Friday, May 30, 2014

Credit where due

Michael Bloomberg is, if nothing else, passionate about scolding people for misbehavior. Sometimes he changes targets, too:
Bloomberg cited campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty members during the 2012 presidential race in order to press his point. Bloomberg, an independent, endorsed President Barack Obama's re-election. However, in his speech, he said he found it troubling that so many university employees were on the Democratic side of the race. 
"In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama," he said. "There was more disagreement among the old Soviet politburo than there is among Ivy League donors."

Bloomberg went on to suggest this data shows universities might not be offering students a diverse array of perspectives.

"Neither party has a monopoly of truth or God on its side. When 96% of Ivy League donors prefer one candidate to another, you really have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a great university should offer," Bloomberg continued, occasionally being interrupted by moderate applause. "A university cannot be great if its faculty is political homogeneous."
He made this point at Harvard University, where he was making a commencement address. The politburo reference is a particularly nice touch, because it was specifically designed to piss people off. And it will.

Two further points:

  • He's right, of course. Diversity is strictly a demographic concern on many college campuses. Diversity of viewpoint is not.
  • He's still a bad choice for public office of any sort because he's rather in love with force. Scolds do serve a useful purpose, as long as they don't have any real power.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Closed circuit to an anonymous poster

If you're tired of raisin farming Hellenists, you'll love this one. A taste:
The Bill Gates family lectures about the need for inheritance taxes; but no one believes that any of their heirs will ever be down to his last million. The Sierra Club fights to divert irrigation water for the sake of fish, but would never offer to chip in some of the Bay Area water supply from the Sierra-fed Hetch Hetchy reservoir for the poor smelt or the beleaguered salmon. It makes sense that the Obamas both deplore the 1 percenters and seek to rub shoulders with them at Martha’s Vineyard or Vail.

Nancy Pelosi lectures about the nobility of illegal immigrants, but stays away from the overcrowded emergency room, public schools for her own grandchildren, and mixed neighborhoods. Harry Reid offers us unhinged lectures about the Kochs, but not about his own mega contributors — while the New York Times fires its female executive editor in a manner that, if Chick-fil-A or Fox News did the same thing, it would go after them for big time. The more John Kerry used to call for higher taxes, the more we assumed that he would try to avoid paying them on his yacht — as big-government Al Gore rushed the sale of his cable-TV channel to avoid a new and higher capital-gains tax rate. When we see universities raise tuition faster than the rate of inflation, exploit part-time lecturers, and berate any invited speaker deemed too conservative, then why would we not expect their presidents to enjoy salaries and perks at rates never before seen in American higher education? Guilt-free privilege is not available to everyone.
Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

Not going to Rochester

I won't be there for the state Republican convention, but I'll make a few guesses:

  • Dave Thompson is going to get the endorsement for governor. He's worked quietly, in large measure because his campaign doesn't necessarily have the resources that some of his opponents have, but in the end I suspect he'll prevail because he's a little more in tune with the grassroots of the party than his opponents and his campaign has done a nice job of moving his supporters through to the convention. It will take at least two ballots to get there, but Thompson will get it. Whether he can win a primary against Marty Seifert and well-heeled Scott Honour is another matter, but we'll worry about that when the time comes.
  • I'm not sure anyone will leave with the Senate endorsement, and frankly all the candidates have issues. I heard a little of Mike McFadden on the radio yesterday morning and he's improved his game somewhat, but I'm still not convinced that he's the right guy for the job -- he's got money and a lot of institutional backing, but he doesn't do much for the people who will actually need to hit the streets to help his campaign. Julianne Ortman has been a mixed bag in her legislative career, but she does carry the Sarah Palin Seal of Approval, which might help her in some, but not all, precincts of the party. Jim Abeler is a nonstarter.
  • So where does that leave us? With a primary fight and a test of the party's strength, especially in getting its endorsed candidates through to the actual ballot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

It's Good to Be King

Victor Davis Hanson on the Leader of the Free World:
Think of the following: the Fast and Furious scandal, the VA mess, the tapping of the communications of the Associated Press reporters, the NSA monitoring, Benghazi in all of its manifestations, the serial lies about Obamacare, the failed stimuli, the chronic zero interest/print money policies, the serial high unemployment, the borrowing of $7 trillion to no stimulatory effect, the spiraling national debt, the customary violations of the Hatch Act by Obama cabinet officials, the alter ego/fake identity of EPA head Lisa Jackson, the sudden departure of Hilda Solis after receiving union freebies, the mendacity of Kathleen Sebelius, the strange atmospherics surrounding the Petraeus resignation, the customary presidential neglect of enforcing the laws from immigration statutes to his own health care rules, the presidential divisiveness (“punish our enemies,” “you didn’t build that,” Trayvon as the son that Obama never had, etc.), and on and on.

So why is there not much public reaction or media investigatory outrage?
Because the media love him, of course. He is The One. Hanson has a lot of other reasons at the link and it's worth your time to read them in full, but for me the key one is this:
The media is not just overwhelmingly hard left, but hard left with a chip on its shoulder that its own views are neither accepted by the majority nor usually implemented by government.

All the above scandals and embarrassments would have ruined a Bush, given that such mishaps would have been headlined daily  in the New York Times (e.g., “VA, Benghazi, AP, NSA, IRS overwhelm sinking Bush administration”) or Washington Post (“Bush Cabinet Paralyzed by Scandal”).

For the media, Obama is not Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton whom they overwhelmingly supported. He is quite different — the first gold-plated liberal president since FDR, and probably the last for a while, intent on fundamentally transforming the United States, by redistributing income and accumulated wealth, and recalibrating the American profile abroad.

The media believes that both are socially just and long overdue. Why then nitpick a president on details, when his intentions are noble? 
Yes, sometimes you'll have a little apostasy just for show, which seems to be Ron Fournier's beat as of late, but in the main we'd rather not talk about such things, because, well, we'd rather not. It's a false equivalence, you see, because no matter what The Leader of the Free World does, it's certainly less icky than what some knuckle-dragger from the benighted precincts might attempt. And in the end, oversight is only required for people who require it. Back to Hanson:
The well-off are indifferent to the Obama record, interested only in its symbolic resonance. Doctrinaire liberalism resonates mostly with the very wealthy. We see that by the voting patterns of our bluest counties, or the contributions of the very affluent. In contrast, Republicanism is mostly embedded within the middle class and upper middle class, while liberalism is a coalition of the affluent and the poor.
This has been the case for a very long time now -- I've heard the term "limousine liberal" for my entire life and we have the Ford Foundation and the rest of the old money philanthropic structure bleating for justice that doesn't necessarily extend to the shopkeepers and the entrepreneurs who are grasping for a lifestyle that they aren't qualified to live. It's always amused me when people tell me that Republicans are the party of the rich. That hasn't been true for a long time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Eagle Benster

The big news around here is that the Benster is an Eagle Scout. We had his Court of Honor over the weekend and it was a wonderful moment for our family. He had to be persistent to earn the rank of Eagle Scout and it's a credit to him that he was able to stay with it, because there were at least a half-dozen times when he could have simply quit.

I've relayed my own Scouting past before -- I never made it past the Webelos rank in Cub Scouting. There were a variety of reasons for that, but the primary one was that scouting wasn't a priority for my family. The scouts in Benster's troop who have successfully navigated the path to Eagle have generally had one thing in common -- they have come from families that support the mission of scouting and are willing to make the time commitment necessary to give the scout a chance to succeed.

Lately, you've likely heard of the latest shaming mechanism afoot for young men, the "check your privilege" meme. Becoming an Eagle Scout is, without question, a privilege, but it's a privilege that is not given away easily. A lot of kids who aren't "privileged" don't have the opportunities that Benster has had to succeed, which is one reason why so few kids become Eagle Scouts. So much depends on families.


Here it comes:
After five years of economic crisis, the 2014 elections to the European Parliament were always expected to produce victories for the populist parties that reject the EU and its political values. And so it has proved, with fringe and nationalist movements dealing a blow not just to the European project but to national governments who appear out of touch. 
The populist surge has been startling. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front has won its biggest victory at a national poll since it was founded in 1972. In Britain, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence party came first, humiliating the three main parties. Denmark’s far right People’s party and Greece’s radical left Syriza also emerged victorious.
Let's be clear about it -- having the National Front within reach of the levers of power is bad. The problem is that having the socialists in power in France isn't any better, as the continuing calamities of M. Hollande have demonstrated. 

The issue in Europe, increasingly, is competence. As it is here:
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton left office with American foreign policy in shambles. She has been unable to make the argument that a single initiative — reset with Russia, lead from behind in Libya, red lines on Syria, deadlines to Iran, complete withdrawal from Iraq, pressure on the Israelis, outreach to radical Islam and Latin American Communist dictatorships — had met with success.

Clinton infamously dismissed the lingering mysteries surrounding the Benghazi deaths with “What difference at this point does it make?” She also refused, despite numerous entreaties, to place the now-infamous Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram on a State Department terrorist watch list.

Eric Holder is the first attorney general to have been held in contempt of Congress. Aside from his divisive language (he called America “a nation of cowards” and referred to African Americans as “my people”), Holder always seems to find himself at the center of scandals. He permitted the federal monitoring of Associated Press journalists. He green-lighted the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scam. He has failed to bring to account rogue IRS officials. Holder is the most morally compromised attorney general since Nixon appointee John Mitchell.
And of course there's more, a lot more, at each link.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Not to put too fine a point on it, but...

These guys can't get their crap together:
The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops.

The White House recognized the mistake and quickly issued a revised list that did not include the individual, who had been identified on the initial release as the “Chief of Station” in Kabul, a designation used by the CIA for its highest-ranking spy in a country.
Of course, if you can't protect people in Benghazi, why would you expect to protect people in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the drumbeat grows louder:

A lot of people have been protecting this president for a very long time now. Every time I've thought they would head for the exits, the protectors haven't done so. It will be interesting to watch what happens as election day approaches and Democrats have to run on the Obama record.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Meanwhile, back in Chicago

Things are getting worse:
The principal of Curie High School has put out a warning to students and parents to leave immediately after school and use a different route after six shootings in 48 hours in nearby neighborhoods.

The school is located at 49th and South Archer. The warning was enough to worry people headed inside the school Wednesday night for an evening workout.

“Pretty scary,” said Gabriela Perez. “You can’t be safe anywhere.”

The warning specifically points to the 79th and Pulaski area. About 2 miles from there, near 8400 South Kedzie, a 17-year-old walking in an alley was shot and killed around 5 p.m Monday, a case that’s reminding other teens who travel streets in the area about the potential for deadly violence.
When we lived in Chicago, this area was generally not that dangerous. It's near Ford City Mall and was always a bit of a melting pot. We traveled through the area a number of times and never once worried about our safety. A block south and west of that intersection it looks like this. Times are changing in Chicago, and not for the better.

Just a reminder

You can give someone the Nobel Prize, but it doesn't mean their opinions should carry much weight. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Krugman in 2011:
Many people still have an image of veterans’ health care based on the terrible state of the system two decades ago. Under the Clinton administration, however, the V.H.A. was overhauled, and achieved a remarkable combination of rising quality and successful cost control. Multiple surveys have found the V.H.A. providing better care than most Americans receive, even as the agency has held cost increases well below those facing Medicare and private insurers. Furthermore, the V.H.A. has led the way in cost-saving innovation, especially the use of electronic medical records.

What’s behind this success? Crucially, the V.H.A. is an integrated system, which provides health care as well as paying for it. So it’s free from the perverse incentives created when doctors and hospitals profit from expensive tests and procedures, whether or not those procedures actually make medical sense. And because V.H.A. patients are in it for the long term, the agency has a stronger incentive to invest in prevention than private insurers, many of whose customers move on after a few years.

And yes, this is “socialized medicine” — although some private systems, like Kaiser Permanente, share many of the V.H.A.’s virtues. But it works — and suggests what it will take to solve the troubles of U.S. health care more broadly.
Ask 'em how it worked in Phoenix, Paul.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


You can look past Benghazi and the IRS scandal and the ongoing troubles with the VA hospitals, and many Democratic politicians on the ballot this year would greatly appreciate it if you did that. But if you're a vulnerable Democrat, perhaps the one thing you have to worry about the most is economic disruption from regulation. And there are some very worried Dems right now:
A collection of seven Senate Democrats are pressuring President Obama to scale-back the proposed carbon limits on new coal-fired power plants. 
In a letter to Obama on Wednesday, the senators asserted that the technology the rule is based on is not commercially viable.

"We are committed to improving air quality; however, the emissions standards in the proposed rule are not based on technology that has been adequately demonstrated on a commercial scale," the letter, spearheaded by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) states.

Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Warner (Va.), all vulnerable Democrats facing reelection in November, signed the letter. 
As is usually the case, the Obama administration is listening to other voices on these matters:
Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer is launching a data-driven campaign across seven states for the 2014 midterms to prove he’s not all talk when it comes to hurting “climate deniers” at the polls. 
Steyer is using his success in last year’s Virginia governor’s race, where he funneled $8 million to destroy then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s bid, as a beta test for his midterm models.
The battle will be joined in about two weeks, when the EPA issues new regulations. Watch carefully.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

il miglior fabbro

Mitch Berg asks the right questions concerning the convenient candidacy of Hannah Nicollet, the libertarian at the head of the DFL-lite Independence Party ticket. Read the whole thing.

The Jackson on the Nightstand

Spend a billion, get a bone:
Four ballots into a tension-filled process, the Minneapolis Super Bowl pitch built around the new Vikings stadium triumphed Tuesday over party magnet New Orleans and 2012 host Indianapolis to bring the NFL’s premier event to Minnesota in 2018.

U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis, former Carlson Cos. board chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson and other members of the Minnesota delegation danced, jumped up and down, hugged and high-fived on hearing the news. Their raucous cheers and exclamations of “We did it!” reverberated through the hallways of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood, where the high-stakes drama had just played out.

“The way they jumped for joy was the way I felt inside,” Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said later at a news conference.
People want to be happy about all this, and that's fine. We'll revisit it eventually. I just want to make two brief observations:

  • The economic impact is overstated. If having the Super Bowl in your town was a way to drive greater lasting economic success, New Orleans, which has hosted the event ten times, would be the richest city on the planet.
  • One of the more ridiculous assertions that I've seen made is that the economic benefit to Bloomington and St. Paul will be huge, because visitors to town will be able to get to the venue easily using the light rail line. This is ridiculous, of course -- people who go to Super Bowls don't typically rely on public transportation, no matter how spiffy and cool it is. And unless we see dramatic improvement in trip times, no one is going to want to use the Green Line.

But that's okay -- haters are gonna hate and all that. Enjoy your moment, kids.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Lightning Round 052014

My house almost got struck by lightning yesterday -- the percussive force of the strike knocked a clock off the wall. Time for a little thundering:

  • Kevin Love, reluctant Timberwolf, apparently wants out of Minneapolis. This might be the most doomed franchise ever. I have to figure that the Wolves will trade him for Joe Smith.
  • Some weapons-grade sarcasm from America's most beloved politician. As is often the case, she has a good point, which most of her detractors won't see from their houses.
  • My beloved Packers take a calculated risk in bringing in a talented but troubled tight end, Colt Lyerla, last seen enjoying some blow. It's evident that the Packers don't think Jermichael Finley is coming back and are willing to take a flyer on an undeniable talent. In the past, the Packers wouldn't get near someone like this. Not sure what it means, but it means something.
  • Sometimes the obvious point is the one that must be made. John Fund demonstrates.
  • I'll have to come back to this one, but let's just say I'm amused to see that Hannah Nicollet is going to head the Independence Party ticket as the gubernatorial candidate. The first question to ask -- do you fully support the IP platform, especially its visceral reaction to the Citizens United decision?

Monday, May 19, 2014


You've likely heard a fair amount in recent days about the scandals surrounding VA hospitals. It is horrible that up to 40 veterans in the Phoenix area died while being parked on a secret waiting list.

See, these veterans missed a bet. If you need medical services, you just have to pick the right ones:
Bradley Manning, who now demands to be called "Chelsea," was sentenced to a 35-year stretch in Leavenworth after being found guilty of "six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offences for giving WikiLeaks [founder Julian Assange] more than 700,000 secret military and U.S. State Department documents, along with battlefield video." Despite still maintaining male genitalia, a Leavenworth County District Judge ruled last month to Manning's official name change without any opposition from the US Army, all presumably at taxpayer expense.

As cited by, the total cost of sexual reassignment surgery ranges from a total of $40,000 to $50,000 for "mid-range transition, including surgery." Not ending there, the cost of hormone therapy ranges from $25 to $200 per month, "depending on which hormones are prescribed."
Worth every penny.

Just throwing it out there....

Theory: if the Democrats and their union pals actually succeed in getting the minimum wage raised to $15/hour, it will hurt young people, a key demographic for the Dems. At $15/hour, a lot of long-term unemployed people, who are essentially stranded from the traditional work force, would likely re-enter the work force.

If you were an employer forced to pay $15/hour for labor, would you rather hire an 18-year-old kid, or would you rather hire a 55-year-old with a long and dependable work history?


Friday, May 16, 2014

Meanwhile, in El Lay

Getcha popcorn: has learned that Clippers owner Donald Sterling has hired prominent antitrust litigator Maxwell Blecher, who has written a letter to NBA executive vice president and general counsel Rick Buchanan threatening to sue the NBA. The letter, sources tell, claims that Sterling has done nothing wrong and that "no punishment is warranted" for Sterling. Blecher also tells Buchanan that Sterling will not pay the $2.5 million fine, which is already past due. Blecher ends the letter by saying this controversy "will be adjudicated."

Blecher's letter makes clear what many have anticipated: Donald Sterling will not go down without a fight and that he is taking active steps toward litigation. A letter of this type is considered a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit. Blecher's letter offers no ambiguity about Sterling's intentions.

"We reject your demand for payment," the letter tells Buchanan, who on May 14 informed Sterling by letter that he must pay the $2.5 million fine.
There was never a chance that Donald Sterling would go away quietly. This is gonna make the Frank McCourt circus look like a dignified procession.

Cause and effect

How things happen in the real world. First, you get this:
In the latest skirmish in a year-and-a-half-long war for higher wages, fast food workers in the United States are staging a 150-city-wide protest — and taking their fight overseas.

Fast food workers in at least 33 countries and 80 cities on six continents will join their U.S.-based counterparts, for an expected 230 strikes and protests worldwide, from Seoul to San Salvador, from Brussels to Bangkok, from Auckland to Casablanca. Early in the day, the campaign’s website,, showed photos of protesting workers in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Denmark and Bandung, Indonesia.

U.S. workers are demanding $15 an hour — about double the federal minimum wage — in cities such as Oakland, New York City and Raleigh, with first-time protests in Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Sacramento. Targeted establishments include McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC.
Then, you get this:
McDonalds recently went on a hiring binge in the U.S., adding 62,000 employees to its roster. The hiring picture doesn't look quite so rosy for Europe, where the fast food chain is drafting 7,000 touch-screen kiosks to handle cashiering duties.

The move is designed to boost efficiency and make ordering more convenient for customers. 
It's also cheaper than paying cashiers $15/hour. But there's an added benefit:
In an interview with the Financial Times, McDonald's Europe President Steve Easterbrook notes that the new system will also open up a goldmine of data. McDonald's could potentially track every Big Mac, McNugget, and large shake you order. 
All that data is a beautiful thing if you're a marketer. You can send coupons or special offers to customers as an additional incentive to visit your location. There are any number of jobs that once took a human being to do that may no longer exist. And remember, cashiers aren't the only jobs that could go away:
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.
And it's not just fast fooders. You see automatic checkout lanes in more and more places. Recently a new Walmart opened in Roseville, a few miles from my house. They have about a half-dozen automatic check-out kiosks, which are able to take cash and dispense change, along with taking plastic. The automatic check-out lanes are already in place at grocery stores as well. You can't get $15/hour for a job that no longer exists.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Truth and Target

Gregg Steinhafel left Target last week and now all manner of recriminations are pouring out. Perhaps the most interesting one came yesterday from Jeff Jones, a senior executive there, who did something very un-Target like: he went public:
In an unusual move, Target’s chief marketing officer posted a 750-word candid commentary titled “The Truth Hurts” on the networking site late Monday. By Tuesday, it was blowing up on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, sparking discussions about the “Target culture” and the need for the Minneapolis-based retailer to innovate.

The piece served as a rallying call for Target employees who have been battered for months with one piece of bad news after another — from missteps in the retailer’s expansion into Canada to the massive data breach to sluggish sales in the United States. And then last week, Gregg Steinhafel, the company’s chief executive, stepped down. Amid so much turmoil and public scrutiny, Jeff Jones’ words struck a chord. He wrote frankly about Target hitting a “rough patch” and of the urgency to challenge the company’s way of doing things in order to resurrect the brand.

“The culture of Target is an enormous strength and might be our current Achilles heel,” Jones wrote. “In the coming days and weeks we will embrace the critiques of Target — whether it’s from outsiders or our own team — like an athletics team puts the negative press on the wall in the locker room.”
Glad that you're willing to embrace the critiques -- here, have a hug, Mr. Jones. Based on my near-decade at Target, and from a decade's remove, I'd offer the following:

  • One thing that really struck me when I left Target HQ is how meeting-crazed the place is. It was very easy to have 25+ hours of a typical 40-hour week filled with meetings of varying importance. Meanwhile, the work would pile up on your desk and you didn't have time to deal with it. I often had to spend a Sunday afternoon in the office to get things done that should have been done during the normal course of the day.
  • One of the reasons that meetings were so commonplace was simple -- you had to get approval from multiple layers of bureaucracy to do even simple things. And it was common to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to cover your butt.
  • The larger problem is that, as the old saying goes, retail is detail. Target has always differentiated itself from its competitors through its attention to detail. It was rare to see a Target store that had merchandise strewn all over the place, as you'd see in a Kmart, or a series of palletized dump bins, as you see in Walmart. Target's always had a mania for the perfect planogram, the buttoned-up 24-foot merchandising run. While this attention to detail is useful, it's not particularly helpful if people aren't finding what they need on the shelf.
  • And finding things on the shelf has been an increasing problem for Target. I've said this before, but it bears repeating -- Walmart's biggest advantage is their supply chain management -- they get things to their stores much more efficiently than their competitors. Target's struggled with this for years and the solution, from what I can tell, has been to edit their offerings. The selection at a Target is considerably less than it was even five years ago.
There's more, of course. But that's a start.

Yeah, but

Could this be true?
A leading climate scientist has resigned from the advisory board of a think-tank after being subjected to what he described as “McCarthy”-style pressure from fellow academics.

Professor Lennart Bengtsson, a research fellow at the University of Reading, said the pressure was so intense that he would be unable to continue working and feared for his health and safety unless he stepped down from the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s academic advisory council.

He said the pressure had mainly come from climate scientists in the US, including one employed by the US government who threatened to withdraw as co-author of a forthcoming paper because of his link with the foundation.

  • Sure, this could be true. It's completely plausible, given the way some climate scientists behave. There's a lot of "we'll have consensus, dammit, d'ya understand" out there.
  • The way to combat this is to expose who is supplying this pressure. Backing off in the face of it, then whining about it afterward, doesn't help anyone. Name names. Call these folks out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Leon takes the long view

And he shall be Leon*
But Panetta and Morell, noting the attack has been subject to many investigations already, said they welcome the latest one in the House.

"If you look at the polling numbers a not insignificant percentage of the American people still have questions," Morell said.

Morell, who said he already has testified four times about Benghazi, said he is 100 percent confident the upcoming investigation will show that allegations "the intelligence community politicized its analysis" are false.

Panetta, a former Central Coast congressman and Democratic Party stalwart, said there needs to be an investigation to lay out the full story to the public. "The problem has been sometimes bits and pieces of information keep coming out" that raise more questions, he said.
Leon Panetta, that is, well described here as a Democratic Party stalwart. So why would Leon Panetta and his deputy, Michael Morell, welcome an investigation that other Democrats want to avoid at all costs? A few guesses:

  • I suspect that Morell is correct that the intelligence community did not politicize its analysis. Most likely, that was done by the White House.
  • Panetta understands that while Barack Obama and his retinue are in charge right now, the long-term prospects of the Democratic Party matter more than protecting the current occupant of the White House. In fact, if Obama and company are dirty on this issue, it would be a real problem for Democrats going forward.
  • There are a whole lot of questions that do need to be answered and they will be answered eventually. It would be better if the matter is put to rest, one way or another, in 2014, rather than later on. 
*Apologies to Bernie Taupin.

Not so good

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released 36,007 convicted criminal aliens last year who were awaiting the outcome of deportation proceedings, according to a report issued Monday by the Center for Immigration Studies.

The group of released criminals includes those convicted of homicide, sexual assault, kidnapping and aggravated assault, according to the report, which cites a document prepared by the ICE.

A majority of the releases were not required by law and were discretionary, the organization says.

According to the report, the 36,007 individuals released represented nearly 88,000 convictions, including:

193 homicide convictions
426 sexual assault convictions
303 kidnapping convictions
1,075 aggravated assault convictions
1,160 stolen vehicle convictions
9,187 dangerous drug convictions
16,070 drunk or drugged driving convictions
303 flight escape convictions
Estimates vary on the number of people who live in the United States without documentation, i.e., illegally, but the assumption is about 10-12 million. There's no way that we'd be able to round up and deport all of them, which is why some form of immigration reform is going to happen eventually. Still, one would think that we could keep people who are convicted of crimes incarcerated. Apparently not.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Corned Beef Hashtag

In lieu of doing something, we now hold signs with hashtags. The First Lady demonstrates:

While I'm pretty sure that Boko Haram, the 7th Century aficionados who have been terrorizing Nigerian Christians for years, aren't going to reconsider their actions because the wife of the Leader of the Free World is demonstrating the true meaning of "it's the least I can do," perhaps a hashtag can solve the issue if it's the right one. So, it's time for a poll:

Which hashtag is most likely to get Boko Haram's attention? free polls 

Vote early, vote often!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lightning Round 051214

Mostly the intersection sports and popular culture today.

  • Michael Sam becomes the most celebrated 7th round pick in NFL history. Go play football now.
  • Meanwhile, there are some opinions you are simply not allowed to have. Just so you know.
  • I don't know what's happened to Philip Nelson, but if these reports are true, the Gophers have to be glad that he's no longer part of their team.
  • John Boehner won't try to have Lois Lerner arrested. While she's certainly deserving of a perp walk, I understand why he's not going to do it. The better course of action at this point is to keep working on her underlings and building the case that what's been happening at the IRS is not simply a bunch of back office folks in Cincinnati misbehaving.
  • Mark Dayton and his pals have outlawed gender discrimination again, apparently. Riddle me this: if you really can get by with paying women less than men for the same work, why would anyone ever hire a man?
  • Does anyone think Boko Haram gives a damn about hashtags?

Friday, May 09, 2014

Ha Ha, Teddy and more

Of course it's May, so why wouldn't we talk about football. We're into the NFL Draft now

So my beloved Packers selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with their first pick in the NFL Draft. Just what they needed and the guy they wanted. The Packers have a lot of talent at cornerback but the safety position was a train wreck last year. They'll have Clinton-Dix roam the field and let Morgan Burnett become the enforcer. That's probably the right way to go. And we've needed a guy named Ha Ha for a long time now. Good show.

The locals had two picks. First, they picked Anthony Barr, a bit of a project, but then got back into the first round and got a quarterback named Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater was an awfully good quarterback at Louisville and has demonstrated his ability; he probably was available because people had too much time to overanalyze every single thing he did. I suspect he'll be better, probably significantly better, than Christian Ponder has been. The Vikings did well, I suspect.

Gino's Bears took a cornerback named Kyle Fuller. This was a smart pick, too -- the Bears needed a lot of help in the secondary and Fuller looks more like a typical Bears defensive back than some of the other options available. I was concerned that they would take Clinton-Dix, given the disastrous results they got out of Chris Conte last year, but if Fuller comes through they might be able to switch someone else to safety.

The Lions took a tight end, Eric Ebron. That tells me two things -- they've decided they don't trust Brandon Pettigrew; and they didn't like any of the other receivers enough to pull the trigger. Ebron is going to be a chore for the other teams in the division to handle and yet another reason why the Packers picked Clinton-Dix; I imagine that Ebron and Clinton-Dix will become well acquainted over the next few years. Ebron is not much of a blocker, though, which makes me wonder if this is a mistake. The Lions have been puzzling for well over 50 years, of course.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Washington

Let's see what happens regarding this development:
The House on Wednesday voted to hold a former Internal Revenue Service official in contempt for her refusal to answers questions about the agency's conservative-targeting scandal.

Lois Lerner headed the agency's Exempt Organizations division when it controversially targeted conservative nonprofit groups applying for tax-exempt status. But she has repeatedly refused to answer questions when called before Republican-led House committees investigating the scandal, citing her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination.

The GOP-run House, along a partisan-line vote of 231-187, passed a resolution holding her in contempt of Congress for not cooperating with the committees. Only six Democrats voted in support of the charge, while no Republicans voted against it.
The ball is now in Eric Holder's court. By the way, Eric Holder is currently in contempt of Congress as well, so I'm betting that he won't exert himself too much to make sure that Lerner is prosecuted.

We can boil these questions down to a pretty basic constitutional one -- does Congress have the right of oversight over the Executive branch? Such oversight is not specifically outlined in the Constitution, but it's been standard procedure in Washington for over 200 years. Maybe we're past that now.

Missing the point

Straining mightily for equivalence, it's Jane Mayer in the New Yorker:
Around dawn on October 23, 1983, I was in Beirut, Lebanon, when a suicide bomber drove a truck laden with the equivalent of twenty-one thousand pounds of TNT into the heart of a U.S. Marine compound, killing two hundred and forty-one servicemen. The U.S. military command, which regarded the Marines’ presence as a non-combative, “peace-keeping mission,” had left a vehicle gate wide open, and ordered the sentries to keep their weapons unloaded. The only real resistance the suicide bomber had encountered was a scrim of concertina wire. When I arrived on the scene a short while later to report on it for the Wall Street Journal, the Marine barracks were flattened. From beneath the dusty, smoking slabs of collapsed concrete, piteous American voices could be heard, begging for help. Thirteen more American servicemen later died from injuries, making it the single deadliest attack on American Marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Six months earlier, militants had bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, too, killing sixty-three more people, including seventeen Americans. Among the dead were seven C.I.A. officers, including the agency’s top analyst in the Middle East, an immensely valuable intelligence asset, and the Beirut station chief.

There were more than enough opportunities to lay blame for the horrific losses at high U.S. officials’ feet. But unlike today’s Congress, congressmen did not talk of impeaching Ronald Reagan, who was then President, nor were any subpoenas sent to cabinet members. This was true even though then, as now, the opposition party controlled the majority in the House. Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House, was no pushover. He, like today’s opposition leaders in the House, demanded an investigation—but a real one, and only one. Instead of playing it for political points, a House committee undertook a serious investigation into what went wrong at the barracks in Beirut. Two months later, it issued a report finding “very serious errors in judgment” by officers on the ground, as well as responsibility up through the military chain of command, and called for better security measures against terrorism in U.S. government installations throughout the world.
A few observations:

  • I don't recall any government official claiming that the cause of the Beirut attack being anything other than what it was, an act of terrorism. 
  • The point of the Benghazi investigation isn't to have Barack Obama impeached; it's to find out the truth. And there are plenty of issues at play.
  • The operative comparison to Benghazi, and to all the other issues currently on the table (the IRS scandal, in particular), is Iran/Contra. Plenty of people were calling for Reagan's impeachment over that one.
  • The reason there was only one investigation of Beirut needed is that the Reagan administration cooperated with the Congressional investigation. No one on the GOP side of the aisle tried to pretend that a Congressional investigation was somehow illegitimate.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Benghazi again

We're going to have another round of investigations of the multifaceted series of events that pertain to what happened in Benghazi in 2012. As usual, the astute Kevin Williamson of National Review makes an especially important point:
How bad would it have been to own up to what happened in Benghazi and Cairo? After the worldwide exertions of the Bush years, with their attendant expenditures and terrible loss of life, a great many Americans not only were and are weary of being perpetually waist-deep in the snake-pit that is the Middle East but also are genuinely confused about what our role in the world should be going forward. The death of Osama bin Laden combined with the drawing down of our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan might have provided an opportunity to pause and reflect, and Barack Obama was elected to the presidency partly in the naïve hope that his elevation to that office might provide a respite, a period of relative quiet. If President Obama ever intended such a thing, he has been successful to only a very modest degree: The war abroad has been expanded to include the assassination of American citizens, while the omnipresence of the surveillance state at home has been revealed as being even more complete than most of us had feared.

You need to remember the context in which the events in Benghazi took place. We had just witnessed a Democratic National Convention in which we heard assertions of this sort, proffered here by Joe Biden:

The spine of steel. Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive. All that sort of thing. Back to Williamson:
It should go without saying that the Obama administration should have been forthright about what happened that day rather than try to deflect blame on to a “right-wing Christian” filmmaker and his alleged provocations. Beyond that, even with an election on the near horizon, the Obama administration probably did not really politically need to mislead the public about those events. Having our embassy in Cairo overrun was humiliating, and the deaths in Benghazi were shocking, but Americans are by this point used to seeing their countrymen killed in lands where Islam predominates, and they have suffered enough humiliations that one more was not going to cost anybody an election.
I think that's right. Certainly it was embarrassing to the Democrats generally, and Barack Obama in particular, that the bluster of Joe Biden was humiliatingly wrong, but I do think they could have got by with it if they'd simply told the truth. People understand that the world is a dangerous place and we can't protect everyone, everywhere, every time.

The reason Benghazi remains an issue is that it's clear that this president, and the men and women who serve in his administration, are willing to lie about matters large and small. Sending out a senior official to tell the country that an internet video caused the death of an ambassador is a very big lie. We expect better than that.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Bullseye Blues

Gregg Steinhafel is out at Target:
In a statement Monday, the company’s board said that “after extensive discussions,” its members and Steinhafel “have decided that now is the right time for new leadership.” In addition to the breach fallout, the Minneapolis-based retailer has been racing to turn around a weak rollout in Canada, trying to catch up with rivals digitally and working to rebuild excitement among U.S. shoppers.

Target has hired a search firm to help find the next CEO, who will become only the fourth person in the job since 1984 and potentially the first outsider. Whoever it is will face a formidable fix-it list, even without the enormous bills coming due for the data breach.

“How do you reinvent Target in a highly competitive U.S. market in which you have retail competitors that provide maybe the same goods at lower prices, and you have online competitors who have a wider assortment and the convenience of online shopping?” said Mark Miller, equity research analyst at William Blair & Co.
As regular readers of this feature know, I worked for Target for about a decade; I left in 2003. Much has changed in those 11 years. At the time I left, Target was still in the department store business and online shopping was in its infancy. Eleven years on, Target still isn't very good at online shopping and competitors like Amazon are eating Target's lunch. Target's expansion into Canada has not gone particularly well. Meanwhile, Walmart has just put up a huge new store in Roseville, the birthplace of Target. And Target is still trying to recover from a data breach that put its customers at risk during the height of the holiday shopping season.

From my perch on the outside, a few things seem clear:

  • The Star Tribune article points out what I see as the key problem at Target -- insularity. It quotes a retail analyst named Burt Flickinger, who sees what I see: “They’ve been operating with the loose air of superiority for far too long,” Flickinger said, adding that between the breach and Canada: “Target’s been giving Wal-Mart the biggest gift it can give.” This is spot-on. Target's corporate culture is exceptionally insular, even cult-like at times. Once you leave Target these things become clear.
  • There are a number of potential internal candidates, and in a separate article the Strib identifies some of them, along with several other outsiders. I'd like to see someone from outside the company take over. The most interesting outsider name on the short list is Greg Sandfort, who is currently at the helm of Tractor Supply, a retailer that barely competes against Target at all, since its primary customers are farmers and ranchers. You wouldn't necessarily know it unless you pay attention, but TSC has become hugely successful over the last decade and now has well over 1000 stores, with locations in 48 states. If you wanted a fresh set of eyes to look at the business, Sandfort would certainly provide that. If it were me, I'd be looking at getting someone in who understands online retailing, though.
  • Why an online expert? The data breach hurt Target's reputation, but the larger long-term problem for Target is Amazon. The type of customer ("guest," in Target parlance) that Target has long sought is tech savvy and is unafraid of using a website to buy goods. While there will always be people who prefer shopping in a brick-and-mortar environment, that demographic is increasingly a mismatch with the people Target would prefer to serve. Target's prototypical customer has always been a suburban mom with younger children. While we're not likely to run out of such folks, they have more options now than they did a decade ago and Target has been slow to recognize those changes.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Driving decisions (but not overthinking them)

I wrote yesterday about driving and my experience of living without a car in Chicago for about five years. Writing for MinnPost, Marlys Harris talks further about the choices people make to remain in their cars:
 I realize that few people in the Twin Cities endure the horrific commute that the typical New Yorker puts up with. Here, a half hour drive to work borders on the onerous. But the quandary — car or not car — comes up at almost every juncture: walk or drive to the supermarket or the dry cleaners, take a bus or drive to school, bike to a nearby restaurant or drive? And, as a metropolitan area, we are planning to spend billions to finance light rail, street cars, bike lanes and bus rapid transit in hopes of prying people out of their cars and encouraging them to use less wasteful transportation.

The researchers aren’t too sanguine that new public transit systems will spring regular drivers from their cars. “Simply providing alternative choices for the individual can be a disappointingly unsuccessful method for reshaping particular behavioral patterns,” they write.

They point out that when analyzing transportation choices people make, city planners and engineers usually weigh rational factors — cost, convenience, length of trip and so on. But neuroscience has shown that humans often fall back on habit. So instead of actively making a choice (driving will cost me $45, and the train only about $20, I choose the train), we rely on regions of the brain that are reflexive. In my case, I was used to driving so I considered it the path of least resistance, only to get on the highway and learn that the car trip was a nightmare.
We'll set aside the neuroscience for a moment. Of all the other factors listed, convenience is always the number one reason why people choose to use a car instead of relying on public transportation. If you have a car, you can travel when you want to and choose the precise destination you're attempting to reach. Convenience often has an associated cost and people usually understand the trade-offs involved.

And public transportation isn't necessarily cheaper than driving. For example, on Saturday I bought lunch for Fearless Maria and myself at a fast food purveyor located near the Quarry shopping center, which is near the junction of 35W, Stinson Boulevard, and Highway 88. The trip from our house is about 4 miles one way and it takes about 5-10 minutes to get there, depending on how the lights work on Highway 88.

Now, we could get there by taking the 25 bus, which travels down Silver Lake Road, then merges onto Highway 88. Doing so would require walking about a half-mile west to Silver Lake Road, then climbing on the bus. The fare for both of us would be $1.75, assuming we could use the 2 1/2 hour transit window to make it a round trip. So for the two of us, that tacks on a cost of about $3.50 to the trip.

Is that cheaper than driving? Maybe, if you factor in vehicle depreciation, but I drive an older vehicle with a fair number of miles on it and 8 miles doesn't really change the value of a vehicle much. The cost of gas to make the trip is certainly less than $3.50.

Assuming we could time the buses exactly, the 1/2 mile walk would take about ten minutes each way. So by taking the bus, you end up spending more money and more time to make the trip.

Under those circumstances, is it rational to take the bus? Not particularly.

When we lived in Chicago, Mrs. D and I were able to make it work without a car, but it meant that we had to do a lot of up-front planning to get things done. If you wanted to get to Wrigley Field, you had to assume it would take an hour or so, factoring in a transfer in the downtown zone. If we'd had a car, it would probably take a little less time, but the cost of parking near the ballpark was prohibitive, so taking the train made a lot more sense. For most destinations in the Twin Cities, there's no cost involved to park your vehicle, so the only real cost you pay is gas and vehicle depreciation. And we're a lot more busy now than we were back in our Chicago days.

Driving is cheaper and easier than relying on public transportation, in many instances. We can build all the light rail we want and that's not going to change.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Driving decisions

Transit fans don't all dislike cars but a lot of them do. I've never understood why -- cars are tools, no different than hammers or levers or any other mechanical means a human being can use to simplify the work that must be done. And cars are very efficient tools, because you can take them to get most places you'd like to go.

Writing for MinnPost, Marlys Harris remembers the discontents of her commuting days in the Northeast:
So when I landed a job in “The City” — Manhattan to you folks — I was jubilant. No more exhausting driving. No more $4 per gallon gas. No more worries about traffic, flat tires and accidents. On the train, I could eat, sleep, read, put on mascara, text and even (ugh!) work, without endangering other people.

But did I use the train?

Well, yes and no. MetroNorth had its own drawbacks. A monthly ticket cost $309, about $7.50 per trip, since most people work only 20 days a month. Plus, you have to have a permit to park in the train station lot. For that there was a three-year waiting list. I had to put my car in one of the few non-permit spaces located about a half mile from the station (usually in a snow bank) at a cost of $5 a day.

Though the seats on the train were ergonomic disasters, the trip was quiet and reasonably efficient. Then the task became boxing the crowds at Grand Central Terminal, shlepping up three flights of stairs from the sub-sub basement track and hiking a mile to my office — or taking a bus ($2.75). The entire journey door-to-door took two hours and had to be repeated at the end of the day — a trip that was much more stressful because missing the 6:25 express meant waiting an hour and not getting home until nearly 9.

Many was the morning when I arrived at the train station, thought about the ordeal I was about to face, said to myself “the hell with it” (or something worse), zipped onto I-95 and drove to Manhattan.
Public transportation in the Twin Cities works better than that, but most people use cars to get from point A to point B. I don't know too many people who don't have a car in this area, because it's awfully difficult to do things if you don't have one.

When Mrs. D and I were younger, we lived in Oak Park, Illinois, a first-ring Chicago suburb that is best known for being the longtime home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Oak Park had excellent CTA train service, as both the Lake Street Line (the Green Line) and the Congress/Douglas Line (Blue Line) went through town. Our apartment was about three blocks away from the Austin station on the Blue Line, which could get you to the Loop (downtown Chicago) in about 20 minutes and to O'Hare in about an hour. We did not have a car when we lived in Chicago and we were able to get by without one for the most part, because the trains were constant and generally reliable.

The only time when not having a car was problematic was when we needed to get groceries. The nearest grocery store was about a mile away, so we would walk there, buy our groceries, then call a cab to take us back to our apartment. The wait for a cab would vary wildly; sometimes we'd have one in two minutes; other times we'd have to wait a half hour or longer in the parking lot of the store, which was problematic on a hot summer day. Once or twice the wait got too long, and we'd have to "borrow" the shopping cart and take the groceries home that way, returning the cart later on. The grocery store wasn't particularly fond of that, and the local police would have been less fond of it still, but we were lucky enough not to get caught doing it and I suspect the statute of limitations has run on our offenses. And we did return the carts, which most people didn't do.

For the most part, though, it was easy to rely on public transportation in Chicago. If you wanted to go to a baseball game, you could get to Wrigley or Comiskey on the train without much trouble. If you wanted to go out on the town, the train could get you to the hot spots without much trouble. And if you wanted to get out of town, it was easy to get a rental car at O'Hare and just take the train home when you were done with it.

If we were to go back to Chicago to live now, we couldn't really operate that way any more. When you're a young married couple with disposable income, no kids, and plenty of time, you can make those sorts of choices. Most people don't have that life. And that's a future post.

Res ipsa loquitur

Former congressman James Oberstar passed away yesterday. He had a very long career in Washington, and we'll leave it at that. So has Vin Weber, a one-time colleague of Oberstar who has long been a big-time player in Republican circles, both in Minnesota and nationally. Writing for the Washington Post, former Stribber Tom Hamburger turned up some highly useful information:
“[Oberstar] was the leading infrastructure expert of our time,” said Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who served with Mr. Oberstar and developed a friendship despite partisan differences.

Weber, like other friends of Mr. Oberstar, was stunned at the congressman’s death because he had been in good health and was an avid bicyclist. Mr. Oberstar apparently died in his sleep with no warning, friends said.

Weber recalled that Mr. Oberstar was held in high regard by Republicans because he sought to keep issues before the Transportation Committee free of partisan rancor. Weber, a leading conservative, bought a house in Mr. Oberstar’s district and confessed that the pro-labor Democrat won his support.

“My wife and I usually voted for him,” Weber said. Mr. Oberstar was elected to 18 successive terms.
If you wonder why so many people want to take a fire hose to Washington, DC, there is your answer.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Service providers in the news

You like food trucks? How about this?
The Hook-Up truck – a conceptual “art” installation consisting of a box truck converted to a sex suite on wheels, including temperature controls, birth control, safe sex accouterments, and a camera option, in case you and yours decide to make the escapade a YouTube sensation, is finally open for service the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd.
Yes, it will be on the streets of San Francisco today and tomorrow. These guys had no comment:

Just a reminder

You're supposed to feel a bit lost in the funhouse when you contemplate Jay Carney's presentations at the White House, but the one point is obvious -- to pretend that Susan Rice wasn't on five talk shows to talk about what happened at Benghazi is, well, crazy. If the story had been about unrest in the Middle East generally, there would have been no need for a senior official to address the issue. Unrest in the Middle East is constant.