Friday, December 21, 2007

Minnesota's No New Taxes transportation system

Kudos to Star Tribune reporters Paul McEnroe and Tony Kennedy and their editors for a continuing series titled MnDOT money vs. safety, on the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (MnDOT) self-destruction under governor Pepsodent's (Pawlenty) administration. Additional kudos for the name of the series, and the headlining on the stories themselves, which unlike many recent Strib heds actually characterize the report.

A Dart to Nancy Barnes, the paper's editor, for saying in a column published the day the series began that both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for the craptacular state of our roads and transit in Minnesota. Barnes wrote:
This series is not an attempt to point fingers at any political party. The reporting shows that the decisions to delay repairs to many of our most dangerous roads and bridges have been handed down from one administration to the next, DFL and Republican alike.
Doesn't Barnes read her own paper? As Mark Gisleson wrote the other day,
I'm still waiting for even just a shred of evidence that the Democrats had anything to do with the starving of Minnesota's infrastructure.
Barnes, ala Doug Tice or Katherine Kersten, is trying to undo the harm done to Republicans by reality-based reporting. So when you read great reporting like that of McEnroe and Kennedy, know that it is done more or less in spite of poor leadership from the top.

Their first offering, published last Sunday, was headlined "This bridge can't wait," and offered a harrowing tale of a bridge in Hastings, Minnesota, that obviously should have been replaced years ago.

Part two featured a famous national highway that runs along southern Minnesota, headlined "Hwy. 14: Highway of horrors," where even Republican local lawmakers shook their heads in disbelief at the antics of our No New Taxes governor. The Highway 14 story also contains a chart showing state interest payments on highway bonds; in 1998 we paid $5 million; this year we paid $53 million. In interest. Does anyone remember when governor Pepsodent asked the contractors who bid on the Highway 62 redo to self-finance the project? When no company bid under those rules the project was set back at least a year, costing state taxpayers even more.

Part three, headlined "Flying into danger zone?" looked at how the governor's lawyer made a bundle off of getting MnDOT to change zoning laws around the airport, allowing dense development in areas that should be designated as buffer zones to prevent loss of life in the event of a takeoff or landing plane crash. No surprise that governor Pepsodent has now appointed said lawyer to the Minnesota State Supreme Court.

This great reporting should be complemented by great writing on the paper's opinion pages, calling out the Republicans who have fought investment in our infrastructure for decades. As Brian Lambert wrote, calling the I-35 bridge collapse the top local story of the year:
If ever a single event seemed destined to launch a spear through the heart of the cynical, recklessly simple-minded “Small Government” echo chamber, it should have been this one. Government on the cheap = Grossly deficient infrastructure … and a lot else. As the year ends it appears Gov. Pawlenty has again out-maneuvered progressives, mostly by throwing the hapless Carol Molnau under the bus. Maybe the session will draw blood.
So it's clear progressives and Democrats have been valiantly trying to get the state's Republicans to go along with investment in infrastructure, but the Repubs have shrewdly exploited the political system to thwart their efforts. There is not, as Nancy Barnes says, blame on both Republicans and DFLers. This is a Republican-made mess. One last point: Where was the Strib when the Republicans were eviscerating our state's transportation system? Why did it take a major bridge falling before they reported on it?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Goldman makes $11 billion shorting mortgage industry

The other day I wrote about a Washington Post story on how analysts missed the housing meltdown. One financial house, Goldman Sachs, however, actually made their biggest profit ever off of shorting the mortgage industry. A number of other brokerages bet against the housing bubble and won, too, according to the Wall Street Journal:
The subprime trading gains notched by Messrs. Birnbaum and Swenson and their Goldman associates are large by recent Wall Street standards. Traders at Deutsche Bank AG and Morgan Stanley also bet against the subprime-mortgage market this year, but in each case, their gains were essentially wiped out because their firms underestimated how far the markets would fall. New York hedge-fund company Paulson & Co. also turned a considerable profit on the subprime meltdown this year, as did Hayman Capital Partners, a Dallas-based hedge-fund firm, say people familiar with the matter.
So it wasn't all analysts who missed the subprime mess - only the stupid, biased or corrupt ones did.

Friday cat blogging

Here's a picture of Simon sitting in the backyard the other day. Even though the temps are close to 0 Fahrenheit he still likes to go out.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Programmed failure

Usually whenever terrible things happen as the inevitable result of business and press collusion the media comes through with some fake "mea culpa" that tries to absolve both institutions. Today that job belongs to the Washington Post, with a story on the housing finance fiasco headlined "Analysts late to the alarm."

The story starts out with an anecdote about an analyst who did get the story right, but then goes on to show what an anomaly that person was, and makes it sound like the financing of housing is such a complex system that, really, no one could figure it out. Sounds a lot like Enron, right? However, this time, lots of smart people did figure out that the alphabet soup of SIVs, CDOs and the like were a house of cards that could not stand. Nouriel Roubini, one of the top economists in the world, has been sounding the alarm on sub-prime mortgages for more than four years; almost the same for Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, yet neither of these top economists are even mentioned in the Post story. This story from the Post, then, is really just another cover up for the corrupt business press.

All of this should be yet another warning to the average citizen to at all costs avoid listening to, reading or watching any popular business press or news, including, especially, public radio and television, which are themselves captives of the financial industries. So how is that so-called average investor to know what to invest in? This is a very difficult question, but here are a few suggestions. 1) Don't ever invest in something you don't understand. See Enron. 2) When everyone in the financial press is looking one way way, be sure to look the other way. 3) Understand that financial analysts have a stake in bamboozling rubes like us out of our hard earned money, and ethics do not stand in their way. 4) Invest conservatively such as limiting your holdings to government backed bonds; this might not make you the most money possible, but on the other hand you won't lose your money. 5) Try SRI - Socially Responsible Investing. Usually companies that clear SRI screens are more transparent about their operations, so it's easier to understand how and why they make money.

Just to be clear: The real story about the housing meltdown and the press mirrors just about every other sorry tale of media failure on important issues going back for some time. In that sense it is similar to the tale of media failure on the runup to war on Iraq or the current drumbeat to make war on Iran, or the business press' abject failure in covering Enron. As Norman Mineta testified at the 911 hearings, one odd thing happening is an anomaly; two is a pattern and three is a program. As painful as it is to consider, on the most important issues of our day the traditional media has a program of failure, and that should alarm us all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ciresi's money

Recently the Daily Mole and Minnesota Monitor have reported on the Franken and Ciresi campaign's big contributors. Franken's list of people of who have maxed out their donations is just what you'd expect - a lot of money from liberal entertainment people. But Ciresi's big donors should raise a few eyebrows in progressive circles:
Minnesota donors of note [to Ciresi]: Stanley Hubbard and Karen Hubbard, who give the great majority of their campaign donations to the GOP; Marilyn Carlson Nelson of Carlson Companies, plus executives from the following companies: Best Buy, Bremer Financial, Doran Companies, Haskell’s, Medtronic, Oppidan, and Phillips Distilling.
Just what do these corporate executives want from their contributions to Ciresi? Why are the Hubbards maxing out donations to him? Do they see something in Ciresi that Democrats don't? Corporate types don't give this kind of money for nothing, and they're not giving it to Franken.

This upcoming election may be shaping up as a true progressive moment; one of the top issues, in my mind, is the over-concentration of power in corporations. It appears one Democratic Senatorial candidate is taking lots of money from traditional corporatists and one isn't. I'd be surprised if this doesn't become an issue in the campaign.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Trib goes all I.F. Stone on UnitedHealth

See Update below.

The great thing about daily journalism is that every time you screw up you have a chance to do better, even the next day. Today the Strib goes for a little atonement with a good story about just how UnitedHealth grew and who paid for that growth:
Since 2000, the Minnetonka-based company, an insurer of 70 million Americans, has been sanctioned in nine states for paying claims slowly, shortchanging doctors, hospitals or patients or poorly handling their complaints and appeals, according to a Star Tribune review of regulatory records.
Remember, at the same time that UnitedHealth was shafting doctors and patients, William McGuire was amassing a personal fortune of $1.8 billion:
As regulators uncovered problems with UnitedHealth’s payment practices and customer service, company profits soared to an estimated $4.7 billion this year, up fivefold since 2000.
Musta' been a coinky dink that profits soared as payment practices and customer service tanked, huh? So after the Trib got down on its knees last week in front of UnitedHealth, even as the company was getting some of its due in a court, this is some welcome journalism, and kudos are due to David Shaffer for good, document-based reporting. The story itself doesn't say a lot about the exact documents that were acquired and used in the report, only that they came from "a Star Tribune review of regulatory records." Coulda been a bit less opaque here guys.

It seems, too, the company was maliciously refusing to correct errors:
U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh of Missouri, ruling against the insurer in November 2006, declared its claims processing systems “flawed in many ways, denying, reducing, and improperly processing claims on a regular basis. And despite innumerable requests, United was unwilling to remedy the underlying errors in its systems.”
See, paying patients' claims and doctors on time might reduce profits. As they say in the software trade, the bad actions of the company were a feature, not a bug. And making big profits seems to be the only thing UnitedHealth is good at.

Andy Birkey has more at MinMon.

Update: There's also the possibility that UnitedHealth staged their PR campaign after hearing the Trib was doing a story about them. It is not unlikely that David Shaffer was working on his report for more than a week. If UH did stage their so-called "mea culpa" after inquiries from the Trib it put the paper in an awkward spot. Would the paper bow down to the health care insurance giant and let them manage coverage until their own report was ready?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Why did the CIA destroy the torture interrogation tapes?

According to TMPmuckraker, because they were direct evidence of war crimes:

Of course, Hayden just inherited this whirlwind. His predecessors, George Tenet and Porter Goss, sowed it. And to a greater degree, it's the fault of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Yoo and John Rizzo, who created a blatantly illegal interrogation program for the CIA to implement. Those on the tapes torturing Abu Zubaydah and Detainee #2 were, loyally, doing what those men wanted. But Tenet must have known that what's on those tapes is evidence of criminal activity. That's a much more plausible explanation for why he stopped taping interrogations. And it's also probably why Rodriguez, with Goss' tacit or explicit consent, destroyed them. If Michael Mukasey is the same man of integrity he was before he became attorney general, he'd call that criminal conspiracy or deliberate obstruction of justice.

What will probably end up consuming the remainder of Bush's term is an inquiry into the cover-up. But it's always the crime -- torture, systematic and approved by the highest levels -- that demands focus. And it was the CIA's decision to distract whomever it could from knowing about the crime.
Add to the list of war criminals our own little torture enabler, the Catholic St Thomas University's Robert Delahunty.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

George W. Bush, congenital liar

I've thought for a long time, since 2002 actually, that George W. Bush and his administration will say anything to achieve their desired political goals. In the summer of 2002 Andrew Card famously said they wouldn't be pushing for a war with Iraq until the Fall, because Summer is a bad time for product rollouts. That telegraphing of the forthcoming marketing campaign for a war that turned out to be the most foolish in the world for 2,000 years should have tipped off the press and Democrats that the Prez doesn't tell the truth.

Unfortunately the traditional corporate press continued to report on the what the President said as some kind of gospel truth, in most cases not even attempting to assess the veracity of his statements. Flash forward to today, when it has been revealed that the President knew at least for months that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program back in 2003 - four years ago - yet has been beating the drums for war, even invoking the specter of World War III brought on by a nuclear-armed Iran. Lying is so easy for the President that he'll do it even if it makes him look like a moron, as demonstrated when he said with a straight face after the NIE was released that he had only just then learned of its conclusions.

Here's a plea to traditional reporters: From now on when the President says something - anything - please either preface or conclude the report with the known fact that George W. Bush is a shameless liar, and there is almost always some kind of subterfuge going on, and that readers/viewers should consider that the truth is probably the exact opposite of what he says.

UPDATE: Bob Cesca at HuffPo had the same thought: "President Bush Was Lying, Is Lying, And Will Lie About Iranian Nukes."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Burying the lede: Strib PR patsy for UnitedHealth

UPDATE (Friday): So now we know the UnitedHealth PR blitz that the Trib fell for was really cover for Thursday's blockbuster announcement that chief looter William McGuire will be giving back $600 million, and the company's former lawyer will be giving back $30 million. Note that this repayment came about because the Wall Street Journal, NOT the Trib, dug into the company's backdated stock options. Note that McGuire is not going to jail (yet) and still has salary and options totaling over $1.2 billion. So how much of a penalty is the $600 million giveback?
* * *
Today (Wednesday) there's an extraordinary story in the Strib headlined "Mea culpa: UnitedHealth says mistakes will be overcome." The story goes on and on about how UnitedHealth has had a change of heart regarding it's shitty service and financial shenanigans. In the next to last paragraph the story drops a bombshell: On Tuesday (yesterday - the day this story was written) an appeals court made a significant ruling against UnitedHealth requiring it to finally provide documentation to the state attorney general regarding the stock-option backdating of its executives.

So - a real news story took place in court - UnitedHealth was finally required to provide some transparency into the looting of the company by top executives - yet the Trib makes it look like the company separately saw the light in terms of its bad behavior.

The company obviously knew this bad decision (for them) was coming down, and skillfully planned their so-called "mea-culpa" to compete in the media with the judge's decision against them. The Trib is now a PR person's dream. I wonder if any of the UnitedHealth PR people thought this tactic would work so beautifully, transforming an incredibly bad news day instead into a story of voluntary contrition.

You knew the paper now regularly provides cover for Republicans, but even I am astounded by this cynical bullshit.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who is Powerlineblog's "Anti-Keillor" columnist?

Another post from Scott Johnson at Powerlineblog that is purportedly from a Strib
"...columnist who has asked us to protect his or her identity. S/he writes that s/he has become the self-appointed "Anti-Keillor" to rebut Keillor's liberal rubbish whenever it appears in the Star Tribune...."
Uh-huh. Who could this person be? Here is the list of columnists at the Trib. I'm guessing the person is either 1) Lileks, although he's probably pretty busy over at, or 2) Some columnist not listed on the columnist's page, like Keillor isn't, or 3) Doug Tice, and the reference to a "columnist" by Johnson is a ruse.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Lileks says it's not him.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday cat blogging

Here's a picture of Molly (foreground), Abbey (back left) and Simon sacking out a few mornings ago. These past few days its been below 10 degrees every morning, which shortens their barebacking in the fenced-in backyard.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Strib: Where's the bottom?

Lately I've written quite a bit about the decline of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Most of my criticism has lamented the right wing turn of the paper's news pages, and the dishonest headlining of many political stories. What I didn't know before was that this dimunition has even infected the paper's sports pages, where no subsidy to a billionaire is too much, no pay for a player beyond the pale, and hunting with weapons that would be useful in war doesn't raise an eyebrow.

Another thing I hadn't mentioned before is the Quixotic pursuit of young print readers by the paper's managers. Have these new approaches worked out for the paper commercially? It doesn't look that way, as shown by the opaque reporting about Avista Capital, the owners of the paper who are already disappointed by its financial performance. Over the past six months the paper lost a whopping six percent of its print readers, which to be fair isn't much different than its newspaper brethren, yet proves that attempts to stem the financial and reader hemorrhaging have not worked.

On the news pages, the Daily Mole has the back story of a wet-kiss interview done by Trib editors with Carol Molnau, where they allowed the head of the Minnesota DOT to spin like crazy, and where the editors of the Trib didn't ask one follow up question. Real reporter Paul McEnroe commented that the "interview" speaks for itself. Yeah. Molnau won't speak with reporters like McEnroe, and has complained about them trying to get at the bottom of why the I-35 bridge fell. If the Trib had an interview with Molnau, why wasn't McEnroe in on it? Was that a precondition of the interview imposed by Molnau? I'm betting it was.

Meanwhile, on the Trib's sports pages columnist Jim Souhan paid homage to Torri Hunter, who just inked a $90 million deal with the Dodgers. A friend who reads the sports pages mentioned to me how we citizens of Minneapolis, many of whom will never attend a Twins game, are nevertheless required to pay for the billionaire Carl Pohlad's new stadium, while game-players like Hunter are paid $90 million and school teachers are forced to beg for the $40,000 or so a year they earn. That's not a concern of Souhan, though, who approves both of Hunter's deal and Pohlad's strategy of not dipping into his personal $2 billion fortune to actually field a competitive team.

Also, as Spotty points out, on the sports page on Sunday outdoors writer Dennis Anderson was defending the use of assault-rifle-like guns by hunters. According to Anderson, the rifles can "pick off a prairie dog at 700 yards."

* * *

Where does that leave the Trib? Its website continues to do well, ranked among the top newspaper websites in terms of traffic; print readership has been off sharply in every recent period, and the value of the institution has been more than halved over the past five years.

The Trib basically operates in a monopoly environment. In this era the paper has lost some of its ability to define the news agenda, yet it still has a gigantic reach, plus a stable of highly skilled reporters. The question remains, will the paper pay for its rightward turn and its dramatic loss of quality writing, designing and editing? The results of such a basic diminution in credibility and respect might be slow to be realized, and even harder to quantitatively measure, yet nonetheless significant.

A few years ago Trib managers were faced with an unpleasant choice: Try to attract young readers by publishing articles and taking perspectives that might appeal to them, or focus on traditional quality journalism dependent on more and better reporting and editing. Unfortunately, those prospective young readers, conditioned by our national entertainment state, are uninterested in the real news product. Thus, trying to get those young readers flies directly in the face of the strategy of improving the journalistic product. And just how are you going to get these young people to read your paper by pandering to them if they never even pick it up?

What's worse, there's no evidence I've seen that validates this strategy in the least. Is the paper losing so many adult readers that it makes up for some increase in younger readers? That's a hard argument to make when you lost six percent of your daily printed version of the paper in only the past six months.

So either way the paper was and is going to lose print version readers. The paper's response to this loss will not only lose more readers, but also harm the paper's reputation and credibility. More importantly, the changes have failed at attracting the young print readers the changes were supposed to garner. At the same time pandering to the mythical young readers is alienating the very people who make up the core audience - people who read because they want to know what's going on in the world.

If you take the craptaculation of trying to attract young readers, the capitulation to right wing forces represented by the hiring of the torture-sanctioning Katherine Kersten and Doug Tice, the ongoing rightward tilt of its news pages, and the loss of other top talent, the picture of the Trib is one of an institution in a steep tailspin, still digging itself into an ever bigger hole. Given the overall picture of declining readership in the industry, the paper may be destined to lose readers for some time. The paper's response to this crisis of readership and revenue might have been to turn to its traditional mission of quality journalism. It might have still lost readers, but it would still have a respected and quality product. Instead, the paper flailed away trying to attract young people and right wingers, and in the process has humiliated itself and alienated its true core audience.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Strib: Still covering for Republicans

Today's Strib has a long story by Kevin Diaz headlined "Bridge 'unity' fractured by politics." I've known Diaz for along time - we worked at the Minnesota Daily together in the early 80s. I've always thought he was a decent reporter, but lately I'm not so sure, and today's story goes a long way towards harming his reputation.

The essence of the real story here, NOT told by Diaz, is that George W. Bush, in a sad attempt to remain relevant amid the lowest approval numbers in history, has decided to veto spending bills for allegedly being reckless with money, which as Captain Willard says in Apocalypse Now, is like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. ThinkProgress has a graph that shows that when the Republicans controlled congress Bush and Minnesota Congressmen John Kline and Michele Bachmann (the two Minnesotans in Congress to support Bush's veto of the bridge funding bill) had no problem with excessive spending. Now that the Dems are in control they all have a big problem with so-called excessive spending, even though earmarks are down by more than half since the Dems took congress, and they all have to be published.

But that's not the reason the bridge funding isn't passing according to the Trib and Diaz. No - the problem is politics, as if the very method of distributing power and resources is somehow to blame, but not the people and their absurd positions on issues. In effect, Diaz is absolving the Republicans Kline, Bachmann and Bush, and instead blaming our very method of self-government. This is now typical behavior at the paper, where anything that makes Republicans look bad is usually downplayed and watered down.

Diaz disingenuously uses University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs to distort the real cause of the funding impasse, implying that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame:
"This is just a case study of what's wrong with government," said [Jacobs] . "Huge problem. Everybody recognizes the problem, and yet what you get is a mud fight. It's appalling."
The fact is the Republicans have tried to kill this bridge funding in a misguided attempt to help George W. Bush not look like a drunken sailor on leave. Too bad Kevin Diaz has joined their team.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Did Power Stooge Scott Johnson help Paulose out of job?

Apparently Johnson's National Review post on Paulose, that had her complaining about all kinds of discrimination against her, and denying charges made against her by those in her office, were too much for those who still worked in her office. ThinkProgress has the lowdown, but apparently Johnson's story caused at least one lawyer to resign the day the story came out, and others were to follow.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Daily Mole: Strib editors get caught adding a conservative spin to wire story

Been too busy to post here, but Steve Perry has the goods on the Trib, yet again, giving a Republican spin to a regular news story.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday albino squirrel blogging

This is Alby, the albino squirrel who lives in our neighborhood. I shot this picture this morning - the neighbor put out some old bread for him.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

We tortured a guy to get Colin Powell's false "evidence" used at UN

To get Colin Powell's since refuted "evidence" in his speech to the U.N. before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Egypt tortured the guy after we "rendered" him to the country:
Under torture after his rendition to Egypt, al Libi had provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations a year earlier (February 2003) to justify the war in Iraq. ("I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda," Powell said. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.")
Note to Katherine Kersten: Using torture can sometimes really set you back and deceive you. And as Atrios notes, false confessions are a feature, not a bug, of torture, i.e. the Bushies actually got what they wanted from al Libi, regardless of whether it was true or not.

Katherine Kersten endorses torture

Big surprise there. Not. In a post at her blog, Katherine Kersten basically endorses the use of torture. She does it by using the same straw man other neocons use to justify their idiotic barbarism:
Everyone who wants to eliminate waterboarding from our counter-terror arsenal should engage in this thought experiment: You have strong evidence that terrorists are targeting the Twin Cities for a spectacular mass-casualty act of terror. You believe a man in custody who has committed past terrorist acts knows the details of the planned attack, but he won’t talk under regular interrogation. Waterboarding has worked under similar circumstances. Will you authorize it now?
Um, Katherine, what is to prevent this person from lying to you in such a way that you won't know you've been had until its too late? As I've written before, Kersten is a conservative operative who will write whatever the Republican Party wants her to say. If it means justifying torture with specious logic, that's no problem.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Burying the lede at the Strib

Who writes the headlines at the Strib? I ask because they are either really terrible at it, or deliberately covering for Republicans. When I worked at the paper in the mid 80s we had some of the finest and wittiest headline writers ever. Check this out - over the past 45 months Minnesota has lagged national job growth 90 percent of the time, and in June, the state's jobless rate exceeded the national average for the first time in 31 years. So what kind of headline does the Trib run? "Salad days of Minnesota job growth have run course."

Huh? Why would they run an opaque headline like that. There's really only one reason - to protect the Republican in the statehouse. Why not run a headline like, "Minnesota trails national job growth for years," or, "For first time in 31 years state jobless rate higher than nation's." Or, instead of protecting governor pepsodent, they could blame him. "Minnesota job growth trails nation under Pawlenty." Not hard, is it? When some story or statistic looks bad for a Republican time and time again headline writers at the paper have taken the sting out of the story with an absurd headline, and this is just another in a series of real gaffes at the copy desk. Also see here and here, and here.

Update: Not that the crappy copy editing has anything to do with this, but new numbers show that over the past six months the Trib has lost 6.5 % of its daily circulation, and 4.3 % of its Sunday circulation.

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Anyone who lives near Washington should check out the new Botero exhibition, which is commented on by Erica Jong in today's Washington Post:

"...American torture is different from other tortures because of the high opinion we have of our country and ourselves. Torture is something others do. We are above that. We are reasonable people governed by a great Enlightenment document we call The Constitution. We help, not hurt people all over the world. It is the incongruity of our image of ourselves versus the reality of our behavior that stings most."
That's really a joke, isn't it? The high opinion we have of ourselves. This is the same nonsense peddled by neocons and their theory of "american exceptionalism." What crap. Here's a link to some of the paintings, and a blogger's report from a showing of the paintings at Bezerkley.

* * * *

On a totally different note, Steve Perry over at the Daily Mole (serving the Twin Cities for the past 75 hours) notes the Strib is at it again, covering for governor pepsodent on the I-35 bridge collapse.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Special prosecutor for War Crimes

John Dean makes the great point over at Talking Points Memo that the Democrats should make their approval of Mukasey for Attorney General contingent on his promising to appoint a Special Prosecutor for War Crimes, similar to what the Dems did in 1973 when Richard Nixon nominated Elliot Richardson for A.G. Richardson made the promise to appoint a Watergate Special Prosecutor, which eventually led to Nixon's impeachment.

Dean concludes "If the Democrats in the Senate refuse to demand any such requirement, it will be act that should send chills down the spine of every thinking American."

My favorite dog Spot says: "A man [Mukasey] so compromised or confused in the face of so easy a moral choice will not make an effective and moral leader."

BTW - how sick are Democrats Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein - who have promised to vote for Mukasey, even though he won't say that waterboarding is torture.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday cat blogging

Simon and Abbey taking their afternoon nap.

Oldie-but-goodie of Abbey studying up for her boards.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Racists come out at St Thomas

We already knew that the University of St Thomas was run by a ruthless, and rootless, neocon, who likes the kind of views presented by Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, and who thinks Bishop Desmond Tutu is some kind of bigot. What we didn't know, until know, is that the University is a hotbed of actual racists. Who'd have guessed that a University that leads the state in neocons, home to one of the lawyers who justified torture for George W. Bush, whose movement bashes non-existent "Islamofascists" would be home to real, practicing racists? Couldn't have seen that one coming, huh? How appropriate that the racist threats to three Black women occurred at John Paul II hall! Oh - and by the way - this is the third time these type of incidents have happened at the school - this year! One of the victims, a 19 year old, said it was the first time in her life that she had experienced such overt racism. As the old archbishop of the Twin Cities once said, notions of racial superiority underlie the concept of "Minnesota Nice." How true.

The whole situation puts the university's firing of its peace and justice studies program head in perspective, doesn't it? I guess peace and justice are fine, to a point, at St Thomas, as long as they don't interfere with the school's right wing politics. Trouble is, right wing politics in the US are inextricably intertwined with racism.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

(Legal) drug buyers beware!

While Norm Coleman was worrying about the so-called "reimportation" of drugs from Canada, China snuck in the side door, shipping pharmaceutical ingredients that are "neither certified nor inspected." Which do you think poses more of a threat?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Republican Star Tribune

Check out this story in today's Trib, with the headline "Election official allegedly used list improperly" and tell me the paper hasn't taken a Republican turn. First, we don't find out until mid-story that the allegations are from Republican cranks and the website Minnesota Democrats Exposed.

There is no impropriety here - the names were taken from a public list. If the paper wanted to run the story, how about a headline such as "Republicans allege election impropriety by state official" or something like that. The headline makes it sound like there's something to this, when the specious complaint comes from Republican operatives. Unfortunately, this kind of headline is typical now on Portland Avenue.

Must watch video

Max Blumenthal, a friend of mine who has written for Media Transparency, has a fantastic new video report he taped at the so-called "Value Voters Summit."

Obama's bad week

First Barack Obama invited a gay bashing preacher to his campaign, then he lit out on Social Security. Atrios points out that this is a strange way to try to attract Democratic voters. In defending the Black anti-gay preacher, Obama said he was trying to reach out to the Black and Evangelical constituencies. Pardon me, but wouldn't the way to do this be to encourage Blacks to be less homo-phobic, instead of pandering to their bigotry?

The only reasonable explanation I can think of is that Obama has thrown in the towel, and is now angling for a veep nod by out-Clintoning Clinton. That leaves Edwards as the only progressive candidate in the top three.

Monday, October 29, 2007

George Bush's military ventriloquism trick

Glen Greenwald got an email the other day purporting to be from Gen. Petraeus' spokesman Col. Steven A. Boylan that was nothing short of bizarre, that proved beyond a doubt the politicization of the US military. Commenters on Greenwald's post at questioned whether Boylan could be so stupid as to write such an email, so Greenwald sent another email to Boylan asking if he indeed had sent the email. Boylan responded cryptically without saying whether or not he actually sent the email, so Greenwald put out a call to Internet experts to determine whether Boylan sent the email or whether it was from an imposter. To make a long story shorter, one expert weighed in after examining the email's headers that that either Boylan sent the email or someone sent it from his computer.

Which gets to the point of MoveOn's ad questioning whether Petraeus should be called General Betray Us, namely, that the US military has become unacceptably politicized. All of the right wing's complaining that journalists shouldn't take off after US military personnel misses the point that these generals and colonels are no longer apolitical; that George W. Bush has off-loaded his political dirty work to the military. It was a neat trick by Bush to use military personnel as proxies to try and fend off criticism. It worked for a while. Will it still work? Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Newspaper of the affluent suburbs of the Twin Cities

This is a photo of the front page of the Mpls Star Trib this morning. The people who makeup this paper have the design sense of a 10 year old. My wife joked that it looked like someone had puked on the paper.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday cat blogging

That's Simon in the garden this morning, above. It was about 40 degrees here. Below is Molly sitting on the pergola.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

CAE losing its mojo?

If the Center of the American Experiment holds a "Fall Briefing" and no one writes about it, did it actually happen? The CAE must be losing some of its mojo as its event the other night went unreported by the Trib, the PiPress, Powerlineblog, Katherine Kersten, and even Doug Tice in his blog. But they probably don't have anything to worry about - I'm sure MPR will soon broadcast the whole ugly affair unedited like they usually do over some noontime.

Over at St Thomas, Dennis Dease says through his dummy that Cris Toffolo can file a grievance over her firing as the university’s peace and justice studies program head. Way to step up to the plate Dease.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tutu turns up the heat on St Thomas, William the Bloody in town, and the WaPo's coverage of Richard Mellon Scaife's divorce trial

Today the Mpls Star Tribune reports that Desmond Tutu has turned up the heat on the University of St Thomas, stating he wouldn't appear at the school unless it reinstated professor Cris Toffolo as director of the university’s peace and justice studies program. Tutu shouldn't hold his breath waiting for the right wing school to do the right thing.

"William the Bloody," aka Bill Kristol, speaks tonight at the "non-partisan" Center of the American Experiment's Fall Briefing.

The Washington Post yesterday published a fascinating and hilarious tale of Richard Mellon Scaife's divorce trial (his second one). What makes it interesting, in the words of writer David Segal, are three little words "No. Pre. Nup." A sidebar, relying on data from Media Transparency, shows which right wing organizations are the major recipients of Scaife's philanthropy. View the video tour of the "Funding Father of the Right"'s divorce.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Friday cat blogging

Here's another picture of Molly (just to piss off Mark Gisleson).

Looking for a leader

Over at Open Left Matt Stoller has an interesting post up looking at the Netroots' growing frustration with Barack Obama:
It goes back to Obama's unreliable behavior during the Lamont campaign, his shrinking violet act during Military Commissions Act, and his constant chiding of the secular left.
Stoller says Dems are increasingly demanding leadership:
I think this is a positive development, as it suggests the environment has become more difficult for those who will not lead...To put it in evolutionary terms, the 'fitness function' that selects for politicians is now prizing leadership more aggressively than rhetoric and money.
Let's hope so.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

George W. Bush, Mafia Don

Yesterday President Bush commented, when asked about the possibility of Turkey invading Iraq, that he was trying to convince the Turks it "was not in their best interests" to invade. If Bush was an adult with a conscience he would speak honestly, attributing the desire for the Turks not to invade to himself. A simple declarative sentence would do, something like, "I think it would be wrong for the Turks to invade Iraq." But no - he couches his admonition in the parlance of a mafioso threat, i.e. it is not in their best interest to attack Iraq. What's he gonna do, kneecap Turkey if they don't comply?

UPDATE: For a good explanation of Bush's creepy religious language, check out this story by Juan Stam from the Nation a few years ago, and this report by David Domke on Bush, God and the Media over at

Monday, October 15, 2007

A tale of two routs

Look closely at the two Star Tribune covers above; one is from the day after the so-called "Republican Revolution" election of November 1994, and the second is from the day after the 2006 rout of the Republicans, both in the State of Minnesota and around the nation.

The 1994 cover defines a narrative of the overall election with the top headline on the page: "REPUBLICANS WIN ACROSS U.S." The 2006 front page didn't define any narrative; instead, it is a collection of shorter headlines reporting the results of each race, without any summing-up of the drubbing suffered by Republicans across the nation. The top headline is a double-decker blaring "IT'S PAWLENTY AGAIN; KLOBUCHAR WINS BIG." Underneath in much smaller type and not in bold it says "Democrats take control of U.S. House; Senate hangs in balance."

While technically true, the headlines nonetheless avoid characterizing the election as a Democratic sweep as the 1994 headline had done. And it was a comparable sweep for the Dems. In Minnesota they won many more House and Senate seats than the Republicans had won in 1994. Nationally the Republican wins in the U.S. House and Senate in 1994 were bigger than the Democrats' wins in 2006, but in both cases the U.S. House changed hands.

One interesting fact is that in 2006, for the first time in the history of the United States, no Republican captured any House, Senate, or Gubernatorial seat previously held by a Democrat. The Democrats even won a majority of state governorships. The election was an historic repudiation of Republican governance, both at home and across the country. Why didn't the Trib lead with a headline such as "DEMOCRATS WIN ACROSS U.S."?

Now look at the lead pictures on the two front pages. The 1994 front page had two large photos of winners from the victorious Republicans - one of Rod Grams who won a U.S. Senate seat and one of Arne Carlson who won reelection as governor. On the 2006 front page there was only one lede photo - and it was of the Republican Governor Pawlenty, who won reelection by one percentage point in a three way race. He was virtually the only top Republican to win reelection. Republicans lost every other constitutional elective state wide office. The photo shows Republican Pawlenty, messiah-like, receiving adoration from his supporters. So in 1994 you have two photos of winners from the winning party, but in 2006 you have one photo of basically the only winner from the losing party.

Why was the photo of Pawlenty chosen to lead the front page when there was a truly historic victory in the fifth congressional district where Keith Ellison won election to congress as the first Black and first Muslim from Minnesota ever elected, and the first Muslim elected to Congress in the nation's history! Ellison won despite a dishonest and unethical campaign against him by the Trib's own news columnist, conservative movement ideologue and Center of the American Experiment product Katherine Kersten. Now Ellison is a national and international political and media figure.

David Brock famously wrote in his book The Republican Noise Machine that the right, above almost all else, wants to prevent its ideological enemies outright victories. Even on issues where Republicans are the big losers partisans of the right spin them one way or another to achieve at least a tie. The goal is always to define the narrative, and when losing, at least muddy the waters so as to fool some of the people. As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success, and nothing fails like failure. Or, at least the electorate's perception of success or failure.

Here in Minnesota, where, despite the Blog Chihuahua's protestations, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has made an intentional rightward turn. The placing of Doug Tice, a movement conservative ideologue, as political editor and Katherine Kersten, another movement conservative, as a news columnist have given the paper a rightward list, and sometimes an out-and-out racist tilt.

The 1994 front page, from a time prior to the Tice/Kersten era defined a narrative: Republicans kicked butt, all over. The 2006 Democratic victories, similar in scale to the Republicans' wins of 1994, with Tice as political editor, were reported on the front page as isolated wins, with no overall narrative. Yes, there were "teaser" pictures from Ellison, Walz and Bachmann's wins, and about an eight point teaser that the Democrats had taken the state house, that a Democrat had won the state Attorney General position, and five or six other news bits.

I'm not alleging that Doug Tice alone, or Doug Tice with others, somehow conspired to take some of the sting out of coverage of Democratic victories in 2006, although that is the end effect. I don't even know for sure whether he participated in the makeup of the front page on the night of Tuesday, November 7, 2006, although it would be highly unusual to not have the political editor lead or help makeup the front page for the day after a major election.

But whoever designed the front page for the day after the Democratic victories in 2006 made radically different decisions than the people who made it up the day after Republican wins in 1994. The main decision they made was to minimize the systemic losses suffered by the Republicans (which, by the way, extended other recent losses) and deny that the Democrats had dealt them a severe blow.

Readers may reasonably think I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill; however there is a history over the past few years of the Trib going easy on Republicans, spinning their losses as ties or questions still open to interpretation.

Given recent polling and Republican retirements and indictments, the 2008 elections may be as bad for them as 2006. How will the Trib cover it this time? Don't hold your breath for narratives showing voters sick and tired of the GOP.

Mark Rotenberg's fog machine

Kudos to Spotty over at The Cucking Stool for his take-down of Mark Rotenberg, the chief counsel for the University of Minnesota and his dishonest "defense" of letting Desmond Tutu speak at the University of St Thomas, which appeared on the op-ed page in Sunday's Trib.

First Rotenberg claims Dease was "under no pressure" from local Jews to dis-invite Tutu. But that's not what Dease said through Doug Hennes. Secondly, Rotenberg goes on to say that American universities "are awash with anti-Israel sentiment," which is complete bull. American universities may have a smattering of critics of the Israeli government policy regarding the Palestinians, but that does not make them anti-Semitic, a jump in logic that Rotenberg would like readers to make to essentially cut-off all legitimate criticism of Israel.

As Spotty correctly points out:
It takes a lotta damn gall, make that chutzpa, Rotenberg, to claim, as you do, that criticism of Israel is "dabbling in a dangerous cesspool of prejudice."
Juan Cole writes that it was Tutu who was smeared by the Zionist Organization of America, a slight that Dease, Doug Tice and Rotenberg all bought.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rootless at the University of St Thomas

So the Catholic University of St Thomas has now reversed its decision to not allow Desmond Tutu to speak at the school. The decision shows what a complete rootless moral idiot the Rev. Dennis Dease, the guy who runs the school is, along with his puppet spokesman Doug Hennes. It seems Dease never says anything outright, only through Hennes, like some kind of ventriloquist.

I say "rootless" because Dease doesn't have a clue about real morality and is a terrible decision maker. You might remember that St Thomas in the past has allowed right wing bigots to speak with almost no problem - Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin (who defends the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II) are two of the biggest offenders. When they were warned before Coulter spoke they shrugged it off, only to have have to eat crow afterwards. Then when Tutu was invited to speak, they apparently - in contrast to when right wing bigots speak there - were inclined to ask people in the community about him, never mind that Tutu is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and an internationally adored figure. How could anyone even think of dis-inviting Tutu?

So who did Dease speak to? He's not saying, but a good guess is that he knows some right wing Jews whose views mirror his own authoritarian view of life, who apparently told him the Nobel Peace Prize winner was some kind of anti-Semite. Of course Dease believed these as-yet unnamed Jews, so he dis-invited Tutu.

Many people (not me) expect high religious officials to have good judgment and exercise it wisely. It's clear, however, that the right wingers who run St Thomas are not only moral idiots, but have tin ears as well. They didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't recognize clear bigotry in Coulter and Malkin, even when warned. However, when a true giant of international morality presented himself they by then knew they couldn't trust their own judgment, so went to a natural constituency - right wing religionists of another sect- for advice. Of course those right wing Jews to whom Dease outsourced the Tutu decision - whoever they were (I wish they would come forward) - hate Tutu because he has the temerity to criticize the war criminals in Israel.

And the moral cowards at St Thomas, afraid of angering their right wing base, naturally caved. Now with pressure from every corner (excepting, of course, Doug Tice, the movement conservative acolyte in charge of political coverage at the Trib), and no true moral compass of their own except their drive for worldly power, Dease and his cohorts have caved yet again.

Now Dease, in a statement, says he hopes to foster an atmosphere of reasoned debate around contentious issues. That would be nice, but St Thomas has clearly demonstrated they are in no position to moderate such a discussion.

UPDATE: See Trashtalking Ché and necklacing Bishop Tutu (all in a day's work for the local right) from Mark Gisleson. And Spot tells us about Doug Tice and the Hitler brand. Abdi Aynte of Minnesota Monitor reports that it was "Jewish Community Relations Council" that originally "voiced concerns" about Tutu. Behind the Lines has the Dease letter.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Powerlineblog and conservative philanthropy

Every now and then you get a glimpse of where the true power is over at Powerlineblog. Today Scott Johnson has a post up titled "Coming attractions," that publicizes two upcoming conservative movement events.

The first is the "Winston Churchill Dinner" being held by the Claremont Institute in California next month. Johnson and his partner in publishing John Hinderaker, are both "fellows" there. The Institute itself is partially funded by conservative philanthropy, receiving at least $9 million since 1985. The keynote speaker, and recipient of the Institute's "2007 Statesmanship Award," will be Donald Rumsfeld, who has numerous ties to conservative philanthropy, including a new appointment as a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution, one of the top policy shops receiving conservative philanthropy. Doing the presenting will be none other than the Bookie of Virtue Bill Bennett, who is also a Claremont Institute Fellow, and is as central to conservative philanthropy as you can get. Johnson calls Bennett a "Powerline friend" in his post.

The second event is the "fall briefing" for a local Twin Cities "think tank" the Center of the American Experiment (CAE). When last we heard from CAE its future seemed to be in doubt due to internal divisions that resulted in the departure of senior staff and the return of the institution's founder Mitch Pearlstein. The Center has gotten a fair amount from conservative philanthropy, and if you look at its roster and events you can tell it is deeply intertwined in both the national conservative movement and Republican politics. Unsurprisingly Johnson is also a board member there, and Hinderaker was in the past.

The speaker at the CAE event will be none other than Bill Kristol, who's going to talk about "The New World," which I guess is code for the predicament Republicans now find themselves in. Kristol, son of one of the movement's founders, sits at the nexus of conservative philanthropy, media and politics. His organization, the Project for The New American Century, laid the groundwork for the invasion of Iraq, the most foolish war in 2,000 years (according to Martin Van Creveld).

A look at the CAE's quarterly publication reveals authors from across the conservative movement, including Johnson and Hinderaker, Chester Finn, Vin Weber, Sally Pipes, Abigail Thernstrom, Jean Bethke Elshtain, David Frum, David Blankenhorn, Wade Horn, Maggie Gallagher, and many more. Two writers for the CAE quarterly are now in positions of power at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. One is Doug Tice, who was a conservative editorial writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press who is now the political editor at the Star Tribune (not kidding). The second is Katherine Kersten, who was in on the founding of the CAE, has held numerous positions there (including paid ones), and was an op-ed writer at the Trib. After Kersten was removed from the op-ed page at the paper she got a job there as a news columnist, a job she holds to this very day. Kersten is so political, in fact, that she was on a small, select committee that picked people for top jobs in Republican Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty's administration.

As I have argued in numerous venues, the CAE is a "think tank" in name only; it is really an extension of the Republican party, and a cog in the larger conservative movement. The fact that a good friend of theirs is the political editor at the Trib, and one of its founders is a news columnist are indicators of a strong influence on the definition of news in the Twin Cities. Kersten herself often works in tandem with Powerlineblog; frequently you'll see a particular topic covered by Johnson or Hinderaker, only to have the story appear in Kersten's column shortly thereafter. It works the other way, too. In another post just above the one referenced in this post Johnson links to three recent Kersten columns warning of the anarchy awaiting the country for tolerating Critical Mass bike rides.

When Kersten was appointed as a news columnist I complained to the paper's Reader's Rep (who has since been reassigned) that I knew of no news columnists who hadn't come up through the ranks of reporting. She tried to convince me, unsuccessfully, that Kersten had previous journalistic experience, but the truth is that she hadn't any. In actuality Kersten was and is a career movement conservative, working not just at CAE but also as a board member at the odious Institute on Religion and Democracy.

In their own way the conservatives have setup an institutional supply-side structure for getting their message out. First they create and subsidize hundreds of institutions like Claremont and CAE; next they find reliable Republicans to staff them. These institutions then create content for media dissemination, which is taken care of by blogs like Powerline and columnists like Kersten. Paul Krugman recently wrote that Americans don't like conservative and Republican policies on most major issues, and haven't for some time. Yet, Republicans keeps racking up political success stories. Krugman argues the reason for this dichotomy resides in the power of the conservative movement. He's on to something.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Friday cat blogging

Here are Abbey and Simon - such good little posers.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

University of St Thomas and the outlines of Catholic Immorality

Today the Star Trib reports that Bishop Desmond Tutu won't be allowed to speak at the University of St. Thomas because his words about Israel are too "hurtful." This is the same place that welcomed Ann Coulter to campus a few years ago, only to have to repudiate her words after the visit, and who now says that she likes Rudy Giuliani because she believes he's crazy enough to nuke Iran. Welcome to modern Catholic values: Bishop Desmond Tutu, who helped stop apartheid in South Africa and who has compared the treatment of Palestinians in Israel to that treatment, is not welcome because of his views, but Ann Coulter, who says we should invade Muslim countries and convert them to Christianity is welcome. Let's just admit it: It's the Catholics who have become immoral.

BTW - when I first heard Coulter was to speak at St Thomas I contacted Doug Hennes, the university's spokesman to warn him about her views. He waved off my concerns by citing a time when St Thomas welcomed *gasp* a gay person to speak!

UPDATE: Looks like City Pages was the first with this story.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Newt: West vs. Forces of Islam

So Newt is out for prez. Now Newt will have to rely on his non-profit "American Solutions" to distribute his erstwhile campaign theme that World War III is in progress, and it's a war between "The West" and "The Forces of Islam."

Friday, September 28, 2007

Stupid cat pictures #4: Abbey

This is Abbey; like our other cats she came from the humane society. She's about 18 months old, and we think she is an American Ragdoll.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kochs get free pass in Minnesota

A few days ago the PiPress wrote a story about an expansion of the Flint Hills refinery in Minnesota. The story (here) failed to mention that the plant is owned by the Koch brothers of Kansas, who are the nation's worst environmental criminals. You'd think a "business" story would mention who owns the plant, and what their record is, but no. The Kochs always get a free pass in Minnesota. BTW - the Flint Hills plant is so dirty that the Kochs actually changed the name of the plant to evade their own reputation as environmental crooks.

One other point: The former head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Sheryl Corrigan, who came to the MPCA after being an 'environmental manager' for 3M, another of Minnesota's biggest polluters, now works for the Koch brothers in Wichita.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Stupid cat pictures #2 - Simon

Simon is our orange Tabby - he's about three years old and weighs about 14 pounds!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Stupid cat pictures #1 - Molly

This is Molly, our oldest cat. She, like our two others, came from the Humane Society. She's about five years old, and we think she may be a Maine Coon.


Welcome imaginary audience! This is the personal blog of Rob Levine (me), and will be focused on two unrelated things: writing a book about conservative philanthropy, and showing pictures of my cats. It's a strange combo, but what can I say - those are two of my big interests. If you're new to the subject of conservative philanthropy check out our real website at to get up to speed.