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21.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Soup to nuts Permalink to this item

Margot Sanger-Katz is getting the hang of dry understatement, give her that. After noting that the process of setting up "Romneycare" in Massachusetts took four years from agreement to "fully up and running," stuff like figuring out how money would be raised and spent, what benefits would be offered, whether and how markets should be used to distribute coverage, whether people who didn’t buy coverage should be penalized, building a computer system, recruiting insurers to participate, and so on, this:

"A new health care bill before the Senate would require every state in the country to make a similar soup-to-nuts evaluation of how they’d like their health care systems to work, to build such a system and be ready to open their doors in substantially less time — just over two years. That may not be realistic."

Ya think?

They could all choose from "a nearly unlimited range of policy options to use the money in the service of providing health care access," with "no templates or fallback options." Given how swimmingly the healthcare debate is going these days, imagine this:

"The bill would make health care an active, high-stakes political debate in all 50 states."

And not active, high-stakes political debate in the theater sense ("I voted to repeal Obamacare 60 times!") but in the sense of learning how to fly an airplane as it's running out of fuel and about to crash.

Not to pick on our member of the House, who is arguably the best member of Congress from the state of Idaho, but I'm reminded of Mike Simpson's wild swerve to the right in 2014 when repealing Obamacare had been all the rage for a while already, and he strove to prove how conservative he was:

Rep. Mike Simpson's 2014 campaign mailer

That's not Simpson, pictured. He's not that kind of doctor, in fact. He used to work as a dentist, arranging appointments around 14 years in the Idaho Legislature, and then gave it up when he was elected to the big House almost two decades ago. (Wikipedia notes that "Simpson does not insist that he be referred to as Dr. Simpson, preferring to simply go by Congressman or Mr. Simpson." Other than, uh, campaign season.)

The struggle to repeal-and-replace has produced a 7 year stream of pettifogging, fakery and sabotage with precisely zero actual healthcare legislation. If only we could let all fifty (or forty-nine—Massachusetts already did theirs) states have at it! Just imagine.

20.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Way out in Idaho Permalink to this item

Noticed on Betsy Russell's blog that Idaho is considering wildlife overpasses "near the Montana border," up into the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, and on the way to Yellowstone, on US 20.

Family photo, 2012

We got acquainted with wildlife overpasses on the Trans-Canada Highway up in Banff National Park, where they've been a famous ("unsmashing," you might say) success. Wildlife-vehicle collisions are estimated to be an $8 billion problem in this country. Well-designed crossings are a win-win.

Taking the jump from Eye on Boise to Bryan Clark's piece in the Idaho Falls Post-Register, it's all humming along until we get to the least intelligent critter in the menagerie, under the "Agenda 21" subhead.

"[T]here has also been a small campaign against the wildlife overpasses driven by individuals ideologically aligned with the further-right corners of the tea party and the John Birch Society. The campaign includes a six-part series in the Gem State Patriot News, a website aligned with the tea party. That series, which was circulated locally, claims to link proposed wildlife overpasses to a secret United Nations agenda to force people to leave the country and inhabit cities.

“The true agenda is pushing us off our land into cities, taking control of our resources, and dictating how, if at all, we can use what is rightfully ours,” the Gem State Patriot News wrote.

The "six-part series" should have been warning enough, but I couldn't resist taking a look. Landing in part 3 of Karen Schumacker's magnum opus, "Corridors and Connectivity" (tagged "Agenda 21, BLM, environmentalists, Federal Lands, UN"), I'm impressed with the length, and the wind-up (emphasis in the original):

"The only disconnection is the one that is fabricated by scientists, NGOs, and the government. It is their imaginary utopia being imposed on Island Park residents, and those poor Elk. The greater plan by scientists and NGOs is putting Island Park into full conservation status without your consent, creating artificial landscape designs and boundaries, convincing you that corridors aren’t connected because a road or your house is in the way, telling you connectivity is needed for integration into an ecosystem where it already exists, and destroying our God given right and legal authority as Fremont County residents to control how land is used."

It takes a little doing to track down all the pieces, and the conspiracy is of course more vast than wildlife overpasses. For the full flavor of remote(*) Rocky Mountain wingnuttery, there is a long winter's worth of reading and links to follow here. (* Island Park's population has boomed from 215 at the turn of the century to 286 in the 2010 census; Fremont County, the NE corner of lower Idaho, has a surprising 13,242 residents. Its largest city and county seat, St. Anthony has fewer than 3,500-some. Unincorporated areas include Big Springs, Lake, and Squirrel.)

  1. Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (CWCS) to SWAP
  2. Biodiversity and Ecosystems (is that Soylent Green in the banner image?!)
  3. Corridors and Connectivity
  4. The War on Private Property – Corridors to Connectivity
  5. The War on Private Property – The Connectivity Agenda
  6. The War on Private Property - Conclusion

Or, jump to the chase, next to the ad for "Healthy Conclusions" (!):

"As the guardians of Island Park, to those who are most bonded and connected to the land, stand up for her right to exist naturally, and your rights. Become involved and never allow anyone to change it into an artificially designed, faux zoo landscape. Appreciation for Island Park comes from how it has always existed."

And where we're free to run down wildlife on the highway.

Rumpcare Permalink to this item

A friend's recommendation prompted me to watch the whole of John McCain's "return to the Senate" speech from back in July. It would be fully inspirational if the ensuing two months had held something other than making things worse. The Republicans have until the end of this month to get through something that smells like their gloriously touted dream of "Obamacare Repeal" without any support across the aisle. There's pretty much nothing to recommend the latest attempt at legislation; just the Pyrrhic "victory" of sort-of fulfilling their idiotic, mean-spirited promise.

"Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, and television, and the internet," McCain said. "To hell with them! They don't want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood."

They didn't seem to get any part of that message. The view of this latest attempt, from Planned Parenthood:

"The Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal is the worst Trumpcare bill yet. Folks in this country have repeatedly rejected every other version of Trumpcare - and this bill goes even further to cut millions off from insurance and access to basic care, including birth control, cancer screenings, and maternity care. This latest version of Trumpcare is a terrible bill for women, especially low-income women and women of color. It blocks women from getting preventive care at Planned Parenthood, it slashes Medicaid (which 1 in 5 women of reproductive age rely on for care), and it guts maternity coverage."

For what small good it will do, I called my two Senators and left my opinion with perfunctory staff members yesterday. That'll be "passed on" in both senses of that phrase.

Forget about heeding the bipartisan opposition to this worst-yet version of repeal (let alone McCain's pipe-dream of returning to "regular order"). The AMA, the American Hospital Association, and the AARP are all opposed. The Republican leadership in Congress is desperate for something they can call "victory," no matter how many lives it may shatter. (People with shattered lives aren't that likely to vote, anyway.) Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz for the New York Times:

"The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

"The legislation, proposed by two Senate Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would not only reduce the amount of federal funding for coverage over the next decade, but would also give states wide leeway to determine whom to cover and how. The result is a law that would be as disruptive as many of the Republicans’ previous proposals, but whose precise impact is the hardest to predict."

And from the "Politics" coverage:

"The Graham-Cassidy bill would blow up the architecture of the Affordable Care Act, a striking departure from the Alexander-Murray effort to draft a modest bipartisan bill to provide federal funds to insurance companies to reimburse them for reducing out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers."

Straight up sabotage now. What have we got (left) to lose?

19.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your scores may have changed Permalink to this item

There is a very, very popular spam subject line at the moment, variations on "Equifax Breach." Your scores may have changed. No kidding. If your life has become too humdrum, try clicking through to one of those links on importantdolphinwhere.top, housexwhale.top, helpdump.men, governmentwhere.review, franku.men, formthink.men, flionwhen.bid, drableadf.cricket, jplainworm.stream, noisyneedw.accountant, unsightlyforceg.accountant, helpfulsmileh.cricket and maybe 40 more I didn't wade through. It's bound to liven things up.

The good news is, somebody's making money on domain name sales?

Organized crime Permalink to this item

In the latest report of the Special Counsel's robust investigation of the network of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, a former federal prosecutor and now Notre Dame law professor gets the quote of the day:

“This is more consistent with how you’d go after an organized crime syndicate.”

More aggressive than your "typical white-collar case," which I don't remember anyone accusing this lot of being. The team of "seasoned prosecutors with experience investigating financial fraud, money laundering and organized crime" has the highlight (so far!) of the search warrant for Paul Manafort's apartment, executed in the wee hours of late July and handily short-circuiting his scheduled talk with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mitt Romney had his binders full of women; this summer's search warrant anticipated Manafort's binders full of evidence about secret offshore bank accounts.

Politico cross-sectioned the crime scene way back in March, reducing the 3-D chessboard to seven flat maps connecting the dots. Oligarchs, socialites, in-laws, out-laws, the ambassador, banks, hedge funds, oil companies, the Russian propaganda network and its military agency GRU, and my favorite category, "operatives." (Hello Roger Stone, and Mystery Person!)

Max de Haldevang and Heather Timmons put up their presumptuously titled "ultimate guide" in March, and Time magazine rolled out their piece on Donald Trump's Many, Many, Many, Many Ties to Russia in August, but sadly, no diagrams.

As Sergey Lavrov might say, You are kidding! You are kidding! One way or another, Robert Mueller is going to produce the final reckoning.

NYT credited to 'Russian Foreign Ministry'

17.Sept.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Distinguished executives Permalink to this item

If you're lucky enough to be in a realm where you receive performance appraisals, you might like to know how the crème de la crème were assessed last year. It's been a while for me, and I don't remember the categories, but I'm quite sure "distinguished" was not among them.

In Gretchenson Morgenson's "Fair Game" column describing the unfortunately not-shocking forecast that Consumers, but Not Executives, May Pay for Equifax Failings, she notes that the CEO and chairman of the board, the CFO, and the chief legal officer were each deemed "distinguished" in their performance last year.

The proxy statement serenaded investors with tales of the head men advancing global enterprise risk management and data security, and refining the company's global security organization. (If only.) This while the cost of legal settlements were carefully excluded from the calculation of how many millions of dollars in performance pay they should be awarded. (Their compensation last year totaled $15 million, $3.1 million and $2.8 million, respectively.)

Equifax has truly distinguished itself in the world of consumer credit with the enormity of its malfeasance leading to an epic security breach of consumer data. Shouldn't it be payback time for the men at the top?

15.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cassini's final dive Permalink to this item

Here we were, looking at Cassini, looking through Cassini looking at Saturn looking at us (smiling). A 13-(earth-)year roller coaster ride of amazement, ending today, as our school bus-sized interplanetary probe became one with the most beautiful gas giant in our solar system.

Bravi to Nadia Drake and Brian T. Jacobs, Jason Treat, Matthew W. Chwastyk, and the National Geographic staff for a stunning web presentation on Cassini's last day, and to NASA/JPL-CalTech and the NASA Goddard Flight Center for all that "data."

NASA graphic

Must-see web TV brings it to life after death. Find yourself a big screen to watch it on.

More: Carolyn Porco's last Captain's Log for CICLOPS; JPL's send-off for the Cassini mission, featuring the final images, with Enceladus setting, a last look at Titan; NASA's Tumbler of Cassini's top discoveries. Propellers. Spokes. More rings! The Hexagon. Giant lightning. Cassini "discovered that the moon Enceladus is the source for Saturn’s E ring, and viewed the rings at equinox when sunlight strikes the rings edge-on, revealing never-before-seen ring features and details." The less than half Saturnian year visit included one equinox, eight (earth) years ago last month.

Bicycle Derangement Syndrome Permalink to this item

Confused drivers get very angry. BDS is a thing. (I've seen it.) A continuing series.

Michael Deeds tried the SHUT UP EVERYBODY approach for the Idaho Statesman. No pun intended. That ought to work well. (But, there's a video.)

In its infinite wisdom, the City of Boise's 13-title Code has a 7 page chapter just for bicycles. Thus spaketh:

"Every person, regardless of age, who operates a bicycle upon a roadway, public parking lot, sidewalk, bike path, bike lane or other public vehicular right-of-way in the City of Boise shall be granted the same rights and shall be subject to the same responsibilities applicable to a motor vehicle operator by the laws of the State of Idaho, and the provisions of Title 10 of the Boise City Code not in conflict with and as authorized under Title 49, Idaho Code; except where provisions of those laws and ordinances by their very nature can have no application to bicycles, or where portions of this Ordinance direct otherwise."

Aug. 2017 photo

The same rights and the same responsibilities, except no crimes against nature. (Or as otherwise directed.) Simple.

Idaho Code has 22 sections in its chapter specific to Pedestrians and Bicycles, including the vaunted (and oft-misunderstood) 49-720 "Idaho Stop" (and stop and turn signals). Fun fact: that section calls for a turn signal to be given "not less than the last one hundred (100) feet" unless of course you need your hand to control the operation of your cycle. At a moderate 10 mph pace, that would mean 6.8 seconds of signal. Double that for 5 mph. At cruising speed of 15 mph, 4½ seconds of signal.

ICYMI, for motor vehicles, the turn signal requirement is a flat five seconds when "on controlled-access highways and before turning from a parked position" and in all other instances, not less than the last one hundred (100) feet. Count with me. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, one thousand four, one thousand five.

The alt-specification (100 ft.) means that at 35 mph, you're required to give not quite 2 seconds of signal, and on a highway with a 55 mph speed limit but not controlled-access, 1.24 seconds is legal. (Assuming you're not speeding.) Five seconds from your parking spot, and 1.24 seconds at highway speed. Got it.

There are 30-some chapters for Motor Vehicles, lots to understand. Put that mobile phone down and keep your eyes on the road.

KTVB picks up the thread, with the vague innuendo that "some of" the thousand bike crashes in 5 years "could be because of confusion over rules for bike riders that are different than drivers."

Some of the things I've noticed confuse drivers: STOP signs. YIELD signs. Red lights. NO RIGHT TURN ON RED is a deeply confusing command. Don't tread on me.

There's a probability that... something.

"Very frequently when Boise Police respond to a crash, sometimes the Idaho stop law is not understood by both the cyclist or the driver," adds Officer Blake Slater, Boise Police Department.

Maybe if we applied the marine "rules of the road"? The way I learned it, rule #1 was AVOID COLLISION. (The Coast Guard does get bogged down in chapter and verse, too.)

The inevitable comment:

"Bicyclists want to use the road? Fine. Use the same laws as vehicles and motorcycles. Until then..."

Justin Throngard did not finish his thought, but anyone who has bicycled on a road knows how it ends. GET OFF THE ROAD!

And whoosh, they're always gone before we can continue the thoughtful discussion.

14.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No promise is credible Permalink to this item

After dinner, Pelosi and Schumer said they have deal with Trump to replace DACA, without the stoopid wall. (But still, a "massive" increase in border security. See here:

No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

The WALL, which is already under construction in the form of new renovation of old and existing fences and walls, will continue to be built.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military? Really!.....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

...They have been in our country for many years through no fault of their own - brought in by parents at young age. Plus BIG border security

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 14, 2017

Sarah Huckabee "you can't really rely on anything she says either" Sanders added to the tweet swirl:

While DACA and border security were both discussed, excluding the wall was certainly not agreed to.

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) September 14, 2017

Chuck Shumer's flack helpfully clarified:

The President made clear he would continue pushing the wall, just not as part of this agreement. https://t.co/KD1SdLAnIF

— Matt House (@mattwhouse) September 14, 2017

And Iowa's RWNJB Steve King lost his nut:

@RealDonaldTrump If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible. https://t.co/uJjxk6uX5g

— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) September 14, 2017

Also, "Amnesty is Republican suicide."

The un-secret Permalink to this item

The "potential" disclosure of 143 million Social Security numbers by Equifax makes this painfully obvious: Your Social Security Number Isn't a Secret. Story says that's "roughly three-quarters of Americans with a credit report." (How come it's only three-quarters, we wonder?)

Apparently a database portal with username "admin" and password "admin" down in Argentina was just the ticket. Whoopsadaisy. And it's all about something I've never asked for. Maybe you haven't, either:

"Identity theft is an unfair shifting of costs. It has always been cheaper to avoid investment in security upgrades and instead push the real costs of this system onto victims, who spend hours cleaning up the messes left behind. They sometimes even pay a monthly fee for protection from a system they never asked to be a part of in the first place.

"This fragile authentication arrangement based on Social Security numbers persists so that retailers and banks can offer easy credit...."

Former Washington Post reporter turned computer security guy Brian Krebs has the best-available detailed explainer for what you need to know about the Equifax breach. Read it. Do the stuff. For everyone in your household with a Social Security number. Seriously.

13.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your move, big guy Permalink to this item

This just in:

"The House and Senate have unanimously passed a joint resolution urging President Trump to denounce racist and anti-Semitic hate groups, sending a blunt message of dissatisfaction with the president’s initial, equivocal response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., last month.

"The resolution passed the Senate without dissent on Monday and was approved without objection by the entire House on Tuesday night. It could be sent to the White House for Mr. Trump’s signature as early as Wednesday."

Unanimously! H.Con.Res.78 declares that the Congress

"strongly denounces and opposes the violence, xenophobia, and bigotry that are promoted by White nationalists and neo-Nazis;" and

"urges our Nation’s Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to recognize White nationalist and neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organizations and to pursue the criminal elements of these domestic terrorist organizations in the same manner and with the same fervor used to protect the United States from other manifestations of terrorism."

Unlike the NYT story, the actual resolution does not say anything specifically about "anti-Semitic" hate groups, FWTW.

The unanimous acclamation is interesting; on the one hand, the statement of denunciation is a fairly easy lift, but on the other, Congress usually finds a way to argue over most anything. It seems the president has managed to piss off enough people on both sides of the aisle for them to agree to hold him to a minimum standard. He doesn't have to sign it; they can't make him.

Let's see just how abnormal he is. As abnormal as... Steve Bannon, say?

Beyond symbolic posturing Permalink to this item

43rd State Blues

Hadn't yet contacted our junior Senator about DACA, but I see that others who have were treated to a response leading with how much he appreciates hearing from us. With the advantage of his boilerplate in hand, I wrote the follow-up, to see if his office bothers with multilevel marketing. My first shot was 1,854 characters, which I had to trim to 1,500 to fit through his email wicket.

Dear Senator:

I'm writing about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). I've seen the standard response your office is sending to others, so I'll stipulating that you did not support President Obama. The letter speaks of a "three-pronged approach" and describes two things.

"First and foremost, we need to secure our borders" is convenient political shorthand, but security is not black and white, and we have quite a bit of border security in place. It's not perfect, nor will it ever be.

You said you voted for an amendment to the DHS FY2010 appropriations bill, to require completing at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing along the SW border. This is not all that border security amounts to, and I'm not sure what to make of a 7-year-old vote. Did the bill pass? Has work started? What more have you done?

For the 2d of the 3 prongs, you wrote "after the border is secure, we need to reform-not overhaul-our current immigration laws."

Surely you and the rest of the federal government can do two things at once, can't you? We can't wait for perfectly secure borders to make decisions or take other actions. What exactly does "reform--not overhaul" mean?

What is the third prong?

Finally, for the significant humanitarian issue presented by the president's unilateral decision to end DACA in 6 months, AND HIS CALL ON CONGRESS TO ACT, WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO?

Update: No multilevel marketing for Jim "Two prong" Risch: I got the exact same boilerplate response as everyone else. So, ah, at least he's consistent.

Thank the Deep State Permalink to this item

Amid Chaos of Storms, U.S. Shows It Has Improved Its Response, which is good because, our warming oceans are going to produce more catastropic events, sure as shootin'.

“There’s no doubt that we’re doing better,” said Brian Wolshon, a civil engineer professor and evacuation expert at Louisiana State University. “The stuff we’re doing is not rocket science, but it’s having the political will, and the need, to do it.”

It won't be long (it may have already happened) before the current administration takes credit, which I guess is OK. Give them credit for not screwing up the systems already in place, yet. There was enough momentum in our deep state to keep the lights on at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its National Weather Service to keep most of us well-informed and safe, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to help those affected by Irma, Harvey, and yes, even the fires in Montana, California, Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. (None listed in Idaho; we had more smoke than fire for a change.)

Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed a comprehensive weather forecast improvement bill into law. You wouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to know that your prized asset on a barrier island off the soggy Florida mainland (a.k.a. "Palm Beach") could benefit from NOAA's work.

The National Flood Insurance Program, a part of FEMA, has nearly half of its 5 million policies for property in Texas and Florida. Says here it is going to need some attention: after Katrina and Rita in 2005 and Sandy in 2012, "the program is roughly $25 billion in debt. It has less than $2 billion cash on hand, with the authority to borrow only $6 billion more."

"Experts say the claims from Harvey and Irma will run into the tens of billions. Reinsurance policies purchased by FEMA could cover about $1 billion, a small fraction of what the program will need."

That'll leave it about... tens of $billions short. Congress did just get a slap-dash temporary reauthorization done, good until December 8, with nothing to actually provide money or borrowing power.

NOAA satellite image

The image above is of Irma's overland remnant, yesterday. For a major dose of satellite eye candy, check out this Visible and Infrared Imagery page and its 3-day scroll-wheel driven animation of half-hourly GOES IR and visible imagery. At the moment, it starts about the time Irma crossed the Florida Keys.

12.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

They're not the only ones Permalink to this item

Politico leads with GOP lawmakers jittery over lack of tax reform details, and my first thought was "how would I go about writing tax reform legislation?" and imagined diving into lots and lots of details, and, simplifying, snicker snack. How complicated could it be?

Starting from where we are, it is inevitably hugely complicated.

One reason "lawmakers" might be jittery is that none of them write legislation these days. All the good stuff is done on K-street and delivered pre-cooked for the guys and gals with the lapel pins. Special interests don't write general legislation, they write special interest legislation, duh. And thus, the sorry state of our tax code, replete with disproprtionate tax benefits to a select few, starting with the capital gains tax rate, home mortgage interest deduction, the second home mortgage interest deduction, carried interest, the break for offshoring jobs, the blasted ethanol polluting our gasoline, the NFL, NBA, MLB, NASCAR venues and on and on.

Scraped from campaign CNN coverage

Speaking of rifle-shot exemptions, whatever happened to Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, bravely taking instruction and destroying paper targets with a long gun in a pre-debate photo shoot (after he'd gone after the Code with fire, a wood-chipper and a chainsaw)? Those were the days!

"...to compete for the presidency means you have to be discuss ideas, and I think it won't be enough to say people 'are stupid,' or 'look at that face,' that kind of stuff. I think that's sophomoric, and I think ultimately the American people, they will want to hear about issues, and they'll want to know 'is Donald Trump a conservative?' and on a host of issues, he's never been a conservative."

Well, whatever. We have Rep. Dave Brat declaring "no room for error" this time around. "This has got to be a home run." And "a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely said, “It is frustrating and concerning that we don’t have the details and yet we’re going to be asked in 60 days to vote on something.”

A member of the tax-writing committee. Anonymously speaking freely. Doesn't have the details. Granted, 60 days is nigh on forever, but what the hell?

"The member suggested that congressional and administration leaders negotiating a plan are holding back information either to avoid leaks or because they haven’t found enough common ground yet to share anything."

There's a meeting planned to "strategize." Never mind any specific proposal or number from the president, or the "very detailed plan" he said they and were sharing with members of Congress. He can't remember that kind of stuff from one hour to the next, let alone days, weeks, or two months. All he wants is something he can call a "home run." It could be a swinging bunt at this point. Everybody's tired of celebrating the endless foul balls out of D.C.

The third-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune of South Dakota sounds like a little-leaguer afraid to get in the batter's box after too many major league brushbacks.

Thune said basic questions have to be answered about how to measure the costs and benefits of tax cuts, as well as to what extent they are paid for by ending existing tax breaks.

“And that, obviously, is where you start getting into the controversy," Thune said. "Because every time you kill a deduction or preference or some exemption in the code there’s some constituency for that.”

Basic questions. No kidding.

11.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fire for effect Permalink to this item

The Pasco County Sheriff in west central Florida tweeted two days ago to warn people NOT to shoot at the hurricane. Seriously?

To clarify, DO NOT shoot weapons @ #Irma. You won't make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effectshttps://t.co/CV4Y9OJknv

— Pasco Sheriff (@PascoSheriff) September 10, 2017

How drolly perfect that the story about gun owners encouraged to "shoot the storm" was on yahoo.com, I guess. "Bullets come back," noted the Sheriff's helpful schematic diagram. "They're just shootin' the breeze" one wag chirped on Twitter. Nobody really thought they could drive a hurricane away with hot lead, right? And a genunine gun nut would want to keep his or her powder dry for the possible aftermath, when law and order disintegrate along with supplies of food and water (and unguarded appliances). For example:

"Residents reported that armed men had entered the Hotel Flamboyant in Marigot, the capital of the French side [of the island of St. Martin], and robbed tourists by knocking on the doors to their rooms, flashing guns and demanding valuables."

People in desperate circumstances can do desperate things. On the plus side, this story of Puerto Ricans sailing to help Virgin Islanders, a "largely spontaneous, volunteer affair" with "dozens" of recreational boaters and "hundreds of volunteers have helped to pack four shipping containers full of supplies that will be delvered to the islands this week."

People in fortunate circumstances can do generous things.

But that's a possibility, not necessarily the rule. Consider the fatuous Rush Limbaugh shooting off his mouth before the storm:

"There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it. You can accomplish a lot just by creating fear and panic. You don't need a hurricane to hit anywhere. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and dangerous."

His audience in St. Martin couldn't have been very numerous, but they might have something to say about his pronouncement that "These storms, once they actually hit, are never as strong as they're reported." NYT columnist Paul Krugman responded on the topic of Conspiracies, Corruption and Climate, well after Limbaugh evacuated his Palm Beach mansion. (Maybe Limbaugh is back home, after the storm's impact on Florida's east coast was not as big as it might have been.)

"So what should we learn from Limbaugh’s outburst? Well, he’s a terrible person — but we knew that already. The important point is that he’s not an outlier. True, there weren’t many other influential people specifically rejecting warnings about Irma, but denying science while attacking scientists as politically motivated and venal is standard operating procedure on the American right. When Donald Trump declared climate change a “hoax,” he was just being an ordinary Republican.

"And thanks to Trump’s electoral victory, know-nothing, anti-science conservatives are now running the U.S. government. When you read news analyses claiming that Trump’s deal with Democrats to keep the government running for a few months has somehow made him a moderate independent, remember that it’s not just Pruitt: Almost every senior figure in the Trump administration dealing with the environment or energy is both an establishment Republican and a denier of climate change and of scientific evidence in general.

One of the more rational voices from the center-right, former N.J. Governor and EPA administrator from 2001 to 2003, Christine Todd Whitman weighed in last week also, on how not to run the EPA.

"[T]he evidence is abundant of the dangerous political turn of an agency that is supposed to be guided by science.

"The E.P.A.’s recent attack on a reporter for The Associated Press and the installation of a political appointee to ferret out grants containing “the double C-word” are only the latest manifestations of my fears, which mounted with Mr. Pruitt’s swift and legally questionable repeals of E.P.A. regulations — actions that pose real and lasting threats to the nation’s land, air, water and public health."

"All of that is bad enough. But Mr. Pruitt recently unveiled a plan that amounts to a slow-rolling catastrophe in the making: the creation of an antagonistic “red team” of dissenting scientists to challenge the conclusions reached by thousands of scientists over decades of research on climate change. It will serve only to confuse the public and sets a deeply troubling precedent for policy-making at the E.P.A. ...

"Policy should always be rooted in unbiased science. The E.P.A. is too important to treat like a reality TV show. People’s lives and our country’s resources are at stake. Mr. Pruitt should respect his duty to the agency’s mission, end the red team and call on his agency’s scientists to educate him. No doubt they’re willing and eager to impart the knowledge they’ve dedicated their lives to understanding."

10.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wave that flag, high and dry Permalink to this item

Sonia Rao's piece for the Washington Post was filed under "KidsPost" on September 1: The short pledge we recite has a long story. Including... Nancy Haught's 12-years-ago adult item, The Long History, and Surprising Mystery, of the Pledge.

I saw the Idaho Statesman's reprint of the more recent one, which included this remarkable snippet (with my emphasis), not in WaPo's version at the moment:

The words “my flag” initially appeared instead of “flag of the United States,” ["pledge expert" Shelley] Lapkoff said. As a socialist, someone who supports the government controlling most aspects of life, [Christian Minister Francis] Bellamy wanted any country to be able to say the same pledge.

In the version on WaPo, there is no "socialist" mention. There's this, instead:

"But several political organizations at the 1923 National Flag Conference agreed to change the wording in an effort to boost American patriotism, Lapkoff said, and it has been that way since."

At least until "under God" was added 31 years later, to stop godless communists in their tracks. Never mind the commercial pandering, God and demon socialism, it says there that the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' invasion was the inspiration.

It's enough to make you question mindless rituals of patriotism.

Waiting for the future Permalink to this item

Photo from today in church

Totally biffed the headline which should have (obviously) been These are not the Droids we're looking for. Story is that "smart speakers" are the new, new thing in home robotics, and I'm like whaaa?

"It’s not hard to understand the attraction. Smart speakers are oracles of the countertop. They may not be able to speak for the gods, but they can deliver reports on news, traffic and weather. And they have other talents that their Delphic ancestor couldn’t even dream of: They can serve as D.J. They can diagnose ailments and soothe anxieties. They can read bedtime stories.They can even bark like a watchdog to scare off burglars. And they promise to be the major-domos of home automation, adjusting lights, controlling appliances and issuing orders to specialized robots like the Roomba vacuum cleaner."

No, it is hard to understand the attraction. I do not need verbal news, traffic, weather reports, a D.J., a faux doctor or soothe sayer. There are enough barky dogs in the neighborhood just now, and we're ok in control of our own appliances, thanks for asking.

9.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In black and white Permalink to this item

A friend noted that Ta-Nehisi Coates had "seemed awfully quiet about DT these last few months," but we find out there's "a body slam new essay" and a book in the works. In the October issue of The Atlantic, The First White President. "The foundation of Donald Trump's presidency is the negation of Barack Obama's legacy," the subhead summarizes.

It was concidentally just below a different friend's link to a USA Today piece (that I can't read; their site sees my javascript protection as an ad blocker, "interfering" with their operation), built on the Public Religion Research Institute's study on America’s Changing Religious Identity. The teaser to the opinion piece mentioned a high school classmate with "I [heart] Trump" on her Facebook feed. "For her, Trump isn't an unpleasant bargain forced upon her, but a joy finally realized, the type of leader they've always wanted. During the campaign, I took great interest in watching Seventh Day Adventists defend Trump on Facebook."

On to Coates' meaty first paragraph, and a bit more:

"IT IS INSUFFICIENT TO STATE the obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.

"...It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists,” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint."

I see down the way that Charles Murray makes an appearance, the scientific white supremacist who recently made an appearance in our neighborhood, on behalf of the Idaho Freedom Foundation's fundraising, and of course their "freedom." (Its head man squealed like a stuck pig when one venue uninivited their soirée, even though it cost them $10,000 to get out of the contract.) Just in case you had a notion we all were post-racial now that we had a black president for a while.

Coates' piece is powerful, essential reading. I expect the book (out next month) will be as well: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy.

8.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog Permalink to this item

Reading through the NYT piece about The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election, this juicy little fact: Facebook says it takes down a million accounts a day.

With two billion users, (some of whom are human), that amounts to half a drop in the bucket, 0.05%, but per day. They flush out 365 million accounts a year? Ok, and how many new accounts get set up each day, or year? Maybe they're just keeping up with the bot-generators, or maybe they're getting ahead, or maybe (probably) they're slipping behind. Story says it "struggles to keep up with the illicit activity."

"Still, the company says the abuse affects only a small fraction of the social network." Maybe "less than one-tenth of one percent" of what they figure is “civic content” related to our elections resulted from “information operations” like the Russian campaign.

99.9% wholesome. Or, 1,000 parts per million, if your glass is fractionally full of toxic waste, rather than mostly empty.

That would be the "bot cancer eroding trust" point of view, such as quoted by a former FBI agent who tracks this sort of thing. It's not easy sifting the wheat from the chaff, or tracking down who's behind suspicious accounts. Who knows?

“Yes, the Russians were involved. Yes, there’s a lot of organic support for Trump,” said Andrew Weisburd, an Illinois online researcher who has written frequently about Russian influence on social media. “Trying to disaggregate the two was difficult, to put it mildly.”

"Organic." Can also be hard to differentiate from what the dog do.

6.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Irma coming Permalink to this item

NOAA/NWS forecast

4.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Chills Permalink to this item

News from the CICLOPS Director, Carolyn Porco that Cassini's penultimate dive is over:

"We just got word today. Cassini's 21st dive between the inner edge of the ring system and the planet went as expected. The thrusters kept her oriented properly despite the torque from the atmosphere. Such an able ship!

"Meanwhile, this week's Cassini image is one of our last best looks at Enceladus ... that small moon at Saturn with the big possibilities."

"It's now just 1 more dive and 11 days to go before the final plunge. Brace yourselves. The end is near..."

The CICLOPS site has a great collection of art inspired by this moon.

CICLOPS image

In alt-America, protection agency attacks you Permalink to this item

EPA setting a new standard of sorts for the current administration by a scathing personal attack on a reporter that reads like it was ghost-written by Breitbart. (There's a link to a Breitbart piece in it.) That was reason enough to look up yesterday's story from Michael Biesecker and Jason Dearen. And this tweet from the their target:

Statement from @AP executive editor Sally Buzbee about @JHDearen and my report on flooded #Superfund sites in #Houston. @EPA #Harvey pic.twitter.com/qeegU1q3eT

— Michael Biesecker (@mbieseck) September 3, 2017

The EPA quotes its own Associate Administrator, Liz Bowman, in accusing the Associated Press of "yellow journalism," no less, even as the agency is now engaged in that tactic themselves:

“Once again, in an attempt to mislead Americans, the Associated Press is cherry-picking facts, as EPA is monitoring Superfund sites around Houston and we have a team of experts on the ground working with our state and local counterparts responding to Hurricane Harvey. Anything to the contrary is yellow journalism.”

They didn't really get around to refuting anything substantial in the AP story; just the implication (they inferred) "that agencies aren’t being responsive" to the catastrophe. The AP's response deals with the direct accusation that their reporting was merely "from the comfort of Washington":

"On Saturday, hours after the AP published its first report, the EPA said it had reviewed aerial imagery confirming that 13 of the 41 Superfund sites in Texas were flooded by Harvey and were “experiencing possible damage” due to the storm.

"The statement confirmed the AP’s reporting that the EPA had not yet been able to physically visit the Houston-area sites, saying the sites had “not been accessible by response personnel.” EPA staff had checked on two Superfund sites in Corpus Christi on Thursday and found no significant damage."

And the AP reporters provided this truth that the EPA now finds inconvenient:

"EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has called cleaning up Superfund sites a top priority, even as he has taken steps to roll back or delay rules aimed at preventing air and water pollution. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget seeks to cut money for the Superfund program by 30 percent, though congressional Republicans are likely to approve a less severe reduction.

"Like Trump, Pruitt has expressed skepticism about the predictions of climate scientists that warmer air and seas will produce stronger, more drenching storms."

Time travel Permalink to this item

Did not know what Steely Dan was named after, but I'm sure that would have delighted my teenaged self when Can't Buy a Thrill dropped into my early 70s Zeitgeist, spinning its way to fame and fortune. The music was like that foreign car that drove through the middle of Prairie Home Companion. It wasn't a Ford, it wasn't a Chevy, what was that? Magical, catchy, contagiously cool. My musical vocabulary was not grown-up enough to describe it.

On the passing of one-half of the genius, Walter Becker's NYT obit lends a hand. "Suavely subversive pop hits out of slippery jazz harmonies and verbal enigmas," exactly. They were "sleek and understated, smooth enough to almost be mistaken for easy-listening pop, and polished through countless takes."

That was the way I heard it. Not sure what in the world I would have made of Dick Clark's "early days of popular music / thinking person's music" intro and their ironically pink-synch appearance on American Bandstand, had I seen it. The music was there (fully polished right out of the studio), even if they didn't have room to put the horn section on stage. The ironic go-go girls (and guy) made better TV and "no mistakes," I suppose. The magic of the words and music woven together would have been only slightly more magical seen coming from Donald Fagen's fascinating face. (Becker looked a little disinterested, pretending to play bass.) I remember grabbing Countdown to Ecstasy almost the moment it was out, never saw a lick of them "live" or any other way other than the album art. (There are lot of funny comments under the YouTube classic, btw. "Becker/Fagen and Dick Clark in the same room? Now I can die happy.")

From high school in the middle of the country, I couldn't imagine the experiences they were singing about any more than I could parse the lyrics. The ideas took vague shape in Mondegreens, and it didn't matter how many allusions whizzed over my head. Amanda Petrusich's New Yorker's Postscript fills in a couple pieces: Becker and Fagen met at Bard, a liberal-arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson. Pile on the glowing adulation:

"Their songs are terrifically complex, structurally—mapping one harmonically could take days. The transitions between phases are so expert as to feel invisible, yet the cumulative effect is nonetheless transporting: when a person reappears on the other side of a Steely Dan song, she feels as if she’s been floated somewhere different. It’s disorienting in the way that waking up to a new season is disorienting. It’s not uncommon to look back and think, Wait, what day is it?"

And their idea was, among other things, to be "less skronking and absurdist than Frank Zappa but just as ambitious." Yeah.

Oleander / growin outside her door
Soon they're gonna be in bloom up in Annandale
I can't stand her / doin what she did before
Livin like a gypsy queen in a fairy tale
Well I / hear the whistle but I can't go
I'm gonna / take her down to Mexico, she said
Whoa no, Guadalajara won't do now
Well I did not think the girl could be so cruuuuuuel
And I'm never goin back to my old schooooool.

It's been a while since vinyl has spun at our house; we still have most of it, maybe even those Steely Dan classics. In the meantime, we're sad to see the end of him, and appreciate the catalog spread across cyberspace, available at the click of a mouse. Deacon Blues, for one, with the horn section pouring down like butterscotch, fading into a dream at the end. A stack more down the rail. Hey Nineteen, Rikki Don't Lose that Number, Do It Again (oh that twangy guitar solo in the middle!), Bodhisattva. Prezel Logic.

These things are gone forever, over a long time ago. Oh yeah. Can you show me? The shine in your Japan, the sparkle in your China. I'll be there. The hits keep coming, after you're gone. Farewell.

3.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Naming rights Permalink to this item

Like most National Park-goers, when we stumbled into Yosemite that one time, we had not prepared ourselves by studying any of its history. We had seen some of what Ansel Adams made of it, at least.

It didn't disappoint; it is indisputably one of the most iconic of our national properties. Our expectations were high enough from seeing Adams' work; being in the physical presence of giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove set them higher. The "Tunnel View" entrance to the valley, muted (but in no way diminished) by a wet day and mostly overcast sky blew them away. Our September timing was good for minimizing crowding, poor for seeing waterfalls in their glory. In the early days of digital photography (2000), when a rather expensive camera could provide mediocre results (1 Megapixel!), we had to pretty much rely on the generosity of others to capture images for the scrapbook. (The 17-year-old version of said scrapbook illustrates "mediocre" well enough; the 5 dozen images all together are smaller than the last picture you took with your phone. The originals aren't quite that lame, but not exactly archival quality.)

That's all coming back to mind thanks to Daniel Duane's opinion piece in today's paper, Goodbye, Yosemite. Hello, What? It would be worth the jump just to look at the several superb photos, but the text is quite a bit darker than the scenery. The capsule summary of the trademark dispute that has tagged the hotel formerly known as The Ahwahnee with ("the exquisitely vapid choice") "Majestic Yosemite Hotel" is a metaphorically perfect vignette for the entrance.

The story is that a former government concessionaire stole the names and is demanding ransom for their use, a legal Klein Bottle, given that corporate "ownership" is provided by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. ("The National Park Service came up with new names and told Delaware North to get lost. Now there’s a federal lawsuit.")

The rest of the story is about stolen property too, a comparatively petty crime next to the genocide at the heart of the property. Duane tells it better than I can, and maybe I've spoiled too much already. Go look, read it and weep.

My image from 2000, edited 2017

2.Sept.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

News from the swamp Permalink to this item

More spelunking in the Conservative HQ daily screed, it feels like the maze of twisty passages that all look alike are filling up with swamp water. An homage to Harvey for the pre-holiday edition, perhaps.

Leading the pack, Don't Let The Democrats Cover-Up Their Charlottesville Riot redefines reality. Never mind the neo-Nazis protecting Jim Crow monuments, the "real" story is that "political pressure from leftists" led to a "lack of police response," and now the "independent" investigation (with their scare quotes, not mine) "to be run by a radical leftwing lawyer - we smell a cover up."

Photo from our backyard

The president's brilliant equivocation "on many sides" solved the problem of the alt-right in a snap. Alt-alt! Whatabout Antifa! Never mind Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter.

Then This Explains A Lot about insufficiently right Gary Cohn, Outsiders vs. Insiders: How Christie and McCain wrote the manual on how NOT to win an election, FBI Says No Public Interest In Hillary Clinton Email Files: Time To Prove Them Wrong!, The Only Problem Facing President Trump’s Tax Reform Ideas ("it's the establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and John McCain," duh), Outsiders vs. Insiders: Why most Americans don’t care a lick if this loser ever gets another job, still chasing after Colin Kaepernick for daring to protest something, I Share My Secrets, by the CHQ Chairman himself. It's old school, a "direct mail/marketing seminar" next month. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster: A legend or a lie? and on and on.

Cal Thomas in the Washington Times, there's a stab from the past! He's defending Pardoning Sheriff Arpaio as "a far cry from those granted by Messrs. Clinton and Obama." Somehow, that makes contempt for the law ok. And some strength of conviction (so to speak) to imagine a worse example of something makes it ok.

Hurricane Harvey and the climate change alarm bells; it's just weather people, settle down. A little "freak occurrence in a city built on a bay," that's all. Wring out your soggy belongings and move on.

The Pennsylvania Avenue personnel watch has turned its eye toward Chief of Staff John Kelly, said to grate on Trump, and the feeling is mutual. Even though yesterday's 6:35 AM @realDonaldTrump tweet said he's "doing a great job as Chief of Staff. I could not be happier or more impressed." From the reporting of Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, informed by "interviews with a dozen current and former Trump aides and associates":

"Kelly ... has had the most significant impact of any of the campaign or White House aides... He has regimented, as no one has ever done before, the flow of paper, people and information inundating an omnivorous and undisciplined Mr. Trump.

"The president, for his part, has marveled at the installation of management controls that would have been considered routine in any other White House.

“I now have time to think,” a surprised Mr. Trump has told one of his senior aides repeatedly over the last few weeks.

"Mr. Kelly cannot stop Mr. Trump from binge-watching Fox News, which aides describe as the president’s primary source of information gathering. But Mr. Trump does not have a web browser on his phone, and does not use a laptop, so he was dependent on aides like Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, to hand-deliver printouts of articles from conservative media outlets.

Now Mr. Kelly has thinned out his package of printouts so much that Mr. Trump plaintively asked a friend recently where The Daily Caller and Breitbart were."

Speaking of leaking, Haberman and her NYT colleague Michael S. Schmidt have reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller Has Early Draft of Trump Letter Giving Reasons for Firing Comey, described in pretty much the exact terms you'd expect, given Trump's own subsequent admission in that interview with Lester Holt back in May. The only new bit of (unsurprising) color is that Stephen Miller drafted the multipage work of art.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007