Friday, August 29, 2014

New Hope, No Hope, Jihad

Shootin' hoops and dying on battlefields half a world a way. New Hope to No Hope. Seriously, what's going on? The Strib reports on a friendship that somehow turned into jihad:
The two high school buddies loved to shoot hoops and crack jokes with their friends. They both converted to Islam in early adulthood. And both were recruited by terror groups to leave the United States and die for jihadist causes.

It wasn't immediately clear how Douglas McAuthur McCain and Troy Kastigar were drawn into radicalism after their initial conversion to the Muslim faith or whether they might have influenced one another along the way. But the two best friends went down similar paths and met the same end.

Both young men attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School in the Minneapolis suburb of New Hope. Kastigar was in the class of 1999, though he left school in February of that year without a diploma, according to school records. McCain went to Robbinsdale from 1997 to 1999, before transferring to nearby Armstrong High School. He did not graduate either.
It doesn't make much sense, really. Most of the kids who go to Cooper come from middle class backgrounds and while the Robbinsdale school district isn't nearly as wealthy as neighboring Wayzata, it's mostly a stable place, hardly the milieu you'd expect to produce jihadis.

Then again, maybe it's precisely the place. I've referenced Eric Hoffer's brilliant book The True Believer many times before and in this instance it's as spot-on as ever. When you see jihadis beheading infidels, you are seeing something that Hoffer explains quite well:
Passionate hatreds can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. These people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.
Radical Islam is, more than anything, a mass movement, promising glory and greater meaning than one can find in a middle-class suburb. If you don't find meaning in your life, the call of jihad might be powerful. You are part of something larger and more glorious than shooting hoops on the playground and joking around. Jihad can give meaning to a life that seems bereft of it. Back to Hoffer:
Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.
It's not particularly surprising that the jihadis find potential converts in places like New Hope, Minnesota. If you have time on your hands but no particular purpose in your life, jihad can fill your days. If you're truly poor, in most instances you don't have time to dwell on your circumstances, because your focus and your energies go to staying alive. Kastigar's mother sums up the motivation well:
Kastigar's mother, Julie, did not come to the door when visited Wednesday by an Associated Press reporter, and she declined to comment on Thursday. In an interview with the New York Daily News, she described both young men as "sort of searching."

"I think both of them had a really strong desire to be needed and (be) of value," the paper quoted her as saying.
We all want to be needed, to be of value. If you don't sense you have value in the community you call home, there will always be those who are happy to enlist you into their cause.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The rot in Rotherham

An awful story in the north of England:
What happened in the town of Rotherham, South Yorkshire is almost beyond belief.  It’s also the most absolute and horrifying failure of the same multiculturalist ideology that holds sway over much of U.S. government.  To put it bluntly, pedophile gangs went on a 16-year rampage that claimed over 1400 victims, and the government strenuously resisted noticing, because most of the perpetrators were Pakistani Muslims, and officials didn’t want to appear insensitive.
Someone should tell Jeff Anderson about this. So why would this happen? Ask an expert:
Disgraced former Labour politician Denis MacShane has admitted that he shied away from investigating allegations of a child sex abuse scandal in Rotherham because he is a 'true Guardian reader' and did not want to 'rock the multi-cultural boat'.

Mr McShane said: 'I think probably [I didn’t do as much as I could]. I think that I should have burrowed into it.

'Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn’t want to raise that too hard.'

He also told the BBC: 'I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multi-cultural community boat if I may put it like that.'
All the news you need to know.

The eternal problem of cause and effect

Mark Dayton is hopping mad that the railroads are shipping so much oil from North Dakota, instead of Minnesota grain and is demanding accountability:
In a letter sent Wednesday to the chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, Dayton said the study explains “the dire circumstances that Minnesota farmers face and the need for increased accountability and clarity from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and the Canadian Pacific (CP) railroads.”

Dayton wants the railroads to provide more information about why they cannot move more agricultural products from state farms and grain elevators to markets. The governor asked that the transportation board discuss the study in a Sept. 11 meeting scheduled in Minnesota. He suggested that BNSF and CP have not adequately explained why they cannot get more grain cars on the state’s tracks.
It's interesting that Alaska doesn't have these problems with the oil that is produced there. Wonder why that is. Oh, wait -- here's a website that explains:
Since pipeline startup in 1977, Alyeska Pipeline - TAPS' operator - has successfully transported more than 16 billion barrels of oil and loaded more than 19,000 tankers at the Valdez Marine Terminal. More than half of the pipeline runs above ground – an engineering decision due to Alaska’s prevalent permafrost terrain. TAPS’ visibility as it crosses Alaska’s remarkable terrain has made it one of the world’s most photographed pipelines.
I hear there's been some talk about building a pipeline that would serve the oil fields in North Dakota. I wonder which political party has been opposing it, don't you?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

One of us

Meanwhile, in Syria, comes word of a hometown fellow who has become famous, but perhaps not in the way he intended:
A former Minnesotan who graduated from Robbinsdale Cooper High School was killed in Syria last weekend, the first American to die fighting for the terror group that calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIL).

Douglas McAuthur McCain’s death is one of the first clues that U.S. officials have as they try to identify the Americans who have joined a group that has vowed to remake the Middle East. And his death is evidence that ISIL is willing to use Americans on the battlefield.
Why is that? As always, the go-to observer is Eric Hoffer, who sums it up quite well:
“For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and the potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.” 
There are millions in the West who fit this description -- they are not struggling, necessarily, to make ends meet, but they aren't satisfied with their lot in life and are looking for a cause that will make them great. ISIL, or ISIS, or whatever they are calling themselves this week, offers a greater meaning and a mission. And they need cannon fodder. McCain might be the first story we hear, but we'll certainly hear more.

Go figure

Wait a minute -- could it be that the IRS has been, well, a little less than forthcoming about the existence of Lois Lerner's emails? John Hayward examines the evidence:
Make sure you’re comfortably seated before reading the shocking news that the Obama Administration has been lying about the destruction of IRS scandal kingpin Lois Lerner’s emails.  According to a Justice Department attorney, the emails have been captured by a government backup system, but the government just doesn’t feel like digging them up, because it would be “too onerous.” 
But we'd heard from John Koskinen that the emails were gone. Perhaps he'd like to revise and extend his remarks a bit before the House.

Of course, the whole point of the exercise is to extend out the scandal as long as possible so that any revelation can have the moniker "old news." Not everyone is buying, though, including the tenacious Sharyl Attkisson:
Should a special counsel take over the Justice Department probe of lost IRS emails and the targeting of conservative tax-exempt groups?

Attorney General Eric Holder says there’s no need: his Justice Department is conducting a thorough and fair investigation.

But can the Justice Department be impartial in IRS probe of “lost” documents while, at the same time, defending the IRS in civil litigation over the lapse?
That's an outstanding question. Meanwhile, there's more -- back to Hayward:
We’ve also learned from filings in federal court that the IRS destroyed Lois Lerner’s Blackberry after the congressional inquiry had begun, and after the “hard drive crash” story was floated.  Naturally, no effort was made to recover subpoena-sensitive emails from her phone before it went to Blackberry Heaven.
After the inquiry had begun. That's beautiful. Remember when the President of the United States said this?
President Obama in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News said that there was “not even a smidgen of corruption” behind the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups.

“There were some boneheaded decisions,” he said. “Not even mass corruption. Not even a smidgen of corruption.”
The president was right. Not a smidgen. The correct phrase would be ongoing, systematic corruption.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Writing for Politico, Bill Burton expresses regret, sort of, for past misdeeds that he might have committed:
I don’t remember, but I assume that I was one of the many Democrats who gleefully took shots at President George W. Bush for the time he spent at Crawford—and if so I regret it. Presidents are better for having time out of Washington, even better for time away with their families.

Whether you’re a partisan or a cynical reporter who has been making the same critique about presidential vacations for decades, I assume you probably agree that human beings function better when they get a little time away. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be some woman who hasn’t had a break in 4 years. I wouldn’t want to share the road with a truck driver who hasn’t had enough sleep. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; you will do your job better if you recharge your batteries. And even though the president is never really on vacation, giving him at least a little downtime is good for all of us.
Three observations:

  • Bill Burton regrets nothing. And he remembers. But he needs to protect his president from those meanies.
  • One reason the press bagged on Bush going to Crawford was that Crawford was boring. Martha's Vineyard in the summer is certainly more appealing than Crawford, Texas. Media members like their creature comforts and a ranch in Texas doesn't provide too many of those.
  • I'd like some evidence that the current president has ever been good at his job. He's outstanding at campaigning, and he seems to groove on the ceremonial, head of state duties of the office, but the governing thing has always been a secondary consideration. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Go to the mirror

Trying to keep focus isn't always easy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bye, bye Love

Finally, Kevin Love is going to be gone, the Star Tribune says:
Cleveland is allowed by NBA rules to trade newly signed No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins on Saturday, when the following will be completed, according to a person with knowledge of the trade: 
•  It will be a three-team deal involving the Wolves, Cleveland and Philadelphia. 
• The Wolves will receive Wiggins, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, 76ers forward Thaddeus Young and a trade exception believed to be worth at least $4 million that they can use to acquire a player in the next year without being strapped by salary-cap rules 
• The Cavaliers will get Love to team with superstar LeBron James and guard Kyrie Irving. 
• Philadelphia will receive Miami’s 2015 first-round pick that the Cavaliers own as well as the expiring contracts of Wolves players Luc Mbah a Moute and Alexey Shved. Like 76ers lottery pick Joel Embiid, Mbah a Moute is from Cameroon and has mentored the gifted but injured center chosen third in the June draft. The Sixers expect Mbah a Moute’s presence to ease Embiid’s NBA transition.
So what this likely means is that you'll see the following guys on the floor:

Point guard:  Ricky Rubio
Off guard:  Andrew Wiggins
Small forward:  Anthony Bennett
Power forward:  Thaddeus Young
Center:  Nikola Pekovic
Bench guys:  Zach Lavine, Corey Brewer, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, J. J. Barea

On paper, it looks like a good trade. The Wolves never really used Mbah a Moute last year and Shved was buried on the bench, so they won't be missed. With the notable, glaring exception of Pekovic, all the top guys can really run and jump. I don't know how well the Wolves will mesh, but they at least have some guys who might show up on the ESPN highlights.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

100% Correct

Sonny Burch, writing for the Washington Free Beacon, makes a great, great, great point:
In the place of comedy to criticize the powerful, you have comedy to comfort the powerful. You have John Oliver and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert DESTROYING and EVISCERATING straw men, but the DESTRUCTION and the EVISCERATION is kind of beside the point. It’s comedy designed to remind the smart set that it believes the right things, holds the right views, supports the right pols, vouches for the right laws. “Look at how dumb The Other is,” these shows scream. “We are smarter. We are better. We are good.”
Dobie Gray, take it away:

Read the whole thing.

The state Supremes get one right

There is a lot of trouble in the world right now, so it's gratifying to have a victory or two. The Minnesota Supreme Court delivered one yesterday:
In two unanimous rulings, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday curbed law enforcers’ ability to search and seize personal possessions.

The more significant ruling, written by Justice Christopher Dietzen, extended U.S. constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure to Minnesota civil, not just criminal, matters.

The second ruling determined that police had illegally impounded and searched a properly parked vehicle.
The seizure laws in Minnesota are ridiculous, particularly where forfeiture is concerned. If you have a child who gets popped for a DWI while driving your car, the police could take your car. As the Star Tribune article explains, this creates a hell of an incentive for police to become privateers:
The ACLU of Minnesota had supported Garcia-Mendoza’s argument that the rule should apply in civil cases as a balance to “perverse incentives” for law enforcers when a profit motive is injected into police seizure of private property. It referenced the notorious case of the Metro Gang Strike Force, which repeatedly abused its forfeiture authority and cashed in on the proceeds from 2005 to 2009.
If you've forgotten the Metro Gang Strike Force, this handy timeline serves as a reminder of how this group operated. Local police still use similar tactics, or least they have been. No matter what you think of the events in Ferguson, it's long been clear that police departments often have the wrong incentives in pursuing their job. If the job responsibilities of a constable do not include revenue generation, you're going to see a very different approach toward policing.


I am delighted that Mick Tingelhoff is the senior committee nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for 2015. I'm old enough to remember Tingelhoff and he was a great player, the first of a long line of high-quality centers who have played for the Minnesota Vikings, a distinguished group that also includes Kirk Lowdermilk and, more recently, Matt Birk.

It's been a long, significant omission that Tingelhoff is not enshrined at Canton. Having said that, the continuing omission of Jerry Kramer remains an even greater anomaly. Beyond Kramer's unquestioned resume on the field, the books he produced in collaboration with Dick Schaap are a significant part of the history and mythology of the National Football League. For some reason, Kramer continues to be denied. It's long past time to change that. When they gather in Canton a year from now, football fans should all be happy that Tingelhoff is highly likely to be on the stage. But we should also ask why Kramer continues to be on the outside, too.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Doing the work, so you don't have to!

My friend Brad Carlson saves me the trouble of dealing with the matter of Lavender Sharpton, a/k/a Warcraft, a/k/a the Sparklepunter. Go read it here.


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you
-- Kipling, "If"

You can find the snuff video on the internet if you want. I won't post it. But it's out there. James Foley, a freelance journalist who was captured in 2012, was beheaded by some guy in a black hood, a guy who wanted to send a message.

We've got the message, pal.

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire—

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
-- Kipling, "The Gods of the Copybook Headings"

Not much changes, really.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A mug's game

Rick Perry's mugshot:

Come and get me, coppper

Rosemary Lehmberg's mugshot:

The camera loves me
Draw your own conclusions.

They say that Jeff is a bad mother/Shut Your Mouth!/I'm just takin' about Jeff

It didn't take long. It never does. The Alida for a Better Minnesota has declared that Jeff Johnson is Emmanuel Goldstein:
The liberal group Alliance for a Better Minnesota has volleyed its first televised attack at Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.

The ad, which focuses on Johnson’s spending record, argues that the Hennepin County commissioner is too conservative for the state — a primary theme in ABM’s campaign against him.

“Tea Party Republican Jeff Johnson voted to cut education so he could give millions in tax breaks to corporations,” the ad states. “Johnson’s Tea Party agenda would put Minnesota families at risk.”
Of course, that's misleading. Don't take my word for it, though -- even the "PoliGraph" folks at Minnesota Public Radio wouldn't accept that particular conflation:
The ABM spot focuses on Johnson’s tenure in the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2006. Specifically, the group says Johnson voted for an education bill in 2003 that cut school funding when compared to projected spending in the coming fiscal year. (Johnson’s campaign argues that the bill actually increased funding from the prior biennium.)

ABM links Johnson’s vote on a 2003 education funding bill to a completely unrelated amendment Johnson voted against in 2005.

That amendment would have cut corporate tax loopholes and used the money for property tax relief. Eighty-one legislators, including a handful of Democrats, voted it down.
Emphasis mine, in all cases. PoliGraph's verdict?
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota’s ad is accurate in the sense that it correctly characterizes the positions Johnson took in 2003 and 2005 on an education bill and an amendment to rollback corporate tax breaks.

But the ad misses the mark is by linking the two votes. The ad makes it sound as if Johnson voted for a bill that trimmed education funding to expand or sustain corporate tax breaks.

In fact, the two votes are unrelated. As a result, the ad is misleading.
Misleading is a polite way of saying "crap."

A question that won't get asked

Bill Glahn is quickly becoming one of the most indispensable bloggers around, because he notices things. For example, he saw the following blithe assertions in the Strib:
The Dayton campaign has also gotten an assist from Minnesotans United, the political action committee that grew out of the successful effort to defeat the 2012 gay marriage ban and then pass the 2013 law that made same-sex marriage legal. Minnesotans United assembled one of the most sophisticated grass roots operations the state has seen in years, and has vowed to protect allies like Dayton, who signed the gay marriage bill.

“We encourage our volunteers to volunteer on behalf of the governor,” said Richard Carlbom, the strategist who ran Minnesotans United. The group has shared its lengthy donor list with the DFL.
Emphasis mine. Did you catch that? Glahn did:
So, with whom, exactly was this list shared?  Which list was shared (the ballot fund’s or the much smaller PAC’s list)?  Did the list include the ballot fund’s for-profit corporate donors?  And who, exactly, are included under the term “our volunteers”?

I imagine that the Star Tribune reporters included this detail as evidence of the sophistication of the Dayton campaign:  partnering with a big operation engaged in fighting for a noble cause.

However, in my mind, it raises dozens of questions regarding the coordination between a ballot fund, a nonprofit, a political fund, a candidate fund, and political party units all of whom operate under different rules for disclosure, donors, dollar limits, and donations.
Coordination of this sort is a no-no, particularly if you're a Republican. It would appear that the DFL and its allies can do pretty much what they please, however. Why is that? Well, back to Glahn:
What are the odds these questions will ever be asked, much less answered?
You don't need to consult with Bovada or Zombie Jimmy the Greek to know those odds. More, much more, at the link.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The long hot summer

Things aren't calming down in Ferguson, Missouri:
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to Ferguson early Monday, hours after police used tear gas to clear protesters off the streets following a week of demonstrations against the fatal police shooting of a black Missouri teenager.

In a statement, Nixon said the National Guard would help "in restoring peace and order" to the St. Louis suburb that has been filled almost nightly with angry, defiant crowds since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed Aug. 9.

"These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served and to feel safe in their own homes," Nixon said.
We know a little more about the case than we did before, but we don't really know that much. We do know that two separate autopsies have been performed and that a third is in the offing:
The latest confrontations came the same day Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform a third autopsy on Brown. A preliminary private autopsy found the unarmed teen was shot at least six times, including twice in the head. Results of a state-performed autopsy have not been released.
We also have a witness who says that Brown was approaching the police officer in a threatening manner:
#1 How’d he get from there to there?
#2 Because he ran, the police was still in the truck – cause he was like over the truck
#2 But him and the police was both in the truck, then he ran – the police got out and ran after him
#2 Then the next thing I know he doubled back toward him cus - the police had his gun drawn already on him –
[there is dispute here whether he says "doubled back" or "coming back."]
#1. Oh, the police got his gun
#2 The police kept dumpin on him, and I’m thinking the police kept missing – he like – be like – but he kept coming toward him
#2 Police fired shots – the next thing I know – the police was missing
#1 The Police?
#2 The Police shot him
#1 Police?
#2 The next thing I know … I’m thinking … the dude started running … (garbled something about “he took it from him”)
What does it mean? Could mean the cop did act in self defense. At this point, the story is well beyond the actual facts of the case. We can only follow the story; I suspect it's a story we'll be following for a while.

Sunday, August 17, 2014


A quick followup on the Rick Perry indictment -- if you weren't sure if Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney who refused to resign her position, had a problem with alcohol, you should really check out this astonishing PDF, which provides the receipts from her alcohol purchases in the year or so leading up to her arrest.

By the numbers:
From January 2012 to April 2013 — 15 months — Lehmberg made 59 purchases of alcohol at various Twin Liquors stores, a rate of nearly one purchase a week.

She bought 76 bottles of alcohol. According to the receipts, Lehmberg prefers Ciroc vodka. Lehmberg routinely purchased 1.75 liter bottles of vodka, at a price of nearly $60 each. On occasions, she bought more than one 1.75 liter bottle of Ciroc at a time.

Those 76 bottles add up to 24.7 gallons of alcohol purchased over 15 months. The last purchase in the KEYE-compiled list was on April 2, 2013 — 10 days before her arrest for drunk driving, and the subsequent attempt to abuse her power by trying to intimidate the officers who processed her in jail. Lehmberg purchased vodka on that day. An open bottle of vodka was found in her car during her arrest.
She bought liquor all over Austin -- Twin Liquors has a lot of locations:

Conveniently located, just about everywhere
This woman needs help. A lot of help. But remember, Rick Perry is the bad guy.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

This is why it's called Public Integrity

You don't need the truth. You just need the headline:
A grand jury has handed up an indictment against Gov. Rick Perry in connection with the investigation into an effort to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign. 
At the center of the issue is a complaint about intimidation stemming from Perry’s threat to veto of $7.5 million in state funding to the Public Integrity Unit run by Lehmberg’s office. The threat came after she pleaded guilty to drunk driving and served a 45-day sentence; Perry called on her to step down but she refused to resign her position. Perry then vetoed the funding for the PIU.

The first count , abuse of official capacity, says the Governor misused government property by threatening to defund the Travis County Public Integrity Unit in June of last year after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving.

The second count says Governor Perry misused his power by trying to coerce Lehmberg to resign or face the state pulling its funding from the Public Integrity Unit.
Gasp! Anything but that! Just so you know, here is Lehmberg, the dedicated defender of Public Integrity, when she gets pulled over:

And here is her epic performance after she's brought in. Pay particular attention to her gracious gesture at the end of the video:

Of course she should get $7.5 million. Why don't you understand her Public Integrity, you haterz?!

You might remember the Public Integrity folks for some of their earlier exploits, including their multi-year pursuit of Tom DeLay, the Texas congressman who had become House Minority Leader, only to have their work thrown out. Of course, the paragons of Public Integrity did bring DeLay's career to an end. It cost DeLay over $12 million to mount a legal defense. Of course, Public Integrity has a price.

And yes, Rosemary Lehmberg is still in office. She is the face of Public Integrity.

Bang, bang

Friday, August 15, 2014

Multimedia Dilettante

Two opportunities to get beyond the blog:

First, on Sunday I will be making my annual appearance in studio on my friend Brad Carlson's Northern Alliance Radio Network broadcast, "The Closer," locally on WWTC AM 1280, "The Patriot." While I would hope that for many of you Brad's show is appointment radio, it is on from 1-3 p.m. Central Time. You can listen live here or via iHeartRadio, among other options. I'll be on from about 1:45 p.m through 3 p.m., discussing politics a little but mostly discussing a topic that is near and dear to all of us, the NFC North. Brad and I will offer our usual incisive analysis of all four teams in the division and will make our annual predictions about where the teams will end up. I hope you can join us!

Second, the latest edition of AlteredScale is now up! My friend Jeff Hansen is the publisher and guiding spirit for this multimedia online journal, which features poetry, music, asemic writing, film, literary criticism and a whole lot more. I am greatly pleased and honored to have two poems appearing in the latest edition, and I am especially honored to be sharing a gallery with two of the best poets in the Twin Cities, Terry Folz and Mark Fleury. Hit the link and enjoy a wide and deeply eclectic experience.

Tools of the trade

If you want to know why the police in Ferguson, Missouri, have looked like an occupying force, here is the answer:
Since 2006, the Pentagon has distributed 432 mine-resistant armored vehicles to local police departments. It has also doled out more than 400 other armored vehicles, 500 aircraft, and 93,000 machine guns assault rifles*.

As The New York Times reported in June, the Defense Department has been making use of unused military equipment by giving it to local precincts.
Some of it looks like this:

No, I'm not a meter maid
In Ferguson, it looks like this:

Good afternoon, citizens
Romeo was restless, he was ready to kill
I remember what it felt like in the streets of Guatemala City back in 1979, when I was a pimply faced high school exchange student. A neighboring caudillo, Anastasio Somoza, was going down in Nicaragua. The caudillo in residence, Romeo Lucas Garcia, wasn't particularly interested in having a similar career path, so you saw rows of soldiers with machine guns lining the Avenida da la Reforma as we came into town, apparently to keep order. I don't have any pictures of the scene, because I was told in no uncertain terms by my host family that it would be a very bad idea to take any pictures of these gentlemen at work. You didn't want to mess with Romeo Lucas Garcia.

If you read the comments on conservative-leaning websites, you'll see that there's a vast difference of opinion among individuals on the Right concerning what's happening in Missouri right now, and what could happen elsewhere, maybe even here, at any time. I do understand that police officers have a difficult job to do, but I worry about their incentives. If you have all these nifty tools at your disposal, it's easy to imagine scenarios in which they might be used. We don't really know what happened in Ferguson initially, since you can read conflicting accounts, ranging from turning the young man who was killed into an Emmitt Till figure, to those who argue that he had murderous intent and was reaching for a police officer's gun. I wasn't there, and neither were you. What I can see, and what we all can see, is that there is a lot of military-grade firepower in the hands of local law enforcement, a trend that is now 20+ years in the making. We need to think about whether this trend is a good one. I believe in law and order, but if I had a choice, I'd prefer that we have a little less militarized law enforcement. You can't engage those you serve from an armored personnel carrier.

*Reader Dave Thul notes that the article changed in the time between when I wrote this and now. "93,000 machine guns," which is how the article first appeared, is different than 93,000 "assault rifles." I'd be curious how "assault rifles" is defined. Having said that, I'd still sure like to know why St. Cloud has an armored personnel carrier.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Again, the Month of Ghosts

I've attended way too many damned funerals in the month of August.

It was on this day 14 years ago that my mother passed away. Today comes word that my stepbrother, Tom Collar, has also passed away. Tom is at the top of this picture, which dates to the 1980s, along with my stepbrother Mark and my niece, Barb Collar Vorachek.

We're a happy family

Tom came into our lives when my father, Ed Heuring, married his mother, Darlene Collar, in 1980. There were six Heurings and five Collars, so it got to be a pretty full house during the holidays. We ended up becoming a real Brady Bunch-like amalgamation of people, a fun-loving and periodically dysfunctional extended family. Dad and Dar ended up buying a big house on the edge of Appleton with a huge back yard and we had many great times together, filled with laughter, adult beverages and countless games of cribbage, with bonfires in the back yard and the occasional golf ball flying into the cornfields behind the house. Laughter was the primary sound in that happy home. Although by then I was in college and only home once in a while, the big house on Railroad Street was a fantastic place to be.

Tom was the youngest of the Collars, less than two years younger than me. Tom didn't always have an easy time of it in his life, but even as he struggled with diabetes and a variety of other problems during his journey, he remained a gentle soul, quick to smile and slow to anger, even when he had reason to be angry. Now that journey is over, suddenly, way too soon. We are shocked and deeply saddened.

As it happens, August is also the month that my father passed away, some 24 years ago now. And we've lost other people near to us in the month of August. It is astonishing, really, that so many challenges have faced our family in one particular month. You'll pardon me, I hope, if I humbly suggest that the month of August might consider doing something anatomically impossible. Barring that, I'd like to request an early September.

Show Me/Show of Force

Missouri is known as the Show Me State. And there's quite a show going on in Ferguson, Missouri. A show of force, that is:
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who has been the public face of the city torn by Saturday's death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, told reporters earlier in the day that the St. Louis County investigation of the shooting could take weeks to complete. In the meantime, he said, his department welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force's 53 officers are white.

"Unfortunately, an undertow (of racial unrest) has bubbled to the surface," said Jackson. "Race relations is the top priority right now."

While Jackson said he wanted to mend fences with the community, protesters were on the streets of Ferguson again Wednesday, facing heavily armed police who at time trained weapons on them from an armored truck. Two reporters said they were detained by police while working at a McDonald's in the area.

The situation became more tense after nightfall, with police ordering people to go home and then using smoke bombs and later tear gas after some people threw Molotov cocktails and other things at them. Most of the crowd then dispersed. Journalists who witnessed the events included an Associated Press photographer.
The scene looks more like something you'd see on the streets of Beirut than what you might expect in suburban St. Louis:

A man watches as police walk through a cloud of smoke during a clash with protesters Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Protests in the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death turned violent Wednesday night, with people lobbing Molotov cocktails at police who responded with smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowd.  Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP
What you see in this photo is what we have in much of the United States -- a fully militarized police department. There aren't too many Barney Fifes out there on the streets of Ferguson.

Mitch Berg, as he usually does, makes the salient point:
It’s a tense situation.  I get it.  The cops want to go home at night.

But then so do the rest of us.  We scarcely go a day without some story of the police, somewhere, busting down the wrong door; throwing flash-bang grenades into rooms of sleeping children; making innocent people lie on the floor with guns in their faces, handcuffed, as the police tear the house apart looking for something to justify the raid (and as many laws as there are, everyone’s broken some kind of law or another); of cops shooting family pets that growl at them; of police manhunts shooting up all sorts of innocent people along with the perps.

And worse than all of that, the tendency among some police to assume that peoples’ constitutional rights are an impediment.

I’ll repeat the usual disclaimer; most cops are good cops.

But it’s not the individual cop in the street that worries me.  It’s a police culture that is becoming more and more aggressive; more militarized, and militaristic.  A culture that, more and more, thinks everyone that’s not in blue (or black, or camo) is a potential danger to be pre-empted. 
That is what we are seeing on the streets of Ferguson. Show Me has morphed into Show of Force. And if you suppose that a militarized police force couldn't happen here, you haven't been paying attention:

Hey, Kid, Get Off of My (St.) Cloud
You aren't going to be enforcing traffic laws in that thing. Meanwhile, back in Ferguson, they're arresting HuffPo journalists, too:

His crime? Charging his phone at McDonald's and taking pictures
The Guardia Civil used to arrest people who took pictures of them. Chevy Chase may want to reconsider his admonitions about Franco.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jeff Johnson, blank slate

So Jeff Johnson is the GOP nominee to take on Mark Dayton:
Republicans chose Jeff Johnson on Tuesday to be their candidate for governor, betting that the mild-mannered political veteran is the party’s best chance to unseat Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in November.

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner from Plymouth, led a four-man field throughout the night and, with 95 percent of the vote in as this edition went to press, emerged victorious with about 30 percent of the vote. Party endorsement helped propel Johnson past state Rep. Kurt Zellers, who trailed in second with 24 percent. Former state Rep. Marty Seifert came in third and businessman Scott Honour placed last among the major candidates.
Johnson's goal?
Low-key by nature, Johnson has sold himself as a solid conservative who would push to lower taxes, cut state spending, grow jobs and advocate for a state “where every child has access to a great education … patients and doctors make their own health care decisions … and there is no longer anger or envy over income differences.”
Does that last part seem possible to you? Anger and envy are the fuel that has driven the DFL for as long as I can remember. Never mind that Dayton is the heir to a vast family fortune and that his plutocrat ex-wife, a Rockfeller no less, has been bankrolling his political adventures for the past four years. The DFL is for the little guy; just ask them!

I don't think there's any question that Johnson is a solid conservative; for me, he was an easy choice over his rivals. Still, he's not particularly well-known and will have only a limited amount of time to make a proper introduction to Minnesota voters before Dayton's goon squad, a/k/a the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, frames the issue. I don't know if Jeff Johnson's ever had any moving violations, but ABM will surely inform all of us if he does.

Mark Dayton would be a vulnerable candidate if people actually paid attention. He's been ducking debates and joint appearances up to this point for a reason -- he's actually pretty incoherent. I've been comparing Dayton to Gov. William Lepetomane, the buffoonish character that Mel Brooks played in the movie Blazing Saddles, but it's actually a more serious problem than that. The Brooks character is a figure of fun, but there's nothing particularly amusing about Dayton's performance in office. I'd encourage you to take a look at Bill Glahn's recent post concerning revenue shortfalls. A taste:
Once again, the state office of Management and Budget (MMB) has issued a monthly state revenue total that falls below its forecast.  For the month of July, state government revenues fell $69 million below expectations, with individual income tax receipts representing most of the shortfall.  Not a good start to the new fiscal year.

Last month, MMB did not produce a monthly report, issuing instead a recap of the just completed fiscal year, which showed a small surplus.

So, for those scoring at home, July’s report marked the fifth consecutive (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) monthly report that came in below forecast (excluding the June report).  Five out of six months below forecast does not sound like a state with a booming economy.  At some point, all of these monthly shortfalls will add up, and we will be faced with a budget deficit.  At present, they are still being dismissed as “variations” that will even out over time.
Emphasis mine. Bill is correct -- you're going to hear Dayton crowing about budget surpluses, but the trend is not his friend. It's not likely that Dayton's pals in the local media are going to do much to tell this story, so Johnson's campaign will have to make the case.

Mayhem in the neighborhood -- an update

So a lot of us here in the quiet northern suburbs were trying to figure out why someone would get gunned down at a gas station in Arden Hills. We have an idea now:
For more than a decade, Kelly Phillips and Lyle “Ty” Hoffman had a personal and professional relationship.

On Monday morning, long after both had soured, Phillips, a 48-year-old executive with Boston Scientific, lay dead on the pavement of an Arden Hills gas station and Hoffman was on the run, identified by police as a suspect in the slaying.

Authorities didn’t say Tuesday why Hoffman, a 44-year-old commercial developer, is suspected in the gruesome shooting death. He and Phillips had operated a northeast Minneapolis nightspot together, and they had lived together up until about three years ago.

As of Tuesday night, no one had been arrested and Hoffman’s whereabouts were unknown.
More, a lot more, at the link.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mayhem in the neighborhood

Most people don't think much about Arden Hills, the generally affluent suburb that's directly to the east of my town, New Brighton. You especially don't expect a gangland-type slaying:
Josh Polos watched in disbelief Monday morning as the gunman shot the wounded man, already helpless on the ground, in the head. 
Then the shooter turned to Polos and looked him full in the face.

“I thought for sure he’d shoot me,” Polos said. “But thank God, he got in the car and drove away.”

Polos had just stopped to fill up his work vehicle Monday morning at a Holiday gas station in Arden Hills when, from 20 feet away, he saw a sedan pull up to the station and the driver get out and shoot dead his passenger outside the vehicle. Then the driver sped away, he said, running over the victim as he left.

“It was so surreal,” said Polos, a flooring installer who was on his way to a job laying carpet. “You’d think that you’d run but I just stood there, frozen like a deer in headlights.”

No arrests had been made late Monday night, but Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office investigators were interviewing “a person of interest” in connection with the shooting.
I buy gas at this station from time to time; it's about 4 miles north and east of my house. This is a busy area where three major highways converge -- 35W, U.S. 10 and County Highway 96. There has been an enormous amount of road construction on Highway 96 over the past few years, especially in rebuilding the intersection with U.S. 10. From what I understand, the construction headaches will continue into next year, as the Highway 96 bridge over 35W is scheduled for replacement. The folks who run the gas station there have lost a lot of business over the past year or two because of the construction and this incident certainly can't help them.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Who gets to run against Gov. Lepetomane?

Four Republican candidates for governor. One goes forward after Tuesday. Do you have a preference?

I do have a preference, not that anyone in particular is coveting the Mr. D endorsement, which is (a) meaningless and (b) not the kiss of death, either. If I were to rank the four, I'd rank 'em as follows:
  1. Jeff Johnson
  2. Kurt Zellers
  3. Marty Seifert
  4. Scott Honour
I think Johnson has the best chance to win, because he's most likely to get unified support from the rest of the party. He's a bright guy and would provide a strong contrast to Dayton, who is clearly hesitant to get anywhere near a stage with other candidates. I give Zellers credit for not pretending the endorsement process mattered to him; that puts him ahead of Seifert, who tried to have it both ways. Seifert is a frustrating figure, because while he has great knowledge and insight, he's frankly a little too Nixonian for me. While I find a lot to like about Honour as a person, he doesn't seem to understand the political landscape very well. No matter what happens in this election, the DFL is going to control the Senate and it will not cooperate, so meaningful reforms are, at best, two years away.

Let's poll it one last time:

Who is your pick for the Republican gubernatorial nomination? free polls 

Organizing principles

If you've ever really struggled to make a distinction without a difference, you'll understand the dilemma facing Hillary Clinton at this point in her career. Consider her attempts to distance herself from the Leader of the Free World:
Hillary Clinton is taking on President Obama on the same issue he used against her in the 2008 Democratic primary: foreign policy vision.

Obama lacks a specific doctrine, according to an Atlantic magazine interview with Clinton, the unannounced presidential candidate who is leading Democrats and Republicans in 2016 polling.

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Clinton told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, also a Bloomberg View columnist, in reference to the way Obama and his aides describe his approach to foreign policy.

That’s a “political message” and “not his worldview,” she said.
So many questions begged here:

  • So what, specifically, is the Obama worldview, then? She apparently seems to know. Perhaps she could share it.
  • How could Clinton have worked for four years for someone who lacked a doctrine?
  • One might have assumed, some time ago, that the "organizing principles" of a great nation are rooted in a constitution. Is Clinton arguing that Obama has somehow abandoned the organizing principles of a great nation? If so, that's quite a charge. And if she knew that, why wouldn't she have resigned her position and told the world?
Careerism isn't an organizing principle, either.

Friday, August 08, 2014

All that money makes such a succulent sound

You know how the Koch Brothers are buying up elections and destroying American politics in a sea of money? It's crap:
One of the first things you may notice about the 2014 list is that of the top 20 organizations, only two favor Republicans. The rest, with the exception of one “on the fence” trade association, all strongly prefer liberal policies and Democratic candidates. ActBlue, long a major player in directing small contributions to Democrats, tops the list of organizations. In addition, 11 of the top 20 organizations are unions. This is a pronounced shift from 2012.  In that election cycle, seven of the top 20 organizations favored conservatives.
That's from the Center for Responsive Politics, hardly a Republican shop. Their complete list is here and it tells a tale that's very different than what you usually are told. Here's a handy screen shot of the big dogs:

Money makes the world go round... or blue
So where is Koch Industries, despoiling the land with its evil money? Down a few quintiles:

But's it's a super powerful $2,664,860
But that's Koch Industries. What about their personal giving? Well, no Kochs in the top echelon:

I want to take you Steyer

So where does a Koch brother fall?

Still livin' off those ol' Herb Alpert records
That's right -- David Koch is number 90. His brother? Not in the top 100. The next time you hear someone, anyone, telling you that the Koch brothers need to be stopped, feel free to laugh in their face.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Fun times in Washington

Stay thirsty my friends(?)
Truth be told, if you were to invite any group of African heads of state to the White House these days, you'd almost certainly be inviting someone with a few human rights violations. So it's not particularly surprising that the folks who were at the White House this week are mostly dictators and thugs:
President Barack Obama drew a diplomatic line at the first ever U.S-Africa summit at the White House this week by not inviting Zimbabwe’s brutal dictator Robert Mugabe.

But the guest list still included several other African leaders with only slightly better human rights records.
The White House promoted the summit as the largest-ever gathering of African leaders in the United States, with more than 50 countries represented.

The red carpet was rolled out for Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who shot or jailed virtually all his political opponents, Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who threatened to ‘cut off the head’ of any homosexuals in the country and for Cameroon’s Paul Biya, who has the dubious honor of ranking 19th on author David Wallechinsky's 2006 list of the world's 20 worst living dictators.
Raise a glass, anyway. And in case you think we're being uncharitable in pointing out this particular soiree, there was another guest in attendance:


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

This is a test of the emergency blogging network

Is this thing on? Let's see what happens when I post this brilliant post using only an Android Samsung Galaxy Avant.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

The sacred duty of pointing out what should be obvious

Thomas Sowell makes what should be an obvious point:
Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel's military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.

Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler's forces?
I'm guessing no -- while I don't mean to be condescending*, it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of the people on the street would identify Slaughterhouse-Five as the name of an emo band. Back to Sowell:
Talk show host Geraldo Rivera says that there is no way Israel is winning the battle for world opinion. But Israel is trying to win the battle for survival, while surrounded by enemies. Might that not be more important?

Has any other country, in any other war, been expected to keep the enemy's civilian casualties no higher than its own civilian casualties? The idea that Israel should do so did not originate among the masses but among the educated intelligentsia.
While one might argue that Sowell is calling in an airstrike on his own position if he posits that Geraldo Rivera has anything to do with any intelligentsia, Sowell makes the point that matters. Every battle Israel faces is existential. Currying favor with people who hate you is a mug's game.

*Okay, I do mean to be condescending.

From the back pages

When future historians chronicle the second term of the current Leader of the Free World, it's likely that Judicial Watch will earn a mention. John Hayward has the backstory:
Under the most benevolent interpretation, Operation Fast and Furious was an astonishing failure of managerial oversight, but for some reason Attorney General Holder still has his job.  (He survived by deploying the strongest form of the Obama Administration’s Incompetence Defense seen up to that point, claiming that he had no idea what the Justice Department he nominally heads was up to, because he doesn’t read his mail.  That was necessary because, after a congressional oversight root canal, it was discovered that Holder had been given written notice about the status of the operation.)

When things started looking really ugly, President Obama swooped in to save Holder by throwing a blanket of executive privilege over the documents his Attorney General had been defying subpoenas to protect.  The House Oversight Committee has undertaken litigation to enforce its subpoenas, but the last-ditch stonewall tactic worked beautifully, since almost a year and a half has gone by, Obama got re-elected, and the media is back to thinking Fast and Furious has something to do with Vin Diesel.
Judicial Watch, as it has been with the IRS scandal, is on the case and now a federal judge has ordered an explanation:
At long last, the stonewall has chipped a little, as the Justice Department has been ordered by a federal judge to release a list of the documents President Obama didn’t want the American people and their representatives to see.  It’s just a list or “index” of the documents, mind you, but it’s a start. 
Assuming there are no darn-the-luck hard drive crashes, we might learn something.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The return of ol' 4

Sounds like the Packers and Brett Favre have made up:
 The Packers and Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. issued a media advisory at 7 p.m. on Sunday, relating to a joint announcement regarding former Packers quarterback Brett Favre: “The Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame Inc. and the Green Bay Packers will make a joint announcement regarding former quarterback Brett Favre Monday, Aug. 4, at 1:30 p.m., in the new Hall of Fame under construction in the Lambeau Field Atrium.”
There was always a lot of anger regarding the way Favre left Green Bay, but after four years that's done. Some people in this vicinity will remember him wearing purple, but he's a Packer, and always will be. It's long since time to recognize that.

They're not taking it well, Nancy Pelosi edition

The clip speaks for itself:


This is hardly surprising:
If the upcoming French presidential elections were held today, the controversial far-right politician Marine Le Pen would take the lead. The head of the National Front party she inherited from her father, Le Pen has overtaken the other main candidates in a recent poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion. The two other main candidates are former President Nicolas Sarkozy, a moderate conservative, and current president François Hollande, a socialist. 
What do you suppose happens when socialism fails, as it always does, and when the feckless alternative fails as well? Mme. Le Pen is a much easier sell than her father was. I chose an unflattering picture of her on purpose, but others might not. Watch France carefully.

Friday, August 01, 2014

A Winkler and a Nod

The minimum wage goes up in Minnesota today. What will happen? Do you believe a politician who supports the policy, such as Ryan Winkler?
“There’s just no evidence — despite these fears — that the minimum wage has any negative effect on the economy,” said Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “Change is hard for some people … but $8 an hour is not an extravagant wage.”
Or do you believe a person who actually hires people? From the same Star Tribune report;
“Ultimately, I think it’s going to be a job killer,” said Bill Kozlak, owner of Jax Cafe in Minneapolis. In fact, he said, “we already started.”

Struggling with higher prices for commodities such as beef and produce, he decided to close his restaurant on Mondays. Once payroll costs start rising, he said, restaurants around the state may have to cut their wait staff, or do away with them and shift to a casual dining format where guests pay at the cash register up front.
I'm assuming someone used to work at Jax Cafe on Mondays. They don't now. The changes will take place over time. We won't know what the effect of the minimum wage increase is for a while, but if we check back in a year, there will be changes.