Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One For The Books?

The WSJ's Darren Eversen says that Bemidji State reaching the Frozen Four is already one of the greatest upsets in college sports history:

Bemidji State, a liberal-arts school in northern Minnesota, has an endowment of about $12 million. Notre Dame, a somewhat more prominent university in northern Indiana, spent roughly five times that much on athletics last year.

This is why Bemidji State's ascension to college hockey's Frozen Four -- which included a 5-1 rout of No. 2 Notre Dame Saturday -- is one of the greatest upsets in collegiate sports history.

No upset may ever match Chaminade's 1982 victory over Virginia in men's basketball. Virginia entered that game ranked No. 1, while Chaminade had recently lost to Wayland Baptist. Still, it was just a regular-season game.

If one also takes into account the direct impact the upset had on its sport's championship, others rank higher. Michigan's title chances ended in Appalachian State's landmark 2007 football upset. Top-seeded Stanford became the first (and only) team to fall to a No. 16 seed, when it lost to Harvard in the 1998 women's basketball tournament.

The closest parallel to Bemidji State is last year's Fresno State baseball team, which became the lowest-seeded team to win an NCAA title (the Bulldogs were seeded below 48 of 64 teams). But Bemidji State is by far the lowest-ranked team in this year's hockey tournament, plus the Beavers hail from a four-team conference that is in danger of disbanding. So if they keep their run going, they may become the biggest surprise of all.

He ranks the Beavers making the Frozen Four as the third greatest upset in college sports history. That seems like a debatable claim, but if BSU does win the national title, their place in history would be difficult to dispute.

Monday, March 30, 2009

This Year, The Skate Fits

This was easily the wildest weekend in NCAA hockey tournament action that I can ever recall. Three number one seeds were knocked off by four seeds in the regionals. Two of those four seeds went on to reach the Frozen Four and the other lost in two overtimes to a three seed. The only top seed who took care of business and punched their ticket to D.C. was Boston University and even they required a goal with fifteen seconds left in regulation to get past New Hampshire.

Needless to say such unexpected outcomes played havoc with my predictions as they did with nearly everyone else's. I went 4-4 in the opening games and 1-3 in the next round. Which is pretty dismal. Currently, I'm in 8th place in the pool I'm in. If BU wins the championship I can finish third, but no higher.

A third place finish brings me no solace as I enter these pools to win and put my hockey cred on the line in doing so. However, what does bring me solace is seeing how my good friend The Nihilist In Golf Pants has fared. The Nihilist is a Notre Dame apologist alum, whose confidence--bordering on cockiness--in the Irish hockey squad had him laying plans for a championship celebration before the tourney's first puck had even been dropped.

So there was definitely an element of schadenfreude when Notre Dame was dispatched with extreme prejudice by unheralded Bemidji State in the opening round. That joy was only magnified when I checked the predictions standings in the pool that we both participated in today and found the NIGP firmly ensconced in last place in the standings. Not only in last place, but in last place with all of ONE point and no hope of picking up any more. In fact, in he only managed to pick ONE game correctly of the opening eight. A toddler picking teams based on his favorite color could have done better than that. A blind-folded monkey throwing darts could have done better. Heck, even a college puck neophyte like Learned Foot could have done better than that.

Since I've often written about the prominence of the WCHA in college hockey in the past, it's only fair that I note that the balance of power seems to have shifted. This is the first Frozen Four since 1999 with no representation from the WCHA. This officially spells an end to a period of dominance that now appears to have lasted from 2000-2006. During that time, WCHA teams won six of seven national championships (in 2001 UND lost to BC in the title game in OT) and in 2005 all four teams at the Frozen Four were from the conference.

I knew the league was down this year, but didn't realize just how much weak it was really was. North Dakota getting beat wasn't a surprise and even if they hadn't blown the game against New Hampshire, they would have been hard-pressed to knock off BU. But with Denver and UMD both playing in the Minneapolis regional as the top two seeds, I would have thought one of those two squads would have advanced.

It still remains an open question of where the power in college hockey has shifted to. Prior to this weekend, I would have said East to both the CCHA and Hockey East. While Hockey East has two schools in this year's Frozen Four (BU & Vermont) and the CCHA one (Miami), I now wonder if what we're seeing isn't as much a shift from one conference to another as much as it a diffusion of power among the schools. The traditional power houses seem to have been significantly impacted by the growing trend of top players leaving school early for the pros. This has allowed some of the other schools to become relatively stronger by keeping and developing their players and it seems like the gap between the best and the rest has narrowed to the point where any team from any conference can compete.

We saw that this weekend with the success of teams like Bemidji State (CHA) and Air Force (Atlantic) from conferences that you don't usually hear from and teams from prominent conferences like Vermont (Hockey East) and Miami (CCHA) that you don't usually find in the NCAA tourney mix. It makes me wonder if college hockey going through a phase somewhat similar to what college basketball went through some years ago, where some of the traditional power house teams struggled to adapt to the era of star players leaving early. If you look at what's happened of late in college hoops, these top teams seem to have recovered and once again established their place at the top. While you still may get a surprise with a team like George Mason a few years ago, the teams appearing in the Final Four are mostly from the schools with a strong basketball history.

Given my position as a Gopher fan, this is a pattern that I'd like to see repeated in college hockey. Sooner rather than later. Especially since the 2011 Frozen Four will be hosted in Saint Paul. Until then, I'll have to be content to cheer on the scrappy Bemidji State Beavers when they take the ice against Miami in a national semi on April 9th. They aren't a WCHA team, but after this weekend they more than ever deserve to be one.

UPDATE: Darren Everson in the WSJ on Why You Should Have Watched Hockey:

If only Jim Valvano had coached college hockey. Then the phrase "survive and advance" -- which the late North Carolina State basketball coach used to describe college basketball's grueling tournament -- would be where it truly belongs.

There is arguably no major event in sports more chaotic than the Division I hockey tournament. By its nature, hockey is more capricious than basketball and football, since one player (the goalie) can have an outsized impact -- for better or worse -- on a single game's outcome.

Baseball is similar, because of the pitcher's influence. But unlike baseball's double-elimination College World Series, the college hockey tournament is a one-and-done event, like basketball.

Result: Three of the four No. 1 seeds in this year's tournament didn't even survive their first games over the weekend. Michigan fell to Air Force, 2-0, due almost entirely to the play of Falcons goaltender Andrew Volkening (Michigan took 43 shots to Air Force's 13); Denver lost to Miami University, 4-2; and Notre Dame was buried by Bemidji State, 5-1.

Denver's loss and even Michigan's actually weren't that shocking -- Air Force, which subsequently was eliminated Saturday by Vermont, came within an eyelash of first-round upsets the previous two years -- but Notre Dame's defeat was the equivalent of Radford dismissing North Carolina by double digits.

Notre Dame, which led the nation in winning percentage and goals-against average, was facing the country's 37th-best team, according to the Ratings Percentage Index ranking system. There are only 58 teams in Division I. But Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce got rattled early, giving up the opening goal after a strange bounce off the boards, and the chaos was underway.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Divine Intervention?

Last week, it is announced that Notre Dame has invited President Obama to speak at their commencement and receive honorary degree. Last night, the Fighting Irish hockey team--ranked #2 among sixteen teams in the NCAA tourney--gets shellacked by the sixteenth seed Bemidji State in a game where BSU reportedly "got all the bounces" (giving the Beavers their first even NCAA tourney win--one more than St. Cloud State). Just sayin'.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us beginning at 11AM today for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.
John Hinderaker and I will kick things off at 11AM.

Possible subject matter to include: the latest Michele Bachmann distortions and our role in aiding and abetting armed revolutionaries, signs of life for Republican electoral chances, Loon of the Week, Anti-Loon of the Week,, and This Week in Gatekeeping.

It all starts at 11AM Central locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. Following us, as always, at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM King Banaian. Don't you dare miss it.

Even More McCollum

Betty McCollum Week continues on Fraters Libertas with Part III of this series investigating the public statements of Betty Mac. (Parts I and II.) Once again, all of these are available for context stripping and out of proportion blowing by media members wishing to give her the Bachmann treatment.

Following her "send the Republicans to Guantanamo Bay" remark, we have this further evidence that she's in need of some better comedy writers:
After questioning current and former executives of Standard & Poor's, Moody's Corporation, and Fitch Ratings, Congresswoman McCollum said, "We have heard stories of culpability, incompetence and, in my opinion, corruption. This Member of Congress has downgraded your AAA rating!"
If she ever leaves Congress, she definitely has a future as a Member of the Jerry Springer audience.

Another theme in the rhetoric and record of Rep. McCollum is the advocacy of grandiose plans and absurdly unrealistic objectives. Along with this is no concern for the financial consequences to the US taxpayer or even understanding of the concept of scarce resources. Maybe that's the case with every liberal in Congress, but it seems especially egregious with her.

First some empty grandstanding:

Last night, in a show of overwhelming support for Congresswoman Betty McCollum's (D-MN) efforts to preserve the Mississippi River, the U.S. House of
Representatives voted 326 - 79 to pass the America's Historical and Natural Legacy Study Act.
I understand the Mississippi River was *this* close to evaporating until that critical bill, to study something, passed. Thank you Betty McCollum for saving America's largest river system.

Lest you think she's only worried about saving things for her fellow Americans, be aware she has a more global perspective for use of your tax dollars:

"Eradicating polio is within our reach if we have the political will and financial commitment to make it happen," McCollum said today.

Rep. McCollum is the Chair and Co-Founder of the Congressional Global Health Caucus, which emphasizes U.S. action to foster basic health and quality of life across the globe.
I didn't realize polio was still out there. According to Wikipedia, it is, although eradicated in most of the world and considered to be endemic in only four countries. I suppose its not the worst use of tax dollars I've ever heard to attempt to end this dread disease once and for all. But it's that description of the "Global Health Caucus" (to foster quality of life across the globe) and McCollum's volunteering of our "financial commitment" that raises warning flags.

Further public statements confirm, she ain't stopping with polio. Next up for the US taxpayer:

In her speech, McCollum called on the U.S. government to commit to ending global poverty.

"Every year 8 million people die because they are too poor to get the basics they need to stay alive," said McCollum. "It is my belief that the United States has the ability, the resources, and the moral obligation to work in partnership with other wealthy nations, and make the investments to reduce global poverty."

The US government ending global poverty? And you taxpayers thought multi-trillion dollar bailouts, stimulus packages, nationalized health care, carbon taxes, and exploding Social Security and Medicare obligations were going to be expensive.

More on what Betty McCollum believes you should be paying for:
Can our faith, our values, and our tax dollars be combined into an American "tzedakah" to increase our commitment to feeding the hunger, healing the sick, educating all girls and boys, empowering the ignored and alienated, and inspiring hope in every corner of our planet?
Drum roll please ...
I say yes.
I think she wrestled with that question about as much as Barack Obama did about using human embryos for experimentation.

Keeping the tally going, beyond ending global poverty, we now have as US government goals curing sickness around the globe, educating all girls and boys around the globe, and empowering the ignored and alienated. (I think she just secured the Atomizer's support with that one).

It is frankly unbelievable that taxpayers would continue to send to Congress a woman holding these beliefs about what to do with their money. But they do in MN CD-5, with increasing majorities. In that her understanding of economics and the proper role of government reflects that of her fellow Congressmen, the source of our national economic quagmire is understandable.

Not as clear is how these people can become so out of touch with reality. How does someone elected for the purpose of representing the interests of the people in St. Paul start creating spending plans to end global poverty? How does someone start concocting open-ended billion dollar spending obligations for the taxpayers who are already on the hook for untold trillions in debt obligations for other government "stuff"?

Some insight from Rep. McCollum herself:
When I was elected to Congress in 2000 I had never had a passport and only once had I traveled outside the U.S., it was a trip to Canada. But following the events of September 2001, I knew I needed to become a student of international relations.

(...) My journey into international relations has been shaped by a war in Afghanistan which I supported, and a war in Iraq which I opposed. I have had the opportunity to meet kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers. But, the experiences that have left the biggest mark on me are the faces, words, and courage of the people I've met in the poorest corners of the globe. What I have come to realize is that their future and their fate is in part in my hands, and yours.
Everybody sing: She's got the whole world in her hands. She's got the whole wide world in her hands.

And she's got a Messiah Complex in her head.

The combination of the belief that she is called on to save the world and her control over US taxpayer dollars, which she believes to be unlimited, is a toxic asset and a prescription for disaster. Maybe voters don't care about this when economic times are good and the free ride looks like it will last forever. But during the worst down turn since the Great Depression, can we still afford people like Betty McCollum in Congress? Does the bubble ever pop on these people?

Friday, March 27, 2009

No One Knows What It's Like

The President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, on the culprit behind the current global economic troubles:
"This is a crisis that was caused by white people with blue eyes."
OK, we're getting to the bottom of this. I've been wondering at whom to aim my wrath. Thanks to our man Lula, I can narrow this down to a few hundred million people. (And I'm one of them!) But that's not quite enough information to properly direct a lynch mob.

Into the breach steps another helpful resource, our own Rep. Betty McCollum, from earlier this month:
"The global food security and economic crises are two disasters - man made and ... both made primarily by men."
Boom! That cuts the suspect list in half right there. White, blue-eyed, males. Now we're getting somewhere.

Slight problem, I'm still on the hook. And, er, ah, your eminence, I have no recollection of making either the global food security or economic crisis. I was in my basement, blogging in my underwear at the time, I swear.

Looks like we're going to need at least a couple more demagogues ascribing negative behavior to groups based on personal characteristics. Before we can string anybody up with confidence, a little more discrimination based on, say, creed, religion, national origin, marital status, status with regard to public assistance, disability, sexual orientation, and age would helpful. Thank you.

Another Sham Election

Tomorrow the simpleton population of this planet will be taking part in the incredibly asinine exercise known as Earth Hour after which they will bask in the glow of their elevated social consciousness and will crawl off to bed with the warm fuzzy feeling that they really made a difference. The Earth Hour event is described below but, and I cannot stress this enough, please refrain from eating or drinking anything while reading it as you may run the serious risk of blowing the contents of your mouth through your nose.

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote -Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome's Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you're from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

So these nutburgers are trying to convince people that by simply switching off their lights they are standing up and taking control over the future of the planet? Talk about an exercise in futility. And this "raising awareness" nonsense has become an absolute joke. The global warming doctrine has been shoved down our throats so much that it's really becoming nothing more than background noise.

Please join me on Saturday evening as I turn on every switch I can find at my house. I may even fire up the Christmas lights and let our two cars idle in the garage. With a little help, we can make Minneapolis look like this for an hour.

Beer Of The Week (Vol 1)

This marks the first in what I hope to a long-term series of posts on beer made possible by the fine folks at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. That establishment has generously agreed to provide beer for weekly reviews and every brew featured here is available at Glen Lake Wine and Spirits. These reviews will be an expansion of the beer rating that I've been doing for years and will be more in-depth look at particular beers using the same rating criteria. And in addition to the just the beer itself, I'll be examining the whole aesthetic package; the bottle, the label, the name.

The inaugural Beer of the Week is The Original Drifter Pale Ale from Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, Oregon.

The name and label conjure up images of heading down to the shore (lake or sea) with an aluminum cooler stocked with Original Drifter to climb aboard a wooden boat and spend the sunny day being pushed around by gentle breezes. The label has a soothing soft blue driftwood and water background. It definitely has a retro look and feel that scores high in my book.

The brown bottle has appealing shape and is engraved with the Widmer logo and name. When you grip it in your meaty claws, it feels like a bottle of beer should.

Now to the beer itself.

COLOR (0-2): Nice copper color with rich hues and an appropriate level of opacity. 2

AROMA (0-2): Subtle hoppy smell with a hint of citrus. 2

HEAD (0-2): Good look off the pour, but not much staying power. 1

TASTE (0-5): Smooth, but flavorful. Definitely more complex than the name might suggest. Reminiscent of Summit's Extra Pale Ale. 3

AFTERTASTE (0-2): Good finish that follows through well. 2

OVERALL (0-6): Not a great beer, but a very good one. Rates high among its pale ale brethren. 4

TOTAL SCORE (0-19): 14

Despite its warm weather theme, Widmer's Original Drifter Pale Ale is a beer suited for year round consumption that I will most certainly be going back to in the future.

Next Week: A two-fer featuring Nut Brown Ale and Oatmeal Stout from Samuel Smith Brewing.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

For Good Reason

Ross Douthat offers an excellent rebuttal to those trying to lay the blame for the spread of AIDs in Africa at the feet of the Pope:

In the interim, though, I would suggest that he take a step back and consider that Benedict XVI is the head of an international institution that does as much to fight disease and poverty as any NGO in the world. The Church runs hospitals, clinics, and schools; it channels hundred of millions of dollars in donations from the developed world to the wretched of the earth; it supports thousands upon thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople who work in some of the most difficult and dangerous conditions in the world.

And it does so based on the same premises--an attempt to be faithful to the commandments of Jesus Christ--that undergird the Pope's insistence on preaching chastity, rather than promoting prophylactics.

There are many other NGOs working in Africa that proceed from different premises, and take a different attitude toward matters sexual as a result, and if David Rothkopf prefers their approach that's perfectly understandable. But unless he's willing to tell the Catholic Church that it should fold up its charitable operations in the developing world and go home, I'd prefer to be spared the lectures on how the Pope is responsible for "massive death and suffering" among populations for whom Catholic institutions have provided lifelines beyond counting over the years, just because he isn't willing to to use his pulpit to preach the importance of playing it as safe as possible, health-wise, while you're committing what the Church considers mortal sin.

I Thought Fargo Was In Minnesota

Attention members of the media (both local and national). It has recently come to my attention that geography is not a subject of emphasis at J school.

So please pay attention to the following. Fargo and Grand Forks are both cities in North Dakota on the Red River. However, they are about seventy miles apart and are quite separate and distinct municipalities.

While it is true that there was some flooding in Fargo in 1997, the city that was the site of devastation of almost Biblical proportions (fires, floods, etc.) was Grand Forks. The city that currently is being most threatened by spring flooding is Fargo. They are not--I repeat NOT--the same place and I would appreciate it if you could try to manage to keep that straight in your reporting.

Don't even get me started on the whole University of North Dakota--North Dakota State University thing either.

UPDATE-- Rick e-mails to also remind people that the Red River flows North. That's why Fargo's high crest is predicted to be reached on Saturday, while it Grand Forks it won't occur until sometime next week:

The predicted Red River crest range for Grand Forks has gone up. Again.

Wednesday's National Weather Service numbers said Grand Forks is expected to crest between 50 and 53 feet. Two days ago, the range was 48.5 to 52.5 feet. The prediction has risen steadily because of rapid melt and more moisture.

The latest bump was because of the precipitation of the past two days. The combination of rain and snow resulted in widespread precipitation of one-half to 1 inch in the region.

"The path of the storm was right through the heart of the valley," said Dan Riddle, a weather service senior meteorologist.

The crest at Grand Forks, protected to 60 feet, could come as early as Monday. When the crest does arrive, it will stick around.

"Grand Forks will be staying at major flood stage for at least a week," said Mark Frazier, weather service meteorologist.

The record crest in Grand Forks is 54.4 feet in 1997. The fact that the city is now protected to sixty feet should provide some measure of comfort to its residents, although I'm sure that they're praying hard for dry weather in the week ahead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More McCollum

My foray into the public statement jungle of Rep. Betty McCollum yesterday yields a few more observations. All of these are available for context stripping and out of proportion blowing by media members wishing to give her the Michelle Bachmann treatment.

One consistent theme is McCollum's tendency to use unnecessary, dramatic adjectives. Example, her comments on the never ending Coleman-Franken election recount:
"Now that the state Canvassing Board has certified Mr. Franken as the winner of Minnesota's Senate seat, following an exceptionally transparent, bipartisan, and meticulous recount process, it is time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to immediately seat Mr. Franken to ensure that Minnesotans have full representation in the U.S. Senate."
Betty McCollum's hierarchy of transparency:

-- buttered slice of 7-grain bread: slightly transparent
---- jar of Vaseline: moderately transparent
------ pane of glass: very transparent
-------- Minnesota's election recount process: exceptionally transparent

Next, her comments on the state of Minnesota's budget:
"The announcement that the State of Minnesota is facing a massive budget disaster means Governor Pawlenty has some tough choices to make. He can go it alone and eviscerate the safety net an ever growing number of Minnesota families depend upon for their daily needs. Or, the governor can reach out in a spirit of partnership to the Minnesota Congressional delegation to work collaboratively, along with legislative leaders, to responsibly find solutions to the state’s fiscal mess."
It's true, we could probably skate over a medium-sized budget disaster. Maybe even clear a large budget disaster without sweating. But these massive budget disasters are going to force some tough choices.

From this description, I get the sense that being in Congress for 8 years gets one intimately familiar with "budget disasters". Eskimos have 144 words for snow. Congress people have 144 words for budget disasters.

Incidentally, McCollum has been happily sitting around in Congress for nearly a decade while the federal budget disaster has ballooned to staggering, unprecedented levels of massiveness. I'm praying Tim Pawlenty can find more credible sources for advice on how to handle a budget disaster than Betty McCollum.

We continue, her comments on the violence in Israel:

"The war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip is the final blow to any Middle East peace process. Palestinians are being killed in alarming numbers while Hamas continues to fire rockets at Israel.

What is Betty McCollum's threshold for killing Palestinians? What ever it may be, it has now been exceeded, because only recent numbers have alarmed her. But before then, what, she was fine with it? Doesn't sound very peace-loving to me.

Please note, all of these statements were from her own press releases. Comments subject to layers of staff editorial control and with the time necessary for calm reflection and syntactic precision. I can only imagine the things she might say while speaking extemporaneously, let alone while being hectored by a conniving, hyper partisan media personality during a live broadcast.

BTW, the Northern Alliance Radio Network has availability for a guest this week.

Not Worth The Paper They're Printed On

Hernando De Soto is the author of The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, a book that should grace the shelves of anyone with an interest in economics. In today's WSJ, he warns that the real root cause of our current problems are not the bad loans themselves but the derivatives that have created an overall lack of trust in the true value of all paper assets:

The Obama administration has finally come up with a plan to deal with the real cause of the credit crunch: the infamous "toxic assets" on bank balance sheets that have scared off investors and borrowers, clogging credit markets around the world. But if Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner hopes to prevent a repeat of this global economic crisis, his rescue plan must recognize that the real problem is not the bad loans, but the debasement of the paper they are printed on.

Today's global crisis -- a loss on paper of more than $50 trillion in stocks, real estate, commodities and operational earnings within 15 months -- cannot be explained only by the default on a meager 7% of subprime mortgages (worth probably no more than $1 trillion) that triggered it. The real villain is the lack of trust in the paper on which they -- and all other assets -- are printed. If we don't restore trust in paper, the next default -- on credit cards or student loans -- will trigger another collapse in paper and bring the world economy to its knees.

If you think about it, everything of value we own travels on property paper. At the beginning of the decade there was about $100 trillion worth of property paper representing tangible goods such as land, buildings, and patents world-wide, and some $170 trillion representing ownership over such semiliquid assets as mortgages, stocks and bonds. Since then, however, aggressive financiers have manufactured what the Bank for International Settlements estimates to be $1 quadrillion worth of new derivatives (mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and credit default swaps) that have flooded the market.

A quadrillion here, a quadrillion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. De Soto goes on to recommend that government enforce six established procedures with respect to derivatives to ensure the value and legitimacy of these paper assets and restore trust.

Government's main duty now is to bring the whole toxic environment under the rule of law where it will be subject to enforcement. No economic activity based on the public trust should be allowed to operate outside the general principles of property law.

Given the important role that property law plays as part of the foundation of capitalism itself, his proposal seems eminently prudent.

Morality Taps Out

When I was watching last night's press conference and heard this exchange...

Q: In your remarks on stem cell research earlier this month, you talked about a majority consensus in determining whether or not this is the right thing to do, to federally fund embryonic stem cell research. I'm just wondering, though, how much you, personally, wrestled with the morality or ethics of federally funding this kind of research, especially given the fact that science so far has shown a lot of progress with adult stem cells, but not a lot with embryonic.

OBAMA: Okay. I think it's a legitimate question. I wrestle with these issues every day, as I mentioned to -- I think in an interview a couple of days ago. By the time an issue reaches my desk, it's a hard issue. If it was an easy issue, somebody else would have solved it and it wouldn't have reached me.

Look, I believe that it is very important for us to have strong moral guidelines, ethical guidelines when it comes to stem cell research or anything that touches on, you know, the issues of possible cloning or issues related to, you know, the human life sciences. I think those issues are all critical, and I've said so before. I wrestle with it on stem cell, I wrestle with it on issues like abortion.

...the image that came to my mind regarding the kind of "wrestling" President Obama was going through was this:

Yes, I think it's safe to say the outcomes of President Obama's wrestling matches on life issues are very much predetermined.

But that wasn't even close to being the most disingenuous statement by President Obama last night. That distinction involved this response when asked about the ballooning deficits he's proposing and the mounting debt that will result:

Now, the alternative is to stand pat and to simply say we are just going to not invest in health care, we're not going to take on energy; we'll wait until the next time that gas gets to $4 a gallon; we will not improve our schools, and we'll allow China or India or other countries to lap our young people in terms of their performance; we will settle on lower growth rates; and we will continue to contract, both as an economy and our ability to provide a better life for our kids.

Yup that's it. We either spend trillions of dollars to expand the scale and scope of our government to unprecedented levels or we do nothing. It's amazing that no one calls him out for presenting these absurdly false choices.

An Existential Loss of Hope

Much has already been written about the cultural, spiritual, and demographic decline of Europe. In the March issue of FIRST THINGS, Jean Bethke Elshtain gives voice to the concerns in a piece called While Europe Slept (sub req):

Democracies often have a difficult task in figuring out how to deal with internal threats, with those within the body politic who would destroy it if they could: Witness Weimar dealing, or not dealing, with Adolf Hitler. Perhaps Europeans today are altogether too complacent, too convinced that economic rights and expressivist self-sovereignty can carry us through. But no one can miss the signs of cultural slackness and exhaustion all around in today's Europe. Demographic collapse is one sign of an existential loss of hope and a turning of the self inward on the self, refusing to extend the self to a child and thus abandoning the task of civic formation on this most fundamental and private level.

Europe suffers from many self-inflicted wounds--the wounds of indifference, the wounds of self-absorption. Will Europe be able to deal with all the daunting challenges she faces, including destabilization, economic stagnation, a resurgence of anti-Semitism, and all the rest? Only if she remembers who she is, with something precious and valuable to offer, which means accepting her religious heritage and its normative constraints on what people are permitted to do and how they may do it. Only if Europe can sustain principles and commitments that are historically derived from presuppositions of divinely sanctioned human dignity. I speak here not of faith but of sustaining cultural memory, including that which resolutely rejected the view that we are all forced to choose between faith and reason, which would rule Europe's historical dialectic irrelevant.

Will Europe awake from this slumber in time to regain its cultural confidence, faith, and hope for the future? I'm afraid I'm not confident.

I'm also afraid about the prospects of the nihilism and relativism that is corroding Europe coming to our shores. One of the reasons that America is not yet facing the same bleak future as Europe is the secular acceptance of America's religious heritage and cultural memory. You don't have to believe in God to believe in America. But as our secular culture becomes more self-absorbed, more indifferent, more adverse to the ideal of divinely sanctioned human dignity (in other words more Europeanized), we may be well headed down the same path of civilizational decline.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

That's News to Me

It is not longer a surprise when the media tries to gin up a controversy over something Michele Bachmann allegedly said or did. After the many false alarms, I think most savvy news consumers, and the majority of her 6th district constituents, have taken to applying the "boy who cried wolf" standard to these reports. Ironically, the media's zeal to "get" Michele Bachmann tends to inure her to any criticism, even that which might be legitimate.

Legitimate is certainly is not the description of the current kerfuffle, summarized in all of its glorious distortion by this headline:
Bachmann urges "armed" revolt over climate plan
And this one in the Star Tribune:
Obama's energy cap-and-trade plan has Bachmann talking about a revolution
Typically it takes some time and effort to unpack the real facts behind these flash mob controversies. (I went through the exercise during the last election, debunking the panicked shrieking about Sarah Palin.) However, this case is easier in that I happened to have been on the other end of the phone line from Michelle Bachmann when she made her comments on NARN, First Team last Saturday.

To say the least, I was surprised that this interview made the Star Tribune and quasi-national news. Michele's comments didn't even merit a raised eyebrow among those in the studio. (And we have a very low standard these things. For example, during the commercial break, every brow in the room looked like the Gateway Arch when I announced I was considering Taco Bell for lunch.)

Taken in context, her comments were unremarkable. Certainly colorful and enthusiastic, but unremarkable for a conservative representative of a conservative district. I suspect that orientation is enough to put any of your comments on the wrong side of most reporters. But to help sell the story to the less jaundiced, they helpfully stripped all context from these remarks:

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us 'having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,' and the people - we the people - are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States."
Restoring the context, surrounding this statement (and her entire point for being on the show) was her promotion of two public forums she's hosting with a researcher on the consequences of the upcoming Obama energy tax schemes. It was obvious that her comments about "arming" related to arming oneself with information and the "revolt" was about citizens opposing this legislation through normal channels (petition for redress of grievances, right to assembly, make known you're willing to force the bums who vote for it to look for other career opportunities, etc.)

Add context and you lose the story, of course. So, instead, the tactic employed is to play dumb about the full story, throw out a fragment of her words, get a defensive reaction from her staff, then print that in a skeptical "they say she meant this" fashion. Her reputation sufficiently harmed in the public mind, mission accomplished.

Compounding this unfair treatment is the inconsistency. If you gave this level of microscopic scrutiny (often provided by the local Dump blogs) and used the same reporting tactics on any politician, you could gin up just as many controversies and headlines and Bachmann has endured.

Let's give it a shot. Let's pick, oh I don't know . . . . Rep. Betty McCollum. The woman rated as the most liberal congressperson in the US House. (Does that sound at all representative of the people in St. Paul and Ramsey county? I digress).

Scanning through her public statements over the past few years, picking an average, garden-variety statement. Let's see, here's one about the GOP convention in St. Paul. What does she have to say?

OMG! Brace yourselves:

"The Republicans can take their convention to Guantanamo Bay where security won't be a problem"
Suggested headlines for our friends in the media:

McCollum Suggests Waterboarding of Republican Delegates


Republican convention has McCollum talking about terrorists

Go get 'em boys.

Paw Me

Residents of the western 'burbs interested in bending the ear of Governor Pawlenty and other notable state GOP leaders should consider the GOP Senate District 44 fundraiser this Thursday in Hopkin(s).

The roster of guests includes:

* Governor Pawlenty
* Rep. Marty Seifert, House Minority Leader
* Sen. David Hann, Assist. Senate Minority Leader
* Rep. Dan Severson, House Minority Whip

Again, that's this Thursday, March 26, 2009 from 5:00pm to 8:00pm.

Hopkins Elks Lodge
30 8th Avenue S.
Hopkins, MN

Seafood and Sandwich Buffet, Soft Drinks, Cash Bar
(kosher food available)

$60 per person
$250 for Photo Reception with Governor

Those who have not taken advantage of their $50 PCR refund for 2009 ($100 for married couples) may do so, meaning that the event will be all but free after the refund!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What's In Your Bottle?

Writing at the Front Porch Republic, Susan McWilliams tries to draw a connection between bottled water, beer and civic life:

The news is dreadful: According to the Census, since 2006 we have been living in a republic where, for the first time in the history of the republic, Americans drink more bottled water than we drank beer.

Why is this important? It's important because beer is a socially oriented beverage, and bottled water is a privately oriented one.

There's a reason that beer commercials tend to include lots of people hanging out in a room together, and bottled water commercials tend to include lone individuals climbing things and running around by themselves, usually on a beach at sunrise--even though they are not being chased.

Drinking beer emanates, albeit clumsily and with all the familiar risks, from essentially social impulses. Most people drink beer to lower social inhibitions, to make it easier to have conversations with other people, to assuage loneliness, to grease the wheels for engaging in what my students euphemistically call "relationships"--in other words, to give a form and excuse for social life. You don't drink beer to improve your private, individual health.

Ahem, ahem. Have to beg to differ there. While there is an undeniable social component to beer, there is also a great deal of personal satisfaction to be had by indulging in a tasty brew. As someone with no social life to speak of, I can testify that my impulse to drink beer is not essentially a social one. In fact, her entire premise that beer is public and bottled water is private seems rather flimsy when held up to scrutiny.

Selective Appeal

This time of year you can't escape the talk about "March Madness." It's impossible to deny that the annual NCAA basketball tournament has firmly established its place on the current American pop culture landscape. The schools, the games, the players, the television coverage, the analysis, the brackets, and the betting have become a sports phenomena that only seems to getting more popular with each passing year.

It's also impossible to deny that the interest in college hockey pales in comparison. Far fewer schools have hockey programs and the sport itself is still largely regional in the followers it attracts. Only diehards fill out NCAA hockey brackets and the television coverage of the hockey tournament and the audience it attracts is a but a small sliver of the attention that basketball garners.

Having said all that, I still find these attendance numbers from last weekend at least worthy of mention.

Thursday night WCHA Final Five play in game between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17611

Friday afternoon WCHA Final semi-final between Denver and Wisconsin: 14722

Friday night WCHA Final Five semi-final between North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17729

Saturday afternoon WCHA Final Five third place game between North Dakota and Wisconsin: 15254

Saturday night WCHA Final Five championship game between Denver and Minnesota-Duluth: 16749

These numbers are taken from the box scores of each game. From what I understand from people who were done at the Xcel Energy this weekend, the crowds were lighter than usual so I assume these figures are based on tickets sold. Still, considering that the hometown Gophers only played in one game, the average attendance of 16,413 is pretty good.

With all the hype and attention that the NCAA basketball tournament receives, you would have imagined that hoops fans in the Twin Cities would have been ecstatic to learn the one of the regional sites for the opening rounds of 2009 big dance was the Metrodome in Minneapolis. And with North Dakota State bringing regional interest and big names like Kansas and Michigan State among the eight schools in the bracket, you might have expected that these fans would turn out in droves to catch the action in person.

Again, let's go to the box scores.

Thursday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 15794

Thursday evening NCAA basketball regional session: 12814

Sunday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 14279

So even on Sunday afternoon, with the prospect of a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, only slightly more than 14,000 people showed up at the Dome? I guess all the blue seats we were seeing on television were an indication of the crowd and not just the size of the venue.

Like I said, I'm not drawing any grand conclusions from these numbers, I just find them interesting to consider.

It Can Happen Here

One of the most important political stories of recent years that probably has not gotten quite the attention and discussion it deserves is how Colorado has been flipped from a red to a blue state in a most dramatic fashion. Rarely do you see such sweeping changes in the political make up of a state in such a short period of time. Rob Witwer has the details in the March 23rd edition of National Review (sub req):

Consider the following. In October 2004, the GOP dominated politics at every level in Colorado. Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats, five of seven congressional seats, the governor's mansion, the secretary of state's and treasurer's offices, and both houses of the state legislature. Four years later, the opposite is true: Replace the word "Republicans" with "Democrats" in the previous sentence, and you have one of the most stunning reversals of fortune in American political history.

While the Minnesota GOP has been reeling lately from a series of election defeats, the losses here are nothing compared with what's occurred in Colorado. We went from being a state that seemed to turning purple back to pretty solidly blue. Colorado went from red to blue in what in political terms is a blink of an eye.

Witwer details how the Democrats were able to engineer this amazing turnaround:

How did it happen? The Colorado story isn't just about changing demographics or an unpopular Bush presidency. Those factors played a part, but they cannot explain why Democrats dominate a state in which Republicans still outnumber them by 9,000 registered voters. Democratic success in Colorado is in large part the result of what Stein calls a "more strategic, more focused, more disciplined, better financed" progressive movement.

In hindsight, what Colorado Democrats did was as simple as it was effective. First, they built a robust network of nonprofit entities to replace the Colorado Democratic party, which had been rendered obsolete by campaign-finance reform. Second, they raised historic amounts of money from large donors, to fund these entities. Third, they developed a consistent, topical message. Fourth, and most important, they put aside their policy differences to focus on the common goal of winning elections. As former Democratic house majority leader Alice Madden later said, "It's not rocket science."

No, it's not. And yet Republicans more often than not seem unable to grasp and employ these concepts, especially the fourth one. Instead, we'd rather waste vast amounts of time and energy tearing ourselves apart in internecine battles over issues that in the big picture aren't particularly important in determining election outcomes.

Witwer's piece also contains a warning message to Republicans across the country that what happened it Colorado can happen to them:

Soon the conversation turned to something less well known: a quiet little project called the Committee on States, through which Democrats plan to export their Colorado success across the country over the next 20 months. "As we know, 2010 is redistricting, there are 35 governors' races, so it's going to be a critically important year," said Rob Stein, founder of the Democracy Alliance, a national Democratic fundraising group. To prepare for 2010, Stein said last summer, architects of the "Colorado miracle" and a lawyer named Frank Smith would be working hard to get progressives in 18 other states "up to Colorado's level of sophistication and organizational development."

It wasn't empty talk. In the past 30 months, the Democracy Alliance's donors have put over $110 million into 30 state-level groups. "There are a bunch of states," Stein continued, "where over the next couple of years a lot of development is going to happen." Later in the presentation, Smith named a few: Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

For Republicans in these states, understanding what happened in Colorado isn't just a matter of curiosity--it's a matter of political survival.

The Democrats have a tried and true game plan for success that they're ready to roll out across the country. Will Republicans be able to come together and develop an effective strategy to counter? The answer to that question may well determine if Colorado was the first GOP domino to fall or the last.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us beginning at 11AM today for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.

John Hinderaker and I will kick things off at 11AM. Possible subject matter to include: executive bonus Congressional lynch mobs, budget defecits even more succulent than we imagined, Obama on Leno, Biden in St. Cloud, Keith Ellison for President, and a pain-stakingly exhaustive analysis of my NCAA basketball bracket. Which of my picks have progressed? What did I get wrong? What might have been if only I would have done a couple of things differently? Who did I pick in today's games? (Warning to the affiliates, Mitch and Ed may be pre-empted if this analysis needs to go an hour or two longer.) Plus Loon of the Week and This Week in Gatekeeping (Zambian Edition).

It all starts at 11AM Central locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site. Following us, as always, at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey (tentatively), then at 3PM, the dismal yet jolly scientist himself, King Banaian. Don't you dare miss it.

UPDATE: Just confirmed, one of our favorites, Rep. Michele Bachmann to appear with us at noon. Michele Bachmann at noon. I believe she'll be commenting on my NCAA bracket.

We're Just Not That Into You

Eric Black is a former ace reporter for the Star Tribune, a decades long employee. He now writes for the liberal web site MinnPost (imagine that). In a recent post on the uncertain future of news media, he noted in an aside:

I am convinced that the so-called objectivity, nothing-but-the-facts model
really doesn't do the trick, especially when the facts are being chosen, ordered
and told by reporters, 80 to 90 percent of whom are liberals.
A well-stated and refreshingly candid admission from an insider. And non-controversial, in terms of the facts presented. Anyone paying attention over the past couple of decades and willing to give an honest assessment, would tend to agree that an "objective" media was filled with political liberals. Apparently one or both of these conditions do not apply to the commentors to Black's piece, some of them liberal journalists themselves (imagine that).

The evolution of the comments and reponses in this thread is an amusing example of the typical pattern I've witnessed over the years. First, the common sense premise is stated, as Black did above.

Then come the angry, insulting denials:

What internet sites are you frequenting to reinforce your cockamamie notion that 80-90 percent of reporters are liberals?

I keep seeing these claims that 90% of journalists/media are liberals. Why is it I never see any proof of this? How about you post names and what party they belong to instead of making claims that are totally unproven and likely, from what I see, untrue?

It's the conservatives who are on my TV most of the time, not the marginalized liberals who are seldom, IF EVER, invited on TV. This is not because they aren't respectable OR CORRECT, but because conservatives create sheep who believe them when they say someone is not credible.
Then, when confronted with irrefutable arguments, such as Black's own extensive first hand observations and statistical evidence ....

Eighty to ninety percent of reporters as liberals is my estimate after a lifetime in newsrooms. But if you want some data, there are several studies. The most famous was a 1996 Freedom Forum survey in which Washington journalists told how they had voted in the 1992 presidential. 89 percent said they had voted for Bill Clinton, seven percent for George H.W. Bush, two percent for Ross Perot. The conservative Media Research Center cites data frmo other surveys involving other elections.
.... they change the subject, to another line of attack:

So what if reporters are liberal? The owners and controllers are conservative Republicans.
Next usually comes the argument that liberlism happens to be the unasailable truth and conservative thought wrong and hateful, so a liberal bias is required in the news. This thread is only a few comments long, so there's still time for it to reach this point.

Why are most lefty journalists so violently opposed to admitting what they see all around them in the newsroom and outraged at those willing to break the code of silence? MSM renegade Vox Day addresses this, with his thoughts on the latest liberal concern, news consumers pursuing their own confirmation bias rather than the objective news.

The appearance of talk radio, then Fox News, and now online alternatives doesn't mean that everyone is now locked in an echo chamber, it means that conservatives and libertarians are finally able to escape being subjected to constant left-liberal assault.
Left-leaning individuals like Kristoff are still safely ensconced in the same liberal echo chamber they've always inhabited ..... The only thing that has changed is that now everyone, of all political stripes, isn't forced to listen to just one side of the story anymore.
In short, they liked having us around. They miss us. More specifically, they miss the power to force their reality on us, whether we liked it or not. Can't blame them I suppose. A monopoly is a terrible thing to lose. But its gone like yesterday's headlines, and the quicker they come to terms with it, the quicker their healing can begin.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tales Of The Bizarro World

Leighton e-mails to compare and contrast how government intervention in the economy is picking winners and losers in a most backward manner:

This is how out-of-hand things are getting. A glimpse into the relationship between government and business in the year 2009:

If your company is a failure, but in the financial or insurance sector, the government is waiting to prop you up with billions of dollars in taxpayer money.

If your company is successful, but selling a popular product and creating jobs, the government is going to come down hard and tax the bejeezus out of you.

Gotta love it when government begins distributing the wealth.

Before Leighton's e-mail, I had not heard of the plans of Florida Governor Charlie Crist (Republican in name if not in deed) to tax bottled water companies. It appears to be yet another case of government action based on flimsy premises, poor understanding, and baseless predictions. And the unintended costs will be far greater than whatever dubious benefits it was projected to achieve.

Instead, the governor's proposal will only drain jobs from our state and put more Floridians on the unemployment lines.

This policy, unfortunately, was conceived in a vacuum. Bureaucrats at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) now admit that they did not discuss the proposed tax with anyone from the bottled water industry. In fact, it wasn't until after Crist released his proposed budget that they began gathering data on how much money the tax would raise. Further, they offer no scientific or economic data about how they arrived at the $60-per-thousand-gallon figure.

Apparently, all that matters is that water bottling companies are making a profit, which means we should be taxed.

That seems to be the prevailing attitude throughout government today.

Going For A Cure?

Throughout history there have been many schools of economic thought. Like Protestant churches, it seems like every time any economist had the slightest quibble with the existing orthodoxy they broke off and formed their own branch of economic thought. This time, we have discovered the real truth. Until someone within that "new" school disagreed and they spilt and so on and so on and so on....

But even with all this variety of economic thought, with all the neo, classical (and neo-classical), post, pre, and new modifiers attached to distinguish the various schools, we have arrived at the point where there seem to be three major viewpoints on economic policy: Austrian, monetarist, and Keynesian. The monetarists had their run, the Keynesians are enjoying their revival, and the Austrians are in their usual position on the sidelines saying "we told you so."

However, recent developments, like the Fed's renewed efforts to print money and debase the currency, lead me to wonder if perhaps there might be a more appropriate name for the current school of thought that guides our government's approach to the economy: the hair of the dog school. I didn't originate it and variations have been floating around for some time. But I think it's quite an accurate description of what's going on.

The American economy walks into a bar.

Bartender: Geez bud, you look terrible. Need a little pick me up?

Economy: Yeah, I'm coming off quite a bender.

Bartender: Mind if I ask what did ya in?

Economy: Well, to start with let's just say those Fed guys really had that money tap flowing. They sure know how to party.

Bartender (sliding glass across bar): Here ya go. This'll get you back on your feet in no time.

Economy (knocks it back): Not bad. What was it?

Bartender: More of the good money stuff man. That'll get your cash flowing in no time. Want another? I can always make more.

Economy: No thanks. I'm still not feeling too good. Probably shouldn't have been mixing...

Bartender: Yeah, that'll always get ya. What else was it that brought you to this state?

Economy (sheepishly): I knew I shouldn't have, but I just couldn't stop with the irrational spending and unsustainable debt. I thought the party would never end.

Bartender: Know exactly where you're coming from. I know just what you need. Let me whip up my special StimulusBudgetBusterpalooza. I'll throw in extra earmarks too.

Pushes large fishbowl concoction across the bar a few minutes later.

Economy: Is that really going to make me feel better?

Bartender: Maybe not tomorrow, but it will right now. Why worry? Go ahead and splurge. Works best is you use the straw.

Twenty minutes later.

Economy: That helped a little, but I think it's wearing off. What else you got?

Bartender: Well, what else got you trouble?

Economy: I think what finally pushed me over the edge was government intervention in markets leading to perverse incentives that socialized risk and privatized reward.

Bartender: Now you're talking my friend. If you want to feel better now what you need is a strong dose of nationalization. (pours shot & sets it across bar) Don't nurse it either.

Economy (throws down shot & winces): Whew, that's strong stuff. I'm really not felling good now. Maybe I should just quit...

Bartender: Okay, okay. I usually save this for special occasions, but you look like you really need it.

Reaches up to highest shelf behind bar and pulls down dusty bottle. Blows off dust to reveal XXX.

Economy (warily): What's that?

Bartender: Oh this? It's nothin' much. Just a little brew of confiscatory taxation and onerous regulation. It's been aging for years now and should be especially potent. It really is the only thing that can cure what ails you at this stage.

Economy (backing away from the bar): You know, maybe I should just go home and try to sleep this off.

Bartender: Oh c'mon. Just one more. What's the harm in that?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When The Going Gets Tough...

...the tough start brewing. Story in yesterday's WSJ details that despite the economy, people are still opening new mircobrewries:

Surprisingly large numbers of entrepreneurs -- some let go from corporate jobs in recent years -- have been starting microbreweries or brewpubs. Schools that teach brewing are being showered with applications from people interested in getting into the business. At the same time, enthusiasm for interesting new beers remains strong; BeerAdvocate.com, a Web site for beer enthusiasts, says its traffic has reached one million unique visitors a month, and is rising as much as 12% each month.

Last year, even as a recession gripped the country, 114 microbreweries and brewpubs -- restaurants that make their own beer -- opened in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo., trade group. That marked the highest number since 1999. Openings are expected to decline this year, but start-up activity remains robust, says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. The group estimates 200 microbreweries and brewpubs already are on the drawing board for the next few years.

Building a successful microbrewery or brewpub business has never been easy and I imagine the current economic conditions will pose a severe challenge for those just entering the game. However, the fact that so many are still willing to make a go at it is a good sign about the future of the American craft beer industry.

Defining Wild Down

There was a time, perhaps not so long ago, when the employees of the City Pages would have defined a "wild" time as nothing less than a booze-fueled late brunch at a hip Uptown bistro, followed by a crypto-anarchist protest rally in front of a government building downtown, followed by post-protest bong session with some squatters in a Dinkytown tenement, followed by an in-store book signing with a dark, nihilistic, cult fave comic book author, followed by a meal of Oaxacan tacos at an acceptably grungy and ethnic Lake Street eatery, followed by drinking conspicuously downscale beer and listening to ironically popular music from the 70's on the juke box at the CC Club , followed by an Entry show by an up and coming angry, reggae-rap-ska-Mbaqanga fusion band from Japan, followed by a midnight showing of a film featuring an autopsy being performed to the music of Sleater-Keany at the Uptown, followed by all night, E-fueled, glow stick twirling rave at an abandoned Nordeast warehouse.

How times have changed. From today's City Pages:

Vice President Biden will be arriving in St. Cloud this morning for a town hall meeting about the economic stimulus and the middle class. Biden along with the Middle Class Task Force will arrive at the at St. Cloud Regional Airport at 10:15 a.m. for a 11:30 a.m. event at the New Flyer of America in St. Cloud.

Get ready for a wild afternoon!
Two theories: Either the years of fast living have finally caught up to the City Pages staff and its permanently altered their perception of reality. Or, the presence of Joe Biden is more powerful than any drug.

OK, third theory. The Barack Obama halo effect on liberals is even more powerful than we believed.

For some realism associated with the Joe Biden visit, check out the Nihilist in Golf Pants.

You Don't Need A Weather Man...

Today's blinding flash of the obvious comes courtesy of a NYTimes' story on the record number of US births in 2007. In a section of the article on the recent rise in teenage pregnancy (after years of decline), the chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy informs us that:

Teenage abortion rates have been falling for years and are not believed to be a major factor in the birth trends. "The decline resulted from less sex and more contraception," Ms. Brown said. "So the new trend must involve some combination of more sex and less contraception."

Really? You think?

Thank God, It's The Fed

There's a scene near the end of the movie "Fletch," where the corrupt police chief (played by the incomparable Joe Don Baker) arrives in the middle of a standoff between Fletch and the movie's primary villain Alan Stanwyk. Chevy Chase delivers Fletch's reaction with a deadpan:

"Thank God, it's the police."

That's pretty much how I felt when I read the news the Fed was coming to the rescue with a new plan to buy securities:

March 19 (Bloomberg) -- By committing to buy Treasuries and double his purchases of mortgage debt, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke signaled his determination to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression and his willingness to pump as much cash into the economy as needed to end the current crisis.

U.S. central bankers decided yesterday to buy as much as $300 billion of long-term Treasuries and more than double mortgage-debt purchases to $1.45 trillion, aiming to lower home- loan and other interest rates. The Fed kept its main rate at almost zero and may keep it there for an “extended” time.

The moves sparked the biggest drop in 10-year Treasury yields since 1962, rallies in the stock market and gold and a plunge in the dollar against the euro. Economist Richard Hoey said Bernanke has created the "Rambo Fed," referring to the Sylvester Stallone character skilled with weapons.

Aren't you the same guys who helped get us into this mess in the first place by playing too fast and loose with the money supply? And now you're going to save us with more mad money?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ready for Some Real Change?

From the Voice of America (Urdu) documentary series, Muslims' America, an interview with Rep. Keith Ellison.  Transcribed excerpt:
VOA: Is there any possibility that I might be talking to the future first Muslim-American President of the United States, keeping in view that 2020 is not that far away?

ELLISON: Only God knows that. But let me just say this, I love the job I'm doing and I believe that my goal is to be the best representative of the 5th Congressional District of Minnesota I can possibly be. And that's all I'm worried about right now.
VOA: And that means that you might run?

ELLISON: It means that I'm not making any plans to run. I'm just trying to keep my eye on the ball. Like, do they play cricket there in Pakistan?

VOA: They love cricket.

ELLISON: Well, see, if you're going to try and hit that ball with the bat, you've got to watch that ball, right? You don't want to look past the ball, you want to look at the ball, right? So I'm just keeping my eye on the ball.

VOA: I'll take that as a 'yes'.

ELLISON: (laughter)
Either Keith Ellison is trying out for Pakistan's national cricket team or he's considering running for President.   Move over Rod Blagojevich!

That interview is not positive affirmation perhaps, but the dancing around, avoiding the question, and self aggrandizement is NOT a denial either. If Ellison wanted to douse speculation, the only proper response would have been something like this, from George Costanza, on asking his doctor about a suspicious white spot on his face:
GEORGE: When I asked him if it was cancer, he didn't give me a "get outta here". That's what I wanted to hear: "Cancer? Get outta here!"

JERRY: Well, maybe he doesn't have a "get outta here" kind of personality.

GEORGE: How could you be a doctor and not say "get outta here"? It should be part of the training at medical school: "Cancer? Get outta here!" "Go home! What are you crazy? It's a little test. It's nothing. You're a real nut. You know that?"
Me, President?  Get outta here!  Go home!  What are you crazy?   Until we hear that from Ellison, I don't want to hear any more lefty journalists in town implying Michele Bachmann is the most delusional member of our Congressional delegation.

Flight Risk

Tom e-mails to relate some personal experience regarding my post on the perverse impact of government attempts to plunder the golden geese:

As a native Detroiter, I am always amazed at how government at all levels fails to recognize the dangers of killing the golden goose that small and medium sized firms are. In the 60's various mayors and the city council in Detroit treated every business like they were GM with lots of cash in the vault and their only worry limited to keeping market share at or below 55%.

During the next couple of decades, when small and medium businesses headed for the exits (the suburbs, Mexico, Canada, other states, etc), tax revenues dropped. Costs didn't go down, so tax rates were increased. The firms that were left had their shoulder to the wheel that much more until those firms decided they had had enough and went out of business or moved.

When I returned to Detroit in the late-eighties as an adult to work for a unit of GM, the City of Detroit was a wasteland with abondoned, burned out (thanks to Devil's Night - a much beloved Detroit holiday), stripped-of-copper homes, factories and buildings. Honda had established a facility in Central Ohio and Toyota was moving into Central Kentucky. Both Ohio and Kentucky offered plenty of incentives to get those facilities, but mainly they offered cheap available land, a motivated/educated work force and governments that welcomed not only final assembly but all of the related members of the supply chain which are usually small and medium sized company's.

Around the same time, Chrysler got all kinds of incentives to build an assembly plant close to downtown Detroit near their Jefferson Ave plant (called Jefferson North, it was finished in 1993) which closed in 1990. The Chrysler president at the time, Gerald Greenwald, said that this would be the last time Chrysler would build a major assembly plant in a major city because major cities offer an uneducated work force and an unfriendly environment for their suppliers (again, small to medium sized businesses) who are crucial to the just-in-time assembly processes that are the key to plant success (he caught a lot of flack about his comments, which were called racist).

I left the business and Detroit in 1990, but I have seen this pattern of raiding the local employers for cash to support top heavy local and state governments then carping and moaning when the businesses decide that they are closing and moving the factory/office because the facility is in the wrong place and the local government treats them like a pimp treats a whore. The company I work for now did all it could to keep a manufacturing operation (with about 100 employees at peak) in a state in the Northeast. Most of the customers for the products made by that plant were in the Midwest and West so shipping wise, they were always an extra day or two a way from a delivery standpoint. We invested 100's of thousands dollars for environmental requirements, put up with all manner of union required work rules and high employer related taxes. It took two years to wind that facility down and the local government types did plenty of bad mouthing of our company when they realized we were leaving and they couldn't get us to stay or stop us. Some of the work this factory did was transferred to a plant in Canada and some went to other facilities in the US. More than half though is now coming out of a facility in China. Even with the added warehouse cost and inventory investment, it is less expensive than keeping that facility in the Northeast open.

Since coming to Minnesota five years ago, I'm constantly disappointed by the hubris many government officials exhibit when they state rather matter-of-factly that taxes will go up and if you don't like it, tough. At some point all businesses hit the point of diminishing returns like the apple that was bound to hit Newton's head.

Minnesota is a unique place with lots to offer. However, with energy as costly as it will get with yet more taxes on it, a winter like this one past will get people thinking - why don't I move to a place where my utilities aren't quite as high; where transportation to the growth areas of the South and West are less; where ocean ports aren't so far away. I hope that our business will stay here. It's likely to based on where customers for our products are located and the fact that we have a facility that will allow us to expand without having to acquire more buildings or land, at least during my career here. I hope that your dad's former employer also stays, but at the end of the day, a business is a living thing that has to go where the best prospects for growth are and where the owners believe they can get the best overall return (including profits, lifestyle and other non-profit & loss related items) for their investment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fair Or Fowl?

There seems to be an assumption implicit in the plans hatched to increase government revenues by raising taxes. It is that the individual or business who is going to be pinched is not going to change their behavior in any meaningful way in the face of being asked to pay more (usually described as "paying their fair share"). While those who propose increased taxation usually acknowledge that what they consider major changes to taxes levied would influence behavior, they seem to view the situation as far more static for what they consider smaller changes. The goose might not like it if they take a couple of more golden eggs, but it'll always be there to pluck.

Last Sunday, we had dinner with my parents. Before my dad retired, he worked for a local, family-owned manufacturing company. He's still good friends with one of the family members who runs the firm today.

The company's history is a classic American success story. It was literally started in a garage behind the founder's house over sixty years ago. Since then it has grown to become a highly regarded supplier with an impressive local headquarters/manufacturing facility and a global presence.

Some years ago, in order to be able to better supply and compete in the EU market, the company decided to open another manufacturing facility in Europe. After considering several options, they settled on Ireland. At the time, the Celtic Tiger had not yet begun to roar. But the Emerald Isle offered the company an educated workforce, a common language (for the most part), and a corporate tax rate of around 10%. So they set up shop there and the operation has been quite successful in the intervening years.

So back to our dinner conversation. My dad recently spoke with his friend and learned that his company is not happy with the way things are shaping up so far in the Age of Obama. I should add that this friend of my father's is not a man known for hyperbole or exaggeration. He's soft-spoken, unassuming type. If you met him on the street, you'd probably never guess that he runs a multinational company. Not a table-pounder or chair-thrower he.

Anyway, he told my dad that if the Obama administration lives up to their promise to end tax deferral on profits companies make overseas (essentially imposing a double tax on US companies and impacting their ability to compete) and if The Employee Free Choice Act a.k.a. card check becomes law, the family will pack up their corporate headquarters and move to another country. With them will go the jobs, the tax revenues, and all the other benefits that the local community, the state of Minnesota, and the country receive from having the company based here. Knowing my dad's friend as I do, this should not be considered an idle threat.

So to summarize, in the interests of "protecting American jobs," increasing tax revenues, and helping "working Americans," our government is planning to take actions that will in fact have exactly the opposite results (at least in this case, which I imagine is not unique). In today's globalized, connected world the danger that the government will kill the golden goose is probably not nearly a great as that its actions will cause the bird to migrate to more friendly climes. The geese do have wings.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Nous sommes tous des Américains ivres?

While President Obama seems intent on remaking America in the European mold, France is moving toward a more American approach to drinking (WSJ-sub req):

The government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has drafted the bill, which would raise France's minimum drinking age for wine and beer to 18 from 16. The government says it would reduce a dangerous addiction among youths. A vote on the bill is expected to take place Wednesday at the National Assembly, where it is likely to pass, as Mr. Sarkozy's center-right coalition has a majority of the votes. A final vote in the Senate could take place in April.

France has had a liberal approach to alcohol thus far. Unlike most other countries, France has two drinking ages: Young people can drink or purchase wine and beer from the age of 16 and hard liquor from 18. Bartenders and shopkeepers don't usually check the identification cards of their customers, however young.

The powerful lobby of French winemakers says it won't try to derail the law, but thinks the government is making a big mistake. A stricter law, winemakers say, could reverse the age-old French custom of parents teaching children how to taste and appreciate wine at the family meal.

The risk of the new law, they say, is a habit of binge drinking imported from the U.S., where the drinking age is 21, and the U.K., where studies show one in four adult men and one in three adult women are heavy drinkers.

"When I visited my daughter who was studying in the U.S., she couldn't drink a glass of wine at the restaurant because she was 20," says Marie-Christine Tarby, head of industry lobby group Vin & Société. "Back on the campus, all her friends were drunk every night -- is this what we are trying to do here?"

If past experience with the impact of prohibition on binge drinking is any indication, then that is exactly what the result will likely be in France.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Can We Talk?

Just in case you weren't able to attend last week's "great conversation" at the taxpayer financed University of Minnesota--featuring Larry Jacobs, Walter Mondale, Seymour Hersh, and a crowd of sycophant sympathizers chortling about the evils of the Bush/Cheney regime--in person or listen to it broadcast on taxpayer supported Minnesota PUBLIC Radio the following day, word has it that MPR found the dialog so compelling that they're going to rebroadcast it tonight at 6pm. It's just a shame that there aren't more ways for the taxpayers of Minnesota to help chip in to spread the word about this terrific little chat.

I also understand that the next event in the U's "great conversations" series will feature Larry Jacobs, Vin Weber, and Mark Steyn discussing the perils of the Obama administration leading America down the path to Euro-statism. Ha, ha, ha. That would be the day.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Northern Alliance Radio Network

Join us beginning at 11AM today for another episode of the Northern Alliance Radio Network.

John Hinderaker and I will kick things off at 11AM. Possible subject matter to include: the latest age of Obama outrages, the ending of the MN Senate recount and Norm Coleman's chances, Minneapolis Suicide Bombers (no that's not JB Doubtless's newest band, we're talking about these guys), "Great Conversations" at the U of MN, the death of newspapers, the life and times of Grizzly Adams, the care and feeding of iguanas, new trends in in the world of cajun vegan cuisine, tips on bluing your semi-automatic pistol, and 10 ways to drop those love handles by Flag Day. In short, to demonstrate the contrast between what life presently is and what it could be. To immerse ourselves in the oblivion of actions and know we're making it happen. There will be an intensity never before known in everyday life to exchange love and hate, life and death, terror and redemption, repulsions and attractions. An affirmation of freedom so reckless and unqualified, that it amounts to a total denial of every kind of restraint and limitation. Plus, Loon of the Week and This Week in Gatekeeping.

It all starts at 11AM Central locally on AM1280 the Patriot. Streaming LIVE worldwide at the web site.

Following us, as always, at 1 PM, Mitch Berg and Capt. Ed Morrissey, then at 3PM, the dismal yet jolly scientist himself, King Banaian. Don't you dare miss it.

(The above heavily influenced by watching Waking Life on IFC as I wrote it.)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Definitely Thrust Upon Them

Earlier this week at the University of Minnesota, a very special episode of their "Great Conversations" series:
Larry Jacobs, the University of Minnesota's Mondale Chair for Political Studies and Director of the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute, and Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States, discuss America's constitutional crisis
The most overexposed pundit in Minnesota and the only man in history to lose an election in all 50 states, pontificating on politics for an hour? Sounds riveting. And a new definition of "great", I must say. Sorry I missed it. If the next "Great Conversation" is Denny Green and Brad Childress discussing the keys to winning in the NFL playoffs, count me in.

Also of note are Professor Jacobs' titles: "Mondale Chair" and "Humphrey Institute Director" at the University of Minnesota. I suppose these are the most prominent local politicians we've got. If we must name our institutions and offices after the famous (or infamous), I guess that's what we're stuck with. (Warning to academics in future generations, before occupying the distinguished Al Franken Chair, you might want to check it for a whoopee cushion.)

Yet I'm still concerned about the message this sends to the young, impressionable scholars we send to our premiere public university. Beyond even the psychological affliction of studying under the banner of two of the most famous losers in American political history.

More importantly, there's the problem inherent in creating this crushing institutional endorsement of a political party. I submit to you that branding yourself as Democrat Party Incorporated will affect the scholarship produced by, and intellectual development of, the minds of mush we send there to be formed. It strains credulity to believe that pimply faced college students at the U will be equally likely to pursue conservative lines of thought and argument, knowing their work is being judged by the likes of the Mondale Chair at the Humphrey Institute. It's a subtle form of indoctrination and group think enforcement and it cannot stand.

Top of mind suggestions of non-partisan names for the rebranding: The Jesse Ventura Chair for Political Egotism and Ignorance and the Center for the Study of Political Irrelevance at the Dean Barkley Institute.

BONUS MATERIAL: Anti-intellectual jokes at the expense of my academic betters. Reviewing the list of other endowed chairs at the U, these caught my eye.

From the College of Education and Human Development:
Dorothy McNeill and Elbridge Ashcraft Tucker Chair for Women in Exercise Science and Sport
The patriarchal tyranny evident in promoting women's exercise with a chair is appalling

At the Institute of Technology:
Harold Sweatt Chair in Technological Leadership
You might want to wipe that one down before taking a seat!

Finally, from the Medical School:
University of Minnesota's Academic Chair in Sexual Health
According to what I've heard, this position requires one of the largest endowments on campus.

Unfortunately, their entire press release reads as similarly low comedy:
A group of sexual health advocates celebrated Coleman's appointment to the endowed position at an invitation-only reception.
That sounds like the opening of an article about a raid by the vice squad.
"With support from this endowed chair, I hope to further the Program in Human Sexuality's mission to create a sexually healthier world."
All I can say is a chair like that must have a Magic Fingers option.

Don't Toast The Revolution Without Me

Just in time for the weekend, the Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings have been updated. The update includes four new beers from Minhas, which despite its name is actually a Wisconsin brewery. The overall verdict on their offerings is a solid, "meh." Better than most of the mass-produced American counterparts, but short of the quality product that true craft breweries are putting out.

Since many of the original beer ratings were done years ago, I also took the opportunity to go back and revise some of them based on my tasting experiences since then. This lead to some beers being rated higher and others lower.

And I am happy to announce that we have inked an exclusive sponsorship deal for the Fraters Libertas Beer Ratings with Glen Lake Wine and Spirits in Minnetonka. Whenever the store has a new or seasonal beer offering available, we will receive a keg, case, 12-pack, okay 6-pack to rate and review here. Intense negotiations are also underway to reach a similar accord with Glen Lake Wine and Spirits covering Single Malt Scotches. Developing...

Lastly, Wright e-mails to hep us to a Reason TV video celebrating The American Beer Revolution:

Today, although mainstream beers still dominate the market, more than 1,400 breweries in the U.S. produce more styles of beer than anywhere else in the world, and American beers routinely dominate international beer competitions.

So the next time you're at your favorite brewpub, hold your glass up high and celebrate the American beer revolution.

Viva la revolucion!

Elegant Exercises In Wishful Thinking

One of the big hitters in President Obama's new health care proposal is his plan to push for use of electronic medical records throughout the system. He claims this will save $80 billion a year and result in better efficiency for providers and better care for patients.

On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer. But, as we're coming to discover about many of Mr. Obama's grand plans, when you start looking into the details you find that things don't quite add up.

Dr. Jerome Groopman and Dr. Pamela Hartzband did a little digging to find out exactly how electronic medical records would save $80 billion a year and penned a piece in yesterday's WSJ called Obama's $80 Billion Exaggeration:

Last week, President Barack Obama convened a health-care summit in Washington to identify programs that would improve quality and restrain burgeoning costs. He stated that all his policies would be based on rigorous scientific evidence of benefit. The flagship proposal presented by the president at this gathering was the national adoption of electronic medical records -- a computer-based system that would contain every patient's clinical history, laboratory results, and treatments. This, he said, would save some $80 billion a year, safeguard against medical errors, reduce malpractice lawsuits, and greatly facilitate both preventive care and ongoing therapy of the chronically ill.

Following his announcement, we spoke with fellow physicians at the Harvard teaching hospitals, where electronic medical records have been in use for years. All of us were dumbfounded, wondering how such dramatic claims of cost-saving and quality improvement could be true.

The basis for the president's proposal is a theoretical study published in 2005 by the RAND Corporation, funded by companies including Hewlett-Packard and Xerox that stand to financially benefit from such an electronic system. And, as the RAND policy analysts readily admit in their report, there was no compelling evidence at the time to support their theoretical claims. Moreover, in the four years since the report, considerable data have been obtained that undermine their claims. The RAND study and the Obama proposal it spawned appear to be an elegant exercise in wishful thinking.

So we have a theoretical study backed by no compelling evidence whose conclusions have since been questioned by follow-up data. Seems like a rock solid foundation to base your claims on, no? This appears to be another case where Mr. Obama has already decided what the policy will be and almost as an afterthought tries to line up the facts to support it.

Before you dismiss this as nothing more than the latest distortion from the neo con wing nuts who frequent the WSJ's editorial pages, consider how the doctors close their piece:

We both voted for President Obama, in part because of his pragmatic approach to problems, belief in empirical data, and openness to changing his mind when those data contradict his initial approach to a problem. We need the president to apply real scientific rigor to fix our health-care system rather than rely on elegant exercises in wishful thinking.

Elegant exercises in wishful thinking. That has to be the most apt description of the Obama Administration that I've yet come across.