Tuesday, February 28, 2017


You don't need a cashier to know which way the wind blows:
Fast food giant Wendy’s plans to install self-ordering kiosks in about one out of six of the burger chain’s franchises nationwide by the end of this year.

A typical location would get three kiosks for about $15,000, The Columbus Dispatch reported. David Trimm, Wendy’s chief information officer, estimates that payback on those machines would come in less than two years thanks to labor savings and increased sales.

The kiosks have two purposes according to Trimm: appeasing younger customers by given them an ordering experience they prefer and reducing labor costs.
I don't know whether younger customers need appeasement, but I do know reducing labor costs is always a popular idea for businesses.

Automation in food service is not a new thing. I never ate at one, but the Horn and Hardart Automat was once a fixture of urban dining on the East Coast:

Help you at the Automat

Essentially, the Automat turned a commissary-type kitchen into a giant vending machine. Fast fooders like Wendy's actually killed the Automat concept, so we're coming full circle. Just as H&H needed workers to prepare the food, a Wendy's with a kiosk will still have plenty of people in the back of the house, at least initially, but increasingly machines will be automating that part as well.

The larger problem -- if you are a young person looking for an entry-level job, automation is limiting your options. In a world of kiosks and automatic burger making machines, a skill set to have will be troubleshooting equipment malfunctions. I don't know too many teenagers who can swing that one. We all dine with Joseph Schumpeter eventually.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Volstead is vanquished

My mustache and angry visage maintain public order
So it looks like the last shovelful of dirt will finally land on the handiwork of Andrew Volstead:
The Senate moved Monday to end the ban on Sunday liquor store sales, which means Minnesotans likely will soon be able to walk into a liquor store on a Sunday for the first time since statehood.

The Senate vote by 38-28 Monday followed the lead of the House, which passed the measure last week by an overwhelming margin.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will not veto a Sunday sales bill, which means forgetful Minnesotans would no longer have to cross the border to stock up on booze for Vikings games and other Sunday events.

Volstead is the angry looking man with the proto-Bolton mustache pictured to the left. He was the author of the Volstead Act, which gave the legislative muscle to Prohibition. Volstead was a longtime congressman from Minnesota and a dedicated follower of blue laws. And now, almost 100 years after his signature law was passed, his home state will finally turn its back on his abstemious approach to living.

Assuming Mark Dayton signs the bill he will receive, you'll be able to buy beer and liquor on Sundays in Minnesota. Will it change how we live? Probably not that much, at least for most people. If you decide you want a bottle of wine or a six-pack on the Sabbath, you won't have to drive to Hudson, or Prescott, or Fargo, or some burg in Iowa any more. Some retailers will get pinched, without question. It's possible that some mom-and-pop liquor stores may succumb. But I'm not convinced of that, especially since you still can't buy liquor at a grocery store or at Target, unless those formidable competitors build a separate facility with a separate entrance. I think you'll still see the mom and pops around for a while.

It's been busy, so. . .

. . . blogging hasn't been so great the past week or two. I'm still trying to figure out how best to approach the world in the era of Trump, but the lack of content around here is more a function of being busy and fighting off the usual winter maladies. More to come, really.

Brad dispatches the Nerd Prom

I was going to write about The Leader of the Free World's decision to blow off the Nerd Prom (a/k/a The White House Correspondents' Dinner), but the esteemed Brad Carlson has that one covered:
In other words, it's no different than these Hollywood award shows where smug, self-important individuals gather together to stroke each others' egos.

What's most pathetic is that these media types are so needy that they showed up to the 2014 event despite revelations of their colleagues at the Associated Press being spied on by the Obama White House the previous year. Yet some of these same people threatened to pull out of this year's dinner due to President Trump being a big meanie.
As Brad astutely notes, they are frauds. Brad's conclusion is exactly right -- hit the link and read it for yourself.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Mostly open thread

We've been a little under the weather at Chez Dilettante, so we're going to make this an open thread. I was going to write a little about CPAC, but so far what I've read doesn't particularly interest me, other than hearing Stephen Bannon's voice for the first time, as he discussed his nefarious plans with Reince Priebus, who comes across a bit like Peter Lorre in Casablanca.

Not as sweaty

Letters of transit

Bannon looks a bit dissolute, but he sounds normal enough to me.

Welcome to the Boomtown

 We may need better supervillains if we're going to keep the outrage going.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


I don't have many rules for this feature, but one rule always obtains -- don't use racial or ethnic slurs. I will delete comments that use them. I may repost the rest of the comment, minus the slur, if I think it adds to the discussion, but I may just delete the comment entirely.

Thank you.

Frankie MacDonald is on the case

In case you were wondering about the snowstorm tomorrow:

The best weatherman out there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Il miglior fabbro

The smartest piece I've seen so far about Trump's early days is from Victor Davis Hanson. You should read the whole thing, but Hanson brings up two points that are worthy of our attention. First, the current state of the Democrats:
The Democratic party has been absorbed by its left wing and is beginning to resemble the impotent British Labour party. Certainly it no longer is a national party. Mostly it’s a local and municipal coastal force, galvanized to promote a race and gender agenda and opposed to conservatism yet without a pragmatic alternative vision. Its dilemma is largely due to the personal success but presidential failure of Barack Obama, who moved the party leftward and yet bequeathed an electoral matrix that will deprive future national candidates of swing-state constituencies without compensating for that downside with massive minority turnouts, which were unique to Obama’s candidacy.
I've seen this argument made before and it's essentially spot-on. You've probably seen this map, or something similar to it:

Blue fringe
It's getting close to impossible to elect a Democrat in large sections of the country. Many of the bright blue splotches in the seas of red represent major metropolitan areas, but it's become clear that the Democrats can't even compete in a lot of places.

That's the world Trump works in at the moment. And yet some people who might otherwise support his policies are arrayed against him. Back to Hanson:
Usually conservative pundits and journalists would push back against this extraordinary effort to delegitimize a Republican president. But due to a year of Never Trump politicking and opposition, and Trump’s own in-your-face, unorthodox style and grating temperament, hundreds of Republican intellectuals and journalists, former officeholders and current politicians — who shared a common belief that Trump had no chance of winning and thus could be safely written off — find themselves without influence in either the White House or indeed in their own party, over 90 percent of which voted for Trump. In other words, the Right ruling class is still in a civil war of sorts.
Hanson thus holds up a mirror to my face. I do find Trump grating. I wish he didn't speak elliptically and garble his messages. Having said that, I see no reason to sandbag him, or his administration. Up to this point, he hasn't pursued any disastrous policies, and it doesn't appear he will, based on the people he has around him. If Trump pursues policies that are contrary to the nation's interests, I will oppose him. Up to this point, he hasn't.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Boozin' on Sunday

As most readers of this feature know, I grew up in Wisconsin, where you can buy alcohol pretty much any time you'd like, any day you'd like. When I moved here nearly 25 years ago, I was surprised to learn that you couldn't buy alcohol on Sunday in Minnesota, aside from warm 3.2 beer. That may change now, the Star Tribune reports:
The Minnesota House passed a bill on Monday legalizing the retail sale of alcohol on Sundays, but tipplers must win over a more resistant Senate before they can buy their beer, wine and spirits any day of the week.

This is the first time in state history that a legislative chamber has passed a bill overturning the Sunday ban, a law that has been in effect since statehood in 1858 and remained in place after Prohibition.

“It’s time to bring Minnesota liquor laws into the 21st century,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, the bill’s chief author.
For the most part, blue laws are gone, although you can't buy a car in Minnesota on Sunday, either.  It's never been a major problem for me, since I don't drink much any more, but if you are throwing a football party or something similar, it's nice to have options other than piling in the car and driving to Hudson.

While the Star Tribune article reports that passage in the Senate is far from certain, it's possible we could have a change soon. This is a classic battle of special interests:
A wall of interest group opposition has for years stymied efforts to end the ban. It is led by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which represents bars and liquor stores that prefer the status quo and fear the end of the Sunday ban will lead to a cascade of deregulation — and with it, new competition — in what is currently a heavily regulated industry.

Tony Chesak, executive director of the group, issued a statement calling the vote “one step in a long legislative process.” Ending the prohibition, Chesak said, would “raise costs for small, family-owned businesses and consumers.”

Deregulating the liquor industry would “lead to reduced choices for consumers and the un-leveling of the playing field in favor of big box retailers,” he said.

A wave of lobbying muscle on the other side, led by such retailers as Total Wine, has weakened resistance to Sunday sales.
There's little question that Total Wine's entry into the market has made a difference. We have one nearby in Roseville, and the sheer scope of the enterprise makes smaller liquor stores seem inferior. I've mostly bought my booze from one of the two municipal liquor stores in Saint Anthony, although there are several other choices nearby. If I were looking to have a big blowout, I'd probably go to Total Wine -- the only reason I avoid going there is because it's too close to Rosedale Mall and I'm not a fan of the crowds or traffic in the area. Yeah, I'm getting cranky. Not as cranky as one of the foes of Sunday sales, however. Back to the Strib article:
Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said it was a “libertine” measure representing “licentious freedom.”

“I grew up in a time where adults limited and restricted their freedoms for the benefit of children, when it came to a product that has severe negative consequences,” he said.
How do I put this delicately? Gruenhagen is a moron.

On balance, I think opening sales up on Sunday is the right thing to do. Municipal liquor stores are a dubious enterprise on a number of levels, even though I currently use one. I'll be watching the results, more as an academic exercise than anything else.

Monday, February 20, 2017

New York conversations

So what is a New York conversation? Around the time it came out, I remember reading an old Robert Christgau review of Lou Reed's album, "New York," from 1989:
Protesting, elegizing, carping, waxing sarcastic, forcing jokes, stating facts, garbling what he just read in the Times, free-associating to doomsday, Lou carries on a New York conversation--all that's missing is a disquisition on real estate. 
If you substitute "Trump" for "Lou," that's a perfect description of Trump's speaking style. And because he's into free-associating, he gets himself in trouble. But is it really trouble? Let's consider the latest outrage that was all over the ol' social media feed this weekend, the incident in Sweden that didn't happen:
Here’s the bottom line. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world.
Did anything specific happen in Sweden the other night? No. But that's not what Trump was saying. At the link, John Hinderaker does a good job of Trumpsplaining:
Yes. Or, in other words, “having problems like they never thought possible.” Liberals pretended not to understand Trump’s point, and made believe that Trump was talking about a phantom terrorist attack on Friday night. The Swedish government even joined in the faux mirth. The linked AP story is deeply dishonest. It joins in the absurd misinterpretation of Trump’s remarks, and never even mentions what he actually said about Sweden: “Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.” But dishonesty has become a daily occurrence at the Associated Press.
And the story? This is what the Associated Press had to say:
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to explain: "My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden." A White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says that Trump was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.

The president may be referring to a segment aired Friday night on the Fox News Channel show "Tucker Carlson Tonight" that reported Sweden had accepted more than 160,000 asylum-seekers last year but that only 500 of the migrants had found jobs in Sweden. The report, which was illustrated with video of broken windows and fires, went on to say that a surge in gun violence and rape had followed the influx of immigrants.
Are the assertions made on Carlson's show accurate? The AP doesn't tell us. But the New York Times reported as much last year:
Sweden, once one of the most welcoming countries for refugees, on Tuesday introduced tough new restrictions on asylum seekers, including rules that would limit the number of people granted permanent residency and make it more difficult for parents to reunite with their children.

The government said the legislation, proposed by the Social Democrat minority government and enacted by a vote of 240 to 45, was necessary to prevent the country from becoming overstretched by the surge of migration to Europe that began last year.

The country, which has a population of 9.5 million, took in 160,000 asylum seekers last year.
To be clear, the "last year" in the linked piece refers to 2015, but from what we know most of those refugees are still in Sweden. How about the 500 jobs? Here's a report from the Independent from about six months ago:
Sweden used to be one of Europe’s most popular destinations for migrants, with the number of asylum applications doubling between 2014 and 2015 to more than 160,000.

A high success rate – 55 per cent of claims were accepted in 2015 – combined with generous welfare benefits for asylum seekers, and a comparatively welcoming population, made the country extremely popular with people fleeing war and persecution, and left the Scandinavian nation with the second highest number of refugees per capita in Europe.

But for many asylum seekers who arrived during the influx last year, Sweden has proved less of a utopia than they hoped. Many faced a long, cold winter in political limbo, camped out in makeshift accomodation while the state struggled to cope with the large number of new claims. Less than 500 of the 160,000 arrivals have managed to secure jobs.
Maybe, pace Christgau, Trump was free associating to doomsday and garbled what he read in the Times. That might be an overly charitable assessment of what Trump said the other day, but it's closer to true than asserting Trump had claimed a terror attack had occurred in Sweden. Back to Hinderaker:
As happens so often, liberals think they are scoring points against Trump when in fact they are making fools of themselves. As Trump said, Sweden has imported too many refugees, and the results aren’t pretty. Most are living off the government, and some are committing crimes, especially sex crimes. 
Hinderaker even produces a chart that documents the significant uptake in sex crime activity, which you can see at the link.

As always, I go back to the valuable observation of Salena Zito:
When he makes claims like this, the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
If you watch a Trump rally, that's the response of the people who support him. The challenge for those of us who aren't on the Trump train, but who recognize the mendacity of those who would destroy Trump, is how to suss all this out.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The toy department

A question that answers itself:
“How many sportswriters have you seen on Twitter defending Donald Trump?” asked the baseball writer Rob Neyer. “I haven’t seen one. I’m sure there must have been a few writers out there who did vote for him, but there’s a lot of pressure not to be public about it.”
Just like real life, actually. I recommend the linked article from Bryan Curtis because it confirms something you've most likely sensed for a long time. It also explains why the portsiders who are now firmly in control of the sports media intend to keep things just as they are.

Goodbye and Good Riddance

Out they go:
The two highest-profile public officials on the U.S. Bank Stadium oversight commission stepped down Thursday amid growing legislative and public pressure over their use of two luxury suites to host friends, family and political allies at games and concerts.

Michele Kelm-Helgen, chairwoman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), announced her resignation early in the day, saying the decision was her own. By early afternoon, Executive Director Ted Mondale resigned rather than face an impending vote to remove him.
It's not every day that a Mondale gets removed from a governmental position, but the corruption from the MSFA was too much and Mondale was up to his eyeballs in it. We have our royal families in Minnesota and the key player in yet another of those families, Gov. Mark Dayton, was still not 100% with the new program:
The departures came as state legislators move to overhaul the MSFA’s structure, claiming lax management and oversight by the pair. Gov. Mark Dayton, who had been supportive of the two, said their resignations would “enable the authority to move ahead and, hopefully, allow everyone to regain perspective” on the stadium.

The DFL governor praised Mondale and Kelm-Helgen for “commendable” and “exceptional” work and pledged to work with legislators on the future of the MSFA.

“Everybody’s still kind of taking stock of what’s occurred” in the past 24 hours, Dayton said.
In this instance, "regaining perspective" means no longer paying attention to the men and women behind the curtain. More changes are likely coming. We'll keep watching.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thinking about Flynn

I'm still thinking about the long-term use of this space and whether political commentary should play such a major role in it. Regular commenter Jerry suggested that one use of the blog should be to explain things clearly:
We know you have clear opinions about what SHOULD be happening. Just contrast news reports with that and let us sort out the inconsistencies. 
So on that note, let's consider the distinctions between the Wikileaks postings of John Podesta's hacked computer vs. the current leaking that brought down Michael Flynn.

  • It is possible that the Russian government, or an affiliated entity, was involved in the hack of Podesta. There is no evidence that anyone from the federal government was involved.
  • It is without question that federal government officials, who prefer to be anonymous, were involved in the Flynn incident.
  • Podesta was not a government official at the time his computer was hacked.
  • Flynn was not a government official yet, but was going to be.
  • We can accurately gauge the validity of the Podesta materials, because they are posted for all to see.
  • We cannot gauge the validity of the Flynn materials, because the information is classified.
The last point is crucial. Andy McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who now writes for National Review, has a useful suggestion for how we might get at the truth about Michael Flynn's actions:

The Flynn affair is a tale of intrigue, with head-spinning twists and turns, manipulative spies, narrative-weaving pols, and strategists who mostly outsmart themselves. It is easy to get lost in the weeds. There is one easy way to get to the bottom of it, though — one way to get a real sense of whether General Michael Flynn, the now-former national-security adviser, is a lying rogue who deceived every Trump administration official in sight, or the victim of an elaborate “deep state” scam whose real objective is to destroy not merely Flynn but the Trump presidency.

Let’s go to the audio tape: the government’s recording of a December 29, 2016, conversation, intercepted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that Flynn had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. 
Releasing would solve the mystery. But it's not likely to happen. McCarthy explains why:
For now, the so-called deep state — the intelligence operatives and highly placed officials who run the United States government because they have the power to ruin their opposition — would apparently prefer that we not hear the tape. Many of them are Obama functionaries who are content to shape opinion by leaking their edited version of events to media allies. Some of them are Trump functionaries whose mishandling of what may be a tempest in a teapot has made them vulnerable less than four weeks into the new administration.
So as you consider recent events and their presentation, it's crucial to understand you only know what you are being told. McCarthy also explains the motive:
Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, is not just a long-time intelligence veteran. He was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). How could he not have realized that, even in the best of times, Russian officials are routinely monitored under FISA — and this, far from the best of times, was a time of high suspicion? It seems inconceivable that Flynn did not consider the likelihood, the virtual certainty, that he was calling a wiretapped line, that his call would be recorded and reviewed by the intelligence community — a community he was part of and has made a business of antagonizing since being fired by Obama in 2014.

Even if the call had been prearranged by text messages (the two men have known each other since Flynn’s DIA days), how could Flynn have gone through with it when Obama’s announcement of punitive measures that very day made it a certainty that Kislyak would mention them? It makes no difference that Flynn had no intention or authority to make a deal with Russia on Trump’s behalf. If Kislyak broached the subject of relief from Obama’s actions — something that Flynn would be powerless to prevent him from doing — it could then be reported, accurately if misleadingly, that they had “discussed the sanctions.”

That was all the Democrats needed.
Indeed. Narratives are everything and Team Trump has lost control of the narrative, just as Team Hillary did when the Podesta materials were decanted at Julian Assange's direction. Trump has myriad ways to seize control of the narrative. He'd better get to it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


The Deep State is on offense now following the successful hit on Michael Flynn. And as usual, the whole thing is straight out of the funhouse, as Eli Lake, an old hand himself, writes for Bloomberg:
It's not even clear that Flynn lied. He says in his resignation letter that he did not deliberately leave out elements of his conversations with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak when he recounted them to Vice President Mike Pence. The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the transcript of the phone call reviewed over the weekend by the White House could be read different ways. One White House official with knowledge of the conversations told me that the Russian ambassador raised the sanctions to Flynn and that Flynn responded that the Trump team would be taking office in a few weeks and would review Russia policy and sanctions. That's neither illegal nor improper.  
Then again, the Russians have problems of their own:
Meanwhile Trump, who some believe is under Putin’s control, is focused on driving down oil and gas prices and pushing NATO to increase defense spending, both of which are hard blows to Russia. Trump is also promoting pro-growth policies which will help fund a military buildup and modernization.

Russia has no prayer of matching this. 
Putin has real problems, with no real solutions.

Trump is confronting Putin with challenges he cannot overcome, which will only grow worse over time.

The idea that Russia is capable of embarking on a new Cold War against the United States is laughable.

Russia is only considered to be a country of the first rank because of its nuclear arsenal. But that arsenal is useless, other than as a deterrent to invasion, or as a way to commit suicide. No one is going to invade Russia any time soon. More importantly, Putin and his cronies are not suicidal. Putin may even be the richest man in the world. Putin and his posse have a nice life, and a lot to lose. They likely want to enjoy the benefits of their despotism in peace, not see their dachas reduced to radioactive ash.
What we're seeing, both from the Russians and from the Deep State, is a group of people who are scared to death and defending their prerogatives. Back to Lake:
Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

He was also a fat target for Democrats. Remember Flynn's breakout national moment last summer was when he joined the crowd at the Republican National Convention from the dais calling for Hillary Clinton to be jailed.
Trump is getting a message -- stay in your lane. We'll know soon enough if he accepts the message.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

He's a helper. He helps.

Mitch Berg, doing the taxonomy thing again.

Just read it.

Flynn is out

I have to admit I barely knew he was in:
President Donald Trump's embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned late Monday night, following reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia. His departure upends Trump's senior team after less than one month in office.

In a resignation letter, Flynn said he gave Vice President Mike Pence and others "incomplete information" about his calls with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. The vice president, apparently relying on information from Flynn, initially said the national security adviser had not discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, though Flynn later conceded the issue may have come up.
Sounds like he screwed up. Sounds like he needed to go. It also sounds like the Deep State was involved. You might recognize one name here:
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia for election-related hacking, as well as at other times during the transition.

An administration official and two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed the Justice Department warnings on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. It was unclear when Trump and Pence learned about the Justice Department outreach.

The Washington Post was the first to report the communication between former acting attorney general Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, and the Trump White House. The Post also first reported last week that Flynn had indeed spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
Let's tally it up:

  • An anonymous "U.S. official" leaked to the Associated Press
  • An "administration official and two people with knowledge of the situation" confirmed the story, even though "they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly"
  • Sally Yates, who Trump ashcanned two weeks ago was involved in the whole mess
  • Apparently it's okay to let reporters know when we are bugging phone conversations
None of this should be particularly surprising. Part of the game has been slow-walking Trump's team through the confirmation process, which allows Obama-era holdovers like Sally Yates to throw sand in the gears. They are doing what they do.

I hold no brief for Flynn. If what has been reported is true, he was reckless at best. As long as Barack Obama was president, Flynn had no business conducting any diplomacy. And if he lied to Mike Pence, he had to go.

The lesson should be clear to Trump -- he can't trust anyone in Washington that he didn't bring in personally. We'll see if he's capable of learning.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Whole lotta spillway going on

The one thing about California -- there's a whole lot of it. And infrastructure is a big problem:
At least 188,000 people remain under evacuation orders after Northern California authorities warned an emergency spillway in the country's tallest dam was in danger of failing Sunday and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.

About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville is one of California's largest man-made lakes, and the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam is the nation's tallest.

The evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon after engineers spotted erosion on the dam's secondary spillway. Hours later, panicked and angry people were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to leave the area.
One of the primary reasons I'm skeptical of California's talk of secession is that the infrastructure problems are so varied and vast. This dam is just one of them, as Victor Davis Hanson points out:
The income of California’s wealthy seems to make them immune from the effects of the highest basket of sales, income, and gas taxes in the nation. The poor look to subsidies and social services to get by. Over the last 30 years, California’s middle classes have increasingly fled the state.

Gone With the Wind–like wealth disparity in California is shocking to the naked eye. Mostly poor Redwood City looks like it’s on a different planet from tony nearby Atherton or Woodside. California is becoming a reactionary two-tier state of masters and serfs whose culture is as peculiar and out of step with the rest of the country as was the antebellum South’s.

The California elite, wishing to keep the natural environment unchanged, opposes internal improvements and sues to stop pipelines, aqueducts, reservoirs, freeways, and affordable housing for the coastal poor.

California’s crumbling roads and bridges sometimes resemble those of the old rural South. The state’s public schools remain among the nation’s poorest. Private academies are booming for the offspring of the coastal privileged, just as they did among the plantation class of the South.
There's a whole lot of Oroville out there. And it's going to continue to get worse.

It's getting difficult

It's becoming damned near impossible to blog about politics these days, because the political world is chock to the brim with unreliable narrators. I can't trust anything I read about Trump in the MSM, because they aren't even trying to be objective about what's happening. The right-wing media is either completely on board with whatever Trump is doing, or the few NeverTrumpers around are still fulminating about disputes that were resolved months ago.

Until and unless we start to get some clarity, I'm not sure what to do. I suspect we may be changing gears around here, at least for a while.


I was waiting up for my daughter to get back from her drumline show on Saturday night, so I decided to actually watch Saturday Night Live. Apparently dressing Melissa McCarthy up as Sean Spicer and having her attack Cecily Strong with a cordless leaf blower is the soul of wit these days. Thought you'd want to know.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Meanwhile, also on the Left Coast

The problem with pensions continues to get worse in California. Walter Russell Mead has noticed:
For a state talking about “Calexit” and boasting about the vibrance of its economy and its non-Trumpian politics, the pensions crisis is a highly inconvenient reality. The state’s finances aren’t in as good shape as they appear on paper, its governance isn’t sustainable (you can’t keep giving public sector workers benefits raises ad infinitum), and its leaders don’t seem serious enough to even acknowledge the magnitude of the problem.
The numbers CalPERS expected are, well, absurd. Mead quotes from a Reuters piece that lays it out:
California Public Employees' Retirement System expects a 5.8 percent annual investment return under its new portfolio asset allocation, significantly lower than the fund's assumed rate of return of 7 percent by 2020.

The reduced expectation, disclosed late Monday in documents from the largest U.S. public pension fund, is based on a lower-risk, lower-return asset allocation adopted by CalPERS in September and announced in December.

CalPERS' caution mirrors outlooks from public pension funds across the United States as they try to grapple with investment forecasts of slow market growth over the next decade.
Do you get a 7% rate of return? It's difficult to see that happening. Back to Mead:
California has vibrant industries and a large tax base, but people and companies can move to less costly states. Increasingly, many of them are doing just that—take out immigrants, and California has experienced a net exodus in recent years. The aging population exacerbates the pensions crisis. Fewer working people as a percentage of the population will hurt the tax base and make it even harder to fund pensions.
California will be coming, hat in hand, to Uncle Sam in due course. Uncle Sam has no money, either, and California will be standing in line with Illinois, New Jersey, and a bunch of other states that made promises they can't keep. Maybe the 9th Circuit can make some arrangements.

De minimis

My portside social media posse is deliriously happy because the 9th Circuit backstopped one its judges on Trump's executive order. I don't think it will matter very much. Trump has multiple options:

  • He can let the parallel case in Boston work its way through and the matter will need to be adjudicated at the Supreme Court, where he will have an excellent chance to prevail; or
  • He can alter the order slightly and ram it home again; or
  • He can change course.
He won't take the latter approach, but either of the first two will work. As John Hinderaker points out, the relevant statute makes it clear that Trump has the power to take action:
Remarkably, the Ninth Circuit decision fails ever to mention the relevant portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. §1182(f), which provides:

(f) Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

That's about as categorical as it gets. Unless the plaintiffs in this case are prepared to argue that the Immgration and Nationality Act is unconstitutional, which they have not, Trump will eventually prevail. I'm betting Trump will pick the second option.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

They didn't ask me, but. . .

. . . this seems right:
The Trump administration is more trusted than the news media among voters, according to a new Emerson College poll.

The administration is considered truthful by 49 percent of registered voters and untruthful by 48 percent.

But the news media is less trusted than the administration, with 53 percent calling it untruthful and just 39 percent finding it honest.
I finished college just before the Derrida/Foucault wave really hit my campus, so I can't claim any specific expertise involving post-structuralism, but it seems we're here. Here is a quick and dirty definition of post-structuralism:

 In the Post-Structuralist approach to textual analysis, the reader replaces the author as the primary subject of inquiry and, without a central fixation on the author, Post-Structuralists examine other sources for meaning (e.g., readers, cultural norms, other literature, etc), which are are therefore never authoritative, and promise no consistency. A reader's culture and society, then, share at least an equal part in the interpretation of a piece to the cultural and social circumstances of the author. 
Some of the key assumptions underlying Post-Structuralism include:
  • The concept of "self" as a singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct, and an individual rather comprises conflicting tensions and knowledge claims (e.g. gender, class, profession, etc). The interpretation of meaning of a text is therefore dependent on a reader's own personal concept of self.
  • An author's intended meaning (although the author's own identity as a stable "self" with a single, discernible "intent" is also a fictional construct) is secondary to the meaning that the reader perceives, and a literary text (or, indeed, any situation where a subject perceives a sign) has no single purpose, meaning or existence.
  • It is necessary to utilize a variety of perspectives to create a multi-faceted interpretation of a text, even if these interpretations conflict with one another.
This is a great approach to take, so long as you are able to control how things are interpreted, and the Left has exercised this control in the main for the last 50 years. It's also a great approach if you're into gaslighting. The key to making post-structuralism work for you is to ensure the "variety of perspectives" brought to bear in the interpretation support your agenda. It's also a great way to drain meaning from anything you find uncongenial to your agenda.

I don't know if Trump ever studied such things, but he understands the value of the strategies one can take from draining meaning from an author. As soon as the idea of "fake news" began to take root, his team grabbed it and placed the label on his opponents. Trump is violating ethics rules left and right? Fake news. Trump is Hitler? Fake news. And if it is true that Trump has marginally more credibility than his critics, his interpretation will prevail. And the continual rage on the Left merely reinforces the idea that a more leftist interpretation of events is something that can be ignored. As long as Trump doesn't blink, he'll continue to win the larger arguments. I've seen thousands of examples of people on social media bashing Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions. They are both in office today.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


One of the most important, if unwritten rules of Minnesota politics is this -- don't get in the crosshairs of James Nobles
A special nonpartisan report on Tuesday found ethical violations by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) in its use of two luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The 100-page review by the legislative auditor also generated a testy four-hour House-Senate committee meeting as well as a sharp defense of the agency by the governor.

Legislative auditor James Nobles released the findings of his investigation into the MSFA’s use for friends and family of two “Norseman Suites” at the new $1.1 billion stadium in Minneapolis. He found the board had violated state law by not keeping records about who had been in the 18-person suites since the building opened on Aug. 3.
If you'll recall, the review came because we discovered last year that the MSFA had been using the suites for "marketing" purposes that seemed only to be giving free tickets to DFL politicians and their friends and families. There's more from the Star Tribune report:
The MSFA’s “misuse of a public resource has damaged its credibility and diminished public trust,” Nobles said. His office often conducts routine financial audits of the MSFA, but in the future “will expand our scope — or conduct supplementary audits — to examine many other aspects of the authority’s performance.”

The review was consistently critical of the MSFA. Records provided to Nobles’ office were sloppy and incomplete, the report said. The auditors had trouble matching who the guests were with who attended games, who had been given free VIP parking passes to the lot adjacent to the stadium and who had reimbursed the authority after the public outcry.
Of course, Gov. Dayton responded in his usual churlish manner:
“I expect a handful of legislators will ignore these accomplishments, and instead deride and impugn the dedicated public officials who made these successes possible. Their attempts to use this single episode to achieve their own political objectives do nothing to benefit the stadium’s operations or advance the public good,” his statement said.
It wasn't a single episode, of course. The MSFA folks used the suites on a number of occasions and would have continued to do so until the practice was exposed. Had the Star Tribune not reported on the matter at the end of November, it's likely that Michele Kelm-Helgen and Ted Mondale, who run the MSFA, would still be doling out the sweet, sweet suite tickets.

Oh, and there's one other revelation that came out. See if you can spot the larger outrage:
In a surprise that wasn’t in his report, Nobles said the MSFA had acquired a third luxury suite for $300,000 annually for the next five years. The so-called cabins and Truss Bar were built by the Vikings at the highest level of the building for $8.5 million. The MSFA will pay $1.5 million over five years to use the suites for the next 30 years — but cannot use them for Vikings games. SMG markets the suites and has brought in $192,000 since the building opened, Kelm-Helgen said.
Is it the extra suite? Nope. Instead, note that SMG, the Pennsylvania-based company that does the day-to-day operational work for the stadium, is in charge of marketing. So why would MSFA need to control two suites for marketing? That's a larger question that has yet to be answered satisfactorily. I suspect Nobles will be looking into that matter eventually.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

A source is a source, of course, of course

The Leader of the Free World isn't having it:

I would think he's referring to this article, which does have a whiff of literary device about it:
Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.
They can't even turn on the lights! What a bunch of simps! But there's more:
Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.
He's in his bathrobe at 6:30 p.m.! Man, what the hell is wrong with this guy?

We can take the word of the reporters on this piece, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, because we know they are objective. Thrush had his moment in the WikiLeaks sun last year (sorry about the embedded Anglo-Saxon terminology):

Better run it by Podesta first
Meanwhile, Haberman has a key endorsement of her work:

Tee for two
Satisfaction guaranteed! I'm sure these journalists are getting the story exactly right. If you want a story teed up, get the right people involved.

Trump may wear a bathrobe, but these two reporters have been standing naked in the public square for a long time now.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Super Bowl


  • The game felt eerily familiar, as New England turned things around completely. Momentum is a real thing in a football game and it seemed as though Atlanta lost their nerve at the end. Did they choke? I'm not sure of that, but they weren't aggressive enough in the 4th Quarter. One field goal would have iced the thing.
  • Lady Gaga's show was fine. Better than Beyonce and Katy Perry, but not as good as Bruno Mars. I'm glad the Super Bowl has stopped bringing out the geriatric rockers of my youth -- the halftime show The Who put on a few years back was cringeworthy. Since I don't generally partake of Top 40 radio, I was surprised at how many of Gaga's songs I recognized.
  • Generally, the ads weren't all that interesting. Our friend R. A. Crankbait made a smart observation on social media yesterday -- the ad for Honda featuring talking high school yearbook photos was clever and well executed, but did it really have anything to do with buying a Honda? That's the problem with many Super Bowl ads -- cleverness for its own sake does not move the merch. It also appears that something called 84 Lumber decided to make a political statement, but it didn't make much sense, either as an ad or as a strategy. In a divided nation, why cheese off half your potential clientele, especially when you don't yet have nationwide reach? The closest 84 Lumber location I can find is in Gurnee, Illinois, which is north of Chicago. Dumb ad, dumb strategy.
  • The circus comes to town next year. Get ready.

Home truth

Nicholas M. Gallagher, writing in The American Interest, with the line of the day:
Anyone who has spent two minutes in policy circles has met the kind of person who flaunts their ignorance of and disdain for football, or “sportball” in general, as a badge of honor. Bragging about your disdain for something in which the great majority of your fellow men find deep meaning in is a sign of spiritual impoverishment.
Yes it is.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Benster and D Pick Your Games -- Super Bowl LI Edition

Old dude, it is time to see which set of players is ready to feel the HYYYYYYYYPPPPEE of getting to celebrate and see their pretty faces on the big screen.

Have you seen those big screens? The one at the Vikings stadium makes each drop of sweat look like a small pond.

No it doesn't. And remember, outrageous statements are my department. It is the Super Bowl, and maybe this year we will actually have a good game and halftime show, unlike last year which was a very boring game.

I agree with that. The best part of last year was seeing Cam Newton look like Max Headroom after the game:

I'm not sure what you mean, but then again I wasn't around in the 80s. Usually you just show me those weird music videos. So anyway, what does this Max Headroom guy look like, anyway?

Like Cam, if Cam were a computer simulation, which I think he was for several weeks this season:

You continue to astound me with your Geritol flashbacks, old dude. Is that what happens when you start mainlining the Metamucil?

I guess so, but it's been a long time since those days. Just be glad I didn't post any of those videos.

I am. I guess maybe this year could be different. It is time to talk some football and it is time to watch me work.

New England Patriots (-3) vs. Hotlanta Falcons, in Houston. So, seeing New England back in the Super Bowl is not a huge surprise, because they clearly were the best team in the AFC. Atlanta though is a bigger surprise, though they did romp all over my Packers to get their ticket to Houston. It almost seems like New England is going to win, and that they can extend their dynasty. Well, not so fast. The Patriots have not been challenged in a while, and the danger I see is that Tom Brady might be too motivated by wanting to make the Roger "No Fun Allowed" Goodell hand him the trophy. Matt Ryan has the chance to prove that he really is at that top level of quarterbacks by getting a ring, but he is going to need at least 175 total yards of offense to come from his running backs. I expect Atlanta to pull an upset that will deflate New England fans all over the country, and Brady will never get blamed for another failure in a big game because Patriots fans never want to admit that Brady has flaws. Hotlanta 31, Shouldn't Dynasties Not Go A Decade Between Titles? 27.

Is that a rhetorical question? Wait, don't answer that. I definitely think Atlanta could win this game. They have an explosive offense and, generally speaking, they are difficult to stop. The genius of Belichick is his ability to take away something the opponent likes to do. I think the Patriots will find a way to keep Julio Jones under control. Can the other Patriot receivers do enough to compensate? And will Devonta Freeman stop grousing about his contract long enough to get in the end zone? On such questions championships are decided. Brady will be Brady and Belichick will be Belichick. I hope I'm wrong about this, but here you go:  Patriots 28, Falcons 24.

Enjoy the game. And to all the New England fans I just tweaked, ask yourself why Brady can seemingly do no wrong. Ben out!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Give the Strib a cigar. . .

. . . for having the courage to state what should be obvious, but apparently isn't:
There is another reason Democrats should abandon their boycott strategy.

It’s not working.

Thursday’s unanimous Senate panel approval of Environmental Protection Agency nominee Scott Pruitt is the latest proof. Democrats boycotted the hearing, as they did with hearings for Steven Mnuchin, the Goldman Sachs executive nominated to take over Treasury, and Sen. Tom Price, R-Georgia, Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services.

Republicans on those panels responded by suspending the rules — as is the majority’s prerogative — and quickly passing those nominees on to the full Senate for confirmation, undoubtedly relieved that Pruitt, Mnuchin and Price would be able to avoid further questioning.
We saw this drill in 2011 in Wisconsin. It didn't work then and it's not going to work on the larger stage. The Republicans have the levers of power in Washington now and it now seems like they've figured out how to use them. The Strib editorial board is going to cheerlead for the port side, but at this point the Loyal Opposition needs to understand that they aren't exactly winning friends and influencing people. And as we saw at Berkeley earlier this week, deportment is becoming an issue:

We don't think that was Nancy Pelosi wielding the Mace, so there's that.


Retail sales weren't great over the holidays and plenty of people assumed that was because Amazon was eating everyone's lunch. That may be true, but it doesn't necessarily mean Amazon is doing that well, either:
The online retail technology company reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts' expectations on Thursday, but revenue that fell short of estimates. It also gave future guidance that was below the average estimate.
Amazon has had to spend a lot of money on infrastructure and that's going to have an effect on the bottom line. The cost of sales has to be enormous. It's easy to envision Amazon as a juggernaut, but even juggernauts can encounter resistance.

Nothing to do but feed all the kangaroos

I didn't support Donald Trump in 2016, but he is president in 2017. The perpetual outrage machine from the Left is risible. Trump has only been in office two weeks. I do counsel a few deep, cleansing breaths, but it's still imperative to call out when he does something dumb. Getting in a fight with the prime minister of Australia is dumb. Walter Russell Mead is on the case:
The readouts of Trump’s less-than-diplomatic phone call have provoked understandable concern about his capacity to work productively with America’s strongest allies. And the critics have good reason to question Trump’s combative approach; if Trump is angry at Obama for taking a deal he doesn’t like, he shouldn’t take it out on the Australian PM.
And Trump didn't like it one bit:

Study before you make the phone call, Mr. President

Sorting through the deals his predecessor made will be an ongoing challenge, but bluster isn't the way to approach the leader of an ally. Back to Mead:
The deal between [Malcolm] Trumbull and Obama was a swap: Australia would take some of the Central American refugees that were embarrassing the United States in an election year and threatening Obama’s political interests, in exchange for a small number of Middle Eastern refugees from Australia. Central Americans aren’t a big issue in Australia, so Turnbull looked good at home; Obama (and presumably Clinton) felt that the deal would largely escape notice in the United States.
The deal did escape notice, or at least reportage, until Trump decided to bring the matter up. I don't blame Australia for making the deal with Obama; as Mead notes, the Aussies have all manner of refugee problems themselves:
The debate over Australian immigration detention centers is not a new one; the first such facility was established on Australian territory in 1966. Even as the number of such centers has grown, they have always been controversial, with periodic riots and escapes and persistent human rights criticisms chipping away at support. The so-called Pacific Solution, first implemented in the early 2000s, established Pacific detention centers off Australia’s shores in Papua New Guinea and the island of Nauru, but support for that, too, has waxed and waned; offshore processing was abandoned in 2007 before resuming again in 2012 after an uptick in asylum seekers. Australia’s current asylum policy has established a “zero tolerance” stance toward illegal boat arrivals, combined with mandatory detention. This has helped keep asylum seekers out of Australia, but it has also left Turnbull with an intractable humanitarian problem.
It's a problem that isn't going away, either. Trump, Turnbull and other leaders have work to do to sort out all these problems. But there won't be any progress if we find ourselves fighting our allies. Those of us on the starboard side criticized Obama consistently for his disdain of Great Britain. Trump can't do the same sort of thing with other allies and expect to conduct a successful foreign policy.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Bat-guano crazy

No guano, dude:
One would have thought that a 90-day suspension of immigration from seven countries with minimal economic ties to the United States would be minor news. It has to be the best thing an American president has done since Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, because all the people I dislike have gone bat-guano crazy.
That's the take of David "Spengler" Goldman, and it's difficult to argue the point. I try, I really do, not to dislike people, but it's become ridiculous. Trump is living rent-free in so many heads right now that it's frankly a little frightening. And the bat guano is piling so high that people are noticing:

Getting all Sartre up in here
That's part of an extended rant from Iowahawk, who has just about had enough. I get the feeling. Meanwhile, this is happening in the cradle of the Free Speech Movement:
Protesters armed with bricks and fireworks mounted an assault on the building hosting a speech by polarizing Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos Wednesday night, forcing the event’s cancellation.

Several injuries have been reported and at least four banks have been vandalized after demonstrators marched away from the scene of a violent protest at the canceled speaking event by controversial far-right writer and speaker Yiannopoulos on the University of California at
Berkeley campus.

UC Berkeley officials said the protest was infiltrated by vandals.

Yiannopoulos was making the last stop of a tour aimed at defying what he calls an epidemic of political correctness on college campuses.
And at a place near and dear to me:
A Beloit College student admitted fabricating an incident in which a swastika, anti-Muslim and ethnic and racial slurs were spray-painted on a dorm room door and a nearby wall.

The 20-year-old man was arrested for obstructing, disorderly conduct and criminal damage in connection with the incident reported Monday, according to a news release from the Beloit Police Department.

Officials at the college said that two reported hate crimes at the school were under investigation, one in which an anti-Semitic note was placed under a student's door Friday, the other involving the spray-painted messages.

According to police, the student admitted spray-painting the messages. He said that he saw how the first reported incident had brought the Beloit College community together and that he fabricated the incident to create, "similar attention," according to the release.
We get what we want. What we seem to want these days is to demonstrate how holy and righteous we are, so instead of the Bat Signal, we have the Virtue Signal and instead of getting Batman, we get bat guano. And I don't mean the character that Keenan Wynn played in Doctor Strangelove, although it's not all that different.

Can we all calm down a little?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Gorsuch and Game Theory

Trump makes his pick for the Supreme Court:
President Donald Trump will nominate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Trump announced Tuesday night at the White House.

The nomination of Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appellate judge from Colorado, gives Trump and Republicans the opportunity to confirm someone who could cement the conservative direction of the court for decades.
Actually, that's not right. Gorsuch would be going into the seat occupied by Antonin Scalia, who died last year. Scalia was a brilliant conservative. By most accounts, Gorsuch is as well. His elevation to the Supreme Court doesn't change the calculus.

The Democrats have a decision to make. They are understandably bitter that the Republicans ashcanned their nominee, Merrick Garland, last year. Had Garland gone on the Court, the balance of power would have shifted decisively to the Left. That's not going to happen now. So if you're a Democrat, what do you do, especially with all the rent-a-mobs out on the streets protesting everything the Trumpster does? They can either try to stop Gorsuch, or they can keep their powder dry. If they try to block Gorsuch, Mitch McConnell will eliminate the filibuster entirely for judicial appointees, and that will be the end of it. After that, Trump would be able to put anyone he likes into the next slot. And that is where the real challenge for control of the Supreme Court comes, as it is reasonable to assume the next nomination will be to replace either Anthony Kennedy, who is the swing vote, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who holds down the left wing. Both are in their 80s, so their time may be running short. Meanwhile, Stephen Breyer will be 80 years old in less than two years. If Trump gets to replace any of these three Justices, the court will tip decisively to the right. And it's quite possible he'll get to replace all three.

The Republicans hold the majority in the Senate now. It's tenuous, but it's a majority. The Democrats have a number of senators in red states who will be up for reelection in 2018. Some of them, especially Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Jon Tester in Montana, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri, are going to be looking over their shoulders. Others who might have been safe otherwise, including a couple of big-time lefties, Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), also have reason to think twice about how to proceed.

Gorsuch has outstanding credentials and was named to the 10th Circuit by unanimous voice vote in 2006. This may not be the fight the Democrats want, nor the time. We're about to find out how much influence the freeway blockers really have in Washington.