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

Oh so THAT'S what the Energy Dept. is about? Permalink to this item

It's a mistake anyone might make, thinking it was primarily about energy, and there is some of that, but mostly it's about the nuclear waste, and the biggest, and baddest nuclear arsenal the world has ever had, don't you know. Rick Perry apparently did not know.

Whoops.

Rachel Maddow kind of summed it up for us. "Are you disappointed? Should we be?"

It seems reasonable to assume that Rick Perry didn't know what he didn't know back when he forgot the name of the department he thought he'd eliminate, and was instead eliminated from the 2012 presidential race. Why in the world is this man still on the national (let alone world) stage?

In case you're keeping track, the current Secretary of Energy was chairman of the MIT department and directed the linear accelerator at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science, and before him we had a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

Next up, Rick Perry.

Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly provides some color commentary about Perry's political chops (along with those of another good old boy from Texas, our next Secretary of State).

"Mr. Perry’s goal wasn’t to do good, but to stay in power. So he did, longer than any other governor in Texas’ history.

"This explains why no one here was surprised when it came time to walk back his harsh remarks about Mr. Trump. Sure, Mr. Perry had called the candidacy of his onetime presidential rival “a cancer on conservatism,” deriding his style as “a toxic mix of demagoguery, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.” But when opportunity knocked for Mr. Perry, perdition looked just fine."

Let's just hope he and his boss don't accidentally send the whole world there.

18.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Simplest explanation most likely Permalink to this item

Repealing the Affordable Care Act is about a tax cut for millionaires. The tens of millions of people who would stand to lose their insurance are just collateral damage. Theory from Matthew Yglesias, for Vox.

"[Republicans] dislike the idea of raising taxes on wealthy households so much that back in 2011, they pushed the country to the brink of defaulting on the national debt rather than agree to rescind George W. Bush’s high-end tax cuts. In December 2012, they tried to insist that they wouldn’t let Obama extend the portion of the Bush tax cuts that everyone (including rich people) got unless he also extended the tax cuts that only rich people got."

Repealing the ACA would not provide exactly a "shower of money" that Yglesias mentions; with income over about $400,000, getting a tax cut of "an average of $25,000 a year" is nice, but not going to change your lifestyle. It's also an odd cut of the statistic. At $400k income, $25k would be a 6¼% cut, but the 3.8% tax on net investment income for high-earners is what (he says) is at issue.

And we always never mind what's gone before; the big cuts in income tax rates for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends in the last decade and a half have been bringing home a lot more than 3.8% bacon.

Looks like Vox leveraged the piece from the Urban Institute & Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center "TaxVox" blog (no relation?), with a tweet-length synopsis in its title: Repealing the Affordable Care Act Would Cut Taxes For High Income Households, Raise Taxes For Many Others. Cut to the chase with the infographic from their microsimulation model, version 0516-2:

Tax Policy Center infographic, edited tighter by me

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

What the Obama opposition looked like Permalink to this item

Eric Cantor's opposition view of Obama's presidency is interesting as far as it goes, which isn't very far. The start was historic, Cantor was optimistic, there were generous gestures at the beginning, but then the president didn't respond to "the viable alternative to every major piece of legislation the Democratic majority put forward" for some reason.

"I was hopeful. But later in the meeting, when I mentioned that a stimulus package built around government spending would be too much like 'old Washington,' the president’s tone changed. He said: 'Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you.'

No pun intended back there in early 2009, when the world was figuring out whether the global economy was merely in the tank, or melting down, and the Republican "centerpiece" concept was "a 20 percent reduction in taxes for small businesses."

To hear Cantor tell it, the "opportunity lost" was all about the president, and nothing to do with the Republicans. But it's hard to puzzle out what he's trying to say. Is he being coy? Tactful? Tone deaf? Clueless? Probably not that, but maybe too clever by half.

His Virginia district's 2014 primary took him from House Majority Leader to done in nothing flat, because he was too accommodating, too establishment, or something for the anti-Obama right wing firebrands. Now Cantor is an investment banker, and his after-the-fact political opinion a seemingly pointless afterthought.

16.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How did we get here? Permalink to this item

Kathleen Parker asks the $64 billion question: Did we really elect Donald Trump? The Electoral College gave him the nod, we know that, based on a well-distributed minority of the votes cast. And there's little doubt that come Friday, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear him in. The question is more about how did we elect the guy? This happened: "Eleven days to go and the man who had said there’s nothing to see here suddenly says, Hey, there might be something after all!

"For the undecided (or the unpersuadable), let’s pose a hypothetical: What if Clinton had publicly asked Russia to hack Trump’s records and release his tax returns — and Russia did? And what if the FBI announced less than two weeks before Election Day that it was going to investigate fraudulent practices at Trump University? Let’s say that Trump’s number dipped dramatically and he lost.

"Do you reckon Republicans would be a tad upset?"

Never mind Republicans, imagine what the two months of tirades on Twitter would have been. Sad!

But Trump should be very, very happy, happy. After three decades of chasing deals in Russia, it looks like his ship has come in, bigly. And not like Congress would blow the whistle on anything, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he's "just not going to go on these fishing expeditions" anymore. This isn't like Benghazi or something. And gosh, he "didn't investigate Hillary Clinton before she was in office." Just threatened to. And ok, he is willing to investigate the Office of Government Ethics a little.

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

All things immoderation Permalink to this item

Peter Wehner is one of the more sensible voices from the right I've come across in recent times. Caught up with his December 18th op-ed today, under the print headline "Moderation is Not a Dirty Word." Illustrating the virtue, after making his point, he generously says that "Mr. Trump deserves the chance to prove his critics wrong." Now four weeks later, it's safe to say that Mr. Trump continues to outpace his critics' forbearance, starting with the unpredictability Wehner correctly forecast. And this:

"Moderation, an ancient virtue, will be viewed with contempt. After all, the most temperamentally immoderate major party nominee in American history ran for president and won because of it. Victory spawns imitation, and the Trump template is likely to influence our politics for some time to come.

"Moderation, then, is out of step with the times, which are characterized by populist anger and widespread anxiety, by cross-partisan animosity and dogmatic certainty. Those with whom we have political disagreements are not only wrong; they are often judged to be evil and irredeemable. ...

"Moderation does not mean truth is always found equidistant between two extreme positions, nor does it mean that bold and at times even radical steps are not necessary to advance moral ends."

Also out of style just now are those "general characteristics we associate with moderation," prudence, humility, aversion to fanaticism, acceptance of complexity. "Its antithesis is not conviction, but intemperance." No one can accuse our incoming president of having any undue habits of restraint. "[I]f he governs as he campaigned, [Trump] will summon forth and amplify the darkest impulses in our nation."

“If you must be indiscrete, be discrete in your indiscretion.” ― Mark Twain

When our good old Secretary of Education, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and tobacco addict Bill Bennett cobbled together his Book of Virtues from the pantheon of Western males' writings 20 years ago, Moderation did not rise to Table of Contents material. It seems too plain perhaps, the vanilla of virtues, not visible for the taller trees of self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty and faith. (Neither did it make an appearance in the index.)

Mr. Trump is not much for book reading, and it's safe to say that Bennett's book did not find its way to his dinner table, bedtime, or anytime family reading. Not even the Children's version.

With the benefit of a month's history, we can compare today's piece by Wehner, even before we fetch it from the driveway. Eight Was Enough, he says, not longing for a third Obama term, for various reasons, even though "it would be silly to lay all the blame for this at the feet of Mr. Obama." Yes, yes, he "turned out to be great at poetry and bad at prose," and his opposition was quick to read "arrogance" in Obama's every move. And his failure, if that's what it was, "in a manner and on a scale that damaged his party, undermined faith in the institutions of government and left the nation more riven than he found it," all on him?

Let's get back to that talk of moderation, shall we?

For most of Wehner's Republican fellow-travellers, two years of Obama as president was more than they could bear. Given the power, Mitch McConnell was willing to sacrifice the capacity of the U.S. Senate to accomplish anything in order to sabotage Obama's re-election. Speaking of epic failures. By the end of the 2nd term, McConnell was willing to throw in the legitimacy of the Supreme Court as well, obstructing a well-qualified (and arguably moderate) nominee by violating the spirit of the Constitution in favor of the crapshoot of the 2016 presidential race.

The "listlessness" of the economy is a symptom of the intentional manipulation of systems for winners to take all. It reaches back to the 1990s, when technology and globalization were spreading prosperity to the far corners of the world in unpredictable ways, and we shipped jobs overseas faster than we manufactured them at home. From EPI Issue Brief, 2012

It reaches back to the Reagan years, when the steadily increasing productivity of the middle class stopped steadily increasing wages.

It crashed and burned first in the excesses of the dot com bubble, the war-mongering response to the 9/11 attack, and finally the all-American bubble of real estate financial engineering.

And no, Obama did not quite fix all that, nor race relations to boot. He did not eliminate "the conditions that allowed a cynical demagogue to rise up and succeed him," but to imagine that it's Obama's fault that the Republican Party was hijacked by anti-government extremists—not in 2015 or 2016, but starting with Newt Gingrich leading the revolution against Bill Clinton—is a tale of scapegoating that reeks of fanaticism and denial of complexity.

To absolve the people who brought us to this point based on the perception of Obama's "arrogance" is to deny the source of the problem before us. Obama was so arrogant, we... elected Donald J. Trump? That's too easy and too absurd. As Wehner told us just a month ago, "victory spawns imitation," and if we don't figure out this puzzle better than blaming Obama, it's going to be a long way down.

My four week reading backlog juxtaposes Wehner's thoughts on moderation with the holiday weekend and Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham jail, with its criticism of white moderates "more devoted to 'order' than to justice." I took the time to read the whole thing and consider the context from more than half a century ago. We've moved beyond "Colored" and "Whites Only" drinking fountains, at least. We outlawed poll taxes with the 24th Amendment. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and extended by Congress and Richard Nixon in 1970, Gerald Ford in 1975, Ronald Reagan in 1982, and George W. Bush in 2006.

As Obama prepared to run for his second term, and Congress turned itself into a useless swamp of partisan obstruction, Republican-controlled state legislatures went to work, passing a record number of restrictions to voting: photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting, hurdles to registration. By the 2016 election, there were sweeping court victories in four states (North Carolina, Kansas, North Dakota and Texas) to offset them, but 13 other states kept theirs in place. The ACLU has lawsuits going in fifteen states.

Four white "moderates" and the incomparable Clarence Thomas in the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby Co. v. Holder that things are just way better than they were in 1965 (or at least not matching the old coverage formula), discrimination not nearly as pervasive, flagrant, widespread, or rampant as it used to be. Mirabile dictu, Congress did not answer the president's call "to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls." (Legislation was drawn up and duly buried in committees.)

Those conditions favoring a cynical (and race-baiting) demagogue's rise make a better scapegoat than Obama's uppitiness, as a matter of fact.

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

Weather report Permalink to this item

10 days National Weather Service data for Boise

And now we're back to inversion, no one's favorite winter weather in Boise, but it never collapsed a roof or flooded a basement, at least. Dull gray sky, almost as if it would snow, but just random bits of fog and hoarfrost letting go. "Haze," the Weather Service calls it this morning, forecasting "areas fog," "patchy dense fog" tonight, more fog, mostly clear, maybe even "sunny" after a fashion.

It's better up higher, is the deal.

Tamara Shapiro's Open Range Radio is mixing it up, the Steep Canyon Rangers' "More Bad Weather On the Way," some good banjo picking. Neil Young, "Like a Hurricane." I thought of "Nights in White Flannel" after we put on the cozy winter sheets last night.

Lows in the teens, highs in the 20s through the holiday weekend. There are worse things. Chances of rain and snow middle of next week. Now is the January of our discontent, and a chance for the Ada County Highway District to catch up on road clearing, maybe. Maybe not. Sidewalk scofflaws aren't about to repent for their sins: what didn't get cleared when the sun shown and we were up above freezing for short afternoons has now compacted to hard ice.

Update: Segue to Carl Scheider's Private Idaho, the brief bit of morning sun slipping back to the "Hazy Shade Of Winter (Purple Haze Mix)," The Bangles' incomparable cover of Simon and Garfunkel. Then Hendrix, then Little Feat, Bob Weir on deck. Play it!

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

The revolution will be twittervised Permalink to this item

This would be funny if we weren't in such a dangerous situation. Pouter in Chief and World's Sorest (sort of) Winner Donald J. Trump is now back to "guilty as hell" on the subject of Hillary Clinton. (In a series of tweets, of course, the medium best-tailored to the man's attention span. This is a notch more presidential though: some of his thoughts are extending past 140 characters.)

What are Hillary Clinton's people complaining about with respect to the F.B.I. Based on the information they had she should never.....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

have been allowed to run - guilty as hell. They were VERY nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states - no enthusiasm!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

There were 3 minutes of ellipsis there... on tweets posted at 4:22 and 4:25 am EST today. Can LOCK HER UP be far behind? The rally-goers for the victory tour certainly weren't ready to let that go. More trumpery reading from the Beeb:

Trump's theatre of the absurd

10 things we learnt from Trump press event

Full transcript of press conference

Meanwhile, Jason "Benghazi" Chaffetz has awoken from his long winter's nap, with a new target in his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee crosshairs. I predict his committee will get around to the issues of conflict of interest in the Trump adminstration approximately never, but there's a "stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation" whistling over to the Office of Government Ethics for its director having "blurr[ed] the line between public relations and official ethics guidance." With Twitter!

"[Chaffetz] cited a bizarre series of Twitter posts that the office made in late November congratulating Mr. Trump for divesting from his business — even though Mr. Trump had made no such commitment. Mr. Chaffetz also said that the office had failed to adequately investigate Hillary Clinton, based on allegations that she had not properly disclosed fees paid for speeches she gave after leaving her post as secretary of state."

And ok, the series of tweets were a bit bizarre, effusively congratulating @realDonaldTrump for his non-existent plan for divestiture. They read as if somebody left the official account logged in and an office wag found it and decided to have a little fun.

That should be worth a million dollar HOGR Comm investigation, at least, and a useful distraction from the swamp waters rising in lower Manhattan and Foggy Bottom. In said "veiled threat," Chaffetz included some scare quotes for good measure:

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and may at "any time" investigate "any matter" as set forth in House Rule X.

I suppose that's rule #10, but when you're whetting the knife so much better to put it in Roman Numerals. X marks the spot.

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

The embarrassment Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein: America will miss Barack Obama's decency. Beggars understatement.

I was in the car today when the long-awaited Trump press conference came on the air, and I found it pretty horrible even before it went off the rails. There was the kickoff from Sean Spicer, adamant denial of those unsubstantiated dossiers (btw "unsubstantiated" does not imply false), ok, sure. He introduced the VP-elect who said vacuous campaign-sounding things on the way to introducing the P-elect.

There were smatterings of applause. At a press conference? It was in the lobby of Trump Tower and he brought his own family claque. There were no microphones on the reporters to feed the radio broadcast. It was just Trump talking, and the occasional sotto voce from the NPR guy trying to summarize what was being asked by the reporters in the room, because Trump's voice was all that was making it out of the room.

He was by turns ingratiating and bullying, bouncing from good cop to bad cop without missing a beat. He's not presidential; he's a showman. A promoter. A real estate salesman. A man capable of talking about himself in the third person. But mostly, a narcissistic sociopath. It's not about us; it's about him. You don't need to hear the reporters questions; all that matters is what he says.

There will be so much more to say about this in the coming weeks and months and years. We will all know what gaslighting feels like, because we are going to be gaslit to the moon.

But since I turned off the radio, I missed the part about how he could have made a $2 billion deal in Dubai if he felt like it, but he didn't. He totally could have done it, and he's like the only guy who could do that, he said. The Boston Globe reports, and I need to say, I'm not making this up, he said he turned it down because “I don’t want to take advantage of anything.”

Sounds legit.

I missed his lawyer assuring us that his businesses in a not-blind trust run by his sons would somehow not be a legal or ethical problem.

Since I was driving on a wet snow floor that required my full attention, it was just as well I missed him saying that only reporters care about his tax returns. Because he won.

But I'm not a reporter, and I absolutely care. I care because there must really be some bad stuff in there. Stuff that even the great and powerful Donald Trump is ashamed of, and great balls of fire that man is not easily embarrassed.

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

Farewell Permalink to this item

More to say about the speech later (we watched, and and were moved, it was a good one), but "this just in," automagically sent from the NRCC's bulk automaton at 8:01pm MST to follow on the heels. This one was signed "NRCC HQ" and sounds like the same corporate persona as the previous one (supposedly from Paul Ryan), tooting the same vuvuzela:

"Thomas -- you just heard Obama’s last major address EVER as president.

"And to the surprise of exactly no one, he delivered a speech filled with partisan rhetoric to stoke his base’s worst fears. This is President Obama’s legacy -- petty partisan games.

"Even in retirement, he plans to train liberal activists to sabotage President-elect Trump’s agenda and destroy your movement, Thomas."

So I should send the NRCC some money to keep "my movement" alive? Riiight. But anyway, if you listened to, watched, or read Obama's speech (this one or most any other), you would know that it did not remotely resemble the NRCC caricature.

The accusations are more about self-disclosure from the NRCC than anything else. Also... Trump's agenda? They make it sound like some one knows what that is. If there is one beyond self-aggrandizement, I don't think even Trump knows what it is. In rough terms, let's guess "fling stuff at the tweetwall and see what makes the mob cheer, so we can rob them blind while they think tweeting back will slow us down."

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

Big storm number... four? Permalink to this item

Photo this morning

Starting to lose track. Got the driveway free and clear yesterday in a lovely respite through the afternoon, mid-30s now feeling balmy, and making the ice more choppable. Street gutters trenched along the six lots leading to our nearest storm drain (we're #5 from it), and the forecast called for maybe an inch of new snow overnight before rain and more warm (i.e. above freezing!) weather today.

What we woke up to was instead five full inches of wet, heavy snow by 8am. It is getting up above freezing at least. Supposed to be near 40 today, so the flood advisory reruns. Rain tonight. ("Chance of precipitation is 100%," as they say.) More tomorrow, then maybe rain and snow, as we snap out of the 30s and back to highs in twenties and lows in tens.

Another snow day for local schools. Widespread grumpiness correlated with age.

Friday, "mostly sunny, with a high near 26" now sounds like perfect weather.

Scraping bottom Permalink to this item

Paul Ryan represents my native state in the House of Representatives, is the Speaker of the House, obviously very smart, capable, and determined. He presents himself as more reasonable than so many of the others in his party. (Too reasonable for a lot of them.) And like all national politicians these days, his main job seems to be fundraising.

The latest email from the National Republican Congressional Committee is under his well-recognized name, even though there's no way to know if he wrote it, or even personally approved it. But it uses that "personal" touch that's supposed to motivate its readers to Pitch in $25, $50 or $100 IMMEDIATELY >>>.

Today's "personal" touch is about as execrable as they come. "Thankfully," Ryan says, "you’ll hear President Obama speak for the last time tonight." That's mean-spirited nonsense, but we know it implies the last time as President, sure. The farewell address. After two terms, 8 years, the country climbing out of a financial crisis that threatened global depression, 20 million more people with health insurance, choose or deny whatever you like from a long list of accomplishments. Say what you will, I say he'll go down in history as one of our great presidents.

It's not a perfect record, by any means. But it's a record to stand behind, which is more than Paul Ryan can yet claim. He's on the verge of his shining moment; leading the House, and with the Senate and the Presidency in Republican control, if his party can accomplish great things, this would be when that happens. We're waiting to see.

In the meantime, I'm taking note of this fundraising letter of his, as an example of bad faith, lack of integrity, and all around lack of dignity.

"Even at the bitter end of his presidency, he still believes bigger government is the solution to our country's problems.

"What makes America great is its people and the freedom they have to live their own lives."

Yes, we have differences in opinion about the role and capacity of government in our lives. But what makes American great is its people, working together. Without this petty animosity:

"But as you’ll hear in his farewell address, President Obama will not stop fighting once he’s out of office. He has made it painfully clear that he’ll continue to try to divide our nation with partisan ploys well into his retirement."

Ah, so it isn't the last time we'll hear Obama speak, and good for that. (Democratic Presidents have stayed pretty active after their terms, of late.) As for dividing the nation with partisan ploys, who would know better than Paul Ryan and the NRCC?

9.Jan.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

To the victor belong the spoils Permalink to this item

Greg Palast: Here's Why the GOP Fought So Hard to Stop Rust Belt State Vote Recount.

"[I]f you're black, the chance your vote will spoil for a technical reason is 900 percent higher than if you're white. And we saw that happen in Michigan, in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida."

Not sure if that's a data-backed technical assessment, but the round number makes it feel slightly hyperbolic. Many times higher, to be sure. And enough to tip an absurdly close election.

Ethically challenged Permalink to this item

Meryl Streep made a bang-up personal statement at the Golden Globes last night extolling the virtue of empathy, but as Ezra Klein pointed out this morning, the Donald Trump vs. "dishonest" media (and Hollywood) is just the circus act the PEOTUS wants while the unpresidented swampiness creeps into foggy bottom. Not exactly old news from just Saturday: the race to confirm nominees is outpacing the Office of Government Ethics. From the OGE's director, Walter Schaub:

"More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings. I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process."

Ready for slush work

And this just in, shared by a friend on Facebook, the February 12, 2009 (Happy Lincoln's Birthday!) "Dear Harry" letter from Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader of the Senate's minority back then, starting with this precious pronouncement:

"The Senate has the Constitutional duty to provide its Advice and Consent on Presidential nominations, a duty which we take seriously."

(Except, of course, when it serves partisan purposes to ignore it completely.) When he was in the little chair, he said "reaffirm our commitment to conduct the appropriate review," "consisten wiht the long standing and best practices of committees, regardless of which political party is in the majority," and "we will insist on their fair and consistent application." (Except when we don't.)

But let's take Mr. McConnell at his word from three weeks after Barack Obama's first inauguration, and affirm the following 8 standards should be met:

  1. The FBI background check is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a hearing being noticed.
  2. The Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing.
  3. Financial disclosure statements (and tax returns for applicable committees) are complete and submited to the committee for review prior to a hearing being noticed.
  4. All committee questionnaires are complete and have been returned to the committee. A reasonable opportunity for follow-up questions has been afforded committee members, and nominees have answered, with sufficient time for review prior to a committee vote.
  5. The nominee is willing to have committee staff interviews, where that has been the practice.
  6. The nominee has had a hearing.
  7. The nominee agrees to courtesy visits with members when requested.
  8. The nominee has committed to cooperate with the Ranking Member on requests for information and transparency.

Sounds like very serious due dilligence. Hear, hear. And, oh, "There will be additional requirements, honoring the traditions of the Senate, for judicial nominees." Common sense and long standing practices. Utter nonpartisanship. Fair and informed decision-making.

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

Social Insecurity Permalink to this item

While waiting for today’s paper delivery, plenty of unread previous weeks to catch up on. An editorial headline from Dec. 18 caught my eye: Will Mr. Trump Cave on Social Security? The verb refers to a supposed campaign "promise," synonymized as his "hands-off pledge" by the end of the opening paragraph. I’m thinking, promise? Pledge? Did Trump make any such thing, or did he just trot out notions to see what would get the biggest rise out of his rallies? He never hesitates to contradict himself, one day (or tweet) to the next). After admitting that "drain the swamp" was a slogan someone handed him, but gosh, he liked the reaction it got, so yeah, totally in favor of that, and everybody listening to the inside look at the con imagined they were in on the joke. (Then there was Newt Gingrich trying to jive along, and getting spanked. Sad!)

But Social Security. Back in the day, perhaps a while after I became convinced we were going to run out of oil before my midlife crisis, it seemed impossibly far away, and not something that it made sense to count on. With Jeanette’s head start, we’ve been beneficiaries for a while, and this year, I’m planning to turn 62 and become, as we say, "eligible." The goalposts of Full Retirement Age have been moved for me and my fellow center-of-Baby Boomers: 66y 2mo. (And all the older-than-center Boomers too; the posts moved for everyone born 1938 and later, and FRA is 66 years for everyone born from 1943 to 1954.) That makes for a bigger discount if you want to start early—just over 25% in my case. If I want to pretend 65 is still retirement age, Social Security will send me 92.2% of my benefits.

On the other hand, with the system as it is today, if I can wait even longer, "delayed retirement credits" are an attractive option. For each month, the credit amounts to two-thirds of 1%, or a whopping 8% per year. That’s an "investment" option backed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America unlike anything else in the world. Between that magic month later this year and 2025, when I turn 70 and it's delayed retirement game over, the difference between the delayed credits and the discount for starting early is a whopping seventy-five percent. For anyone who’s willing and able to delay gratification, it’s as no-brainery as you get.

Except... with great opportunity comes great incentive for foxes guarding henhouses, and the Republicans in charge of Congress are making bold noises about slash and burn.

"By law, the secretaries of labor, the Treasury and health and human services are trustees of Social Security. Mr. Trump’s nominees to head two of these departments, Labor and Treasury — Andrew Puzder, a fast-food executive, and Steve Mnuchin, a Wall Street trader and hedge fund manager turned Hollywood producer — have no government experience and no known expertise on Social Security.

"His nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia, has been a champion of cuts to all three of the nation’s large social programs—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When discussing reforms to Social Security, he has ignored ways to bring new revenue into the system while emphasizing possible benefit cuts through means-testing, private accounts and raising the retirement age."

Whether I go early, FRA or late, the carrot of Medicare—as it is—dangles in the near-distance: single-payer government health insurance at age 65. (Sort of single-payer; along with the lucrative support for pharmaceuticals, we’ve arranged for insurance companies to play too, selling "Medicare Advantage" deals that require lots of marketing, and market competition; whose advantage those are about is an open question.)

Letters responding to the editorial pointed out a few obvious facts: relatively small changes made now can address the actuarial problem of what happens in 2034. Why should there be a $118,500 (or even $250,000) cap on earned income subject to taxation? And for the working men and women who will need the insurance the most, raising the retirement age to 69 would be extraordinarily cruel, something that could only make sense to a privileged elite enjoying an all-expenses paid sinecure in Washington D.C. and jetting home on weekends.

(And in case you were wondering: the overnight snowmaggedon didn't materialize enough to slow delivery, and the paper was cozy under the van, next to the back tire. Really should put on the glasses when going out in twilight.)

7.Jan.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Snow load Permalink to this item

Storm #2

The twelve days of Christmas have come and gone, but the White lingers on. We're having a winter like none we can remember here in Boise, and with deep cold at sunrise, contemplating what's next. 0°F in Boise, -11°F in Caldwell. A "wintry mix" coming, we appreciate that snowplow finally finding our lowly side street, one swipe down the middle made a big difference. Also, the Davey Tree guys have been working all week to cut branches near power lines. They did our juniper a day after the last storm, in brilliant, cold sunshine, and they're rolling this—Saturday—morning, 8:30 am, with more work to do. A third big storm with a precip potpourri on its way, heralded with old-school all caps WINTER STORM WARNING behind red letter links:

A MOIST PACIFIC STORM WILL BRING MORE SNOW TO THE REGION TODAY. SNOW WILL BEGIN IN SOUTHEAST OREGON LATE THIS MORNING AND IN SOUTHWEST IDAHO EARLY THIS AFTERNOON. THE SNOW WILL END ACROSS SOUTHEAST OREGON LATE THIS AFTERNOON AND EARLY THIS EVENING ACROSS SOUTHWEST IDAHO. AFTER A BREAK TONIGHT A SECOND SURGE OF PRECIPITATION WILL OCCUR SUNDAY. TODAYS EVENT WILL BE ENTIRELY SNOW BUT SUNDAY/S EVENT WILL HAVE SNOW...SLEET...AND FREEZING RAIN. WARMER SOUTHERN AREAS MAY EVEN HAVE PLAIN RAIN LATER SUNDAY. TEMPERATURES WILL BE RISING THROUGH THE WEEKEND AND WILL GO ABOVE FREEZING IN THE WARMEST AREAS SUNDAY. ...

SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF SNOW WILL MAKE TRAVEL DANGEROUS. ONLY TRAVEL IN AN EMERGENCY. IF YOU MUST TRAVEL...KEEP AN EXTRA FLASHLIGHT...FOOD...AND WATER IN YOUR VEHICLE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY.

3 to 6 inches today, and another 3 to 5 tomorrow; it's a perfect forecast for a ski area (away from avalanche zones), not so perfect for a big city that gets legitimate snow emergencies once every three decades or so. (1985 was a big deal, remember? Yeah, me neither.)

Morning walk, winter's tale

The Hydrologic Outlook follows the wind chill and winter storm warnings, far enough away that it's not all caps yet. But "Warmer temperatures and low-elevation rain Sunday night and Monday may lead to nuisance flooding in lower valleys next week" has us wondering what the boundaries of "nuisance" are. Not so much capital letters because "Forecast uncertainty remains, and confidence in when, and the extent of flooding that may occur is not high at this time."

The Snake River near Weiser and the lower Weiser River could be more than a nuisance if the ice jams the wrong way.

A friend with better anticipation than me drove to Baker City this week to track down a roof rake, and I'm in line to borrow it later today, maybe jolly doing it while new flakes are falling. (Definitely jollier when it's snow rather than sleet, freezing rain or "plain rain.")

Update: The weather forecast backed off to less dire here in Boise, less snow, still the freezing rain, but maybe not so much of it? It's warming up, but not everywhere at the same time. 10pm Saturday night, it's 12°F in Caldwell, and 20° in Boise, light wind out of the west; 24° and blowing 23 ESE in Mountain Home. Into next week, temperatures hanging around freezing, rain/snow mix a while.

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

Welcoming our new galactic overlords Permalink to this item

Stumbling out of the gate, and curiously cooking up a swampy plan the day before the new Congress got sworn in, the House Republicans wanted to start off the session by neutering the House's independent ethics office, because accusations can be so irksome. Word is, the leadership was opposed to something with astoundingly bad optics. But... House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was in favor. It was the timing that didn't seem quite right. Maybe do it on a Friday afternoon? Or some other time when not so many people are watching? Oh, what the heck, maybe we should involve the Democrats a little, too.

Both of Idaho's Congressmen say they were opposed. Rep. Mike Simpson, believably, said he voted against it in the caucus' secret ballot. Rep. Raúl Labrador said the dog ate his homework so he was late for the party, but by golly, now that he's seen the answer in the back of the book, he for sure would've been opposed. Good timing.

What else you got? Paul Ryan, accepting his re-election as Speaker wanted to speak to the American people, and say "We hear you. We will do right by you."

What we hear out in the cheap seats is yada yada yada confirmation bias, and let's see if we lose our healthcare insurance. KFF.org's poll tracking shows the country about as evenly divided on the question of the Affordable Care Act as we were in the election. 50-50 for those who expressed an opinion, in spite of the tireless anti-marketing from the Republicans.

But yes, now that your party controls everything this "repeal and replace" trope will go forward, starting first and foremost with a "repeal" that's a muddle of cherry-picking and delayed action, and a "replace" that we expect to be a pig in a poke.

If you had something to replace the ACA, you could just roll that out, eh? Just "replace," and we're done.

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

Happy sesquicentennial, Parks Canada! Permalink to this item

2012 photo with a dodgy camera

In honor of the the 150th anniversary of Confederation (who knew?), Canada is giving away F.R.E.E. 2017 Discovery Passes to all of Parks Canada, coast-to-coast to coast. (Three coasts, eh.)

Free as in beer, not even the cost of the stamp to mail it you. Just ordered ours, and now have the happy obligation to figure out how (and where) to use it! Fun! Free! (Camping fees not included. Terms of Use. TL;DR but said I did. Don't hate me.)

Oh the places we might go... There are 47 National Parks, to start with. We (or I) have been to Waterton Lakes, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. Five down, 42 to go, even before we get to the Marine Conservation Areas, Historic Sites and Canals. (Free lockage in the last of those, along withe free admission in all the others.) Prince Albert? Prince Edward? Pacific Rim? Thousand-year-old cedars in Revelstoke? The Bay of Fundy? Nááts'ihch'oh? Riding Mountain in Manitoba? Ukkusiksalik? Tuktuk? Vuntut? Wapusk, up where the polar bears live? The Gulf Islands and Salish Sea?

They're even giving away ten pro tips for making the most of it. Plus one: 11. Join the Celebration! You might say there's never been a better time to go to Canada.

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

The year of living dangerously Permalink to this item

While the winners proceed, drunk with power, the losers huddle, hung-over in a broad but disorganized coalition. Here's calling-it-quits (for personal reasons, he says) conservative talk show host Charles J. Sykes, on Where the Right Went Wrong. Tribal loyalty trumps what used to pass for principle.

“...I was under the impression that conservatives actually believed things about free trade, balanced budgets, character and respect for constitutional rights. Then along came this campaign... right to the end, relatively few of my listeners bought into the crude nativism Mr. Trump was selling at his rallies. What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.”

More snow today

On the left, quite a few people were still looking on the page of the menu that had been torn out, unhappy that the "limited edition" (!) of Bernie's Yearning was no longer being served. Did they think sitting it out was a bold statement? That the alternative was not possible? That it might not be so bad?

Harvard professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt posed the question Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? It was in print three weeks ago under the headline “Is Our Democracy in Danger?” (Spoiler alert: yes, and yes.)

“The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a 'litmus test' to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

“Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results. ... Democratic institutions must be reinforced by strong informal norms. ... Norms serve as the soft guardrails of democracy, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict.

“Among the unwritten rules that have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play. For much of our history, leaders of both parties resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage, effectively underutilizing the power conferred by those institutions. There existed a shared understanding, for example, that anti-majoritarian practices like the Senate filibuster would be used sparingly, that the Senate would defer (within reason) to the president in nominating Supreme Court justices, and that votes of extraordinary importance—like impeachment—required a bipartisan consensus. Such practices helped to avoid a descent into the kind of partisan fight to the death that destroyed many European democracies in the 1930s.”

The Republicans have been blowing up norms since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. During Obama’s terms, Mitch McConnell hijacked the Senate to further the tribal interests of his party, culminating in the outright theft of a Supreme Court seat, a truly outrageous affront on legitimate governance. The conclusions we’re drawn to are alarming. The conclusion of the op-ed is hedged only slightly:

“American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis. In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large-scale riots or protests — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy. We must be vigilant. The warning signs are real.”

If ordinary circumstances prevail... The only thing missing from the Wikipedia entry for Demagogue is a 21st century section, but someone will get to that shortly. Consider the first paragraph's extended dictionary entry:

"A demagogue or rabble-rouser is a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues have usually advocated immediate, violent action to address a national crisis while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness or disloyalty. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so. Most who were elected to high office changed their democracy into some form of dictatorship."

More particularly, consider this guide to leading crowds:

1. Keep the dogma simple. Make only 1 or 2 points.

2. Be forthright and powerfully direct. Speak only in the telling or ordering mode.

3. Reduce concepts to stereotypes which are black and white.

4. Speak to people’s emotions and stir them constantly.

5. Use lots of repetition; repeat your points over and over again.

And a few more choice nuggets from the wit and wisdom of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Demagoguery is best suited to rallies; a polarized (and polarizing) campaign is ideal. Keep it going with a "victory tour." We can hardly wait for the inauguration.

A recent NPR feature on speeches (and speech-writers) for such an occasion included the impossibly forgettable opening sentence from our first President and proceeded to the greatest hits of the 20th century: FDR's "the only thing we have to fear," and the first call I could hear with my own ears, JFK's "ask not."

From that brilliant exhortation devolve to Ronald Reagan's greatest acting role, and the rallying cry for all those who deprecate the very idea of government:

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

It looked good there when it popped out of a head and down to the page, witty, catchy, memorable, and the Gipper could sure deliver a line. The crowd ate it up. Just cut out the cancer and happy days will be here again.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007