“American Sniper”: Giving Ticket Buyers a War They Can Enjoy

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI finally got around to seeing “American Sniper”. It was last Friday night in Phoenix, which I mention only because if you’re familiar with Arizona’s largest city, you know there’s rarely a day that goes by without some unholy gathering of big-bellied white guys with weird facial hair milling around a “Gun Expo”, a “Gun Swap Meet” or a “Bullet Circus”, or whatever. Arizona loves guns and all the debate about “American Sniper” aside, what it is selling on the most fundamental level is the thrill of righteous gun vengeance. Take away the smoking hardware and the film’s box-office would drop 90%.

That said, the movie, directed by good ol’ Clint Eastwood, is as slick a piece of big time Hollywood filmmaking as you’ll ever see. Terrific editing, great sound work, top notch art direction, a decent script and solid performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Warner Brothers, seeing the near perfect box office fusion of Eastwood, hot young star Cooper and a memoir/”true story” of a goddam bona fide American hero who happened to be the deadliest, baddest mutha of our adventure in Iraq, popped for an enormous budget, which Eastwood got up on the scree. (Warners’ investment has paid off handsomely. The film has done astonishing business for a January general release.)

The theater in Phoenix, an enormous 2000-plus seat “UltraStar” auditorium, was packed to capacity, and while there was no yahoo cheering at the moment when our hero picks off his rival sniper … at a preposterous 2100 yards through a shimmering heat haze … the crowd did sit in rapt attention during the end credits as real world footage ran of sniper Chris Kyle’s actual funeral in Dallas two years ago. (The whacking of “Mustafa”, a character barely mentioned in the book and never listed among Kyle’s 160-plus “confirmed kills”, is almost entirely a Hollywood invention. For that matter, the US Military has a pretty loose system for “confirming” sniper shootings.)

I confess, I have not read “American Sniper”, despite the attention it got here in Minnesota during Jesse Ventura’s successful defamation case against Kyle last summer. I have as much interest in military memoirs as I do bodice-ripping romance novels, although the latter might actually hew closer to reality. (Kyle clearly had a problem with details. His own sense of his “legend” may well have overwhelmed him.)

Anyway, the point here is to simply to say that while the movie is not some patently ridiculous piece of gun-crazed jingoism, it suffers by copping out on elephant-in-the-room realities that are, unlike so much of Kyle’s story, completely and lamentably verifiable.

No doubt Eastwood, a shrewd judge of mainstream American tastes, loved the thought of packaging an exciting contemporary combat film around, “one man’s story.” No need to muss with broader history and politics. Just tell this guy’s story. (In fact, it appears that it was Bradley Cooper who bought the rights to Kyle’s book and then got it to Eastwood.) By dialing out the rather enormous and fundamental question of, “What in the hell were we and this guy doing in Iraq?”, audiences are allowed to remain comfortably unchallenged, which is to say entertained by the action and splatter and moved by the effect it has on unassuming, easy-going, unfailingly polite Kyle’s mental stability and marriage.

I’m sorry. The far, far braver (and commercially problematic) thing for Warner Brothers and Eastwood to have done would be to work in a deeper assessment of Kyle’s good ‘ol Texas boy blind faith in his country’s war-making decisions and at least some reflection, like say after the Weapons of Mass Destruction canard was fully understood, on why (at the very least) they’re not over in Afghanistan hunting Osama bin Laden.

Personally, I found it very interesting that there is no reference to either Dick Cheney or George W. anywhere in “American Sniper”. In the film, Kyle watches the World Trade Center collapse and the next thing you know, as though it was ordained by national acclamation, he and his pals are kicking ass in … Iraq. I.e. direct linkage.

Constructed as it is, Eastwood cannily evokes an audience response that is more somber than flat-out celebratory. War is hell Who does not agree? But a braver filmmaker and lesser businessman would have felt a responsibility to take Kyle’s story (more or less as he told it to his ghostwriters) and stir in the context of what we now recognize was one of the most misguided foreign policy disasters and most poorly-planned military campaigns in American history.

Those are details you can verify.

 

 

 

MN GOP: Bribe Seniors To Stop Them From Fleeing Best State In America

crabby_old_manMinnesota has the best quality of life of in the nation, and we must bribe seniors to stop them from escaping it, say two stories from today’s news coverage.

First, we have Politico doing a comprehensive meta-analysis of a variety of quality-of-life analyses. The St. Paul Pioneer Press summarizes Politico’s sunny assessment of our little Minne:

Politico ranked Minnesota as the best state of the union.  Among Minnesota’s neighbors, Wisconsin ranked No. 17. Iowa was No. 7 while North Dakota was 15th and South Dakota was 21st.

The rankings are based on 14 criteria: Per capita income: Minnesota is seventh, at $30,913. Lowest unemployment: eighth, at 3.7 percent. Percent above poverty level: ninth, at 89.5 percent. Homeownership: second, at 72.5 percent. Percent of high school graduates: second, at 92.1 percent. Life expectancy: second, at 81.1 years. (Fewest) infant deaths per 1000 births: fifth, at 4.49. Percent of obese residents: fifth, at 22 percent. Average eighth-grade math score: fourth, at 295. Average eighth-grade reading score: 10th, at 271. GINI index (income inequality): 11th, at 0. Lowest violent crime rate per 100,000: ninth, at 223.2. Percent employed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs: 13th, at 6.1 percent. “Wellbeing” score: fourth, at 69.7.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the same edition of the Pioneer Press, we learn that Minnesota Republicans have announced a new tax code bribe for seniors who agree to stay in the best state in the nation:

(Senator David Henjem’s) “Retire in Minnesota Act” would phase out Minnesota’s Social Security tax over 10 years, at a cost of $127 million for the first two years.

Republicans said the tax could help Minnesota by encouraging retirees to stay here instead of relocating to one of 38 states that don’t tax Social Security income.

The Retire in Minnesota Act aims to stem the flood of Best State residents escaping to sunbelt states, such as Arizona, South Carolina, New Mexico, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas, all of which have a low tax/low service approach to governance that leaves them ranked in the bottom 15 in the quality-of-life rankings.

Progressives Should Be Proud To Protect Outstanding Young Teachers

young_teacherAnybody who has followed my lunatic rantings knows that I’m an unabashed wealth redistributin’, Wall Street regulatin’, minority rightsin’, carbon tradin’, Keynesian spendin’, Medicare-for-Allin’, tree-huggin’, consumer protectin’, Pentagon cuttin’, infrastructure rebuildin’, union supportin’, monopoly bustin’, education investin’ liberal.

But the moment I support allowing younger teachers to have their classroom achievements considered as one factor in firing decisions – the same position supported by more than 90% of Minnesotans, the liberal Obama Administration and two-thirds of younger Minnesota teachers with less than 20 years experience — you’d think I’m the second incarnation of Michele Bachmann.   “Teacher basher!!!”

LIFO_teacher_seniority_firing_mapA talented young teacher who is successfully improving kids’ learning automatically should be mandated to be the first to be fired? That’s putting kids first? That’s pro-teacher? That’s pro-education? That’s respecting the teaching profession?  That’s helping struggling low-income school districts, who have a disproportionate share of younger teachers?  That’s liberal?

I’ve listened. I really have. But on this issue, the teacher’s union, for all the good it does, is simply wrong.  Any progressive should be proud to fight for the rights of outstanding young teachers and the kids benefiting from them.

When Discussing New Legislative Office Space, Why Not Desegregate Partisan Ghettos?

This week state leaders are discussing office space arrangements in a new legislative office building and a soon-to-be renovated State Capitol building. So maybe now is the time to desegregate their longstanding partisan ghettos.

In a recent interview, I asked Duane Benson, a former Senate Minority Leader (R-Lanesboro), how to reduce partisan polarization in the Legislature. One suggestion the legislative veteran made was to stop segregating legislative office space according to party affiliation:

duane_benson_headshot_2It sounds simplistic, but I think it would help a lot if legislators had their offices together, so that every other office was a different political party. They’d come out and talk to each other. In the House it’s a floor separating them.

The whole place is run on communications, but I guarantee I can go over there and find people who haven’t met all their colleagues yet.   I think officeing near each other is a kind of a simple fundamental thing that could happen to help people get to know each other. Then I think you start to respect each other…

Policymakers in both major parties agree that it is destructive when citizens are institutionally segregated based on race or ethnicity. They have seen that such ghettoization causes people to dehumanize, misunderstand and discriminate, which erodes the health of our communities and democracy. No contemporary Minnesota politician publicly advocates for mandatory segregation.

But when it comes to Legislative office space, segregation has long been accepted with no questions asked. Republicans get this partisan ghetto. DFLers get that partisan ghetto. They argue over the respective size of the ghetto, but there is bipartisan agreement about the need to segregate.

bipartisan_segregation_water_coolerWould having Democrats and Republicans in every other office automatically lead to a grand new era of bipartisan peace, love and understanding? Nope.  But it would almost certainly lead to more hallway conversations: “What are you doing this weekend?” “How’s your family?” “Can we borrow a chair for an hour?” “Cold enough for ya?  “How about them Twins?”

Over time, maybe initially awkward conversations build a little commonality, commonality builds a little trust, and trust makes bipartisan cooperation a tiny bit more likely.  Maybe?

Partisan desegregation of state legislative office buildings is no panacea. It may even be a total waste of time.  But there really is no reason we shouldn’t give it a try, unless fostering partisan polarization is the intent.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also republished by MinnPost.

A New Sin Tax For Our Times

“Sin taxes” focus on activities that are considered by polite society to be undesirable and/or harmful. They’re imposed to discourage the activity, and consequently limit the harm caused by the activity. When citizens are forced to pay sin taxes, they, as a group, typically engage in the targeted behavior less often.  For this reason, we have long imposed sin taxes on alcohol, gambling and tobacco.

In the age of the Interwebs, I hereby nominate a newer activity that is highly undesirable and causes great human suffering. I speak, of course, of warm weather Facebook photos and posts.

Tropical_Facebook_tauntingYou know what I’m talking about. Those gorgeous families perpetually promoting their endless vacations to balmy locations. Those bronzed boasters photographing their grotesque toes wiggling contentedly in the foreground of an idyllic beach. Those smug snowbirds constantly reminding you that they have ample time and money to spend the winter months engaged in poolside bingo marathons. Worst of all, those Minnesota expatriates who provide constant updates about the temperature differential between their old and new home states.  Traitors!

I don’t mind telling you, it hurts man.  It hurts a lot.  From the moment Minnesota winters begin in September until they end in July, most Minnesotans are the target of this adult brand of cyber bullying several times per day.  Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down.

light_therapy_vintageThink I’m over-reacting? Well, I’ll have you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) plagues millions of citizens in northern states, causing us to stare catatonically into  full-spectrum lights, binge on Vitamin D supplements, huff ionized air, and go bankrupt buying  crap from garden, golf and fishing catalogs that we can only use a few weeks out of the year.  You think that’s fun?

And the worst part?  None of it even remotely makes us feel any better.  Meanwhile, oh look, here is another half dozen adorable little Facebook photos of your so-called “friends” on Gilligan’s effing Island to remind you of the charms of the latest polar vortex. Isn’t that PRECIOUS?

So I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, tax ‘em. Athletes get penalized for taunting. School kids get penalized for bullying. Employees get penalized for harassment. So citizens should have to pay a tax penalty of, say, $1,000 for every Facebook tropical taunt, to offset the serious pain and suffering they are causing.

Will the Tropical Taunting Tax stop the abuse? Nope.  You can’t legislate morality, and these immoral bastards will stop at nothing to promote their tans.

But maybe the Tropical Taunting Tax will slightly limit the damage done by serial taunters.  Maybe the revenue raised can be used to subsidize SAD therapies for victims.

If nothing else, the new tax will give frozen Facebookers something snarky to say in comment threats.  And goodness knows, that would improve my mental health more than any full-spectrum light ever could.

Note:  The wind chill is minus 35 degrees in the SAD author’s hometown today.

2014 Reconsidered: The Glass Half Full Edition

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterIn the last hours of the recent mass holiday madness, with my hamster-on-the-wheel index spiking past “lethal”, a man came on the radio.

I didn’t need to glance at the dashboard to know it was NPR. The guy had that non-threatening, neutered, self-consciously deferential tone that listener-supported radio prefers in its on-air males. (Think: The antithesis of your average play-by-play football baritone.) But he was making perfect sense about how our alleged brains operate.

Boiled to its essence his message was this: More hippocampus, less amygdala. If I followed it correctly, the amygdala is the part of our limp grey blob that processes fear and ignites us into action at the first sign of threat. It’s as old as we are. See lion. Get stick. Run for tree.

The hippocampus is a bit later-evolved organ and is believed to sort out emotions, using memory to remind us that we survived this or that “threat” before, probably will again and so … chill out. Moreover, by checking the amygdala’s constant firing over threats, perceived insults, slights, disses, yadda yadda it is possible to weaken its constant calls to rage and combat. Conversely, by running rank emotion through the filter of the hippocampus we can strengthen it and, you know, behave a bit more rationally, saving us the wear and tear of constantly spiking blood pressure, not to mention the social ostracization reserved for the world’s pissers and moaners, self-dramatizing stress queens, douchy Steve Jobs-wannabe middle managers and just about everyone on FoxNews.

So, despite the radio voice’s court eunuch inflection, I veered around the latest a-wipe texter blocking my shot down the fast lane and hammered my fist on the wheel, “Damn straight, dude! Let’s all calm the [bleep] down.”

With that in mind I reviewed 2014 with a fresher eye and convinced myself that  despite the insanity of psychopathic ISIS rebels, doped-up Boko Haram militias, Vladimir Putin and the House GOP caucus, things weren’t so bad.

For example:

Barack Obama finally figured out that the country is actually OK with him playing “emperor”, which means ignoring the fools elected by amygdala-driven rural America and getting stuff done. Immigration, a minor climate change deal, Cuba, etc. Not cure-for-cancer or Jamie Dimon perp walk quality stuff necessarily, but something, for chrissake. Those moves set Mitch McConnell’s jowls flapping like they were caught out in a 100-mph derecho, but the clear consensus was … “What the hell took you so long?”

The last Congress was an obscene joke, with an approval rating a quarter of Obama’s. It was so indifferent to actual work it produced a fifth of the legislation of Harry Truman’s “Do-Nothing Congress”, while devoting countless hours to threatening to sue Obama for … doing something.

The fools have a majority for the next couple years, which means, as usual nothing will get done on anything big, unless you’re one of those who believe another pipeline full of filthy Canadian oil is the only way to “jump start the economy” and “provide quality jobs” … oh wait, that’s already happening. But I’m believing Obama has at long last found a way to function in face of the GOP’s constant 12 year-old girls-on-a-rollercoaster, full-amygdala freak out.

 

With the Michael Brown-Eric Garner-Tamir Rice (and on and on) cases filling headlines, it was a pretty bad year for unqualified cops. Now New York’s finest are making fools of themselves (when they should be accruing sympathy), by pretending that Bill DeBlasio is the first Mayor to treat them like, you know, public employees being held to a higher standard than street thugs. The hippocampus factor here is that a broader mass of the public has processed a clear pattern of what is really professional incompetence as much as anything else. Lacking knee-jerk public support for every episode of amygdala-panicked gunslinging, the actual adults among the nation’s cops may apply overdue pressure on the fools in their ranks.

 

In the media … KSTP-TV and Jay Kolls’ astonishingly overplayed “Pointergate” story was the obvious low-point for another year glutted with content-free, over-coverage of airline disasters, ditsy celebrity buffoonery, horse-race political “reporting”, a general lack of oversight of corporate tax manipulations (Medtronic being the exception that proves the rule) and fawning “access reporting” on government, business and cultural issues. But the KSTP-Kolls fiasco was such a blatant, cringe-inducing example of a reporter and organization being played for chumps by an agenda-driving source it has to have a chilling, which is to say spine-stiffening effect on every reporter who watched. Sources may not like it, but skepticism does protect your professional credibility.

Speaking of … . Kudos to crusty old Pat Reusse of the Strib for his recent column acknowledging the abundance of “sweetness” in local sports coverage. While I’m far more concerned about the PR work so-called business reporters do for local “job creators”, Reusse’s point is well taken and long overdue from someone of his stature. The sports beat is the classic example of “access reporting”. Watch every locker room stop talking to you the minute you tell the public what’s really going on. But come on, is any intelligent fan supposed to believe the pep rally prattle that comes out of every training camp? Fortunately, as the internet matures the options are both plentiful and credible. Over the past few years I’ve become a fan of Minnesota native Drew Magary, writing on Deadspin.com.  Were daily writers allowed Magary’s license for entirely appropriate vulgarity when describing the NFL ownership group and management Minnesota taxpayers may have saved themselves a quarter billion or more in stadium construction costs. Point being … the countdown to extinction of the stenographer sports writer has accelerated.

Likewise … as an unapologetic car guy, I’m forever dismayed at the shiv car dealer associations drive into the amygdala of every media outlet’s advertising sales manager at the first hint of unflattering coverage of some company’s latest over-teched hangar queen. So here’s a salute to writers like Doug DeMuro at Jalopnik (a sister site of Deadspin). Because they’re not feeding from the hind teat of GM, Mercedes, etc. they provide actual objective consumer information, like DeMuro’s classic series on trying to keep up with repairs on a used Range Rover or “The Myth of German Reliability”.  It goes without saying that both Magary and DeMuro also regularly provide a quality in dismaying short supply in the mainstream press … a good, righteous laugh.

Finally, (for now), as someone who believes few art forms thicken the old hippocampus better than good music, rock in particular, I was heartened by the favor millennial hipsters showered on The War on Drugs latest CD, “Lost in the Dream”. Amid a pop landscape glutted with cheesy, cookie cutter (faux) country acts, all contractually obligated to wear the same hat, and the uninterrupted parade of auto-tuned starlet diva/trainwrecks it was pure delight to hear a band kick it out and rock.  The lead singer’s mom force fed him a steady diet of Bob Dylan from his “Jokerman” era and it shows, to an effect appreciated on “Best of the Year” lists from Britain to West Hollywood.

Likewise, Spoon, another favorite had a good year, (with two stops in Minneapolis). And while neither dampened the panties of the uber hipsters, I much enjoyed the latest from The Kings of Leon and The Black Keys. Ditto, Pearl Jam’s October show at the Xcel … a Springsteen like tribal celebration that walled off the amygdala for days afterwards …

… until election night.

 

 

 

 

If Vikings Pick Punters “Strictly Based On Performance,” They Should Bring Back Kluwe

kluwe_censoredIn the wake of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s advocacy of gay marriage, Vikings Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer publicly said he was tired of Kluwe-related distractions, privately told Kluwe that the gays should be rounded up and nuked, and fired Kluwe and replaced him with an untested rookie.

Despite the timing of all these events, the Vikings vehemently denied that Kluwe was fired due to his activism. The Vikings released a statement assuring Minnesotans:

“Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.”

There you have it.  Not salary. Not age (he was 31, relatively young for punters). Not activism. “Strictly based his football performance.” The Vikings assured us that they run a pure meritocracy, and Kluwe’s performance just wasn’t up to snuff.

But that was always a head-scratcher. After all, the statistics show that Kluwe was the best punter in Vikings history. For instance, Kluwe is at the top of the heap in Vikings history in career punt average, at 44.4 yards per punt. Of course, punting is also about placement, but Kluwe is also number one in Vikings history in punts placed inside the 20-yard line.

Despite Kluwe’s impressive performace-based records, Kluwe was fired and replaced by Jeff Locke, a rookie who was completely untested in the NFL. Priefer assured Vikings fans that Locke had bested Kluwe during a brief closed-door punt-off at the Vikings’ practice facility. So, while Kluwe was statistically the best punter in Vikings history, Locke was, Coach Priefer assured us, going to be even better. Kluwe wasn’t even get a chance to compete for his job at training camp.  One closed-door punt-off supervised by Priefer, and the most accomplished punter in Vikings history was shown the door.

How is that working out for Priefer and the Vikings? Kluwe’s replacement Jeff Locke was named by the wonky analysts at Pro Football Focus as the single worst punter in the NFL. Bleacher Report elaborates:

While Kluwe may have been outspoken and a hassle at times, he certainly was able to get the job done from a punting perspective, something Locke has not been able to do through nearly two seasons.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Locke has received a combined rating of negative-20.8 since he entered the league in 2013, which is far and away the worst rating of any punter during this time fame. His negative-10.2 rating this season ranks dead last among 33 analyzed punters.

If it’s really true that Kluwe was replaced by Locke “strictly based on his football performance,” maybe Coach Priefer, or Priefer’s replacement, should be bringing back Kluwe for the 2015 season.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also published by MinnPost.

Daytonomics Drags MN to Disastrous 3.7% Unemployment Rate

DaytonomicsOver the last several years, Minnesota business leaders and conservatives like Tom Emmer and Jeff Johnson have predicted that Governor Dayton’s combination of 1) asking the wealthiest citizens to pay their fair share of taxes, 2) increasing the minimum wage and 3) refusing to enact Pawlenty-style government spending cuts would lead to disaster for the state’s economy.  This has been their war cry for years.

Minnesota business leaders are now here to tell us that their prediction has proven correct.

Following Dayton’s implementation of those three pillars of Datyonomics, Minnesota currently has a 3.7 percent unemployment rate.  Meanwhile, the Twin Cities metropolitan area has a 3.2 percent unemployment rate.

Minnesota’s 3.7 percent unemployment rate compares very favorably to the nation’s 5.8 percent rate.  It also looks strong next to the 6.0 percent unemployment rate corporate darling Mitt Romney boasted he could achieve by the end of 2016 if Romnomics polcies were enacted.  Conservative Romnomics –tax cuts for the wealthy, no mininum wage increase and massive government spending cuts — essentially would have been the polar opposite of Daytonomics.

While a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in the wake off Daytonomics may look like proof that conservatives and business leaders were incorrect about the destructive impacts of progressive policies, Twin Cities Business reports that Minnesota business leaders disagree. While they acknowledge that high unemployment under Daytonomics would have been bad news for the economy, they now stress that low unemployment under Daytonomics is also bad news for the economy.

“…some business leaders around the state had previously expressed worries about a cooling economy this winter, citing a potential labor shortage as the unemployment rate drops.”

To summarize, if the unemployement rate under the DFL Governor’s progressive policies would have remained at Pawlenty-era peaks (8.3 percent), that would have been proof that Daytonomics was hurting the state economy.  But now that unemployment under Dayton policies is low (3.7 percent), that is also evidence that Daytonomics is hurting the economy.

In other words, progressive Daytonomics simply cannot be considered a success. Just ask Minnesota business leaders and conservatives.

– Loveland

Where Are All Of Minneapolis’s Dead Birds?

By my count, the 35 tallest buildings in Minneapolis have about 1,200 stories, and all of them have a lot of windows, if not solid glass walls.   That’s a lot of glass.

minneapolis_skyline

Vikings_stadiumThe new Minnesota Vikings Stadium will be 30-stories at its highest point, and it has glass walls on part of it.   Therefore, bird advocates warn Minnesotans that the new stadium is going to be responsible for the death of about 1,000 birds per year, even with the lights turned off at night. So, they are demanding that the Vikings owners pay for polka dot windows, which apparently mitigates the birdocide, but is less beautiful to the Wilfs.

If that’s true, why don’t Minneapolitans currently see tens of thousands of dead birds lying around their glassy city?  That many bird corpses would be difficult to miss.  I’m very open to the possibility that this is simplistic thinking, but can someone explain where all the dead birds are?

Ad Agency Self-Gratification

South_Dakota_Yanks_‘Don_t_Jerk___Drive’_Campaign_--_NYMagA lot of us got a chuckle out of news that South Dakota public safety officials had launched, and abruptly aborted, a public education campaign about erratic driving practices. In case you missed it, the ad campaign used a double entendre– “don’t jerk and drive” — to caution South Dakota drivers to avoid jerking vehicle steering wheels too abruptly.  In the unlikely event that you don’t follow the entendre, think naughty and adolescent.

Entirely predictably, the residents of this no-nonsense midwestern state populated with plenty of senior citizens, religious people and conservatives didn’t appreciate the gag. After hearing from them, the state’s Department of Public Safety quickly jerked the campaign.

“I decided to pull the ad,” Trevor Jones, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. “This is an important safety message, and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

Equally predictably, the ad industry is now indignant that their cleverness has not been sufficiently appreciated by shallow-minded outsiders. Ad Week opines:

The campaign, from Lawrence & Schiller in Sioux Falls, was apparently getting great visibility—outperforming previous public safety campaigns 25 to 1 in terms of driving traffic to the DPS’s social media channels, according to the Argus Leader.

Maybe it’s the DPS who overcorrected here.

Ah yes, the familiar rejoinder of seemingly every ad agency who has ever embarrassed their client. “But look at all the attention it got?!”

Wrong Kind of Attention Generated

If simple campaign gag awareness were the only goal of ads, advertising would be pretty easy. One would only need to slap naughty or outrageous images and/or references into ads, and watch the social media sharing spike, for all the wrong reasons.

This agency was paid to get South Dakota drivers to focus on erratic driving. Through a flurry of campaign-related discussion over the last few days, I heard no one talking about the nature of the problem of erratic driving.  I heard no one talking about the specifics about how to do better. Instead, I heard tons of tee-heeing about masturbation. I heard angry ranting about stupid, naive and wasteful government officials. I heard debates about whether this was good or bad advertising.

That’s attention, but it’s the wrong kind of attention.  All of those those topics distract and detract from the intended mission-oriented message.

Wrong Tone For This Sponsor

Beyond spotlighting the public service message, another goal of the ad agency should be to enhance, or at least maintain, the long-term credibility of their client as a messenger and recipient of public funding. After all, if a campaign causes an ad sponsor to become less credible or funded, they lose their future ability to pursue the public education parts of their mission.

In this case, the ad agency’s ads caused the DPS, and South Dakota state government in general, to be ridiculed by the taxpayers and policymakers they rely on to fund their current and future operations. So, the agency failed their client on that level too.

It’s obviously a very different situation if an agency’s client has a brand that is provocative and edgy by design, such as Abercrombie, Axe, or Armnai. But the tonality needs of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety could hardly be more different than the tonality needs of those brands.  Lawrence & Schiller probably wishes DPS was a more edgy client, but ad agencies get the clients they are handed, not the clients they wish for.

Appealed to Wrong Audiences

Sure, some loved the campaign. And if South Dakota were a state dominated by adolescents, irreverent hipsters, ad industry employees, or Europeans (because we are constantly being reminded by ad industry folks that the Europeans aren’t nearly as repressed and humorless as Americans), “don’t jerk and drive” would have been a brilliant approach.

But the population of South Dakota looks a little different than that.  Again, ad agencies get the target audience they are handed, not the target audience they wish for.  And frankly, for an ad agency to act otherwise is nothing more than, well, self-gratification.

Liberals Protesting Bad Cops Need To Take On Unions

i_can_t_breatheWhether or not you think there was probable cause to indict white police officers accused in Ferguson, Cleveland and/or Staten Island, most of us agree that those were cases of very bad police work. Police officers have a difficult job, but it’s reasonable for citizens to expect that officers avoid escalating confrontations and rushing to use deadly force.

Bad cops happen, just as bad doctors, lawyers, and accountants happen. They’re a relative minority, but some who become cops prove to be too hot-headed, racist, stubborn, sexist, power-hungry, sadistic, fearful, ignorant, impulsive, cynical and/or socially unskilled to protect and serve well.   Every profession faces competence issues, but it’s a more pressing and dangerous problem with a profession that we arm, authorize to use deadly force and almost never hold accountable after-the-fact.

Bad cops may be a small group, but they are a small group that can create big problems. For instance, Vox notes:

 WNYC looked at over 51,000 cases where someone was charged with “resisting arrest” since 2009. They found that 40 percent of those cases — over 20,000 — were committed by just 5 percent of all the police officers on the force. And 15 percent of officers accounted for a majority of all “resisting arrest” charges.

The upshot of this data is that charging people with “resisting arrest” is something most cops do very rarely, and a few cops do a lot. Here’s why that matters: if a cop is routinely hauling people into court for resisting arrest, he might be taking an overly aggressive attitude toward civilians.

A police officer might even, as police accountability expert Sam Walker told WNYC, use the criminal charge to cover up his use of excessive force:

“There’s a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover – and that phrase is used – the officer’s use of force,” said Walker, the accountability expert from the University of Nebraska. “Why did the officer use force? Well, the person was resisting arrest.”

So why not just fire the relatively small group of bad cops who create big problems? A big reason is cop culture. Cops pride themselves in having each others’ backs, so they circle the wagons, even to the point of cover-ups, when one of their own is criticized. Police officers get overly defensive when they hear criticism from those who have never been in their shoes.

Outsiders probably can’t fix the problem with cop culture, but there is a part of the problem outsiders can fix.  Another reason bad cops don’t get fired is unions. In the name of job security, due process and fairness, unions make it more difficult to fire poor performers, as this Atlantic article details.

The solution? I agree with Atlantic author Connor Friedersdorf:

If at-will employment, the standard that would best protect the public, is not currently possible, arbitration proceedings should at a minimum be transparent and fully reviewable so that miscarriages of justice are known when they happen. With full facts, the public would favor at-will employment eventually.

I’m glad that liberals are protesting police abuse. But we need to also be pushing for at-will employment of police officers, or otherwise making it easier to remove bad cops, even if that upsets liberals’ union allies. If liberals are truly serious about reducing the number of abusive police officers on the streets, they can’t allow their solidarity with unions to continue to keep them from addressing this significant part of the problem.

Note:  This post also was published by MinnPost.

Why Are Cops Still Using Real Bullets?

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterOne facet of the current outrage over hyper-aggressive, racially-focused police work isn’t getting much attention, but it keeps rolling back in my alleged mind. It’s this: Why, in 2014 USA is the average beat cop still exercising “lawful” force with live ammunition?

The spate of demonstrations and high emotion surrounding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice (the 12 year-old in Cleveland) incidents will subside soon enough, replaced in the public’s attention by some new atrocity, Christmas shopping or speculation of what Leonard DiCaprio was planning to do with 20 supermodels. But until then it’s worth asking the question, “Why haven’t police departments been required to transition to non-lethal ammunition?”

Its been an established fact for decades that the average cop goes his/her entire career without firing their weapon. Obviously, firearms are standard issue equipment for the exceedingly rare incident where the cop confronts some truly lethal perp/psycho. But even then, in those remarkably rare moments when a lone cop or two is caught by surprise, the preferred outcome is to render the suspect immobile and pack him off to jail for the courts to decide his fate.

In the (even rarer) case where the police are in pursuit of an indisputably violent, gun-wielding offender, a situation where back-up is usually called in, it isn’t impossible to switch over to a “live” gun stashed in the cop car … or just let the SWAT team take over.

Without question, the usual suspects, the NRA and its most ardent, imbalanced, gun-fetishizing supporters will howl that replacing death-dealing bullets with rubber bullets (which stun and hurt like hell, especially at short distances) or chemical darts is a new low in lunatic, liberal criminal-coddling, a neutering of the last barrier of flexing machismo between the thug class and the huddled, fearful masses.

The response to that, as always, should be “[bleep] them.” That crowd is as unstable as any street “thug”.

Polling shows a wide gap between what white America and black America think of aggressive policing. And yes, it does matter that the former has almost no experience with an insecure cop freaking out at the sight of you, or getting hostile when asked why the hell he’s getting in your face? For blacks, even suburban professionals, that’s a common occurrence, and one that gets exponentially worse in predominantly black neighborhoods.

This situation wouldn’t be as bad if the average police force had a better pool of police candidates to choose from. But you get what you pay for. At standard salary rates, cop shops don’t exactly have the luxury of culling through the cream of decision-makers.

The cop who killed little Tamir Rice in Cleveland, blasting away before he even got out his car, was regarded as so dismally ill-equipped to make good decisions he was let go from a small town force before catching on with Cleveland’s finest … which never looked at the details of his work history.

I quote his previous commander’s assessment: “ … he would not be able to substantially cope, or make good decisions, during or resulting from any other stressful situation.”

Put bluntly, the guy was/is fundamentally unstable and in a sane world should never have been issued a gun permit, much less given what amounts to a license to kill.

Ditto Darren Wilson in Ferguson. A reading of the grand jury testimony paints a fairly clear picture of an insecure tough guy wannabe, his swagger bolstered by the goods on his hip. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of doubt left that Wilson incited the confrontation and then panicked when Brown (unwisely) told him to “[bleep] off.”

But had he, or the dimwit in Cleveland been firing rubber bullets or chemical darts, no one involved would be dead today, and the courts could have gone about their usual business of … exonerating the cops.

As for Eric Garner’s chokehold death on Staten Island, where would that story be if the cops weren’t on an arrest quota, a la “The Wire”? The guy’s back selling cigarettes. Write him a ticket and find something better to do.

Rolling Stone Failed the Basic Test

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s a maxim I like that says, “The art of good conversation is in knowing what not to say.” Somewhat along those lines we can add that the art of good editing is knowing what questions haven’t been asked.

As one of those whose coming of age coincided with the birth of Rolling Stone magazine, the University of Virginia gang rape story debacle has a personal edge to it. It’s hard to watch those for whom you once had great affection smear themselves with disgrace. While not exactly among the top tier of credible journalism — too many puff pieces of trendy, interchangeable pop stars with new product to sell — the magazine has retained its reputation for daring where others shrink back by regularly featuring people like Matt Taibbi, unquestionably the leading scourge of Wall Street fraud and manipulation.

But Taibbi and others of solid standing are going to be reevaluating their association with the magazine if Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s tale of a freshman woman being violently gang-raped in a UVA frat house completely dissolves down the drain, which is sure looks like it is about to do.

I only read the piece after it became a national cause celebre. But even as a consumer I was asking, “Where is the full reach-out to the alleged perps?”, “Who for sure knows this happened?” and “This poor girl was thrown through a glass topped table, then brutally gang-raped for hours and she has no signs of cuts or bleeding? What?”

Then came the flabbergasting explanations from Rolling Stone’s editors that they had “honored the victim’s request” not to talk to the men involved, out of concern for retaliation, supposedly. At that point the thick odor of cynical commercialism overwhelmed the episode. If you don’t have confirmation of the incident, you don’t have a story.

There’s enough interest that at some point in the not too distant future we may learn what really happened. My guess … guess … is that the victim, Jackie (apparently her real name), engaged in some kind of abusive sexual experience with someone(s) and fell into a depression over it. The way this thing is trending as of today suggests she very likely confabulated her experience/ordeal into something far more violent, with herself as an unequivocal victim.

At that point Erdely, shopping for a vivid, sensational story on which to build a case against big Universities for their ineffective sexual assault policies, seized on Jackie and then, as an advocate for Jackie’s search for justice, dialed out anything that might in any way weaken the story.

But how Rolling Stone, with a lot more to lose than one lone writer, consented to the terms of Erdely’s agreement with Jackie is beyond me, sort of. Taibbi has gone on record describing Rolling Stone’s fact-checking process as hellishly intense. But obviously intensity toward Erdely’s rape story was for all intents and purposes non-existent, since the editors were willing to dispense with full ascertainment of a charge of violent gang-rape against a group of young men whose identities have been readily speculated upon on the UVA campus and elsewhere.

Pretty clearly Erdely and Rolling Stone were looking for a blockbuster. This episode is a lot like their controversial, and I still say reprehensible cover of Boston marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There, the magazine cynically imbued the killer with celebrity sex symbol status for marketing impact. The story was solid. But the marketing was, as I say, nakedly cynical. (But hey, it doubled average newsstand sales. So what do I know?) Here, the irresistible impact of an outrageous story of a gang rape of a girl who could be anyone’s teenage daughter pretty clearly trumped the fundamental criteria of confirming if any of it is true.

Rolling Stone of course has a long history of marrying a well-told tale with semi-ascertainable facts. i mean, how much fact-checking did they ever really do on Hunter Thompson? His hilarious ramblings were of course 80% opinion and 20% figments of what was left of his imagination. Devoted readers knew what to take seriously and what was comic lubricant. But Hunter was ripping on venal politicians. He was not making stark assertions of violent gang rape.

If nothing else, Rolling Stone has a serious problem with Erdely and whoever her binky is in the editor’s suite. As we now know, a previous, sex-drenched saga from her developed a lot of serious holes after publication. And lest we forget, Erdely authored the 2012 feature on gay teenage suicides in “Michele Bachmann’s home district”. That one is holding water for the moment. But conservatives are on the attack.

The larger issue is that the culture needs more credible, popular outlets for investigative journalism, not less. Shameless freak shows like FoxNews will always draw a crowd and make money. The great trick of righteous indignation, like Matt Taibbi pulls off, and Erdely has projected, is getting it right.

 

 

 

Nostalgic for Nye’s.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterNot being all that big on nostalgia, I’m conflicted about the closing of Nye’s Polonaise. Like pretty much everyone who ever walked in, I love the place. If it was in New Jersey you could easily imagine a couple Joe Pesci-wannabes and their gumars hunkered in one of the banquettes. Slickly pompadoured dudes casually discussing whose skull was going next into the vise, while tapping their ring fingers to the polka music.

The vibe at Nye’s was/is “real”, as in earned, acquired and self-created. It exudes an emphatically male persona, which in itself is pretty nostalgic concept. There is no taint of being manicured, color and aroma-coordinated by some chirpy fashionista. What’s there, the red leather, the paneling, the carpeting and the bar was there before there “themes” were a prerequisite for opening for business. Nye’s pre-dates Irish-Asian fusion.

You walk in and the overwhelming impression is “authentic”. A sense that applies to the staff as well. Guys like bartender Dan (never learned his last name, nor he mine) make it feel like you were the guy he’s been looking forward to seeing for weeks, which worked well when you dragged in friends from out of town, or even a complete stranger, like the businessman from Phoenix we hauled over after a couple hours at Brit’s one deep January night.

I can’t make it sound like I live there. But the mere mention sparks a flood of memories. Christmas parties, mid-winter happy hours, going away cocktails, “business lunches”, (love the steak salad). The pleasantly boozed up sing-a-longs with Nordeast geezers and delighted U of M under-grads, half with fake IDs I’m convinced.

I actually believe the “authentic” vibe led to a better quality of conservation. Bullshit befits a bullshit theme watering hole. And it jars in a place that feels so genuine. But that’s just a theory. I’m still work-shopping that one.

It so happens Nye’s is currently owned by a shirtsleeve relative of mine, Rob Jacobs. He’s married to my cousin’s daughter. Nice guy. Only met him a few times, but I get his dilemma. The supper club era is over. The physical structure is kind of a mess and … there’s a fortune to be made in leveling it for a 30-story condo complex.

Apparently thought is being given to holding on to some aspect of Nye’s as the gilded tower rises on the site and fills with the sort of people who, well, advise developers and restaurateurs on what cultural imitation to ape next, what colors to paint it, what “active” music to pie in, how to dress the staff and where to stash cash flow to avoid taxes. But I doubt much will come of whatever they’re thinking other than a plaque in the lobby next to the condo concierge.

For a moment I thought it’d be worth trying the Manhattan trick of building over the joint. They pulled it off with a similar old bar, Reidy’s on 54th St in New York. And you figure it wouldn’t be so tough to yank out the banquettes and bar(s) and all the old photos and slap ‘em back into a new space, that wasn’t a firetrap. But really, that’s nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. It wouldn’t be Nye’s. It’d be a calculated impression of Nye’s with as much visceral linkage to the Nye’s I love as a Six Flags arcade has to Dodge City of the Old West.

Not that nostalgia doesn’t sell. What is modern country music but a calculated nostalgia act? Simple guys. Simple gals. Simple truths. Ditto “classic rock”: Music to remind us of when we were young and on the prowl.

Likewise, what is the ceaseless stream of inane sit-coms on network TV but an appeal to nostalgia for an era (what era?) of uncomplicated, easily-sustained relationships? Or the dramas? Impossibly good-looking guys and gals solving twisty Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries in 42 minutes or less. And let’s not get too deep into politics, where every viable candidate is required to play a variation on June or Ward Cleaver. Or, God help us, organized religion, where nostalgia is cultivated and monetized by way of tribal fables two and three millennia old.

Point being, we’re practically drowning in nostalgia for things that either never were or were only briefly, and even then with little or no reality attached.

Still, a great bar is a kind of environmental device for pushing away the most intractable realities, if only for as long as it takes to knock back two or three drinks. And in that way I’ll celebrate Nye’s over the next few months, and then remember it with great fondness.

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons Why Thanksgiving Is The Best Holiday

Hand_turkeyThere isn’t a whole lot to Thanksgiving. A day off, a parade, a big meal and a couple of usually boring football games. No breathtaking gifts, costumes, or fireworks.

So why do I love it more than all the other holidays?

Reason #1: It’s more universal and inclusive than many holidays. Religious holidays like Ramadan, Easter, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, and Yom Kippur are special for their respective practitioners.  But they aren’t experiences that we can share broadly with other friends, neighbors and co-workers. Not everyone embraces Thanksgiving, but it seems like it has more participants than religion-based holidays. Thanksgiving’s celebration of blessings and gratitude can be spiritual and/or secular in nature, whichever the celebrant prefers.  And in a tense pluralistic society, we need all the shared celebrations we can get.

Reason #2: It’s relatively non-commercialized. I make a big Thanksgiving meal for family and friends, but it doesn’t require weeks of preparation and a huge investment.   I also love Christmas, New Years, Fourth of July and Halloween, but the way some celebrate those holidays can be pretty expensive. For example, Americans now spend more than $7 billion per year on Halloween.  Thanksgiving, at least the way we do it, is relatively simple, affordable and approachable.

Reason #3: It’s nap-friendly. What other holiday are you allowed, expected even, to have a little shuteye mid-event? In a nation where lack of sleep is now considered a public health epidemic, a lazy, trytophan-laced holiday is awfully nice.

Reason #4: It’s effectively four straight days off. In the most overworked nation in the developed world, days off are precious commodities. For many, Thanksgiving delivers four consecutive days off.   How awesome is that? Not everyone gets a four day weekend out of the deal, but lots of people do, and that beats the heck out of all those one-day holidays.

Reason #5: Thankfulness makes us happy. The number one thing most of us want out of life is to be happy, and a day dedicated to contemplation about all of the blessings in our lives makes me very happy.  There is a lot of science proving that being less self-centered is effectively self-serving.

For example, this 7-minute video shows how contemplating gratitude makes us happier, and expressing gratitude to another person makes us happier still.  Watch it.  It’s a more meaningful Thanksgiving pre-game show than John Madden offers.

Science_of_Happiness_video

Thanksgiving isn’t perfect. Native Americans certainly have every reason to be resentful of uninformed pilgrim glorification, though that part of the holiday does seem to have faded from prominence over the years. Moreover, a decent meal remains beyond the reach of too many families, much less a feast.  We can make Thanksgiving better by adding more generosity and historical candor into the traditional recipe.  But all things considered, I’m always awfully thankful when Thanksgiving rolls around.

Note:  This post was also published in MinnPost.

Complicity in the Bill Cosby Cover-Up Runs Deep

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThe “outing” of Bill Cosby as, well what else can we call it but as a “serial rapist”? has kicked off a moment of journalistic soul-searching. It isn’t all that widespread and it won’t last long, but it’s a flicker of light worth prodding toward something more substantial.

But first, my one and only inter-raction with the man. It 
was the late ‘90s if I recall and Cosby was in town to give one 
of his ministerial speeches on the topic of family/male/black male responsibility. After more than the usual back and forth with his people I was granted a 10-minute window for an interview. As a lifelong fan as far back as his “Wonderfulness’ LP, which I wore out on the old Lambert family Magnavox, I was still expecting if not an affable, good-humored pro of the show biz game, a kind of Bob Hope with street cred, at least something other than a self-important dick.

It didn’t go well. Cosby clearly found the whole … 10-minute chat … a tedious ordeal (admittedly, I get that a lot), and his “person”, a middle-aged male toadie who looked as though he’d be beheaded if the boss were asked something he didn’t want to answer, interrupted virtually every (harmless) question for re-phrasing into something Bill would rather talk about, which, frankly was very little beyond his usual boilerplate of “pull up your pants and be (my idea of a) man”. Put another way, the interview lasted about eight minutes too long.

The broader point to this whole still unfolding saga, a multi-pronged tragedy, is again both how little we the public truly know about celebrated public figures and how our culture’s myth-making machinery sends down roots far deeper than reality. (For regular readers, this is an echo of my embarrassing infatuation with John Edwards.)

The media mea culpas going around include one from one of black culture’s most inightful and provocative critics, Ta-Nehisi Coates, who cops to not pushing Cosby hard enough, in a story seven years ago, on assertions already made against him by over a dozen women. Says Coates in his recent Atlantic web piece, “ … it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn’t just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history.

One of the great revolutions in American cultural consciousness-raising would be a campaign to demystify celebrity myth-making. But rational skepticism about the show biz famous is not particularly welcome, even in places supposedly committed to it. If you ask, almost every pop news consumer understands fairly well the business plans of celebrity magazines/media and all their inanity-worshipping stepsisters, the “lifestyle” outlets of one silly sort or another. Not that the average consumer thinks about it much, but if you ask they’ll concede it’s all just a selling game.

A game they consume voraciously.

But as bad as the vast mass of all that celebrity silliness is, clogging our cultural arteries with stupendous flows of irrelevant non-news at best and pure, free publicity at worst, the problem is compounded by an unwillingness of so-called “serious” journalism to apply even the most minimal counter-balance.

I spent more time than I care to remember playing willing shill for the Hollywood hype-machine, interviewing the famous and beautiful with only rarely an untoward or impertinent question. (OK, I was thrown off the so-called “junket circuit” three different times for such transgressions. But because I “gave good profile”, I was eventually invited back.) But that was while working for a free weekly. When I arrived at a supposedly bona fide daily newspaper I had some (seriously misplaced) expectations that, at long last due skepticism would be encouraged … rewarded … cheered.

A guy has rarely been more wrong. The sad fact is that the features departments of mainstream newspapers, even the good ones, (and I wasn’t working at one of those), exert little to no skeptical energy on their show biz subjects. More to the point, they don’t tolerate “cynical”, “negative” rogue writers applying it independently.

From (long) direct experience I can tell you the features end of daily newspapering is completely happy and comfortable serving as yet another layer of the show biz publicity machinery. (If only those cash-strapped papers got a cut of the tickets they helped to sell.) The guiding (focus-group tested) rationale being that readers want the paper to reflect and enhance their excitement and delight in “the stars”, which is to say, the paper’s job is to magnify what “the stars’ ” publicity machinery has already established. (It goes without saying that local TV news, a show biz sales game in itself — morning, noon and night — hasn’t even imagined a skeptical thing to say about celebrities, other than an errant choice of a red carpet gown, or a Justin Bieber-like meltdown.

It’s easy to understand Mr. Coates’ dilemma. Here’s a prominent figure among the black intelligentsia (Coates) conflicted over a direct attack on a revered black icon, (Cosby). The record will show there are plenty of people undermining influential black leadership figures, so why would a young black intellectual add his name to that barrage?

Ironically, the predominantly white managers of mainstream news organizations, no doubt assessed the racial liabilities of reporting the accusations against Cosby as well, and demurred … until the tidal wave granted everyone cover to “reassess”.

But that’s Cosby. What of the mega-tonnage of so-called “journalism” heaped on show biz personalities of all persuasions with for all intents and purposes no application of skeptical perspective at all? Obviously, serial rape is a special level of depravity. But I can assure you that Bill Cosby isn’t the only revered celebrity icon who has successfully marketed a persona wildly out of step with his true nature, and marketed it with the full, albeit unwitting complicity of the allegedly responsible professional media.

Would we really be worse off if professional journalists refused to be a part of the bullshit brigade?

 

 

 

́

MN Loses A Treasure: Reporter Jim Ragsdale

Jim_RagsdaleVeteran Twin Cities political reporter Jim Ragsdale was smart, decent, savvy, warm, and oh-so witty. Pancreatic fucking cancer got him today at 64 years old, and I’m going to miss him like mad.

Great musicians get their most heartfelt ovations when they come out to present one of their masterpieces as an encore.  So, the best way I can think of to honor my pal Rags is to feature one of his many masterpieces as an encore:

Minnesota — broke, a little bloated, and now looking for a new love

By Jim Ragsdale

Updated: 05/20/2010 05:58:46 PM CDT

He goes on long trips without explanation. He comes home and criticizes my appearance, even as he pays greater attention to his own image. Where there once was fondness and love, now all I get is, ‘Your taxes are too high! You’re spending too much! You have to cut back!’

I hate to say it after seven wonderful years, but I, Minnesota, can avoid the truth no longer. My governor, Tim Pawlenty, is seeing someone else.

Am I the last to figure this out? My neighbors, particularly, Iowa, said he has been seen there often, giving their presidential voters the affection I once received. Bigshot pundits who are on the make for a new star delight when he trashes me. But I thought that was, you know, just business, and not really serious.

I admit I have problems. My taxes and spending are on the heavy side — although I’m not as bulky as he likes to say. But hey, I’m Minnesota. I think I carry the weight well. And he knew all this going in back in ’03, when all was kisses and hugs. Why is he dumping me now for slimmer, sexier states?

Sorry — my bitterness occasionally gets the best of me. Deep breaths — in, out. Now, let me give you the whole sad story.

Gov. Tim was born and raised in Minnesota. He has lived and studied and worked here his whole life and he seemed to really care about me. We both knew there were things he didn’t like. He’s “red” and I always go “blue” in presidential years. He’s a fiscal conservative and I have a long tradition of high taxes and generous services.

But he was so cute back when he became governor in 2003. He had a charming way of saying he would try to nudge me in his direction, understanding that I was Minnesota, after all, and would never be, say, Texas or Mississippi. And he did just that. He pushed and prodded and battled and got me shaped up pretty good.

He said he loved my forests and lakes and trees and blue skies, and he was very protective and passionate. Green — good heavens the man was green!

That’s why I loved him back then, despite our differences, and why voters put him back in office for a second term, beginning in 2007. We were pretty happy for a while longer, at least as far as I knew. I never failed to deliver the goods on walleye opener — how ’bout that 22-incher at Kabetogama on Saturday? — and I know he appreciated that.

Then, almost overnight, everything changed.

That bigshot John McCain put him on the V.P. shortlist in 2008, getting him around the nation to red-hot audiences. And right after that, Jan. 20, 2009, happened. A new president — a blue president — took office. Gov. Tim began talking more about national politics and about running for president himself.

He began wandering. First to Iowa. Then New Hampshire. The South. Even the West. States that were trimmer and more red-hot than me.

I saw it but I didn’t see it — know what I mean?

Those floozy states were filling his head with ideas about how great he is, how good-looking and smart and presidential. I couldn’t compete with that. I was broke and a little bloated — just trying to keep home and hearth together — and when he came back, I could tell he no longer had that gleam in his eye.

I’d display my woods and waters and he’d be on the cell-phone with someone in South Carolina. We’d run into our usual budget problems and all he do is scold me to reduce eligibility here, cut benefits there, slim down all over. “Stop snacking on Local Government Aid!” he’d say. “They’re just empty calories!

I am so tired of hearing that.I thought of hiring a private investigator. But then I saw the evidence in black and white, from Eastern pundits. They said the only way he can get love from them is to withdraw it from me. It’s right here in the Wall Street Journal — every time he calls me fat and ugly, he wins points with them.

And trust me, the verbal abuse makes it worse, because when I’m stressed, I tend to binge on the K-12 funding formula.

Well, I may be dowdy and past my prime. I will always suffer through seasonal cold and hot flashes. But I’m not ignorant. The last thing I need, in the middle of a severe bout of economic recession, is my governor trashing me.

So I hereby free him to transfer his affections to those red-state red-hots, those governor-grabbing gigolos, those low-tax lovergirls who have turned his head.

As for me, I’ll survive. I’m getting my budget balanced and I’m having some work done on the out-biennium. But like I said, I’m Minnesota. I’ll always have big bones.

There are a lot of fish in the political sea, of the blue and red and even purplish variety, who will be darn proud to be seen with me. I wish him well in his quest for national stardom. And I hereby issue this request for proposals: I’m looking for a new Gov to be my true love.

No one will ever do “politics on wry” quite like Jim Ragsdale.  Rest in peace JImbo.

Loveland

MN GOP Beware:  Biking and Pedestrian Improvements Have Broad Appeal

rura_bikingMinnesota Republicans captured control of the Minnesota House of Representatives in part by fueling urban versus rural resentment:  “Those metro-centric DFLers give everything to Minneapolis and St. Paul.”  The truth is, turnout trends associated with non-presidential year elections were a much bigger reason why the DFL lost control of the Minnesota House. But this “core cities versus the rest of us” theme was definitely a big part of the  Minnesota GOP’s 2014 campaign, and a lot of analysts are convinced that is why Republicans won.  For instance, MinnPost’s excellent reporter Briana Bierschbach noted:

“…Republicans had a potent message, too, and it was a simple one: Rural Democrats had left their constituents behind by voting with their Minneapolis and St. Paul leadership.”

Exhibit A in the Republican’s rural victimization case was funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure, something Republican’s often characterize as “metrocentric.”  In other words, they maintain it isn’t of interest to suburban, exurban or rural citizens.  For instance, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson tried to appeal to non-urban votes with this riff:

“We have spent billions of dollars on trains, trollies, bike paths, and sidewalks, but not nearly enough on the basic infrastructure most Minnesotans use every day: our roads and bridges.”

Beyond the campaign trail, that theme also has sometimes been a battle cry during Met Council transportation planning discussions.  Finance and Commerce reports that:

“The suburban counties argue that the Met Council’s transportation investment plan emphasizes urban transit, bike and pedestrian options at the expense of highways, which they say could cause further congestion and safety issues.”

However, a survey released today calls the Republicans’ assumption into question. The poll found majority support in every region of the state for additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.  The random sample of 1,000 Minnesotans sponsored by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition found that the strongest support was in St. Paul and Minneapolis (71% support).  However, there was roughly the same high level of support in the suburbs, which are key political battlegrounds because that’s where population is growing most rapidly:

  • Western metro suburbs:  69% support.
  • East metro suburbs:  70% support.

Even in rural areas, a strong majority support funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements:

  • Central Minnesota:  64% support.
  • Southern Minnesota:   57% support.
  • Northern Minnesota:  56% support.

In other words, if a politician mentions the DFL’s support of bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding in rural Minnesota they’re more likely to help the DFLer than hurt them.

The moral of the story is that the appeal of pedestrian and biking infrastructure improvements is hardly limited to the hipsters and fitness freaks in the core cities.  Politicians who campaign or govern based on that false assumption may have a rude awakening.

– Loveland

Note:  This also was published on streets.mn, Twin Cities Daily Planet, and MinnPost.

Give to the Max, In Context

retro_calculatorThe 120,000 Minnesota small donors who heroically pulled together to pool an $18 million donation during yesterday’s  Give MN’s “Give to the Max Day” should be very proud of themselves.

They set an all time record!  Wooo hooo. That’s the power of the grassroots.

But just to put that in context, consider that:

  • If KSTP-TV owner Stanley Hubbard donated 1% of his estimated $2.1 billion net worth, his donation would be $21 million, 28% more than the 120,000 Minnesotans gave.  Even after such a large donation, Stanley would still have $2.08 billion dollars left over to put fishsticks on his table.

The “giving to the max “ of these 120,000 big hearted Minnesotans is noble and notable.  But honestly, this kind of news story must be greeted with a “well isn’t that adorable” chuckle from the wealthiest Minnesotans.

– Loveland

Empty Newsrooms Aggravate Pointergate-Type News Gaffes

Betsy_Hodges_pointing_gangI can’t see into the heads and hearts of KSTP-TV reporter Jay Koll’s and his editors, so I can’t tell you if their Pointergate story was racially, commercially or politically motivated.

When a reporter at a station owned by a large political donor immediately jumps to the unlikely conclusion that a black man and a politician pointing at each other is evidence of the politician’s support of criminal gangs, these are certainly fair questions to raise.   But based on my dealings with reporters and editors over the last thirty years, I’d guess that the airing of the Pointergate story probably had a little to do with the biases that we all can fall prey to, and a little to do with what I like to call the Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion.

The Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion, is a cousin of Newton’s First Rule of Motion, which states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  That is, once a reporter puts a story in motion — interviewing a source, getting editorial approval to pursue the story, making a few calls, Googling a bit, and gathering video tape — the story will almost certainly be aired, even if it begins to reveal itself as lightly substantiated, unsubstantiated or demonstrably false.

It’s simple inertia.  Stories in motion tend to stay in motion.

Newsroom_workforce_chartThe Newsroom’s First Rule of Motion has always been a force, but it has become much more of a force since news organizations starting losing lots of money, and newsrooms consequently started getting much smaller.  These days, if a reporter invests time in a story, and the story turns out to be lame, sparsely populated newsrooms have fewer stories in their pipeline to fill the news hole.  Resource-wise, there is very little ability for unsubstantiated stories to die natural deaths.

Because of this, the small group of remaining editors are less likely to seriously question or kill a weak or false story.  Instead, they rationalize: “Well, we called the accused, so we’ll let viewers decide.”

As a result of this lack of responsible editing, we are treated to Mayor Hodges being forced to explain why pointing at someone is not ipso facto evidence of being pro-gangsta.

How do I know editors have become less likely to kill flawed stories?  I don’t have research, just observations.  I work in media relations, which occasionally calls for me to plead a client’s case to editors.   Years ago, editors as a group were much more likely to give clients a fair hearing, and occasionally conclude that a demonstrably lame or false story should not run.  Today, that almost never happens.

I have to believe that that is partly because financially stressed businesses can’t afford to have scarce hours, days or weeks of reporter time go for naught.  Like everyone employed by for-profit ventures, reporters and editors have productivity pressures.

Of course, there are other types of problems associated with lightly populated newsrooms.  With weaker newsrooms, it’s easier for scoundrels to get away with evil-doing, because there aren’t as many reporters available to put in the substantial amount of time and shoe leather that is often required to uncover evil-doing.

Whether because they are airing stories that should never air or missing stories that should be aired, smaller newsrooms make for less truth and light in our communities.

To be clear, I’m not saying Mr. Kolls and his editor should get a free pass for the Pointergate fiasco.  Whatever the actual reasons that the story aired, it is a preposterous story with ugly ramifications.  But I am saying that in addition to worrying about the bias issues associated with this specific story, we also should be worried about the lack of newsroom checks to prevent future unsubstantiated stories from airing.

– Loveland