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Gadflies. When I was a second-year student at Harvard Law School I didn't attend just the corporations class to which I was assigned, taught by a visiting professor. Like many fellow students, I also attended the corporations class taught by one of the great law school teachers, Louis Loss, the dean of securities law teachers at that time & the author of the authoritative Loss on Securities Regulations. The backbenches of the huge classroom in which he taught were always filled, and late-comers without assigned seats had to stand. I recall his occasional references to the Gilbert Brothers, corporate gadflies who believed in the never-realized ideal of true corporate shareholder democracy. This week in Slate there's a piece by Nell Minow titled The Gadfly Shortage -- Why didn't more shareholders make trouble before the corporate scandals? Minow concludes, "Eternal vigilance is not just the price of liberty; it is also the price of entrusting your money to other people. The Gilberts made sure that executives who forgot their obligation to shareholders were in for, at the least, some very uncomfortable moments." One of the heroes of my youth, Minnesota Senator Eugene J. McCarthy -- who ran a quixotic but effective campaign for President in 1968, demonstrating that popular sentiment against the Viet Nam War was much deeper than previously thought -- spoke in the campaign about, inter alia, the need for true corporate shareholder democracy. The system doesn't like gadflies like McCarthy or the Gilbert Brothers -- or, for that matter, even nice old mild-mannered, self-effacing BurtLaw. Those in power -- whether it be inside the beltway in Washington or in the plush suites of corporate America or in judicial chambers in Middle America -- don't always like to have their work scrutinized. The report the other day in Freedom Forum, Frequent critic again barred from Vermont courts, is only an extreme example of the censorious response that scrutiny brings -- even scrutiny of the work of so-called protectors of our First Amendment freedoms, judges. Here in Minnesota a gadfly named Greg Wersal, whose views of the role of judge don't necessarily coincide with mine, courageously waged a battle of several years against our state supreme court's unconstitutional gag on campaign speech by people who have the audacity to run against a sitting judge. Wersal, as everyone knows now, waged the battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he (we) won big. See, BurtLaw's Law & Judicial Elections. Wersal himself has run three times for the state supreme court. In 2000, after losing again, Wersal's opponent, a sitting judge appointed by a Republican governor whom he had served, referred to Wersal as "a three-time loser." One would expect more graciousness from a winner. But gadflies like Wersal sometimes make "winners" sore. And, I might add, gadflies like Wersal sometimes are remembered, long after the printer's ink in the daily newspaper has blurred and faded, for services rendered in the causes of democracy and freedom and openness. (07.30.2002)
Vice-President Powell? Today's Washington Post contains an interesting column by Richard Cohen, arguing that "[Colin] Powell benefits from a weakened Bush and could, under a certain scenario, wind up as the vice presidential candidate" in 2004. Until FDR took office, the Republican party historically was the beneficiary of what was then called "the Negro vote." I don't like the idea of "block voting" and I don't like to think of voters of any racial or ethnic group in stereotypical terms, which is what one does when one speaks of "the Black voter." Nonetheless, it is a fact that since the 1930's Black Americans who vote by and large have aligned themselves with the Democratic party. Samuel Gompers, the great founder and head of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), warned against organized labor's aligning itself with one political party. The leaders of organized labor, for the most part, have not followed his advice. I believe that has been a mistake. I believe, too, that it has been a mistake over the years for so many Black leaders to rather routinely support Democratic candidates. But I believe it has been an even greater mistake, both morally and politically, that for so many years the Republican party has pretty much written off black voters. I have long said that the first African-American to be President will be a Republican. Mr. Cohen speaks of the possibility that Vice-President Cheney might withdraw from -- or be pushed from -- the ticket in 2004 and that Mr. Bush will pick Colin Powell as his running mate. I foresee a different scenario: Mr. Cheney resigning from office sooner rather than later, for health reasons, and Mr. Bush nominating Mr. Powell as his replacement under section two of the 25th Amendment. You heard it here first. (07.16.2002)
Cheap politicians in a pre-Fourth-of-July exhibition game. As Emerson said, it's a contradictory world -- "mad contradictions flavor all our dishes." Thus, many of us love the bitter & the sweet together, as in tart rhubarb pie topped with vanilla ice cream. I personally am always amused and saddened at the same time whenever I see a bunch of cheap politicians -- sad-faced clowns -- try to divert the public from their ineptitude. Example: their sudden, predictable response to the two-to-one Pledge-of-Allegiance decision of a mere panel of the 9th Circuit the other day, with a) members of the U.S. House of Representatives stumbling over each other in a mad rush to get out on the steps of the Capitol so they could recite the Pledge in front of the TV cameras in time for the evening news, and b) members of the U.S. Senate courageously voting 99-to-0 for a resolution expressing support for the reference to "God" in the Pledge. More (Washington Post 06.26.2002). One of the leaders referred to the decision as "sad" and "absurd." Actually, it is sad and absurd that our elected representatives have such a low impression of our intelligence as voters that we will think the better of them for their pack-animal behavior. These sad and absurd clowns just love it when the pitcher delivers a nice, big fat fastball down the middle of the strike-zone so that they can easily hit the ball out of the park in what is merely an exhibition game. All I can say is, don't count on these clowns to ever come through for you in the bottom of the ninth in a real game when the season is on the line. (07.03.2002)
145 judges refuse to cooperate! In an effort to save the jobs of some folks who are "lower" on the court system status pole, people who earn perhaps one-fifth or one-sixth of what judges with their job security make, a plan was proposed in Massachusetts that included judges, those Brahmins of the system, voluntarily sharing in the pain of temporary pay cuts. Alas, it appears 145 of them have refused to cooperate. Surprised? More (03.20.2002)
A few easy ways to cut the cost of government. a) Stop paying for Viagra prescriptions for people on welfare. More. b) Stop imprisoning so many people for drug and property offenses (at a $75 - $100 a day cost to taxpayers). More. c) Impose "civilian control" of the computer geeks in government, insisting on rigorous cost-benefit analysis. More. d) Say "no" to government funding of new stadiums every 20 years for pro teams that pay $7 million a year for pitchers with losing records and ERAs over 5. More. e) Stop funding conferences at expensive resorts for judges and others in government positions. More. f) Cut funding for judicial law clerks and insist that judges do their own work. Justice Wm. O. Douglas said to Eric Sevareid in a TV interview, "We don't need law clerks." When he urged his colleagues to conduct an experiment by not hiring any for a period of time, his suggestion met with silence. More. g) Enact meaningful and fair civil litigation reform. More. Want more ideas? Stay tuned. (03.19.2002)
Lack of imagination. It's a BurtLaw Rule-of-Thumb: politicians who yammer that we need to "get tough on crime" by mandating prison terms for this or that offense or offender are charlatans and/or they lack imagination -- in my view, usually both. They're charlatans, because they think voters are suckers and they'll say anything to get their vote. They lack imagination, because they assume the guy who commits a crime is "the other guy," not their spouse or kid or friend. Lincoln said the best way to get rid of a bad law is to apply it. In fact, the kids of politicians -- whether of the President of the U.S. or the Governor of Florida -- usually don't wind up in prison when they commit crimes. But the kids of gravel-truck drivers from Washington State do. Here's a link to a story about one such gravel-truck driver, who supported get-tough laws until his own kid got in trouble and wound up in prison. Prison for teens questioned - 'Hard time' law an over-reaction, one father now feels (Seattle P-I 03.25.2002). For more on my views, click here and here. (03.25.2002)
State budget woes? Time to rethink penal policy. American politicians who blather on about being tough on crime have benefited politically from their support of mandatory sentencing laws, longer sentence maximums, higher presumptive sentences, etc. America has only 5% of the world's population but we've got 25% of the world's prison population. I say shame on the cheap Judas politicians who "play to the crowd," but a bigger shame on us as citizens for being such suckers in electing and reelecting them. President Bush wants an extra $300 million for building more & more prisons, largely to warehouse drug offenders at huge expense to taxpayers. Taxpayers in some states are starting to choke on the bills, which are enormous, prompting legislatures to modify some of the harsher sentencing laws, particularly for nonviolent offenders. This is documented in two reports released formally today, The Sentencing Project's "State Sentencing and Corrections Policy in an Era of Fiscal Restraint" (more) and "Cutting Correctly: New Prison Policies for Times of Fiscal Crisis" by the Justice Policy Institute of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (more). For more of my views on this topic, click here. (02.07.2002)
Was I prescient or just willing to see the obvious? I was reading through some old e-mail correspondence today. Here's an excerpt from an e-mail message dated 12.02.1999 -- i.e., over two years ago -- that I sent to the CEO of a Massachusetts-based software corporation whose technical advice I appreciated: "Reading re bankruptcy of [a Boston company] today..., I couldn't help think we'll be reading re lots of such bankruptcies sooner rather than later of many of the big-ad-spending 'dot.com' companies. Bubbles just waiting to burst...The only question in my mind is whose 'ox will be gored' when the inevitable crash in these stocks comes...." Here's a comment I posted on this website on 03.12.2001 -- i.e., one year ago:
Governor Ventura and fiscal prudence. A little over a year ago I received e-mail correspondence from a 35-year-old Harvard graduate I have known since 1997, a part-time actress who makes her living as an independent contractor doing computer programming. Last winter she was into "day trading" using her computer and was all giddy over the money she was making on tech stocks. I suggested, in a fatherly way, that she was just helping to blow up a big speculative bubble, driving up the prices of tech stocks that already were highly overvalued, and that if she didn't get hurt, she'd at best be profiting from the gullibility of others who did get hurt once the bubble burst. I didn't hear from her again until recently, when she wrote and said she hadn't responded because my warning had irked her. She said she wished she had listened because she wound up losing her...well, a fair amount of money, putting her in debt. I'm coming from the same place I was in warning her when I say I agree with Governor Ventura's prudent insistence that the University of Minnesota, the public schools, and other governmental entities, including our courts, practice greater budgetary discipline and fiscal accountability during the next biennium. There is a time for writing free verse and a time for writing in sonnet form. Now is the time for our public institutions and agencies to exert a little creative self-discipline in governing, the kind poets must exercise in using the sonnet form. I'll go further than Governor Ventura and suggest that some of our public institutions, with better management, could do quite well if their current budgets were cut back. (03.12.01)
Harry Truman said that the only thing new in the world is the history you never learned. Merle Miller, Plain Speaking - An Oral Biography of Harry S Truman 68-69 (1974). Many of those who invested heavily in dot.com companies and the likes of Enron, people who were shocked when the speculative bubble burst, must not have read their 11th grade American History text carefully. Jesse Ventura didn't go to Harvard, as I did, but apparently he was listening back in 11th grade American History. It now appears that our Governor has more fiscal sense than both houses of the Minnesota Legislature combined. (03.01.2002)
Selling our state's soul. As New York Times columnist William Safire has pointed out, what once was called "the gambling racket" and later was called "the casino industry" is now called "the gaming profession." Back in 1946, when gambling was still called a racket, Luther Youngdahl resigned his position as state supreme court justice to run successfully for governor, promising to clean illegal one-armed bandits out of country clubs, bars and other "establishments." On taking office in 1947, he did just that. Minnesota did well without legalized gambling for many years. Justice Brandeis wrote, "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example." I know I'm against the grain on this, but I think our government in Minnesota not only set a bad example but lost part of its soul when it not only legalized "gaming" on Indian property but itself got in the business of fleecing the public by selling pulltabs and lottery tickets. I see by one of the local rags here in Minnesota that "State-owned casinos, slot machines in bars, and Las Vegas-style sports betting are proposed in bills that legislators will consider when they return to session Jan. 29." More (St. Paul Pioneer-Press, 01.21.2002). That "there's a sucker born every minute" is still as true as it was over 130 years ago when David Hannum first uttered the famous line. Trouble is, the suckers aren't just those who gamble. If we as citizens, through our representatives, approve an extension of gambling in order to finance two stadiums for the corporations that own and run the local pro football and baseball franchises, we'll be the suckers, in more ways than one. (01.21.2002)
What doors has she been knocking on? What do you think of when you ponder the general topic of "knockin' on doors"? In my case, a number of things come to mind, including a song I recall from my youth, Open the Door, Richard. I may be naive, but as I reread the lyrics, which I last heard when I was around four, I find it hard to believe that the singer either expected or consented to "Richard's" opening the door in the buff. In Minnesota, Land of Thousands upon Thousands of Repressed Norwegians, of which I am one, I like to believe that the Top 10 List of Major Social Problems does not include "People opening their door naked." But Georgia, where the word is "nekked," must be different. Here's a link to a story about a Georgia lawmaker, Rep. Dorothy Pelote. She's the person who last year claimed she had seen psychic visions of missing Congressional intern Chandra Levy. More. According to the story, "In the past she's introduced bills to ban long fingernails for students and to stop supermarket baggers from licking their fingers." This time around, she has proposed a law making it illegal for people to answer their doors naked. I'm puzzled why such a law is needed. One can commit the crime of indecent exposure in most states if one intentionally and knowingly exposes oneself indecently to a nonconsenting member of the public, as by standing naked by an open window intentionally attracting the attention of a passer-by. When the late Chief Justice Warren Burger was in private practice in St. Paul, he obtained a reversal from the Minnesota Supreme Court of an indecent exposure conviction of a student who didn't pull the shades before undressing because the supreme court, in its wisdom, deemed the evidence was insufficient to establish the student intentionally exposed to the complaining passerby. I would think that most reasonable people would agree that if one answers the front door naked, one has intentionally and knowingly exposed oneself to "the knocker." Perhaps a) there's caselaw in Georgia allowing indecent exposure defendants to "get off" by claiming they reasonably thought "the knocker" was someone who consented, and b) a significant number of ordinary folks in Georgia have read the law reports and have decided to "take advantage" of the loophole -- to exercise their "right" to open the door naked, so to say. Apparently, if the news story is accurate, the Georgia chapter of the ACLU believes the proposed law would violate a constitutional right of privacy inside the home guaranteed by the Georgia Supreme Court. Does this mean in Georgia people have a "right to open de door nekked"? If I lived in Georgia, I'd oppose the law on more general philosophical grounds. I'd quote Johnson's observation, engraved on the wall of the Minnesota State Capitol outside the Supreme Court Courtroom: "To embarrass justice by a multiplicity of laws, or to hazard it by reliance on judges, are the opposite rocks on which all civil institutions have been wrecked." (01.17.2002)
On corporate welfare. "The real issue should not be whether we can afford them, but whether the benefits of subsidizing stadiums outweigh the costs, especially compared with the high economic and social payoff from competing uses of public financing. On this question, economists offer a resounding no." From The High Cost and Low Benefit of Sports Subsidies by Alan B. Krueger in the New York Times, 01.10.2002. Also of interest, see my earler entry, Carl v. Calvin - the non-identical Twins. (01.10.2002).
Leading by example. Mpls' School Superintendent, who is receiving a hefty $160,000 a year, has informed the Board of Education that, in view of revenue shortfalls necessitating budget cuts, she is not going to accept a $30,000 raise approved by the Board last summer. More (St. Paul Pioneer Press). On the state level, one hopes that all elected officials, including all trial and appellate judges, will consider similar voluntary action with respect to raises they have recently received and that the legislature will consider rescinding any raises these officials are scheduled to begin receiving. (01.09.2002)
"Wisconsin's Watergate." In what is already being dubbed "Wisconsin's Watergate," district attorneys in two Wisconsin counties are investigating allegations both of a) illegal use by state employees of state resources for political campaigns and b) an illegal coverup. More.... I think in states like Wisconsin that have a great tradition of honest, progressive government, the tendency of the press is to assume that elected officials and other state employees, being good people, don't do bad things. I've been arguing for some time that in general the press in Minnesota and elsewhere needs to demand greater accountability from elected officials and other state employees. Too often the press doesn't do any independent reporting. Instead, it engages in what I call "press-release journalism." Good reporting involves being skeptical -- involves questioning, getting answers, and then questioning some more rather than blindly accepting the answers given. (12.28.2001)
Conflict of opposites. Heraclitus, who lived toward the end of the 6th Century, B.C., was an early proponent of the view that both stability and development, paradoxically enough, come from the conflict of opposites. The opposites can be of good and evil, a conflict of the sort Seneca the Roman was thinking of when he wrote, "Behold a worthy sight, to which the God, turning his attention to his own work, may direct his gaze. Behold an equal thing, worthy of a God, a brave man matched in conflict with evil fortune." The "opposites" in conflict can also be of two equal "goods" or truths. As I have noted before, "For every truth, there is a counter-truth: individual rights and majority rule; freedom and order; fifty states and one indivisible nation; religion and secularism; change and stability; privacy and knowledge; new truths and old ones; discretion and rule; mercy and justice; and so on." More. So we shouldn't get too upset to see Congress and the President skirmishing once again over the issue of Executive Privilege. According to this report (Yahoo/AP), President Bush informed Congress he was invoking it "to keep Congress from seeing documents of prosecutors' decision-making in cases ranging from decades-old Boston murder to the Clinton-era fund-raising probe." The President's announcement apparently took the form of a memo from Bush to Attorney General Ashcroft. More than likely, Ashcroft and his associates in DOJ drafted or helped draft the President's memo to Ashcroft. :-) That, my friends, is the way things work. Congress is probably both asserting its principles (principles such as Congressional oversight under the Separation of Powers) and being political in the partisan sense; the President, likewise, is probably asserting the Executive's principles (such as the need for a privilege to insure openness within the protective confines of confidentiality in making prosecutorial decisions) and being political in the partisan sense (as, e.g., in hiding something?). We should not be upset, I say, when there is open conflict like this. The genius of our Madisonian Constitution is that it recognizes old Heraclitus' truth, that conflict among equals is good. We should be upset, rather, when Congress doesn't asserts itself vis a vis the President (as in being too timid to take on the President on issues of possible Presidential abuse of war powers), or vice versa, or when the Court doesn't assert itself when need be, as in the story about overregulation of the courts by the legislature, which I linked to yesterday. More. (12.13.2001)
Carl v. Calvin - the non-identical Twins. Links to two articles worth reading in re our Minnesota Twins: a) The Dow of Sports, by Craig Lambert in the September-October 2001 issue of Harvard Magazine. I linked to this article on 09.05.2001 but it got lost amidst all the 09.11 stories. It seems especially apropos in view of Major League Baseball's threat in recent days of "constriction," that is, elimination of a couple teams, one being the Minnesota Twins. I don't necessarily agree with everything in the article, but it merits a read by policymakers and fans. My guess was that the tech-stock bubble would burst, and I was right. My guess is that the big pro sports bubble will burst. Lambert suggests it's possible. He writes: "Lavish expense, new stadiums with cushy amenities, live entertainment performed at a distance, competing electronic media, and above all, the corporate takeover of professional sports -- the themes are all here. Yet this sky may fall...." My main concern is that, if the sky does fall, taxpayers -- who are being asked to fund yet another new baseball stadium, the third in 40 years -- don't wind up the big losers. This article provides some of the information to help you form your own opinion. b) If the first article is about the takeover of pro sports by corporate types, like Carl Pohlad, the second article is one from The Atlantic Monthly twenty years ago about the good old days before the corporate takeover. Specifically, it's about The Last of the Pure Baseball Men -- Calvin Griffith. (11.29.2001)
Will Jesse Ventura be reelected? Here's a link to a story in today's St. Paul Pioneer-Press titled "Can Gov. Ventura's appeal hold out?" The story both speaks for itself and doesn't. My opinion matches that of Gov. Ventura regarding the quality, or lack thereof, of the Twin Cities news media -- the two major newspapers and the TV news shows (I put "news" in italics for obvious reasons: one gets very little news these days from either type of news source). More. My "take" on the likelihood of the Guv's getting reelected is that if he runs he will get reelected unless the DFL and the GOP can unite on a so-called "fusion" candidate. That fusion candidate's name would have to be Judi Dutcher. A woman running alone against Gov. Ventura might succeed, simply because at this stage of our political development there are a great many women who will cross party lines to vote for a female candidate over a male candidate. The agreement of the DFL and GOP on Judi Dutcher as a fusion candidate is much less likely than that on 11 of the first 17 days of November the daytime high temperature in the Twin Cities will be in the 60's (which just happened for the first time since the weatherpeople started keeping records). 1. Twins. I'm with the Governor on the Twins stadium issue, and I think most Minnesotans are. If we lose the Twins it will be because Major League Baseball wants to send a message to all concerned, here and elsewhere: if the local-yokels don't accede to their demands for new stadiums (we've already built the Twins two of them in 40 years), they'll go elsewhere. Our message to them should be: a) we've been suckers long enough; b) go ahead, if you feel you must, take your marbles and go home; c) we're a big market -- the basic laws of economics will ensure we get our share of businesses competing to get their share of the dollars each of us sets aside for sports and entertainment; d) the day will come when you'll realize that there are consequences for your actions. 2. Terrorism. Who better than a tough guy to lead Minnesota during this period of unease over the possibility of acts of sabotage? 3. Recession. The voters know and appreciate that during a period of economic prosperity and resulting increased tax revenues it was the governor who warned us of the possibility of a downturn, who resisted the pleas of the University's president and of governmental agencies for arguably excessive appropriations. I've recently reread some local sources regarding the Depression. My reading reaffirmed what I learned in a number of history courses in college. FDR's many programs, which I don't criticize, did not bring us out of the Depression. If you disagree, read some of your hometown newspapers from 1936 or 1938. It took WWII to bring us out of the Depression. Why was FDR able to get reelected despite the continuation of the hard times? I think it was because the voters felt that he was "with them" and "for them." Many of us in Minnesota feel that Jesse Ventura is not only with us and for us but, even more importantly, of us. He's "our kind of guy." (11.18.2001)
"Universities are very good at knowing who they have to suck up to." There are 83,000 seats in the University of Florida's football stadium in Gainesville but only 176 seats in the President's Box. These are the seats occupied by U.S. congressmen, state supreme court justices, state cabinet members (presumably that includes the much-revered Secretary of State, Katherine Harris), corporate CEOs. The former President of the Florida Senate used to get invited, but now that she's stepped down, she doesn't. She says, "That's how things work. Universities are very good at knowing who they have to suck up to." Some of the invitations are automatic. Governor Bush gets an automatic invite. Many, however, are discretionary -- used to woo or thank big-time donors or "to cozy up to state legislators, especially those who will be doling out education money." More (St. Petersburg Times). It'd be interesting for reporters in other states to do similar stories on their state universities with big-time football teams (even ones like the University of Minnesota, whose NCAA Division One football team hasn't done really well in 40 years). The invite lists should be obtainable under the sunshine or freedom-of-information laws. It would be equally interesting to investigate more deeply -- questions such as whether, how and in what ways the free tickets "paid off," whether the recipients reported them, whether they sought reimbursement for expenses connected with attending the games, etc. The People -- pronounced "Peepull" by Abe Lincoln -- want to know. :-) (11.17.2001).
"Diversity" and university. "[T]he place where this word ['diversity'] has become a holy grail -- academia -- shows less tolerance for genuine diversity of viewpoints than any other American institution...Diversity of physical appearance is the be-all and end-all, but diversity of thought is no more welcome than it has been under the Taliban in Afghanistan...." Thomas Sowell (Jewish World Review). The university isn't the only place where "diversity" is just a code word for intolerance and prejudice -- intolerance of and prejudice against old-fashioned values such as merit and accomplishment and excellence. Many of our public institutions, even some courts, are operated the same way. The truth about the "sins" committed in the name of "diversity" eventually "will out." When the truth finally is revealed, many people -- ordinary taxpayers, people who want their kids to enjoy equal opportunity to achieve good things through hard work and real accomplishment -- will be aghast. Or so I predict. (11.16.2001)
The corporate takeover of pro sports. "Lavish expense, new stadiums with cushy amenities, live entertainment performed at a distance, competing electronic media, and above all, the corporate takeover of professional sports -- the themes are all here. Yet this sky may fall...." From The Dow of Sports, by Craig Lambert in the September-October 2001 issue of Harvard Magazine. I linked to this article on 09.05.2001 but it got lost amidst all the 09.11 stories. It seems especially apropos in view of Major League Baseball's threat in recent days of "constriction," that is, elimination of a couple teams, possibly the Minnesota Twins. I don't necessarily agree with the article, but it merits a read by policymakers and fans. My guess was that the tech-stock bubble would burst, and I was right. My guess is that the big pro sports bubble will burst. My main concern is that taxpayers don't wind up the big losers. This article provides some of the information to help you form your own opinion. We in Minnesota are fortunate to have a skeptic as governor. I'm speaking of Governor Ventura, who has opposed public financing of another new stadium, which would be the third one for baseball in 40 years. My attitude is: if Major League Baseball is dumb enough to leave this big market (both in terms of attendance and television viewership) without a team (and thereby risking a big law suit and action by Congress on its anti-trust immunity), then it's not smart enough to succeed economically here or elsewhere for very long. In my view, Major League Baseball needs Minnesota more than Minnesota needs Major League Baseball. Hell, the semi-pro town baseball games I watched as a kid for nothing (my friends and I "snuck in") were better entertainment in many ways than Major League Baseball. (11.03.2001)
The Guv on Minnesota media. Acting as guest host of Joe Soucheray's afternoon talk-radio show on Monday, 10.22.2001, Governor Ventura urged people to stop reading the two daily papers, the Strib and the PiPress, and to stop watching the local news on the local TV stations. Great minds think alike. :-) I've been advising that for some time. Click here and here. The only exception I make is to pick up the Sunday rag at Cub on Saturday or Sunday for the TV-insert and the coupon inserts. (10.23.2001)
Sad state of American journalism. "Almost any English-language newspaper anywhere in the developing world carries more foreign news than America’s top two or three dailies combined. Since the end of the Cold War, the constant melodrama of trivia...blinded us to the new forces shaping the developing world. In a comparable news period, [Tonya] Harding garnered more ink and airtime than the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that collapsed the Soviet empire and its communist ideology...." Arnaud de Borchgrave, New World Disorder Front Page (10.10.2001). As a kid, I delivered the afternoon Minneapolis Star and the Sunday morning Minneapolis Tribune to subscribers in the downtown area of my hometown, a Minnesota town of 3,000+ at the eastern end of the Great American Prairie. I was reading the paper every day while I was still in grade school. We got our radio news from the legendary Cedric Adams on WCCO-AM radio at 10 p.m. every night and, later, our TV news from the old "talking heads" (Stuart A Lindman & Co.) reading A.P. & U.P.I. news with slides projected in the background. Their relatively high-content newscasts were much better & much more informative than the local low-content "lite" newscasts of today (with the choppers & the videofeeds & the attractive reporters wasting their skills on fluff-stuff & the multiple anchors posing for promos, basking in the glow of their mutual admiration, laughing at each other's sad wit, etc.). I stopped watching local TV news years ago. The only radio news I listen to is the BBC's world news when I'm falling asleep. I wonder if the producers realize how many, many, many people say they can't stand watching local newscasts anymore? And I cancelled my subscription to the merged Minneapolis Star-Tribune early in 2000 shortly after I began subscribing to home delivery of the NYTimes, which, despite some deficiencies and obvious biases, is the best news source in this country. I still buy the Sunday edition of the local paper, but only for the coupon-inserts and the weekly TV-listing section. In my opinion, the paper doesn't even do an adequate job covering local news. Its editorial page is naive and parochial. Not even the comics and sports sections are good anymore. When I was a kid, the Tribune was often on the list of the top-10 dailies in the country. If it is now, which I doubt, then American journalism is in an even sadder state than I think it is. (10.10.2001)
A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. Or gotten a traffic ticket from a "photo cop." The House Majority Leader, Dick Armey (R - Texas) has been a leading opponent of the camera-ticketing systems, which manufacturers have marketed successfully to state lawmakers in a growing number of states. According to a report in Roll Call, Steve Elmendor, Chief of Staff to House Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt (D - Missouri), was so enraged upon receiving a $100 photo-cop ticket in the mail that he told Armey he wanted to join Armey's "crusade" (which, presumably, is a "secular" crusade not intended to offend anyone's religious sensitivities). Click here for Rep. Armey's position paper against the cameras. (10.01.2001)
Lucienne. "Lucienne" Goldberg, famous agent pal of the friend in whom "Monica" confided, runs a good weblog with a conservative bent. Each day she has a new pic (often of "the W") and a funny comment. Today (07.10.01) she shows a picture of "W" pulling in a fish, and underneath it she's written, "Old Republican Truism: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime." I'd revise it: "Give a man good parents, his dad's name, a prep-school and Ivy-League education, and a trust fund and, who knows, if he quits goofing off around age 35 or 40 he might end up being able to succeed his dad in the family business." That's mean and unfair, but what the heck, can't a guy have some fun with a "public figure"? On this very point, I like and don't like what Andrew Sullivan said in his "me-zine" [click here] the other day: "I cannot be the only one to have been nauseated by the sight of the two Bushes, pere and fils, careening about on a golf-cart wearing matching baseball caps, emblazoned with the numbers '41' and '43'...Nothing could be better used to depict the Bushes as smug, aristocratic, out of touch, and callow. The self-congratulation of it all is...truly irritating...." I like that but don't like it -- don't like it because "W's" dad (President # 41) had someone make the caps and he presented "W's" to him, expecting him to wear it. What's "W" supposed to do, not wear it and hurt his dad's feelings? What does irritate me is that "W," like so many politicians holding elective office -- in the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- seems to think that being peripatetic is one of the core functions of the office. Presidents who run around like whirling dervishes giving speeches and doing photo ops (more often than not with kids) like to imagine that they are modern reincarnations of Theodore Roosevelt, who championed the active, vigorous life and referred to the Presidency as his "bully pulpit." Have they read any good biographies of TR? The guy wasn't a fool but a thinker, who actually read books (by himself and to his wife and kids) and actually wrote books (and speeches and wonderful handwritten letters to his kids). And, except for his daily goofing off (e.g., "mornings - or afternoons - on horseback") and an occasional trip to give an important speech, he usually was in or around the White House. As Edmund Morris put it in his profile of TR in Time's "100 Persons of the Century," TR "was...capable of reading one to three books daily while pouring out...letters and conducting the business of the presidency with such dispatch that he could usually spend the entire afternoon goofing off." (One wonders if TR could have gotten a job as a lawyer in one of our law firms that reward not productivity and quality and efficiency but the logging of lots of "billable hours.") "Goofing off," as Roger Rosenblatt put it, usually meant being an active friend and father: "[With his six kids] TR had around him a brood of pupils, acolytes, companions, and friends, one of whom he sadly outlived. He rode horseback with his kids, went hunting with them, taught them, cajoled them, praised them, served as their referee, loved them. And he wrote them letters, wonderful letters." [more] To "W" (and all the others like him), I say, "Sit still, read, listen, talk, think, manage, govern, goof off." (07.10.01)
High school student invites Bill; he comes. Sophia Velez, a graduating senior, hand-delivered an invitation to Bill Clinton at his home in Chappaqua, N.Y. to attend her high school graduation. Bill actually attended. Surprise? Not really. Bill, despite his faults, is a political genius of the first magnitude. Stanley Crouch, writing in Jewish World Review, thinks this story has something to do with women. He uses the incident as a launch pad for a paean to American women, saying that they, "more than the women of any other country, have helped to define modern life by their achievements in this freest of societies. In the worlds of politics, business, sports, art and so on, they have been central to furthering America's greatness." I agree that American women are just gol' darn great. But I guess Sophia Velez' gesture says more about her spunk than it does about "American women." Heck, when I was a senior in high school I was quite taken with the idea that Nelson A. Rockefeller, Governor of New York (depicted at left, shaking my hand), should be our next President, to replace JFK. ("All the way with Nelson A!"). I wrote him (i.e., his secretary), inviting him to my high school graduation in a small farm town in western Minnesota. I didn't expect him to come. What I wanted was an actual letter expressing his deep regret (ha!) that he wouldn't be able to come. "Rocky" always had a good staff and I, of course, got the letter I was looking for, thus allowing me to trumpet to classmates (to prove to them) that he really was deeply sorry he couldn't come. What Clinton's attending Sophia Velez' graduation says is that this guy is some politician, smart enough to turn just about anything around, including sex scandals involving women not his wife, Chinese campaign-contribution scandals, pardon scandals, office rent scandals -- you name it. Which, of course, is why he was twice elected President and why, on the other hand, Rocky not only wasn't elected President but literally died when he went all the way with a younger woman not his wife. [more and more and more and more] Do some guys, like Clinton, have all the luck? Or are they more than just "lucky," knowing that sometimes it makes sense to go to a kid's high school graduation? Rocky, my old man, you should have come, you should have come. (06.29.2001)
Nixon and Secretary of State Rogers discuss bowling. Richard M. ("Dick") Nixon was a real baseball fan but you maybe didn't know of his love of bowling. A columnist with the Chicago Tribune has done some historical legwork and made a discovery every bit as significant as the rediscovery, just recently announced [more], of the misplaced flag Lincoln grabbed after he was shot. After the 1971 World Series, which he watched on t.v., Nixon discussed the series with Rogers, who'd seen one of the games in person. The small-talk part of the conversation occurred before they got down to serious business. Thanks to the White House's recording system, the small talk was preserved. Nixon explained why he couldn't attend in person: "I didn't go because I have a helluva lot of things I'm working on at the moment and I think my identification with baseball is so clear that I didn't have to go to the series." Rogers then alluded to what Nixon "was doing" in re other sports, saying it was "so good." Nixon said, "You mean like bowling...and auto racing?" Rogers then said, "Matter of fact it might not be bad when they have one of these bowling championships to go to one." Nixon's reply? "I couldn't agree more." Rogers said lots of people follow bowling and he thought "it would be great." Nixon: "And, yet, more people bowl, more people may watch the other two, more people bowl. About 40 million bowl. I'd like to do it." [more] Although Dick Nixon (depicted left and right in the tastefully-wallpapered White House bowling alley) was a great bowler, he did not invent bowling. Al Gore's father did that. Truman had a bowling alley installed in the White House, but Ike, an obsessive-compulsive golfer, tore it out. Dick righted that wrong, as he did so many others, by having another one installed. Undoubtedly, nobody ever bowled wearing a necktie (or walked on a beach in a suit) better than Dick. And no one ever bowled so many games in a row: legend has it that he once bowled 20 games in a row (!), all by himself, with the loyal White House staffer who managed the alley keeping his score and keeping him company. [more] Who knows how many crises (six? maybe more) Dick solved while bowling by himself. And who can blame him for scratching occasionally (see foot on the line in photo right), given that he was balancing the weight of the Free World on his shoulders as he released the ball. It was given to our generation to find the flag Lincoln grasped with his hand. Someday, perhaps a hundred years from now, someone of our descendants will find balls in some storage room and DNA tests on the fingerprints left on them will prove they were Dick's balls. (07.09.2001)
Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Eccentric Politicians. You may have read the other day, to no surprise, that all five Scandinavian countries -- Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and (I modestly saved the greatest but humblest 'til last) Norway -- made the "top 10" of the least corrupt countries [more]. If a similar report were made on states of the United States, surely Minnesota would make the top 10, too. Reading contemporaneously that the Italian sport (well, game) of bocce ball is the in game among San Francisco's trendiest folks [more], I was reminded of a former governor of Minnesota, the late Rudy Perpich, one of whose "passions" (he had many) was to build public bocce ball courts all around Minnesota. Perpich was one of several (all highly successful) sons of an immigrant Croatian-American miner father and American-born Croatian-American mother who grew up on Minnesota's ethnically-diverse Iron Range (pronounced "raingchh"), where Italian bocce ball was a popular game of his youth. Perpich so loved the game that in 1977, after ascending from Lieutenant Governor to Governor, he donated his $25,000 raise to promote bocce ball. Some people made fun of Rudy, calling him names like "Governor Goofy," an appellation based on his tendency to promote all of his many ideas -- some good, some goofy -- with the same disarming rube-like enthusiasm. Some of his "goofy" ideas were 1) encouraging the nurturing of high-tech industry in MN, 2) trying to lure GM to build its Saturn plant here, 3) trying to get developers to build the nation's largest enclosed shopping mall here, 4) trying to popularize the "polka mass," 5) trying to bring a Super Bowl to MN, 6) promoting MN by building a "world trade center" in St. Paul, 7) trying to get Prince Charles and Lady Diana to visit MN, 8) trying to get Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev to visit MN, 9) trying to get the U. of MN to establish a foreign studies program in a medieval castle in Austria, 10) trying to bring the NCAA "Final Four" basketball tourney here, 11) renting a billboard with a portrait of his wife and himself when the powers-that-be refused to accept as his official portrait one that included his wife's visage (the billboard, depicted left, said "They won't let us in the Capitol so Hi from here"), and 12) trying to popularize bocce ball. Rudy was so "goofy" that he only succeeded in 1), 3) 5), 6), 8), 10), and 11). (Goal #11 wasn't accomplished until recently, some years after Rudy's death.) It's because Minnesotans elect "goofballs" like Rudy -- and John A. Johnson, Knute ("the Little Norwegian") Nelson, Harold Stassen, Hubert ("Horatio Hornblower") Humphrey, and Eugene McCarthy -- that MN is the state it is. It ain't the state it used to be, in my opinion, but it's still a pretty damn good place, and that's partly because Minnesotans are goofy enough to elect the like of Rudy Perpich, whose bocce ball dream may still become reality [click here for results of Google search using two words, "bocce" and "Minnesota"], and Jesse Ventura, our pro wrestler governor who in my eccentric opinion may, just may, someday be regarded by state historians as one of the best of the 10,000 eccentric politicians who have graced the MN political stage. (06.28.2001)
"Power elite" in MN? From a piece written by Arthur Allen in New York Times Op-Ed pages, 04.14.01: "In...Cincinnati [scene of recent riots], power is pure. The politicians and judges and prosecutors tend to get big campaign contributions from the same wealthy guys who've run things for decades." Awhile ago I asked, "Is there a 'power elite' in Minnesota? Are there several? How do they operate?" Back in 1950's the late C. Wright Mills wrote a provocative book of sociological analysis titled The Power Elite. I read it in college in the early '60's in a course taught by the late Arnold Rose, who represented the area around the U. of MN in the legislature for a number of years. The book and some of Mills' other writings examined the way those at the top of society -- the celebrities, the very rich, the chief executives, military leaders, and others -- "get their way." [link to site with excerpts] I revisited the book recently. Some questions came to mind: Is there a "power elite" in Minneapolis -- albeit an enlightened one -- that somehow is able to surreptitiously co-opt power and basically "run the show," regardless of who the DFL voters elect as mayor and as council members? While Minneapolis has been a one-party town, Minnesota has been a two-party state. To what extent is there an invisible "power elite" that basically "runs the show" and "gets its way," regardless of who is governor and which party controls the legislature? Is there also an invisible "power elite" that basically "gets its way" in running the judicial system regardless of which governor appoints the judges of the various courts? If there is a "power elite" that usually gets its way in legislative and executive matters, what is it doing now to co-opt power from or govern that most independent and ungovernable of governors, Jesse Ventura? Will it succeed? Or is Jesse too smart for the hidden elite, if there is one? I merely ask these questions -- and others. As Arnold Rose taught us, it never hurts to ask questions. It would be nice if the Star-Tribune and/or the Pioneer-Press asked these questions. Don't hold your breath waiting. :-)
Announcement. We've finally gotten around to launching our new webzine/blawg: BurtLaw's The Daily Judge:
It is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, it is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert the reader to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things about "judges" that have interested us and that may interest the reader.
We don't promote our blawgs, but readers of this blog and of our affiliated political opinion blog, BurtonHanson.Com, may be interested in it. We don't think there is another blawg quite like it.