakers have an obligation to evaluate the impact.”
I'd imagine that if 439 cases were filed, probably 300 or so were groundless. Criminals know that if they claim police brutality, it will at a minimum muddy the waters. Yet it's worth remembering that the MPD has had to pay out some big bucks in the past for misconduct:
The question of how Minneapolis police disciplines its own is facing fresh scrutiny after several recent incidents involving Minneapolis police officers. Two of the incidents involved off-duty officers accused of fighting with black men and using racial slurs in Green Bay, Wis., and Apple Valley, and led Police Chief Janeé Harteau to convene a citizens advisory group this summer.

In addition, the city of Minneapolis made $14 million in payouts for alleged police misconduct between 2006 and 2012, but the Minneapolis Police Department rarely concluded that the officers involved in those cases did anything wrong, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
$14 million is lot to pay in settlements. You have to write a lot of traffic tickets to get to $14 million, so it's safe to wager that taxpayer money has gone out to pay for those settlements. Where taxpayer funds are involved, there should be accountability. I suspect we're going to need more accountability in these matters, and soon.

Asked and answered

The invaluable Walter Russell Mead deals with the rhetorical questions:
As Clausewitz reminds us, the goal of force must be political. Is President Obama trying to bomb Assad to the bargaining table? Weaken him enough so that he gets on a plane to retire in Sochi? Bomb him just hard enough so that Assad only massacres Syrians in the many ways that don’t involve testing President Obama’s red lines? Can Assad kill another 50,000, 100,000 or more Syrians as long as he keeps his hands off the chemical weapons? The President needs a goal in Syria for bombing to be more than an act of moral pique; it’s not clear that he has one.
More, a lot more, at the link.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Clap for the Wilfman

In which I must stand in partial defense of Zygi Wilf. The Star Tribune reports on the latest in the Vikings stadium saga, but appears to have buried the lede:
Minnesota Vikings officials have agreed to provide analysts with more financial information on team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf, but fears continue to grow that construction of a new football stadium in downtown Minneapolis is falling behind schedule.

“I’m really concerned right now that 2½ years ahead of the opening, we’re already looking at potentially a one-month delay,” said Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public board overseeing development of the $975 million stadium on the site of the Metrodome.
It's worth noting the nature of the additional information that the analysts are requesting:
That data, the lawyer said, was needed to assure the authority that the New Jersey court case, which could cost the Wilfs tens of millions in compensatory and punitive damages, wouldn’t hurt the team’s ability to help finance the stadium.
Yes, at this late hour, it would probably be a good thing to have this information in hand, especially since we're talking about a project that's almost certainly going to be more than $975 million. The better question is this -- why is the "authority" asking for this information now, long after the deal has been made? It's worth remembering that the New Jersey case against the Wilfs dates back over 20 years. It's also worth noting that the time to ask these sorts of due diligence questions is long before the deal is made. Instead, what we're seeing now is a classic example of bureaucratic and political butt-covering for the politicians who were so frightened of Helga Braid Nation that they went ahead with the deal without doing any real vetting. That's not on the Wilfs, kids -- that's on Mark Dayton, Julie Rosen, John Kreisel and all the other politicians who jammed this through the legislature last year. Do you remember this?
With Monday's crucial House vote fast approaching and the stadium bill likely a few votes short of passage, Gov. Mark Dayton engaged Saturday in a weekend lobbying blitz to persuade skeptical legislators to approve a new home for the Minnesota Vikings.

"I don't want them to be the Los Angeles Vikings, or the Tucson Vikings or the Vancouver Vikings," Dayton told a cheering crowd of hundreds at the Mall of America. "I want them to be the Minnesota Vikings the rest of my life."
And do you remember this warning?
For supporters, the stadium is a chance to lock in the Vikings for a generation, generate jobs and create a showcase arena that will be used by Minnesotans year-round. Opponents say the state is being stampeded into spending precious public resources on a sports palace that will increase state debt and displace worthier public projects.

Roseville Sen. John Marty is among a cluster of DFLers who have joined with Republicans in pushing back against funding yet another stadium at taxpayer expense.

"The current stadium deal was never negotiated in the public interest," Marty said. "They weren't negotiating to get a fair deal for taxpayers."
Taxpayers, shmaxpayers -- we had a deal to do. Oh well. Back to the present -- in addition to the acrimony of giving the Wilfs an overdue rectal exam, there's the question of who should pay for the audit:
Tensions between the authority and team surfaced just days after the authority ordered the deeper background check into the Wilfs’ finances.

At the time, Kelm-Helgen told the Vikings that the authority planned to bill them or the Wilfs for the audit, a tab that could easily reach six figures.

Bagley responded by saying simply, “we don’t have a business relationship” with the law firm or forensic accounting firm performing the work.
After a number of years of observation, we can all speak fluent Bagley and the meaning is clear -- you screwed up and we're not paying for your screwups. And, realistically, can you blame the Vikings/Wilfs/Bagley for feeling this way? After all, people who play three card monte on the subway don't typically offer refunds, either.

Meanwhile,we even received a cameo appearance from one our old favorites, NFL button man Eric Grubman:
In a statement Monday, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said the league’s commitment to the project — a $200 million loan — is secure and on track.

“The financial commitments are very strong from the Vikings and the NFL,” he said. “The NFL fully intends to proceed with its financial commitment to this project. The project needs the support of all parties to remain on time, and we expect all parties will work diligently toward that goal.”
It's good to know that Grubman is still around, in case additional veiled threats are needed.

Monday, August 26, 2013


World, the time has come to...

So it looks like the Syrian government did use chemical weapons the other day:
There is "very little doubt" that a chemical weapon was used by Syria against civilians in an incident that killed at least 100 people last week, but the president has not yet decided how to respond, a senior administration official said Sunday.

The official said the U.S. intelligence community based its assessment, which was given to the White House, on "the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured" and witness accounts.
Don't hold back...
Cause you woke up in the mornin, with initiative to move, so why make it harder...
Don't hold back...
If you think about it, so many people do, be cool man, look smarter....

So what do you do now, Mr. President? Gino has some advice:
Assad acts as he does because he feels that he is untouchable. He's got the Russians backing him up, and nobody really wants to take on the Russians, do they?

No Problem... Drone his murderous ass, and let the Russians deal with that.
They will not, because they can not.

It will send a message to all the other crack pot dictators: Cross the line, and you may die... and there is nothing your (equally murderous) Russian buddies can do about it.
And you shouldn't even care, bout those losers in the air, and their crooked stares...
Don't hold back...
Cause there's a party over here, so you might as well be here, where the people care...
Don't hold back...

So do you agree with this assessment:

World, the time has come to...
Push the button...
World, the time has come to...
Push the button...
World, the time has come to...
Push the button...
World, my finger, is on the button...

Or don't you?

The beauty of self-government

Our betters always believe they should run things. This is the animating principle behind organizations like "Alliance for a Better Minnesota," which assumes that things will be "better" if only evil conservatives and other mossbacks can be effectively sent to the sidelines. If good people run things, it gets better.

The problem is that theory and practice don't always mesh. The New York Times (via Walter Russell Mead) shares a tale:
Founded in 1946 by conscientious objectors from World War II, Pacifica was the first radio network to eschew commercial sponsorships and maintain itself through listener donations. But critics have long said that its top-heavy governance, with large local boards and frequent, expensive elections, have put the organization in a constant state of gridlock, and that unless Pacifica reforms it will simply govern itself to death.

“This is what the board does,” Ms. Reese said in an interview: “It fiddles while Rome burns.”

Those same problems were on display at a public WBAI board meeting last week in an arts space in Lower Manhattan. Despite the layoffs just days before, the first 25 minutes were devoted to a procedural debate about the night’s agenda, with frequent mentions of Robert’s Rules of Order. Occasional shouts of “fascist!” and “go back to the N.S.A.!” rang out from listeners in attendance.
In case you didn't know, WBAI is a New-York based station that once gained notoriety for broadcasting George Carlin's "Seven Filthy Words" bit. It turns out that the station is going to have to fire about two-thirds of its staff because they don't have any money. Of course, they haven't figured out how to take money by taxing people. Yet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Buzzfeed, Buzzkill

Jeff Jarvis, who built the Buzzfeed website, has had enough:
What are you thinking, Mr President?

Is this really the legacy you want for yourself: the chief executive who trampled rights, destroyed privacy, heightened secrecy, ruined trust, and worst of all, did not defend but instead detoured around so many of the fundamental principles on which this country is founded?
He's a Chicago politician, Mr. Jarvis. That's how he rolls. But congratulations -- you've gotten past this point, at least:

Still, Jarvis confesses that his greatest fear of the Obama legacy isn't the damage he's done -- no, it's something far, far worse than that:
And as a Democrat, I worry that you are losing us the next election, handing an issue to the Republicans that should have been ours: protecting the rights of citizens against the overreach of the security state.
Gasp! Anything but that!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lester Bagley and the Spiders From Mars

Apologies to David Bowie:

Zygi played for time, jiving us that we were voodoo:
The Vikings stadium project encountered fresh problems on Friday when an attorney for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority revealed that team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have refused to prove they can pay their share.

The Wilfs have been embroiled in a New Jersey lawsuit where a judge found that they had systematically defrauded their partners on a real estate project there. The Minnesota sports authority has since called for an independent audit of the Wilfs.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, attorney Peter Carter, of Dorsey & Whitney, said that despite “multiple requests” for such information, the Wilfs had, to date, “refused to provide us with any personal financial information that our advisers need to obtain comfort that the New Jersey court case will not impact their ability to meet their financial obligations.”
The kid was just crass, he was the nazz
Meanwhile, the New Jersey judge who had already ruled against the Wilfs on Friday again lashed out at Zygi Wilf for the way the books were kept on a New Jersey development.

After “almost 20 years as a litigator and almost 17 years as a judge, much of it doing business litigation, [I’ve] never seen an entity run like this,” New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said of the Wilfs’ business practices.
With God given ass
Carter’s statement came in the wake of earlier remarks by Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley, who said the team was cooperating fully with the review and producing all requested documents.

That, Carter said in the statement, was “simply not true.” The people of Minnesota, he said, “deserve to know that the team can finance their part of the stadium construction budget — without delay.”

Bagley, contacted on Friday evening, said that “it’s not productive to engage in this kind of back and forth with the MSFA. The Vikings stand behind our comments from earlier today.”
 He took it all too far but boy could he play guitar
The Vikings are responsible for $477 million of the $975 million stadium, with the state and city of Minneapolis paying the rest. Kelm-Helgen and the authority hired Dorsey & Whitney to comb through the lawsuit, the Wilfs’ background and finances in a process known as “due diligence.”

Bagley said after the authority meeting that the team was cooperating fully with the review and producing all requested documents. But, he said, it’s a barrier to negotiations with the authority.

“The due-diligence inquiry is having a negative impact on the negotiations on those fundamental documents,” Bagley said, adding that the Wilfs — who have not commented publicly on the New Jersey case — are disappointed that the New Jersey suit has become an issue.

“I think they’re remorseful that this has taken away the energy and excitement that is building for the stadium,” Bagley said.
So come on, come on, we've really got a good thing going
Well come on, well come on, if you think we're gonna make it
You better hang on to yourself
“We ought to slide the documents across the table … the way we want them resolved, and say, ‘Sign them, that’s our deal,’ ” said authority member and Target Corp. executive John Griffith. A delay, he said, could result in additional costs that would be the responsibility of the public, even though it is the team’s outside business interests that triggered the new investigation.
We can't dance, we don't talk much, we just ball and play
But then we move like tigers on vaseline

Vaseline Dome, that is.
In the public comment period, the authority heard from Chuck Turchick of Minneapolis. He pointed out that government and Vikings officials have been wrong about financial predictions before, including the ability of new electronic pulltabs to finance the state’s share.

“And now we have a situation where all the decisionmakers plead ignorance about a 21-year-old lawsuit that any reasonable due-diligence would have uncovered,” Turchick said. He called on the authority to release the details of the new investigation. “The public needs to see this data if they are to have any faith in this process,” he said.
We've got five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got

Friday, August 23, 2013

This won't end well

Bradley Manning's got his mother in a whirl:
But the latest twist, announced the morning after Manning was sentenced to 35 years behind bars, surprised many and confronted the Pentagon with questions about where and how he is to be imprisoned.

The former Army intelligence analyst disclosed the decision in a statement provided to NBC's "Today" show.

"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible," the statement read.
Somehow, I don't think the Army is going to be keen on honoring this request, although the story does suggest that the Army does offer some services:
However, George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Army does not provide such treatment or sex-reassignment surgery. He said soldiers behind bars are given access to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
Of course, access to psychiatrists is often problematic in the modern military.

Red lines

It's climbdown time:
President Barack Obama is calling a possible chemical weapons attack in Syria "big event of grave concern."

Obama says the U.S. is still seeking confirmation that toxic gases were used in Syria. But he says such actions are "very troublesome" and are going to "require America's attention."
That's a far cry from the "red line" rhetoric we heard earlier. The lesson is becoming clear, though: you don't have to pay much attention to any threats that this president makes, especially if you're a butcher like Bashar Assad.

As usual

You might have heard about a string of vicious, bigoted statements left around the campus of prestigious Oberlin College* and the anguished response of the school. It turns out that the whole thing was well, a hoax:
The progressive school canceled all classes for a day in a mad scramble to address the alleged hate-related incidents the campus. The saga culminated in a report of a person wearing a hood and robe resembling a KKK outfit near the Afrikan Heritage House, according to Oberlin’s president Marvin Krislov in a letter also signed by three deans.

The Ku Klux Klan incident at Oberlin unfolded in the early morning hours of Monday, March 4.

Senior Sunceray Tabler reported the alleged KKK sighting. Concerned students gathered that night. By morning, they had convinced school administrators to cancel classes for a day and hold a campus-wide teach-ins focusing on racism and homophobia. The kerfuffle made national news. It prompted Lena Dunham, Oberlin alum and star of the HBO series “Girls,” to tweet: “Hey Obies, remember the beautiful, inclusive and downright revolutionary history of the place you call home. Protect each other.”
Well, the perpetrator of the incident turns out to be a guy named Dylan Bleier, who was trying to be an agent provocateur:
On Feb. 27, Oberlin security officers finally caught Bleier and Alden — apparently red-handed — in the process of their hateful message circulation. At the time, according to the report, one of the students had discarded a piece of paper reading: “Islam. It kills.”

Bleier attempted to explain away the incriminating evidence, according to the police report.

“I’m doing it as a joke to see the college overreact to it as they have with the other racial postings that have been posted on campus,” he told campus cops.
Bleier describes himself as a “atheist/pacifist/environmentalist/libertarian socialist/consequentialist.” Well, the last part is right.

*Trust me, it's prestigious, even if you've never heard of it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tunnel of Love

So we're finally seeing some pushback on the proposed Southwest LRT line, according to the Star Tribune:
Metro leaders who play a crucial role in funding transit revolted Wednesday over the rising price of the Southwest Corridor light-rail project, demanding that planners reduce costs or risk losing political support.

Much of their criticism centered on proposals by Southwest planners to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to satisfy a freight railroad or appease critics of the project in Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat deplored “the extraordinary amount of time and attention to accommodate a few.”
I'm confused. I thought that we always had to appease critics in Minneapolis. That's kinda Job One for Opat and the gang. But those critics in Minneapolis -- what do they want?
Minneapolis residents in the Kenilworth corridor demand that the Met Council hide the LRT in a 1.4-mile tunnel that the agency says would cost $330 million.
Now I'm getting even more confused. Hide the LRT? Why would you hide our outward symbol of how forward thinking we are? Do they hide the train in Portland?

Anyway, apparently the price tag is getting a little, well, daunting:
Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said the cost — rising from $1.25 billion to between $1.58 billion and $1.82 billion, “is just unacceptable.”
Wait a sec. Why would a Ramsey County commissioner have anything to say about a project that will be contained in Hennepin County?
[Opat and Reinhardt] were among several members of a regional transit panel that will be asked to pay for 30 percent of the project with Twin Cities sales taxes. A common theme of their criticism is that the Southwest project’s price tag could sap money from other transit projects in the Twin Cities.
C'mon, Commissioner Reinhardt -- get with the program. Everyone knows that Ramsey County has to pay for Hennepin County projects. Regionalism demands it. That's why the ammo dump in Arden Hills isn't becoming Zygi World, remember? Downtown Minneapolis gets what it wants, ma'am. And since a lot of the movers and shakers in Downtown Minneapolis reside in the "Kenilworth corridor," Progress must come on their terms. You can spare us the kabuki, Commissioner Reinhardt, and just write the check and be done with it, since you're going to, anyway. We'll just call that $330 million tunnel the Tunnel of Love. I'm sure it will work out just fine. And don't worry -- you'll get that train line from downtown St. Paul to Hastings some day, I'm sure.

Wrong Paul

Paul Bunyan is selling gubmint health care. You may have heard about this or seen the billboards. If not, the Star Tribune editorial board lets you know today:
Legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan’s day job requires heavy lifting and hard work. But the new endeavor in which the mythical woodsman has been enlisted is far more challenging than felling tall timbers with an ax: getting Minnesotans revved up about buying health insurance and using the state’s new MNsure website to do so.

Minnesota is one of 16 states that opted to build a fully state-based health insurance exchange — the online comparison shopping marketplaces that are a cornerstone of the 2010 Affordable Care Act — with the remainder of states relying on the federal government to build or help build theirs. While the exchanges are slated to launch on Oct. 1, Bunyan and his buddy Babe the Blue Ox have already begun their new gig promoting MNsure.
I'm assuming they are using Paul Bunyan because they can't use Paul Wellstone.

Do you remember your President Nixon?

Amusing, but not surprising:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Home Truth

Walter Russell Mead:
Via Meadia has nothing in principle against government aid for tuition, particularly when it is given to highly talented students from modest backgrounds, for whom college would otherwise be far out of reach. But when well over half of all students depend on federal aid to attend college, it’s clear that something is out of whack. Making federal aid so abundant that it becomes the norm takes much of the pressure off colleges to reform themselves, and allows them to continue raising prices. Unless colleges are forced to compete for students on price, they will continue to use tuition dollars to fund lavish construction projects and administrative salaries rather than cutting costs.

As things stand now, federal student aid policies seem to be more bent on funneling cash to colleges than on helping students.
From what we've seen in our recent looks at colleges, construction projects are abundant. I don't see any evidence of cost-cutting, either. The day of reckoning is coming, but it's not here yet.

Meanwhile, in North Minneapolis

It's the usual grim report:
As neighbors talked and children played Tuesday, a string of gunfire shattered the hot summer night in north Minneapolis, wounding a 14-month old girl, a 19-year-old pregnant woman and a 17-year-old boy.

All three were being treated Tuesday night at nearby hospitals for injuries that weren’t life-threatening while police searched for a man who had approached a group of people as they stood around a parked car, fired repeatedly and then ran. As police scoured the area for shell casings, interviewed witnesses and knocked on doors, some residents gathered on street corners outside the yellow police crime tape. Others sat on front porches watching and waiting for news.

For those new to the 2900 block of Lyndale Avenue N., the sound of shots on the street was almost too frightening to comprehend. For some longtime residents, the crackle of gunfire was all too familiar.

But for all of them, the idea that a toddler had been shot seemed incomprehensible.
Unfortunately, it's all too comprehensible.

Seeking Larger Meaning in a Meaningless Act

Here's a hint -- you aren't likely to find it. If you hadn't seen the news, yes, a bad thing happened in Oklahoma the other day:
With a motive that's both chilling and simple — to break up the boredom of an Oklahoma summer — three teenagers randomly targeted an Australian collegiate baseball player who was attending school in the U.S. and killed him for fun, prosecutors said Tuesday as they charged two of the boys with murder.

Prosecutor Jason Hicks called the boys "thugs" as he described how Christopher Lane, 22, of Melbourne, was shot once in the back and died along a tree-lined road on Duncan's well-to-do north side. He said the three teens, from the grittier part of town, chose Lane at random and that one of the boys "thinks it's all a joke."

Hicks charged Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards Jr., 15, of Duncan, with first-degree murder. Under Oklahoma law they will be tried as adults. Michael Dewayne Jones, 17, of Duncan, was charged with using a vehicle in the discharge of a weapon and with accessory to first-degree murder after the fact. He is considered a youthful offender but will be tried in adult court.
A few observations:

  • I've seen plenty of things written about this case already that focus on the race of the alleged shooters. Couldn't care less about that -- this case isn't about the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character.
  • This case also has nothing in common with the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. Shooting someone in the back tells you plenty about the intent of the shooter. Despite what some folks believe, there was zero evidence presented at trial that showed George Zimmerman had set out that night to kill someone. These guys apparently did.
  • Teenaged boys are often bored. Thankfully, most teenaged boys don't think of murder as a way to break the mood.
  • The article has most of the stock notions you'd expect -- the parents protesting that their accused offspring are good kids, the politician calling for gun control, etc. None of it particularly matters. You can be a "good person" 99% of the time, but the act of murder obviates all of your other good deeds.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The NSA Dale Carnegie Course

This seems axiomatic:
The former director of the National Security Agency and the CIA speculated on Tuesday that hackers and transparency groups were likely to respond with cyber-terror attacks if the United States government apprehends whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"If and when our government grabs Edward Snowden, and brings him back here to the United States for trial, what does this group do?" said retired air force general Michael Hayden, who from 1999 to 2009 ran the NSA and then the CIA, referring to "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven't talked to the opposite sex in five or six years".
Yep, if only these basement dwellers had better social skills and were capable of getting their noodles buttered more often, they'd be totally cool with the NSA.

When is influence not influence?

One of the arguments that I've heard in recent days is that we cannot even contemplate stopping the foreign aid flow to Egypt, because if we do so we'll lose any influence we have in the country. Does that make any sense? What influence have we had on anything that's happened in Egypt in the last few years?

If this report from the Daily Beast is true, aid may be on hold already:
In the latest example of its poorly understood Egypt policy, the Obama administration has decided to temporarily suspend the disbursement of most direct military aid, the delivery of weapons to the Egyptian military, and some forms of economic aid to the Egyptian government while it conducts a broad review of the relationship. The administration won’t publicly acknowledge all aspects of the aid suspension and maintains its rhetorical line that no official coup determination has been made, but behind the scenes, extensive measures to treat the military takeover of Egypt last month as a coup are being implemented on a temporary basis.
There's a thin line between "poorly understood" and incoherent, but if this reporting is true, it's difficult to see a problem with it. We're talking about nearly $600 million in aid for a nation that is primarily using the money for the care and feeding of its military, which seems well-fortified enough.

From what I can tell, there aren't any good guys on the field. The Muslim Brotherhood was clearly committed to the idea of one man, one vote, one time and was busily installing the apparatus of a tyranny. The military is operating in tyrannical ways right now. Operationally, it doesn't matter much whether the bullet that kills you comes from the muzzle of an army rifle or an MB rifle. I'm not sure that any additional "influence" on our part is going to make any difference in the outcome.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just a reminder

In case you missed it, and I'm reasonably certain you did, because no one outside of conservative sites wants to report such things:
The Congressional Budget Office last week released updated historical budget data for the federal government, reporting a deficit of $1.087 trillion in fiscal 2012.

2012 marked the fourth straight year—and the only four years in the history of the nation--when the federal government’s deficit topped $1 trillion.

Last year’s $1.087 trillion deficit was even greater in inflation-adjusted dollars than the peak World War II deficit of fiscal 1943—which was $54.554 billion in 1943 dollars and $723.8714 billion in 2012 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics online inflation calculator.

The deficit has also remained at a higher percentage of GDP over the last four years than at any time since the conclusion of World War II (which ended during fiscal 1946, which began in June 1945).
More, a lot more, at the link.

Dawn Breaks at Salon

They've carried more water for Democrats at Salon than Hoover Dam, so this article by David Sirota is especially amusing:
Think about three recent presidential declarations. A few weeks back, the president appeared on CBS to claim that the secret FISA court is “transparent.” He then appeared on NBC to claim that “We don’t have a domestic spying program.” Then, as mentioned above, he held a press conference on Friday to suggest there was no evidence the NSA was “actually abusing” its power.

For these statements to just be inaccurate and not be deliberate, calculated lies it would mean that the president 1) made his declarative statement to CBS even though he didn’t know the FISA court was secret (despite knowing all about the FISA court six years ago); 2) made his declarative statement to NBC but somehow didn’t see any of the news coverage of the Snowden disclosures proving the existence of domestic spying and 3) made his sweeping “actually abusing” statement somehow not knowing that his own administration previously admitted the NSA had abused its power, and worse, made his statement without bothering to look at the NSA audit report that Gellman revealed today.

So sure, I guess it’s possible Obama has merely been “wrong” but has not been lying. But the implications of that would be just as bad — albeit in a different way — as if he were deliberately lying. It would mean that he is making sweeping and wildly inaccurate statements without bothering to find out if they are actually true. Worse, for him merely to be wrong but not deliberately lying, it would mean that he didn’t know the most basic facts about how his own administration runs. It would, in other words, mean he is so totally out of the loop on absolutely everything — even the public news cycle — that he has no idea what’s going on.

I, of course, don’t buy that at all. I don’t buy that a constitutional lawyer and legal scholar didn’t know that the FISA court is secret — aka the opposite of “transparent.” I don’t buy that he simply didn’t see any of the news showing that spying is happening in the United States. And I don’t buy that he didn’t know that there is evidence — both public and inside his own administration — of the NSA “actually abusing” its power.

I don’t buy any of that because, to say the least, it makes no sense. I just don’t buy that he’s so unaware of the world around him that he made such statements from a position of pure ignorance. On top of that, he has a motive. Yes, Obama has an obvious political interest in trying to hide as much of his administration’s potentially illegal behavior as possible, which means he has an incentive to calculatedly lie. For all of these reasons, it seems safe to suggest that when it comes to the NSA situation, the president seems to be lying.
Of course, the idea that Obama is a "constitutional lawyer and legal scholar" is absurd on its face, but we'll let that pass. Obama is a Chicago politician. Of course he's lying and he's counting on the people in this country not caring, because (a) Obama is awesome and (b) Republicans are evil. It's a little late to pretend that any of this really matters to much of anyone on the left, certainly not enough to do anything other than issue the occasional anguished cry of intermittent principle. Sirota and his publisher own it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Plush parade

On the bed they are arrayed
Pink, celery green, mottled,
Reticulated and threadbare

Arrivals of 13 years, some
Loved and others endured
Fuzzy and superfluous

Clear-eyed, the recipient of
Random largesse has taken
Stock of the blue storage bin

Found wanting, the detritus
Of childhood glimmering like
Asphalt on a July afternoon

Mostly right

The Pioneer Press editorial page scores Gov. Dayton and the lege for their recklessness in today's main editorial, but they do get one thing wrong, right at the very end:
Lawmakers -- including many who represent the east metro area -- were sent to the Capitol with a mandate to strengthen the economy and create jobs. Those who answer the call for repeal will do so.
If that was the mandate, then you don't send DFLers to St. Paul. This crew was sent to provide A Better Minnesota, which is one that fits the notions of the gentry Left. Those in the business of growing business aren't supposed to benefit from the actions of our Better Government -- they are supposed to keep quiet and pay for it and stop being so damned greedy.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Failure of nerve

I tried writing
                poetry but
came out like

President Klobuchar

No, don't laugh. The Star Tribune provides a look at the trial balloon:
Less than two years after two other Minnesotans, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, flamed out in the 2011-12 GOP Iowa caucus campaign, Klobuchar became the first of the Democratic presidential “possibles” to touch down in Iowa’s “fields of opportunities.”

Klobuchar, 53, barely into her second six-year term, is stepping out on the national stage with weekend TV interview appearances and, more recently, speeches to Democratic activists in Ohio, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Indiana. She invoked a Sarah Palin-like line to describe why she came south.

“I can see Iowa from my porch,” Klobuchar likes to say.
I should probably mention that Klobuchar was actually quoting Tina Fey, but then again I suppose with the proper NSA clearances Klobuchar probably can see Iowa from her porch, although she might not want to bring that matter up with Sen. Leahy in the cloakroom.

In the pre-2008 world, the notion that someone like Amy Klobuchar, whose greatest legislative achievement concerns improperly installed pool drains, would be worthy of consideration as a presidential candidate would have been ludicrous. But five years on, we have elected and re-elected Barack Obama, so why would anyone assume it couldn't be possible? I suspect there aren't too many rodeo clowns who would wear an Amy Klobuchar mask, either, so this might just have a chance to work, especially if Hillary Clinton decides that she doesn't really want this after all. The Dems are going to be looking at someone from the distaff side and it's not exactly like the Democrats have a deep bench -- I mean, what would be the alternative? Martin O'Malley?

Klobuchar was at an event called the "North Iowa Democrats Wing Ding," which takes place in the same ballroom where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper performed their final concert before the tragic 1959 plane crash that claimed their lives. Later, the omnipresent Larry Jacobs* had this to say:
Larry Jacobs, political science professor at the University of Minnesota, sees Klobuchar’s visit as a low-risk, low-cost political play that could help in a number of ways.

“I think what she’s doing is kind of getting her feet wet in a presidential bid, floating her name for the vice presidential sweepstakes, and boosting her credentials for Senate leadership,” he said. “All it is costing her is a plane ticket.”
Wrong comparison there, Larry.

*One of the four Officially Approved Academic Pundits in the Twin Cities, alongside Dave Schultz of Hamline, Steven Schier of Carleton and Kathryn Pearson, also of the U, who was unavailable for this article because she was too busy waxing rhapsodic about Klobuchar on KARE last night.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Post Tells Us What We Suspected

It's breaking news only in the sense that it confirms what many people have suspected for a very long time now -- enormous data gathering capability leads to a predictable result. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post explains:
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
And there's something else in Gellman's report that's interesting as well:
The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
A less charitable person might say that agency personnel are instructed to obstruct justice, but we're trying to be charitable. The NSA would like us to be charitable, because, you see, darn the luck they're only human:
“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking with White House permission on the condition of anonymity.
And that's the problem, of course -- humans are eternally curious and capable of bad behavior, especially if the risk of sanction seems small. The serpent made Eden a "complex environment."

So we're back to the question at the heart of Edward Snowden's revelations -- what do we gain and what do we lose if we have a government agency with the ability to monitor your every move? How much trust do you choose to give the NSA and its masters? Never mind; the second question is moot. You no longer have the ability to bestow your trust regarding the program. It's here and it's not going to be dismantled, because any politician would love to have it. George W. Bush had it and Barack Obama wasn't going to give it up, nor will Obama's successor.

What we can do is raise the level of disclosure that the agency itself must provide. Back to Gellman:
Generally, the NSA reveals nothing in public about its errors and infractions. The unclassified versions of the administration’s semiannual reports to Congress feature blacked-out pages under the headline “Statistical Data Relating to Compliance Incidents.”

Members of Congress may read the unredacted documents, but only in a special secure room, and they are not allowed to take notes. Fewer than 10 percent of lawmakers employ a staff member who has the security clearance to read the reports and provide advice about their meaning and significance.

The limited portions of the reports that can be read by the public acknowledge “a small number of compliance incidents.”

Under NSA auditing guidelines, the incident count does not usually disclose the number of Americans affected.
At this point, under the current structure, there's no practical way for anyone outside of the NSA apparatus to provide any real oversight, since the rules make oversight essentially impossible for Congress. Must be nice to operate in an environment where scrutiny isn't going to happen. And speaking of legal authority, how about that FISA court?
In one required tutorial, NSA collectors and analysts are taught to fill out oversight forms without giving “extraneous information” to “our FAA overseers.” FAA is a reference to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which granted broad new authorities to the NSA in exchange for regular audits from the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and periodic reports to Congress and the surveillance court.
It's bureaucracy as "Fight Club." It's the dream of bureaucrats everywhere.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dawn Breaks at 30 Rock

An epiphany at NBC News:
Employers around the country, from fast-food franchises to colleges, have told NBC News that they will be cutting workers’ hours below 30 a week because they can’t afford to offer the health insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“To tell somebody that you’ve got to decrease their hours because of a law passed in Washington is very frustrating to me,” said Loren Goodridge, who owns 21 Subway franchises, including a restaurant in Kennebunk. “I know the impact I’m having on some of my employees.”
Really? Tell us more:
NBC News spoke with almost 20 small businesses and other entities from Maine to California, and almost all said that because of the new law they’d be cutting back hours for some employees – an unintended consequence of the new law.
As always, the law that always get passed in Washington is the law of unintended consequences.


It's getting even worse in Egypt. CNN reports:
The Muslim Brotherhood said Thursday nothing will stop its "glorious revolution" in Egypt -- not even the death of more than 400 people killed in Egypt's bloodiest day in recent history.

"We will continue our sit-ins and demonstrations all over the country until democracy and the legitimate rule are restored in Egypt," said Essam Elerian, a senior member of the Islamic group.

Egypt's short-lived experiment with democracy took a bloody turn Wednesday, culminating in hundreds of deaths and a return to the repressive state of emergency that had gripped the country for 30 years. 
Exactly what started the bloodshed depends on who you ask.

Protesters in Cairo who support ousted President Mohamed Morsy said security forces waged a "full-on assault" on what they said had been peaceful demonstrations calling for Morsy's restatement.

Egypt's interim government said it was trying to disperse protesters peacefully, but had to retaliate when some protesters turned violent.

CNN journalists on the ground said many of the protesters injured or killed were unarmed.
Dead protestors tend to be especially peaceful. A few thoughts:

  • We can dismiss a lot of what the Muslim Brotherhood says, especially about their love of democracy, which comes down to the tested formula of "one man, one vote, one time." If it had sufficient weaponry, the Muslim Brotherhood would have no more compunction about mowing down its enemies than the military does.
  • Show of hands -- who wants to go visit the pyramids right now?
  • The endgame here is clear enough; we're going to see a restoration of the same sort of government that has mostly ruled Egypt since the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser. That is to say, a military autocracy. And thanks to Uncle Sam, it's a heavily armed military.
  • About which, maybe it's time to cut off the largesse? It's hard to see the benefit of aiding a military that mows down its own countrymen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Break Out the Lucky Strikes, Helga Braid Nation

It's becoming pretty close to a moral imperative at this point -- I would strongly suggest that all members of Helga Braid Nation take up smoking, post-haste. Yes, there are well-documented adverse affects on the health of those who smoke, but c'mon, kids -- we have to get the Vaseline Dome paid for. And boy howdy, those electronic pulltabs aren't getting it done:

Another month, another slide for electronic pulltabs. That billion dollar-plus vision the state had back in 2012 seems to be slipping away altogether this summer.

The chart above shows one of the games’ critical financial markers, the daily “per device” gross sales average, calculated from data provided by the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.

That average was projected in 2012 to be $225 for about 15,400 devices across the state. An MPR News analysis of gambling control board data shows that average fell to $43.65 for July — less than 20 cents on the dollar of what was projected.
$43.65? Bake sales do significantly better than that. Here's the chart that MPR writer Tim Nelson references, by the way, and it's a beaut:

Big money
More importantly, this stellar result comes after a public relations push:
But the number has been on a steady decline for 10 months and continued to slip despite a nine city “road show” marketing push in June from Allied Charities of Minnesota.

Minnesota added only 16 electronic pulltab sites in July and just 28 electronic pulltab machines, according to the gambling control board. It’s the second-slowest month on record for the roll out of the games.
Of course, there are reasons for all this -- pulltabs have traditionally been the province of local organizations; a bar might set up a pulltab booth to support the local youth organization or somesuch, not the bottom line of New Jersey businessmen. At less than $45 a day, the games are barely covering the cost of the equipment itself.

Still, if you want to understand why the stadium is going to get built no matter what, you should ask an expert (via Fraters):
In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved.

The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there's no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in. 
That's the voice of Willie Brown, a longtime majordomo of California politics. We've got our hole; better fill it up with cigarette butts.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

I guess it's bad form for rodeo clowns to wear Obama masks:
The Missouri State Fair has banned for life a rodeo clown who wore a Barack Obama mask during a bull-riding competition and suggested that “Obama” might be run down by an angry bull. “Hey, I know I’m a clown,” the still-unidentified performer said. “He [Obama] is just running around acting like one. Doesn’t know he is one.” Many in the audience were amused; at least some were offended. The event was captured on home video, which quickly made the rounds of news reports.

In a press release Monday, the State Fair said, “the statements and actions Saturday night were inappropriate and not in keeping with the Fair’s standards. The Missouri State Fair apologizes for the unconscionable stunt.” The organization said it had decided “to permanently ban this rodeo clown from ever participating or performing at the Missouri State Fair again.”
It is tough to cope with such low rent criticism of our beloved president. I'd suggest watching this movie to take your mind off the outrage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Credit Where It Is Due

We bash the Obama administration rather a lot around here, including the Justice Department, but you have to give credit where it is due and Eric Holder made a positive announcement yesterday:
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder unveiled in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco. He also introduced a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.
Mandatory minimum sentencing has been a problem for a very long time now and we do put too many people in prison. It's never made much sense to turn low-level drug offenders into felons. This has been a bipartisan problem for much of my adult life and it's a good time to revisit the issue.

Better still is this idea:
He also said the Justice Department would work with the Department of Education and other allies “to confront the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ and those zero-tolerance school discipline policies that do not promote safety,” but instead serve as gateways to the criminal justice system.

“A minor school disciplinary offense should put a student in the principal’s office and not a police precinct,” Holder said.
We've all heard the ridiculous stories where zero tolerance policies have turned unwitting kids into subjects for severely punitive measures; this link provides a handy compendium. It's ridiculous to suspend a 9-year old boy for sexual harassment because he calls a teacher "cute," to use just one example from what is a very long list.

We have a serious problem concerning respect for the law in this country, but it's hardly surprising if laws are arbitrary, selectively enforced, and punitive. Holder has a lot to answer for in his own career, but the steps he announced yesterday are a good move.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Let Them Eat Personal Seat Licenses

Due diligence is for other people:
Gov. Mark Dayton’s harsh review of the Minnesota Vikings’ owners’ new legal troubles in New Jersey is igniting fresh concerns about the state’s agreement with them and threatens to complicate the entire project in the closing days before final contracts are signed for the $975 million publicly funded facility.

“Everybody is on high alert that this is going to be looked at under a fine microscope,” said Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority Board Member Duane Benson, a former legislator and NFL linebacker. “The governor is not going to, nor are we going to, treat this lightly. A lot of legislators will be watching this very closely, as well we should.”
Wait a sec. I thought this was a done deal. Why a harsh review now? Back to the Star Tribune:
The new doubts about the Wilfs intensify pressure on stadium negotiators to come away with the best possible deal and perhaps press for added concessions or assurances.

In recent days, the project became swamped with new questions after a New Jersey judge said the Vikings owners, real estate moguls Zygi and Mark Wilf, committed fraud, breach of contract and violations of the state’s civil racketeering statute in a 20-year-old real-estate partnership.

“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Superior Court Judge Deanne Wilson said in a New Jersey Star-Ledger report.
That would be this report, which notes that the civil trial in question has been going on for 21 years:
The Wilfs’ business partners claimed family members systematically cheated them out of their fair share of revenues from Rachel Gardens, a 764-unit apartment complex in Montville, by running what amounted to “organized-crime-type activities” in their bookkeeping practices that gave the Wilfs a disproportionate share of the income.

Wilson found that Zygmunt Wilf, along with his brother, Mark, and their cousin, Leonard, committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and also violated the state’s civil racketeering statute, or RICO.

The partners, Ada Reichmann of Toronto and her brother, Josef Halpern of Brooklyn, the longtime former on-site manager at Rachel Gardens, are entitled to compensatory damages, punitive damages, triple damages under the RICO statute, a redistribution of revenues dating to 1992 and reimbursement for their attorneys’ fees, Wilson said.

“The bad faith and evil motive were demonstrated in the testimony of Zygi Wilf himself,” Wilson said.

Wilf’s “candid and credible” testimony detailed how he felt Reichmann got “too good a deal,” and he “reneged” on the arrangement initiated by his uncle, Harry Wilf, back in the 1980s, when construction began on Rachel Gardens, Wilson said.
But it's going to be different this time, of course. Well, no. Back to the Star Tribune:
Dayton became furious when he realized the team was looking at charging a seat license fee, which would force season-ticket holders to spend thousands for the right to buy premium seats. Then the state’s much-debated funding plan — new electronic pull­tabs and bingo games — fell far below projections, causing Dayton and state leaders to pull tobacco tax money and close a corporate tax loophole to pay the state’s share.

Dayton continues to back the framework of the agreement, which he calls “a fabulous deal.” But, he added, “there are things I would do differently if I could go back and do it again.”

He said the seat license provision — which will make it harder for middle-class fans to get the best seats — was “sneaked in there.” But Dayton said it is not reason enough to sink the project.
Well, one thing is certain: no one needs to worry that Zygmunt Wilf will decide that the State of Minnesota got "too good a deal." Hell, we got ourselves a "fabulous deal." Just slap on those Helga braids and forget all this other stuff, folks. It's fabulous.

Let Them Eat Alpo

It's a dog's life (h/t Cousin Dan):
Arriving in the idyllic coastal retreat of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Mr Obama left behind him in Washington DC high profile debates over the budget, government surveillance and his health care reforms. Instead, he will spend the next eight days playing golf, going to the beach, and buying books from the Bunch of Grapes bookstore.

In the air he swapped his suit and tie for khakis and a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, while Mrs Obama wore a yellow-and-white summer dress.

Bo, the president's Portuguese Water Dog, arrived separately on one of two MV-22 Ospreys, a hybrid aircraft which takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane.
We recently went on vacation to Ohio and Kentucky in a late model sedan. We must not be doing it right.

Let's make one thing clear -- the "president is on vacation" meme is always tiresome, because a president never is really on vacation. The portsiders would complain that George W. Bush spent approximately 324,281 days of his presidency at his ranch in Crawford, Texas*, so I'd rather not begrudge the Obamas a week in Martha's Vineyard, but let's face it -- flying in the dog with an MV-22 Osprey is a little over the top.

*The problem wasn't the vacation, it was the destination. If you were a reporter following the president, would you rather be in Martha's Vineyard or a nasty-hot Texas ranch, especially in the summertime? I've always thought that had W. spent more time in Kennebunkport with Dad, we'd have heard a lot less about it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Fearless Maria's Tips for Travel: Louisville, KY and Cincinnati, OH Edition

 Wow. You thought I left you, didn't you? I haven't written a blog post in who knows how long. Well, you haven't escaped me just yet!! I am back (evil laugh can be inserted here)!! Oh, yeah, I'm Fearless Maria, by the way for any newbies.

 As you may know, the "Dilettante Family" (which includes Mr. D, Mrs. D, Benster, and yours truly) recently went on a spectacular family vacation. We stayed a day and a half in Louisville, and 3 and a half days in Cincinnati. I could go in to detail about the super awesome stuff we did, but this is a "tips for travel," not a "Fearless Maria gives you a detailed account of a family vacation down to the exact minute with no breaks or intermission." So, here we go!

 Louisville Tips!

  • The Lincoln Museum and Boyhood home are for wimps. (No offense.)
  • Don't touch the cabin inside the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Be prepared for Bob Evans, Waffle House, and Cracker Barrel. Further investigation is needed to see if they may be involved in the great "Sit-Down Breakfast Joint Conspiracy."
  • The Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs are great places to visit. If you are a wacko and enjoy scarring kids for life, take young children to the exhibit which explains what goes on in the infield.
  • The McDonald's near the University of Louisville campus is a good place to channel Jake's ex-girlfriend from the Blues Brothers (yes, I've seen it) -- you'll have to wait forever for your food. 
  • The Louisville Slugger Factory is a great place for people who hate loud noises and the smell of wood (psych). And people who always drop stuff should definitely hold Mickey Mantle's bat...
  • Don't expect to go to Rocky's Italian Grill in Jeffersonville, Indiana, on a Saturday night unless you can't throw away five years of your life waiting for a table. Go to Bearno's Pizza instead and get the cinnamon sticks.
Remember! It's lou-vul, not lou-e-ville!

Cincinnati Tips!

  • The steps in Eden Park are great for your calves.
  • Beware of naughty clowns in the Cincinnati Art Museum.
  • If you make a wrong turn, you may end up in "the hood." Exit 2 on I-75 is not the same as Exit 2 on I-71.
  • Don't use a green ball at the World of Golf miniature golf course on hole ten. Doom shall come...
  • The Air Force Museum (in Dayton) will take the average person hours to complete. Any plane loving person may as well bring their sleeping bag and money to buy the freeze-dried astronaut food -- they'll be there awhile!
  • Everyone hates the Fast Lane at King's Island Amusement Park. Except the jerks who are in it, of course.
  • The King's Island gumballs may or may not actually be tiny explosives implanted by terrorists. 
  • The Underground Railroad Museum and Freedom Center is a powerful place. Contrary to popular belief, they don't have KKK spies hidden in the basement (we think).
  • Great American Ballpark is a beautiful place, and the fans are dedicated and friendly. Come for a great time and FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! 
  • Jungle Jim's (a six acre grocery store with food from around the globe, huge cheese selection, a wall of hot sauce, produce the size of three farmers markets,etc.) is where people on diets either make it or break it. Bringing small children to their Candy Castle is the equivalent of a ticket to h-e-double hockey sticks.
  • If you go to the William Howard Taft house, you'll be inspired. Remember that Roosevelt disagreed with how Taft ran things, and created the Progressive Party. Flo, therefore, goes bug-eyed when she sees the house and refuses to go in.
  • Graeter's (an awesome ice cream place) is great, but Better's is better, but Better's is greater, and Graeter's is betters. Anyone who understood that gibberish deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

Well, that concludes my tips for travel! I hope that you will follow them with your life...or else...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Radio Free Dilettante

I'll be on with my friend Brad Carlson tomorrow for his Northern Alliance Radio Network show, "The Closer." I'll be on from 1:30-3 p.m. Central Time. Tune in locally to AM 1280 The Patriot or listen live here, here or even here. We'll mostly be talking football, but we'll probably cover a few other topics, including Gov. Dayton's latest perfidy and the ongoing Biogenesis scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball. Check it out!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Real Governments of Genius

Mark Dayton demonstrates yet again why he's such a perfect governor for our times:
Gov. Mark Dayton said he supports repealing a new farm equipment tax during a brief special session next month that he previously insisted would be limited to storm relief.

“It was a very bad mistake,” the DFL governor said during a visit to Farmfest. The sales tax would cost the state’s farmers a projected $14 million a year.

Dayton said the tax was slipped into the massive tax bill at the end of the legislative session with little notice. “No one wants to take responsibility for it,” said Dayton, who agreed to the tax as part of a much larger tax bill. “I was not aware of it, my staff was not aware of it until the next morning when the tax bill was already buttoned up.”
Two very quick observations:

  • Due diligence is apparently for other people
  • Have you ever noticed that no one ever slips a tax cut into one of these "massive tax bills?" Odd, isn't it?

Thursday, August 08, 2013


A moment of clarity from the Associated Press:

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - In an Aug. 7 story on President Barack Obama's comments on the need to deepen U.S. harbors, The Associated Press wrongly inserted an interpretive phrase in parentheses into a quote by Obama:

"If we don't deepen our ports all along the Gulf - (and in) places like Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, Ga., or Jacksonville, Fla. - if we don't do that, these ships are going to go someplace else and we'll lose jobs," Obama said.

Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville are not Gulf ports. It wasn't known if the president was suggesting they were. The AP should not have added the phrase in an effort to clarify his statement.
Wipe your chin.

Leaving Cincinnati

More vacation notes:

  • I don't know that we've ever had more fun at a game than we did watching the Cincinnati Reds play the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. The Great American Ballpark is underrated; you hear about other new parks rather more often, but it's a really enjoyable place to watch a game. And the Reds are about the most fan-friendly organization I've ever seen. The Twins ought to visit Cincinnati and take notes.
  • I really can't say I enjoyed it, but the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati is definitely worth a visit. It's pretty sobering to see what people had to go through to gain freedom from slavery. Some of the artifacts they have on display are just chilling.
  • When we went to the game, we parked across the Ohio River in Covington, Kentucky, and walked across the Roebling Bridge, which is a pretty cool experience. John Roebling, who built the bridge essentially as the Civil War was raging, later went on to design the Brooklyn Bridge, using many of the same design principles.
  • Cincinnati cuisine is tasty but I wouldn't recommend it if you're on a diet. We sampled some of the local favorites, including Skyline Chili, Graeter's Ice Cream and LaRosa's pizza. All very good. Cincinnati-style chili is probably worth a separate post by itself, actually.
  • The topography of Cincinnati is quite dramatic; the approach to the city from Kentucky on I-71/75 reminds me somewhat of the approach to Duluth on I-35. The bridges across the Ohio River, including the Roebling Bridge, are dramatic as well. Having said that, some of the poorer neighborhoods are pretty gruesome. We stayed in Florence, Kentucky, about 10 miles south of the Ohio River, which is about as suburban a milieu as you can find.
  • We're starting our return this morning and will be back to regular programming soon. It doesn't look like I've missed much. Expect a more thorough recap of our trip from another correspondent soon.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Mid-vacation report

Halfway through the vacation; a few things to report.

  • We've seen a fair amount of Kentucky-related news on this trip and it's obvious that the long knives are out for Mitch McConnell. I don't know if he'll prevail, but if he's going back to the Senate, he'll have earned it. His likely Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, is not exactly a dynamo, but she'll clearly have a lot of money behind her; attack ads against McConnell are already running continuously on Louisville television stations.
  • Louisville is a great town. We really enjoyed it a lot. Easy to get around and a lot to see and do. The view from the Indiana side of the Ohio River is pretty breathtaking, too.
  • If you get a chance, make sure you go see the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. We spent over two hours there and didn't see half of the good stuff. An amazing collection of aircraft and some really interesting historical tidbits about the early days of aviation. If you look at some of the early aircraft on display there, you realize just how brave (or foolhardy) the early aviators were.
More soon!

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Well, this is interesting

Really, really interesting:
CNN has uncovered exclusive new information about what is allegedly happening at the CIA, in the wake of the deadly Benghazi terror attack.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed in the assault by armed militants last September 11 in eastern Libya.

Sources now tell CNN dozens of people working for the CIA were on the ground that night, and that the agency is going to great lengths to make sure whatever it was doing, remains a secret.

CNN has learned the CIA is involved in what one source calls an unprecedented attempt to keep the spy agency's Benghazi secrets from ever leaking out.
Well, not much chance that it will leak out -- it's not anywhere to be seen this evening on the websites of the Washington Post, New York Times or our local favorites, the Star Tribune.

Maybe tomorrow. But probably not. Try the first link if you want to learn anything.


Vacation time -- expect very light posting for the next 7-10 days or so. I'll probably weigh in if something matters, but there's an excellent chance that someone else, somewhere else, will cover the same topics I might address. So we'll see. Enjoy your August!