Friday, January 31, 2014

The Flounder Pension

We don't talk nearly enough about the looming public-sector pension crisis. More importantly, when we talk about it, we aren't serious. Consider what's happening in our favorite cautionary tale state, Illinois. Walter Russell Mead explains:
It didn’t take long for Illinois public employee unions to demand that the courts declare arithmetic invalid. Barely two months after the state legislature passed a modest but much needed pension reform bill increasing the retirement age and slowing annual cost-of-living increases, a confederation of Illinois’s biggest public sector unions have filed a lawsuit.
Consider some of the math involved, as detailed in a story in the Chicago Tribune:
The lawsuit alleged the changes foisted upon public employees are “substantial and will grow in magnitude over the course” a person’s retirement, a point that underscores why the new law is “unconstitutional and unfair.”

By way of example, the lawsuit highlighted the cases of 25 active and retired government workers. One was Chicagoan Lee Ayers, who has worked about 25 years as a clinical lab technician at a state university and expects to get an initial pension of $53,366 when he retires in 2019. Under the new law, he would lose more than $218,000 if he spends 25 years in retirement, the lawsuit contended.
Mead states what should be obvious, but apparently is not:
Thirty years of work in exchange for twenty-five years of paid retirement is simply a chimera. It doesn’t even really matter how desirable or objectionable we think such an arrangement would be; the arrangement itself is financially impossible. Public employees who are promised such lavish deals should be extremely wary. The unions and politicians making these promises have no way of paying for them.
You can see a dramatic reenactment of Ayres discussing his pension with his union representatives in this video (NSFW):

Actually, this put-upon Ayres fellow might get his money paid in full, but it would be in dollars that have the value of Turkish lira. So he's got that going for him.

As Mead puts it, the unions in Chicago have declared war on arithmetic. It will be interesting to see if the judges in Sangamon County are as innumerate as the unions appear to be.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

il miglior fabbro

This, right here, is a righteous, epic rant, from Kevin D. Williamson:
The annual State of the Union pageant is a hideous, dispiriting, ugly, monotonous, un-American, un-republican, anti-democratic, dreary, backward, monarchical, retch-inducing, depressing, shameful, crypto-imperial display of official self-aggrandizement and piteous toadying, a black Mass during which every unholy order of teacup totalitarian and cringing courtier gathers under the towering dome of a faux-Roman temple to listen to a speech with no content given by a man with no content, to rise and to be seated as is called for by the order of worship — it is a wonder they have not started genuflecting — with one wretched representative of their number squirreled away in some well-upholstered Washington hidey-hole in order to preserve the illusion that those gathered constitute a special class of humanity without whom we could not live.

It’s the most nauseating display in American public life — and I write that as someone who has just returned from a pornographers’ convention.

It’s worse than the Oscars.
And he's just getting started. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Just a reminder

Since President Obama and his pals are hell-bent on increasing the minimum wage, or actually just jawing about it, here's how the private sector deals with such things:
Hamburgers are a multi-billion dollar business, and while fast food chains have got the process down to an efficient production line process, making them is still labor intensive with armies of burger flippers and sandwich assemblers. In a move that could put millions of teenagers around the world out of their first job, Momentum Machines is creating a hamburger-making machine that churns out made-to-order burgers at industrial speeds and aims to use it in its own chain of restaurants.
Add a few self-pay registers and suddenly we're back at the Automat. Except that the Automat actually had a staff. Of course, that's not the point of this exercise. John Hayward explains the point quite nicely:
Obama’s executive order on behalf of federal contractors will surely add muscle to the Democrats’ push for a general minimum wage increase.  As noted above, he’ll describe his order in that context during the State of the Union address tonight, urging Congress to follow his lead and and hike the minimum wage for everyone.  This will, in turn, alter the pay scale calculations for private-sector union employees who make far more money already, because the federal minimum wage is a major factor in their salary formula.  ”And now you see why raising the minimum wage is such an intense priority for Democrats,” writes Greghty.  ”A higher minimum wage means higher wages for union workers, which means higher union dues, which gives unions more money to spend during campaign season.”

Don’t discount the appeal of higher unemployment due to higher minimum wages to socialist ideologues, either.  This is Nirvana for them – a perfect state of higher unemployment (which means greater dependence on government) combined with public animosity towards the private sector, which the Left would very much like to make smaller.  Nothing is better for them than a teeming horde of long-term unemployed who can be persuaded that greedy corporate executives who refuse to pay a fair wage are the reason for their distress, while benevolent Big Government stands ready to help them.  When you’ve got full employment, who needs the welfare state?  How is the Left supposed to cultivate seething resentment from a fully-employed populace that might not be inclined to hate the people who employ them?
You need a client base. This is all about the client base.

State of the Union? Nah

Yes, I was a bad amateur pundit last night. Instead of watching the State of the Union address, I was watching "The Chase" on the Game Show Network while I was on the ol' treadmill at the Roseville Snap Fitness. I could see President Obama on the other televisions arrayed around the gym, but he wasn't saying anything we haven't heard before. If you want a fuller exegesis of the Deep Thoughts of the Leader of the Free World, I'd suggest Stephen Green's drunkblog, which offers the following bit of wisdom:
“I ask every American” to help somebody get covered by March 31."

Folks, if ♡bamaCare!!! were getting people signed up, then the President wouldn’t be begging for help right now. It’s the worst of Amway and the worst of Ameriprise, all wrapped together by two TelePrompTers.
Of course, that's not really fair, since you actually get something from Amway and Ameriprise.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

No Future for You

So apparently the Brits can spy on you, too:
The British government can tap into the cables carrying the world’s web traffic at will and spy on what people are doing on some of the world’s most popular social media sites, including YouTube, all without the knowledge or consent of the companies.

Documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and obtained by NBC News detail how British cyber spies demonstrated a pilot program to their U.S. partners in 2012 in which they were able to monitor YouTube in real time and collect addresses from the billions of videos watched daily, as well as some user information, for analysis. At the time the documents were printed, they were also able to spy on Facebook and Twitter.
Excellent. Since the Brits might be monitoring this blog and can definitely look at my YouTube habits, I'm gonna post the following:

And just to tweak 'em a little more:

See ya, Moneypenny!


Pete Seeger, RIP. You could say a lot about ol' Pete, but this much is certain -- he outlived HUAC. The rest you can read at the link.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Cause and Effect

The city whose Democratic mayor said GOP Gov. Chris Christie's administration tied Superstorm Sandy aid to her support for a real estate project has, so far, received a level of aid from state-run programs that is similar to what other towns got, a review of grant data shows.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer is no longer discussing her allegations that New Jersey's second-largest city has been shortchanged on Sandy funds, that its aid is being held "hostage" as political leverage or that she feared further retribution in the next round of funding.
I don't much care about Chris Christie, but it's always amusing how quickly a story like this can go down the ol' memory hole.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

No, you'd rather have light rail, got it?

I wrote yesterday about the proposed metro-wide tax grab to pay for the Southwest light rail line. Not surprisingly, as a moss-backed right winger-type I'm agin' it. Not all of my reasons are because I'm Opposed to Progress, though. Here's another reason:
A recent study by IHS Automotive predicted that nearly every car on the road in 2050 will be self-driving; in that kind of world, in which our nation’s highways are populated by hordes of self-driving vehicles packed tightly together at higher speeds and with greater fuel efficiency, massive investments in rail infrastructure or new bus networks won’t make much sense. But these investments are already being made in places like California, which is already massively over-budget on a high-speed rail project that will be obsolete from its first day of operation.
The future that Walter Russell Mead and his colleagues at the American Interest envision would include a fleet of driverless cars that would be used for public transportation, as well as private use. Of course, that's a threat to transit agencies:
This isn't an entirely silly question in 2014. We make billion-dollar investments in new transit infrastructure because we expect to use it for decades. Metropolitan planning organizations are in the very business of planning 30 and 40 years into the future. The Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority recently released its dream map of subway service in the city for the year 2040. By then, autonomous cars – in some form – will surely be commonplace.

The question of what they'll mean for transit was actually on the program this year at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in Washington, where several thousand transportation officials and researchers met to talk about state-of-the-art asphalts, biker behavior, and the infrastructure of the future. In one packed session, I heard Jerome Lutin, a retired longtime New Jersey Transit planner, say something that sounded almost like blasphemy.

"We’re just wringing our hands, and we’re going to object to this," he warned the room. "But the transit industry needs to promote shared-use autonomous cars as a replacement for transit on many bus routes and for service to persons with disabilities."
Like the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority, our Met Council has big plans for a future that may not arrive. Despit that, the Met Council fully intends to implement those plans. Back to Mead:
The pace of technological progress is accelerating, and city planners can’t keep up. Self-driving cars are the latest and greatest transportation option, but who can guess what will replace them in the coming decades? A nation criss-crossed with Hyperloops? Ubiquitous telepresence technology? In this respect, we’re more uncertain about the future than we ever have been, and that’s a huge problem for those making decisions about public transit. One thing is obvious, though: we shouldn’t be building for the future with technology that’s already outdated. Looking at you California.
Looking at you, too, Met Council.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Happy to pay for a Better Minnesota, again

An obvious benefit for residents of Maplewood, Cottage Grove and Blaine:
Facing growing urgency to secure local funding for the Southwest Corridor light-rail project, leading DFLers are proposing once again to hike the metro sales tax for transit.

The move comes as supporters of the Twin Cities’ largest transit project explore options for funding after Gov. Mark Dayton rejected borrowing money to pay for the state’s share of the project.

The Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the project, needs to prove by fall that it has commitments for enough local and state funding to qualify for matching federal funds and keep the project on track.
Yes, fine denizens of Oakdale and White Bear Lake, you need to pay more for the train you'll never use. C'mon, Rosevillians and Mounds Viewers, pry open that wallet a little more for that Shady Oak transit station!

We can already hear it -- come on, people; we can't give up the free gubmint money!
Southwest is among seven projects in the nation at the same stage of development that have gotten early green lights from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and are awaiting final approval. The agency’s support is crucial because Southwest is counting on the federal government to pay half of the project’s cost.

The Met Council needs to give the FTA commitments of local and state funding by this fall so Southwest can become eligible for President Obama’s next budget and for federal funding in 2016. The line is scheduled to open in 2018.
Hey, Uncle Sam already has taken the swag away from the folks in Laramie and Keokuk and Terre Haute to pay for this thing. We can't let the money go to some other town! You gotta pay to play, doncha know....

Besides, don't worry -- once we pay for this thing, they'll be choo-choos for everyone, right? You've seen the map, haven't you?

Bottineau Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight?
That blue line heading up to Brooklyn Park (the "Bottineau Line") is next. And those yellow lines going every which way? Those would be streetcars, or maybe something else. They'll be sure to tell us. And don't worry -- there will surely be free federal gubmint money for all of it! The people of Fort Wayne and Altoona can't wait to pay for the Bottineau Line!

But we have to do our part. So why not make the sales tax higher now, because it is quite possible you might get a street car or a solar powered bus rattling up your favorite transit corridor in 25 years, once the folks in Wichita and Boise get around to writing the check. After all, it's on the map, so it must be true.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Money Can't Buy You Love

It's a protection racket and sometimes you have to buy it from multiple purveyors, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
Google Inc. employees have been a top source of campaign cash for President Barack Obama. A former chief executive campaigned for the president. Several company executives went to work in his administration.

Behind the scenes, though, the company has been working hard to change its profile as an ally of the Democratic Party, courting Republicans and building alliances with conservatives at a time when regulators and Congress are considering issues affecting its business interests.

Google has hired a string of Republican operatives as part of an effort to build relationships with GOP lawmakers and has evened out the campaign donations from its political-action committee, which had skewed in favor of Democratic candidates.
Republicans like nice things, too, and there's no point in pretending that some of them aren't just as vindictive as the Democrats that Google loved first. So you gotta open the ol' wallet sometimes.

Of course, some of the Google's original beneficiaries have noticed and don't like this, don't like it one bit:
The rightward turn has some liberal-leaning groups complaining that the company has compromised its principles. In funding conservative causes, "Google is right up there with the Koch Brothers," said John Simpson, a frequent critic of the company and director of the privacy project at Consumer Watchdog, a progressive public-interest group. "The galling thing is they hold themselves out to be something different."
Just like the Koch Brothers -- wow, that's quite an accusation there. Everyone knows the Koch Brothers are the focus of evil in the modern world these days, replacing the Soviet Union. By the way, Simpson could probably use a couple of shekels himself.

Am I being cynical about this? Not particularly, I think. And Google certainly has identified the right sorts of Republicans to subsidize:
To head up its Washington office, Google in 2012 hired former Republican congresswoman Susan Molinari. Niki Christoff, a veteran of Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, was moved to Washington last year to head up Google's communications in the capital.

Before that, Google hired Pablo Chavez, a former general counsel for Mr. McCain, who recently left for LinkedIn; Seth Webb, a former staffer for the Republican Speaker of the House; and Jill Hazelbaker, who also worked for a string of Republican candidates.
No word on whether they stopped in St. Louis along the way to pick up some Ralston-Purina RINO Chow.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Another Piece of Red

The news that 475 people were ashcanned at Target today isn't surprising at all, actually. In a perceptive column for the Star Tribune, Lee Schafer explains what's really happening. It's not about data breaches, either:
There has likely been a plan to skinny down the cost structure since well before Target discovered a data breach in December, and the layoffs happened this week because the Minneapolis-based company’s fiscal year always ends on the Saturday closest to Jan. 31.

That means the company wanted to get the costs associated with eliminating 475 jobs booked in a fourth quarter that was already going to be a total washout.
I speak from experience on this one, because I left Target at about this time 11 years ago, which coincidentally turned out to be the best day of my career, even though it didn't seem like it when it happened.

Expenses are the issue at 1000 Nicollet Mall these days -- the costs associated with expansion into Canada, the costs associated with keeping the Target website up to snuff, and the eternal issue that Target faces in trying to catch up with WalMart's secret profitability weapon, which is the one of the best supply chains in the world. Back to Schafer, recounting an investor conference call last fall:
It was the analyst from the investment firm Jefferies who asked the basic follow-up question. With U.S. comparable-store sales barely growing and customer traffic down, how exactly is the company going to do that?

“Leveraging operating expenses at a 1 percent comp will be very, very difficult, make no mistake about that,” responded Chief Financial Officer John Mulligan.

He went on to say that Target certainly planned to do better than grow U.S. comparable-store sales at a 1 percent pace as the economic fortunes of its traditional customers improved.

“Everyone today talked about performing and transforming,” he continued, referring to his colleagues’ presentations that preceded his. “A big part of transforming is hiring and building new capabilities within Target. All of that is very expense-heavy. Technology investments are expense-heavy; supply chain investments are much more expense-heavy than are investments in stores. So pulling expense out from other parts of the business is critically important.”
Mulligan is being polite, but it's no secret -- if you want to pull expense out of your operation, headcount is a great place to start, especially headcount in the back office. You can usually get by with fewer business analysts, fewer operations specialists, fewer merchandising coordinators and fewer IT guys. It's pretty easy math, actually. You likely won't see many cuts at the distribution centers or the stores as part of this layoff, because Target tends to run pretty lean in those areas.

And paradoxically, a layoff of Target employees is usually good news for other businesses around town, because Target does train its people well. There are now going to be a lot of talented mid-career people around looking for work and companies that have staffing needs are going to have some better options for hiring than they did just a few days ago. From personal experience, I can tell you that what I learned at Target has been highly beneficial in my post-Target career.

If you are on the business end of a downsizing, it's no damned fun. I've been through it myself. But I would say this to the folks who walked out of their offices with a cardboard box today; although the uncertainty you face is daunting, it's likely that what happened will turn out to be a blessing.

You could see it coming right up Nicollet Mall

Part-time employee at Target? No health insurance plan for you:
Target Corp. said Tuesday that it will stop offering health insurance to its part-time employees because new online health exchanges offer workers an opportunity to buy coverage.

The Minneapolis-based retailer will give each worker $500 to help buy health insurance, and has arranged for one-on-one consultations with benefits manager Towers Watson to help with the transition.

The retailer announced the decision through its online site, “A Bullseye View: Behind the Scenes at Target,” in a Q&A with Jodee Kozlak, Target’s executive vice president of human resources.

In the article, Kozlak acknowledged the disruption to workers. But she said the exchanges might offer options that some workers will prefer, and noted that those who qualify for subsidies and tax credits could find insurance that is less expensive than their current plan offered by Target.
A few thoughts:

  • I put in nearly a decade at Target and while they offered health plans to part-timers, it was never very attractive coverage, which isn't surprising. Just the administrative hassle involved in administering a program for part-timers was more than most companies would want to have.
  • I kinda doubt Kozlak's assertion that the exchanges will offer better plans, though. It's not cost-effective for any insurer to offer such coverage and it tends to be priced accordingly.
  • The subsidies and tax credits might help some, but at bottom that's money that someone else is going to provide. If you're wondering who that someone is, grab a mirror. And if you're surprised by that, make sure you can fog the mirror.
It's never a Target labor article unless we hear from Bernie Hesse, the schlub who has been trying to organize Target for decades. He's such an effective spokesman that the Star Tribune couldn't even spell his name correctly in the article:
But Twin Cities union organizer Bernie Hess sees the move to shift workers to public exchanges as part of “a disturbing trend” among retailers. He fears that low-wage workers, many of whom qualify for public health programs, will have their hours limited because corporations can get off the hook financially by sending people to the exchanges.

“All of a sudden where you used to work 31 hours a week, it’ll be cut to 28 hours or less — and that’s a huge hit,” said Hess, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 in St. Paul. “You’ll see a department that might have one or two real full-timers and the rest will be these perpetual part-time people who will never have a chance for full-time hours because Target is looking at everyone as a cost.”
I can assure you that Target looks at everyone as a cost. They always have. All businesses do. And all businesses respond to incentives. If it's going to cost a business significantly more to keep someone on for an extra 2-3 hours a week, that person had better deliver significant value for those extra 2-3 hours. This isn't a revelation to anyone who thinks about the matter for more than a minute. Ol' Bernie isn't gonna solve that problem for anyone.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lost in the Ozone

A cautionary tale:
Scores of workers lined up after a meeting in a party room on the third floor of Resorts World Casino in Queens on Wednesday afternoon to turn in the uniforms they had worn in the casino’s buffet restaurant and pick up their final paychecks.

On Monday, about 175 employees of the buffet restaurant in the slot-machine and electronic gambling casino in Ozone Park learned that the restaurant had been closed and that their jobs no longer existed. The casino had received plaudits when, in late October, a labor arbitrator issued a ruling that doubled the average pay of workers.
Arbitrator gets arbitrary. Hilarity ensues, except it's not really funny.

Meanwhile, in St. Paul:
A push to raise wages for the lowest-paid workers is gaining momentum across the country, with more than a dozen states raising their minimums and President Obama calling for an increase in the federal minimum to $9 an hour.

But in Minnesota, where Democrats control every lever of state government, the push has become a struggle that may yet stall.

Minnesota has one of the lowest state minimum wages in the country. Most employers must pay the higher federal minimum of $7.25, but certain employers are able to take advantage of the state minimum, paying their workers as little as $6.15 an hour.

A move by some lawmakers in 2013 to increase the minimum fizzled at the last minute, despite support from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. When legislators return to St. Paul next month for the 2014 legislative session, House DFLers will seek a minimum wage of $9.50 an hour. That would give Minnesota one of the highest minimums in the country.

Dayton calls the wage hike one of his top priorities for the year, and has said the state’s current minimum wage is “ridiculously low.”
Oddly, however, a voice of reason stands in their way. Odder still is the identity of said voice of reason:
“We could run a minimum wage bill out the first day and just slam it home. But it might create a disaster for the rest of the session,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. Pass the bill the wrong way, he said, and businesses could suffer, youth unemployment could skyrocket and jobs could be at risk.
Yeah, I suppose that could happen. It's always easy to spend other people's money. Whether they'll allow you to do it forever isn't as certain, no matter how wise the DFL, or labor arbitrators, or other such like-minded individuals, imagine themselves to be.

In re Richard Sherman

"Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches."


"I'm afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning."

-- Andy Warhol

Monday, January 20, 2014

Just to clear things up

You can tell things aren't going so great for the Leader of the Free World when he starts in with this sort of thing:
“There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black president,” Obama said in the article by David Remnick, appearing in the magazine’s Jan. 27 edition.

“Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black president,” Obama said in his most direct comments on how race has affected his political standing since he’s been in office.
The problem with this president isn't the color of his skin. It's the content of his character. He's a Chicago politician. He learned how to play the game in one of the most corrupt places in this country. Chicago politics works very well in Chicago because the opposition is (a) marginalized and (b) just as corrupt. The country at large isn't like Chicago. Yet.


I read of Edward Snowden/The way I always do/How was I to know/He was with the Russians, too:
Edward Snow­den, who leaked classified National Security Agency documents, might have been working for Russian spy services before he left his job as an NSA contractor last year, the heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees said Sunday.

“I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling” of Russia’s state security service, said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House panel.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked whether she agreed with Rogers that Snowden may have had help from the Russians. “He may well have. We don’t know at this stage,” she said.

Neither Rogers nor Feinstein offered evidence that Snowden had been working with Moscow. Both lawmakers said their committees would continue to pursue the suspicions.
Does that change the story? Well, yeah, but you also have to wonder about a spy who acts like a whistleblower. I don't recall seeing anyone who exactly fits Snowden's profile before.Then again, I'm not a cloak and dagger guy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Conference Championship Edition, Baby!

I would like to apologize for the week that wasn't. I know that many of you were saddened when I didn't unleash the HYYYYYPPPPPE! But I had a legitimate reason.

What was that, pray tell?

I had to attend to personal bidness. But some of that is out of the way now -- in fact, it's mostly done, so now I can turn my attention and mad analytical skills to this week's games. Watch me work!

AFC Championship Game, in Denver. New England Patriots (+5.5) vs. Denver Broncos. Both teams have been very good all year. Wait a minute -- what's that....


Okay, it's either the return of the guy claiming to be Johnny Manziel, or a Broncos game has broken out in the middle of this post. I'm sorry, but seriously, what the heck is Peyton Manning talking about, anyway! Omaha? Seriously? Why not Lincoln? Or North Platte? Or Scottsbluff? I heard that the Omaha Chamber of Commerce was thanking Manning for calling out their town in his gibberish. They haven't had this kind of publicity in Omaha since this guy:

The giraffe is the mike! Hurry hurry! Call me crazy, but I believe that Denver is beatable. I noticed last Saturday that the Patriots were able to run the ball successfully against Indy. You know who else was to able to run the ball against Denver? Baltimore. Do you remember how that turned out? Especially considering that Joe Flacco was able to run an offense with ball control, how do you suppose that Tom Brady will handle things? New England 31, Denver 27.

Man, you never know who's going to show up around here. I remember Marlin Perkins -- he used to send Jim Fowler out to wrestle alligators while he sat in the duck blind contemplating his navel. That was good stuff. As for the game, while I understand the young fella's rationale, I think Manning has a lot to prove. He's had to listen to people explaining how he can't win the big game, how he's fallen short, how he's more interested in his commercials than he is in hoisting the Lombardi trophy. The problem that Manning has had is that his teams have usually been a player or two short and he hasn't been able to make up the difference. This year, he has the players behind him. And he'll be in New Jersey in two weeks. Denver 35, New England 31.

NFC Championship Game, in Seattle. San Francisco 49ers (+3.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks. To be honest, if you are a regular reader of this feature, you have to know that both these teams are irritating to me. Irritating to me, to the old dude, to Packer fans everywhere and the vast majority of the population worldwide. On one side you have Jim Harbaugh, with his pleated khaki pants and his annoying personal mannerisms. On the other side, you have Pete "Too Cool for School" Carroll, who would sell his mother for a victory. The good news is that one of these bad actors is going to lose on Sunday. The bad news is that one of them gets to win. Thank goodness that Russell Wilson does not need a joke offense to win. Just ask the Big Ten. Seattle 28, San Francisco 9.

I can't disagree with Seabiscuit's portrayal of the two coaches, who are both annoying as hell. I do have a bit of a rooting interest in the game, because the Seahawks have Russell Wilson, while the 49ers feature backup tight end Derek Carrier, the pride of my alma mater, Beloit College. So while these teams are evil, they do feature non-evil performers. It doesn't help me to pick the game much, so here is how I see it. Colin Kaepernick is playing better than Russell Wilson right now, but he was about an inch away from a Micah Hyde interception two weeks ago that would have had him on the couch at this point. He's still prone to make mistakes and the Seahawks know how to get inside his head. Russell Wilson won't make any mistakes on Sunday. That's the difference. Seattle 24, San Francisco 20.

Here's a bright idea -- why doesn't the NFL institute a penalty box that's shaped like a UFC cage? Maybe you could put Harbaugh and Carroll in it and charge people about $140 a head to see them wail on each other. I would pay to see that. C'mon, Roger, you're missing out on a big payday on this one! Maybe Roger is the mike! What do you say, Peyton?


Ben out!

Not to put too fine a point on it

Walter Russell Mead, laying it down:
The more one examines the irrational outbursts and utopian schemes of these so-called green leaders, the clearer it becomes that the leading causes of climate skepticism are dumb green ideas and the self-dramatizing shenanigans of clueless green leaders. If some of these misguided green leaders are serious about solving global problems rather than posturing, the best thing they could do for a while would be to shut up and think. And they might want to take a look at some of the ideas coming from places like the Breakthrough Institute and people like Bjorn Lomborg. Their voices matter far more to the future of our environmental well-being than the mainstream green movement.
The cause of Mead's statement?
The pensions and nest eggs of billions of people around the world are being put at risk by global warming, says the UN's climate chief.

Christiana Figueres has called on investors to pull their money out of fossil fuel linked funds.

She said institutional investors would be in blatant breach of their fiduciary duty if they ignored the "clear scientific evidence".

Ms Figueres said that they should put their money into green assets instead.
Solyndra and Fisker have worked out exceptionally well. Speaking of posturing, check out Figueres and her nifty bike:

Toto is not in the basket. Yet.
Green energy may not work out so well, but posturing is always a growth industry.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Lightning Round -- 011614

All of a sudden, it got newsy around here:

  • After 15 months of silence, Orchestra Hall will be coming back to life. The musicians took their haircut, getting a 15% pay cut and having to pay more for benefits, with the added bonus of missing a year's worth of income. If you're a musician, there's no happy way to spin this result, since they could have accepted a similar offer at the outset of the labor dispute. While I'm not a regular orchestra-goer, there is an undeniable value to having an orchestra in our metropolitan area. Not as much of a value as the musicians thought, apparently. The question concerning the fate of resigned conductor Osmo Vänskä, and whether he'll now return, remains an open question. That he hasn't accepted a position elsewhere suggests that he might be willing to return. 
  • Meanwhile, the Vikings have their new coach. Mike Zimmer got the job yesterday. Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, is known for (a) having strong defenses and (b) sometimes displaying the vocabulary of a longshoreman. Vikings fans are used to having coaches who work blue -- Jerry Burns was a maestro of the F-bomb (link decidedly NSFW, by the way). It's difficult to say how Zimmer will do; my friend and ace blogger/radio guy Brad Carlson is optimistic and his post on the matter includes testimonials from Bill Parcells and nearly every defensive player in the AFC North. Some have speculated that Zimmer's age (he's 58) means he's been viewed as an also-ran in the past. I don't suspect it will matter that much; Burns was pushing 60 when he got the gig back in 1986 and the Bears hired Marc Trestman, who is about the same age as Zimmer, last season. I would say this; I think Zimmer has more upside than Jim Caldwell, who got the Detroit Lions job this week. Make sure to click the link to Brad's take on Zimmer; it definitely merits the "read the whole thing" seal of approval.
  • Meanwhile, Gov. Dayton has put out his opening bid for a new bonding bill for the upcoming legislative session -- a cool billion. While the DFL controls everything, there's going to be considerable heartburn about this proposal, especially in an election year. We'll have a lot more to say about it once the legislators get back to town next month.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


This won't end well:
“We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said Tuesday as he convened his first Cabinet meeting of the year.

Obama continued: ”And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward in helping to make sure our kids are getting the best education possible, making sure that our businesses are getting the kind of support and help they need to grow and advance, to make sure that people are getting the skills that they need to get those jobs that our businesses are creating.”
But this time, it'll work!

The Value of Jesters

Dave Barry, writing in the Washington Post, finally tells everyone what really happened last year. A few excerpts from a very funny article:
January. . . which begins with a crisis in Washington, a city that — despite having no industries and a workforce consisting almost entirely of former student council presidents — manages to produce 93 percent of the nation’s crises. This particular crisis is a “fiscal cliff” caused by the fact that for years the government has been spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, which has resulted in a mess that nobody could possibly have foreseen unless that person had a higher level of financial awareness than a cucumber. At the last minute, congressional leaders and the White House reach an agreement under which the government will be able to continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, thus temporarily averting the very real looming danger that somebody might have to make a decision.
Moving on, then:
October… the federal government, in an unthinkable development that we cannot even think about, partially shuts down. The result is a catastrophe of near-sequester proportions. Within hours wolves are roaming the streets of major U.S. cities, and bacteria the size of mature salmon are openly cavorting in the nation’s water supply. In the Midwest, thousands of cows, no longer supervised by the Department of Agriculture, spontaneously explode. Yellowstone National Park — ALL of it — is stolen. In some areas gravity stops working altogether, forcing people to tie themselves to trees so they won’t float away. With the nation virtually defenseless, the Bermudan army invades the East Coast, within hours capturing Delaware and most of New Jersey.

By day 17, the situation has become so dire that Congress, resorting to desperate measures, decides to actually do something. It passes, and the president signs, a law raising the debt ceiling, thereby ensuring that the federal government can continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have until the next major totally unforeseeable government financial crisis, scheduled for February 2014.
This much is certain -- as long as he is able to draw breath, Dave Barry will always have source material.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wondering Where the Lions Are

It's probably not nice to mock the Lions, but after Jim Schwartz, screw 'em. And so they deserve to be mocked for this:
Just one day after San Diego was eliminated from the playoffs, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt has decided to move on. Whisenhunt has accepted an offer to become the Tennessee Titans next coach, the team announced on Monday.

"This is a big day for this franchise,” Titans President and CEO Tommy Smith said in a statement. "Ken is a well-respected coach in this league and I am looking forward to seeing his vision become reality for this team. He has a history of building successful offenses and took Arizona to a Super Bowl as a head coach. We all share a common goal for this team and that is to build a consistent winner."

Whisenhunt interviewed with the team on Friday and was believed to be a favorite for both the Titans job and the vacant Detroit Lions job. Whisenhunt replaces Mike Munchak, who was fired by the Titans on Jan. 4.
Whisenhunt was the top choice in Detroit. I'm thinking they should go back to their storied past and find Tommy Hudspeth, still apparently available after all these years.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sand in the Vaseline Dome

You know how sometimes the other team throws a Hail Mary pass and it works? This probably won't be it:
A last-minute legal challenge to Monday’s planned sale of bonds for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium could keep the field from opening in 2016.

At a hastily called news conference on Sunday, state officials said the sale of $468 million of stadium bonds had been unexpectedly halted.

Stadium leaders hope the Minnesota Supreme Court will rule quickly on issues raised in a Friday afternoon filing with the court, but said even a two-week delay in the bond sale could add a year to the stadium’s ambitious construction schedule.

“Major problems will result from any significant delay,” Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said Sunday in a conference call that also included state Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter. The authority will own and operate the $1 billion stadium slated to open in July 2016 on the Metrodome site.
Wait, I thought the stadium was going to be less than $1 billion. Now it can be told. A few observations:

  • The cause of action for this suit, that Minneapolis voters didn't get a chance to vote on the stadium, was going to get adjudicated eventually. The end run that the politicians used to bypass an election was always going to be problematic and at this point the plaintiffs might have standing to sue, although I'm certain that the issue of whether they actually do have standing will be key to the Sports Facilities Authority's response to the suit. 
  • Whether the plaintiffs have political support is another matter. One of the named plaintiffs in the case is Douglas Mann, who was part of the clown car of mayoral candidates last time, garnering 779 "first-choice" votes in the clown car ranked-choice voting system, which was marginally more votes than perennial candidate Ole Savior brought home. And this is the problem that stadium foes have had all along; while there were many foes, their voices were quite diffuse. At this point, with the Dome already well into demolition, the suit won't get a lot of support.
  • Having said that, all of this was easy to predict. How it gets adjudicated will be interesting, but if you want a preview, take a look at this fascinating article from Powerline's John Hinderaker, who was involved in the legal argumentation for funding the Metrodome itself. If you want to know how (and more importantly, why) legal opinions get written, you'll learn a lot.
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the Star Tribune article buries the lede:
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, a stadium foe, said that at a December finance committee meeting senators learned taxes and other dedicated revenues for the stadium were coming in under projection. He said he asked Schowalter about the shortfall and was told that borrowing funds was a possible interim alternative.

“Now we are seeing potential impact of that,” Nienow said. “If this gets delayed, that could create a problem.”
Emphasis mine. Huh, really? I thought the state was just swimming in money and that there were giant surpluses piling up higher than the Minneapolis skyline. Maybe that's a good thing, because it's quite possible that taxpayers are going to be on the hook for a lot more of this stadium than anyone was willing to admit.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Programming Note

Benster is on assignment and his picks will return next week.

Get Christie Love

John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, on why journalists prefer covering the misdeeds of the Christie administration versus the misdeeds that happen down I-95:
There is a fundamental misunderstanding among conservatives about the causes of partisan media bias — the reason there is unequal coverage of scandals of this kind. It exists not because there is a conscious effort to soft-pedal bad news for politicians you like and to push hard on bad news for politicians you don’t. 
It’s actually more personal — more relatable, shall we say—than that.

Journalists know the Obamans. Intimately. They know them from college, they know them from work, they know them from kids’ soccer. They’re literally married to them.

To the journalists, the Obamans don’t look like crooks and cheats. Far from it. For them, it’s like looking in a mirror.

In September, Elspeth Reeve of The Atlantic Wire took note of 24 major journalists who have taken posts at senior levels in the Obama administration. All of them have worked for decades in various news organizations, thus creating personal ties and bonds of affection with literally hundreds of working reporters and editors.

The journalists are not covering up for their friends and their spouses. They just believe the people they know could not be responsible for behaving badly, or cravenly, or for crass political advantage —and the tone they strike when such things are discussed is often one of offense, as though it is a sign of low character to believe otherwise. It would be, well, like believing the journalists themselves were crooks.
This is what is called a distinction without a difference. Not to put to fine a point on it, but I don't give a crap about their motives. It's wrong. Can't change it, but you have to call it what it is. Christie's mistake was assuming that the favorable coverage he received for his adoring stroll along the beach with Obama before the 2012 election was a sign of genuine affection, true love for the frog as he carried the scorpion across the river, under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.

You misheard them, Governor. They weren't calling you "cherie." They were calling you Charmin. And now that the moment has arrived, they are demonstrating the proper use for Charmin.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Better Minnesota, Volume XXXVIII

It's a Better Minnesota, people:
Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he believes Minnesotans deserve a “reckoning” for the problems with the MNsure website, but he’s not ready yet to point fingers of blame.

“The people of Minnesota have been terribly inconvenienced,” Dayton said. “The best I can determine at this point in time is that it’s not for lack of intent or professional desire to make this as successful as possible from the very beginning. Obviously we’ve fallen far short of the mark.”
I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

You'll forgive us if we don't give you much credit for your good intentions, Governor. If you and the cavalcade of goons that surround you had good intentions, we'd have never seen this:

Good intentions don't count for much. And they count for even less when you traffic in scurrility.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sounds like a Chick-Fil-A Ad Gone Horribly Wrong

The carcasses of almost a dozen cows have washed ashore in Denmark and Sweden, puzzling police in the Scandinavian countries.

Since Dec. 29, eight dead cows have been found by people strolling on beaches in southern Sweden and three in Denmark. All the animals had parts of their ears cut off. Investigators suspect this was done to remove the identification tags used to trace the cows.

Danish and Swedish police said Thursday the cows were probably dumped from a ship in the Baltic Sea. They are trying to pinpoint which livestock transports have passed through the waters separating the two countries in recent weeks.
You might want to check with these guys:

A Shocking Headline

This is astonishing news:
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon said Thursday she’s reached a decision on her political future, but won’t share it until she meets with Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday.
Wait a minute -- you mean to tell me we have a lieutenant governor? And her name isn't Carrie Lucking?

Thursday, January 09, 2014

HOF Results

So they announced the Baseball Hall of Fame inductees yesterday -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas. And Jack Morris is off the ballot. A few thoughts:

  • No complaints on the three inductees, since all are worthy. Maddux in particular was an amazingly dominant pitcher, while Glavine was a consistent winner for nearly an entire generation. Thomas might have been the best overall right-handed hitter since Frank Robinson. Congratulations to all.
  • Jack Morris didn't make it and I suspect the arrival of Maddux, Glavine and others on the ballot hurt his chances. It's hard to explain Morris unless you saw him pitch -- he gets much grief for his relatively high earned run average (3.90), but the key stat to understanding his overall value is this: he threw 175 complete games in his career. We live in an era where the league leaders have about 4-5 complete games a season and most teams carry 12-13 pitchers on their 25-man roster. Morris ate up a lot of innings and saved his team's bullpens in ways that few of his contemporaries did and that no one does now. Typically, the Tigers would come north with only 9 pitchers when Morris was in their employ. Beyond the greatness of his performance in Game 7 of the '91 World Series, he was the definition of a staff ace in the 1980s. Perhaps the seamheads don't value such things, but I do. When the Veteran's Committee considers Morris in 2017, I suspect he'll get a more sympathetic look.
  • I remain disappointed that Tim Raines and Alan Trammell don't get more support. Their misfortunes stem, I think, from the existence of contemporaries who were better players -- Rickey Henderson for Raines and Cal Ripken for Trammell. That shouldn't matter, really, but often it does.
  • Craig Biggio almost made it, but fell short by two votes. He'll be fine. Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell will both make it eventually, too, I think. 
  • Next year you'll see Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez on the ballot. They're no-brainers. John Smoltz, also on next year's ballot, will eventually join his pals Maddux and Glavine in the Hall, but he might have to wait a while. You could make a good argument that Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, who both fell short this year, were both better than Smoltz. In fact, I probably would make that argument.

In re Chris Christie, or a Bridge Too Far

In related news, apparently Daryl Gates Bill Gates Gates Brown David Gates of Bread wrote some sort of book. Something like that.

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the traffic last
Just kicking down the traffic cones
Looking for fun and feelin’ payback
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ payback
Hello, Fort Lee, how's it goin’?
We've got to stop the traffic flowin’
Ain’t’cha got support for me?
Doot-in doo-doo, feelin’ payback
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ payback
I got toll booths to close
No promises to keep
I’m stuck with this lap band and now I can't eat
Let the morning time drop all its headlines of Gates
Life, I love you
All is payback

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Der Kluwessar

Upon reflection, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe suspects he was mebbe “a little too harsh” concerning his former supervisor, Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer:
"After thinking about it, after reflecting on it, I don't think an appropriate punishment is if he never coaches again," Kluwe said during his appearance [on Fox Sports Live]. "I think it would be better if he got therapy, if he got counseling, and then a year or two from now, come back into the league as a role model, help out with LGBT groups, and show people that this is an important issue.

"What he said is very hurtful, but people can change."
Mike Priefer gets his mind right
How magnanimous. Then again, it’s good to know the sentence for thoughtcrime is 2 years.

Don’t turn around, uh huh uh
Der Kluwessar’s in town, uh huh huh

Just a guess – there are probably more than a few LGBT groups who are thinking to themselves, “Hey Kluwe, get off our side.”

Gates of Hell

Disgruntled ex-employee, of course:
In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”
It's easy to march into a bayonet when you're not the one doing the actual marching.

I'm no fan of Obama, but I have to wonder about Gates's account in this case. If he really believed that Obama was sending troops into harm's way without really supporting the announced strategy, Gates should have resigned on the spot and told the world precisely why he'd resigned. Frankly, if what Gates is alleging is true, it would be akin to what's portrayed in this clip from Stanley Kubrick's great anti-war film Paths of Glory:

Maybe I should restate that. I guess I'm hoping that what Gates alleges is not true. Because if it is true, woe betide us.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


MNSure isn't covering itself in glory and now James Nobles is on the case:
With Minnesotans still experiencing problems with the MNsure website, the state’s legislative auditor said Monday he is planning a full-throttle investigation, starting with the vendors that received tens of millions of dollars to build the state’s new health insurance exchange.

Jim Nobles said the first phase will focus on whether the IT contractors delivered on their promises and whether the state kept a close enough eye on their work.

“It’s fine to question the performance of the contractor,” Nobles said in an interview. “We’ll do that. But one of the worst things you can do in managing these contracts is to stand on the sidelines with the hope that things will go well. You’ve got to be actively managing and verifying.”
When the history of Obamacare and its strange offspring is finally written, the lack of oversight will be one of the most important parts of the story. And word to the wise, Mr. Nobles -- be careful. You get too close and you'll have the Alliance for a Better Minnesota on your butt.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Lightning Round -- 010614


  • R. T. Rybak apparently is lucky he got quick medical attention. Hope a speedy recovery is on the way for him.
  • While the Packers continue to close the gap on the 49ers, there's still a gap and they aren't good enough. While they need to pursue getting some better players in key positions, especially on defense, the one thing I'd like to see them investigate in the off-season is the sports science regimen that Chip Kelly brought to Philadelphia. The Packers had an amazing number of injuries this year and lost some of their most important players to injury for long stretches of the season. The margin for error is small in the league and if they continue to have these problems, they're never going to get back to the promised land.
  • The biggest challenge this morning will be getting my car started, I think.
  • Congress and the president are coming back to Washington today. That would explain the chill.
  • CBS is finally starting to notice that "Cleantech" isn't doing so well. We'll always have alchemists.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Cold-Blooded Edition

Now it is time for the playoffs. Twelve teams enter, one survives. And we don't need to worry about Jim Mora any more:

But we will have to concern ourselves with the playoffs. And interestingly enough, the Colts are part of it this time. So we'll talk about that, and a little more, pretty soon. Anything to add, Geritol Fan?

No, I think that's it.

Good. Watch me work.

Kansas City Chiefs (+1) vs. Indianapolis Colts. The Chiefs have been the surprise team in the league this year, but lately they've been sputtering after a brilliant start. They have some legitimate weapons, especially Jamaal Charles and the always underrated Alex Smith, but going into Indy is a tough assignment. Figuring out the Colts is even more of a tough assignment. Have you seen their body of work, old dude? It's kinda puzzling. They go into San Francisco and kick the Niners around like a bunch of rag dolls, but then they get destroyed in their own building by a middling Rams team. So which Colts team shows up today? Well, keep in mind that if Kansas City goes to the lead early on, they are very good at holding on to the lead. Kansas City 27, Indy 17.

The Colts haven't been quite the same team since they lost Reggie Wayne. That's the challenge -- Andrew Luck is very good, but he doesn't have all his weapons. I realize that the Colts have already beaten the Chiefs this season, but I sense that this one will be different. I'll agree with the young fella. Kansas City 24, Indianapolis 23.

New Orleans Saints (+2.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles. So the key here is the weather. The Saints are a dome team and don't do well outside. What's the forecast for Philly?

Not bad, but not dome
It'll be cold, but perhaps manageable for those hothouse flowers in the black and gold uniforms. This game should be a shootout, since the Eagles are now a scoring machine, too. Nick Foles has been the surprise of the year, turning into a Brady-like quarterback. However, the problem is that Drew Brees is more experienced, and has nearly all his weapons available. Thus, it's time to buck the trend. Saints 59, Eagles 42.

I dunno. The Eagles seem to be a better team and the Saints just haven't done well outside their dome. Do you go with the aging gunslinger, or the new hotshot? In this case, I like the hotshot, especially since the Eagles also have Shady McCoy around. Eagles 38, Saints 31.

San Diego Chargers (+7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals. So the Bengals are honoring the 1981 version of the Ice Bowl, a/k/a the Freezer Bowl, with another visit from the Chargers. Last time, it looked like this:

Tomorrow, in Cincy, it will be how cold?

Probably closer to 5 than 40. And snowing, too! Excellent! San Diego may be the hot team, but it's hard for a West Coast team to win in the cold. Cincinnati is also 8-0 at home this year. Draw your own conclusions. Cincinnati 35, San Diego 31.

I think the Chargers have been playing better lately. But this is a tougher game and it's going to be brutal in Cincy tomorrow. And I don't see them coping well. And meanwhile, the Bengals are pretty good. Andy Dalton isn't good enough to win a Super Bowl, but he's good enough to win a playoff game against an inferior opponent. Cincinnati 31, San Diego 17.

San Francisco 49ers (-2.5) vs. Glorious Green Bay Packers. Ice Bowl II, baby! Finally, the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field will be actually frozen for a playoff game. And the mighty, swaggering 49ers are coming to town with Jim Harbaugh, the coach who is not as good a human being as his brother, and Colin Kaepernick, the most overrated quarterback in the league. (See Brad, I didn't disappoint you!) The weather forecast for Green Bay is brutal. Here's a scene:

That's actually how the 49ers are going to be arriving in Green Bay. If we flash back to Week 1, the 49ers narrowly escaped in San Francisco, thanks to Anquan Boldin, who had a career game that day. However, the Packers now have a run game and Aaron Rodgers is back. The 49ers are a hot team right now and they have played exceptionally well against the Packers in the last three meetings. However, this time it's going to be like 1996; if you remember 1996, I don't need to say anything more. Here's the forecast for the game:

That 5 comes at midnight; try -10 or -15 for game time
And if you know anything about what Lambeau Field looks like in those conditions, you'll understand what I'm about to lay down. Packers 31, 49ers 17.

I wonder about this one. The Packers are finally approaching healthy again and while that helps, there is still the matter of the 49ers and their talent, especially along the offensive line. This will be tough for the Packer defense, which hasn't covered itself in glory this season. The key thing will be how Kaepernick handles the elements. I wouldn't be surprised if his vanity gets the best of him and he has to show off his finely tattooed guns, instead of wearing sleeves. I could also see him getting confused by a few tricks that the Packers haven't shown him before. I suspect Rodgers will play very well and that might be the difference. I think the cold gets to a few 49ers and the Packers get the miracle that this season absolutely requires. Packers 28, 49ers 24.

National Championship Game -- Florida State Seminoles (-8.5) vs. Auburn Tigers/War Eagle! If you are a regular reader of this feature, you know that I can't stand the SEC. As it happens, Auburn is the SEC champion this year and it only took two fluke plays to get them to this spot. Now they are basking in the sun in Pasadena, awaiting Florida State and its quarterback, Jameis Winston. I don't believe that Winston did anything wrong and he's now ready to take the national stage. The Seminoles are not a one-man team, however -- they play some pretty good defense and they've laid waste to pretty much everyone they've faced up to this point. Sorry, Auburn. Florida State 42, Auburn 10.

For all the hype and exposure the Seminoles have had, somehow I've managed not to see them play at all this season. I hear that Winston is fantastic, but I wonder about the level of competition in the ACC. I mean, they beat Duke in the championship game. Auburn has been impressive. I think Florida State wins, but I'm not confident in this pick at all. Florida State 35, Auburn 31.

One last image for you:

No, that's not Ed Gein on the lower left
The steam will be rising at Lambeau. Ben out!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Two Cowards and a Bigot Walk Into a Bar. . .

. . . and fire a loudmouthed punter. Somehow, the republic survives.

Well, yeah

This one'll knock you over with a feather:
A new study of Medicaid beneficiaries in Oregon makes a strong version of this case. The study, published today in the journal Science, finds that adult Medicaid beneficiaries rely on emergency rooms about 40 percent more than similar uninsured adults.

"When you cover the uninsured, emergency room use goes up by a large magnitude," said Amy Finkelstein, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served as a lead investigator on the study, in an MIT press statement accompanying the study.

There were no exceptions to the trend. "In no case were we able to find any subpopulations, or type of conditions, for which Medicaid caused a significant decrease in emergency department use," said Finkelstein.
To the extent it's accomplishing anything at all, the Obamacare enrollment process is increasing the number of Medicaid recipients. So yeah, you'll have more people using the system and the doctors and hospitals will get less compensation for the increased traffic. It's a brilliant plan.

Meanwhile, MNSure is still having trouble getting its act together:
It's a new year, but MNsure continues to struggle with old problems involving its website and call center.

The application and account services portion of the state health exchange website was down Thursday afternoon until 6:30 p.m. for technical reasons as people continued trying to acquire health insurance. The trouble connecting with MNsure was particularly annoying for consumers who still aren't clear whether they have coverage.

Meanwhile, the average wait time for people calling MNsure for help Thursday was 62 minutes. The call center had received more than 2,500 calls as of 5 p.m.

The first website error was reported about 11 a.m. Thursday, and the application and account portion of the website went down about 20 minutes later, said John Schadl, a MNsure spokesman. It was still down after 5 p.m. Thursday.
The solution is obvious -- call MNSure once you get the emergency room. While you're waiting to see the overwhelmed ER doctors, you'll have plenty of time to be on hold.

Sounds like fun

Your weather forecast for Sunday's playoff game between Green Bay and San Francisco:

Wind chill factor? Heck yeah!
The Ice Bowl was worse, apparently, but this doesn't sound especially promising. A reminder of what the Ice Bowl was like can be found here.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Get off my lawn, while you're at it

So we watched the "ball drop" coverage on television for the new year; since the local ABC affiliate here in the Twin Cities offers it on tape delay, I got to see both NBC and ABC's versions. On NBC, you had something named Carson Daly trading vagina jokes with some B-list (C-list, maybe?) celebrities I'd never seen before, while on ABC you had Ryan Seacrest mewling about with Miley Cyrus, Jenny McCarthy and that fresh face of 1977, Deborah Harry, neatly encapsulating the steady debasement of feminine glamor standards over the last 35+ years.

Once I had love, and it was a blast
Sure turned out, to be a pain in the ass

From time to time I wonder if I should pay more attention to the blandishments of popular culture. Watching those shows reminded me why I don't.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Bring Out Your Dead Pool 2014 -- They'll Be Stone Dead in a Moment. Or maybe not

As always, it's fun for the entire family! That's right, it's time for the 2014 Dead Pool. And to make up for the fact that he went 0-4 on his predictions today, we're bringing in noted prognosticator Benster for a chance at redemption.

One thing about the Dead Pool -- it's bad taste to unleash much HYYYYYPPPPPPE!

Yes, that would be bad form. First, let's review the results from 2013. We had three contestants last year. The first is Ace Commenter Gino, who proffered the following choices:

George H. W. Bush
Fidel Castro
Betty White
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Jesse Jackson Jr.

As of 1/1/14, all of these individuals have been able to beat room temperature. Sorry, Gino. Next up, the Benster, who made the following picks:

Vladimir Putin
Morley Safer
Luis Suarez
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Bashar Assad

Actually, these picks proved disastrous as well. In fact, Suarez, who has earned the Benster's ire because he is the top player for Liverpool FC, scored a goal today in his Premier League match. So I'm not sure we're doing the Benster many favors in giving him another opportunity.

Hold on. Anybody can play. And this time, I actually am playing with a full deck. And just remember, the only reason you won is because you jumped out to an early lead.

Oops. I think that's what we call foreshadowing. Yes, actually I did win last year, by offering the following choices:

Hugo Chavez (RIP)
Stan Musial (RIP)
Patty Andrews (RIP)
Theodore Hesburgh
Pete Seeger

Yes, I did pretty well, although Fr. Ted and the ol' commie folksinger were pretty stubborn in their will to live. But that was then. We're now on to 2014 and we have some new playas. So let's see what we have.

First up, Ace Commenter Brian, who suggests the following:

Dick Cheney
Billy Graham
Fidel Castro
The #3 guy in Al Qaida
The #2 guy in North Korea

A bold set of choices on a number of levels. First, Brian stole a match on Gino by swiping the ever-ailing Castro from his roster. As it has turned out, Castro is something of the opposite of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who was always dead. Castro, it seems, is always alive. Still, an excellent set of picks, since Billy Graham has essentially announced his imminent demise by billing his most recent appearance his "last sermon." And by going with the non-specific choices of "the #3 guy in Al Qaida" and "the #2 guy in North Korea," Brian is making a couple of value picks, since they are open to interpretation and always under mortal threat. Nicely done, Brian!

So Benster, walk me through your picks.

First of all, I am retaining rights to two of my 2013 picks:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Bashar al-Assad

As it turned out, Justice Ginsburg is trying to tough it out on the Court, but she's been ill for a very long time. As for Assad, he's in the middle of a war zone. He might be winning the war right now, but it just takes one rocket and he's gone. So I like those two choices. Meanwhile, I offer the following:

Jimmy Carter
Ralph Wilson
Pope Benedict XVI

Here's my take on these choices. President Carter is getting up there and while he's been active and vocal for the last 30+ years, he's the best bet among ex-Presidents that other people haven't already chosen. That's more foreshadowing, by the way. As for Ralph Wilson, he's the owner of the Buffalo Bills and he's about 213 years old. Well, maybe a little younger than that, but he's old. And he can't be enjoying watching the Bills very much these days. I think these are solid picks, but my ace in the whole has to be Pope Benedict, who is not much seen these days and looked pretty frail the last time he was out in public view. I like these choices. And no, I'll spare you any (hyyyppe).

Okay, then. Next up, Ace Commenter Gino:

so here it is...
bringing back...
zsa zsa gabor and
betty white from last year...

Bob Dole.
George Bush.
George Zimmerman.

swinging for the fences...
Angelina Jolie.

We noticed that Gino actually made six picks. While that doesn't seem fair, we're going to let him get by with it, because why not? Benster, any analysis of Gino's picks?

Seriously, Gino, Angelina Jolie? She's not old, or sick, or even hated that much. Guess I can't figure that one out, but the others make sense. Dole and President Bush are very old and George Zimmerman is walking through life with a target on his back, so I get it. And let's face it, Zsa Zsa Gabor is really old.

Hard to argue with that. Next up, Ace Commenter and blogger extraordinaire First Ringer:

1) Jerry Lewis
2) Kirk Douglas
3) John McVie of Fleetwood Mac
4) Valerie Harper
5) Frankie Muniz

"Needless to say, I hope I'm 0-5 come this time next year..." Ringer adds.

This is a cagey group of picks. Valerie Harper reportedly has terminal cancer, and John McVie was reported near death last year. Kirk Douglas is very old and Jerry Lewis is getting up there, too. As for Frankie Muniz, he's apparently suffered two mini-strokes and also spends a lot of his time these days as a race car driver. That's not a promising career parlay. I think we can assume that Ringer is the leader on paper. Benster?

On paper, yes. But that's why you play the game.

Okay then, we're on to my picks, which are:

Eli Wallach
John Kundla
Theodore Hesburgh (carry-over from last year)
Al Molinaro
Harper Lee

I'll be honest -- I'm going for extreme age with this group. Wallach is 98, Kundla is 97, Hesburgh is 96, Molinaro is 94 and Lee, while younger at 87, is apparently in ill health. For those of you who aren't sure who Kundla is, he is the former coach of the Lakers. The Minneapolis Lakers, that is. Any thoughts, Benster?

Old age seems like the smart move, but never underestimate the importance of mortal danger. None of your picks are likely to be facing an assassin this year and medical care is still relatively available in this country. At least for now.

True that. Well, we'll see what happens. I'll post these on the sidebar in the next day or two and we'll monitor our progress. Thanks for playing!

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Bowl Game Edition

Happy New Year, everybody! It's 2014, the year when I begin my quest for world domination in earnest. I'm ready to dominate, but you knew that already. But first, I have to get out of high school.

The world totally needs domination. Why not?

See, that's what makes it smart and necessary. I'm prepared for the job, too! But first, we gotta pick some football games. Watch me work.

Gator Bowl -- Nebraska Cornhuskers (+9) vs. Georgia Bulldogs, in Jacksonville. As it happens, this could be the last game for our angry pal Bo Pelini, who was last seen blowing yet another gasket following an embarrassing loss to Iowa. He's probably gone if he doesn't achieve a victory today and Georgia is too good right now. So I expect to see our friend Bo meeting Rick Spielman in the future. Georgia 56, Nebraska 49.

Actually, I think Bo is safe, win or lose. But he's running out of chances. Nebraska's season has been ruined with injuries, so it's not exactly fair to give Pelini the ax for that. He does need to change his deportment a little, though. Georgia 31, Nebraska 20.

Outback Bowl -- Iowa Hawkeyes (+7.5) vs. LSU Tigers, in Tampa. You might be thinking that this will be another Big Ten embarrassment. You would think wrong. Wrong! LSU is starting a true freshman at quarterback as their star quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, is out with a torn ACL. The thing about Iowa is this -- they aren't afraid of anyone, they play good defense, and they have a history of playing well in bowl games. Okay, that's three things. Iowa is going to represent the Big Ten quite well today. Iowa 35, LSU 27.

Actually, I agree with you. LSU is talented but playing with a true freshman quarterback is a tough assignment. Iowa played very well this season and was very impressive in spanking Nebraska at the end of the season. I think they'll win as well. Iowa 27, LSU 21.

Capital One Bowl -- Beloved Wisconsin Badgers (-1.5) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks, in Orlando. We saw the Badgers in person in their last game, and it wasn't a pleasant experience. I'm still not sure why they played so poorly that day, but they did. So now, this decorated senior class wants to go out on a high note. This team is dangerous, especially since they can physically match up with the Gamecocks. Jadeveon Clowney is a beast, no doubt about it, but this year he's not going to be popping the helmet off of a Badger running back. Look out for South Carolina to figure out the meaning of the term beatdown. Wisconsin 70, South Carolina 24.

Uh, no. I think the Badgers can win this game, but they aren't going to hang 70 on the Ol' Ball Coach, even though America would appreciate it. I expect a close, hard-fought game. Very close. Wisconsin 28, South Carolina 24.

Rose Bowl -- Michigan State Sparty the Spartan (+6.5) vs. Stanford Cardinal, in Pasadena. So this one is going to be old school. Really old school. Two teams that are tough on defense and like to punch you i the nose are going to be on the field in Pasadena. Sparty surprised us a little, because they weren't afraid of Ohio State at all. Thanks a lot, Ohio State, by the way -- the one time I actually was cheering for you, you find a way to lose. But I digress. Sparty is very good, but Stanford is better. I'm afraid to tell Spartan fans that 1988 is a long time ago. Stanford 27, Sparty 21.

Here's what the Benster is talking about -- the last time Sparty made the Rose Bowl, it was 1988 and it looked like this:

Sparty should have a chance to win this one. Stanford is rock-solid but unspectacular and they aren't likely to score a lot of points today. That gives Sparty a chance to hang in there and steal it late. And that's what's going to happen. Michigan State 24, Stanford 23.

We'll be back for the National Championship game later on, and we have a little more business on the NFL front, too. And if you want to know why, here's why:

I don't think I'll ever get tired of that one. Ben out!