Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"I lie so people will pay attention to me."

That's usually the rationale for a teenage girl saying something outlandish, but it now explains the bizarre behavior of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a challenger to Whoopi Goldberg for the title of Dumbest Woman in America.

Schultz is a member of Congress from Florida, but also the chair of the Democratic National Committee, and in her role as DNC chair she is simply the gift that keeps on giving....to Republicans. At least once a week this shrill, unlikable woman sticks her foot in her mouth in a way that embarrasses her party.

Early on, she had trouble understanding what the word "literally" meant. She once said that a program to reform Medicare was "literally a death trap for some seniors." Then she said the requirement for voters to show photo ID would "literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws." Moments later, she said those same laws are "literally just throwing a barrier in the way" of people who want to vote.

Apparently the DNC staff staged an intervention to explain the meaning of "literally" to her, because she seems to no longer butcher the language so badly, but it hasn't corrected her habit of making incorrect statements, leaving one magazine to describe her as "hysterical, hyperbolic and just to the left of Karl Marx."

This week, after making an outrageous claim that the Tea Party was somehow responsible for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Schultz was called on to apologize for a statement far beyond the bounds of decency and civility.

She gives us a reason for her hysteria, however, in an interview with Newsweek, (Really? Newsweek is still publishing? Who knew?) saying that “I make strongly worded statements so people pay attention a little to what I’m saying.”

A pathetic need for attention is to be expected from a disturbed teenager, I guess, but it doesn't seem like a desirable trait for Democratic Party spokesperson, unless that's the best they've got, which just might be the case. Literally.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The case for optimism

The weekend brought a lot of interesting reading, including a piece here in which British scientists and their data show that not only did any "global warming" cease to exist 15 years ago, but that the sun's patterns suggest we've entered a "little ice age" similar to that of the 17th century. Fascinating piece that adds to the mountain of proof that "global warming" is a massive hoax, but we'll talk about that another day.

But I really enjoyed this piece from the Wall St. Journal, which makes a case for almost giddy optimism about the future. I'm not even going to pretend that I'm smart enough to fully understand all of their points, but they have a worldview that I find easy to agree with: The best is yet to come.

Over the past 200+ years, almost all of the answers to the world's problems have been found in America. Innovation, technology, engineering, you name it, and the minds of Americans have pioneered the solutions to the world's problems. These two argue that - much like America a century ago - we are on the cusp of gigantic progress that will radically improve the world, and that the solutions will be found in an "American culture...particularly suited to times of tumult and challenge."

Again, I'm not smart enough to grasp it all, but it gives me hope that just as American survived and prospered after catastrophes such as the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Clinton Administration, we will also survive and prosper despite the Age of Obama.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Simple enough?

I realize the political world is fascinated right now with the Republican nomination contest, and all of the little things being bandied about: Whose tax returns have been released, who loved Reagan the most, who wants to colonize the moon, etc., etc. But when we get done sorting through all of the background noise, and settle on a nominee, here's what the election is going to be about.

If you were an incumbent, would you want to run on this record?

Neither would I.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Small man, small ideas

I never got to work on a State of the Union message, although I have written a State of the State speech, as well as a speech for the Republican National Convention, so I have a little bit of an idea about the process.

And I found myself this week listening to Obama's State of the Union address, and almost feeling sorry for his speechwriting team. I mean, here they are, three years into his presidency, and they've got nothing to say. I can almost hear the discussion:

"Well, we could talk about the economy....uh, no."
"Can we point to the progress on unemployment...no?"
"Have we brought down the national debt? No, we've added $4.6 trillion to it."
"Did we help bring gas and other energy prices down? Ummm, no."
"Things are better in the Middle East, aren't they? No."
"We've done all those cool 'alternative energy' things like Solyndra and, um, no, I guess not."
"I know...we set a goal of one million electric cars on the road by 2015. We must be getting close to that, right? Chevy must have sold a couple hundred thousand Volts by now, right? Oh, really? Only 7,500? That's almost a million, isn't it? And a bunch of them caught on fire?"

These poor fellows had to turn over every rock they could find to look for one measure of how the average person is better off now than they were on January 20, 2009, and five minutes into the speech it was clear that they had nothing. So, instead, we got:

Let's increase taxes on some people
Let's force kids to stay in high school until they're 18. (How?)
Let's try to stop the Chinese from selling pirated DVDs
Let's create more government bureaucracy to regulate lending, clean energy and medical research, because government has done such a great job with those so far

As I said, I almost felt sorry for them. Looking back on three years of deficits, failures and decline, the closest they could come to a rhetorical flourish was the laughable (coming from this particular president) call for "No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts."

They probably didn't realize it, but they wrote a great campaign slogan for the opposition this fall.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Way to go, Tim Thomas!

For a wide variety of reasons, I've always liked Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. It wasn't just that he was a fellow goalie who shared a first name with me, it was his entire story.

First off, he was an American at a position recently dominated by butterflying French-Canadians and Finns. Second, it took incredible determination for him to make it to the NHL. After playing four years at the University of Vermont, he was drafted 218th by the Quebec Nordiques in 1994.

(To put into perspective what a long shot that made him, consider that there isn't even a 218th draft pick anymore - the NHL only drafts seven rounds, and 210 players - and the Nordiques don't exist anymore.)

Unable to find an NHL job, Thomas carried his pads whereever the hockey winds took him. Over the next several years he played in Birmingham and Houston. He went to Finland, and won the Finnish Elite League championship for HIFK. Then it was the American Hockey League, and the Hamilton Bulldogs. Then back to Finland, and another stint with HIFK. Then back to America, and the Detroit Vipers of the International League. Then back to Europe, and a year with AIK of the Swedish League, before returning to the Finnish League with Karpat-Oulu.

At that point, most goalies would find it pretty easy to abandon the dream, but the Bruins acquired his rights, and he came back to play for their minor-league team in Providence. Finally, at the age of 28, he made his NHL debut and won three of four games for the Bruins.

But he still wasn't in the big league to stay. He played 43 games in Providence the next year, and when the lockout happened in 2003, he went back to Europe and played another year in Finland, this time for Jokerit.

It would be the 2006-07 season before Thomas earned the Bruins' starting goalie spot, and since then he's won two Vezina trophies, and was MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at age 37, leading the Bruins last spring to their seven-game triumph over Satan's Team.

How can you not love that story?

And today it got better.

As I said, he's long been one of my favorite players, and I had no idea about his politics, or whether he even had political convictions. But today was the Bruins' chance to go to the White House and celebrate their Stanley Cup win with the President. Every championship team gets the photo op - stand in the Rose Garden, give the President a jersey, smile for the camera. It's a nice, harmless tradition.

Except today, Thomas said "No, thanks." Turns out that he's a conservative guy through and through. I should have been tipped off by the "In God We Trust" painted on his mask, along with the Gadsden flag ("Don't tread on me"), but I always chalked it up to simply a Boston/history thing.

Which turns out not to be the case. He believes in conservative causes, and he wasn't going to lend his MVP presence to a photo op with a president he clearly disagrees with. It was a gutsy call that likely won't win him any fans in Massachusetts, but a guy that I already admired a great deal earned a little bit more of my admiration today.

A book recommendation

I've never been much of a Stephen King fan, in part because I generally don't care for the horror genre, and in part because once you see the liberal/environmental extremist themes running through his stories, it becomes sort of tiresome.

(Watch "The Shining" again, and look for all the neither-clever-nor-subtle hints about alleged abuse of American Indians. Likewise, once you realize "Pet Semetary" is just a thinly veiled screed about oil companies, it loses a lot of its charm.)

Also, science fiction doesn't interest me much. I had a good friend in high school who worshiped the Heinlein/Asimov/Clarke trinity and did his best to draw me in, but it just never took.

However, once in a while the subject of time travel will captivate me. When I was young there was a short-lived series called "Time Tunnel" that I found fascinating, and in my college years, a film called "Time after Time" captured my imagination. (In the movie, Jack the Ripper is transported into the 20th century by a time machine owned by H.G. Wells, who then has to chase after him. Great story, and it includes a very young Mary Steenburgen. Worth watching if you ever see it on cable.) And of course, the "Back to the Future" series is always great fun. (Trivia note: The first "Back to the Future" was specially screened at the White House and was said to be Ronald Reagan's favorite movie.)

But I digress. My appreciation for time travel stories has allowed me to take on another Stephen King book, and I'm going to use a blog post just to tell you how much I enjoyed his recently published "11/22/63."

The date, of course, is the date of John F. Kennedy's assassination. I've mentioned in earlier posts that I was fortunate enough to have a high school history teacher who encouraged me to research JFK's shooting (I was only six when it happened), and over the years I've read almost everything there is to read about it. When I heard that King was using the event to write a time travel book, I decided to take a chance on him again.

What's it about? Well, it's about 850 pages (sorry, old joke), but don't let that keep you from taking a crack at it. The premise of the book is that a modern-day high school teacher is shown a way to travel back in time, and the friend who shows him the portal urges him to go back and find a way to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK. He agrees to do so, and along the way he begins to understand all of the implications of messing with past events. That's as much plot as I'm going to give you, lest I spoil the story, but it's a fun, fun read.

It's even more fun for people who know some of the more obscure details of the assassination, because all sorts of historical figures - both famous and obscure - keep showing up in the story as our time traveler runs into folks like Edwin Walker, Jack Ruby, George de Mohrenschildt, James Hosty and others, including a great scene in which he opens his apartment door to find Marina Oswald standing there, looking for her husband.

Despite the 850 or so pages, I was able to read it in just a few days because the story is so fun, and so interesting, that it just flies by. Take a chance and dig into it, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"An act of national insanity."

That's how respected economist Robert Samuelson described President Obama's decision to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast. (Read the entire column here.)

Samuelson is absolutely right, and yesterday's decision alone should disqualify Obama from any chance at re-election.

Even the Washington Post editorial board - hardly a group of free-market, pro-growth advocates - saw the absolute folly of Obama's decision, writing: "On the substance (of the issue) there should be no question."

In case you haven't followed the story closely, Keystone would have carried 700,000 barrels of oil a day from Canada to the gulf coast. It would have created thousands of jobs, and helped to reduce the leverage Middle Eastern countries have on our oil supply.

Obama was forced to choose between two Democrat constituencies that had staked out a position on the project: Organized labor, which wanted the jobs, and left-wing environmentalists, who somehow believe that blocking the pipeline (leaving us more dependent on Middle Eastern oil) will force us to use less oil.

Because the far-left nuts are about the only reliable voting bloc he has left, the President chose to appease them, costing us jobs, damaging relations with Canada and giving a huge gift to the Chinese, who are the most likely customer for the Canadian oil.

(As an aside, isn't it a shame that he couldn't simply base the decision on the best interests of the United States of America, rather than on what might enhance his re-election chances? If he had done that, as the Post says, "there should be no question.")

This project has been under review for more than three years, and has passed every regulatory hurdle it had faced. Obama's own "Jobs Council" had reported just the day before that the energy and security needs of this country "require the United States to optimize all of its natural resources and construct pathways (pipelines, transmission and distribution) to deliver electricity and fuel.” It added that regulatory and permitting obstacles "that could threaten the development of some energy projects, negatively impact jobs and weaken our energy infrastructure need to be addressed.”

Again, the Washington Post editorial page: "Rejecting Keystone XL would....help China lock up more of the world’s oil production, cost infrastructure jobs in the United States and offend a reliable ally. More delay after three years of review is insult enough."

Simply put, Obama put his own re-election needs ahead of the needs of the country. It was an act of national insanity to elect this guy, and it would be even more insane to give him four more years.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why I love Newt

As mentioned a few posts ago, I'm a great admirer of Newt Gingrich, and I think it's a shame that some of the missteps in his career have made him largely unelectable. But this clip from last night's debate shows Newt at his very best: Smart, combative and willing to defend a strong conservative position. It really is a shame that he'll never be president. Enjoy:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Drop dead, Macy's

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I wrote a long post about the outstanding customer service I received when dealing with Sprint, a post that you can read here.

Now comes the opposite side of the coin, courtesy of the chuckleheads that run Macy's.

As some of you know, I have worked in downtown St. Paul for a number of years, and I always made an effort to shop at the downtown Dayton's store. As St. Paul went through difficult times and a number of retailers fled the core city, Dayton's maintained a commitment to the city that I admired. And when Dayton's became Marshall Field's, I continued to go out of my way to shop there, just to honor their commitment to serving the downtown crowd. And several years ago, when Macy's took over Marshall Field's, I continued to patronize the place and accepted the Macy's credit card they sent me, simply to honor the effort they made to keep a store open in a downtown that is not particularly hospitable to business.

So over the years I bought clothes, a pretty expensive watch, some hard-to-find perfume and many other things at Macy's. And sometime last summer, I made another (to be my last) purchase there. I don't even remember what it was, but sometime in late August I got a statement saying that I owed $11.50, which leads me to believe it was a tie, or a golf shirt from the clearance rack, or some such thing. At some point in the first few days of September, I walked over to the store and dropped off a check for $11.50 at one of the registers.

Here's where things get a little fuzzy. Macy's didn't credit my account for the payment, and at some point in October I got a bill again for $11.50, plus a $35 late fee. (Let's set aside for a moment the morality of a $35 late fee for an $11.50 balance and just focus on the process.) I went into my checking account online and saw that the check had not cleared, which was strange because when I looked at the sequence of check numbers, the check I had written before the Macy's check had cleared on Sept. 8, and the check I wrote after the Macy's check had cleared on Sept. 14.

So I called the folks at Macy's (which included the "push 1 for English, push 2 for customer service, blah, blah, blah...) and when I eventually got through to a person, I explained that this $11.50 had been paid, and that they had the check somewhere. Sorry, the person said, "It says on my computer that this hasn't been paid."

I told her that I didn't much care what her computer said, I had paid the $11.50 and I wasn't going to pay a $35 late fee. She then suggested I stop payment on the check, and send out a new one for $46.50. I explained that it was pretty unlikely I would pay my bank's $30 stop-payment fee, plus send an additional $46.50 to Macy's, which would drive the price of this tie or shirt to around $76.50. She said she'd make a note in the computer.

I thought that would be the end of it, that eventually the check would show up in their records, they would see the error of their ways and this would all be over. Boy, was I wrong.

Later in October, they started calling me, and we went through the same routine three times. They would explain that they were calling from Macy's, and could I please send them their $46.50. I would explain that they already had all the money I owed them, and no more payments would be forthcoming. They said they'd make a note in the computer.

The December statement brought an epiphany of sorts. Turns out the folks at Macy's had FOUND my $11.50 check. And even though it was been given to them back in September, they hadn't credited it to my account until sometime in late November. So now my statement tells me that yes, you did pay the $11.50, but Macy's would now like another $77.50 in fees and interest.

So I put in another call to their "customer service" department, who told me that we could clear this all up if I could just produce a copy of the check. That means another fee to my bank, of course, but I was ready to bite the bullet just to prove my point.

But wait a minute. Turns out the folks at Macy's don't run checks through the system like most businesses do. They process them electronically in a way that doesn't leave a cancelled check. So my bank, which can provide me on-line copies of virtually every check I've written in the last five years, can't provide a copy of the Macy's check, because of the way they process their accounts.

One, final, communication with "customer service" was answered with an e-mail that essentially said, "Sorry, there's nothing we can do. Please send us $77.50"

At this point, it's more likely that Elvis will show up in the Macy's parade singing "Blue Suede Shoes" than it is they will ever get a $77.50 check from me. I cut up my card, sent them the pieces along with a little note, and made a vow to never, ever, ever set foot in a Macy's store again.

Perhaps they'll make a note in their computer.