Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Obama administration goes after freedom of the press

Of all the disgraceful appointments in the Obama administration, Eric Holder is probably the worst. Under his "leadership" the Justice Department has done things like dismissing a voter intimidation case it had already won because those doing the intimidating were members of the Black Panthers.

A bigger fiasco was Operation Fast and Furious, in which ATF agents allowed members of Mexican drug cartels to buy high-powered weapons, thinking that they could then "trace" the weapons and find out where they went. It went badly awry, they lost track of more than 1,000 guns and one of the guns was used to kill an American border agent.

Holder has done his best to stonewall a Congressional investigation into Fast and Furious, even going so far as to seal court records about the murder of the border agent.

As a result of Holder's bumbling, more than 50 members of congress have called for his resignation. His response: Tell the media to stop reporting it.

Yesterday, in this photo, Holder sticks his finger in the face of a reporter from the political website The Daily Caller and says, “You guys need to — you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”

Imagine if a member of the Bush administration had told a reporter to stop writing about a subject he found uncomfortable. The cries of "fascism" would be deafening.

I don't think even Nixon was this paranoid about the media. You can get a thorough description of Fast and Furious here.

(Afterthought: I just noticed the expression on the face of Holder's aide standing on his left. She's thinking, "Uh-oh...time to update the resume, because this gravy train is about to come to an end.")

Newt on the rise

From the very time the Republican field began to form itself last year, my first choice for President in the entire group was Newt Gingrich, but I had convinced myself - as many others had - that Newt was simply unelectable.

As he rises in the polls, and seems prepared to emerge as the only credible opponent of Mitt Romney, I find myself rethinking that assumption.

Gingrich has been my favorite political figure since Reagan left the scene. In the 1980s, when I served on Sen. Boschwitz's staff, the conventional wisdom was that a Republican majority in the House of Representatives was simply unattainable. The Democrats had controlled the place since 1952, and the entire infrastructure of the House - members, staff, committee staff, everything right down to the janitors - had been controlled by the Democrats for a generation. A Republican majority was simply unthinkable.

Except to Newt, Vin Weber, Connie Mack, Dan Coats and a few other bright young lions who called themselves the "Conservative Opportunity Society." Unlike more senior Republicans in the House, who more or less accepted the permanent Democrat majority, Newt and his colleagues went to work, using the Reagan years to build public support for conservative ideas and set about the business of attracting candidates whom they hoped could someday provide a Republican majority.

They fought the battle on a lot of fronts. They recruited stronger candidates, then found innovative ways to train the candidates and provide some funding. They targeted resources on swing districts, and they slowly made gains, aided by an organization they founded and called GOPAC.

In 1992, I was one of their candidates. Running in Minnesota's First District, I listened to the training tapes GOPAC sent out every week. I took part in the conference calls, and I went to their candidate school in Washington. And while I had simply admired Newt before that year, it was in 1992 that I began to fully recognize his genius.

Newt has a way of taking almost any issue and turning it back into a values question. Instead of asking the question, "Should we cut welfare programs?" Newt would phrase the question as "How do we tear down a system that limits an individual's potential and leads to generations of dependence, and replace it with a system that allows each individual a chance to realize their fullest potential." He had candidates all over the country talking about "Breaking down the bureaucratic welfare state" and replacing it with an "opportunity society." He wasn't afraid to call, for example, the Detroit public schools "a particularly tragic example of the human cost of protecting unionized bureaucracy at the expense of serving the public."

During my campaign, I was always working more Newt talking points into my speeches. I'd talk about how "Earning by Learning," a volunteer-based inner city literacy program, worked better than 20 years of Title 1 funding, and I'd see people in the audience nod. Or I'd talk about Health Savings Accounts (a really radical idea in 1992) as a way to make the necessary re-connect between the consumers and the payers of health care, and people would come to me to say how much sense the idea made to them. Newt and GOPAC gave all of us the tools to compete.

Some of those GOPAC candidates succeeded in 1992, others didn't. (I was one who didn't...another story for another day.) But all of us who fought the fight were inspired by Newt's vision of a Republican House majority that could begin to roll back the cancers eating away at America. I still keep a letter I have from Newt, expressing his condolences on my loss.

Two years later he authored the "Contract With America," a series of 10 changes he promised the American people would be made within 90 days of the election of a Republican House majority. The Republicans rode the Contract - and the fecklessness of Clinton's first two years - into the Republican House majority that almost no one thought was possible.

Two things stand out if you get to know Newt at all. First, he has an absolute love of America, and believes in his heart that this country has a special duty to lead the world. "Without an America that is strong, and safe, and free," he said, "The world becomes a very dark and dangerous place."

Secondly, you learn right away that he has a world-class intellect, and that he is an incredibly fast learner when presented with a new idea or new perspective that addresses an old question. And I think the long series of debates over the past few months have given voters a window into exactly how sharp a thinker Newt is.

Does he have flaws as a candidate? A mountain of them. His personal life has been messy, to say the least. There have been poor decisions, incorrect opinions and hundreds of moments I'm sure he'd like to take back. In recent years, he hasn't always been the most conservative guy around, but I'm confident of this: As President, he will tackle every issue head-on, speak truthfully to the American people and never, ever apologize for the United States of America.

As I said at the top, I had sort of fallen into the "trap" of thinking that all of his baggage made him unelectable, and when his campaign staggered out of the gate, I decided I was right. But a steady diet of his debate performances and increased exposure to his thinking seem to be bringing Republican primary voters around.

I have no doubt that if he is the Republican nominee, he will beat Obama, and probably do so in a landslide. The contrast between his upbeat, innovative vision of what America can become and Obama's view of an America that needs to recede from the world and manage its own decline will give Americans a very real choice that I believe they'll embrace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Scholastic Book Club

A few blog posts ago, (click here) I reminisced about the beauty of the Landmark series of American history books for children. Today, I was reminded of another great contribution to children's reading, The Scholastic Book Club.

The reminder comes via this blog post, written by Roger Kimball, who talks about a Washington Post book reviewer name Michael Dirda. Dirda has a new book out, and in it he recalls the incredible joy he would feel as a child when it came time to order from the Scholastic Book Club:

Each month Mr. Jackson would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. “Lying on my bed at home,” Drida recalls, “I lingered for hours over these news print catalogues, carefully making my final selections.”

The care was dictated in part by the budget imposed by Dirda’s mother, who stipulated a monthly budget of no more than 4 of the 25-35-cent books. Each month, Mr. Jackson sent in the class order. “Then in the middle of some dull afternoon, … a teacher’s aide would open the classroom door and silently drop off a big, heavily taped parcel. … Sometimes we would be made to wait an entire day, especially if the package had been delivered close to the three o’clock bell when school let out.”

But sooner or later, the swag was distributed and then Dirda, like his classmates, would

methodically appraise each volume’s art work, read and reread its back cover, carefully investigate the delicate line of glue at the top edge of the perfect bound spines. … To this day I can more or less recall the newsletter’s capsule summary that compelled me to buy The Hound of the Baskervilles. … “What was it that emerged from the moor at night to spread terror and violent death?” What else, of course, but a monstrous hound from the bowels of hell?

I had the same experience, over and over again, when those little Scholastic Book Service order forms came out, and the same argument with my dad over how many I could buy. I'm not sure Hound of the Baskervilles was ever one of my selections, because I was given that and other Sherlock Holmes books by a relative, but I know that over the years I ordered dozens and dozens of those little paperbacks, and I don't ever remember being disappointed by any one of them. There were many, many sports books, of course, and I was also quite taken with the exploits of a bright young kid named Encyclopedia Brown, who was great at solving mysteries.

The story also struck a chord with John Hinderaker over at Powerline, who wrote this about his experience growing up in Watertown, S.D in a post titled "The Most Exciting Box in the World."

But it seems like yesterday: our teacher would, as Roger says, pass out a newsletter or catalog that listed and described the books available for order. I pored over that catalog for hours, studying the descriptions and wondering about the books. I would carefully make my choices after discussing them with my friends–you may say that I was a little weird, but I wasn’t the only one, to paraphrase John Lennon–and some weeks later the box would arrive.

It was the highlight of the year. Better even than Christmas, because this box didn’t contain underwear or socks; it contained only books–not only that, but the books we had chosen ourselves. The minutes in which the box was opened and the books were distributed to the kids who had ordered them were the most exciting of my youth.

I know the Scholastic Book Club still exists, although I'm not sure if it still distributes books the same way or if the Internet has taken over the process, but it was an incredible part of my childhood. Daughter Corrie, now a librarian, apparently inherited the same love of reading, and the gene appears to have been passed on to the grandkids as well, which is one of the few of my traits that I hope they have.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catching up

Okay, I'm back from a little vacation, and I realize that I totally reneged on my promise to post a few things from the road. Sorry. Here's a few tidbits to get back up to speed.

Naples golf - It was my first trip to Naples, which happened instead of the trek buddy Pete Thrane and I usually take to Myrtle Beach. To be candid, the results are mixed. On the plus side, the weather is fantastic. October/November weather in Myrtle can be a little iffy, but everyone assured us that the 80 degrees and sunny skies we had almost every day in Naples was pretty standard stuff. The one day it was "cold" was when it only got up to about 72, and the locals were feeling the chill, breaking out the sweatshirts.

From a golf standpoint, there are a number of beautiful courses in the Naples area, but accessibility is an issue. Most of the courses are private, and we were fortunate enough to have a couple of contacts that helped us get on to some very nice courses, but without those contacts, it would have been tough sledding. We tried to fill in some schedule gaps by using the internet to find some public or semi-private courses, and it was really tough. Anything public seems to be somewhat older, with less than ideal conditions, or they have a "resort course" layout that is not particularly interesting.

The high point was a private club called Heritage Palms, just north of Naples in Ft. Myers. We were able to get on via the good graces of old friend Joe Quinn, a former legislator and retired judge that I have known since the 1980s. This was a very interesting design, in immaculate shape, and we're really, really grateful to the judge for getting us on. As DFLers go, Joe's a really, really good guy!

The one public track we played that we found worthwhile was called Panther Run, northeast of Naples. We liked it well enough that we played it a second time, and it was open enough that we ended up playing 36 holes, with a sit-down lunch in between, in about 7-1/2 hours. And along the way, we made the acquaintance of this local:

All in all, we determined that while the weather is certainly nicer, there is a lot more access to affordable, quality golf in Myrtle Beach, and it seems likely that we'll head back there next year.

Speaking of wildlife, I learned that the Florida Panthers hockey team is called that because there is actually a band of Florida Panthers. Turns out there are only a couple hundred of them, but most are located in the area between Naples and the Everglades. Lots of cool info can be learned by going to

The main road towards our resort had a couple of "Caution: Panther Crossing" signs, but I never saw one.

Then, via text message on the second day of the trip, came this announcement from home:

And, for some reason, I can't get the audio to work, but what little Annie is saying is "Opa, we're having a baby!"

Which is how I found out that The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe and grandson Sambo are getting a sibling next May, grandchild #3. Congrats to daughter Corrie and husband Sam!

While in Ft. Myers, I got my first look at Hammond Stadium, where the Twins have spring training. Nice looking ballpark that is part of a big complex. The Roy Hobbs tournament was taking place, which is sort of the World Series for 35-and-over baseball players.

And speaking of baseball, I flew in and out of Tampa, and my hotel was just down the street from George Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the Yankees. I stopped in to look around, and found a couple dozen guys involved in a "fantasy camp" which involves middle-aged guys paying $4,000 to come down and hang around for a week with former Yankees, playing a few ball games, drinking a

lot and listening to stories. (Most team, including the Twins, run similar things.) There weren't too many big-name Yankees around, but Cecil Fielder (now known as Prince Fielder's dad) was coaching first base. That's the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' stadium across the street.

Of course, the whole Penn St./Joe Paterno scandal broke while we were there, and Pete's legal mind was fascinated by it all. He foresaw a number of things that I didn't see coming, such as the Big Ten stripping Paterno's name from the championship trophy, and the possible downgrading of Penn State's bond debt by the ratings agencies. I still don't know what to make of the whole mess, and I don't really have the stomach to learn much more.

Also in the news, we learned that the Solyndra scandal just gets worse and worse. Now it turns out that as the company was failing and planning huge layoffs in October of 2010, the White House put pressure on them to delay the announcement until after the election. Nothing like playing politics with taxpayer dollars.

Finally, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street crowd and their wanna-be copycats, I'm thinking of starting my own protest, which will be known as "Occupy Sanibel Island." A few friends and I will sit on the beach, drink rum punch and refuse to leave until the tides stop rising and falling. It might not turn into a crime wave like the other "Occupy" encampments, but at least we'll have a point.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Off to the Sunshine State

As some of you know, my good friend Peter Thrane and I spend several days in Myrtle Beach every October. We've been going down there for about 13 years to enjoy the marvelous golf and great weather. It's a great way to end the golf season.

This year, however, we couldn't find October dates that worked. I never like to go when the Wild are at home, and we just couldn't make things work. And Myrtle in November can be beautiful, but you're also taking some real chances with the weather. So it looked like we might miss our annual golf trip.

But an opportunity arose, a couple things fell into place, the Wild are headed out on a road trip and so Pete and I fly out this week to spend a few days golfing in Naples, Florida. I've played a little bit of golf in Florida before - Key West, Daytona, Orlando - but it was always in the context of a business trip, never a golf-only proposition. Now we get a chance to go into our full-blown golf trip mode, which is pretty simple: Be on a course by 8 a.m., play 36 holes (or sometimes more) until sundown, have dinner, sleep, repeat for five days.

Our base of operations is GreenLinks golf resort (, but we hope to play several other area courses. I've never been to Naples, but hear great things about it, and I'll try to file a report or two along the way.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I'm staying out of the woods

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big nature guy, so maybe I'm overreacting here, but then again, maybe not.

When I was a kid, and snowmobiles were a relatively new invention, it was considered controversial that snowmobilers up in northern Minnesota were using their new machines to hunt timberwolves. The news stations would show footage of snowmobilers chasing down the little critters and running them over. That wouldn't kill them, they would just pack down into the snow, but eventually they would get tired and the guys on snowmobiles could grab them or shoot them. Seemed like harmless fun to me.

But I don't remember the timberwolves being very big. They looked like I would expect a fox to look, or maybe an adult dog, like a black lab. A timberwolf didn't seem like a particularly scary animal.

And then yesterday I saw this picture of a timberwolf killed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. If I was on a snowmobile, and saw one of these, I'd be driving as fast as I could the other way.

I assume this is a little on the mutant side of the timberwolf growth scale, but still, if there are things like this out in the woods, I'll take my chances on the city streets.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A little Groucho talk....

Okay, I admit right from the top that this is a bit of an unusual topic to expect from my blog, but I found this story very interesting and wanted to share it.

In my high school years, I found myself fascinated with the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho. For a couple of years, WCCO-TV had a Saturday night show hosted by a fellow named Alan Lotsberg that featured Marx Brothers movies. (Lotsberg was also a sidekick on the kids show "Clancy the Cop," playing detective Willie Ketchum.)

Every Saturday night, Lotsberg would introduce another Marx Brothers movie, and tell us a bit of the history of it, who wrote the script, which young actors played the bit parts, and then I would sit on the floor absolutely charmed by "Duck Soup," "Night at the Opera," "Day at the Races" and all the others.

As often happened when I would get intrigued by something, I headed off to the library and started reading everything I could about Groucho (real name: Julius) and his brothers. I didn't learn enough to become an expert, but I knew more than your average 10th grader.

(This also led, I believe, to a fascination with Woody Allen movies, which was not at all the norm for teenage Minnesota boys in the 1970s. But I digress.)

Over the years, I've read a number of interesting anecdotes about Groucho, or seen bits and pieces of interviews with people like Dick Cavett or Johnny Carson. But until the fellows at Powerline linked to THIS story, I had never read of the exchange of letters between, and subsequent meeting of, Groucho and T.S. Eliot. The relationship seems improbable, given Eliot's rabid anti-Semitism, but I found the article fascinating, and apparently they got on quite well. Click on the link and I think you'll enjoy the story.