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32.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Business as unusual Permalink to this item

Once you have the state's license to express your religiosity by refusing to serve x, y or z (and of course lgbt), there's still room to be creative. Study your holy books, and consider the many situations where Christian bakers should just say "No." Cake.

Make your presents known Permalink to this item

Cliven Bundy! The great Nevada land grab is ON, people, and he's bringing his Ammo(n) to Carson City.

These things actually happened Permalink to this item

You might just assume there'd be some good stuff about the Idaho legislature on this special day, but credit where due. The Senate—or rather more particularly, Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie—put the kibosh on the memorial calling on Congress to impeach all those federal judges allowing gay marriage.

And the last minute tax shuffle passed by a wide majority in the House? It's dead, Jim. By unanimous consent, no less. The session's already into overtime; hard to imagine they'd keep at it in April, but either way what's cooked up will be cooked up by the secret Republican caucus.

31.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Follow the money Permalink to this item

Even lower res snippet from Wikipedia-contributed scan of banknotes

One of the things about getting older (and I know at least one of my regular readers can relate to that opening today) is that you lose touch with what things cost. What seems ridiculously expensive might be reasonably priced for all I know. Tasty candy bars came in 5 cent (medium) and 10 cent (large) sizes back in the day, although I guess my own size at the time made "large" larger than it would seem now, too. I worked as a teenager for the minimum wage of $1.60/hour and I was glad to have and spend all that. BLS.gov tells us that seemingly paltry wage is worth $9.27 in today's dollars, which is to say the minimum wage has dropped by 22% from the early 70s to today. That CPI inflation multiplier is 5.8 by the way, sort of like we used dollars when I was a kid and we're using Chinese Renminbi now, but they're disguised as greenbacks.

Anyway, way back then, Uncle Sam skimmed out 12%-ish of my $1.60 per hour for Social Security and Medicare, which has since ratcheted up to more than 15%, counting both the part on the paystub and the employer's "contribution," cleverly hidden to ease the gnashing and wailing. During the summer I may have even made enough to have some income tax withholding too, but in any event, I learned the difference between "gross" (t times 1.6) and "net" (less than that) quickly enough.

A note to the finance group I moderate, talking about IRA distributions and tax strategies between tax-deferred and taxable accounts included a statement about the capital gains/qualified dividend tax rate that sounded impossible. It was part of a sensible and well-written message and earned the benefit of my doubt, but I still looked it up to find from a seeming reliable source that yes, the 0% preferential tax rate (a very preferential rate you would have to say, "no income tax on that") for capital gains and qualified dividends in 2015 for those Married Filing Jointly filers such as we goes up to $74,900 in taxable, not gross income.

Meanwhile, so-called "ordinary" which you might make from that 9 to 5 job and an hourly wage (or monthly salary) is taxed at 10% right out of the chute, 15% over $9,225 (single) or $18,450 (mfj) and so on. (Between gross and taxable there is the standard deduction, at least, of $6,300 per capita; marginal income tax rates aren't the same as what you'll pay, and have you heard the canard about half the people aren't paying taxes?) The "preference" for capital gains and qualified dividends is big and strong right up the income ladder, to a 20% difference at the top, where there's a 39.6% marginal rate on ordinary income tax rate and cg/qd is still only 20%.

It is good to be a capitalist, which is to say, it takes money to make money, which is to say, if you don't have money, and are hanging on to a low or minimum wage job, I don't have to tell you, life is harder than it is for the swells who have a little something socked away and get investment income, which is to say, them's that got shall have.

Photo of loan store

There's a popular political plan that if we only lower taxes on the wealthy even more why prosperity will rain (or at least trickle) down upon the masses, starting right... now. Oh, and by the way, "it's not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles" of economic stress and family breakdown, "it's norms," "the habits and virtues" and "basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically," "ideals and standards to guide the way." Thus spaketh David Brooks in this month's edition of scold.

Emmett Rensin has his own opinion about Brooks' opinions on the moral failings of the poor, incisive and brutally honest. With a little post-modern deconstruction:

"I am not surprised that David Brooks believes these things. I am not surprised that he argues for them with the kind of half-hearted bluster of a crank at last call, more tired than drunk on his own posturing. Reading between his lines these last few years, all I can see is “somebody please put me out of my misery” scrawled over and over on a prison wall. I imagine Brooks is as eager as anyone to discover how long this strange self-parody can last before an editor catches on. I comfort myself by believing that this is the secret curiosity guiding David Brooks these days."

But never mind Brooks' personal problems. While we're talking about "responsibility" and "fatherhood" there is the elephant of divorce in the room, the divorce of labor productivity from median income, charted to 2011 by Andrew McAfee (and linked by Rensin). Without that separation, "the difference would be $40,000 per year, per median family, an amount that would provide more moral fiber than a month of Brooks' Sunday columns.

In the good old days when a nickel candy bar might satisfy me, we also had laws against usury... didn't we? Wikipedia's short sketch on usury laws in the U.S. says we had state laws... until they were run over by a 1978 Supreme Court decision and a 1980 Act of Congress (with Deregulation in the title, naturally) that blew up Glass-Steagall (passed in 1933, after you know what) for good measure. "It allowed institutions to charge any loan interest rates they choose," which you could hardly have a better "free market" than that! We do have some "truth" in lending regulations still, which don't have a lot to do with the larger truth of where the money goes, and where the money went.

30.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Whoops, let us clarify Permalink to this item

GOP leaders of the Indiana General Assembly want you to know they didn't mean to do what people are saying they did, and they'll fix it right up if it turns out the law enables discrimination. They intended inclusion, don't you know. How could things have been so misconstrued? And oh by the way, we disavow the governor's stumbling doo-dah yesterday. Why is everybody picking on us Hoosiers?

My regular readers already know about the many other states that have so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts; are we picking on Indiana as the unfortunate newest member of this not-so exclusive club for exclusion? In The Atlantic, Garret Epps teases out what makes Indiana's law different.

"[T]he Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.

"The new Indiana statute also contains this odd language: “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” (My italics.) Neither the federal RFRA, nor 18 of the 19 state statutes cited by the Post, says anything like this; only the Texas RFRA, passed in 1999, contains similar language. ...

"The statute shows every sign of having been carefully designed to put new obstacles in the path of equality; and it has been publicly sold with deceptive claims that it is “nothing new.”"

Just to make sure, I looked it up myself, and yes, there on page 3, section 9, it says just what Epps said it says.

Fiorina: lacks a track record of accomplishment Permalink to this item

Just a little snippet I heard on the radio yesterday, and fortunately I wasn't drinking anything at the time, because I would have seriously spewed. Carly Fiorina, who is thinking about exploring a campaign for President of these United States is marking time by being the go-to gal for attacking Hillary Clinton. Fiorina said Clinton "lacks a track record of accomplishment," which OK, you could argue if you like if you're kind of a partisan hack, but on the other hand, Clinton was FLOTUS, U.S. Senator of the great state of New York, and Secretary of State, which last I checked is fourth in line to POTUS. (Did you know Orrin Hatch is ahead of Mitch McConnell, who actually isn't in the running? I did not know that. President pro tempore of the Senate, third in line, behind VPOTUS and Mr. Speaker.)

Also, Fiorina slaps Clinton for being "not candid" about coughing up enough emails to satisfy the right's prurience over emailghazigate, too, suggestions her "character is flawed." I would so love to see those two mano a mano in a debate, wouldn't you? There's a "competence" issue, omg. Fiorina worked her way up from secretary to CEO and picked up technical competence along the way? Fiorina should know All About Email because did we mention how she used to be CEO of a technology company? That was some accomplishment on her part, rising to the very top, and so oversold on her own qualifications that she imagined there wasn't even a glass ceiling.

And then after pretty much running the company into the ground with a divisive merger with Compaq computer, and after the glorious "co-presidency" she and Mike Capellas were going to share, they co-carpetbagged the hell out of there with suitcases full of money and a slide deck about her stellar record of accomplishment. Many tens of millions of dollars disbursed from that big technology company.

Her political act 2 has not quite taken the world by storm. Not prepared to work her way up from the mailroom a second time, she figured to start close to the top with a bid for Barbara Boxer's seat in the U.S. Senate. Even though she didn't used to vote much (executives are busy people, I suppose), suffice it to say she was "all in" for that race, and did not find traction, losing by 10 points in 2010, a year Republicans got a nice anti-Obama midterm bounce.

She's still looking for traction, it seems. I couldn't find anything about her recent press cons today, just some old "here she comes" stuff from the Murky News and WaPo (which I found reposted on teaparty.org).

Oh here we go, just search for "fiorina president" to see she's putting the odds higher than 90% she'll run, up from only 50% last month. Talk about your rising star! It seems she rose up to Fox News Sunday yesterday, adding 9 minutes 20 to her fame. Her business experience has given her "a deep understanding of how the economy really works," she says. And now that she's moved to the Beltway, she knows all about how Washington works, too. Quick study. But that name recognition for a political neophyte is a heck of a handicap out of the starting gate. She's running somewhere around 13th or 11th place by the latest polls.

I watched the latest show; she's nothing if not glib. She's also utterly inexperienced for a real executive job that matters, and requires more than mixing marketing talking points into creative new sentences.

"Pay for performance in our civil service" is one of her talking points. Oh, that is luscious. Chris Matthews gave her the inevitable Powerpoint slide of the record at HP that she's "going to get hammered with," exporting jobs, crashing the stock, and so on.

She's "very proud of our record." Our record? Is she slipping into the royal we so soon? And all the bad things that happened were because of the dot-com bubble busting. Please don't count a.n.y t.h.i.n.g I accomplished while you were there blowing up the company as part of "our" record, Carly.

She says "laying people off is the last resort" and "a terrible thing to do," but just like George Bush going to war, she pulled that last resort card out of the middle of the deck, starting the layoff bonanza in the year 2000, thankyouverymuch, and selling that Compaq merger on all the "synergies" that the merged companies would enjoy, where synergy is an exciting synonym for redundancy. And did we mention the worst technology recession in 25 years? And how she made the tough choices?

Point made Permalink to this item

While working through emails this morning, more sending than receiving, but keeping track of what was coming in, I saw the latest Alertbox from the Nielsen Norman Group and took a quick look to see if I should read or delete, and here I am diverted to blogging about something that wasn't on my to-do list, but is interesting. I gave it more credit than it might have deserved, signed as it was by one of the partners, and thus more seemingly worthy than if by someone named Kathryn Whitenton who I don't know.

But what was most interesting is that the subject I thought I saw was "Color Blindness: Why People Don't See What Designers" blah blah blah when in fact the subject was Change Blindness: Why People Don’t See What Designers Expect Them To See. Yup, that's happened to me.

Summary: People often overlook new visual details added to an existing image. This change blindness can affect critical information such as error messages and navigation menus, leading to user confusion and task failure. Luckily, with the right visual presentation you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of change blindness.

The good news is, now that I've blogged it, I don't need to save the email.

28.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unrestored religious freedom Permalink to this item

The Episcopal Bishop of Indianapolis, Catherine M. Waynick pretty much covers the #1 topic in and around Indiana at the moment, in her pastoral letter to her clergy and people. "The possibilities for mischief are tremendous!" in the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," she wrote.

"It is ... an affront to faithful people across the religious landscape. Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law.

"For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable. We are enjoined to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as Christ loves us. We promise, every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves." We promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

State RFRA map from the Washington Post

There is the not-small matter of the other 19 states that have "religious freedom" laws like Indiana’s; no one's been raising a fuss over those, and it might have come as quite a shock to the Indiana pols when their recent effort went viral, as it were. Sorry to say our state, Idaho, is on the map of shame.

Update: WaPo's map on the verge of needing to fill in the Arkansas hole: their Governor said he's prepared to sign their legislature's RFRA "once the House and Senate work out the technical details."

Land grabber Permalink to this item

Early this week, I used the Idaho Conservation League's handy form to blast a short email to "all" with my opinion about the latest instantiation of the Sagebrush Rebellion, H.B. 265, trying to get Idaho part of an "interstate compact" that works to take over federal lands within state borders. Three members have taken the trouble to respond so far, always with the thanks and how glad they are to hear from me. One representative said she would debate "against," and was "hoping that it will die an ugly death before the session ends," which made me chuckle. Another, D-19's Melissa Wintrow, wrote thoughtfully, and in legislator style, what I would have liked to have written if I'd taken more trouble than I did:

"The Interim Lands Committee recently issued a report indicating that Idaho does not have a constitutional or legal argument to advance a case in court to have the state take over federal lands. In addition to this, our Idaho citizens have voiced repeatedly, that they do not support any scenario where the state would take control of lands. Reports issued through the University of Idaho's Policy Analysis Group found the state could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in eight of nine different scenarios they investigated involving such a transfer.

"The citizens of Idaho value our public and federal lands. I do not believe that a state 'takeover' makes sense. I support protecting our federal and public lands for future generations to enjoy."

Of course Brent Crane, over in D-13 supports the bill; I hardly expected to hear from him. Perfunctory thanks for my "reaching out" to him, and the one bit of non-boilerplate content in his email said:

"I support the bill and I want to do all we can to get State control and management of our lands."

They are, of course, already "our lands," and my concern is that State control is a stepping stone to privatization. The vaunted "local control" is honored when it suits those claiming to be locals, and honored in the breach when that serves better.

(In other mass emailing news, a Representative from a district I couldn't point to on a map had a "Vote Not on HB 265" message go out apparently from his account, to "all" his colleagues and was indignantly brandishing and disclaiming the message on Thursday.)

Now that HB 265 has cruised through the house, ever so slightly amended, and carrying its disingenous (at least) "no anticipated cost" fiscal note ("Funding in future years would be subject to appropriation by the Legislature," so never you mind), that email blaster form needs to be updated with Senate addresses.

Handicapping the religious right Permalink to this item

Word is the nation's "Christian right," the political stepchild of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and some other questionable parentage, is casting about for who should be the Republican candidate for president next year, because God forbid we should have another establishment choice, or another Bush, which at the moment look like one in the same. It's "too early for a group of leaders to come out for a candidate" in Tony Perkins' estimation, but not too early to start a conversation. The basic problem is that Jeb Bush might be squishy on same-sex marriage, immigration and abortion. And the working theory is that the last couple of Republican candidates were "too moderate and failed to excite the party’s base," so whoops, pop goes the weasel.

Paragraph 2 mentions "secret straw polls and and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California," in which the "relative appeal and liabilities" of various contenders are sorted out. Let me help, with the four names mentioned, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Low hanging fruit first, Rick Perry. Seriously? The guy was not ready for prime time last go 'round, and his sell-by date has come and gone.

Bobby Jindal would have made a nice addition to the Romney-Ryan cabinet, I guess, and he had the capacity (and temerity) to point out that some of his fellow party members should follow that old adage about letting people just think you're stupid, rather than speaking up and removing all doubt. (But fish gotta swim, pols gotta speak.) Seems to have all the litmus political positions, including the notion that "intelligent design" might be a nice addition to public school instruction. He was for Common Core early on, but now that that subject has gone toxic both ways, he said that investments in techology will render Common Core obsolete, which is a clever escape. His no-go gaffe bombed in London, but that "Shari'ah enclave" scare tactic plays well in some colonies, as seen yesterday.

Mike Huckabee combines avuncular, Pillsbury Doughboy, southern folksy preacher goodness, executive experience, time on Fox News and the super-power (or was it a miracle?) ability to purify Ted Nugent, no mean feat. He could be The One.

Ted Cruz speaks extemporaneously, sort of, without a teleprompter, so there's that. Reportedly very bright, maybe even bright enough not to say anything face-palm stupid for 12 or 16 months, especially if he keeps saying the same stuff over and over, which mostly doesn't seem to bother his audiences. He could be The One too. He's The One Richard Viguerie was crowing about out of the starting gate and direct-mailman promises "we won’t go into this season divided six or eight different ways," in their determination to stop Bush.

Scott Walker tied Perry (seriously?) and Jindal for second in the "most viable" straw poll at the five-star resort gaggle put together by Perkins and his Family Research Center, and he's properly mum on the whole evolution business, but I wonder if he's good enough, smart enough, or if people like him. Every team needs a punter, but that's an asterisk position, not the M.V.P. unless a Hail Mary is involved, which might be what they (and he) are after. Let's let Trip Gabriel of the NYT (and Bobby Jindal) after the last word for today:

[A woman asked] if Mr. Jindal and other socially conservative contenders could decide among themselves who should be the one true standard-bearer.

Her tone was heartfelt, even desperate. “I would love to see you godly leaders pray and fast and see who God would be anointing to raise up,” she said. “We would rally behind him. We cannot be so divided. Our money, our time, our loyalty is so divided.”

To which Mr. Jindal offered a one-word response: “Amen.”

27.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mapping End Times in Idaho Permalink to this item

St. Mary's garden, 2013

Here we have Idaho, and a box lunch spectacle of our most conservative whackadoodles inviting former Muslim now Christian pastor from neighboring Washington to talk about "the true goal of Islam and threat of Shari'ah law in America," setting up "enclaves" in unlikely corners such as Kuna and St. Maries don't you know. What we might refer to as plain old refugees or more hopefully as new Americans, the good pastor euphemizes as the substance of "dumps." (Not to put too fine a point on insult, but wouldn't "invasion drop zones" serve his purpose a little better?)

We have more than ten thousand of them in Idaho by now, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Togo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Cameroon, Iraq and Iran, at least. It would be quite a thing to have them overcome the hurdles of language, culture, paying the rent, buying (and growing) enough food to feed their families, and so on to organize and become a political force for fundamentalism that could out-do the likes of Vito Barbieri and Pete Nielsen in migration, population and segregation, and change society.

There has been some change in our neighborhood, at least. Going to the grocery store is a lot more entertaining, and I get to check on the progress of the increasingly impressive community garden out behind St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Don't shoot the reporters Permalink to this item

After the weirdly secretprivate signing ceremony and an attempt to change the subject (to, ok, an important issue also worth attention), Indiana's Governor Mike Pence is blaming the press for controversy. (How do we know about the ceremony, to which none of the press were invited? The Governer bleeping tweeted an illustrated announcement with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and their friends.)
Edited from tweeted and unattributed original, linked

“I understand how some Hoosiers feel based on how the press has covered it.”

Pence spoke that sentence more than once.

Pence said the law is about government interests only and doesn’t apply to private individuals. He said the law is about government overreach and not about discrimination. However, when asked if there was any concern about businesses using the law to discriminate even though that isn’t the supposed intent, Pence replied, “That’s a question for the judiciary.”

It all started innocently enough back in the '90s, over sacred land, and the religious use of peyote, and it's been a long, slippery slope since, now at Indiana Senate Bill 101. (The "RFRA perils" site has a nicely formatted version, as well as Professor Marci A. Hamilton's history of RFRAs.) Saying that

"a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability"

sounds kind of OK to me, why should it be able to? As Prof. Hamilton puts it, "It’s couched in constitutional legalese and, let’s face it, the name makes you want to salute." This is about more than who gets to put what, when on the courthouse lawn.

"The groups responding to Smith were so full of themselves in their fulmination over the Supreme Court purportedly “abandoning” religious liberty that they asked Congress to “restore” a standard the Court had never used. First, they insisted on forcing the government to prove in every single case that a law serves a “compelling interest” before it could apply to a believer. That was out there enough.

"But then they came up with the bright idea that the government should also have to prove that the law is the “least restrictive means” for this one believer. For those in need of a legal dictionary, what that means is that every believer can demand that every law be shaped to the believer’s beliefs. In other words, believers obtained an entitlement to be laws unto themselves unknown in American history. That’s right. The “restoration” in the title is a lie."

Or, more succinctly, at the top of a part 2 I tracked down on Justia from last March, and before the infamous Hobby Lobby decision, "a RFRA is an extraordinary power grab by religious entities. It gives them the capacity to challenge neutral, generally applicable laws with standards never employed under the First Amendment. Again: the “restoration” in its title is rhetoric, not reality."

So Indiana has joined the fun, with what consequences beyond a bad day in the press room TBD. Perhaps Indiana will use their new RFRA to avoid enforcing fair housing law, to allow discrimination against unwed mothers, unmarried couples, same-sex couples from a "religious" landlord who has his objections, after all. The RFRA"gives the believer business owner a club to pound the public accommodations law into submission."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007