My Experience with Our “Best in the World” Health Care System

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterA personal experience with our best-in-the-world health care system … .

So my lovely wife and a group of friends are enjoying a long weekend in the Santa Cruz area this past April. Wine, cook outs, bawdy tales … the usual. All very relaxing. But after a stroll through some nearby redwoods we drop in at a pleasant little bistro .. where I’m attacked. By a pulled pork sandwich. One minute I’m happily hoovering the thing off the plate, sauce slobber splattering the one clean shirt I have left. The next moment a glob of ex-pig is lodged in my gullet, unwilling to move down … or up.

I’ll spare you the regurgitative details (with sound effects) of the next 90 minutes as I tried a range of contortions to get the fiend to shift and slide, except to say I was eventually convinced by the Mrs. and a couple pals to go to … a hospital, where an expert could do the Roto-Rooter work.

Three hospitals later we found an Emergency Room set up to do the job. Were I surfer with a shark bite I might have been allowed in at the first stop.

Once in the building we began treatment, by which I mean repeated visits from clerical workers checking insurance and painstakingly re-identifying me, my residence, my medical history and my family’s medical history. There were at least five variations of this, as though I might get mistaken for the only other patient on the floor at that moment, a very elderly woman suffering from a babbling dementia.

The decision was made to first — see if I could pass the demon on my own. When it became obvious the thing had its claws deep into my esophagus and wasn’t going anywhere without a fight, decision #2 was to summon the on-call doctor, who, this being a beautiful Saturday in California I assumed was either tending his vineyard, test driving a Tesla or trying to talk his trophy wife out of more liposuction.

Two hours later the doctor arrived. A very nice gentlemen — everyone was nice, even the series of accounting internists re-checking that I wasn’t 85, female and demented.

Cutting the medical part of the story short, somewhere into the fourth hour, I was told to change into the inevitable butt-out-the-back hospital gown, helped into a wheel chair, rolled down a series of halls to an Operating Room, assisted up on the table, given a general anesthetic … (“100, ninety … zzzz.”), and woken back up 12 minutes later, free of the demon glob.

The “operating” doctor explained he simply rammed the auger in and pushed the monster down into my vast beckoning gut. No biggie. Very routine. He apologized for the inconvenience on my holiday, hoped I’d be back in Santa Cruz soon and told my wife the hospital would cover the cost of the half hour taxi ride back to where we were staying.

So … flash forward to three days ago when I received a bill from the hospital system controlling the facility where all these friendly, capable, fact re-checking people work.

Now, we all know that what hospitals charge for their services in not based on anything rooted in the natural world or competitive marketplace. It’s why our system is “the best in the world”. If you have insurance, which we do, no one gives a damn. All the hospital wanted from us was $75 … or roughly the cost of the complimentary cab ride.

As Steven Brill explained in his classic piece “A Bitter Pill”, hospitals pretty much make the numbers up. Like George R.R. Martin dreaming up character names and places in “Game of Thrones.” “Thousand” always sounds better than “hundred”. And who says an aspirin can’t cost $75? Or the plastic cup you’re spitting up in wouldn’t be more “fun” priced at say, oh , $400?

Anyway, given the (competent) service I was given in Santa Cruz and asked what I thought my insurance would be charged, and understanding the fantasy-based pricing that makes the cost of our health care far and away the most expensive in the world, I would have said the total coast, with ludicrous premiums and surcharges, might have spiked as high as … um … $5000. Wild guess. Crazy shit. The 12-minute Operating Room procedure being the only high-skill event of the day, unless you premium-price the medical history re-checkers.

Have you made a guess at the actual charge?

How does $16,000 sound?

Sixteen freaking thousand. I flipped the bill over to see if they were confusing me with the demented grandmother’s 40-day stay ICU stay and associated experimental drug regimen. Nope. Just me and my tangy pork bolus.

Naturally nothing was itemized. So I called HealthPartners here in Minnesota. Their policy does not allow them to give patients a hard copy of the itemized invoice, but the (very pleasant) woman was happy to read me the charges, which include $2000 for the “Recovery Room”. This would be the tiny curtained off space where I woke up and was allowed to struggle back into my underwear and pants.

After ranting a bit about the utter science fiction of this pricing, i apologized and told her I just needed to vent.

“It’s OK. I understand. It happens a lot. I think its crazy, too. But these costs fit with the contracts we have.”

“Do you ever challenge these costs?”

“Only somewhat. As long as they’re within with the contract range, we’ll pay.”

(Yesterday I had a follow-up visit with a local gastroenterologist. The allergy that sets off these glob attacks is under control. But I run the Santa Cruz action by him and ask him to guess at the bill. He thinks for a couple seconds, “Four, five thousand.” When I tell him $16,000, he shakes his head. “It makes no sense. It’s the worst system on the planet.”)

A second call, to the actual hospital’s accounting department, in California, was your typical phone tree hell. Four minutes of pressing “1″, pressing “3″ and then “5″  and entering codes and invoice numbers before being connected to a woman who after taking the same information all over again put me on hold and then came back to say that my records had been sent another department, which she transfered me to … until I was disconnected.

Bottom line: The Health Partners of our “best in the world” system can afford to be completely sanguine about absurd hospital system charges because they have an epic cash flow, from you and me, sustaining their costs.

By contrast, can you imagine State Farm shrugging off a $10000 charge from some body shop for a new hood for your hail-dented Yugo?



Viking Coach Priefer Still Doesn’t Get It

Mike_Priefer_nuke_gaysEveryone makes mistakes, but the key is to learn the right lesson from the mistake and move on.  That’s the message being stressed by the Minnesota Vikings leadership in the wake of discovering that their Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer had been lying to them about making breathtakingly ugly anti-gay remarks in an attempt to stop punter Chris Kluwe from championing gay rights off-the-field.

That’s a good message.  Yesterday we learned that Coach Priefer is all about the “move on” part of that message.  But the “learn the right lesson” part?  Not so much.

Priefer did appear to learn some lessons:  If you lie, you might get caught.  And if you lie and get caught, that can embarrass you, your family and your team.

Those are lessons all right.  But are they truly the most important lessons?

Coach Priefer was given the golden opportunity at the news conference to prove that he had learned the most important lessons.  As the Star Tribune reported:

Priefer got emotional when asked what he regretted most about what transpired between him and Kluwe.

The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” Priefer said, choking up as he finished his sentence.

Wrong answer, Coach.

When you say that we should round up a group of human beings, put them on an island to be murdered, your biggest regret should not be that the remark created embarrassing publicity.  Your biggest regret should be that you said something unbelievably hateful and hurtful about your fellow man.  You should regret that you infected the world with verbal violence that, intended or not, really does feed and rationalize actual violence against gays and lesbians.   You should regret that you stood in the way of the cause of equality and freedom of speech when you bullied an employee who championed those uniquely American values.

Those are the right lessons, the more meaningful lessons.

Coach Priefer clearly still thinks everything is all about football.  Human rights?  Sure, whatever.  Hate speech feeding hate crimes?  Shrug.  Freedom of speech?  Whatever.  No, Mike regrets that he got caught slamming Kluwe and the gays because it created a distraction from football and an embarrassment to his football organization.  Football, football, football.

I hope someone is dreaming up an industrial strength sensitivity class for this guy, because it is going to take one kick ass class for him to get it.  In that class, they need to show Priefer how many morons with heads full of Priefer-esque “jokes” humiliate, maim and kill people, solely because of who they love.  They need to show examples of how power-drunk employers throughout history have punished African Americans, women, workers’ rights champions and others courageous enough to stand up for American values.

I also hope they line up a management class for Priefer’s boss, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer who told the Pioneer Press:

“I’ve had a chance to visit with Mike Priefer on numerous occasions, almost every single day, to find out what kind of person he is,” Zimmer said. “I knew his father. I know what kind of family guy he is. He made a mistake. So I just go by what I see; I don’t go by what I hear.”

“I just go by what I see, not by what I hear.”  Are you serious?  This guy just repeatedly lied to you, and you’re still saying that you  just go by what you see when you look at the guy and his background?

With that kind of attitude, Coach Zimmer is poised to sweep all kinds of future personnel problems under the rug.  Allegations of sexual violence, domestic abuse, or criminal activity?  “I just go by what I see, not by what I hear about those allegations, and I don’t see a rapist when I look him in the eye.”

The Vikings organization’s words and actions show that it looks upon Priefer’s “nuke the gays” remark as a PR embarrassment, and little more.  Make it go away with some obligatory spin. But they need to take off their football goggles for a brief second to learn the truly important lessons stemming from this ugly episode.

- Loveland

Still Waiting for the State GOP’s “Winning Strategy”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterJust a crazy, hysterical notion here … .

I’m not sure Minnesota’s Republicans have quite figured out the winning strategy for this November’s elections. The national crowd isn’t much better, but they’ve got games going in places like Kentucky and Mississippi and Georgia, hotbeds of 21st century conservative zealotry and deep-thinking, so they have an advantage.

Minnesota is a little different. The whole Kenyan Muslim Socialist selling the country out to terrorists while destroying our best-in-the-world medical system thing doesn’t play quite as well around here as in South Bogaloosa. Or at least it needs to be dressed up quite a bit to be presentable in public.

In part, that explains the four GOP contenders dialing back on the social issue pandering. But the recent assertion that the miserable state of the local economy, in particular Mark Dayton’s steering of said economy into a sludge-filled ditch will be the focus of the campaign also leaves me a bit skeptical in terms of efficacy.

Now, granted we are in the final weeks of primary season, when the game is all about rallying every registered Republican who listens to six hours a day or more of AM 1280 The Patriot. But still, the economy? That’s what they see as their best shot?

Again, the targeted primary voter would rip Dayton even if he cut their taxes to Medtronic levels, brought in the reincarnation of Ayn Rand to home school their kids, re-paved their driveway and gassed up the family Yukon — the one with the star-spangled license plate and the waving flag sticker that says, “Fear This.” But what then for the general election, back in the pesky world of the “reality-based”? What does the GOP have for that rather crucial slice of the electorate?

There probably aren’t five people of any persuasion who don’t think “the economy” should be better. Every “corporate inversion”-minded CEO, every hardware store operator and Caribou barista will tell you they’d like more money — i.e, a better economy — in their pockets. But given a choice between the party who many will remember wasted its recent majority at the local legislature on tone deaf notions like Voter ID, opposing gay marriage and multiple votes to suppress or rollback abortion rights and the guy who had to restore some order and discipline after the godawful fiscal mess left from Tim Pawlenty’s careerist reign, the choice is pretty easy.

And it remains fairly easy even when the various candidates try to roll “the horror” of Obamacare, or (gasp!) the MNsure website, into their economic message. Where for example do they get a credible metric that says Obamacare isn’t considered an asset by the majority of Minnesotans? Moreover, when “shrewd” businessmen like Mike McFadden wander off the empirical ranch and start talking about replacing Obamacare with something else … something “market-based” and “patient-oriented” — a Minnesotan who actually intends to vote is by now familiar enough with Mitt Romney-style boardroom gobbledygook and corporate-speak to dismiss him as yet another political variant of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland. You know: “There’s no there there.”

And speaking of tone-deaf out past the barbed wire … . Where do you even begin with a guy like Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson promising to “go all Scott Walker” on Minnesota if he can just, A. Get elected himself, and B. Get that dang majority of anti-abortionists, homophobes and election fraud conspiracists back at work?

Scott [bleeping] Walker !? I have to assume that a self-proclaimed smart guy like Johnson has, again, some credible metric showing how much better Wisconsin’s economy is performing than Minnesota’s, because it sure as hell hasn’t appeared in any study or survey produced anywhere other than low-power talk radio.

As I mentioned after Romney cratered two years ago and the national GOP began its extensive soul-searching, (okay they issued a press release and then roared back to tin foil hat business-as-usual), the GOP has a future if it can talk coherently and credibly about some issue, any issue, presumably economic, that has direct positive effect on the middle-class. Screw all the trickle down blather. At this point the public is hip to how little reducing corporate taxes benefits them.

It’s loony, I admit, but let me repeat my advice. Find something that gives the middle-class something they truly want — better schools, better roads, better/cheaper health care — and apply actual brainpower, not glaze-inducing messaging, to constructing such legislation and demand the DFL cooperate in passing it.

In other words: Try credibility for a change.


Will Singing SD Senate Candidate Be The Next Wellstone?

Mike_Rounds_jetFormer South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds (R-Pierre), has been running for U.S. Senate the modern way.  The conservative insurance executive been  jetting around the country to raise  money from ultra-wealthy donors.  Governor Rounds also has the billionaire Koch Brothers as covert sidekicks, bringing their dark money to the state to do his dirty work.

Rick_Weiland_on_the_roadMeanwhile, Rounds’ Democratic opponent Rick Weiland has been campaigning the old fashioned way.  He is staying grounded, traveling the dusty byways in a minivan.  Weiland is the first candidate in South Dakota history to campaign face-to-face in all of the state’s 311 towns.  A couple of them are not metropolises.

Getting to all 311 towns is not just an impressive tactical feat, it’s also serves as a statement about the candidate’s values.  In a state that prides itself on hard work and personal connections, South Dakotans are noticing the hardest working man in the political business.

At one point, Weiland tried to get Rounds to join him on the gravel roads.   He challenged Rounds to reject big national money and discourage dark money, and to replace wall-to-wall campaign ads with a lengthy series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates in small towns around the state. Rounds rejected Weiland’s suggestion, and returned to the fundraising circuit.

To stress his populist “Take It Back” campaign theme on the road, Weiland sometimes belts out parody songs in an imperfect voice. When you are being badly outspent, you need to get creative to get noticed and remembered.  Weiland has long liked to relax by making music with his family and friends, so a few months back he rounded them up to videotape  a well-received parody of “I’ve Been Everywhere” to chronicle his epic campaign journey.  Today, Weiland released a parody sung to the tune of Miller’s “King of the Road.” An excerpt of the lyrics:

My vote’s not for sale or rent,
I just won’t listen to the one percent.
I’m not campaignin’ in corporate jets,
I’m meetin’ voters in luncheonettes.
I’ve been in three hundred and eleven towns.
Still lookin’ for that guy named Rounds.
I’m goin’ everywhere I can, man. Bring on the road!

Rick_Weiland_singingCorny?  You betcha.  But it’s on-message, fun and unique enough to get noticed and remembered amidst the election season media clutter.   The self-deprecating Weiland readily acknowledges he is no threat to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but he is determined to connect with South Dakotans on a deeper level than Rounds’ formulaic political ads do. (In one of his pre-fabricated TV ads,  Rounds famously imported stock photography of faux Dakotans, including one woman from, ahem, Paris, France.)

To the surprise of many, the South Dakota U.S. Senate race is in play. A May 2014 Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey shows  Governor Rounds, a long time political institution in the state, stalled out with just 40% support, while the lesser known Weiland is already within striking distance at 28%. In a small state where only a few hundred thousand people will vote in a non-presidential election, Weiland’s hyper-local approach to campaigning could make a difference.  The Koch Brothers would not have set up shop in a deep red state if they thought their guy Rounds was safe.

But can Weiland’s unabashedly populist message really sell in a solidly conservative state? The PPP survey says it can.  It found that South Dakotans, by a 15-point margin, prefer Weiland’s “Medicare for all” proposal to Rounds’ call to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. By a 24-point margin, South Dakota voters also reject Rounds’ embrace of the scorched earth federal budget proposed by conservative Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The wild card issue in the race could be something called EB-5.  Rounds continues to take on heavy tri-partisan criticism for his championing of the state’s scandal-plagued EB-5 program, a controversial economic development initiative that allows wealthy foreign investors to jump to the head of the citizenship line.  A steady stream of news coverage has focused on missing money, the death of a key figure, and a number of investigations.

Finally, Weiland could further close the gap as three prominent conservative candidates on the November ballot carve up South Dakota’s  conservative vote.   Former Governor Rounds,  former Republican U.S. Senator Larry Pressler (I-Sioux Falls), and former Republican State Senator Gordon Howie (I-Rapid City, Tea Party-backed) are all competing for conservative voters.  Political chameleon Pressler occasionally tries to impersonate a moderate, but with a 100% conservative rating from American Conservative Union in his last year in the Senate, the news media shouldn’t let him get away with that.  With a fragmented conservative electorate, a lone Democrat on the ballot could eke out a victory in November.

Despite all of this, some still are writing off Weiland. In the July before election day, nobody in Minnesota thought Paul Wellstone or Jesse Ventura had a chance to win either. But a populist message and an entertaining approach helped both of them sneak up on their opponents.  Could the warbling Weiland be the next upper midwestern candidate to use a similar approach to shock the world?

- Loveland

Minnesota Senate Candidate McFadden Releases New Humorous Ad

Mike_McFadden_groin_hilaritySaint Paul, Minn. — Minnesota U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden (R-Sunfish Lake) followed an earlier campaign television ad that ended with a child-inflicted injury to his groin with a new  television ad that uses thinly veiled flatulence-based humor to further make his case for election to the U.S. Senate.

“We’re just trying to have some good clean fun, while making a very serious point about Al Franken’s big government, job-killing stuff,” said McFadden.

The ad opens with a fog rolling over a grainy black-and-white photo of a frowning Senator Al Franken. Ominous music drones throughout the spot, and two 10-year old boys on a playground chime in in a sign-songy tone.

Male adult announcer: “Something is very, very rotten in Washington.”

Male child actor #1: “Al Franken says the Iraq War and Great Recesssion  are not his fault. But he who smelt it, dealt it.” (giggle)

Announcer: “Death panels.  IRSgate. Benghazi. Al Franken wants to keep it silent. But we all know, they’re silent but DEADLY.”

Male child actor #2: “Whoever rebuts it, cuts it.” (giggle)

Mike McFadden: (Giggling and holding his nose ) “I’m Mike McFadden, and I declare it, so Al can no longer blare it.”

(McFadden then sits on whoopee cushion. McFadden and kids giggle in unison.)

Mike McFadden:  “Oh no, not again, Al!”

The ad began running across Minnesota today. Like the groin ad, it was created by Washington-based Sophmoric Productions.

- Loveland

Note:  This post is satire and the featured ad doesn’t exist, for now.

What Chris Kluwe Should Be Saying

chris_kluweChris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings punter who has been blowing the whistle about Vikings speical teams coach Mike Priefer’s anti-gay remarks, could use some PR help. I’m a PR guy, so I can’t help but want to put words into people’s mouths. These are the words I would advise Kluwe to speak today:

 It’s time for me to shut up. Those who know me know that’s not easy for me. But upon reflection, I’ve decided it’s time.

First, I need to do what I urged Coach Priefer to do when he did something ugly. I want to admit I was wrong and apologize.

I was a moron when I pulled an immature locker room stunt that made light of people being raped by a coach at Penn State. I wasn’t threatening an employee for speaking out about civil rights or advocating violence against a class of people, but I was very wrong in a different kind of way.   I was seeking laughs, but I was doing it at the expense of innocent victims. At the time, I thought I was joking, but it obviously looks very different through victims’ eyes, and I should have realized that. That was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.

It’s also time for me to shut up about Coach Priefer.

I achieved what I most wanted to achieve when I started speaking out against my coach’s anti-gay remarks. I got the truth out, an important piece of it anyway. I’m very proud of that, and that made this all worth the effort. After repeatedly denying it for months, Coach Priefer corroborated my story that he said gays should be rounded up and nuked.

It was gratifying to hear Coach Priefer say that I was not lying, as he had accused me of doing. It was much more gratifying to hear him say that he was wrong to say those hateful things. I sincerely hope he means it, and I hope the training he takes about gay people truly changes his heart.

There are still things I don’t understand about this whole situation. I don’t understand why the Vikings don’t release the whole truth, the full investigative report.   I will never understand that. Truth heals, and covering up the truth causes festering.

I also don’t understand why the Wilf’s sanction isn’t commensurate with the transgression — a boss using violent, hateful speech about a whole class of human beings, and threatening his employee for advocating for civil rights. If Coach Priefer had said the same things about African Americans, or other minority groups,  the punishment obviously would have been much heavier. That makes me think the Vikings don’t give gays and lesbians the same level of respect they give others. That is wrong.

Finally, I don’t understand why the Vikings would release a punter who, according to the statistics, was the best in team history. I don’t understand why they would do this at a time when I was doing everything the coach asked me to do for the sake of the team, including punting shorter and higher, which helped the coverage teams and hurt the statistics upon which I am judged.

I know that money and age are always part of player retention decisions in the NFL, but I also know that my championing of civil rights also was part of that decision.  I know this because Coach Priefer said publicly that “Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you.”  No employee should ever be punished by an employer for  speaking out in favor of civil rights.

I knew I would never get my job back. I knew I would never get lost salary, because any money I would have won was promised to LGBT rights groups. But I was still tempted to sue, because I was worried that my employer’s firing of me for speaking out would stifle other NFL players from speaking out for what they feels is right. I still worry about that a lot.

The Vikings are dead wrong about those things. But I’ve decided not to file a lawsuit after all. I got the truth out, and that was my top priority. I hope we all learn the right lessons from this whole ugly chapter. Onward.

Mr. Kluwe is not going to convince the court that age, performance and salary weren’t also part of the Vikings’ decision to release him, so he should reclaim the one thing that is still available to him — the high road.

- Loveland

Photo credit:   Sophia Hantzes, Lavender magazine.

Why Doesn’t Chris Kluwe Just Shut Up?

Kluwe allegations?  Meh.  Why doesn’t former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe just quit all of his blathering about Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer and the gays? Kluwe had his time in the limielight, and it’s time for him to let it go already.  With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to let the home team have a fresh start. The last thing the world needs is another lawsuit.

If you listen to sports talk radio, that’s the dominant vibe from  diehard Vikings fans. Kluwe’s allegations are just a tiresome buzz-kill for them. They’re indifferent about the issue.  For them, it’s all about “let’s play!”

If Kluwe is lying about Priefer, then the fans are right. Kluwe not only should shut up, he probably should get the Jesse Ventura treatment from Priefer.

Truth_to_PowerBut if Kluwe’s boss did ridicule and threaten Kluwe for championing civil rights, and wish genocide on a whole category of human beings, then Kluwe has a moral obligation to sue the Vikings to get the truth out.

At first blush, a Kluwe lawsuit may seem like a money grab.  But Kluwe has said he will donate any lawsuit proceeds to LGBT rights groups.

At second blush, a lawsuit may seem punitive and petulant. But at this point, a lawsuit is really the only way the truth can be revealed. A lawsuit is the only way Kluwe can put former teammates under oath.  It’s the only way he can compel them to tell “nothing but the truth” about what they heard Priefer say. That looks to be necessary, because these are people who would surely be scared to speak out about their current boss.  After all, Priefer could release those players Kluwe-style, costing them millions of dollars. Talk about your inconvenient truths.

What’s the Big Deal?

So before an indifferent Vikings Nation rushes to cry “shut up and let’s play,” let’s step back and reflect for a moment. Here is what Kluwe alleges Priefer said:

Coach Frazier immediately told me that I “needed to be quiet, and stop speaking out on this stuff” (referring to my support for same-sex marriage rights). I told Coach Frazier that I felt it was the right thing to do (what with supporting equality and all), and I also told him that one of his main coaching points to us was to be “good men” and to “do the right thing.” He reiterated his fervent desire for me to cease speaking on the subject, stating that “a wise coach once told me there are two things you don’t talk about in the NFL, politics and religion.” I repeated my stance that this was the right thing to do, that equality is not something to be denied anyone, and that I would not promise to cease speaking out. At that point, Coach Frazier told me in a flat voice, “If that’s what you feel you have to do,” and the meeting ended. The atmosphere was tense as I left the room.

Throughout the months of September, October, and November, Minnesota Vikings special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer would use homophobic language in my presence. He would ask me if I had written any letters defending “the gays” recently and denounce as disgusting the idea that two men would kiss, and he would constantly belittle or demean any idea of acceptance or tolerance.

Mike Priefer also said on multiple occasions that I would wind up burning in hell with the gays, and that the only truth was Jesus Christ and the Bible. He said all this in a semi-joking tone, and I responded in kind, as I felt a yelling match with my coach over human rights would greatly diminish my chances of remaining employed. I felt uncomfortable each time Mike Priefer said these things. After all, he was directly responsible for reviewing my job performance, but I hoped that after the vote concluded in Minnesota his behavior would taper off and eventually stop.

Near the end of November, several teammates and I were walking into a specialist meeting with Coach Priefer. We were laughing over one of the recent articles I had written supporting same-sex marriage rights, and one of my teammates made a joking remark about me leading the Pride parade. As we sat down in our chairs, Mike Priefer, in one of the meanest voices I can ever recall hearing, said: “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” The room grew intensely quiet, and none of the players said a word for the rest of the meeting. The atmosphere was decidedly tense. I had never had an interaction that hostile with any of my teammates on this issue—some didn’t agree with me, but our conversations were always civil and respectful. Afterward, several told me that what Mike Priefer had said was “messed up.”

After this point, Mike Priefer began saying less and less to me, and our interactions were stilted. I grew increasingly concerned that my job would be in jeopardy.

If that’s true, that’s not just rude or insensitive. It’s dehumanizing, abusive and bigoted.  It’s unbecoming of a team representing Minnesota. More importantly, it’s the kind of verbal violence that, intended or not, feeds and rationalizes actual violence against gays and lesbians.

Double Standard

What if Priefer had ridiculed and threatened an employee who marched to champion equal rights for African Americans, women or Jews?  Society wouldn’t tolerate that.

Imagine Priefer had said we should round up all the African Americans, women or Jews to be nuked.  Again, that would not be met by shrugs from an indifferent news media, NFL and  Vikings organization.

So why are so many seemingly indifferent about these allegations?  We should be standing up against this bigotry, just as most of us would if African Americans, women or Jews were the target.  As Hitler death camp survivor Elie Wiesel observed: “The opposite of hate is not love.  It’s indifference.”

I’m not blind to the possibility that Kluwe could be lying. But if he is lying, I can’t believe he would sue, as he has promised he will do if the Vikings don’t release their internal investigation report.   If Kluwe is lying, I would think he would quietly slink away.   If Kluwe moves forward with a lawsuit, I’m much more inclined to believe he is probably telling the truth about Priefer’s outrageous behavior.  After all, why would he put his former teammates on the stand if he knew the truth they would be compelled to tell — under threat of perjury charges — would show Kluwe to be a liar?

Viking Nation, I want to move on to football too.  I want to see if Teddy can throw, Captain can cover the slot and Mike and Norv can coach.  But as difficult as it may be for the face-painting crowd to grasp, some things are bigger than the game. Getting closure on these extremely ugly allegations is bigger than the game.

- Loveland

Minneapolis Stepping On It’s Applause Line

Betsy_Hodges_begs_for_applauseSo Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is directing Minneapolitan social media mavens to tweet on over to #bragmpls to brag about Minneapolis, and run down other cities.

 “When you go to their cities,” she joked, “talk about how disappointing they are compared to Minneapolis.”

I can hear it now.

“Yeah, New York City is nice and all, but frankly Central Park is a little disappointing compared to The Yard.”

“Chicago? I hate to be mean, but I was a little disappointed that the architecture was all so old, kind of like Minneapolis had before we had the good sense to demolish it, and replace with a fresh 1970s look.”

“San Francisco, meh. I looked everywhere to find a Culver’s, but was sooooo disappointed to learn that they haven’t arrived there yet. I couldn’t wait to get home.”

Okay, I acknowledge Mayor Hodges was making a joke when she talked about expressing disappointment in other cities.  Still, the hashtag cheerleading campaign is no joke to Mayor Hodges and her public relations team.   And to me, her public begging for hashtags is a wee bit #pathetic.

Of all of the contrived things about contemporary professional sports stage management, nothing is more inauthentic than the Jumbotron exhortations for fans to “Make Some Noise!” The piped-in artificial rhythmic clapping and the mind-numbingly chirpy D.J. Casper song “Everybody Clap Your Hands” fall into the same category.   Inevitably these perky little pick-me-ups come when the bats are silent, the defense is porous, and the hometown ownership is starting to worry about meeting its beer sales targets.

But here’s the thing: Minneapolis’s bats are not silent.

rainbow_all_star_gameIn fact, Minneapolis is kicking some serious ass right now. Two new mega-expensive LRT lines are flowing through Minneapolis, and a third appears to be on the way. An iconic billion dollar football palace is rising out of the ground to replace the embarrassing  Metrodome. The metro area has the lowest unemployment of any metro area in the nation. Minnesota has the second lowest uninsured rate in the nation. The city’s population is growing, driven by a remarkable residential housing boom in the downtown area.  The Super Bowl, the most visible sporting event in America, is coming.  And baseball fans from around the world are watching professional baseball’s All Star Game in one of the best ballparks in the world, with a rainbow framing it, right here in our Minnie Apple.

The applause is happening organically. So turning on the flashing “Applause!” sign and publicly waving the mayoral pom poms in the midst of genuine, unprompted applause constitutes stepping on your own applause line.   Methinks we’re trying just a little too hard.

- Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured on MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Here’s Hoping Jesse Wins

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterIt hard to take Jesse Ventura’s defamation suit seriously. Too much irony keeps getting in the way. I mean Jesse Ventura outraged that someone put too much show biz in their shtick? Gotta love it.

But whether he wins — which is doubtful, despite, I believe being warranted — I’d like to think his willingness to mount an attack will have, if only a momentary, impact on our vast, fetid “non-fiction” industry.

Our guy Jesse is many things. Among them: A grasping, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, thin-skinned galoot. But he is also positively reverential about the Navy SEALs and the bond of macho brotherhood with those who have served. Similarly, he has been unabashedly vocal about the War in Iraq since it was launched, saying rational, reality-based things about that misbegotten adventure I’ve still never heard from the likes of John McCain or Lindsey Graham.

For those reasons alone it is nearly impossible for me to believe that he ever said the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” to anyone, much less a group of actual (half drunk) SEALs practically in their own backyard. Even if he too was drunk or hell, on mescaline, like some sage native mystic, asking me to believe Jesse Ventura urged death on any of his brothers-in-shark-infested-waters is a bridge … way too far.

And based on the deposition of Chris Kyle, the now-deceased “American Sniper” himself, the whole incident at the bar in San Diego, with all the chest bumping, swaggering, taunting and brawling sounds deeply flaky, as in it made for a much better story when you’re trying to sell a tough guy/uber-patriot memoir. Certainly a lot better than letting Ventura get away with an anti-war crack. When your target audience is gun-worshipping, flag-waving, hoo rah wannabes, you slap that shit down … even if you actually didn’t.

Jesse’s fight coincides with right-wing fantasist Edward Klein’s latest best-seller, “Blood Feud”, in which we’re too believe the Obamas and the Clintons are, behind the scenes, in private, barely different in their connivery and blood lust than the Lannisters and the Starks on “Game of Thrones”. If Jesse thinks he got unfair treatment in Kyle’s book (ghost-written, of course) imagine how Hillary feels with Michele Obama calling her the “Hilldebeest”, and how about Barack pounding down the vino and bad-mouthing Bubba to his face? I always knew that guy a drunk and a boor. I mean, hell, did you see him boozing it up in Texas? W* never behaved like that.

Point being of course we rarely have any good reason to believe anything in a memoir — really, any memoir, including Hillary Clinton, Tim Pawlenty, Michelle Bachman, every tired old statesman, jock, pop star, etc. — although, personally I’d actually read Vladimir Nabokov or William Styron in their own words than the ghost-written, demo-targeted tale of an expert rifleman, who despite the hagiographic lurches would never have been mistaken for Vasily Zaytsev defending Stalingrad from the Nazis.

And why stop with memoirs? The publishing industry has only the most loosely defined and even more loosely policed definition of “non-fiction”. It hardly matters to the average publisher, and not at all to the partisan houses pushing precisely what their demographic wants to hear, if no one can corroborate the author’s astonishing verbatim dialogue from private episodes between characters who’d rather flatten him under their limo wheels than grant him an interview.

House attorneys may scour books for the most egregious slander, to avoid time-sucking litigation. But once into the realm of “celebrity” or “public person”, why waste time checking and deleting the juicy stuff that might accelerate on the Interwebs and move product? If the aggrieved celebrity yob wants to declare the whole thing an insult to nature and a hideous, despicable lie, well hell, thank them for being stupid and vain enough to goose the publicity effort.

According to reports from the Ventura trial, Jesse’s original complaints about the Kyle book spiked sales and delighted the publisher, proving again that the best offense in the face of obscene offense is … nothing. Ignore it. The shelf life of the average, under-publicized unlitigated memoir is about as short as a mayfly, or a jihadi in a sniper’s crosshairs.

Hillary Ain’t No LBJ Either.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterAs we watch our political leaders try to deal (and not deal) with the flood of Central American kids over our southern borders, and as the pundit class wiles a few summer days offering variations on the same themes they always play — Why is Barack Obama ineffective in this crisis? Why is “Washington” broken? Why, darn it, does everything have to be so hard? I’ve heard several “experts” invoke (again) the name of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ is the kind of guy, they insist, who would … get something done. There’d be no mealy mouthed politesse about him. No bogus “reaching out” to virulent enemies crapola. What they’re wetting themselves over is a guy who, on reflex, would threaten your livelihood, your reputation and the well-being of the family dog to get you to do what he wanted done.

Although a lot of them look old enough, the same pundits seem to have overlooked a handful of serious misadventures — The Domino Theory/Vietnam — in Lyndon Johnson’s career of unmitigated success. Likewise, few of them spend much energy imagining LBJ maneuvering through Texas politics, circa 2014. Even fewer bother to wade too deeply into the much more recent reality of the current GOP (House variety to be absolutely specific) blocking the “Gang of Eight” immigration legislation, then cutting off all discussion of a coherent immigration policy, with adequate funding while howling about Presidential ineffectiveness …  in order to stay “true” in the eyes of their most rabid, primary-voting base in an election year.

Likewise, I don’t hear much from liberals and Democrats on how the current scenario, with the Tea Party dictating total gridlock to their “leaders”, will be any different with Hillary Clinton in the White House. The Clintons may be more ruthless and better connected through the bureaucracy than Barack Obama. But I don’t see Hillary having any magic wand ability to break the Tea Party spell over the few traditional Republicans left in DC.

My wife has just finished listening to the John Heilmann-Mark Halperin book, “Game Change”,and has been reporting her surprise at how badly the Clintons come off — in the early stages, before the arrival of Sarah Palin and uttter batshittery makes Bill and Hill look like petal-strewing cherubs by comparison. Simultaneously, I finally pulled Seymour Hersh’s late ’90s book on JFK, “The Dark Side of Camelot” off the shelf and have been refreshing my memory of what a gangster the Old Man was and the bubble world of reckless privilege and double-standards Jack and Bobby were born into, molded by and never ever worked too hard to escape.

Point being, the average American knows very little about the true nature of any high-profile politician and an enormous number of us, credulous pawns to a celebrity culture, don’t want to know. We actually prefer the slickly marketed hagiographies, perhaps because raw reality has a nasty way of leaving us even more cynical than we already are. (How we as a culture have clutched at the lacquered veneer-over-rotted wood Camelot myth for so long, proves my point.)

All elections come down to “the choice”, and given the imbecilic levels the GOP has fallen to, the choice these days is profoundly easy. At least with Hillary Clinton or the average Democrat you’re not dealing with someone who is dubious of evolution, climate change, women’s reproductive and employment rights, the desperate need for affordable health care, a less ideological Supreme Court and immediate immigration reform.

But anyone wistful about a “new LBJ” really should read Nick Confessore and Amy Chozick’s piece this week, titled, “Wall Street Offers Clinton a Thorny Embrace”. The reminder, in case you’ve forgotten, is that Bill and Hill are about as tight with the true barons of American-style democracy as any two people can get, and give no indication that they’d go “all-LBJ” on the crowd best-positioned to drain the juice out of the lunatic Right.

Most likely the game has changed so much since Lyndon Johnson’s, uh, uninterrupted march of success that we’ll never see his kind again. But fodder for another post is the peril underlying Democrats’ near-unanimous embrace of a Clinton Restoration.

Minnesota Reporters Should Heed BBC Call On Climate Change Reporting

Flat_Earth_SocietyThere is a small minority that makes heartfelt arguments that the Earth is flat. Do they deserve half of the news coverage related to global geography?  Two maps in every story?

Likewise, there is a small minority that argues humans with a certain skin pigmentation are superior to people with different pigmentation. Do they deserve half of the news coverage about race-related issues?

There also is a small minority that claims the moon landing was a hoax. Did they deserve half of the coverage of moon landings?

In all of these cases, giving minority viewpoints roughly half of the news coverage would have created a false impression that scientists are roughly evenly split about the shape of the planet, the inferiority of some skin colors and the feasibility of space travel. This kind of reporting would have been promoting things that nearly all scientists have proven to be false.

Which brings us to climate change.  This week, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Trust recommended that BBC reporters no longer give equal time to the small minority of scientists who contend that climate change is not happening and/or is not impacted by human activity. A BBC Trust report recommends:

 The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences. The BBC has a duty to reflect the weight of scientific agreement but it should also reflect the existence of critical views appropriately. Audiences should be able to understand from the context and clarity of the BBC’s output what weight to give to critical voices.

So, at a time when 97% of climate scientists have found that climate change is happening and is aggravated by human activities, half of the news coverage should not be dedicated to the viewpoint of the 3% of scientists who disagree.

Despite the increasingly lopsided scientific consensus on climate change, a 2013 report done by Media Matters found that half of print news outlets used a false balance approach to climate change reporting.  On Fox News, 69 percent of guests cast doubt on the science. On CBS news, in reporting about a rigorous United Nations scientific report, climate change deniers were given more than six times their representation in the scientific community.

The BBC Trust is politely telling its reporters to knock it off.  It is telling them to make sure their reporting reflects the reality of broad scientific consensus on climate change.

It’s time for Minnesota’s most thoughtful journalism leaders to follow suit.  Star Tribune? MinnPost?  Minnesota Public Radio?

- Loveland

For the Moment, Aereo Will Not Loosen TV’s “Sports Tax”

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI’m of the belief that far fewer people understood the implications of Aereo, the tech company smacked down by the Supreme Court yesterday, than understand their own health insurance. In others, almost no one is conversant in what Aereo, with its tiny little antennas, might have done to the way you and I consume, and more importantly, pay for television entertainment.

Most of the large, national papers, (and here), break down the legal arguments in the case, decided by a 6-3 vote with the Court’s resident trolls — Scalia, Thomas and Alito — actually dissenting in favor of Aereo’s “disruptive” technology. (So yes, let the record show I’m actually aligned with those three … on this one.)

Aereo’s case was always a hard sell. It smells pretty densely of someone making a buck off someone’s else’s investment, and god knows we can’t allow that kind of thing to happen here in the US of A. But the concept of paying one company maybe $80 a year to deliver network programming … instead of handing $50-$120/month to some cable or satellite giant like Comcast or DirecTV … has a lot of appeal, and, more to the larger point, seems an utter inevitability in the age of streaming media … (which I think is going to last a while.)

The Court was careful to assert that it wasn’t going all Luddite with this case. It says it has no quarrel with new technologies, just that this one was pretending to be an antenna company when in fact it was a “retransmitter” like Comcast and the satellites, and therefore should pay ABC, NBC, PBS etc. … like cable and satellites do.

But with Aereo’s defeat goes another opportunity to loosen the grip professional sports has on our wallets. Had Aereo won, the betting was that millions of people would have begun dumping Comcast, et al, since viewers wouldn’t have needed them to get “Two Broke Girls” and “America’s Got Talent” and all the other high-quality, advertising-glutted programming the networks are “providing” for their viewers.

Moreover it would have been, some argued persuasively, an evolutionary moment in the war-on-bundling, the preposterous practice whereby Grandma Millie pays $100 a month for 300 channels of cable/satellite service even though she only watches six shows, none of which are the NFL or local pro sports teams like the Twins and Timberwolves. (I find it odd that our legions of raging, anti-tax zealots never complain too loudly about this kind of flagrant, no-freedom-of-choice scam.)

Pro sports have had a fine, long run at the trough of bundling, via the way cable and satellite operators cover the fantastically large costs of paying the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL for game rights by requiring sports fans to buy packages of 40 other channels to watch them, or in sweet Grandma Millie’s case, in order for her to watch HGTV and the Food Channel.

The bet is that very soon someone will invent a way to grab live streaming of sports broadcasts via the internet and stick a dagger in the heart of the cable/satellite business plan. It may not be free, but it’ll be tough to duplicate the $50-$75 a month bundling up-charge most of us pay to have “free access” to any Twins game when we want it.

Beyond all that though is the threat to the standard, laughably ossified TV advertising model. Even as a geezer, the appeal of the DVR/Apple TV/”cloud” experience is simple: Better picture, no commercials. Watching hackneyed pitches for pickups, beer and Cialis is not a quality use of my time, and who in their right mind, especially younger consumers, will ever accept it any other way? I, for example, had no problem paying $2.99 an episode for “Fargo” sans the interminable three and four minute commercial blocks. (Also, as I say, the streaming picture is far superior to the compressed signal coming in via Dish satellite. The picture quality difference was particularly noticeable with “Breaking Bad’, a virtuoso moment in small screen cinematography.)

So let’s get real. Pay-per-view is the natural future for everything. It’s what we do with everything else. Buy only what you really want. Especially when post-bundle, you’ll find you have plenty of jing leftover at the end of the month for programming that you actually watch. Someone, maybe even a re-considered Aereo, will eventually construct a business model that provides exactly that service to every corner, holler and mountain top of the country.

But it won’t be happening right now.

- Brian Lambert

From Redskins to Warriors?

The professional football team in Washington, D.C. has an offensive mascot, the Redskins. There have been endless debates about the historic use of the name.  Some argue the name “redskins” was used as a slur and to refer to bounties on Native American scalps, while others say the usage has been more benign.  But historic usage aside, if the name is offensive to the Americans it depicts, it is offensive to keep using it.

Because of a recent court ruling removing trademark protection for “redskins,” the name may finally change in the fairly near future. That’s a good thing.  But according to a survey by the Huffington Post, the favorite to replace Washington Redskins is Washington Warriors (57% support).  That’s a bad thing.

Washington_Warriors_logos“Warriors” has long been pushed heavily in social media.  The suggestion is often accompanied by a logo depicting the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense. Other options show  soldiers in video game style art.

We’re all eager for this debate to be over, but I have to say I hate this idea.

If the U.S. only entered necessary wars, such as World War II, I would be slightly more comfortable with this. But the fact is, over the last half century, the military industrial complex that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about, has made a habit of regularly leading us into a series of  unnecessary wars that have had tragic consequences for brave American soldiers and the entire nation.

Part of the way the neoconservatives and defense contractors promote profit-generating military interventions is to glorify wars and warriors with cartoonish depictions like those used in the Washington Warriors logos.   Haliburton’s version of “support our troops” is to send young kids to unnecessary wars, and then salute them at sporting events. My version of “support our troops” is to keep our troops the hell out of unnecessary wars. Haliburton’s version is carrying the day, and that needs to stop.

There are 15 cabinet level departments in the federal government. Others promote learning, economic security, scientific discovery,  natural resource management,  environmental protection, justice, law enforcement, and health improvement. Those are heroic pursuits in their own right, so why does the department responsible for getting us mired in Vietnam and Iraq get singled out for glorification?  Of all the things we want our nation’s capitol to be known for, we choose it’s checkered record of war-making?

Relax, I wouldn’t advocate naming the football team after any of those departments or their work. There are hundreds of possibilities, so digging into the bureaucracy for the name isn’t necessary.

But the last thing America needs is more glorification of the military industrial complex’s war-making machine.   We have had enough of making bloody wars look like a cartoon video game back home.  We have had enough of wars that are rarely fought by the sons and daughters of those getting us into the wars.  We have enough American men and women unnecessarily maimed and killed. We’ve had enough of federal debt driven by trillions of dollars in unnecessary wars.

Starting with the name of Washington’s football team, let’s stop glorifying all of that. Just stop.

- Loveland

State of the Obamacare Debate

I’m too uninspired to write anything new, and am about to go on vacation, so I’m just posting the best recent distillation I have seen of the state of that Song That Never Ends, the Obamacare debate.

Take it away, Jonathan Chait from the New York magazine:

Republicans Finally Admit Why They Really Hate Obamacare


Conservatives spent years predicting Obamacare would collapse in all manner of gloomy scenarios. But those predictions all occurred in the run-up to the law coming on-line, on the basis of sketchy, preliminary data or pure conjecture. But in the months since the law has come into effect, a steady stream of far more solid data has come in, and the doomsaying predictions are being hunted to extinction. The right’s ideological objections to Obamacare remain, but I can’t think of a single practical analytic claim they made that still looks correct.

Just within the last week, numerous predictions of Obamacare skeptics have suffered ignominious deaths. Consider a few:

1. Obamacare is mostly just signing up customers who already had insurance. The basis for this claim was a preliminary survey conducted by McKinsey last year, well before the first enrollment period for Obamacare was complete. It generated massive coverage in the right-wing media. Since then, newer data has shown much higher figures. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey finds that 57 percent of enrollees lacked insurance previously.

2. Obamacare isn’t even significantly reducing the ranks of the uninsured. This claim built on the previous one — it combined the prediction few people would sign up for new coverage with the prediction that those who did were mostly insured. “CBO has projected that 14 million previously uninsured Americans would gain coverage under the law. With about ten weeks left in this year’s enrollment period, we’re looking at a coverage expansion of less than a million,” suggested Republican health-care adviser Avik Roy.

Obamacare_uninsured_decline_chartMeasuring the population lacking insurance is historically complex and imprecise, but we now have a bevy of measures showing that Obamacare has already made a huge dent in the uninsured population. Gallup has showed the uninsured rate dropping by about a quarter. A report finds the uninsured rate in Minnesota has fallen by 40 percent. A study of numerous cities by the Robert Woods Johnson foundation projections projects declines of about 60 percent by 2016 in municipalities whose states expanded Medicaid, and half that in states where Republicans have maintained the party’s boycott of Obamacare.

3. Insurance will be so expensive that few people will want to buy it. We spent weeks and weeks debating “rate shock.” Also, nope. The average plan purchased on exchanges costs customers only $82 a month. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of people who used to have individual insurance and now have the regulated insurance on the exchanges — finds that the number of customers reporting lower premiums exceeds the number paying higher premiums.


4. But premiums will shoot up next year! As premiums have turned out to be cheap — indeed, cheaper than initially projected — Obamacare skeptics slowly retreated to a new prediction: Rates would rise next year.

Another nope. As state-by-state information trickles in, it appears conservatives won’t get the premium spike next year, either. Insurers are jumping into the market, putting downward pressure on prices. Expected premium increases appear to be on par with, or perhaps a bit lower than, historic levels:

Will all this data produce a grand bipartisan consensus on Obamacare? Of course not. Nor should it. The practical objections to Obamacare are collapsing, but the philosophical ones remain in place. Suppose you strongly objected to the idea that your city should own a bunch of buildings where people can go borrow books for free. (Some people do!) If you couldn’t persuade a majority of fellow citizens of your conceptual objections to libraries, you might try arguing that the library scheme was doomed to collapse in cost overruns, or that nobody would ever use them, or that shelves of heavy books would be routinely toppling over and killing small children. But the fact is that running buildings where people can check out books, and running exchanges where people can purchase basic health insurance packages, are both things that governments can do.

And so conservative objections to Obamacare are finally turning from the practical to the philosophical. In response to reports that Obamacare insurance turns out to be affordable, Roy, who has spent months warning of rate shock, mocks that “other people’s money will pay for it.” Conservative columnist Byron York likewise argues “Obamacare’s ‘good news’ applies only to the poor.”

It is true that Obamacare is far more helpful to people lower down the income scale. The poorest people get Medicaid, which is free. Those higher up the income ladder get tax credits, which phase out at $45,000 a year for an individual, and $94,000 a year for a family of four. (I wouldn’t call people earning under those levels “poor.”) Of course, people who get employer-sponsored insurance also get their coverage paid for with “other peoples’ money.” The difference is that employer-sponsored insurance uses a tax deduction, which gives the largest benefits to those who earn the most money, as opposed to Obamacare’s sliding scale tax credit, which gives the most to those who earn the least.

But at least conservatives are now representing their true bedrock position on Obamacare. It is largely a transfer program benefitting people who either don’t have enough money, or pose too high a health risk, to bear the cost of their own medical care. Conservatives don’t like transfer programs because they require helping the less fortunate with other peoples’ money.

- Loveland, but really Chait

One Headline GOP Gubers Won’t Chase

RantThe St. Paul Pioneer Press reported today that Republican gubernatorial candidates have been having daily one up-manship contests over who can have the earliest and nastiest news conference railing about a Dayton-related headline of the day.

Minimum wage adjustment! Pant, pant.  Sex offenders!!  Lather, lather.  Medtronic acquisition!!!  Podium pound, podium pound.

That’s their savvy strategy — cry “wolf” daily.  They read the morning news, race to the podium and rant.  In their (bulging) eyes, every Dayton-related development is an outrage, the next “-gate.”

That’s what passes for their policy agenda.  That’s the even keel leadership style they are showing voters.

But here is one headline the gunslingin’ gubers won’t be chasing today:

Minnesota adds 10,300 jobs in May; jobless rate lowest in 7 years

Kurt?  Jeff?  Scott? Marty?  Anyone?

- Loveland

Revisiting “The Amazing Race:” LRT Versus Car

lrt_pencil_linesI’m not an unquestioning LRT lackey.  Some questions about LRT strike me as very fair.

For instance, could we have a better overall transit system if we invested the same amount of public money – billions of dollars — in buses, vans, taxis and bus rapid transit instead of trains? Given how sprawled our metro area has become, would an expanded web of bus routes be a better way to serve the region’s far flung citizens than a few mega-expensive fixed rail transit lines?

Those are fair questions that I think the ardent trainophiles are too quick to dismiss.  And just because I ask them doesn’t make me a shallow-thinking Joe Soucheray parrot.

But other questions about LRT strike me as completely unfair. For instance, some are now asserting that LRT is clearly inferior to cars on the grounds that LRT travel wastes more time. The Star Tribune fueled some of these claims when it conducted an interesting “Amazing Race” feature that tested the amount of time it took various modes to travel the length of the Green Line route. The Star Tribune’s Amazing Race feature found that:

  • A car took 26 minutes
  • A bike took 31 minutes
  • The LRT took 42 minutes
  • The bus took 59 minutes

Interesting, but is a car ride really saving more time than train ride?

A car may get me from downtown-to-downtown faster than the train. But on days when I have reading or writing that need to be done as soon as possible, which is pretty much every work day, I can’t safely accomplish those things while driving a car.  But I can accomplish those things while riding the train.  LRT travel allows for time-saving multi-tasking that is  not available when I’m driving my car.  On the train, travel time becomes office time.

Of course, time saving is just one factor travelers and leaders have to weigh. The LRT has  advantages associated with the environment, encouraging development density, and reducing parking costs. Cars have enormous advantages in terms of route flexibility, which is a very big deal to people with unpredictable personal and professional lives, and those who live far from our two LRT lines.

But when it comes to saving time, the LRT is the real winner of the Amazing Race, at least for those who live close to the two LRT lines.

- Loveland

Note:  This post also appeared on and MinnPost.

Duane Benson Interview: Reflections on Caucuses, Clowning, and Cancer

Duane_Benson_ballcapDuane Benson is leading an interesting life.  As a football player, he made the unlikely leap from the MIAC’s Hamline Pipers to the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Oilers.  As a member of what was then called the Independent Republican (IR) Party, he served as Minnesota Senate Minority Leader.

Since retiring from politics, he has served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, Executive Director of the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation (MELF), Commissioner on the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and Trustee of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), among other duties. All the while, he has operated a ranch near Lanesboro, Minnesota.

But this has been a particularly poignant time of life for Benson. In the middle of overseeing a massive higher education system and a billion dollar stadium project, Benson’s brother died in a tragic house fire, his beloved dog died, and he was diagnosed with tonsil cancer.  He has a lot on his mind.

Benson is a fount of wisdom and humor, so I recently sat down with him over a Grain Belt at O’Gara’s in St. Paul to pick his wry, interesting and mischievous brain.

Q.  You recently had surgery for tonsil cancer. How are you feeling these days?   A.  I’m feeling good. I’m still having a little trouble with excess saliva that effects my speech, but I’m managing that better. I was real lucky early on, and I think my speech is getting better. I still have a little weight to gain back, but I have no complaints.

Q.  How did you discover it?   A.  A dentist said “you have a lump in your jaw.” I went to the family doctor, they took it off. The guy said it’s benign, salivary gland, but I’ll send your stuff over to Mayo. He sent it over there, and they wanted to run a PET scan. They found cancer on my right tonsil. So, they removed the tonsil and the lymph nodes on the right side. You know when you have something like this, you learn of all kinds of people who have had something like this go wrong. They kind of come out of the woodwork. And I can’t think of anyone who has come out of it better than I have. No chemo so far, no radiation, and very little restrictions of anything I do. Yeah, I’ve come out of it well.

Q.  The Legislature recently adjourned, and I know you still follow things at the Capitol. How has the tone of legislative discussions changed since you left office? A.  Well I think, it’s a little bit like religions for me, organized religions. We have 320 Christian denominations in this country, and that doesn’t count Judaism and Muslims and everyone else. We spend all of our time on how we’re different. Political parties have become that way. We’re spending all our time on how we’re different. To get back to the analogy of religion, a lot of people believe in God, but they spend all their time talking about how they’re different instead of the same. I think the party organization has had a lot to do with manipulating people in politics. I’m encouraged that in recent times Mike Hatch broke the mold and said to his party “I don’t want your endorsement.” Mark Dayton came along and said “I don’t want your endorsement.” In fact, the guy running for Senate (Mike McFadden) said he wouldn’t abide by the party endorsement, which would have been the death knell in the past.  And they endorsed him anyway!  So I’m encouraged that the whole religion stuff might be dying down. Maybe it’s going back to more about the greater good than “I don’t like you.”

Q.  What factors have caused the change in tone? A.  I think it’s the focus on how we’re different. I don’t want to harken back to some good old day or something. You should have differences, on four or five really big issues – taxes, could be education delivery, a few others. But now it’s everything. And so I think that partisanship got intensified.  But as I said I’m kinda encouraged that I think there’s a little bit of hope that you don’t have to go through the purification process in order to get (on the ballot), which means maybe the greater good will come to the front. When Roger Moe and I were in office, the political parties would come to us as caucus leaders and say “we need money.” We’d write ‘em a check, and say don’t ever darken my door again.   Now, political parties come and say “we’ve got the money, and you better be beholden.” That’s very different.

Benson_quote_officesQ.  What do you think could be done to improve inter-party legislative relationships? A.  It 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. Right now for instance with the Senate and that new building, it’s a block from the other side. In the House it’s a floor separating them. And 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 office-ing 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, and do all these other things.

Q.  What else has changed? A.  A lot of these ethics laws that needed to be passed did change things.   Before, you had to go to these damn (interest group-sponsored) receptions. And you’d go out in front of the Capitol and you’d get in a car, and you didn’t know who in the hell was in it. You know, it would be Democrats and Republicans. You got to know each other. They don’t do that now. None. They’re physically apart.   Things got a little overboard ethically in those days, but to some extent there is a chilling effect of going so far in the other direction.

Q.  Well, they could grab a beer with each other on their own dime. Do you think that would help? A.  Well, sure it would. You know they used to say that Gallivan’s, down on Wabasha in downtown St. Paul, they say most of the laws were written there. (laughing)

Q.  How was it working with former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe? A.  I did an interview about Roger Moe and the interviewer said “Roger told me you were the only friend he ever had in the Legislature.” And I said “He was the only friend I had.” They got along pretty good, the bodies, and they didn’t need us. So we had to interject ourselves from time to time. And then Roger was the master of co-opting me and everyone else. He was pretty damn good at it. I’d get our group of people in our caucus all fired up, ‘let’s go get ‘em, it’s an election year.’ They’d look at me and say “Roger appointed me the Chair of some council on seniors, or some damn thing.” (Laughing) Okay, check him off. Before you know it, I’ve got about two supporters left.

Q.  You and Senator Moe must have gotten angry at each other during the heat of battle. When that happened, how did you smooth it over so you could move forward?   A.  I think both of us, if we were wrong, we apologized to each other right away. Or he would be mad, and I’d say “we gotta get this behind us.” So we didn’t let it fester. You know it didn’t hang around and hang around.

Q.  Is that because the kind of people each of you are, or is it because that’s what you had to do that to get your jobs done?   A. Umm, I don’t know. You know, Roger is a Norwegian. (laughs)  The old adage about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much he almost told her, which is kinda true. You know, they don’t say shit. So, we would go to see (DFL) Governor Perpich together. First time. You know, I was so excited, I wanted to know about the squirrels and the windows. Roger doesn’t say a word the whole time. Second time I’m in there. We sat for a half hour. None of us said a word. Walkin’ out and I says to Roger, “That was sure fun.” He says “We actually made a lot of progress.” (laughing)  To him, that’s progress. That’s Roger. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

Q.  So, he thought the progress was just that you were establishing a relationship with the Governor? A.  Yep. Yep. And the other thing Roger did, and I still use it today, is that he would never sweep the table. Don’t take the crumbs. Given them something. And that year when we had like 41% of the Senators, I set out as our goal to get 41% of everything that went through there. And in the crime bill, we probably got 85%, taxes probably got 40%, health care we got 60%. Roger didn’t sweep the table. (laughing) That’s not the game now.

Q.  So why do you suppose he didn’t ‘sweep the table?’ A.  He wanted to stay in the majority. He didn’t want to piss anyone off. Boy he was masterful. I couldn’t wake the sleeping giant with a shotgun. He put (the Republican caucus) to sleep.

Q.  When you served in the Legislature, which of your colleagues made you laugh the most? A.  Oh my God. Clarence Purfeerst. We all have misnomers. You know, I’d keep track of them on paper. And they were subtle. I think I had five pages of them written down. Clarence Purfeerst. He was the Senator from Fairbault. Very effective. He carried the para-mutual betting bill. Living will. Never read ‘em. Never read the bill. Had no idea what was in them. But he’d say “if we could dispense the debate and get to the crotch of the matter.” (Laughs) And he had a hundred of those, and he never knew he said them. And we all said ‘em. Gene Merriam, one of the brightest guys who I ever served with, read every bill, carried the Superfund legislation. Room 15 was just packed. So somebody said, “Senator Merriam, what is pollution.” He says, “well it starts with an orgasm.” (laughs) The place was up for grabs. He turned red. Christ, they couldn’t get control of the place for another 5, 10 minutes. Someone says “you want to try that again?” “Yeah, really what happens with pollution is that it starts with an orgasm.” They adjourned the meeting. (laughs) People would come over to me and ask in a down moment “can I see your list (of misnomers).” Clarence had most of ‘em. But the rest of us, we did alright too.

Benson_teams_quote_3Q.  Did it help to get things done, to be able to laugh together? A.  Oh I think so. With all that’s happened to me recently with my brother dying, my dog dying, my cancer, and everything else, it kind of gave me a chance to think about what is that I like to do. And I like teams. For whatever reason, I’ve been the captain of everything I’ve played on in sports — in high school, college, the Raiders.  It’s because I like teams. I like  when you become somewhat invincible as a group, but weak as shit alone.   And so, it’s pretty hard not to have an ally if you laugh together. It’s pretty hard to stay mad about something. And that’s what the Legislature is. To get a majority, you need a team.

Q.  So, it’s interesting that you think of both your caucus and the entire Legislature as your team, not just your caucus. Is that right?   A.  Yeah.

Q.  That’s different now? Uh yeah, they had their caucus and we had our caucus. But make no mistake about it, they had more votes than we did. And so to get some of the things that we think are important, with 41% or whatever, (DFL legislators) had to be part of the team. You didn’t have enough votes to cram it down their throats.

Q.  What do you think DFLers misunderstand about Republican philosophy? A.  I don’t think the electorate is too warmed up to “who did this and who did that.” It’s“how can you fix it?” “Can you make it work?” I would say that  what Democrats fail to understand about Republicans is that Republicans want government to work better. Now some of them want less of it, to the point of none of it, but overall they want to fix it.

Duane_Benson_laughing_quoteQ.  What’s the most important thing your time in football taught you about life? A.  (long pause) I think to have fun. Gene Upshaw, Hall of Famer, used to stand up on the table and say “All you f***ers who just want to go out there and think this is fun, you’re not going to get a check. Head out there. Not you Benson, the rest of ‘em.” The game was fun. Politics is fun. I think people who have fun are productive.

Q.  These days you divide your time between meetings with very powerful people and meetings with cattle and horses out on your ranch. Where do you get more answers? A.  More out there (on the ranch). Being alone. I’ve been running for about 55 years. I average about 20 miles per week. Or I’m on a horse. I find myself thinking about goddamnest stuff that I just love. And I don’t have anyone to tell it to. But I don’t give a shit.

Q.  Superbowl Sunday 2018. Would you rather be in a luxury suite in the new stadium you are working so hard to oversee as a member of the Stadium Authority, or spending time on the ranch?  A.  I won’t be at the Super Bowl. Remember the great Duane Thomas from the Dallas Cowboys? He was goofier than hell. He never talked to a reporter all year. Never. So, then they get to the Super Bowl, and none of the reporters are going to talk to him. So, some cub reporter from Davenport or something sticks a mike in front of him. “Oh Mr. Thomas, isn’t this the greatest game ever. Aren’t you so excited. Can you believe this? Isn’t this the greatest game ever?” And he finally talked, first time all year. “No, they’re going to play another one next year.”  And that’s kind of how I feel about the Super Bowl. I don’t enjoy watching that much, and that one is going to be so full of hoopla. The game has changed a lot, and I don’t like all of that commotion. Madden called it hoopla.

Q.  How has battling cancer changed your outlook on life?  A. With my brother’s passing and things that were happening at the same time, you come closer to the realization that nobody gets out of this deal alive. I was thinking “so what is it that you really enjoy.” I’m kind of an isolated, not lonely, but I’m kind of to myself. But I just love the hell out of this team concept stuff. That doesn’t make sense. Kind of an isolationist that liked the team culture, establishing the culture, being part of that. You look at teams and why are some better. It’s the culture. I’m still wrestling with the cancer thing. You know, I’m fully aware that I could go back to the doctor in August and they’d take off a leg or whatever. But either way at some point, the Grim Reaper comes to see you. When I was in a couple training camps, they keep 40 guys and cut 100 guys. Really brutal. (laughing) So in the mornings, you’d hear the kid walking down the hall of the dorm we’re all staying in. “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast.” “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast.”   “Knock, knock, knock. Breakfast, bring your playbook.” And then you’d hear all the rest of the players holler: “Grim Reaper!” (laughing) Well, that’s one I haven’t finished resolving.

- Loveland

Note:  This post was also featured as a “best of the best” in MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.

Eric Cantor dies by the sword of paranoia

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI’m tempted to say something like, “Just when you thought they couldn’t be any more frightened … .” But when it comes to today’s conservatives the fear factor has no reverse gear. It only accelerates forward. For politicians like truly loathsome Eric Cantor, fear is what propelled their career, and for the even more fear-struck voters in his carefully gerrymandered district who threw him out of office last night, fear — lacquered in a farcically distorted righteousness — is the staple of their informational diet. Paranoid-filled coconuts for the culturally marooned.

Fear the “illegals”, (i.e. “everyone who isn’t as white as we are”). Fear and arm yourselves against “street crime”, (i.e. “people who aren’t as white as we are and who are violent for different reasons than us”.) Resist anything — anything — suggested by Barack Obama, (i.e. “a guy who is both not white and clearly … “, well, you get the idea.)

If you’re a fan of Chuck Todd’s morning show, Cantor’s opponent, college professor/economist Dave Brat, was on both yesterday and today and couldn’t sound more like a very poor (old and white) man’s echo of Newt Gingrich. Begging off a question as simple as, “What do you mean by ‘amnesty’?”, on the grounds, he said, that it wasn’t one of the “important issues”, Brat’s standard rhetorical technique is to drop the names of James Madison and other Constitutional leaders into every other sentence. If he was ordering at the Taco Bell drive through it’d sound like this: “Good morning, American! I’d like to exercise my right, as provided by James Madison, to enjoy the freedom of a burrito supreme with extra sour cream and then eat it in a place of my choosing without fear of federal oppression.”

Brat’s appeal, like Gingrich’s and Paul Ryan’s, is that he is what not-so-bright people think a smart guy sounds like. A frappe of grandiloquent slogans and catch-phrases amid constant reminders of imminent peril to body and soul. Brat — with enormous help from talk radio — actually benefited from the assertion that Eric Cantor – Eric friggin’ Cantor — was too cozy with Barack Obama. That’s how cluelessly angry Republican voters are in Virginia’s Seventh. (Not that that is unrepresentative of the Tea Party everywhere else.)

Given the effort Cantor went to to wall his district off from any Democratic voter, Brat is dead certain to be elected in the fall. (His “liberal” challenger is another professor from the same college.)

But that same deep-Tea Party base exclusivity is also a reason there may be a false message here. Gun-crazy Ayn Randers will certainly be ermboldened by Cantor’s defeat, (look out Thad Cochran in Mississippi), but in any race outside the Laura Ingraham/Mark Levin inflated talk radio bubble, Tea Party nuttery and paranoia is a catalyst for the rational-minded. Drop a nattering demagogue like Brat into any contest with a viable alternative and the rather sizeable chunk of the population repulsed by Eric Cantor’s greasy, big money/faux populist obstructionism will stampede to the polls.

The obvious peril — a fear-inducing peril to be sure — is that that there has been so much gerrymandering of “safe” Republican districts, invariably away from urban areas and toward heavily white rural enclaves, an emboldened Tea Party, (and their fear has them in a state of constant high agitation) could actually increase its strangehold over what’s left of the GOP this fall. That would — if it were possible after the most do-nothing Congress in generations — create even more gridlock in D.C.

… which is what James Madison would say is what “the people”

- Brian Lambert

The Strib boldly goes … .

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterTo give credit where credit is rarely due, I must say I read Mike Kaszuba and Rochelle Olson’s Sunday piece on the beyond-parody list of freebies and concierge services the NFL demands of its Super Bowl host cities and had a hard time stifling my amazement. Not that the NFL demands/”requests” for stuff like police escorts for team owners who have already had special clearance to land their private jets at local airports … I fully assumed that … the surprise was that the Star Tribune ran the story on 1A.

While the scoop of a reporter actually getting his/her paws on the … 153-page … document wherein one of the most lucrative commercial enterprises in America sets down in writing exactly how it expects to be treated like a preening Kardashian was far to juicy to ignore, I will argue that a year ago, the Strib would have conceived a rationale for tucking it away from the heavy traffic. The paper, certainly its opinion page, really has been that obvious a shill for the NFL for that long.

There’s a very revealing, amusing tell-all e-book in some Strib insider’s account of the myriad ways the paper failed the basic rules of journalistic skepticism in its sustained campaign for the lop-sided stadium contract with which taxpayers are now ladened. This would include, for example, why the sharpest criticism of the deal voiced by veteran sports writer Pat Reusse — a bona fide opinion leader for the sad rubes bowing in front of Zygi Wilf — appeared not in the Strib, but in his blog at KSTP radio.

I’ll say what I’ve said before (and often), we — the whole damned country — are chumps for the NFL, excuse me, the non-profit NFL. The mix of martial combat, brute machismo and show biz mythologizing makes for an irresistible marketing package. Which is fine. In America everyone’s got something to sell. But what a newspaper like the Star Tribune is supposed to be selling is skepticism, among other vital virtues.

The sports culture’s radio and TV front men, the jocks and sports anchors, have a clear vested interest in boosting/shilling for the fundamental assets of the home team. While cranks like me might admire them more if they made a full-throated, common sense argument against the NFL’s “standard” financing package for these extravagant stadiums, I get that they’re basically publicity agents for the local teams and the league. For them there is no financial upside to quarreling with how the NFL chooses to do business.

But people who regularly lay claim to being “hard-nosed”, “bulldog” reporters have no excuse for running as little contradictory information about the stadium contract as the Strib did during the long, long legislative negotiating saga.

As I say, the opinion page’s drumbeat support, as appalling as it was to people like me who saw so little effort made to deviate from that “standard” financing model — one that always includes the threat of moving the beloved local team to Los Angeles, (a move that would cost the other 31 financially-adroit owners a hell of a lot of money in comparison to carving up a likely $1 billion fee for creating an entirely new team there) — was not surprising. The publishers and owners of enterprises as large as the Strib think of themselves as peers to team owners, and like the NFL plutocracy are generally familiar with the myriad benefits of tax and taxpayer manipulation.

The question for the Strib of this generation is this: In the context of the Vikings stadium saga, who in the newsroom is prepared to publicly assert that the firewall between the publisher’s financial interests and the newsroom’s journalistic instincts was never breached? That in no way were editorial responsibilities in this very expensive matter obstructed or diluted as a result of influence from the executive suites?

Finally, to Kaszuba and Olson … nice work.

But as Columbo used to say, “There’s just one little thing that bothers me.”

In the course of laying out all the freebies the NFL demands — the police escorts, the free parking, the deleted taxes, the NFL channel in official hotels, the 180-person, all-expenses-paid junket — would it have been too much to drop in one short line about how all these niggling perks are to the benefit of … some of the richest human beings on the planet? Truly the .1% of the 1%ers?

I know, I know, that would be “editorializing”, an unforgivable cardinal sin of serious journalism. But it would have put things in a perspective the average subscriber might better understand.

- Brian Lambert

1,300 DFL Activists Aren’t More Important Than Hundreds of Thousands of DFL Primary Voters

Democrat_convention_hatAs is their custom, Minnesota party leaders are spending their summer scolding candidates and primary voters who dare to disobey the endorsement of a relatively small group of party activists who attend their state conventions.

For instance, yesterday DFL Chairman Ken Martin, a good guy who seems to be doing a good job, had this to say about  fellow DFLer Matt Entenza, who is challenging the DFL-endorsed State Auditor Rebecca Otto:

Although he was a one-time House DFL leader, Matt Entenza has a history of running in DFL primaries. His last-minute filing is an insult to the hard-working DFLers he has to win over.

Okay, I’m a DFLer.   On rare occassions, I work hard.  So I loosely fit Chairman Martin’s description of people who matter.   But I am not one of the 1,300 people who endorsed Ms. Otto, and I didn’t delegate my democratic decision to them.

I’m one of the hundreds of thousands of hard-working DFLers who instead vote in primary elections, and I am far from “insulted” that Mr. Entenza wants to make his case to me and other primary voters.  Primary voters should get to choose between whichever candidates want to make their case to them, and they should have party leaders who support their right to choose.

In the primary of 2010, the last non-presidential primary, about 435,000 Minnesota DFLers stepped forward to make themselves heard at the ballot box.  There were well over 300 primary voters for every convention delegate.  Though fewer will vote in the primary this year, we can assume that hundreds of thousands of DFLers will vote in this year’s primary.  Those primary voters deserve to have their say every bit as much as the 1,300 DFL convention delegates deserved to have their say last weekend

I don’t begrudge the party activists their antiquated convention parlor game.  As someone who grew up in a primary-only state, the caucus system has never made sense to me, but whatever.  But I do resent  the delegates’ and party leaders’ elitist, anti-democratic assumption that the opinion of the 1,300 should automatically outweigh the opinion of the 435,000.

I’ll probably end up supporting the DFL-endorsed Otto, because she seems to have done a good job, not because she was endorsed by 1,300 folks in donkey hats.  But primary challenger Matt Entenza has every right to take his case to me and hundreds of thousands of other DFL primary voters.

- Loveland

Note:  This post was featured in Politics in Minnesota’s Best of the Blogs and MinnPost’s Blog Cabin.