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Robert Reich wrote his op-ed before Thursday's summit, and before the House voted on Wednesday to eliminate the antitrust exception the health insurance enjoys, so maybe we'll make some progress on introducing some competition in an industry that sorely needs it.
One fact he cited shows how sorely: America's five largest health insurers made a total profit of $12.2 billion last year; that was 56 percent higher than in 2008.
The Idaho Statesman had a piece with a stark headline that More small Idaho employers shed health insurance in 2009, with attention-getting statistics (and a graph), showing that "the percentage of Idaho employers offering health insurance to full-time workers dropped to 56 percent in 2009, down from 63 percent in 2007 and 82 percent in 2002."
Larger employers are holding their own, sort of, with "the percentage of businesses with more than 10 employees offering health insurance was essentially unchanged from 2007," but small businesses—and their workers—aren't keeping up. Source document, from the Idaho Department of Labor: Fringe Benefit Survey.
As the remake gets ready to rock the moviegoing audience this spring (with Liam Neeson as Zeus, for goodness sake, they hardly need 3-D), every time I hear that phrase, I'm reminded of our chance encounter with the 1981 version starring Harry Hamlin (and Laurence Olivier as Zeus, it's a big role) in a Salt Lake City matinee with a very sticky floor, and the comically bad "special effects."
So maybe there is a connection with the health care reform debate.
Anyway, the headline above is what rode over Tobin Harshaw's rundown of the big Thursday meeting with the President and Congressional leaders, and even without following all the links, it provided more back-and-forth than a ping-pong match, and quite a bit more entertainment than the simple dismissals that local Republicans were so willing to use for punctuation. (Hmm, but none of them were actually there, so all they know is what they read in the intertubes too.)
As much entertainment as Harry Hamlin in a tunic, waving a sword? That's harder to judge.
I've been through a couple sizeable earthquakes, the 1987 Whittier Narrows (swinging at the top of a downtown L.A. highrise) and the 1989 Loma Prieta (only 5 stories up that time, at Stanford). The latter of those was a 7.0, and when the shaking stopped, I hoped that that was the biggest quake I'd ever experience. (Haiti's recent earthquake was a 7.0.)
Today's earthquake in Chile measured 8.8 on the logarithmic scale. That's 500 times as much energy as a 7.0. One of the reported aftershocks was a big as the earthquake in Haiti.
So the House quartet gets its say in the Statesman, after the question of the legislature overriding PERSI's board is moot for this year. The Senate inacted (so to speak), and the state's pensioners will get their 1% mite. The issue's been pretty thoroughly flogged, so I'll leave it with a concluding observation. While Messrs. Denney, Moyle, Bedke & Roberts are correct that the long-term health of the pension fund is of concern to the state as a whole, they have not made a case that the legislature is better qualified to manage it than the board. If anything, their mishandling of the work argues against the idea. Among their failures is a shortage of honesty in providing context. They state:
"The federal government has denied COLA increases for Social Security recipients, the military and retired federal employees this year."
The federal government did not "deny" anything. The COLA is "based on the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next. If there is no increase, there is no COLA." (They could haved looked that up... at the top of Security Online's Frequently Asked Questions http://www.socialsecurity.gov/cola/2010/2010faqs.htm.)
Secondly, they omit the fact that last year, when the SS COLA was higher than it has been in almost three decades (going back to the raging inflation of the early 1980s), 5.8%, and the state's calculated COLA for PERSI was 5.4%, the PERSI Board withheld most of that increase, responding to what the horrible market conditions had done to the fund balance. They spelled out what they did this year in their 4th quarter newsletter that all the legislators could have read months ago. Against the index Idaho uses (the CPI-U, for "All Urban Consumers"), keeping benefits the same this year would have actually been a 1.48% increase, but the Board decided to give that, and an additional 1.0%, from the 4.4% retirees didn't get last year.
Too complicated for the Statesman's Readers View? For the House? Maybe so. But if they want to make a bid to be managers, the House leaders will have to try again next year.
For the last project I worked on at HP, we had a brainstorming session one afternoon, thinking about what sorts of things the technology we were working on ("atomic resolution storage") might be used for, and filled out a bunch of "invention disclosures" that were the first step toward a patent in the corporate machine. A few of these were genuinely good ideas, and a few more than that proceeded through the system and had U.S. Patents granted.
About a year and a half after I left the company, they filed one more with me as named inventor, and here 5 years after the filing, the patent has been granted, and assigned to H.P.'s intellectual property arm, Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.
I don't stand to get anything out if it, and I rather doubt whether HP will either, but here it is, a capsule with a servo-activated drug dispenser designed to respond to its environment after being swallowed. The abstract:
"The present invention provides a swallowable internal drug medical device. The device includes a swallowable capsule. A sensing module is disposed in the capsule. A bioactive substance dispenser is disposed in the capsule. A memory and logic component is disposed in the capsule and in communication with the sensing module and the dispenser."
The implementation is left to the prospective licensee.
When I went to fetch an image to illustrate this blog entry, I was reminded I've seen this before.... Interesting, good old 6,929,636, granted in August, 2005 looks like much the same thing. Well, don't blame me, I got out of the business a long time ago, and I thought that one was going to be my last.
There are so many arcane rules, it's hard to keep track, eh? The latest wailing and gnashing from the GOP is about the idea—the very idea!—that the Senate would use the "budget reconciliation" process to put through the big health care bill.
"Reconciliation in effect protects bills from filibusters and thus from the requirement for a 60-vote supermajority to end debate, and instead allows legislation with a budgetary impact to pass by a simple majority after limited debate. Minority parties—right now, the Republicans—tend to hate it."
When the Republicans were in the majority, they weren't so disdainful of using the power play. I know, we're all shocked, shocked to learn such a thing.
"Sixteen of the 22 'reconciliation bills' that have made it through Congress were passed in the Senate when Republicans had majorities. Among them were the signature tax cuts of President George W. Bush, the 1996 overhaul of the welfare system, the Children's Health Insurance Program, Medicare Advantage insurance policies and the Cobra program allowing people who leave a job to pay to keep the health coverage their employer provided (the R and A in Cobra stand for 'reconciliation act').
"Is there something wrong with 'majority rules'?" Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, once said of the reconciliation process when his party controlled the Senate. "I don't think so."
From his Party's side, Obama's summit was a "vigorous, respectful, and historic discussion." From the opposition's, it was a setup, a sham, just a show. John Cornyn's email for the NRSC said (in part), "Republican leadership brought one clear message to the table: It's time to start over from scratch with a focus on controlling costs. The American people deserve a health care bill that controls costs, protects Medicare and doesn’t raise taxes."
Who knew, the Republicans were all about protecting Medicare! Hey, if you like it so much why weren't you in favor of extending it, down to age 55 for starters. Let's build on success! The goal is to control costs, get everyone covered, and pay for it fairly.
Controlling costs is important, but "time to start over from scratch"? I know you all agreed that was going to be the message, but I'm sorry, it just doesn't make a lick of sense. We're not starting over, we're moving forward. Get with the program or get the hell out of the way.
And the part about not raising taxes, that's a red herring. How we pay for health care is negotiable. Right now, some of us are lucky enough to be able to pay insurance companies, and providers, up the whazoo. Others can't pay, and so they push their costs out to everyone. Some of us have what we pay hidden as part of compensation for employment, some of us see the bare numbers month to month (and a lot of us are out of work because things have been outsourced to countries that have better solutions, or more exploitation of their labor force, like China).
The PERSI fracas is the subject of a Dan Popkey story featured on the Statesman's front page today.
Idaho's own Legislature concentrates more entertainment in a shorter time since they're "part-time," and usually start talking about how anxious they are to "go home" about, oh, late February.
House Republicans are so hopping mad they can hardly speak on the record, because Senate Republicans... decided to go with the professional administrators of Idaho's large and well-run pension plan, rather than with a free-lance, far-right, anti-government lobbyist, go figure! Can't we all just get along? And make up the numbers that suit our purposes?
"All bets are off," said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, a 22-year House veteran. "I just shudder. You do the easy ones you think are no-brainers and all of a sudden it blows up. It's going to be interesting to see how it all rattles out."
(Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Iona, me neither.)
"This sets the stage for a budget wreck," Loertscher said. "You have a few retirees show up out here on the steps of the Capitol and all of a sudden they get their way. It sends a signal that the way you ply the Legislature is go stand on the steps and holler a little bit and we'll fold up."
Those damn whiney citizens. I'm sure it was that little demonstration on the Capitol steps that tipped the balance. They always do, right? Look what the Tea Party demonstrations have already accomplished in the State. On the other hand, it might have had something to do with the the citizens participating in our democracy who contacted Senator John Andreason (and others) wholly in opposition to the House Concurrent Resolution?
Great reporting by Popkey, detailing the inner workings of an often disturbed body. Note that Wayne Hoffman's name doesn't come up: it was former Senator Rod Beck "who supplied an actuary's report" but Beck snorted a week ago that he's "not that weird" to actually pay attention to the details that he purports to care about; it's Wayne Hoffman who fed him the report, to feed to Loertscher and his committee.
That was a response in the comments of a Huckleberries thread prompted by the Ward/Labrador dust-up (ID-01 Republican primary, for those further afield) and Dennis Mansfield's comments about it, but it applies more generally.
Today's top headline in the Statesman: Idaho delegates hopeful for summit and the subhead "Sen. Jim Risch, however, calls today's televised forum with President Obama a sham."
Sort of like what Jon Stewart lampooned last night (and previously), stitching together the Republican demands in advance of said summit, to (a) show them what the plans were, and (b) plans? You're coming into this with plans?! It's a setup!
Our ID-02 rep is quoted saying "basically, this is a show" (but a show "that has the potential of leading to something"). This is a show that the Republicans demanded after all. Do be careful what you ask for.
Whatever comes out of it, this is pretty expensive entertainment, coming as it does at all of our expense.
When I saw the This Old House episode with the wrap party for the Newton Centre Project I was thinking it all looked fabulous, but how much did it cost? They never talk about that very much.
That question is still out there, but next up is something completely different: an absolute wreck of a house, in a wreck of a neighborhood, in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Definitely "back to their roots" for the 30th season.
"Woooah! Are you kidding me? I tell you what, we've seen some bad kitchens in our day, but you win! This is the worst!"
Wayne Hoffman persuaded a couple members of the Idaho House to resurrect HCR 42, and then the House passed the measure to zero out this year's cost of living adjustment for the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) by a wide margin. The Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee was all set to have a lively hearing this afternoon... but cancelled that on short notice, and cancelled HCR 42 as well.
The net of the last two years for PERSI recipients is that they've slipped behind the increases in the cost of living: the 5.4% increase of the index last year was met with a severely trimmed 1% increase in payouts. This year, they'll be getting 1% more, against a cost of living decrease of 1.48%: that's 2 steps forward, while expenses took 3.8.
One of our state Senators noted that she might have a conflict of interest in voting for a ban on tobacco candy: her husband's a lobbyist for the company formerly known as Philip Morris! When it came down to abstaining, and letting the ban be approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, she decided to vote after all; killing the bill with a 5-5 tie.
The Master Settlement between the State and Tobacco companies has at the top of its list the prohibition of targeting youth in advertising, promotions, or marketing.
Which universe are we in where tobacco candy is not targeting youth?
For her part, Senator Smyser said she "exercised her freedom of choice" (Idaho Reporter) to go ahead and vote in spite of the conflict of interest. We can only hope that Parma voters exersize their freedom of choice and give Smyser the boot come November.
A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds says not to worry: the products come in child-resistant packaging, "harder to open than some prescription drugs." I'm sure no teen-ager could get through that.
On Saturday, when disaster hit the datacenter of fortboise.org's long-time webhost company, I was one of the lucky ones whose server was unaffected. But one of the websites I look after as a volunteer was not so lucky, and is still in recovery. I figured it might take a day, two at the most, 'cause they've been so reliable for me over the years. On Monday, when we passed the 48 hour mark, and the company was saying it might be Friday before things were back in the pink, I was starting to feel a little surly, and had a headache on the way to bed.
A good night's sleep took care of that, but then my computer woke up with worse than a hangover: no boot, and something smelling serious fried. Ugh. I took the power supply into the shop, thinking that's what smelled the most burnt, but their tester said it was OK. Since I've got neither the parts nor the predilection to play mix and match with mobos and what-not, I took the whole box to the shop and am hoping for some good result... which might've been "today," but now will be "tomorrow," at best.
While trying to figure out what to do with my machine, and how to get that other site back on-line, another client called with a couple new problems with a production application I support. The trifecta! Sort of. It could be worse; I could be a WestHost support guy working day 4 of their worst melt-down ever, with sleep deprivation.
Matt Taibbi recaps Wall Street's bailout hustle in his inimitable style, explaining how Lloyd Blankfein and Goldman Sachs and the rest of the nation's largest banks (and in the case of Goldman, and Morgan Stanley, "banks") came by more than a $hundred billions in profits (or "profits") in an otherwise bleak economy.
"Our economy was like a town where everyone has juicy insurance policies on their neighbors' cars and houses. In such a town, the driving will be suspiciously bad, and there will be a lot of fires."
Then con #2, in which "high-risk gambling houses were allowed to masquerade as conservative commercial banks," and step up to borrow money at no interest.
"Borrowing at zero percent interest, banks like Goldman now had virtually infinite ways to make money. In one of the most common maneuvers, they simply took the money they borrowed from the government at zero percent and lent it back to the government by buying Treasury bills that paid interest of three or four percent. It was basically a license to print money—no different than attaching an ATM to the side of the Federal Reserve."
It goes on. It gets worse. This isn't going to have a happy ending. Con #7 is "The Reload."
"Not many con men are good enough or brazen enough to con the same victim twice in a row, but the few who try have a name for this excellent sport: reloading. The usual way to reload on a repeat victim (called an "addict" in grifter parlance) is to rope him into trying to get back the money he just lost. This is exactly what started to happen late last year."
If your view of the political spectrum has but one dimension, your power of description is constrained to "right" and "left" and whatever intensifying adjectives you can add to those directions. (And if your whole worldview is unidimensional, you're stuck overlaying "good" and "evil" and end up with your head up your axis.)
Add a dash of libertarianism, and things get so much more interesting, even without considering the "fiscal" dimension (in which I get to be quite conservative, thankyouverymuch).
What the Republican and Tea parties seem to have in common is that they're currently out of power, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend, if you don't dig too deep. Glenn Greenwald digs deeper, after Ron Paul's top showing at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. The GOP's complaint at the moment is not that government is too small, it's that their share of it is too small.
Philip K. Howard, at this year's TED: "If you make people self-conscious about their judgments, studies show you will make them make worse judgments." He's got four propositions to fix a broken legal system:
He's founded a "non-profit, non-partisan legal reform coalition" aimed at "restoring common sense to America," the Common Good.
Marc Johnson is way south of the border, and posting about penguins and the Malvinas and the end of the world. Interesting stuff.
"[T]the southern tip of Argentina - Tierra del Fuego - must rank as one of the world's most spectacular pieces of real estate. The Argentines have tried a thousands schemes to create an industrial economy here. Sheep ranching in the 1890s, a massive prison in the early 20th Century and in the 1950s Juan Peron decreed that a naval base be located in Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. More recently, port facilities have been developed. Still it is the incredible scenery that brings most of the visitors and generates most of the pesos.
"Argentina has struggled to create a modern industrial society in a vast land with limited traditional natural resources. What Patagonia has in abundance - breathtaking scenery, penguins, birds and solitude - may be even more valuable in an increasingly industrialized 21st Century."
I forget which recession it was when the term "jobless recovery" first started appearing, but at the exit (we hope) of this Great Recession, the new meme is long-term unemployment. The first graphic in a set of 5 on the NYT is a picture that captures the misery of millions.
"During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and '90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth [was only] 0.9 percent annually."
You may remember the invention of the transistor as a technological threshold, or maybe not. It was the middle of last century after all, and people with a first-hand experience of "transistor radio" are getting to be codgers. (No need for transistor as adjective anymore: pretty much any and every electronic device is full of 'em. The computer you're reading this on has tens of millions of them in the CPU chip alone.)
Only time will tell how much of a breakthrough nanowire transistors without junctions will turn out to be, but it reads huge to me. And tiny: this is something that matters "as the distance between junctions in modern devices drops below 10 nanometers," about the thickness of a cell membrane.
(H/t to slashdot for the link to the EE Times report.)
To paraphrase Jack Horkheimer's lead-in, confused about the climate? Worried that global warming is an elaborate hoax? Wasn't there a well-publicized fraud recently? The Economist is the latest newstainment outlet to jump the shark, reporting that "many climate sceptics are furious." All that's missing are a few exclamation points!!
The media feeding frenzy has been energized by a gaggle of screaming skeptics who don't really know what they're talkng about, but love the attention, thanks. Take a shot of Joseph Romm's climateprogress.org and call me in the morning.
"As Energy Secretary Steven Chu said this week, 'If you look at the climate sceptics, I would have to say honestly, what standard are they being held to? It's very asymmetric. They get to say anything they want.'
"One of the reasons for the dreadful climate coverage is the media's refusal to draw a distinction between what scientists say based on actual observations and analysis in the peer-reviewed literature and what anti-science disinformers say based on their total lack of knowledge of the science and general willingness to misrepresent the facts or make stuff up."
Unlike the Office of Professional Responsibility, David Margolis at the Justice Department has concluded that Jay Bybee and John Yoo stopped short of "professional misconduct" in issuing the so-called torture memos. (Their actions were however "flawed.") Margolis cited the "context" of the national climate of urgency, while for his own part, Yoo seemed to dismiss the idea that he was pressured in any way. "I had never felt that anybody was pushing us in one direction or another."
Who says irony is dead?
The remarkable thing about the story is how much legal blather continues to be scrolled out to dance around the facts, even as the man who redefined the meaning of "Vice-President" remains at large, bragging about what a "big supporter" he was of torture.
After "the former Governor of Alaska" made an appearance in the script for the animated Family Guy on Fox, Sarah Palin rallied her daughter to join her in expressing indignation at what they perceived to be an insult to Trig, and his Down Syndrome.
Turns out, the story's more interesting than that. The Family Guy character who said her mother had the same job Palin used to, is voiced by an actress who has Down Syndrome, and has the advantage of being able to speak for herself.
In an e-mail message sent to The New York Times, Ms. [Andrea Fay] Friedman wrote, "I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor." She added that in her family, "we think laughing is good," and that she was raised by her parents "to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life."
Ms. Friedman continued, "My mother did not carry me around under her arm like a loaf of French bread the way former Governor Palin carries her son Trig around looking for sympathy and votes."
Reading about today's announcement of "$1.5 billion in funding for innovative measures to help families in the states that have been hit the hardest by housing market stress and unemployment" where "hardest hit" is defined as "prices have fallen more than 20% from their peak" makes me think about moral hazard. There's no question the most deflated markets have more than their share of challenges and hardship, but shouldn't the amount that prices flew up before the crash be a factor as well?
Not that we've applied such a test to other bailout recipients, but still.
When real estate investments were ballooning by more than 80% in a few lucky states around the corners of the U.S., were they sharing the wealth with we laggards? Not so much, especially after the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 made the "once-in-a-lifetime" capital gains exclusion over into a "once per sale" exclusion. (Gee, do you suppose it's a coincidence that the real estate bubble started in 1998?)
Every once in a while, a statement slips out that rings like a bell. If the bell-ringer is lucky, s/he made it to someone who would honor a request that s/he "not to be named." One such statement comes from "a leading professor in Jiaotong's School of Information Security Engineering," who teaches web security. The school is in the news for being suspected of a link to the online attack of Google.
"I'm not surprised. Actually students hacking into foreign Web sites is quite normal. I believe there's two kinds of situations. One is it's a completely individual act of wrongdoing, done by one or two geek students in the school who are just keen on experimenting with their hacking skills learned from the school, since the sources in the school and network are so limited. Or it could be that one of the university's I.P. addresses was hijacked by others, which frequently happens."
As refreshing as that candor might be, it still leaves unanswered questions regarding the attack: military espionage? Government-backed, or not? (And if so, which government? Is the Chinese trail a "false flag" cover?) An attempted commercial exploit? The dean of the computer science department at Lanxiang was disqualified from the candor finals after his first sentence:
"I think it's impossible for our students to hack Google or other U.S. companies because they are just high school graduates and not at an advanced level."
These are "just high school graduates" at "a huge vocational school that was established with military support and trains some computer scientists for the military." We're likewise not planning to hold our breath for "our own investigation" promised by the head of the propaganda department of the party committee at Jiaotong U.
Fake Canadian Timothy Egan provides a service that's hard to find from the real citizens of our neighbor to the north: unabashed singing of its praises.
"There are more people in California, at 38 million, than in all of Canada, with about 34 million. But if Canada were the 51st state, they would be on the American medals podium nightly: Their murder rate is just a third that of the United States. They have universal health care, and while the system prompts much grumbling, it works for most people—without the death panel quality of America's heartless private insurers."
(The Candadians responding in the Opinionator Blog are characteristically modest, of course, but are not afraid to defend virtue. "A people with quiet pride, not drunken, braggadocious, in-your face bores. Yet we do laugh at those who think we are second class.")
Huddled masses of cellphone users want to get into Skype, but the mobile phone operators are not so keen on the idea. Show 'em the money, wouldja?
"VoIP is a great technology, but it is not a game-changer," said Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of Alcatel-Lucent, a network equipment maker. "If everything is free, then operators will not be able to survive. The battle is not about technology but the business model."
But... users really like things that are free. And Skype is happy enough, because they've got half a billion registered users, and "now generate 12 percent of all international calls," and along the way, they got eBay to pay $3 billion for their company. (eBay's not as happy as it might be though: it turned around and sold 2/3rds of its stake at a discount. Maybe it got out while the going was good? At any rate, it hedged the bet.)
It's like you were a fairy prince and the Tinker Bell dust settled and the sparkling sound effects faded away, and there you were, sitting in the cold mud and you're just a frog again.
Bill O'Reilly, to his credit, acknowledges that "some of these Tea Party people are nuts," 10% "are just loons, out of their minds. Every group has that." But here he is shocked, shocked that the New York Times "attempts to link Fox News to Tea Party extremists." The audacity!
First off, I want Bill to tick off which 10% of his fellow talking heads at Fox News are the out-of-their-minds loons. Then I want him to talk some more about how "the Tea Party people themselves should be careful" so that their "brand" doesn't get "hammered."
It's OK to be fed up, and a beautiful thing to be sincere. And, "in the end, the Tea Party will rise and fall on well-thought-out policy and being able to persuade their fellow citizens they have solutions to complicated problems."
Standing by for well-thought-out policy statement and solution to any complicated problem.
A description of our Congresscritters visiting the Idaho Legislature yesterday and the ensuing discussion on Facebook brought up the ideal of "non-partisanship," since "political parties by their very nature inhibit the cultivation of participatory democracy by allowing people to simplistically and symbolically throw their allegiance to a theoretical 'platform' without having to do any work themselves."
I think that overstates the force of party platforms, even as the Republicans seem to be moving more toward using their platform as a litmus test. I allowed that the Tea Party would probably affirm "non-partisanship" as a positive state, and was prompted to connect that notion with that of a utopian society. Looking for a handy reference, I fell upon the Wikipedia entry for the 1516 (!) book by Thomas More in which the fictional Utopia was invented. The first line of the 2nd paragraph of the "Book 1" plot pulled me up short:
"...allow him to discuss some of the modern ills affecting Europe such as the tendency of kings to start wars and the subsequent bleeding away of money on fruitless endeavours."
Plus ça change....
Bob Kustra interviewed Bruce Schneier on his New Horizons show earlier this month. Interesting discussion about information and security, with two particular topics of interest: voting systems, and terrorism on airplanes.
Kustra: I think you said 'we ought to just use paper ballots, like in the old days.' Are you really serious about that?
Schneier: The best voting machine, and we use them in Minnesota are paper optical scan ballots. You fill in the ovals, like you did in high school with those standardized tests...
Kustra: I voted in Minnesota once, and I used that.
Schneier: Right, so you know how it works; that paper is fed through a machine where the votes are tallied, and then the paper is stored, effectively, in a safe. That gives you the benefits of the fast tally of an electronic machine, with the paper audit trail. The real problem with electronic voting machines... is that when you're done, you have no way to guarantee your vote was counted.... and no way to do a recount.
Kustra also mentioned that he's from Illinois, but it sounded to me like he's never got around to voting here in Idaho, in spite of him being the head of Boise State University for more than six years now; otherwise he would have volunteered that yes, Idaho is on the leading edge of secure voting, with optically scanned paper ballots. (And perhaps we'll be checking some photo IDs soon, if Mike Moyle convinces the Legislature to go along with his bill.)
Now, on to our little terrorism problem.
"Remember the day after the 'underwear bomber', our Secretary of Homeland Security said, basically, that security succeeded on Christmas Day, and she was villified for it, which frustrates me, because, you know, security did succeed. Think of what happened: we had no bomb explode, no plane crash, nobody die, and terrorist arrested. Sounds like a success to me, sounds like a phenomenal success. I think we should be very happy, and we should be laughing at this guy.
"Instead, we went into sort of 'full fear mode', and, really succeeding in terrorizing ourselves, and this frustrates me. Here it is, this guy failed and yet he's succeeding and causing terror.
"And when you think about why he failed, and this is very important, he failed because of pre-9/11 security. Because, in Amsterdam airport, they screen for obvious guns and bombs, the bomb-maker had to build an inefficient bomb. So instead of using a plunger, or a timer, or a fuse, or something any normal, commercial user of this plastic explosive might employ, he had to build an ad hoc, home-brewed detonation device, with a syringe, and 20 minutes in the bathroom, and a fire in his lap, and actually we don't know what else. That failed. And that's security succeeding. And then after that, new developments in airline security, which is passengers fighting back, quickly subdued him, and the plane landed safely....
"When people are scared, they want to feel better. People are scared of stories. The Christmas Day suicide bombing attempt was a story, and the story made people afraid. And when people are afraid, they really can't hear. You know, 'it wasn't a big deal, relax.' You remember, the day after Christmas, nobody wanted to hear that. Everyone wanted to hear 'how are you going to make us safer? What are you going to do?' There's a belief that perfection is possible, that when something goes wrong, someone must be at fault, someone must be to blame, and there must be a fix.
"Even though in the real world, as we all know, you can do everything right and still have things go wrong. There doesn't have to be a fault. But as a politician you can't say that. So you have to look tough on terror, you have to give people a competing narrative.... even if it makes no sense, [even if it's just 'security theater']."
More Schneier in his latest book: Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World. It's touted by Lawrence Lessig as an "extraordinarily clear and powerful analysis by the leading thinker in security of our time."
That's the latest count around Saturn, according to the text of Wired's digest of the latest report and images from the Cassini team, with close-ups of Mimas and Calypso According to the JPL's moon roundup, only 53 of the 62 have been officially named.
You may remember him from such comedy news segments as "It's a trap!" Now the Republican House leader weighs in with a you-won't-believe-how-lame-this-is response to the Obama administration's response to his demand that the White House give everyone advance notice of any health care proposals to be discussed in the coming bipartisan summit.
That's cool, you're not prepared to participate, you can stay home.
You've already heard that you're not so good at assessing risk, even if you're resisting admitting it. But seriously, people. Flu and car accidents and murder, and by a factor of 100, using tobacco are WAY more dangerous than terrorism (at least if you live in the U.S.)
Do not be afraid.
Or as Tom Engelhardt puts it, hold onto your underpants, this is not a national emergency.
Now that Dick Cheney has popped out of his undisclosed location again, there may be six more weeks of winter, but spring is most certainly just around the corner.
You don't have to believe in the Gaia hypothesis to sink your mind into a juicy apple today, taste the sweetness of a long-term love-affair, the bounty of the good, green earth and the life within it that we all share.
Share the love at least once a day, it's good for you, trust me.
yourself to love
if love is what you're after
Open up your heart
to the tears and laughter
DVR'd the opening ceremony... that snowboard run, oh my. (Not much point in trying to link to anything, "the video is not loading properly" out on the web, someday it'll be there.)
Why don't real newcasters ask questions like these?
John Oliver: What would you say to Hawaiians who say "I've got
government-mandated health care, and I love it"?
RNC convention attendee: Do they have government-mandated health care?
RCA: Well, I would say that, ah, he who pays the piper calls the tune.
JO: Right, and what would you say to a Hawaiian who said "What? That's meaningless, that's just a bit of folksy nonsense that doesn't have any real substance."
RCA: I lost my thought.
Yet another way in which corporate money talks, following the market for 48 million textbooks a year. At some point in the next decade or so, the Texas State Board of Education will become significantly less relevant than they have been, and are: school budgets won't support spending so much money on so many books when information is so ubiquitously available, for less.
But until then, "Don McLeroy, a small, vigorous man with a shiny pate and bristling mustache" and his "single-handed display of archconservative political strong-arming" will be bending children's minds to the conservative, Texas, "Christian" agenda, as defined by the six other of the 15 Board members who vote behind him as a bloc, whether or not he survives the significant challenge he has in the March 2 primary election.
Just for good measure, McLeroy "also identifies himself as a young-earth creationist who believes that the earth was created in six days, as the book of Genesis has it, less than 10,000 years ago."
He got removed from his post as Chairman for trying to get that nonsense into science books last year; this year, he's aiming to convert the dead, and re-make our founding fathers (and the nation they created) in his image of Christian exceptionalism.
State Liquor Division Director Dyke Nally, on what a good business it is to have Idaho control liquor sales (and "promoting temperance," don't you know): "Why would the state give up $45 million [a year]?"
Reminds me of the old joke about a guy asking a woman if she'd have sex with him for a million dollars. She says why yes, she would. "How about $20?" he asks. She indignantly refuses, "what do you think I am?!"
"We've already established what you are," he says, "now we're negotiating the price."
E.J. Dionne Jr.'s column examining the grass-roots rage ran yesterday, but seems fitting enough to lead off on Lincoln's birthday, with the question of "where is the party of Abraham Lincoln?" embedded in the middle. Meghan McCain, at least, did speak up against Tom Tancredo's "astonishingly offensive speech, cheered by the Tea Party crowd," in which Tancredo said Obama got elected because we lack literacy tests for voters. (What sort of tests would it take for Tancredo to get elected, one wonders.) It's not just racism though, Dionne writes:
"Anti-statism, a profound mistrust of power in Washington, dates all the way to the Anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution because they saw it concentrating too much authority in the central government. At any given time, perhaps 20 to 25 percent of Americans can be counted on to denounce anything Washington does as a threat to 'our traditional liberties.'"
Its expression in Idaho comes out of our Legislature often enough, even as we continue to receive more Federal revenue than flows out of the state in taxes. This week there was the "Health Freedom Act," passed by the House on a party-line vote, to lay the groundwork for the state to sue the federal government over health care reform.
The very idea of mandating insurance... the way the state does for college students, for example. The very idea!
Just by coincidence, we were listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama singing "Free at Last" at the White House when I saw the White House press release: 27 of Obama's nominees approved by the Senate, out of the 63 that were put "on hold" by one or more Senators.
Most of the government's shut down in the crazy snow in D.C., but happily the evening show did go on: In Performance at the White House, with Morgan Freeman, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan, Yolanda Adams, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon, and more.
What a way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, among other things. As Joan Baez led the audience in singing "We Shall Overcome," I started to sing along, and got swept back to the 1960s, when I sang that song with my parents at Civil Rights demonstrations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The Citizens United decision sparked two thoughtful Opinionator Blog posts from law professor Stanley Fish, What is the First Amendment for? (with 596 comments following) and How the First Amendment Works (with 162 comments and counting), digging into the "special branch of the science of transcendental nonsense" in which "solemn attention is paid to fictional entities that exist only in the special branch’s special vocabulary."
"This is just the way the First Amendment works. It is always building the road it walks on and then declaring that the road was there all the while."
Warm up for your Olympics viewing experience with some awesome video and analysis from NYT Interactive. Snowboard halfpipe, a double full full full on skis, the who thought of let's go down laying on top of each other on this luge thingie, downhill course inspection ("safety-wise, you have to have it perfectly memorized"), and some of those crazy figure skating spins.
I had a dream last night that I went to some local Republican office and inquired about party registration for the upcoming primary election. The attractive, young, blond staffer emphasized that party registration was Very Important, and of course one would not change affiliation lightly. Once in a generation OK, I wondered? Our state's official voting information website has nothing about party registration for primary elections, because, oh right, we don't have that yet. It remains to be seen how the lawsuit the GOP brought to close Idaho's primaries is going to pan out, after Judge Lynn Winmill told them they need to provide some evidence.
If you're waiting to see if any candidates from the Tea Party sign up to be on the ballot, you can do your homework for getting ready to go to an Idaho Tea Party, and overcoming 18 intellectual paradoxes or cognitive dysfunctions you may encounter.
The disingenuous debates about deficit spending and the national debt have many recurrent themes (and players). Robert Kuttner describes one of them, the billion-dollar Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which, as he puts it, "has been exaggerating long-term costs of Social Security and Medicare" for a quarter century. The "fast-track commission with extraordinary powers to cap federal spending" is said to be a "long-standing Peterson project," now being forcefully promoted by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH).
"The commission would make recommendations that Congress must vote up or down with little debate or opportunity to amend. The flaws in this idea are both procedural and substantive. The Constitution vests the power of the purse in a democratically elected Congress, not in an elite body insulated from public deliberation and debate. Substantively, the commission's sponsors want it to recommend the sort of cuts in Social Security and Medicare that would never be approved through the normal legislative process. Some say new taxes could be on the table, but the commission's Republican backers insist tax increases would be dead on arrival. So the lowest common denominator would be deep cuts in social insurance."
Given the fact that Republicans were not concerned about deficit spending when they were in charge of Congress and George W. Bush was President, it's reasonable to assume their current protestations are based on political rather than economic calculations. They had no problem with borrowing from China when they wanted to finance tax cuts. We already have Herbert Hoover's object economic lesson of what happens when you try to balance the federal budget as a response to a collapsing economy. Do they really want to re-enact the Great Depression for a mid-term campaign strategy? Apparently there is no cost too high to enlist the burgeoning Know-Nothing Party and its Trinity of Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
One analysis estimates that more than a third of the 2009-2012 deficit (37%) stems from the Great Recession itself, in reduced taxes being paid, and increases in relief payments. Another third comes from the Bush-era tax cuts and the Medicare Part D subsidy for drug companies. 20% for the military build-up, and there's just 10% to divide between the stimulus (7%) and other new domestic spending.
"Do we need bigger economic stimulus now to promote a faster recovery? (Yes.) Should we reduce deficits and the ratio of debt to GDP once a strong recovery comes? (Yes.) Does this require an extra-legislative commission? (No.) Do we need to slash social insurance in order to achieve fiscal balance? (No.) Are there other ways to get to a sustainable budget? (Most definitely.)...
"More investment in children, workers, and public infrastructure can increase productivity, growth, and fairness. As a nation, we can afford those outlays without shortchanging the elderly. That's a much better road to recovery than using an extra-democratic commission to shackle social outlay that the county needs."
Looks like another one of those no-defense games coming at us. Clock's running, 6 minutes and counting gone by, and no ads yet? Sheesh. Finally, the Colts' drive stalls, they'll kick a field goal and FINALLY WE'LL GET TO SEE SOME ADS! Nice kick by the 42-year-old guy.
Betty White mixin' it up, she's down in the mud! What's funnier than an old lady getting tackled? An old lady morphing into a metrosexual football player? I guess this is to make up for the guilt they're feeling about not running that gay ad. (Or is this the gay ad?)
Oh, oh, and here's Pam & Tim Tebow shilling for Focus on the Family, working the same "tackling old lady" angle. (Just like Betty, Pam's good to shake it off.) The "full Tebow story"? Ah, no, thanks. Not really interested.
Movie ad. Old-timey mayhem. Another "Robin Hood"? Seems so unnecessary.
Slapstick! Hey, that never gets old. Almost as funny as tackling women in the mud. Lot of slapping and punching this year. Only one crotch shot, though, progress?
Seymour Burns, saved by a Coke, and see more babes! At GoDaddy.com. Entertaining. (But seriously, would you buy a domain name from these people?)
Brett Favre debating retirement in 2020, that's funny. Way funnier than two ads with unattractive guys in briefs. (Please, wear boxers. And pants.) What were they selling? I have no idea, but I don't want any. Man, they're feeling seriously guilty about not running that gay ad, but this does not make up for it.
Special soap for men? Fail.
The Who at halftime! They'll be selling tires! W00t.
Disney's doing Alice in Wonderland? Directed by Tim Burton? Starring Johnny Depp?! Ok, that could be interesting.
The Saints blew their 4th and goal, couldn't get the 1 yard. they did get a consolation field goal before the end of the half, though. Halftime "report" seems unnecessary, but I guess they needed some cover to set up the stage.
The Who! Just like the last 40 years never happened, sort of. "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Riley," great light show, singing, well, it's a tough venue, but at least you know they're not just lip-synching. "Who Are You," Snippet of "See Me, Feel Me," and "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the finale. Great show boys. And awesome technical work making that stage disappear in a hurry.
The Saints make their contribution to the half-time show: awesome scrum on the ONSIDE KICK BY THE SAINTS AND THEY GET THE BALL! Ok, that was exciting, and the Saints are marching in again. Screen pass, and he. could. go. all. the. waaaaaaay! Touchdown Saints! 13-10, that's better! Then the long-awaited NFL disclaimer:
"This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast, or of any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited."
You think? Come and get me, big boys. I hear the Supreme Court is big on free speech these days. (Or is that just for corporations?)
It's been more than an HOUR since the Colts' offense has done anything, running short of inanities, as they drive it in for the TD. Lance Armstrong, selling beer? Ugh.
Much later... the 2-pt. conversion's good (after review), and a whole lot more ads, past attention saturation, and talk of how the Saints said they'd save something for late in the game, but it hasn't showed up, and nothing's stopping either side's passing game, and Tracy Porter INTERCEPTION! And he. could. go. all. the. waaaaay! The Saints by 14 with 3:12 to go. And the defense stops the Colts from getting even one TD back let alone two.
Nice game. Congratulations to New Orleans and the Saints. And all the companies making money from the advertising.
Tom Englehardt hosts Robert Lipsyte's take on today's extravaganza, titled "30-Second Warnings," in which Chips, Beer, Voyeuristic Horndogs, Hot Babes, Flatulent Slackers, and God's Quarterback Star in the Big Game (as the subhead has it).
I'm old enough to remember the very first Super Bowl, which seemed salutary to all of us in Wisconsin, providing as it did one more week in the schedule and the opportunity for the Green Bay Packers to show that yes, they were better than the best team in that other league, too.
That was pretty much forever ago; it's hard to see much connection between the life and times of Vince Lombardi and the show that's being put on these days.
"Super Bowl Sunday is America's holiest day, our all-inclusive campfire, and with 100 million viewers, almost half of them women, about as close as we get, without a presidential election, to taking the national pulse. The ads tell us who we are and where we are going. They are also Madison Avenue's best chance—at a reported $3 million or more a minute—to create a buzz. In fact, in a world in which TiVo-ing is spreading like wildfire, they may be Madison Avenue's last chance to actually get watched on TV."
Don't even need a lot of political courage with an Admiral, a General (and former Secretary of State), the Secretary of Defense, and a supermajority of public opinion running ahead of you. Frank Rich: Smoke the bigots out of the closet.
Gotta hand it to the Nashville Tea Party Con organizers: they get Palin to give a speech for $100,000 (or so, shh, it's secret), and get 600 "delegates" to buy into the package, and another 500 for the speech only at $349 a pop. Do the math: they might have most of a $quarter million after expenses.
Not exactly "fiscal conservatism," but given their investment, I'm guessing most of the paying customers will convince themselves "it was worth it." Maybe down the road there will actually be a "convention," and people elected as delegates to it. As opposed to a pricey night out at the political theater.
Daily Kos reports a Research 2000 poll from end of last month, 2,003 self-identified Republicans interviewed by telephone.
More than three-quarters said public school students should be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world.
More than half said they believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama, and aren't sure whether or not ACORN stole the 2008 election.
Well more than a third think Obama wasn't born in the U.S., and should be impeached. (Too bad they didn't ask, for what?)
More than a third said birth control is "abortion"; almost that many said yes, contraceptives should be outlawed.
23% said they thought their state should secede from the Union, and slightly more than that said they believe Barack Obama wants the terrorists to win.
Political Hotsheet reports on "day three of the Demon Sheep saga", brought to us by Carly Fiorina's unquenchable ambition, now barking at a Senate seat from California. Take a trip down memory lane with Fred Davis III's "masterpiece" for the 2002 Governor's race in Georgia.
"Georgia is more than a state, it's an icon. Larger than life. Land more grand and gorgeous than any state should possess. People bigger, more industrious and successful than any other place in the world."
Not sure who elected this guy to be the boss of us but Richard Shelby has decreed that a couple earmarks for his state are more important than 70 of the President's nominees awaiting Senate confirmation. He's got his reasons for hijacking the political process, but it seems more likely to spur the development of anti-hijacking measures than to get him his way.
"We don't negotiate with terrorists," right?
We watched the Frontline episode Digital Nation: life on the virtual frontier last night. (You can watch it online, too. Ha! Of course.) The narrator recounted conversation/perspectives from 1995 at one point, and I was reminded of that moment when the web took off, and I was there, and not everyone around me had caught on, and I was trying to tell family members about how astounding it all was... what I wrote in our 1994 Christmas letter:
cruising the globe via the Internet (often but not exclusively in the HP-only News groups, asking questions, answering questions, being sparked to research botanical defense mechanisms, hydrodynamics of fins and sails, crime statistics, distribution of income, the Contract with America, history of religion, the Big Bang and bicycle mechanics. In the last year our access to the "outside world" became significantly greater, with Mosaic and Socks providing a gateway to the "World Wide Web." I can get today's weather report for the Gorge, the hour's satellite photo of North America, or the best pictures and simulations of the Jupiter impact without leaving my cube. I can get the answer to a customer inquiry from Germany as easily as Florida or Singapore. It is amazing, and the degree to which it's amazing keeps increasing)
(When's the last time you saw "World Wide Web" in quotation marks?) Now, 15 years on, we're raising crops of digital kids with hyperfractured attention spans, half in this world and half in five different kinds of Second Life, thinking they're really good at "multitasking" when no, actually, they're not, and no one is.
Anyway, to GET TO THE POINT WOULD YOU, teachers, and MIT students were observing that kids these days think in "paragraphs" and are hard-pressed to string those together into a coherent work of essay length.
"I know the feeling."
Update: speaking of Jupiter, it got a 15-year anniversary whack too, and one lucky amateur got the scoop last summer. You haven't forgotten about that already, have you?
Dan Popkey provided a charming portrait of the couple that was 2/3rds of the first Tea Party demonstration in Boise. (The other third was her brother-in-law.) How wonderful to drop down out of the sky and proclaim all that's wrong with politics, and plan on setting it right.
It's just utterly incomprehensible how they're going to do that, but that's OK! More political activists are a fine thing. I can't wait to hear how they all get along at their upcoming "Convention" in Nashville, with the now Reaganesque Sarah Palin as featured speaker. With their unified support for the U.S. Constitution and teaching history in school, and unified opposition to anyone who acts like s/he's in charge, all that remains to be seen is how they will achieve the political power long enjoyed by the Libertarian and Natural Law Parties.
Maybe they'll be able to run the kind of experiments like Colorado Springs is doing: stop wasting money on parks! pools! streetlights! police! firemen!
In the closing-in-on 3 decades we've lived in the Treasure Valley, the place has apparently become much more hospitable to geese, whether from warmer weather, more growing of things they like to eat, whatever. Our grass playing fields and ponds and river greenbelt are lovely places to spend the summer... and winter, as well, when you're a Canada goose.
We'll know when times are really hard when the local bird population turns into tasty evening meals instead.
Since we're not there yet, and since they're protected against being hunted, we have a considerable nuisance factor from the volume of their leavings when they gaggle around the parks.
Turns out there's a rather simple solution to keeping some of the greenspace clear: coyote silhouettes, acting as "scare geese." The BSU soccer pitch (next to the Boas Tennis facility) has three of these planted here and there, and they work like champs. Before installation, more than a hundred geese hanging out, eating and pooping all over the field. After installation, no geese.
Mae and Ira Freeman had me pretty well convinced that a personal trip to the moon was in my future, with the first edition of You Will Go to the Moon. The cover with the boy looking through a telescope at a rocketship and the full moon in a night sky is an iconic touchstone of my childhood, and even though I can't remember the specifics of what's inside, I remember that promise, in big, white letters.
It's been clear enough for some time that my chances weren't nearly as good as they seemed in the early '60s, whether or not NASA's 2020 plan came to fruition. But now, Obama has come out with a "bold new initiative" that "offers, at least initially, nothing in terms of human exploration of the solar system."
With the end of the Space Shuttle, and the Constellation program axed, we'd be left with $6 billion for "financing space taxi services from commercial companies." I guess we'll be testing out the theory that private enterprise always does stuff better than the government can, but remember... this is rocket science we're talking about.
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org