Kim Impossible

Bring me the Baha Men and the dogs they helped escape!

Are the Kims just crazy or crazy as a fox?

If there’s any regime on the planet that’s been only a Turkish Angoran cat and a monocle away from being a James Bond villain, it’s been the Kim dynasty of North Korea.  From the regime’s nuclear weapons program, to attacking the South Korean navy, shelling a South Korean island, and even declaring a “state of war” with their southern neighbors last March, North Korea has created a reputation as a teetering, despotic dynasty constantly on the verge of either collapse or thermonuclear genocide.  Or perhaps both.

Such an image has been cultivated, in large part, by the cult of personalty surrounding the Kims – and nourished by the reputation of them engaging in downright theatrically outlandish acts of evil.  So it is any wonder that news reports have surfaced that Kim Jong Un didn’t merely executed his purged uncle Jang Song Thaek, the number 2 North Korean official, but fed him alive to 120 dogs? (skip ahead if you’re squeamish):

“Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called ‘quan jue’, or execution by dogs,” according to the Straits Times of Singapore. The daily relied on a description of the execution in a Hong Kong newspaper that serves as the official mouthpiece of China’s government.

“The entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr. Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials,” the Straits Times said in a piece published Dec. 24, 2013, but only now getting traction in the United States.

There’s no report yet if when Jang Song Thaek asked Dear Leader if he expected him to talk, Kim Jong Un replied “no, Mr. Thaek, I expect you to die.”

All terrible Bond jokes aside, if the accusations sounds far fetched, it’s because they likely are:

The source is questionable, too. If the Chinese knew about how Kim’s uncle died, why didn’t they talk about it sooner and why did the story only leak out through a Hong Kong news outlet? The incident was first reported by the Wen Wei Po newspaper on December 12, yet it’s only now that The Straits Times has commented upon it – and only now that the Western media has started to take notice. The Straits Times is a respectable and widely read publication, but it’s often been accused of being the mouthpiece of Singapore’s ruling party and is staunchly anti-communist – so political bias is possible. Finally, we can’t dismiss the possibility that China itself has fabricated or at least encouraged the story to send a message to Pyongyang. Kim’s uncle was the architect of closer economic ties between the China and North Korea and there is thought to be a lot of anger about his death.

The story exists because it serves the purposes of all parties involved.  Kim Jong Un needs to maintain the aura of “crazy” that his grandfather and father created, for both foreign and domestic opponents.  Kim was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt last March by rival factions, perhaps being the impetus for Kim’s declaration of “war” later that month as an effort to put the country on a heightened security footing without exposing the weakness of his grip on power.

China loves the story because it gives them a further excuse to distant themselves from the hermit state after having lost their greatest internal political champion in Jang Song Thaek.  The South Koreans love the story because Pres. Park Geun-hye has taken a much harder line against the North, abandoning the “Sunshine Policy” of the 2000s in favor of a more Reaganesquse “trust but verify” approach (billed astrustpolitik by some foreign policy pundits).

The “Kims-as-crazy” story angle ensures no sizable shift in policy on the Korean peninsula, even though there has been a massive shift away from the reconciliation that the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008/9) attempted.  In an effort to extort South Korea and drive a wedge between them and the U.S., the Kims’ reckless behavior accomplished the exact opposite.

So perhaps the Kims are simply crazy after all.

Bob and Carol & Jane & Alice

Two’s company; three’s potentially legal

A narrow national majority favors same-sex marriage.  Will that majority favor a plurality?

When it comes to debating social issues, the  ”slippery slope” argument often holds the least amount of traction.  As Minnesota was racked by contentious debate surrounding last year’s marriage amendment, one of the litany of debate volleys was that opening the door to same-sex marriage could inevitability lead to polygamy.  Same-sex marriage supporters dismissed the notion, suggesting the argument was tangential at best, and a “scare tactic” at worst.

Boo:

Advocates for so-called plural marriages are applauding a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that struck down key segments of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, saying they violated constitutional rights to privacy and religious freedom.

In a 91-page decision issued Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups effectively decriminalized polygamy in Utah, ruling that a central phrase in the state’s law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the 1st and 14th amendments.

In all fairness, the lawsuit, brought about by the stars of the TLC reality show “Sister Wives”, depicting a Utah Mormon family with one legal wife and three “wives” who live with them, was more over striking down language that prevented religious cohabitation than actually allowing polygamy.  Kody Brown, the “star” of “Sister Wives” remains only legally married to one woman.  But proponents and opponents of polygamy alike agree that the ruling has opened the door to potentially allowing multiple partners in a marriage.

The debate reached the pages of the New York Times, and in true Gray Lady fashion, presented four arguments in favor of what is now being called “plural marriage” with only two dissenting points of view.  To ape T.S. Eliot, this is how social convention dies, not with a bang, but with a series of op-eds.

If the contours of the New York Times‘ debate on polygamy looked familiar, they should – because they neatly conform to the same lines of argument that have defined the same-sex marriage debate.  Laws against polygamy are discrimination.  Plural marriage advocates deserve respect and dignity.  Plural marriage makes us freer as a society.  Heck, even the arguments against “scare tactics” make a triumphant return.  Opponents can sight studies showing the negative effects of polygamy on women and children, but essentially are reduced to arguing that the move represents a further tumble down that ill-defined “slippery slope.” Continue reading

Those Cows Left The Barn

I expect conservatives and libertarians to be exercised over the news that the White House is establishing a “Nudge Squad” – a group of behavioral scientists who will work with the government bureaucracy to try to help shape citizen behavior:

“Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals,” reads the government document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply for positions on the team.

The document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the team would “experiment” with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs.

The document praises subtle policies to change behavior that have already been implemented in England, which already has a “Behavioral Insights Team.” One British policy concerns how to get late tax filers to pay up.

On the one hand, it all sounds very Orwellian.  And it is; using the government to shape peoples’ behavior is a short and utterly undefineable step away from using it to shape peoples’ thought.

On the other hand?  Precisely what has the public education system been since its inception?

EMT for the 313

Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus

“We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.” – City of Detroit’s motto.

Those words were written in 1805 to memorialize a Detroit school burned to the ground.  208 years later, Detroit still hopes for divine intervention, this time from the Michigan capitol.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s proclamation of a “financial emergency” in Detroit was the culmination of a decades-long municipal car wreck.  Between 2000 and 2010, the city lost 237,500 inhabitants — an estimated 1/4th of the population.  One in 20 homes were foreclosed upon during the height of the recession.  The city remains $327 million in the red with $14.9 billion in unfunded city pension plans.  By comparison, the entire state of Michigan’s biennial budget is $49 billion.

While Detroit has been slowly crashing into a wall of economic reality, a busload of corrupt and incompetent city officials have rubber-necked their way past the myriad of issues confronting the city.  In the last decade, Detroit saw 131 convictions of government officials, a number defined by the reign of ousted Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.  Even the federal government last year withheld millions in grants from Detroit over concerns of corruption.  The city’s reaction?  We’re not as bad as Chicago when it comes to corruption, so what’s the big deal?

The Roosevelt Warehouse or Detroit School Book Depository. A fire in 1987 did some damage to the building but was abandoned despite most of the inventory being usable. No effort to recover science and sports equipment, scissors, crayons, and books was ever made and now all sit on the floor in ruin

Synder’s appointment of an “emergency manager” to oversee the Detroit budget and pension plans has elicited howls of protests from the usual suspects:

“[Emergency managers] can unilaterally tear up union contracts, take over pension funds, make and repeal laws, sell public assets, the list goes on,” he said in an earlier interview with The Huffington Post. “Imposition of the EM must be understood in the context of the many other methods conservatives are using today to suppress democracy –- especially among people of color and people in poverty.”

But the decision to go the EM route has also gained critics on the Right, with one National Review writer declaring Snyder’s decision, in hyperbolic form, a “uniquely American way to dictatorship.”

The Emergency Manager legislation has gone through a number of iterations over the years, including one version, Public Act 4, that was opposed by the unions and defeated on the ballot last November.  PA 4 would have allowed EMs to effectively run cities, with their authority superseding that of city officials.  Instead, with PA 4 defeated, Snyder is falling back on the format of an older PA – one that while still not allowing EMs to be fired by the city, doesn’t grant them the power to abrogate collective bargaining or dissolve local governments.

The United Artists Theater. The theater is actually part of an 18-story high rise built in 1928. The historic building was such an embarrassment that the exterior was refurbished before the Super Bowl in 2006. The interior remains as seen.

Despite the fact that no one will be declared dictator, or even Pontifex Maximus, Snyder’s decision has prompted Detroit’s City Council to fight tooth-and-nail against any EM, filing an appeal against the state.  One official who isn’t planning on fighting Lansing is surprisingly Detroit’s Mayor Dave Bing.  Like the rest of the city government, Bing isn’t happy about Snyder’s power play, but unlike the rest, Bing is willing to work with any EM.  Speaking at a City Hall press conference, Bing stated that “we need to stop BSing ourselves,” a quote perhaps applicable to more than just an acknowledgment that an emergency manager would be imposed on Detroit whether they liked it or not.

An emergency manager invites micro concerns – with 83 cents of every Detroit police and fire payroll dollar being spent on pensions by 2017, what use is an EM without the ability to unilateral restructure pension and/or contracts?  But the macro concerns of the decision are far more troubling.  How do you save a city that won’t save itself?

The Lee Plaza Hotel lobby. The Lee Plaza is on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

H.L. Menchken famously declared that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”  Detroit has certainly being getting it “good and hard” for decades, and like an S&M enthusiast whose forgotten their safe-word, doesn’t know how to stop.  Bankruptcy may be an option, but it doesn’t address the billions in underfunded liabilities.  And considering all bankruptcy would do is force Detroit and its creditors to negotiate, there’s not much more that an EM would do for the situation except provide a political scapegoat for the necessary hard choices to come.  It should be little wonder that Mayor Dave Bing isn’t fighting Snyder’s executive decision – he’s probably relieved someone else will being taking the slings and arrows (in Detroit; statewide, the move is very popular).

Yet what happens after the dust settles?  Even if Snyder’s EM hacks Detroit’s budget into the black, will the political machinery or populace live with the decisions?  Or, having avoided any connection to the policies implemented to take Detroit on the long road to fiscal solvency, will the business of City Hall simply revert to usual?

Snyder’s technocrat lean may be well-intended, but in the case of Detroit, is only delaying the city and its voters coming to terms with their decisions.  Although on the plus side, Snyder’s move is the first job created in Detroit in years.

Open Letter To The Entire American People

To:  Everyone in the USA
From: Mitch Berg, Peasant who’s been through it all before
Re:  ”Sequestration”

Hey, everyone,

You may not remember this, but we’ve been through all this before.  Remember the “partial government shutdown”, back in the nineties?  It was a whole big nothing-burger.

Oh, the Clinton Administration tried to make sure that the people felt whatever pain was generated – closing parks, cramping down on the voters.  But as a rule, the whole thing affected nobody.

And here in Minnesota, we had a “complete” shutdown two years ago (which, again, wasn’t – the courts kept most of the government going as “essential”).  It lasted a few weeks.  Then Governor Messinger Dayton abandoned it, when he realized Minnesotans, for all his efforts to squeeze and scare them – shutting down state parks and highway rest areas, threatening to lay off teachers – barely noticed any difference.  While the media did its best to prop up the Messinger Dayton line, the people of Minnesota heard the gales of calumny but saw and felt a big fat nada burrito.  Even Governor Messinger Dayton – as cosseted and isolated from reality as his staff keeps him – noticed; on his trip around the state to whip up support for the DFL budget, he saw tepid crowds of union droogs, and a few professional protesters, and realized he had nothin’ (which may be why Dayton makes so few public appearances these days).

So it’s time for “sequestration” – the “radical” budget cuts that Obama and the super-di-duper commission agreed to as a stick to lead everyone to the “carrot” of an actual federal budget.  We’ve been waiting nearly 1,400 days for a budget from the Democrat-addled Senate, so Washington figured a “stick” was needed.

By the way – how radical and drastic are those cuts?:

Yep. They’re not even cuts.  They’re reductions in the increase.  Indeed, almost completely worthless, if cutting spending is your goal, but really nothing but a fart in the wind; sort of like “dropping HBO” in your family budget, even though your gas bill is rising and your teenage kids are costing more and more.

Obama will try to make “sequestration” hurt; he’ll slow down the TSA lines, he’ll gundeck some ship overhauls and clamp down some military maintenance budgets, he’ll inveigle some big cities to lay off a few cops and teachers, he’ll shut down Yellowstone as the cameras record photos of crestfallen children.  Hell, Joe Biden may even personally try to close the gates at Disney World.

But there is no there, there.  It’s a scare tactic, engineered by Obama and his compliant media.

It needs to be ignored.

That is all.

 

Te’oible Lies

Manti Te’o grasping at straws. Also missing a tackle.

Perhaps Andy Warhol’s famous quote should be amended.  In the future, even fictional people will be famous for 15 minutes.

By now, most of the world has heard the too-crazy-to-be-true story of Notre Dame and Heisman Trophy finalist Manti Te’o’s fictionally deceased fictional girlfriend Lennay Kekua.  The facts are relatively few yet terribly convoluted for a love-story that might as well have been crafted by Nicholas Sparks.  What is known is that Te’o purported to have a long-time girlfriend in distant California who communicated with him largely via Twitter.  In a 21st Century George Glass sort of relationship, Te’o's girlfriend was a digital creation of his friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.  The revelation of Lennay Kekua’s true identity has resulted in he-said/he-said allegations of whether Te’o was the victim or willing perpetrator of the elaborate hoax.

Captain Tuttle was unavailable for comment.

The details of the hoax have been engaging.  Theories abound.  Is Te’o, who is a practicing Mormon, in a homosexual relationship with fellow Mormon Tuiasosopo?  Did Te’o invent the girlfriend (or at least her Lifetime moviesque demise) to play upon the heartstrings of Heisman voters?  Or is Te’o the victim of a long-term ruse – perhaps the least plausible theory unless Te’o also believes he’s about to claim millions of dollars from a Nigerian prince he met via email.

The “real” motivation is less interesting than the motivations of the media, fans, and anyone else who makes up the sporting establishment to believe Te’o's lies.  And whether Te’o's initial motivation was to hide his sexual orientation or not, Te’o most certainly did lie to further his career.  The narrative of Te’o's loss of both his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day was by Te’o's own standards a near storybook tale of woe.  Te’o's otherwise great season was bookended by every reporter gushing on his ability to perform amid such personal torment.  Te’o himself declared his greatest career challenge as September 12th – the date his very real grandmother died and a very big lie about his girlfriend got even bigger with her “passing” from cancer.

The timing of Te’o's story coincides quite well with another high-profile web of lies - the Tour de Farce of Lance Armstrong’s career.

Te’o did not do what Armstrong did – no rules or laws were (as far as we know) broken.  But the connection of Te’o and Armstrong lies within the motivation for their appeal – our desire for compelling narrative that overwhelms a needed dollop of skepticism.  Manti Te’o having a strong statistical year is a nice story.  Manti Te’o overcoming death and loss is a much better one.  Lance Armstrong surviving cancer to ride again is a nice story.  Lance Armstrong winning 7 Tour de France’s in the face of cancer is exceedingly better.

The fans and media’s desire for narrative to drive accomplishments can be seen even when the truth isn’t at stake.  Adrian Peterson’s near record breaking year was given phenomenal coverage, as it should have been.  But while Peterson may win the MVP, just a few short years ago Tennesse Titans RB Chris Johnson ran for over 2,000 yards but didn’t even receive one first place MVP vote.  Why?  A lot of reasons can be suggested, but nearly breaking a record isn’t nearly as impressive as nearly breaking a record after reconstructive knee surgery.

Manti Te’o, at some level, understood this.  Sports ”journalism”, like most reporting, has little connection to facts and almost everything to do with emotionalism.  Actions don’t count – narrative does and the anger being expressed by reporters against Te’o today is less for his lies than for what they reveal about the motivations of journalists.  As one sportswriter remarked, even the man who beat Te’o for the Heisman, Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, won in part on his ability to manipulate the media.  Afterall, there was no “Johnny Football”, as Manziel is known, on the Heisman ballot.

(Not So) Magic Mike

The bourough’s au pair

Michael Bloomberg dresses up as Ray Nagin for Halloween.

Perhaps the symbolism is apt.  As New Yorkers and assorted guests from around the world gather in Staten Island to race in the New York City Marathon, Gotham’s Mayor finds himself running for his political life.

With the Eastern seaboard in shambles, power and transportation cut off to some boroughs in New York, and 19 dead at the Marathon’s starting line alone, it’s not hard to see what Mayor Michael Bloomberg thought he was accomplishing by pronoucing that the run would continue, Sandy or not.  The Marathon has been held every year since 1970 (a relatively short time for a city with a history stretching into the early 17th century).  A continuation of that tradition could project a calming influence on a battered city and provide Bloomberg the sort of popularity boost badly needed amid his sagging approval ratings.

Instead, Mayor Mike is being seen as diverting police and rescue resources from a city in dysfunction while simultaneously diverting his attention to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.  That Bloomberg has couched his work in the latter as due to Obama’s nearly nonexistent work against “climate change” might strike Gothamites as a sick joke from a Mayor whose lack of flood preparation has submereged their city while unleasing an estimated 8 million-plus rats from the sewers.  Bread and circuses might be the order of the day, but rat-traps, canned goods and diesel might be required.

Gotham hasn’t suffered this much since Tom Hardy donned a goatse mask.

Writing in The American Interest, Walter Russell Mead has penned what might be the penultimate political obituary of Michael Bloomberg, save for whatever New York’s technocrat-in-chief plans for the remainder of his term.  For if its anything like his third, it won’t be much:

The Mayor decided to run for a third term, but he was caught by his own term limits. The hacks on the City Council made clear that they wouldn’t give him an exemption from term limits unless the limits were lifted for everybody else. Disgracefully, Bloomberg took the deal and helped the corrupt political class destroy his greatest achievement….

The third term saw the Mayor struggle for a theme. His issues grew smaller and smaller: saturated fats, Big Gulp sodas—did Bloomberg really think it was worth wrecking term limits to campaign for these things? The air leaked out of his national political ambitions and the city waited patiently for his tenure to end.

Left unspoken in Read’s otherwise expansive review of Bloomberg’s legacy are the series of public-service failures that predated Hurricane Sandy.  The late 2010 snowfall that bedeviled most of the country snarled NYC’s traffic for days, leading even Bloomberg to sheepishly declare that “we’ve looked at some things that we probably could have done better.”  A city that had made significant progress against crime (a holdover from the Giuliani days), reversed itself in 2012 as crime stats rose for the first time in 20 years.  One of Bloomberg’s few public successes had been handling Hurricane Irene; the lessons of which apparantly weren’t taken to heart a little over a year later.

It is those failures, and many smaller ones, that strike at the heart of what was once Michael Bloomberg’s appeal – results-oriented governance.  Bloomberg may have been a cold, aristocratic figure who lacked much of a “common-touch” with the plebs of NYC, but he stood between many average New Yorkers and the army of liberal partisans who saw City Hall as Grand Central Station for a variety of socioeconomic engineering ideas.  So what if Bloomberg liked to chase grandoise ambitions of national office or dabbled in Nanny-state legislation that brought him media acclaim?  As long as the power stayed on, the trains ran on time, and crime was down, who cared if your fried chicken tasted like crap since it wasn’t cooked with trans-fats?  For most New Yorkers, it was the small price of electoral business.

In politics, like business, people are willing to pay for flaws as long as they outweigh the perks (witness the long lines for the latest iPhone).  Today, few New Yorkers will be thinking about sodium intake or banned salt shakers.  But they will be asking themselves if Michael Bloomberg cares more about his agenda than the city’s.

ADDENDUM:  Mayor Mike listens – sort of – and cancels the NYC Marathon.  But not without casting a few stones at those who criticized his decision to Keep Calm & Run On:

“We would not want a cloud to hang over the race or its participants, and so we have decided to cancel it,” Mr. Bloomberg and the organizers said in a joint news release. “We cannot allow a controversy over an athletic event—even one as meaningful as this—to distract attention away from all the critically important work that is being done to recover from the storm and get our city back on track.”

Race to the Bottom

Ebony & Irony

The media begins to chum the political waters for race-baiting.

There was little doubt that race was one of the larger underlying narratives of the 2008 presidential campaign.  The election of the country’s first African-American president, by the largest popular vote margin in twenty years, was widely hailed by Barack Obama’s supporters as a sign that racial relations had truly improved.

And now, what of the electorate that gave Obama 69 million votes, 365 electoral votes, and an 8% margin of victory?  According to the polling analyst du jour, America has not only returned to being a land of racist voters but, in fact, always was:

Though many people believe that our first African-American president won the election thanks in part to increased turnout by African-American voters, Stephens-Davidowitz’s research shows that those votes only added about 1 percentage point to Obama’s totals. “In the general election, this effect was comparatively minor,” he concludes. But in areas with high racial search rates, the fact that Obama is African American worked against him, sometimes significantly.

 

“The results imply that, relative to the most racially tolerant areas in the United States, prejudice cost Obama between 3.1 percentage points and 5.0 percentage points of the national popular vote,” Stephens-Davidowitz points out in his study. “This implies racial animus gave Obama’s opponent roughly the equivalent of a home-state advantage country-wide.”

Apparently Obama was supposed to have won by 11% or even 15%.  Or maybe simply by acclamation.

Where is this thesis of latent racism coming from?  Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard University, who gleaned his insight from that fount of all wisdom – the Internet.

Stephens-Davidowitz coupled internet search histories with racially charged words with searches for “Obama”, compared them to results for the 2004 election, and faster than you can google “the Bradley effect,” surmmerized that Americans are actually super secret racists.  And if you believe the liberal-leaning polling outfit, Public Policy Polling, you may need to add roughly one-quarter of African-American voters to the ranks of the racists since they’ve soured on Obama in North Carolina.  Perhaps Stephens-Davidowitz is saving that study for after he get his doctorate in an unrelated major.

There are a few issues within Stephens-Davidowitz’s thesis that most people wouldn’t contest.  Racists still do exist in some places in America and the electorate’s view on the condition of race relations has plummeted since Barack Obama’s election:

A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief for the first time. Back in 2008, 52 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only 9 percent anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to the Newsweek survey, only 32 percent of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30 percent) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60 percent of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama.

 

Whites are especially critical of Obama’s approach: a majority (51 percent) actually believe he’s been unhelpful in bridging the country’s racial divide. Even blacks have concluded, by a 20-point margin, that race relations have not improved on Obama’s watch.

A myriad of reasons explain such stark polling data, but it doesn’t help that the media consistently attempts to propagate stories that seek to find racists around every corner.  Especially in political coverage which implies that to oppose President Obama is to oppose him based on the color of his skin.  It’s false and deeply insulting.

It’s also an attempt to prepare the battlefield post November.  As Stephens-Davidowitz concludes:

The state with the highest racially charged search rate was West Virginia, where 41 percent of voters chose Keith Judd, a white man who is also a convicted felon currently in prison in Texas, over Obama just this May. Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama, and New Jersey rounded out the top 10 most-racist areas, according to the search queries used.

 

What does this mean for this year’s contest? “Losing even two percentage points lowers the probability of a candidate’s winning the popular vote by a third,” Stephens-Davidowitz explains. “Prejudice could cost Mr. Obama crucial states like Ohio, Florida and even Pennsylvania.”

 

The narrative is set.  If Barack Obama loses re-election, the nation of progressive, racially-harmonious voters will have suddenly become extras in a remake of “Deliverance.”  But is this exactly a wise political strategy?  It’s bad enough when one party blames their defeat on the electorate being stupid enough to fall for the rhetoric of the opposition, but what is there to be gained from inferring that voters are racists?

Do Republicans need to counter that if you vote for Barack Obama, you’re secretly a religious bigot who hates Mormons?  Sheesh.

Streaming Video Killed the Radio Star

Despite having media appearances in cicada-like increments, I’ll be braving the flurries to be on Marty Owings’ “Capitol Conversations” tonight at 6pm.

You can catch the show here as we discuss the current issues at the Capitol including the constitutional amendments, redistricting, election issues, the Vikings stadiums (would the plural be stadia?) or any other breaking news of interest.

 

Minor Penalty for (Not) Checking

What’s one way to guarantee fighting will remain a staple of professional hockey?

Have Ralph Nader argue against it.

Reading his open letter to Gary Bettman, you can tell Nader hasn’t watched too much hockey in, say, the last several decades. After conceding there is no evidence directly connecting fighting to brain injuries…he says, “[r]epeated head trauma has shortened the careers of Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, and Keith Primeau.  Currently, concussions are threatening the careers of Pittsburgh Penguins’ superstar Sidney Crosby and the Philadelphia Flyers’ Chris Pronger.”

 

First thing’s first: How many of those guys got concussions from fighting? Primeau maybe?

The off-ice deaths of Derek Boogard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak (all of whom Nader cites in his impassioned plea for new rules attention) have certainly re-focused discussion on how the NHL is addressing the issue of concussions and brain injuries.  Every sport is rightly doing so.  But changing any of the rules of hockey likely won’t significantly reduce concussions when the players on the rink are getting bigger, stronger and faster.  Witness the NFL where despite a litany of new rules designed to protect players most at risk for such injuries (QBs, WRs & DBs), concussions were only increasing (167 in total in 2010; the 2011 numbers haven’t been finished but were up to 146 by only week 12).  And this in a sport where fighting might earn you a five week suspension, not a five minute one.

If rules need to be adjusted to reduce concussions, it ought to be on the amateur levels where the differences in size and talent are more extreme than on the professional.  A 2010 Canadian study of junior hockey showed a higher rate of concussions per game than anything the professionals have to worry about.  And those concussions had nothing to do with fighting since fighting is already banned in such leagues.

If the NHL wants to take steps to finally ban actual fist-a-cuffs in games, fine by me.  But let’s not pretend that doing so accomplishes anything related to reducing brain injuries.

Quagmire On Capitol Hill

I know it’s been a tough Legislative session in St Paul.

But I had no idea how tough.  Minnesota Public Radio’s website shows just how bad it’s gotten at the Capitol in St. Paul.  From the website:

Looks like the budget is the least of our problems.

(And I wonder which legislative freshman took out that tank?

Trump Card

P.T. Barnum runs for president. 

He’s vowed that he’s taking a presidential bid seriously.   He’s sent aides on “exploratory trips” for his nascent campaign.  He’s pledged millions of dollars towards his candidacy.  And what’s more, he’s taken seriously – by the media, the punditry, and the polls. 

Of course, all of that was in 2000.

When it comes to the media’s political fascination with eccentric billionaire millionaire massive debt holder Donald Trump, few could argue that the Donald is the rightful heir to 19th century showman P.T. Barnum.  For Trump’s multiple aborted presidential candidacies, ranging from 1988, to 2000, and now, prove Barnum’s misattributed cultural epitaph that indeed a sucker is born every minute.

Like Charlie Brown convincing himself that this time Lucy will not pull away the football, much of the media has engaged Trump’s third would-be presidential bid with increasing seriousness.  And why not?  Trump polls surprisingly well against the expected Republican field, placing fourth with 11% just days ago in a Fox News national poll.  Even Trump seems to be taking his latest political dalliance seriously enough to risk his most important attribute – his brand – by claiming to seek the nomination of one of the two major parties rather than another circa 2000 independent bid.

What remains harder to fathom is Trump’s appeal in the first place.  For a man known for his super ego, getting to the id of Donald Trump is vexing for many in the punditry.  Some view Trump as a symptom of the weak Republican field.  George Will likewise dismissed Trump as part of the gaggle of “spotlight-chasing candidates of 2012.”  Charles Krauthammer looked pained to even have to discuss Trump’s candidacy.  Others view Trump as the closing argument in their case of the failure of the political class:

Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.

There is a lot of crazy surrounding the Trump phenomenon — some excellent, some embarrassing. But the massive fact dominating it all is that never before has such a famous outsider jumped into national politics with such an aggressive critique of a sitting president and the direction of the country — and never before has the response been so immediate and positive.

Um, not quite.

The novelty of Trump 2012 isn’t that novel.  The celebrity politician is nothing new – nor is Trump’s anti-Obama bravado.  Trump’s “aggressive critique” has largely been an ad hoc foreign policy mixing neo-conservative bluster and paleo-conservative isolationism with a chaser of paranoia that Obama is the country’s first super secret Nigerian sleeper agent.  Perhaps the only true novelty of Trump’s “candidacy” is that he would link his image to “birtherism.”  Or maybe Trump is merely projecting and he’s the sleeper agent sent to undermine the GOP.  After all, he did call Nancy Pelosi “the best.”

Understanding how an arrogant, over-the-top self-promoter has risen in the polling ranks of the GOP field doesn’t require searching for some sort of meta answer.  After a number of political cycles in which the presidential race started incredible early, for once the field is not settled nor is any candidate dashing out of the gates.  Trump represents a known name whose actively in the news – for better or for worse.  Few other contenders or pretenders can claim the same. 

The Donald wouldn’t mind being president but would rather use his candidacy as a perpetual trump card whenever his media image needs a boost.  Once the more serious candidates get underway and the early measures of success – fundraising, debate performances, endorsements and volunteers – become the most important yard markers, attention towards Trump will shrink.  With fewer and fewer onlookers to his latest political act, in Barnum like fashion, Trump will fold his tent and move on to his next show.

Jamie Lee: You Lie!

I know this is a bit off the radar for SITD but I don’t know of many television commercials more absurd; more ridiculous; more annoying than those yogurt commercials where Jamie Lee Curtis pounces on chipper but apparently constipated passers by all too willing to sample yogurt that’s way too yummy to be formulated to assist you in “cleaning our your accounts payable.”

(…and yes, that’s an arrow pointing to a woman’s crotch)

As if the spots weren’t aggravating enough, it turns out they were bogus. Who can imagine a world where a delicious magical milky pudding that helps you “drop off the kids” and keeps you safe from the common cold…is just a fairy tale?

The U.S. unit of French food giant Danone S.A. agreed to settle state and federal investigations into alleged false advertising about the health benefits of its Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drinks for $21 million, federal officials announced Wednesday.

The Federal Trade Commission said Dannon, a unit of French food and bottled waters company Danone, will drop claims that its Activia yogurt and dairy products will help prevent colds or alleviate digestive problems. The company wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Well we know it’s not because they were in the bathroom.

Good to know the FTC has the time and resources to care…let alone investigate the claims that Activia helps you “lay down the law.”

I would expect no less than ten additional references to “boweling for dollars” in the comments section. Thank you in advance.

And now, something totally different: