The Problem With Political Untouchables

Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, among many others, have made the case that our contemporary politics are “vehemently adversarial.”  That’s not exactly breaking news, but their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” does a particularly good job of documenting the phenomenon. Even more than at most points in history, our leaders are clinging to their partisan corners, and rhetorically portraying Americans in cartoonish hero versus villain terms.

A lot of attention is given to the corrosive effects of partisans’ villainizing.  But in its way, the partisans’ hero worship is just as harmful.  Polarizing partisans have effectively created groups of Untouchables, constituency groups that are so celebrated by one or both of the major political parties that leaders fail to responsibly oversee and regulate them.

Both major parties have their Untouchables. With Democrats, government workers, teachers, and union workers are among the Untouchable groups often described like infallible heroes. Meanwhile, Republicans place business people, military brass, and religious leaders on unreasonably high pedestals.   Both parties compete to see who can slather the most flattery and government benefits on bipartisan Untouchables, such as soldiers, health care providers, and seniors.

Untouchable Teachers

Miss_BeadleAs a case study, consider how the left often treats teachers. Listening to Democrats talk about teachers, you would think that every last one of them is a cross between saintly Miss Beadle from the television series Little House on the Prairie series and life-changing John Keating from the film Dead Poet’s Society. Anyone who has spent time in the public school system understands that the reality is more complicated.  Teacher quality ranges the full gamut from excellent to poor, as is the case with every profession on the planet.

So what’s the harm with a little too much constituency group rah-rah? Can’t the world benefit from more positivity?  The problem is, this over-the-top hero worship leads to bad policy, where everyone in the worshiped group is treated as if they are all equally noble and skilled.

They aren’t. While teaching is a very noble profession, poor teachers obviously exist. Being a poor teacher doesn’t equate with being a bad person – I’m not a bad guy, but I would be a horrible teacher – but bad teachers are harmful to children. Ineffective teachers, even well-meaning ones, can do a lot of damage to students when they are allowed free reign to teach ineffectively.  The education reform group Students First explains:

Unfortunately, the reality is that many current policies treat all teachers as if they are interchangeable. These policies often cause highly effective teachers to be paid less than their least effective colleagues. And they fail to protect the best teachers—the ones who are most positively impacting student achievement—from layoffs. As a result, most districts have low retention rates and retain their best and worst teachers at similar rates.

Despite this, many Democrats universally treat even poor performing teachers like Untouchables. For instance, this year Minnesota again failed to enact a law that would allow teacher performance to be one of the factors considered in teacher retention decisions. During this debate, anyone who dared to say that teachers should be judged on performance – as happens in almost all other professions — were called names by liberals.  “Anti-teacher!”  “School-basher!”  “Right wing extremist!”   (By the way, about two-thirds of Minnesotans currently fall into this category.)

Untouchable Business People

GeorgeRepublicans also have many Untouchables that they fail to regulate responsibly. Listening to the right talk about business people, or ”job creators” as their PR gurus coach them to say, you would think that all business people will automatically turn any type of tax break into great-paying jobs.  You would think that every last one of them is some combination of the job-creating genius Henry Ford and the Main Street humanitarian George Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life.

Obviously, the reality is that some businesspeople do use tax breaks to invest in ventures that create good jobs, while others will use their tax savings to amass personal wealth, expand their operations in other countries, make poor investment decisions, or invest in purchasing a plutocracy that will deliver still more tax loopholes to them.

Yet anyone who objects to giving more tax breaks to business people is labeled by Republicans as “anti-jobs,” “anti-business” or “socialist.”

The world is just not that black and white.  No group of Americans is 100% virtuous, or 100% worthless, and public policies have to recognize that.

While it may be unpopular to say in the partisan cheering sections, the truth is that some health care providers are unethical, greedy and/or insufficiently skilled, and need to be regulated.  Some government workers are incompetent, unqualfied, and/or lazy, and allowing them to continue offering sub-par job performance hurts taxpayers and vulnerable citizens they are supposed to be serving. Some seniors are wealthy enough that they don’t need to be lavished with government benefits at the expense of more vulnerable Americans. Some military leaders are too trigger happy or myopic, and therefore need to have their arguments carefully scrutinized or rejected.

When partisans blindly apotheosize political Untouchables, important oversight and regulation goes undone. Untouchable constituencies lead to unaccountable policies.  A leader fighting for accountability among Untouchables shouldn’t be shouted down with simplistic name-calling. They are merely doing their job as responsible public managers, regulators and legislators.

If Only We Really Were Terrorized

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterAs President Obama was preparing to give yet another eulogy for a mass murder by one of his constituents word was coming in of ISIS maniacs chopping the head off a man in France and slaughtering dozens of people on a beach in Tunisia. I’ll let you guess which of the two killing sprees will be universally described as “terrorism” and which has not.

Oh sure, since the Charleston church slaughter, there has been the usual attempts by the usual people to attach the “T” word, with all its emotional weight, to this latest incident of psychopathic gun play. But it hasn’t stuck, and it won’t the next time a white male American maniac — who may or may not have been given a high-caliber revolver and a few 40-bullet clips of ammo by his father for his 21st birthday (a rite of passage into American manhood) — exercises his Second Amendment rights in a grade school, a church, a movie theater or (wait for it) a football stadium.

Americans are now so inured to these mass shootings they have all but completely lost the ability to shock or upset us. Despite the vastly more likely possibility that we will be gunned down by some pathetic nitwit armed with a small arsenal he bought off the internet or out of some guy’s trunk in a WalMart parking lot, the freakout fear factor about “terrorism” simply doesn’t register. Who among us even thinks about it as we buy a ticket to “Jurassic World” or settle in for a show biz sermon at some mega church? The answer is: Practically no one.

Terrorism of the kind that makes us demand elected leaders “do something about this, now” applies only to dark-skinned foreigners. Scrawny white creeps spraying innocent folks with bullets are merely, “disturbed individuals” who skipped their meds. So instead of freaking out over how people like that can buy assault rifles and all the ammo they want, the conversation, abetted by a media terrified of upsetting conservative gun fetishists, turns instead to … the Confederate flag. A symbol rather than a lethal reality.

Contrast the impassive response to our bi-weekly mass murders to the number of people you know or hear about who devote time every day digesting and imagining the horrors of ISIS jihadis running amok in Times Square or the Mall of America.

Point being, one could be described as a rational fear. 300-plus million guns, no end of mentally disturbed time bombs lurking in every city and suburb and no real restraints on their ability to arm themselves any time the urge compels them vs. organized fanatics on the other side of the planet.

Of course, when, not if, some “ISIS inspired” nut job actually does kill someone here, the ensuing media meltdown — think of CNN and FoxNews with their hair on fire — will insure that everyone connected to a TV set is scared witless by the return of terrorism to our shores. At that point, more billions will be spent and more Constitutional freedoms gladly shucked away to prevent anything of the sort from happening again.

Meanwhile, while we wait for the first beheading in Disneyland or some other strategically chosen symbol of American infidel-ism (I’d skip Las Vegas, personally), we will calmly observe, with appropriate head-shaking and mutterings of practiced dismay, the regular and routine slaughter of our fellow innocents by characters who look pretty much like us.

Some of the stunted response to this self-inflicted terror comes out of sheer resignation. Gun control forces have accepted that given Republican and blue dog Democrat control of Congress and their fealty to the NRA, no good will ever come of pushing for tougher legislation. Post-Sandy Hook, red states generally loosened gun restrictions while blue states enacted only marginal new controls. Congress, as usual, was an embarrassment.

As Ronald Reagan used to say, “Government is the problem.”

Until someone or some influential entity figures out a way to castrate the NRA, to the point where the quivering fence-sitters dare to vote against gun nut interests and survive their next election, nothing will change.

All in all it’s a case of how we’d be better off if we really were “terrorized”.

 

Who Negotiated That Stadium Deal Again?

Vikings PR people like to tell Minnesotans that the team’s owner, billionaire Zygi Wilf, is paying about 60 percent of the ever-growing $1.2 billion stadium cost.  The truth, as Star Tribune/1500ESPN columnist Patrick Reusse pointed out back in May 2012, is that something like $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by people other than the Wilfs. For instance, season ticket holders will be making exorbitant seat license payments to the Wilfs, the National Football League will be paying a subsidized “loan” to the Wilfs, and U.S. Bank will be making naming rights payments to the Wilfs.  All of this will offset the Wilf’s stadium costs by about $450 million.

Taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Wilf looks to be shelling out more in the neighborhood of  $250 million of his own money, or 21% of the cost of the $1.2 billion total, not the 60 percent the Vikings claim.  It’s difficult for an outsider to come up with precise numbers, but that seems like a pretty fair, pardon the pun, ballpark estimate.

Meanwhile, state and local taxpayers are paying about half a billion dollars for the Vikings’ stadium, or about 40 percent percent of the stadium cost.  In other words, taxpayers are paying significantly more than the billionaire owner.

Despite being the majority investor, taxpayers have no say in the name of the stadium, and will be getting 0 percent of the estimated $10 million per year of corporate naming rights payments that U.S. Bank will be paying over the next two decades.  The billionaire Wilfs will be getting 100 percent of the $220 million in naming rights payments.

Formerly_People_s_Stadium

mao_tiananmen_squareIt’s bad enough that U.S. Bank looks to be getting more corporate visibility than Chairman Mao demanded for himself at Tiananmen Square. To add insult to aesthetic injury, taxpayers aren’t getting a single penny for putting up with U.S. Bank’s excessive corporate graffiti.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Bank Stadium, formerly billed to skeptical taxpayers as the “people’s stadium.”  State leaders should be doing some retrospective soul-searching about how they got so thoroughly fleeced by the Wilfs on this deal.

Damn, We Love Our Badassery.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMy nominee for the quote of the week has to go to Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton. Reacting to the Sons of Anarchy-like shoot-out between rival biker gangs in front of a local “breasteraunt” that left nine dead, eight injured, something like 170 weapons scattered about and as many bullet holes in bodies, buildings and vehicles as an ISIS jihadi attack, Swanton, a Texan let’s remember, remarked, “This is one of the worst gun fights we’ve ever had in the city limits.”

Key words: ” … one of”.

Not “the”.

Merely, (“… one of”).

‘Murica. Where nine dead in an OK Corral gunfight between thug gangs in an Anywhere USA strip mall still doesn’t rate as “the worst”. And where thanks to misinterpreted gun laws, lobbyists and powerful feelings of personal inadequacy we keep well-armed militias on the highways and in parking lots terrorizing innocent shoppers popping into Cabela’s to restock their ammo before grabbing a lunch of burgers and fries with a side of large-ish jiggling boobs.

I’ve been more embarrassed for this country. There was George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 and “Rocky” beating “Network” for Best Picture in 1977. But the scene in Waco was such a stunning convergence of so many of the elements that make us a morbid laughing stock to the rest of the First World you really have to give yourself a few minutes to absorb it all.

I mean, after you’ve digested the particulars I’ve just mentioned; the gangs of free-roaming thugs, the quantity of weaponry they’re always carrying, the booby-bistro setting and the first line casualties, you move on to the high likelihood that just like every other over-the-top gun rampage we’ve endured this one too will be quickly forgotten (which in a way is to say “forgiven”), because the media, which pays no real attention to organized crime until it explodes into view in an episode like this, is far more comfortable covering the crises of Bruce Jenner and the buffoonery of Ted Cruz than getting sideways with people who would actually … kill them. (Not that I’m blaming them. I’m just saying that’s reality.)

Then, just for icing, scroll through the pictures of the Waco aftermath. Were the only cops and bystanders allowed on the scene the morbidly obese? Did you have tip past 300 pounds to get through the yellow tape? Does that particular strip mall have a requirement that you be at least 150 pounds overweight before you’ll be served? Or is it just Texas? Frankly, I’m astonished there weren’t more deaths by diabetes than gunfire. But that’s the land we love.

Forgetting the usual gun debate, since it is abundantly clear after the the Sandy Hook massacre that the only legislative response we will ever in response to our own home-brewed terrorism is to make it easier for psychos to buy guns, let’s just make a comment on the male and intensely ‘Murican need to project … badassery.

The Waco thugs — and do note that the usual right-wing pundits are not deploying that loaded phrase on 99% white biker gangs — are flat-out criminals, running drugs, guns and women pretty much as they please, with the biggest threat to their bottom line coming from other gangs, not the FBI or local (grossly over-weight) police. The Bandidos even have the phrase “we’re the people your parents warned you about” as their club motto.

They are, put another way, a bunch of psychos.

So, walk me through the psychological gear links that make aging urban desk jockeys so eager to emulate the look of these feral lunks? And I’m not talking people riding motorcycles. I’m talking the whole black leathers, do-rag, probably-packing, flash-me-in-Sturgis, has-to-be-an-unmuffled-Harley crowd. Certainly there’s a conscious association the bond salesman/weekend Bandido is making to the celebrated criminal class. Why?

The claim will be that it’s all a bit of ironic fun. Another tribal thing for (mainly) guys who’d blow out a knee or rotator cuff if they engaged in anything more fraternal and physical than cruising all day on a 900-pound motorcycle. But, come on. The sense that you’re (still) a threat (if you never were to anyone but yourself) is fundamental to the faux biker ethos, just as it is to the gun fetish crowd. It’s the cheapest imaginable buy-in to a veneer of warrior masculinity. Go to a store. Try on some chaps, a vest and a bike and … voila! … one dangerous dude. Or so you hope the chicks will think.

It’s be ridiculously, laughably adolescent if the white collar wannabes weren’t lending a form of credibility to their criminal/mostly Aryan role models.

But that’s what we tolerate in the land of the free, over-armed and over-weight.

 

Finally:  We had some technical issues with WordPress here at “Wry Wing” lately. But we’re better now.

 

 

 

 

Save the Planet … with Fourth Generation Nukes

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMy suggestion for Earth Day is that liberals in particular reexamining their attitude toward nuclear power may be one of the best things they can do for Mother Earth.

President Obama is down in the Everglades today drawing attention to the fact that climate change and continued growth in south Florida, up and down both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, is pumping salt water in and sucking fresh water out of the state’s porous limestone base at a rate that will soon leave that rainy, spongy area in a predicament nearly as perilous as the American Southwest is facing in its current historic drought.

“Water and nukes?” “What’s the connection?”

Glad you asked.

But first, let’s emphasize that while no new nuclear plants have been brought on line in the United States since Three Mile Island, significant advances have been made in how to generate nuclear power, to the point that a comparison between what is known as Generation II nuclear plants — the hulking, multi-billion dollar monstrosities at Monticello and Prairie Island here in Minnesota — and Generation IV plants largely on drawing boards around the world is kind of like comparing glowing rotten apples to nectarines.

Most liberals, in my experience have simply closed their minds to nuclear power on the grounds that A: It always produces toxic waste that lasts thousands of years, B: Can melt down in any terror attack or natural disaster and kill thousands in the surrounding area, or C: Is an energy source that can only be built by the same greed head bastards who have polluted the atmosphere and wound us into god knows how many international conflicts with medieval sultanates and lunatics around the world.

The third issue there — lining the pockets of the likes of Koch Industries — is still a factor, but the first two are no longer anywhere close to relevancy as too many otherwise sophisticated people believe they are. In fact, Generation IV nukes have the ability to consume, i.e. “clean up” all the existing waste sitting in concrete casks and once planned for centuries of internment at Yucca Mountain north of Vegas.

Don’t believe me. But read this from James Hansen, arguably the godfather of climate change, the man who brought the issue to the world’s attention almost 30 years ago and is still a respected thought-leader on how to actually reduce the impact of this human-exacerbated disaster.

Says Hansen: “In all countries first priority should be energy efficiency, which has tremendous potential. After that comes renewable energies and improved low-loss smart electric grids. Everybody hopes that will be enough, but I cannot find real world energy experts who believe that is likely in the foreseeable future, even in the United States. This is all the more true in India and China, which are even more dependent on coal and have faster growing energy demands.The current fleet of (2nd generation) nuclear power plants is aging. The 3rd generation plants that are likely to gain construction approval soon have some significant improvements over the 2nd generation, using less than1 percent of the nuclear fuel, leaving the rest in long-lived (>10,000 years) wastes. If that were the end of the story, I would not have any enthusiasm for nuclear power. However, it is clear that 4th generation nuclear power can be ready in the medium-term, within about 20 years. Some people argue that it could be much sooner – however, the time required for its implementation is of little importance. The reason that 4th generation nuclear power is a game-changer is that it can solve two of the biggest problems that have beset nuclear power. 4th generation uses almost all of the energy in the uranium (or thorium), thus decreasing fuel requirements by two orders of magnitude.”

For a slightly more pop and more easily-digestible version of what Hansen says and the current reality of 4th generation nuclear power in reducing carbon emission, dial up the 2013 documentary “Pandora’s Promise” on Roku or Apple TV.

Fellow liberals have mostly ignored the startling advances in nuclear power generation in the belief that the world’s energy demands can be met, in our children’s lifetimes at least, by an aggressive commitment to solar, wind and geothermal power. But while substantial advances are being made in all those technologies, each would have to experience truly exponential growth, and immediately, to provide anything close to the amount of fossil fuel that is going to be burned over the next 50 years powering advanced and burgeoning economies and … providing water to climate change-ravaged regions of the planet.

A vast new supply of electrical power — for desalinating sea water — could be a viable long-term solution to Florida’s dilemma, the so-called “mega-drought” currently effecting California and most of the heavily-populated desert Southwest, along with innumerable other regions around the world. (Additionally, the infusion of an immense, almost entirely “renewable”, source of electric power could radically accelerate the transition to electric-powered vehicles. Not just pricey Teslas, but cheap scooters and vehicles for Third World economies, thereby offering a substantial, secondary reduction of carbon emissions.)

Obviously, in an era when half the American legislative system has nothing to offer but juvenile obstruction there’s no reason to get our hopes too high that anything far-sighted will occur in our remaining years. But the cynicism of one end of the political spectrum is no reason that supposedly more open-minded progressives shouldn’t at least drop their blinders and educate themselves on what is both possible and pragmatic.

 

The Return of Randy the Ombudsman

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterWriting for MinnPost.com I recently waded back into the lack of ombudsman at any local news organization, by which I mean someone – anyone – who regularly explains what in the hell the newspaper, radio or TV station was thinking when they ran Story X or ignored Story Y.

In an age when no healthy skeptic has reason to take anyone at their word, an ombudsman, someone who does the ‘splainin, as Ricky Ricardo would say, would be a bona fide value-added service. Or so you’d think. (On the other hand, if you’ve actually got something to hide, setting someone loose to ‘splain how completely clueless you were when Story X went down is probably not a good thing and stonewalling may be a prudent move.)

Well, it turns out fortune has smiled on Twin Cities media and what still passes for their newsrooms. After a multi-year hiatus, when his seasonal bear-baiting and booya service occupied his every waking hour, an old friend, Randy is returning. It seems he has hired on his cousin, Leonard, to scour northwest Wisconsin’s highways and ATV trails for booya meat, leaving Randy with several more hours a week to gather his thoughts at Douglas County’s finest road house, the Dry Dock Saloon, right off Highway 35 – and practically underneath the giant microwave tower.

We hadn’t seen Randy since the Dry Dock aborted its $10 All You Can Drink Wednesday special. But a week or so back, on Taco Night, we found him there, nursing his sixth Spotted Cow and found him entirely agreeable to resuming his freelance ombudsman work, not only for the Star Tribune, but the Pioneer Press, MPR and every Twin Cities TV and radio station that hasn’t bothered to explain themselves in forever, which is all of them.

The deal was pretty straightforward as media negotiations go. In exchange for covering his Spotted Cow and taco habit, Randy would ‘splain everything that needed ‘splainin’, until all questions were answered or he fell off his stool, whichever came first.

All in all Rand’ looked pretty good, especially considering the nasty frostbite he got after getting lost in the state forest, with flu-like symptoms, after the big Moose Junction Booya in early March. Thank god those dudes heading for their meth shack found him just before dawn.

By way of priming the pump, I hit Randy with a few ombuds-like questions that had been sent my way on the off-chance that we would reconnect.

Maintaining a strict one Cow to every three for Randy ratio I tossed out the first question.

 

“Randy: I see some East Coast university has proven that the media has gone all-in on Al Gore butt kissing and has started ignoring “climate realists” like me. The survey says a lot of these half-bankrupt daily rags are refusing to run letters  clear-headed folks write pointing out the millions of flaws in this global warming bull [bleep] hoax [bleep]. I’m a big supporter of local businesses, even lefty apologists like the Star Tribune — being an east side guy, the Pioneer Press fits my style of thinking a lot better. But I’m worried. Is this second-class citizen thing for people like me spreading to Minnesota? I mean, hell. You want to see my plowing bill for the driveway last year? It snowed! Thank god TV stations are still holding the line against this liberal snake oil.” Signed, SSH, St. Mary’s Point, MN.

Randy says: Well here’s a news flash for you: The big time media types have people who go outdoors for them. Their idea of “climate” is an air-conditioned tennis court. I haven’t tipped a Cow with one of those prisses since I can’t remember when, unless they snuck into the Moose Junction party uninvited.

So they think they can just willy-nilly up and decide that a hoax is not a hoax and some of the best scientific minds BP and Exxon have ever hired are making [bleep] up? Well, excuse me! They can try it. They can pull all this “peer review” crapola and say some nerd in Iceland is out there with his slide rule measuring glaciers, but you and I, people who buy our groceries and clothes from real stores, like Menards and Fleet Farm, have a way of reminding the pencil necks in their swank newspaper offices how their bread gets buttered. If the Star Tribune or that other one start going ‘New York’ on us, we’ll remind them pretty quick what happens if you don’t give real Americans equal time on this science-y [bleep].”

“Randy: I’m a huge Vikings fan. I took out a second mortgage on my trailer to get my personal seat license for end zone seats at the new place and I am so stoked for that first kick-off. But here’s the thing, neither of the papers in town gives anywhere near enough attention to the second-biggest season of all. You know, screw baseball, basketball and hockey. We’re talking mock-draft season! That sweet spot time of year, from mid-January until late April, when great football minds speculate 24/7 on which can’t-miss 21 year-old The Purple will draft to guarantee them a Super Bowl win for the new People’s Stadium. But where real papers used to give mock drafts a good two or three ages pages a day, the locals are slacking off. If I get one piddly story a day, I’m lucky. If this doesn’t change, I’m getting one of those app phone things, just as soon as my credit improves.” SidH, Golden Valley.

Randy says: I hear ya on that, dude. Football is the only true American sport. I know because I see more ads for trucks and beer watching football than anything else. Hell, what do they advertise on soccer games? Panty liners? These people are short-shrifting real Americans and real men by not running more mock draft stories. If they need more experts they can come up here. Leonard and I’ll give ’em something to write about. If they buy a couple rounds.”

Randy: I don’t know much about TV news but i used to think it was all about getting good-looking gals out in front of house fires, car wrecks and yellow police tape. But lately I see stuff like a couple dudes running off to some resort and partying with the locals. Sometimes they even run these stories about some local bait shop or boat motor repair joint, which I used to think they called “ads”, but they seem to doing for free. What gives? Or maybe I should say, “How do I get them to come up here and plug my bear-baitin’ business?” I could tell those boys a couple hundred good stories. P.S. Those guys aren’t poofters are they? I ain’t never seen hair like that around here.” Leonard, Foxboro, WI.

Randy; Jeezus christ, Leonard! You done driving Pioneer Trail like I told you? I heard AJ clipped a doe out there last night. That meat’d still be fresh enough. But to what you’re sayin'; as I understand it these TV folks aren’t getting anywhere near the dough your Don Shelbys were getting. So they gotta work in some perks anyway they can. If this means they grab a few days fishin’ or personal water-crafting up here in God’s country, I’m all for it. Plus, who says that ain’t news? I mean if they stayed down in the Cities what would they cover? Little kiddies making Easter bunnies? Some new, toity restaurant? People get tired of that hard news crap after a while. A couple brewskies by the lake sounds a lot better.”

If you have a question for Randy the All-Purpose Ombudsman, send it to:

brianlambertmn@comcast.net

 

or, write it on a coaster and leave it on the bar at the Dry Dock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Reasons I Can’t Get On The Wild Bandwagon

It’s not that I’m opposed to fans jumping on bandwagons. I not only am tolerant of bandwagon fans, I highly recommend the practice.   Supporting chronically losing teams is something with which I have a lot of experience, and I can attest that it is not at all good for your mental health.

Still, I’ve decided I can’t jump on the Wild bandwagon. As inspiring as their dramatic comeback in the second half of this season has been, I can’t make myself into a bandwagon hockey fan, even when the hometown boys are the hottest team in the National Hockey League (NHL).

This realization caused me to do some reflection.  These are the five reasons why I decided that I can’t get on the Wild bandwagon.

#5. The grammar is too awkward. I don’t have a lot of hard-and-fast rules in my life, but I do have this one. Sports teams must be named after nouns, preferably critters or violent human beings. They should never be named after adjectives. They also must be plural, not singular, because the team name is referring to a group of people. In my book, any team that forces me to awkwardly exclaim “The Wild are, um is, um are, um is, going to kick your ass” in a moment of passion is not worthy of my face paint.

toddler_cheering_hockey_fight_-_Google_Search#4. Toddler fans screaming for entrails during fights. Fist fights happen in other sports, but in other sports they are greeted with immediate league expulsion, stern sportscaster condemnation and the vast majority of fans sadly shaking their heads. But in hockey, bloody fist fights are greeted with bored referees picking up teeth instead of breaking up the fight, and fans of all ages enthusiastically jumping to their feet to cheer for maximum bloodshed.  Though starting a fight results in penalty box time that would seem to weaken your team’s chance of winning, it is still universally celebrated in hockey culture as being savvy and heroic. It’s not that I’m too pure for violent sports – football is my favorite – but even I have my limits.

Hockey_penalty_signs#3. Overregulated anarchy.   For a sport that celebrates lawlessness and fighting like none other, there sure are a lot of confusing penalties in hockey. Some of them are pretty self-explanatory. “Elbowing,” “Eye gouging,” “Kicking”, “Headbutting,” and “Spearing” are pretty clear to me, though I still am baffled about when each qualifies as a minor penalty, major penalty, misconduct penalty, game misconduct penalty, match penalty, gross misconduct penalty, stacked penalty, and penalty shot. But I do know one thing for sure: I will understand the theory of relativity, how to cure cancer, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the meaning of life before I will understand “Icing.”

foxtrax_-_Google_Search#2. The focal point of the game is invisible. Even when I had much younger eyes, I couldn’t begin to follow the puck when watching hockey on TV. When you can’t see the puck, all there is to see are a mass of bodies chaotically gliding and colliding until punches are thrown or horns are sounded and celebrations ensue. I’m sorry, but a sport in which the focal point of the game is invisible to fans lacks a minimum requirement to be considered a spectator sport. Until they bring back the FoxTrax glow puck, I’m not going to stare at the screen for three hours pretending that I have a clue about what is happening.

sad_vikings_fan#1. Not their turn yet. The final reason I can’t get on the Wild bandwagon is this: As a long-suffering Vikings, Timberwolves, Twins and Gophers fan, I have to say that the Wild has or have (see what I mean) not suffered nearly long enough to have earned the right to succeed. In Minnesota, it is considered impolite to win championships after a mere 18 years as a franchise. The Twins waited 26 years. The especially snakebit Vikings have been in the hunt for over a half century. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to cheer for the Wilders so early in their fans’ misery cycle.

Note:  This post was also republished on MinnPost.

Dear DFLers: This is Minnesota, Not MinneSweden

These are very heady times for Minnesota DFLers. Governor Mark Dayton and DFL legislators had the courage to raise taxes, increase long-term investments, and raise the minimum wage.  In the process, Minnesota Republicans were proven wrong, because the economic sky did not fall as they predicted it would.   In fact, liberally governed Minnesota, with an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent, has one of the stronger economies in the nation.

And the subsequent coverage from the liberal echo chamber has been positively intoxicating for DFLers:

“This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage — Now, His State’s Economy Is One of the Best in the Country” (Huffington Post)

“The Unnatural: How Mark Dayton Bested Scott Walker—and Became the Most Successful Governor in the Country”  (Mother Jones)

“What happens when you tax the rich and raise the minimum wage? Meet one of USA’s best economies” (Daily Kos)

Comparative_Economic_Systems__SwedenHigh as a kite from these clippings and the vindication they represent, DFLers run the risk of over-stepping, of pushing Minnesotans further than it they are comfortable going. As much as DFL politicians fantasize about bringing the social welfare model of a Scandinavian nation to a state populated with so many Scandinavian immigrants, a recent survey in the Star Tribune provides a harsh reminder that Minnesota, politically speaking, is not MinneSweden.

In the wake of a $2 billion budget surplus, only one out of five (19 percent) Minnesotans wants to “spend most to improve services.” Among the Independent voters that DFLers need to persuade in order to win elections and legislative power, only one out of four (24 percent) supports spending the entire surplus.

At the same time, two times as many Minnesotans support the predictable Republican proposal to “refund most to taxpayers” (38 percent support). Their refund proposal is also the most popular option among the Independent voters that Republicans need to win over in order to have electoral success in 2016.

The Star Tribune also reported that their survey found that Minnesotans are not too wild about the gas tax increase the DFLers propose.  A slim majority (52 percent) oppose “Governor Dayton’s proposal to raise the wholesale tax on gasoline to increase spending on road and bridge projects?”  A healthier majority (62 percent) of Minnesota’s’s Independents oppose the gas tax increase.

I happen to agree with the DFL on the merits.  Minnesota has a lot of hard work to do in order to remain competitive into the future, so I personally support investing almost all of the budget surplus, with a healthy amount for the rainy day fund, and a gas tax increase. However at the same time, I’m enough of a realist to recognize that sustainable progressive change won’t happen if Daily Kos-drunk DFLers overstep and lose the confidence of swing voters in the process.

DFLers who want to win back the trust of a majority of the Minnesota electorate would be wise to enact a mix of sensibly targeted investments, a resilient rainy day fund and targeted tax relief.  That kind of pragmatic, balanced approach won’t turn into St. Paul into Stockholm, but it might just put more DFLers in power, so that the DFL can ensure Republicans don’t turn Minnesota into South Dakota or Wisconsin.

Frat House Group-think, from Oklahoma to the U.S. Senate

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterNot being a big “joiner” — no bowling league will have me and the Elks Lodge want too much in dues — two nearly simultaneous events this past week reaffirmed my long-held belief that the truly wise man follows his own path.

First, those Oklahoma frat boys. When I was in college, during the height of the anti-Vietnam counter culture, nothing was less cool than a fraternity. Country club prep houses for kids too self-absorbed and weirdly rule-bound to notice or care that the times were a-changin’. A duller crowd you couldn’t invent, even if a lot of flashy girls turned out for their parties.

Mainly though it was the tribal mindset, the appalling group-think required to gain entry to … what? A band of brothers who might some day rule hedge funds that could single-handedly crush a Third World nation? Or, more likely, the possibility of exchanging a secret handshake with an insurance agent selling you your first homeowner policy? The thrill didn’t register. Worse, the thought of acquiescing to the herd mentality that required you to run naked through a girls’ dorm with a propeller on your head while singing “Wild Thing” didn’t strike me as particularly, well, dignified.

Clearly, I was an outlier. Post counter-culture, the Greek culture has come roaring back, or ranting back as was the case with the astonishing numbskulls on video from Oklahoma, who at least have the excuse that they are a bunch of liquored-up kids. (Over dinner last night my wife and I agreed that short of John Wayne Gacy does anything reflect worse on your parenting skills than a kid leading a “no n—–s” singalong? Jesus!)

Human history is littered with examples of the extreme downside of tribalism, the need to belong to a group that you believe gives you more power than yourself alone, the feeling of affirmation, the certainty that if so many others who look like you are doing it must be okay. It’s no great consolation that the young are most susceptible to the allure of malignant group-identity.

So, second example, what can you say about 47 Republican Senators who … sign their names … to a letter to the Great Satan-hating Ayatollahs of Iran urging them, tribe-to-tribe, to resist a deal impeding their nuclear ambitions? These aren’t stupid kids, and as far as I can tell none of them were drunk at the time they signed on, although there’s no guarantee a few of that crowd aren’t on high-powered dementia medication.

The letter of course was the inspiration of newby Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a 37 year-old Harvard man with deep Tea Party roots and ambitions far beyond Razorback-holler. (Over the years, local bloggers, the Powerline lawyers, have regularly soiled themselves promoting young Mr. Cotton as a “true conservative”, i.e. tribal warrior). It goes without saying that as a dragon-breathed Constitutionalist (or whatever) Cotton’s master plan is far more about himself than saving the free world from a bad deal on nuclear tubing.

Cotton is following the well-marked path of other archer-than-arch conservatives like Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, the entire House class of 2010 and every foghorn on talk radio. Go big. Go loud. Go half-insane. The people who will send you money and push you forward as their next savior will be delighted far beyond reason. They will give you license to go forth and smite the infidel libtard tribes until not so much as a lame dog walks among their burning huts.

There’s no downside whatsoever for Cotton. But what can you say about … John McCain, a guy already stamped by history as have demonstrated some of the worst judgment of any top-level politician of his era? (Sarah Palin.) How does he explain, I mean truly explain, attaching his name to something so nakedly self-serving as Cotton’s letter?

The suspicion is that like the muddled-head frat kid egged on by the house’s alpha-party animal McCain piped up and added his voice to, you know, prove he too is worthy of the tribe.

Making Standardized Tests A Less Evil Necessary Evil

standardized_testsFor a lot of years, whenever I thought about standardized tests, I only thought about how much I sucked at them. The difference between my strong grades and my weak standardized test scores was dramatic.  My low standardized test scores cost me early academic opportunities, scholarship money and self-confidence.

But now that I’ve been professionally successful for a few decades, I’ve been thinking about those tests in a different way.

The primary reason I was lousy at standardized tests was that I was always running out of time, and being forced to randomly fill in answers at the last moment. More to the point, I was running out of time was because I couldn’t stop thinking about things unrelated to standardized test problem-solving.

While reading through questions, I’d continually think about all kinds of extraneous things:

  • “Why did the test makers word it that way? Wouldn’t it have been more clear if they had said…(composing in head)?”
  • “What is it about me that makes me a crappy test taker?
  • “Why do test makers think that particular kind of question is a reasonable indicator of future success?  Are they right?”
  • “Why do they need to time tests?  Is life like Jeopardy where you have to buzz in the fastest?”
  • “Why a #2 pencil?  What do the numbers even mean?  Is there a good reason for that, or is it a control thing?  Would they really throw me out I snuck in a rebel pencil?”

Why? What? How? You don’t need to be Stanley Kaplan to understand how this kind of frivolous intellectual meandering hurts standardized test performance. Every moment I was diverting thoughts to those kinds of questions is obviously a moment I wasn’t solving problems.

But I couldn’t stop myself. Today they might say I had inattentive type Attention Deficit Disorder. In those days teachers said I was “dreamy” or “spacey,” and they were correct.  I was more successful in the classroom, where time was much less of an issue and different things were evaluated, but my off-topic musing was devastating when it came to tightly timed standardized tests.

Weakness Becomes Strength

But in later years, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts about all of this: It occured to me that the thought processes I was using when I should have been focused on the standardized test is precisely the kind of thought processes that has made me successful on a professional level.   I get hired because people say I’m analytical, creative, unconventional, curious about a wide variety of subjects, a persuasive writer, and can put myself into others’ heads.

In other words, if I had been better at the things that made me a poor standardized test taker, I might have stunk at my chosen career.

Ban Standardized Tests?

The realization that standardized tests weren’t entirely correct in their verdict about me doesn’t make me want to ban standard tests.  Many poor test takers seem to go there, but I don’t.

A world without standardized tests certainly would have been good for me, but I don’t think it would be good for society collectively.  Standardized tests are necessary for holding administrators, teachers and students accountable, and for helping administrators, teachers and students understand specific weaknesses and strengths, so they can use that knowledge to improve. These tests are far from perfect, but relying solely on random anecdotal evidence presented by people with self-interested agendas is much worse.

Last week, Governor Dayton announced that he was recommending a reduction in the number of standardized tests used in the k-12 system, from 21 to 14.   I haven’t studied the issue nearly enough to be qualified to judge the specifics of his recommendation.  But whatever the optimal number of tests, I am glad that most of the standardized tests that I detest will continue to be used.

We don’t need to do away with standardized tests.  What we need is for counselors, teachers and parents to be doing more to help kids understand what test results do and don’t mean. We need lower scorers to understand that, while the ACT, SAT and GRE will close some doors, research indicates that they still can be academically successful.

As scores are being shared, students should be told this broader truth:  Lots of people with great test scores struggle mightily in their careers, while lots of people with poor test scores excel. More importantly, students should study why both of those things happen.  They should study the role effort, creativity, and passion will play in making their post-standardized test lives.    We need to explain the ways in which adults routinely turn their disadvantages into advantages, and how the skills and knowledge evaluated on standardized tests aren’t necessarily the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in many fields.

The problem with standardized tests is not that they exist.  They problem is that we do too little to help dazed and confused test takers put their scores into proper perspective. If we were just a little more deliberate and thoughtful about helping students gain a deeper understanding of what their test scores do and don’t mean, we could make this necessary evil slightly less evil.

Note:  This post was also republished in MinnPost.

Dirty Job Dayton Dusts Himself Off

Dayton_dirty_2Governor Mark Dayton is Minnesota’s political version of Mike Rowe, the star of the Discovery Channel television show “Dirty Jobs.” Rowe’s show is all about him taking on difficult, disrespected and grotesque jobs that others avoid, such as being a sewer inspector, road kill scavenger, worm dung farmer, shark repellent tester, maggot farmer, and sea lamprey exterminator.  Who knew that worm dung needed farming?

Dirty Job Dayton

Governor Mark Dayton may not be farming worm dung, but consider just a few of the filthy tasks Dirty Job Dayton has already embraced in his five year’s in office.

Taxing Most Powerful Minnesotans.  Before Dayton, non-partisan analyses were showing that the wealthiest Minnesotans were not paying their fair share of taxes.  So Dayton ran for Governor unabashedly championing tax increases on the state’s most wealthy citizens, which earned him some very powerful enemies. At the time, progressive political consultants considered advocating almost any kind of tax increase political suicide for candidates. But Dayton ran on a platform of large tax increases, won a razar thin victory at the polls, and then promptly passed the tax increases into law as promised.

Implementing Unpopular Obamacare.  Dayton wasn’t done there. One of his very first acts of Governor was to champion Obamacare, which many politicians were extremely nervous about at the time. In contrast to his fellow Governors in neighboring Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota, Dayton embraced Obamacare’s Medicare expansion to cover 35,000 of the most vulnerable Minnesotans.   The Governor had Obamacare protesters shouting him down in his announcement news conference, but he let them have their say and stuck to his principles without looking back.  As a result of taking on a number of controversial Obamacare implementation tasks, Minnesota now has the second best rate of health insurance coverage of any state (95%).

Resolving Vikings Stadium Quagmire.  Then there was the Vikings Stadium debate that had been festering for almost a decade before Dayton came to office. Despite polls showing that subsidizing the stadium was unpopular, Dayton provided active backing for legislation to publicly subsidize the Vikings Stadium.  While noting that he is “not one to defend the economics of the NFL,” he plugged his nose and embraced a job he didn’t welcome, but felt was necessary to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and boost a then-suffering construction sector.

Cutting Coveted Social Safety Net.  Early in Dayton’s tenure as Governor, he even made significant cuts in state safety net programs, which is one of the very worst jobs any progressive can ever get.  Faced with a large budget shortfall, he proposed cutting $950 million in planned spending, told agencies to cut their budgets by up to 10 percent, and cut the state workforce by 6 percent.  That work had to leave even Dirty Job Dayton feeing grimy.

Love these positions or hate them — and Dayton himself didn’t relish many of them — no one can accuse Dayton of political timidity.

Dirtiest Job Yet

But this winter, Dirty Job Dayton finally met his Waterloo. With no political allies in sight, he attempted to push through salary increases for state agency commissioners, who are making less than their peers in many other states.   Dayton said he “knew there would be negative reaction,” but, as is his habit, he plugged his nose and pushed forward anyway.

How did that go for him?  Well, in the last few weeks Dayton learned that attempting to raise bureaucrats’ pay makes shark repellent testing look like a walk in the park.

Fresh off that experience, one might expect that Dayton would now stick to clean, safe, and easy jobs for the remainder of his time in office.  But if you believe that, you obviously don’t know Dirty Job Dayton very well.

Next Up:  Slinging Asphalt

After the salary increase shellacking Dayton endured, he has already found a new thankless task to champion – fixing Minnesota’s deteriorating roads and bridges.  While Republicans want a modest short-term fix funded out of the current budget surplus, that would be much too easy for Dirty Job Dayton. Dayton is attempting to put in place an ambitious decade-long $11 billion solution. Such a long-term fix necessitates a 16 cent per gallon (at current prices) increase in the gas tax. Not surprisingly, the polls are looking a little rough at the moment.

But Dirty Job Dayton doesn’t care. Like Mike Rowe, if the assignment stinks, scares, or stings, he’s in!

Ladies, It’s Time You Got Tough with Hillary

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterAre we having another deep doo-doo deja vu Clinton moment, or what? Suddenly it’s 1998 all over again. If only the economy was nearly as good.

So it seems Hillary Clinton, presumptive next president, played by her own rules and kept her State Department e-mails (more or less) hidden from official prying eyes. That is except for government types who received her e-mails. Those are still on the big server system, accessible to every EOH (Enemy of Hillary) who wants to root around and prove she personally armed the terrorists who killed the ambassador in Benghazi.

Now … obviously … this is a (big) deal because she’s Hillary goddam Clinton, with an empty six-lane freeway in front of her leading to the White House. If she wasn’t we’d still be obsessing over that stupid dress thing. Whether this outrage(!) actually has legs, which is to say if the conservative outrage machine can sustain it for 18 months, remains to be seen. Personally, I doubt it, since Es of H have a bad habit of picking the wrong horse to saddle up their righteous indignation. See: Whitewater, Benghazi.

But this email flap is another reminder that liberals might want to demand a hell of a lot more from Her Regency before the coronation. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with the acclamation route to big power. I like candidates who have had a scare thrown into them, people who have been forced to explicitly defend and/or adjust their thinking and promises based on aggressive examination from E’s and F’s alike.

The current Hillary-Jeb match-up is so embarrassing. Clinton and Bush. Again. We look like a goddam banana republic, alternating between owners of the two biggest estancias every eight years. It’s bad enough we have to endure a system at both the national and state level where millionaires (of both parties) essentially buy themselves a job, usually guaranteeing that their previous stakeholders have primary access to their souls. It’s so damned unimaginative, if nothing else.

More to the point, as many have written before, the Hillary ascension, with no Plan B, strikes me as recklessly perilous. Even if the jowl-flapping buffoons of modern conservatism fail to make “Email-gate” stick, where are we if something truly grave happens to our one-and-only roadblock to Bush III, or President Scott Walker? Tomorrow is promised to no one. Hillary may not get hit by a bus, but not being the springiest of chickens, her health could fail, or we could discover that she really did plan the Benghazi attack. What then?

Given a choice between female candidates, I’d much prefer Elizabeth Warren. (Hell, I’d prefer Warren over any other Democrat, x or y chromosome, off the top of my head.) But a Warren candidacy would ignite the most godawful firestorm of coordinated, multi-front, big money attacks this back water oligarchy has ever seen. She’s despised and feared that much by Wall Street. And frankly, I doubt she’s prepared yet for that level of intensity of defamation. Hillary on the other hand seems quite cozy and well-triangulated among the Goldman Sachs and Citigroups of the world.

Liberal women in particular seem all but unanimously united in their support of Hillary, which is understandable to a point. After 240 years of alleged democracy, a woman president is waaay overdue and Hillary clearly has more experience and retail savvy than any plausible male on the scene. (Sorry, Joe Biden. Ain’t never going to happen.) That said, it may be that the women rushing to carry Hillary’s sedan chair up the White House steps are precisely the people to be grilling her most intensely on how exactly she intends to transform this country’s financial regulatory system, which is so tightly inter-locked with campaign finance, which is to blame for the obscene, truly Guatemala-like corruption and waste of DC?

There are a half dozen other good questions, but getting Her Highness on record, explicitly and in detail on that point alone would be a damned valuable start.

And if (not when) she answers, don’t put up with any of the usual Clinton-ish legalisms.

 

 

 

This Just In: Bill O’Reilly Full of [bleep]

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterMaybe the strangest thing about the still unfolding “Bill O’Reilly is a bullshitter!” story is that anyone with their wits still about them ever thought he wasn’t.

It is ridiculously entertaining to read David Corn’s Mother Jones piece, and now yesterday’s howler about Bill knocking on the door of a key JFK assassination figure at the very moment the guy inside blows his head off with a shotgun. Gripping stuff if not for the recordings of O’Reilly on the phone … from 1200 miles away. I mean, there’s a hilarious Ron Burgundy aspect to O’Reilly’s uber-manly tale of dragging an injured colleague to safety amid a murderous police rampage in Buenos Aires when in fact the “riot” was barely more than a routine demonstration, no one was killed and no CBS employee reported so much as a twisted ankle or required any level of medical attention.

I’d add that this is the stuff of full-on parody if it weren’t for the fact that Stephen Colbert built a career doing exactly that. (Can you imagine the delirium Colbert’s writers would be in with this run of red meat?)

Comparisons to Brian Williams’ self-immolation miss the central difference here pretty badly. Williams was employed with the explicit understanding that he was credible, trading only in the facts as best as NBC could report them. Bill O’Reilly is the key mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ enormously profitable political campaign masquerading as a news organization. Williams’ viewers were justifiably disappointed to learn of his bizarre embellishments. O’Reilly’s viewers, I strongly suspect, do not care in the least what he has embellished or flat-out invented, as long as he continues to attack Murdoch and Ailes’ and their designated enemies.

With that in mind it’ll be easier to understand why FoxNews not only isn’t going to “investigate” O’Reilly’s superhero imaginings, and is instead gleeful at a fresh opportunity to attack the “guttersnipe liberal media” and threaten straight news pinheads with bodily harm. It plays directly into the fascinating psychology wherein ardent zealots confronted with information that unambiguously contradicts their beliefs double down on their erroneous thinking rather than concede and align themselves with reality.

Prediction: O’Reilly’s ratings will spike over the next month.

This incident brings two things back to mind.

1: Liberals take FoxNews far too seriously, and I fully admit my complicity on that point. For years I’ve fulminated myself into apoplexy at Fox’s shameless absurdity and cynicism, convinced that the network was an aggressive form of cancer soon to terminate all higher brain function among the credulous masses. But somewhere after the 2012 elections, when all of Fox-think was revealed to be astonishingly incompetent at both campaigning and campaign analysis, I settled down. Their bona fides, such as they are, are all but completely limited to an old, embittered demographic of rapidly diminishing electoral significance.

Here’s Frank Rich not long ago on the topic.

I suspect the irrelevance of FoxNews to the 300 million Americans who are not lapping it up 24/7 has something to do with Jon Stewart bailing on “The Daily Show”. FoxNews as a punchline is a settled, cliched commodity.

2:  Blogging colleague Joe Loveland passed this on yesterday. It’s the annual Pew survey on America’s most and least-trusted broadcast news operations. In the realm of what we’ve come to expect the survey’s authors write:

“Fox News is both the most trusted and least trusted name in news. 35% of Americans say they trust Fox News more than any other TV news outlet, followed by 14% for PBS, 11% for ABC, 10% for CNN, 9% for CBS, 6% each for Comedy Central and MSNBC, and 3% for NBC. It leads the way because of its continuing near total support among Republicans as the place to go for news- 69% of Republicans say it’s their most trusted source with nothing else polling above 7%.”

Think of that. 69%. Pretty well proving Murdoch and Ailes’ show biz genius at giving their people the campaign message they want.

But in the context of Bill O’Reilly’s naked bogus-ness, it also explains why he’ll suffer no reputational damage. Fox’s world is designed as an “us v. them” battlefield. O’Reilly is the high profile field marshall under constant attack from common enemies. To support Bill without equivocation is to be a loyal soldier.

Contrast that, as Joe pointed out, with the dismal all-in loyalty liberals have to their alleged message-bearer, MSNBC.

“It’s interesting that while Fox News and MSNBC are often thought of as equivalent, Fox News is by far and away the most trusted source of GOP voters while MSNBC is only tied for 4th among Democrats.”

The underlying point here is that liberals and conservatives affiliate with and consume partisan messaging in vastly different ways. Other psychological studies note conservatives’ far higher levels of trust in authority, e.g. Bill O’Reilly, and liberals’ elevated levels of skepticism toward leadership/herd thinking. One group embraces the minister-to-parish relationship. The other tolerates it in small doses.

Second prediction:  Bill O’Reilly will soon reveal that it was he who shot Osama bin Laden and to thunderous applause will vilify any left-wing guttersnipe who says otherwise.

Americans Support An Actual “Government Takeover of Health Care,” And I Don’t Mean Obamacare

Government_takeover_of_health_careOn the heels of the closing of the second year of open enrollment for Obamacare coverage, expect to hear a lot of “government takeover of health care” ranting from conservatives.

That phrase is heavily used by anti-Obamacare zealots, and that is no accident.  In 2009, Republican political consultant and celebrated wordsmith Frank Luntz advised his conservative clients to portray the proposed Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as “a government takeover of health care.”

Conservatives did as they were told. If you Google those words, you’ll see that the usage of that phrase, and close variations, has been widespread among conservatives ever since.

In a 28-page strategy memo, Luntz explained why stressing a Washington “takeover” was so important:

“Takeovers are like coups.  They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”

In other words, the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be talked about as it were a legislative proposal in a representative democracy.  Instead, it should be talked about as if it were a Stalin-esque freedom grab.

There are two problems with conservatives parroting the Luntz-recommended phrase “government takeover of health care” to make Americans fearful about health care reform: First, It’s demonstrably false.  Second, It doesn’t scare most Americans.

False.  I’m not going to go into detail about why it is false, because it’s pretty self-evident.  But suffice it to say that ‘government takeover of health care” as a descriptor for the Affordable Care Act was named by the non-partisan editors of Politifact as their 2010 “Lie of the Year.”   In a lie-intensive election year, “government takeover of healthcare” was named by both editors and readers as the Pants on Fire of all Pants’s on Fire.  Politifact notes the obvious:

“It is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers.

It’s true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.”

Not Scary.  But beyond being false, the more surprising thing to me is that “government takeover of health care” is not all that scary to a  majority of Americans.

While Obamacare is not remotely close to a government takeover of health care, putting Americans into the government-run Medicare program would be exactly that.  And you know what? Most Americans are just fine with even that level of government takeover of health care.

Medicare_for_All

A January 2015 GBA Strategies survey asked Americans if they support enactment of “a national health plan in which all Americans would get their insurance through an expanded, universal form of Medicare.” By a 15-point margin, a majority of Americans (51% support, 36% oppose) supported that kind of government takeover of health care.

The same survey then asked Americans about giving people the option of having government take over their health care.   Specifically, the survey asked if respondents would support giving “all Americans the choice of buying health insurance through Medicare or private insurers, which would provide competition for insurance companies and more options for consumers.” An amazing 71% of Americans support having the option of a government takeover their health care, including 63% of Republican respondents.

So it turns out that, after six years of intensive Luntz-led vilification of “government takeover of health care,” backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of political advertising and public relations efforts, there are very few issues in America today with as much public support as there is for the federal government taking over American health care.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was republished on MinnPost.

Williams or Stewart? Pick the credible journalist.

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s at least one powerful irony in NBC slamming Brian Williams with a six-month, unpaid suspension and Jon Stewart announcing his retirement from “The Daily Show” on the same day. And it’s within this question: Which of the two has proven to be the more credible messenger of news? After that you can kick around, “Which is more the caricature of a modern TV news anchor?”

There’s almost nothing more than anyone can say about Williams’ death spiral other than it was whiplash fast and unambiguous. One day he was a celebrity god. The next he’s persona non grata among the chattering classes. But in the brief time it took him to dive from the stratosphere to the asphalt, precious few bloviators and pundits dared place his personal apocalypse in the context it thoroughly and fairly requires.

Quite ironically, Stewart himself got there Monday night. Elsewhere, veteran reporter/writer John Hockenberry, squeezed it in at the end of his column on Williams’ meltdown. I was a bit disappointed that my old pal, David Carr, while eloquent, couldn’t find space to make the same salient point. (Off the radar, another old pal, Jim Leinfelder was on to this question — via e-mail –within hours of Williams’ meltdown.)

“The point” is of course this: If a guy who is basically a network entertainer — someone whose combination of good-looks, charm and polished demeanor reliably attracts an audience large enough to satisfy advertisers — is to suffer the 21st century of a public drawing-and-quartering for over-inflating his war experiences, specifically those in our Iraq invasion, how is it that both the architects of that invasion and Williams’ peers feel no heat? No widespread vilification? Much less legal recourse? Fundamentally no censure or punishment at all for leading us into a multi-trillion-dollar, reputation-blotting blunder and, in the context of the media, playing complicit lapdogs to the whole shameful affair?

Are Williams’ cocktail party-style exaggerations truly worse than the timidity of the vast majority of the national press? Worse than the professional skeptics who stood by, too intimidated by national hysteria to ask impertinent questions, as Dick Cheney and George W*. sold a war of choice based on stovepiped intelligence and fear? It certainly seems so, because Williams’ career is a cinder, while the rest, including the revered Tom Brokaw, are still welcome guests at think-y festivals, graduation ceremonies and Big League journalism award ceremony stroke-a-thons.

Watching Stewart walk us through this Monday night, the most sickening part for me, wasn’t Williams, it was the montage of people like former New York Times editor Bill Keller and his laurel-covered ilk uttering flagrantly false assurances of having done due diligence on the war at its outset. That is the sort of thing, a transparent falsehood, that ought to ruin a career, not something as minor on the grand scale of things as bragging about getting “shot out of the sky.”

Back to the question of credibility. If we truly mean “being trusted and believed in”, is Jon Stewart further down the ladder of trustworthiness than any of the correspondents who, dare I say, “questioned” George W* about the looming invasion on March 6, 2003? (Here’s video.) The record pretty clearly shows that only ABC’s Terry Moran came close to applying any heat to the veracity of the claims Cheney and Bush had been making. Everyone else was caught up in the fog of research-tested patriotism. You have to wonder how someone who hadn’t completely bought in to the group-think of corporate journalism might have approached Bush at that critical moment?

Stewart’s “fake anchor” shtick has made TV history by making “real journalists” squirm over their pettiness, ineptitude, bluster and lack of respect for the truth, all of which is course is baked into the notion of a commercially palatable news product.

So as both Williams and Stewart depart the stage, it is fair to ask, “Which of the two is more credible?” “Which is most respectful of the truth?”

What Happened To GOPers Looking To The Market To Set Prices?

price_is_based_on_what_the_market_will_bear_-_Google_SearchOne of the things that you can usually expect Republicans to be consistent about is faith in market forces. They’re continually reminding us that we should trust market forces to allocate resources, as opposed to having politicians arbitrarily setting prices and picking winners and losers.

In the personnel marketplace, this means that if salaries are set below what the rest of the marketplace is bearing, we can expect to attract a smaller pool of talent willing to work at the below-market price. In a market economy, the theory goes, you get what you pay for. If you offer less salary, you attract less talent. If you attract less talent, you get worse personnel.  If you get worse personnel, you get incompetent enterprises and poor outcomes.

For Republicans, this trust in markets is a not just any old belief. This really is their core, their bedrock. But it all goes out the window when there is a juicy demagogic opportunity in front of them.

For a politician, the most tempting political opportunity of them all is the chance to get self-righteous about a government pay increase.   For demagogues, a government pay increase is as delicious a target as there is. One doesn’t have to be a particularly skilled, bright or courageous politician to score political points this issue. Jihadi John probably could get a standing ovation from Americans if he proclaimed his support for lower government employee salaries.

But again, political opportunism aside, what happened to Republicans’ bedbrock belief in trusting the market price? The Star Tribune has reported on the market price for state government Commissioners and found:

Before smaller raises in 2013 and 2014, agency heads had seen no increase since 2000. A recent analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget showed that before the raises, 14 of 15 commissioners were paid at or below the 50th percentile compared to commissioners in other states; eight were below the 25th percentile. The raises push Minnesota salaries above the median.

Dayton noted in his letter that mid-level managers at many Minnesota companies earn more than his commissioners, who after the increases are earning between $140,000 and $155,000 a year. DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, for instance, manages a $17.7 billion budget and will now make about $155,000.

Dayton also pointed out that even after the raise, the state education commissioner is still earning about 80 percent of the yearly salary of superintendents at a number of larger Minnesota school districts. Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius had been making $119,000 before the raise. By contrast, the head of Minneapolis schools earns about $190,000.

In other words, senior executives in Minnesota state government had been earning well below the market price being paid peers from other jurisdictions and states. Moreover, I would argue that Commissioners in Minnesota should be paid well above the 50th percentile, since Minnesota is a relatively high income state, ranking 11th highest in the nation.

What do Republicans – stalwart champions for trusting the market to determine prices – think about this market snapshot? The Star Tribune reports:

Republicans scoffed at the argument that Dayton would struggle to attract and retain talented commissioners without the pay increase. Plenty of talented people would serve as Dayton’s commissioners, “at the old price,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston.

In this case, Republicans effectively are insisting that we ignore the market prices, and instead let politicians set the price and pick winners and losers.

Why the inconsistency?  The marketplace argument gets pushed aside in this case for three primary reasons.

First, with legislators earning a ridiculously low salary of $31,140 per year, everything looks extravagant. As I’ve argued before, legislators need a large pay raise to attract a better talent pool, and until they get it, legislators are going to be tempted to pay government employees below what the market is bearing, simply out of jealousy and spite.  When they are being paid less than the average sewage worker, I can’t blame them for being bitter, but their own demagoguery is what prevents the problem from getting the problem fixed.  In any event, legislators’ low pay is an important undercurrent in this debate.

The second reason market arguments gets ignored by Republicans in this debate is that many honestly have no problem making government less competent. At their core, Repulbicans want government to become smaller. Lower paid commissioners lead to less talented commissioners, which leads to less competent government, which leads to less faith in government, which leads to more political support for shrinking government. Score!

The final reason market arguments get pushed aside by Republicans in this debate is the most obvious.  There are cheap political points to be scored. You can bank on the fact that the pay increase will be showing up in endless campaign ads during the 2016 elections.  And when you’re only making $31,000 per year, sometimes the adrenalin rush that comes from scoring cheap political points is the best pay available.

– Loveland

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

No Vaccine Can Save Christie

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterI should have included Chris Christie in my recent handicapping of the Republican presidential race. At first it was simply that I forgot him. Oops. But then when I remembered, I thought, “Oh, why bother? There’s no way the guy holds up under even a week’s worth of the full media barrage. Sarah Palin, because she’s wrapped in a completely delusional partisan bubble, would survive longer than him.”

The irony here is that there are actually a few things I like about Christie, among them precisely the quirks of personality that would keep him in permanent meltdown mode on the national campaign trail. By that I mean, the guy gets annoyed … easily.

On one level, the one where you and I live, getting annoyed with idiots and the bastards trying to saw your legs out from under you is natural and human. It feels good, cathartic actually, to blurt out things like, “Are you nuts?”, or “[Bleep] off, [bleep]hole.” It’s a healthy sign that you’re not some robot spinning in an orbit separate from all other life on the planet. And, quite frankly, I find it kind of refreshing when a cool, composed dude like Barack Obama let’s loose with a line like that one about Kanye West being “a jackass.”

I’d have a beer with guys like that. More reality. Less pretense.

But beyond that, Christie, despite the infatuation of conservative deep thinkers like the rarely right Ann Coulter, is three-plus bills of liability out in the open field. His very bad week in jolly old England has been instructive in that regard. It began with him giving what would ordinarily be an unremarkable answer to a question about childhood vaccines. He replied saying that he and his wife have had their kids vaccinated, but that parents should retain some measure of control over the decision.

Fair enough, to my way of thinking. Nothing about that gets me too worked up.

But Christie’s a contender for the Throne of Dimwits, and the media is now twitching on a hair trigger for any Republican stepping anywhere, no matter how mundanely, outside the Circle of Fools. So that bland comment immediately became a test of whether Christie was sufficiently anti-science (i.e. anti-gummint vaccine) to remain viable in a world of Rick Santorums, Ted Cruzs, Rand Pauls and the 5000 gibberish-shouting radio ministers bleating into the brains of the party’s base.

Holy anti-virus.

At that point Team Christie began “the walk back”, re-tailoring his response for the fools … and making him look profoundly foolish in the process. Worse, Christie let it get to him. He let the world see him peeve and sweat.

He might have escaped if it weren’t for Bloomberg News resurrecting a story rooted in a year-old book on the 2012 presidential campaign, where Team Romney was pulling it’s well-moussed hair over Christie’s, shall we say, fat cat lifestyle demands, as in private jets and lots of fine dining.

With that coming at him simultaneous with the vaccination story, he melted, calling off press availability (which was kind of the point of him boulevardiering around London, chatting up the PM and what not).

Bottom line? Fiasco.

Then there’s the problem that improper vaxx-thinking and fat cat living aren’t his only skeletons. He likes to sell the story that that squirrely George Washington Bridge flap was decided in his favor. But that isn’t so. Ditto the pricier issue of what he’s been doing with Hurricane Sandy relief money. And then we move on to all the other stuff a heavy-handed governor of … New Jersey … has engaged in that no one outside the state has cared much about, until he sticks his head up to run for President.

So no. No Chris Christie. He’s blunt and prickly, which is okay as far as it goes and appealing up to a point. But his melting point is so low the press and opposition are primed for every word out of his mouth, knowing they have to make so little effort to piss him off to the point he flips over and can’t get up.

Speed for Better Roads: A Modest Proposal

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterThere’s an interesting confluence — or collision — of ideas kicking around the Minnesota legislature these days. Topic “A” is how much to spend how fast to repair our (godawful) roads, bridges and whatever. If you’re following this you know that the Governor, and the DFL Senate want to go big and permanent, with a fairly hefty new set of taxes on a lot of different things in order to do an enormous amount of long overdue work throughout the next decade.

Their argument is sound. Construction work, unlike electronic gizmos, does not get cheaper with time. The “common good” factor in safe roads and bridges is about as obvious as you can get, with its attendant asset to economic activity. Moreover, as they have not argued so much, a hefty infusion of infrastructure appropriation means literally thousands of good-paying, non-exportable jobs for Minnesotans, not-so techy blue collar male-type jobs in particular … for a decade or more. (Maybe they should throw up some numbers about how that ripples through the state economy?)

As usual, the GOP, the self-acclaimed gurus of financial discipline and foresight, want to do much less now, then argue about it all over again every two years for the next decade, while, apparently to their minds, construction costs get cheaper, far fewer cars and trucks are hammering the asphalt, and a road fairy appears from the heavens and fixes everything at no expense to the GOP’s funding/voting base. This would prove again how much more fun it is in the “non-reality-based” world.

Simultaneous with this road funding talk, a report has emerged from the Department of Transportation that could/might result in rescinding the so-called Dimler Amendment, a law which keeps minor speeding violations (i.e. less than 10 miles over the limit) away from the prying eyes of the offenders’ insurance company. The report naturally asserts that there is a significant safety risk in allowing these chronic 74-in-a-65 speed junkies to stay on the highways. (Four tickets in a year and you’re gone, remember.)

To which I say, let’s get real.

Yeah, speed kills … if you’re drunk and/or distracted or pushing an ’87 Yugo beyond its structural limits, which is about 25 mph. But as every national study has shown, modern vehicles, with stability control and various other proven technologies are far, far safer than the crap Dad drove, and highway fatality numbers, even allowing for a five-fold increase in vehicles travelling on pot-holed roads, is as low as it was when Dinah Shore (look her up) shilled for Chevrolet.

So my modest proposal, which involves creating a fresh and voluntary revenue stream for state coffers is a new top tier for driver licenses. Let’s call it the Let’s See What This Baby Can Do, or the LeSeeWhaBaCanDo tier, where for, say $200 a year, which covers full vehicle inspection, you get a license that allows you 20 miles over the posted limit on non-metro freeways. I’m sure here’s some radiometric gizmo, a la the EZPass, you can attach to you vehicle hat that tips cops that you’re one of god’s chosen people and have the right to be pleasantly cruising at well-within-structural-limits up to Duluth or Moorhead, or across I-90.

Obviously, if you’re driving like a moron, weaving in and out of traffic, instead of maintaining a consistent speed, they can still pull you over. And if you’re stupid enough to add bombed-out-of-your-mind to such behavior, there could be a clause that immediately revokes the license, with a massive, “you’ve broken faith with the spirit of this deal” fine.

Critics will shriek that this is some sort of elitist “Corvette pass”, which it kind of is. But … anyone with $200 and the willingness to bring their existing vehicle fully up to required safety code (jobs, jobs, jobs for repair shops) can buy in, and something tells me there’d be quite a few other than hedge fund [bleep]holes in Maseratis who’d pop for that privilege.

More than enough, i say, to add detectable jing to state road repair coffers … on a strictly user-fee basis.

Place Your Bets: Handicapping 2016

Lambert_to_the_Slaughter[Updated]. From the number of pieces I’ve read recently, handicapping the 2016 presidential race has become a click-bait hobby for plenty of allegedly reputable people. So let’s see how it works with a disreputable, unabashed, socialize-all-medicine, raise the tax and fix the damn roads, free community college for all, screw the F-35 and legalize pot liberal.

With Hillary Clinton a given for the Democrats — although god help them if she’s hit by a bus or caught in a love nest with Vladimir Putin, because there is no “Plan B” — I’ll assign a percentage value to the Republican field poised against her. 0% being the most serious candidate, someone likely to beat her, and 100% being a laugher, the equivalent of another Michele Bachmann delusion.

Jeb Bush: 5%. The Republican ruling class actually did a very good job sweeping the worst of the nut cases off their candidate slate last year. (Yes, Joni Ernst won in Iowa.) But there were no witches, no “legitimate rapes” and very little open Tea Bag pandering, at least compared with 2010. This suggests authority –spreading money to local Tea Party captains — is capable of getting Jeb through the primaries without forcing him to wear a tri-corner hat, leggings and ‘rassle snakes at prayer breakfasts. If that’s true, he’s bona fide serious opposition. He certainly more serious and intellectually engaged than his feckless brother. (I seriously doubt we’d have gone to Iraq with Jeb instead of W*, if only because he wouldn’t have laid the “detail stuff” off on Dick Cheney). But I still don’t think he could beat Her Regency. The Democrats have a profound electoral map advantage, the horror of another Bush is just too much for millions of active voters and while Hillary Clinton is hardly anyone’s idea of a “transformational candidate”, the stage is set and lit, with roses in place for a woman.

Scott Walker: 15%. In most ways a textbook example of the ideal Movement Conservative. He’s got that Tim Pawlenty careerist talent of rarely sounding like the pathological narcissist/cynic he is. Despite a Pawlenty-like mismanagement of his state’s economy, laying on massive multi-billion dollar deficit while Minnesota tries to decide what top do with giant surplus, his “go-big” brawl with public unions is all it takes to be hero to … the rubes who aren’t in unions and his industrialist, union-hating benefactors, most notably the Koch brothers. He’s no serious threat top defeat Hillary in a general election, but there’s no question he has the duplicitous wiles to survive a GOP primary campaign.

Rand Paul: 25%. He’s sort of this year’s version of Newt Gingrich. “What dumb people think a smart guy sounds like.” There are college-age wonkers who love his contrarian poses and think tankers who see a guy who’d go out play with their most batshit Ayn Randian theories. But he’s also a little like Joe Biden, in that he’s not big on filters. Over the course of the grind he’ll say at least 20 nutty things that will serve to remind fence-sitters that Hillary at least is a predictable commodity.

Mitt Romney: 40%. Face it. He’s the only Republican with the exception of Jeb, who doesn’t have bury his face in the laps of the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson. He could pay for the race out of his mad money jar. Moreover, he might have learned something about pandering to the loonies in 2012. But, come on. Everywhere outside of a Palm Beach investment bankers luncheon Mitt is still the clueless rich guy, a cartoon who gives no indication that even he knows what he really believes.

Ted Cruz: 60%. Now this guy can do some damage. Not to Hillary. It’d be a landslide in her favor if he ever went mano a mano. But he’s the sort of wholly self-absorbed, unapologetic douche bag who’ll blow off any notion of collegiality and force the Jebs and Mitts to explain why they’re not sending in the Marines to block Obamacare. Frankly, I’m amazed that someone hasn’t dug up a juicy scandal on the Tedster. If ever someone looked like they’re hiding a closet full of perversions, its Cruz.

Marco Rubio: 75%. By now his reputation is locked in concrete. An empty suit. A cutey-pie shill for old money interests without the Clintonesque imagination to make a serviceable case for either pole of the same argument.

Rick Perry: 80%. An even emptier suit than Rubio, even with his new “I must read something because I’m now wearing glasses” look. Worse, for him, Jeb, though associated lately with Florida, is closer to the big, safe-bet Texas money. Still, in terms of pure entertainment, Perry was good stuff on the campaign trail, we’d all love to see him back

Rick Santorum. 90%. Say what you will, Santorum was the hardest working guy in a sweater vest Iowa and the Deep South primaries have ever seen. Lacking Bush and Romney-style money, he has no choice but to pander to the most medieval of the crazies, while reminding everyone else of the guy in high school who no other guy wanted to hang out with. He’s the Republicans’ Harold Stassen, unless Romney wants to fight him for it.

Mike Huckabee: 95%. He’s one of those sweaty, grasping characters who just refuses to go away, clinging to the belief, like Jim Carrey in “Dumber and Dumber”, that “there’s still a chance”. There isn’t. There never has been. Besides there’s more money in slinging stale meat to rubes from FoxNews.

Sarah Palin: 1000%. There’s nothing, short of a long weekend with Sofia Vergara, (sorry, dear), that would delight me more than a Hillary v. Sarah face-off. Michele Bachmann was an opportunistic nut-case sucking up $20 checks from embittered revivalists living on Social Security checks, but Palin is the gold standard for naked pandering, startling stupidity, rank incompetence and non-stop public buffoonery. We are already looking back on her as an icon of the age of celebrity worship. “Does she look good in a form fitting suit? Well then she can be president.” I think John McCain said that.