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26.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Under the hood Permalink to this item

Back in the day I started blogging, there were a lot of people making up the whole business of how to put posts together and make links and allow comments (or not) and have a blogroll and so on as they went along, and I tried a couple of third party things. One was called "Edit this Page" and has sort of come and gone, now existing as functionality within UserLand's Manila product, which bills itself as an "Enterprise Class" website and weblog publishing system.

As you probably don't know or care, I wrote my own code to aggregate my hand-edited "dailies" into the monthly view that's published, inserting the permalinks to days (which is all there were at first) and individual posts, combined the sidebar and navigation stuff, and push it up to my server. Somewhere along the line I added the RSS feed.

Now there are lots of blogging software packages to choose from, and blurring of the lines between "blogging" and "content management" systems. WordPress is perennially among the top N choices in both categories. It's mostly free, importantly, and ubiquitous, so lots of others have found and solved the problems you're likely to run into. I've tried it... and may use it more than I do, someday.

It comes to mind because I tried to load a post from a friend's blog today, with a relatively simple payload of a photograph, and an extended caption for the photograph. It failed to load the photograph, but in the course of failure, the status line flashed a rather incredible number and variety of things that were going on while what I wanted to go on wasn't going. What the what? Futzing around to find the console logging feature in Firefox, I sought to answer the question what all is happening when I load this page?

The console log shows almost 150 GET commands, each with a URL, result codes and a duration in milliseconds. There must be a lot of parallel processing, because the raw total for the 148 commands is 110,477 milliseconds, which is to say almost 2 minutes. On the re-run (when everything worked), 21 of the GET commands returned status 200, "OK," 2 returned 302/Found, and the other 125 returned 304/Not Modified, which means no action was needed, I guess. In any case, it involved 28 servers on 16 different domains. On top of the author's own alleyesonshanghai.com, my request for one day's post on one page generated GETs to blogexpat.com, 2 servers on cdninstagram.com, cloudfront.net, expat-blog.com, facebook.com, google.com, googleapis.com, googleusercontent.com, 3 servers on gravatar.com, 2 servers on kissmetrics.com, licdn.com twitter.com 2 servers on typekit.net 3 servers on wordpress.com and 6 servers on wp.com.

The time for the parent page shows just under two seconds at the top of the list... and 127 GETs later, there's another, half-second GET of the exact same URL.

Most of the time—rather remarkable, it seems—all this stuff "just works," and quickly enough no one notices. Having a reason to look behind the curtain (as it were), it's amazing to contemplate that it ever works at all.

On my own blog, there are more GETs than I would have guessed, but a lot less variety. Only two servers involved, fortboise.org and ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com (thanks to my long-ago, unremediated and mostly unremunerative dabble in the Amazon Associates program), four total GETs with status "OK" and another 19 "Not Modified" images and supporting tidbits.

25.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The EPA comin to getcha if ya dont watch out Permalink to this item

Apparently since it's reportedly "bipartisan" there was no need for any sort of fair or balance in Jake Melder's remarkable opinion piece on local Journal Broadcast Group teevee, Idahoans fight latest rule change from EPA. The "battle is underway," not just for the future of American farms; the Environmental Protection Agency could be coming after your lawn in its obsession to extend its hegemony to "every ditch, hole, and puddle in the United States."

Confluence of the Boise and Owhyee rivers with the Snake

Did the EPA really mention "holes" and "puddles," or did Jake just cadge his copy from Senator Risch's press release from back in June letting it ferment in the summer heat until it was ready for campaign season? One will have to go beyond the commentary of Idaho partisans to find useful information on the topic. Thad Cochran of Mississippi (of all places) at least had links when he press-released in April, starting with a link to the page with the joint announcement of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Clean Water Act Definition of "Waters of the U.S." Forces in opposition generated enough heat that the original 90 day comment period was doubled, now through October 20, 2014.

Idaho's senators have an answer to the use of "the latest peer-reviewed science, including a draft scientific assessment by EPA, which presents a review and synthesis of more than 1,000 pieces of scientific literature," with the rule "not [to] be finalized until the final version of this scientific assessment is complete."

Crapo and Risch are cosponsoring a bill, don't you know, to prohibit the EPA from "proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible." Yes, you can call it the "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014," or H.R.4012 or S.2613 or just a summer postcard that wound up in the dead letter pile, because that's not going anywhere, is it?

Anyway, the EPA has provided media resources for the likes of "reporter" Jake Melder, who could have taken a look at Ditch the Myth:

MYTH: The rule would regulate all ditches, even those that only flow after rainfall.

TRUTH: The proposed rule actually reduces regulation of ditches because for the first time it would exclude ditches that are constructed through dry lands and don’t have water year-round.

MYTH: The federal government is going to regulate puddles and water on driveways and playgrounds.

TRUTH: Not remotely true. Such water is never jurisdictional.

Also, the proposed rule doesn't change the exemption for farm ponds, actually reduces the regulation of ditches, and preserves all historical exclusions and exemptions for agriculture. (Or so they say, but who are you going to trust? Some faceless bureaucrats supposedly "protecting" "the environment" or a squeaky little Senator running for re-election and trying to drum up controversy to hide the fact that he hasn't done jack diddly during his six years in D.C.?)

22.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The fracturing of America Permalink to this item

Rick Perlstein's 2008 book, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America occupied a chunk of my summer reading, filling in gaps of the near-history too close to current events to be covered in my schooling, and fleshing out the part I lived through as a child and teenager. He takes us up to the 1972 landslide, and Nixon's dissatisfaction at winning "only" 49 states in the Electoral College. (His coattails were far too short to displace the Democratic majority in the House, and the opposition's majority in the Senate was strengthened.) And then he drops us off at the foundation of the polarization that has only gotten stronger over the four decades since. Other elements of the story have been told well enough elsewhere, and the end of the final campaign is close enough to the final "soiling humiliation" of both Nixon and our war on Viet Nam to call it done.

Oxbow Dam, Snake R., 2002

The collective cognitive dissonance of electing Nixon as a "peace" candidate, demonizing George McGovern as scheming, and fellow war criminal Henry Kissinger declaring "We believe peace is at hand," was topped off by sending hundreds more B-52 sorties to drop 20,000 tons of bombs on Hanoi. We obtained pretty much the same peace agreement as could have been reached in 1968, had Nixon not sabotaged the effort to advance his first election as president. With the benefit of historical distance, Nixon's treason is evident even to George Will, three decades after Seymour Hersh spelled it out well enough. (Will couldn't stop himself from tossing in a dash of ridiculous false equivalence, the IRS' "punishing" of conservative groups; Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman tidied up his narrative for him.)

And in inimitable, sneering "teach the controversy" style, Tom Charles Huston panned the "inexplicably well received by people who should know better" book for The American Spectator, questioning its "tone" and "seriousness" and "good faith." After a short catalog of errors he found, none of them material, and allowance for Perlstein's "shallow understanding of American political history," Huston imagines that "some appear to be dictated by the ideological imperatives of his narrative."

Of course, enough of the seals have been broken that we now have Huston himself on the record acknowleding Nixon's treason. From his derisive review, you'd never know that he was a character in the story, other than the footer noting he was the president's "associate counsel" from 1969-71. No mention of his role in leading the anti-antiwar charge with a program of "opening mail, tapping phones without warrants, infiltrating student movements [and] purging those not loyal to the White House from the IRS," and assorted other "black bag" jobs. He doesn't speak to any of that; his only personal note is that his mother would have said Perlstein's tone was "smart-alecky." His 3,000 word screed is a rather weak bark at Perlstein's 748 page text with 80 pages of notes and a 40-page index.

Huston was not anyone I'd ever heard of before reading the book, but plenty of other present-day players are seen in earlier times, before their ascendancy to the Supreme Court (Rehnquist and Scalia) or the steaming heap of Fox News (Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, ever so briefly). And his one-star review doesn't seem to delve much into the second half of Perlstein's book. I wonder if he got that far?

Perlstein's central idea—that Nixon and his fellow travelers deliberately and methodically polarized the country to their advantage—stands even more strongly after you read the worst that Huston can muster. The complaints of "tone," and inferred contempt, and listing minor errors while ignoring the enormity of the damage done speak louder than words.

20.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boise School District election gets strange Permalink to this item

"admin" over at the unattributed "Best Education News" is making a curious statement about education. The lede is readable enough, one of the candidates has publicly complained about procedures. The headline stumbles a bit: Boise trustee candidate concerns complaint. And the second paragraph goes off the rails:

"Retired Air Force Col. John Hruby wrote a letter Friday to school board president and Democratic gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff asking for the district to convene a special meeting and think about handing in excess of manage of the election to the Ada County Clerk’s Workplace."

Asking for the district to have a meeting and think about handing in excess of manage of the election? Excuse me, you're not making sense there. (Top of the site today: The important to a successful PhD thesis? Write in your personal voice) Given the lack of hints on the site itself, I looked up the whois information for the domain to see that it's registered to Mesih Mesih, which may or may not look like a real name at the phony address in Turkey there (erzurum, erzurum, erzurum), but not so much here in Boise, Idaho. The registrant's admin email, banamisordun at gmail, is used for 11 other domains: alem-sohbet.com, suretim.com, maynet.org, topfirms.org, almanyasohbet.biz, turkey-hotels.biz, germanistler.com, yazinsal.com, gunesibeklerkendizi.net, robertpattinsonrp.com and tipsofdogtraining.com in addition to besteducationnews.com.

So that's mighty interesting, isn't it?

I got to digging around because of this Facebook post from James Kent:

"Oh hey, lookie here. Last night there was a public forum for the candidates for the Boise School Board. Former Larry Craig staffer, Travis Jones, was a no show. One of his supporters claims he's out of town for "work". Jones works for a lobbying organization and the Governor is hosting a golf match in Coeur d'Alene today. Here's the staff page for Jones' industrial ag lobbying organization which he heads. Look who is at the bottom of the page."

That would be John Foster, once the the Idaho Democratic Party's Executive Director, once campaign manager for one-term Congressman Walt Minnick, and now of Kestrel West, prepared to manage your reputation, perception campaigns and crisis communications, and to tell compelling stories and outsmart your competition.

It's an interesting fight for three School Board seats, between two incumbents (with excellent track records) and a new entrant who Boise voters are well-acquainted with from his recent time in the legislature, and three collaborating newcomers complaining about procedures they didn't study well enough, and making a pre-emptive complaint about potential VOTER FRAUD in a school board election in early September that (a) does not garner that much interest, and (b) what stakes are these people imagining that would rise to motivation for committing a crime?

That is some compelling story alright, not quite rising to "outsmart" just yet.

19.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Driving while black Permalink to this item

My early driving career was a bit checkered, and I was stopped for and received tickets for a few of my moving violations. I think I might have been "let off with a warning" once or twice, but those instances don't spring to mind. I was stopped for a legitimate (equipment) violation and given an unreasonable ticket (for something else) once, and successfully challenged it in court. Lately, I've been well-behaved, and if I've rolled through a stop sign now and then, no one has lifted an eyebrow at me, let alone turned on the lights and siren, or called for four cars' worth of backup, or detained me for an hour.

The people who most need to read and appreciate Andrea Cambron's point of view are not all that likely to get it from The American Prospect, but I'm providing the link to her story just in case it might do some good: I'm Polite, Middle-Class and Harassed By Police. Here's Why. If nothing else, it's a hell of a (short) read.

I think she's right about the fundamental importance of teaching children about diversity, even though I disagree that those "mandatory trainings at work that are supposed to 'challenge your belief system' and 'explore looking at a co-worker differently' are a bunch of crap (as she put it). Empathy is not a small thing, and grown-ups make decisions about what schools, and what curriculum their children will experience.

Seeing that a group of 20 or 30 people you know and work with can be precisely divided by the experiences of being stopped for no apparent reason, while driving, while walking, or being followed in a retail store, simply by the color of their skin is a seed for awareness, and nothing grows without that.

Graduation day Permalink to this item

Tom Luna weighed his options and measured himself for a pleasant ride out the revolving door between Idaho government and the education non-profit realm, into an executive position at Project Lead the Way, starting just as soon as his second term as Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction winds up. Not going on a mission, not going back to Scales Unlimited, not spending more time with his family. Why let all those connectionsthat relevant experience in the business of education go to waste? Actually, he could be spending more time with his family, because Betsy's report says he'll be "working from home."

"He’ll oversee a team focused on federal, state, and local policies and research initiatives that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) growth across the United States. He’ll supervise four regional directors and a team of policy analysts and researchers; the position won’t include any lobbying."

The Peter Principle is scaling new heights, you might say, for a man with no hands-on experience or training in education to oversee a team looking after science and technology research initiatives. Those who can't teach, manage?

PLTW logo, reprinted for purpose of commentary; link to their site

PLTW (as it styles itself) has a logo suitable for gearheads meeting the atomic age, and declares itself to be "the nation's leading science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) solution in over 5,000 schools across the U.S." It is a solution. The leadership team is big on credentials, and several of the officers do have a background in education. There seems to be a strong Ball State University connection; the CEO earned his doctorate, specialist, master’s, and bachelor’s degrees in what, they do not say, from Ball State U., along with another master’s from Harvard, and so on. To say that Tom Luna is out of his league as a Vice-president seems an understatement. Did they confuse their BSU with our BSU?! No evidence of that in their press release, it's mostly the coup of landing a state superintendent of public instruction, who surely must know a lot about that subject, right?

Guns and butter Permalink to this item

Now that we've all been searching the web for a decade or more, the folks who have collected all the data can analyze what it all means, or at least who's looking for what, where. David Leonhardt reports on a study of what searches correlate with the "easiest" and the "toughest" places to live. Turns out clinging to guns and religion is actually a thing. So is "severe itching."

"In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10."

17.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Neighbors standing together Permalink to this item

Saturday's spam check turned up a false positive of sorts, from an unexpected source: "Romney for President Inc." Still? Again? And after that fine-print attribution, the statement that

"This message reflects the opinions and representations of Texans for Rick Perry, and is not an endorsement by Mitt Romney."

What should be a corporation dead and buried is undead, selling its mailing list like so much fried brains to a fellow zombie, and I was part of the menu. The From field connects the dots to yet another spoofed presidential contender: Bobby Jindal <campaign@rickperry.org>.

Quite the conservative cocktail. Jindal, purportedly, wants to tell me "I Stand With Rick Perry", on Facebook, Twitter, and spammass email. And he wants me to "help spread the truth" by sharing and re-tweeting his solidarity. "The facts are clear," he begins, "Governors have the right to exercise veto authority ..."

Yes... but, can you say stuff like "I will veto your whole department budget of $7.5 million if you don't quit?" Maybe not, and regardless of whether the gal should have quit (or been fired), it just don't look right. It also don't look legal, in the estimation of a grand jury in Travis County, Texas. It looks like a felony or two, which is still kind of a big deal, even if Bobby Jindal thinks his next-door neighbor is suffering from "another political witch hunt by liberal activists."

The vetoed money was for the "Public Integrity Unit," no less, charged with investigating corruption, and in response to the felony indictment for abuse of official capacity, Perry's lawyer ("whose $450/hr fees are being paid for by state funds," Fox News helpfully observes) said he was "outraged and appalled" at the decision. "This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision."

We shall see. For his part, Perry called the indictment "a farce," bringing a possibly unfortunate comparison with his presidential run in 2012 (or 2016!) to mind, and that moment—could it have been real?—when he took a turn at being the GOP front runner. That was before that memorable moment in the spotlight when he couldn't remember all three of his top three priorities. Oops.

Update: Yet another email in this genre, again from Romney for President Inc., and reflecting the opinions and representation of Texans for Rick Perry, but this one is from Ted Cruz <campaign@rickperry.org>, lamenting the "sad history of the Travis County District Attorney's Office engaging in politically-motivated prosecutions."

I like "Cruz's" final phrase, saying that this is "on its face, highly suspect." Just like the Marshall said, medium and message are one.

16.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Throw another elephant burger on the barby Permalink to this item

My 2003 photo of 'The Sky's the Limit', at the Chicago O'Hare

Our state GOP is still sorting out the winners and losers in the intramural league, no stakes apparently too small to be disputed. Bryan Smith can represent both losing (his attempt to unseat ID-02 Congressman Mike Simpson in the primary) and winning (he's now the chair of the party's Region 7) and is not afraid of throwing a few elbows. He's lined up FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe as a BBQ speaker, advancing the "rich people are taxed enough already and we have all the healthcare insurance we need" agenda, and leaving not so much time for Idaho candidates to have their say. The Idaho Falls Post Register's account is behind their paywall but they do link to a hosted AP version (that probably won't stick around) and the Idaho Statesman ran a shorter version in print and on their site.

"She's no longer the chair," Smith said. "I was duly elected. We don't have to continue to do things like we've always done just because this is the way things have always been done. If we did that, there would be people who would still be afraid to sail the ocean for fear of falling off the ocean because they thought it was flat."

The Tea Party is the party of the round earth, then? Good to know. The Statesman's version had the nice little postscript that

"Also on the agenda at the upcoming barbecue: Simpson will be recognized as Outstanding Republican Elected Official of the Year."

When I checked that Wikipedia article on Freedomworks, I learned that it's no longer Dick Armey's organization, with the 2012 story about the split between him and said Matt Kibbe an interesting sidelight. It seems Armey had problems with Kibbe "using the group's resources to pad his pockets," and eased himself out with "an $8 million buyout" of his chairmanship.

You could make stuff like this up, but no one would believe you. Can't wait to hear what Kibbe has to say about advancing the cause of "conservative Republicans" such as Mr. Smith.

15.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

No need for further study Permalink to this item

Yet another workgroup for the state of Idaho has returned the fairly obvious conclusion that the people of the state would be better off if the state would expand Medicaid to cover 100,000 uninsured Idahoans, and save $44 million in 2016 to boot. The vote wasn't close, 10-3, except... it's almost certainly only the "no" votes that will count.

The Governor’s Workgroup to Evaluate Medicaid Eligibility members from the Department of Health and Welfare, the Idaho Association of Counties, the Department of Insurance, the Idaho Medical Association and the medical profession, the Gooding County Commission, the Governor’s Idaho Council on Health Care and Idaho Health Insurance Exchange, Idaho State University and the general public all said "yes," and the three members of the workgroup from the Legislature all said "no."

“There’s no question that something needs to be done,” Senator Steve Thayn (R-Emmett) said. “Do we need federal money to do it? Could we incorporate that into some other ideas? Those are all debate points, I guess.” For his part, Rep. Tom Loertscher (R-Iona) seems to have voted "no" because his previous informed proposals have been shot down by the legislature.

Yeah, that's right, three years on, nothing to show for it, and more debate points to nowhere. We're just giving up. We're going to let people die for lack of health insurance, and it's going to cost us more to do it.

14.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Martial law Permalink to this item

A very safe distance away from Ferguson, St. Louis, the news is well beyond surreal. Still in the early middle of Rick Perlstein's book, Nixonland, I just read chapter 9, "Summer of Love," which skipped lightly over acid and San Fran and landed heavily in Newark, Detroit, Harlem, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. Matters were far worse back then, but without the immediacy of social media to bring scenes as close to home. Approaching my 12th birthday, my fears were real enough but unspoken, and unspecific. I argued against my going on a family vacation, in favor of Boy Scout camp and was surprised that worked. I did not breathe a word of my fear of traveling south of the Mason-Dixon line, so could not make an argument that really, I didn't want anyone else driving to Florida, either. (Chances are, everyone would be OK, because everyone in my family was, in my experience, and I did want to go to Boy Scout camp, with my troop, and for the jolly adventure of a second week "provisional.") The rioting in the summer of 1967 was far more horrific (with the benefit of Perlstein's historical hindsight) than any fears I'd been able to conjure at the time.

The post-9/11, Global War on Terror has expanded beyond the war zones "over there." Local police departments have taken Donald Rumsfeld's "Shock and Awe" concept and run with it, outfitted for urban confrontation with

"short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles based on the military M4 carbine, with scopes that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters. On their side they carry pistols. On their front, over their body armor, they carry at least four to six extra magazines, loaded with 30 rounds each.

"Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier's if it weren't for their 'Police' patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle..."

To face "unarmed civilians in their own country, give or take a few looters."

Not that staying "within your rights" will always keep you out of trouble, but knowing them might—might—be helpful.

"[A]nyone—journalist or otherwise—can take a photo of a police officer. Citizens have the right to take pictures of anything in plain view in a public space, including police officers and federal buildings. Police can not confiscate, demand to view, or delete digital photos."

You may still be taken down to the jail, but maybe you'll be released, and told "the chief thought he was doing you two a favor" (by arresting you) and your account of events will be in The Washington Post. But not necessarily.

Bigger picture: It's not just Ferguson:

"This is hard for a white person to see. Because, for people who look like me, things seem to work fine. It’s my lived experience that the system is working, that things are fair, and that the difference is in individual behavior. But we know that our individual experience of things is not the same thing as the facts of the world."

Some of those facts were stated a few paragraphs earlier:

"In a country where African-Americans and white people use and sell drugs at about the same rates, African-Americans are about 3 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes, and then to receive significantly longer sentences, compared to white people. This difference in arrests and sentencing means that African-Americans make up only 13.1% of the US population, but 40% of the prison population."

Still a few steps to take before we reach the "post-racial" promised land here.

13.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flows downhill Permalink to this item

Something we haven't done in a long, long time: subscribed to a print (and digital) publication. High Country News is a good one though, and one we used to enjoy back when newsprint was the only option. (It's been a while, in other words.) The article that earned them $30 was by Richard Manning, with its risible title backed by the reporting: Idaho's sewer system is the Snake River. Not that many miles downstream from the "crystal-clear, clean water on the calderas of the Yellowstone Plateau," and then Island Park Reservoir on the Henry's Fork, "the Snake, to use the euphemism of record, becomes a 'working river'—wholly subservient to agriculture."

"The irrigation has converted 6.5 million acres from grassland to cropland along the Snake – an area larger than Massachusetts or New Jersey. Beyond that, just past the green irrigated fields, there are tawny furzes of unplowed grass, rock and lava flows that amount to millions of additional acres devoted to ag. Most of this land is federal, controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and leased by farmers and ranchers for livestock grazing. In total, the Snake strings together at least 18 counties, and according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture and the Idaho Department of Commerce, fully 87 percent of these counties' land is used for agriculture, either cropland or grazing."

Photo by Tom von Alten, Brownlee Reservoir, July 19, 2009

Halfway across the converted the Snake River Plain, the mountains and forest of Yellowstone are a distant memory, and the magic is in making farms out of desert (and "making the costs disappear"). The Magic Valley is

"ground zero for Idaho's industrial agriculture," "[hosting] two-thirds of the state's dairy feedlot cattle, and its eight counties include Gooding County, where more than 99 percent of the land is given over to ag, and Cassia County, which achieves 96 percent."

The competing interests of regulation, environmental standards, and making money are sorted out in the slack water behind the last three dams in Idaho, Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon. Let's just say it doesn't make one interested in going for a swim. USGS hydrologist Greg Clark:

"Every year you get this layer on the bottom (of Brownlee Reservoir) that goes anoxic, and then you get perfect conditions for creating methyl mercury."

Clark corrects the impression that the range of pollutants from industrial ag goes completely untreated. He sees the entire Snake as a sewage system, with the reservoirs at the bottom end acting as de facto sewage-treatment lagoons. Clark explains it using the terminology of that science: The three huge reservoirs/lagoons provide primary, secondary and tertiary treatment. He actually uses those terms.

11.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Scott Walker v. Not Scott Walker Permalink to this item

When the Trek Bicycle Corporation first came to my attention, it was all good: high-quality, Wisconsin-made, and with a mission to "build the best bikes in the world." Maybe I saw Gary Fisher's enthusiastic piece in the February '78 issue of Bicycling. They were just building frames at that point, but still, I signed up for some Reynolds chrome-moly and a custom color, "Chestnut," and I've been riding what they built in the Waterloo barn (with the rest of the parts I put together at J.P.'s Bikeshop) for 34 years now. Filling in the past from the founder and others at this distance, it's a fascinating and rather unlikely story, going back to "the energy crisis," of all things.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has brought the bicycle company more immediately to mind this summer, because he's taking some shots at it, and his Democratic opponent, who happens to be the daughter of Trek's founder. It goes without saying that Walker's a polarizing figure. And his opponent? Says here "she's running a very disciplined campaign essentially saying: I’m not Scott Walker. ... She has really positioned herself as a no name moderate Democrat—fiscally [conservative] but socially liberal.”

"Run Walker against a frothing crowd of angry unionists and he clearly wins. But run him against a faceless, generic Democrat and he loses: a distinction not lost on Democrats. Burke, who is the former executive at Trek Bicycle and a member of the Madison school board, has a virtually non-existent voting record. She speaks calmly and promotes her pragmatism, underlining her opposition to President Obama’s policies nearly as much as Walker’s. In other words, she’s done her best to make this race about Walker, not about her."

Walker's attack on Burke's character isn't working as well. Criticizing Burke's successful family and a company that's expanded to worldwide sales (and manufacturing) sounds like "channeling Team Obama" to the Wall Street Journal.

“Economic populism is usually the province of Democrats who don’t understand how free markets work or who cynically hope to exploit voters’ insecurities,” the Journal wrote. “Mr. Walker is better than that.”

So they imagine. Maybe he's a bit sensitive after it turned out his Economic Development Corporation managed to pay some Wisconsin companies to do some of that "don't call it outsourcing" as well.

9.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho Freedom from Facts Permalink to this item

The Idaho Freedom Foundation is multiplying its communication effort by having someone other than executive director Wayne Hoffman speak up: vice president Fred Birnbaum wrote in to push back against Donna Yule's recent guest opinion, responding to the report on Vox: Kansas was supposed to be the GOP’s tax-cut paradise. Now it can barely pay its bills. Birnbaum challenged Yule to tell us "what is the 'blue state' model and where is it working?" He provides the IFF alternative outline of the story in Kansas, and their conclusion:

"Kansas cut taxes and is struggling to balance the budget; not mentioned is that spending increased 6 percent year-over-year. Perhaps there is a lesson here; low spending leads to low taxation."

Except... he just said Kansas has increased its spending. So that's confusing. The Vox story was mostly about the latest failure in the long history of failures of the "supply side" doctrine that merely by lowering taxes, we will unleash the power of capitalism and increase peace, love, understanding and tax receipts. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback signed a massive tax cut in 2012, and...

National conservative activists raved. Patrick Gleason of Americans for Tax Reform said Kansas was "the story of the next decade." The Cato Institute praised Brownback's "impressive" tax cuts and gave him an "A" on fiscal policy. And the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol said that, if reelected, Brownback would be "a formidable presidential possibility."

(There goes Brownback's 2016 bid; the last top-of-the-ticket candidate Bill Kristol rolled out for us was Sarah Palin.)

Back to Birnbaum's short letter, it was also confusing where he might have cooked up the claim that "California now has the nation's highest poverty rate." As Carol Benz points out in the comments, the most recent report from the Census bureau doesn't have California in the worst 10; in fact, 17 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had higher poverty rates than California in 2012.

Closer to local pocketbooks, the Statesman front page today featured Rebecca Boone's report for the AP about the difficulty of making ends meet in a state with low personal income. In that story, Phil Watson, an associate professor of applied economics at the U of I notes that "the cost of living is slightly lower, but not nearly enough to make up for the lower personal income." The Bureau of Economic Analysis shows Idaho per capita income below 80% of the U.S. average in 2013. (New York, Illinois and California were all above the average, in case Birnbaum's interested.)

Chart comparing red/blue states' per capita GDP

More to the point of where things (and people) are working, the economic output of the various states mentioned vary by huge amounts (as do their populations). California's GDP has exceeded $2 trillion in recent years; it's 35 times Idaho's. New York is north of a $trillion, and Illinois two-thirds of a $trillion, exceeding the GDP of the 5 states in the Rocky Mountain region combined. (Idaho contributes one tenth of the regional total, burbling along in the mid-fifty $billion.)

Not that the particular 5 states mentioned are representative of anything in particular, but comparing their per capita GDP numbers at the turn of the century and last year shows that "things are working" more productively in those supposed blue states, and less so in the red. Kansas at least made progress over the period; Idaho did not.

Birnbaum's point is not tied to facts, obviously. It's an article of faith for the IFF and its friends that "government is bad, so less government must be better, but at least, we want lower taxes." I offered a competing conceptual model: "governments provide necessary, useful services that are funded through appropriate taxation."

IFF keeps asking how can we reduce government? The better question to ask, in my opinion, is how can we improve government? I don't have a lot of answers, but I'm pretty sure that following fact-free ideology is not getting the job done.

6.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Time for the CIA to come clean(er) Permalink to this item

A powerful opinion piece by an author with unique, relevant experience, retired Maj. General Antonio Taguba: Stop the CIA Spin on the Senate Torture Report.

"Ultimately, as we learned with Abu Ghraib, the best way of guarding against torture is an American public well informed about the moral and strategic costs of such abuse. In the absence of an open accounting, polls show that support for torture among Americans has increased over recent years as proponents sow doubt about whether abusive interrogation is, in fact, illegitimate. So I am very concerned by the pre-emptive efforts of the C.I.A. to derail what we know to be strong criticism of the agency’s conduct during the "war on terror." ...

"A failure of leadership took the country to the dark side. A strong presidential lead can ensure that we don’t go back."

Protection service Permalink to this item

You've no doubt heard the news all over cyberspace that Russian hackers have stolen some 1.2 billion user name/password pairs along with half a bil email addresses. The company making the news, Hold Security is not one I've heard of before although the NYT says it "has a history of uncovering significant hacks." Then this:

"Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable."

Excuse me, a reluctance to provide the specifics of the most enormous security breach of all time? The next sentence addresses the implied question of veracity:

"At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic."

Said expert... tried a couple at random? A hundred? Thousand? I'm sure I've got more than 100 accounts in various places, and if I were to start making up new passwords and changing everything, I'd be at it all day. Multiplied by the 3 or 4 billion people who have some sort of online accounts, that's one hell of a "reluctance" factor.

Hold Security has what they call a Consumer Hold Identity Protection Service, which they're "launching in the next 60 days," and offering it "FREE for 30 days if you sign up right now."

"We encourage you to express your interest in this service by joining now, free of charge and commitment. In return, we will provide you with an answer as to whether or not your personal information has been compromised once we verify your electronic identity."

What, pray tell is this "electronic identity" you speak of? One particular account of mine? The combination of the dozens I have set up over the years? It starts with "your name and email," but guess what--I've got more than one email address, too.

Who knows, exactly, if these people have what they say they have, have any clue whatsoever about what they are doing, have the bandwidth to deal with this "web exclusive" they claim to have stumbled into, and can be trusted with a barrage of validation requests? Their claim is that they've obtained all these passwords in plain text but rest assured, they're NOW encrypting them for this massive new service they're about to stand up.

"[T]he passwords will be encrypted on your end using a very secure algorithm, so there would be no way for us or anybody else to read them in plain text."

And oh by the way, since they used the internet to figure all this out and vacuum it up, the NSA has everything, too. "Rest assured."

Shirley sue Permalink to this item

After reading Frank Rich's review of Rick Perlstein's newest book, I let my fingers do the walking to my Boise Public Library! catalog and got first in line for one of the copies they have on the way, noted the other two volumes of the historical trilogy were available and figured I'd start with Nixonland this morning, here at the 40th anniversary and all.

That was days ago, and who knew Ann Coulter's publicist is on the offensive, threatening to sue (for $25 million!) over surely there must be more than "one pair of similar sentences," given 100+ citations in the endnotes? Should we stop calling him Shirley, too?

"If a biographer like Shirley was actually concerned about Perlstein's supposed scholarly shortcomings, why would he seek partisan help in a public relations 'offensive'? And why would Shirley's team offer to type up prefabbed tweets for allies to send out, presumably bashing Perlstein?

"Note that lots of Shirley's allies have already apparently been part of the 'offensive,' with items appearing in The Weekly Standard, The New York Post, and The Daily Caller, all hyping Shirley's claim about Invisible Bridge plagiarism."

Don't suppose the offensive will succeed in stopping delivery of my copy, and I can tell from the first chapter of Nixonland that it's going to be a good read.

5.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our system has fallen and it can't get up Permalink to this item

Gail Collins' recent column mentioned Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, somewhat familiar names, and his opinion about the "outrageous" gambit of so-called "pension smoothing" to pay for highways. (By allowing companies to trim contributions to worker pensions, they'll have to pay more taxes, and the bill won't come due until the current miscreants have left town, or at least left Congress.) Looking around to see what I remembered Ornstein from and what part of the spectrum he's in led me to a recent AEI blog post that's about the national scene, but amply relevant to Idaho's politics: What happens when extremism becomes mainstream?

Boise River check dam, and willow

Things have been rather "existential struggle" around here lately, between the "hard-line bedrock conservatives" and the "radicals," with an infamously impotent state party convention, a rump chairman changing the locks in the office, suing, and losing a bid to keep his job, and so on. After some introductory history, Ornstein gets to current events:

"What began as a ruthlessly pragmatic, take-no-prisoners parliamentary style opposition to Obama was linked to constant efforts to delegitimize his presidency, first by saying he was not born in the U.S., then by calling him a tyrant trying to turn the country into a Socialist or Communist paradise. These efforts were not condemned vigorously by party leaders in and out of office, but were instead deflected or encouraged, helping to create a monster: a large, vigorous radical movement that now has large numbers of adherents and true believers in office and in state party leadership."

With a smattering of examples (he didn't even need to use any from Idaho), he notes

"It is a measure of the nature of this intra-party struggle that the mainstream is now on the hard right, and that it is close to apostasy to say that Obama is legitimate, that climate change is real, that background checks on guns are desirable, or even that the Common Core is a good idea."

That led me to his and Thomas Mann's book that came out in 2012, in the thick of the presidential campaign, It's Even Worse Than It Looks. It's a relatively quick and mostly depressing read. Seven chapters in two parts, "The Problem," and "What to Do About It." The politics of hostage taking, dysfunction and fiasco have been a steady topic here on fortboise for most of its run, and will all sound familiar. The proposals for fixes, not so much, and it's hard to see how anything of even modest complexity can avoid being hijacked or torpedoed (or what the hell, both, in turn) with the current system.

That's "the new politics of extremism" in the subtitle, not to be confused with mere polarization. The latter drives us to stalemate; the former is a force for genuine damage.

"Today's Republican party is an insurgent outlier. it has become ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition, all but declaring war on the government."

This short post will certainly downplay the good ideas the authors describe in the second half of their book, many of which sound potentially effective, and feasible. My pessimism stems from the inherent advantages our current systems provide to obstruction. If the extremists see the status quo as to their benefit, and voters are practically disenfranchised by hopelessness, things will have to get still worse before there's sufficient motivation to change them.

3.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not a high bar, but cleared Permalink to this item

The local paper featured an abbreviated version of the National Journal article celebrating our local Congressman for his leadership from the rank-and-file, in getting the OMG GOP last minute immigration bill through the House. Instead of nothing to show before the obligatory August paid vacation, the Republicans were able to puree a compromise that was too late for the Senate to even consider, and "one that stood no chance of passing the Senate and becoming law."

So yay.

House Republicans found a way to agree on something mashed-up, whittled down and going nowhere, inadequate to meet anyone's assessment of the crisis, but they did it together.

"The stories that were written yesterday were absolute nonsense and totally premature," Rep. Tom Price of Georgia said after the votes. Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said " It was the best rendition of 'Kumbaya' I've ever heard in my life." Some of them even said nice things about House leadership, Boehner, McCarthy and Scalise! Not so much from the other side of the aisle, however:

Democrats, unsurprisingly, didn't view it as a "success" for anyone, lambasting both GOP bills and predicting that Republicans' actions Friday would further cement their poor standing with Latino voters.

"These pieces of legislation dishonor America," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during floor debate Friday. "They are a rejection of our values.… House Republicans have truly lost their way."

No "blank check" for the president. But with the executive branch the only one on the job this month, the House has made it clear the president is the only one who can take actual (as opposed to symbolic) action. If we can find billions of greenbacks to load on pallets and push out the back of airplanes over Iraq, we should be able to do something, right?

Robert Reich reminds us of a few other things that didn't get done:

"In case you hadn’t noticed, Congress has left town for the remainder of the summer – without having replenished the highway trust fund, responded to the surge of children from Central America at our southern border, raised the minimum wage, expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor, extended unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed, helped distressed homeowners, eased the growing debt burden on students, moved on climate change, or responded to the increasing numbers of mentally ill and homeless on our streets. To call this a “do-nothing” Congress is too kind, because when nothing is done in the face of worsening problems people suffer more."

1.Aug.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Red light, green light Permalink to this item

My time in Driver's Ed was long ago and far away, and I have no idea what the law was there and then, but I very much doubt "permissive yellow" was part of the curriculum. Last time I raised an eyebrow from the passenger seat, my legally trained driver assured me that he was within his rights to enter the intersection on yellow, no matter how little yellow was left. He was right in Washington, and thanks to today's treatment in the Statesman, I see he's right in Idaho, too, but not in Oregon. (Whatever Wisconsin allowed back in the early 70s, they've gone permissive now, too.)

My impression was that I needed to be out of the intersection before it turned red, an uncertain standard to try to meet, but extra caution seems more likely to be helpful than hurtful.

Under the circumstances, it's reassuring to learn that lights are set to stay red for everyone for two whole seconds. (Still, I look both ways before entering on green.)

Story says the high for Boise enforcement on running red lights was 725 (in 2011), just 424 last year, so one or two a day. Compared to this:

"Two police officers observed morning commuters Wednesday in Downtown Boise from an unmarked van parked in a lot next to the inbound Connector at South 13th Street. ... They spotted five clear violations in about an hour - average for that kind of enforcement action."

One hour, one intersection, one direction, and five clear violations in an hour is average? There must be more than a hundred intersections with traffic lights in Boise, and 24 hours in our days... let's just say the BPD doesn't seem to be excessivley enforcing our law, permissive as it is.

Inverted morality Permalink to this item

found on the internet

Someone and the inscrutable inner workings of Facebook brought a message from Robert Reich to my attention today, in the ever-popular quickmeme format of text over a picture. ("Because it's pithier with a picture.") I tracked down an original with more context, from the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign, when our discussions about "morality" were trending toward (or away from) same-sex marriage, and abortion. Of Bedrooms and Boardrooms:

"America’s real problems have nothing to do with what we do in our bedrooms and everything to do with what top executives do in their boardrooms and executive suites.

"We’re not in trouble because gays want to marry or women want to have some control over when they have babies. We’re in trouble because CEOs are collecting exorbitant pay while slicing the pay of average workers, because the titans of Wall Street demand short-term results over long-term jobs, and because of a boardroom culture that tolerates financial conflicts of interest, insider trading, and the outright bribery of public officials through unlimited campaign “donations.”"

Reich has consistently delivered this message, but in a cultural context that continues to evolve. On the boardroom side, we've had a marriage arranged by the Supreme Court between (closely held) corporations and religion, conveniently providing for employers to dictate a version of economic morality to their employees.

And as isolationists clamor for higher fences to keep immigrants and refugees from crossing the border, nothing much is stopping corporations from raising the flag of whichever country offers the most favorable tax bill. Call it the increasing irrelevance of corporate nationality, and consider that most American of companies making big yellow earth-movers:

"Caterpillar saved $2.4 billion between 2000 and 2012 by funneling its global parts business through a Swiss subsidiary (a ruse so audacious that one of its tax consultants warned Caterpillar executives to “get ready to do some dancing” when called before Congress to justify it)."

You can't have a dirty dancing tax dodge without a good euphemism. This week's is "inversion," as in inversion of the money snatchers, "through the miracle of paperwork." It's a "fiduciary obligation," to avoid taxes, don't you know.

Policy amnesia Permalink to this item

What makes the news is mostly things going wrong. Props to Jill Replogle and KPBS for answering the question I hadn't seen discussed anywhere: Why Nicaraguan Kids Aren’t Fleeing To U.S. The lede is that about the "fact-finding" mission of California Congressman Darrell Issa, who found more what he imagined than facts on the ground; if "impoverished economies" were motivating children to flee, Nicaragua's would be first in line from Central America. (Or second, behind Haitians.) They're not.

"The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended just 178 Nicaraguan children sneaking across the border alone between Oct. 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, compared to 16,546 children from Honduras, the origin of the greatest number of children apprehended."

It turns out that building democracy has mattered, a great deal. Too bad we didn't do that work when it mattered most.

"There seems to be a lot of amnesia in terms of our policy toward Central America, the kinds of regimes we were bolstering back in the '80s, the kind of societies that came out of that," [historian Jeffrey] Gould said.

The homicide rate in Nicaragua is double that in the U.S., but half of Mexico's, a quarter of Guatemala's and El Salvador's, and one-eighth the rate in Honduras. History matters.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007