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Paul Krugman: The New Voodoo. Amplifies the editorial mentioned yesterday about the Republican "plan B" for, um, "modified fiscal discipline." Let me draw a little picture for you:
Those things they aren't prepared to address add up to more than 60% of the budget. Add in other mandatory outlays, and interest on the debt, and over 80% of the budget is beyond consideration. So on the one hand, $100 bil is a huge whack on everything that's left, and on the other, it's not really getting at the question of long-term deficit reduction.
"To be sure, there were renewed claims that tax cuts lead to higher revenue. But 2010 marked the emergence of a new, even more profound level of magical thinking: the belief that deficits created by tax cuts just don’t matter. For example, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona—who had denounced President Obama for running deficits—declared that 'you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.'
"It's an easy position to ridicule. After all, if you never have to offset the cost of tax cuts, why not just eliminate taxes altogether? But the joke's on us because while this kind of magical thinking may not yet be the law of the land, it's about to become part of the rules governing legislation in the House of Representatives."
An iconoclast or two will always push against the current, but some transitions are inevitably one-way for the rest of us. Once you've gone from skiing to snowboarding, there isn't a lot of going back, for example. And once you've gone to digital photography from film, you're likely to forget there ever was such a thing (were it not for those strangely inactive devices now hiding in a dark cubby-corner).
Slightly over 10 years ago, little digipictures taken with my own such camera started showing up on the still-wet-behind-the-ears blog, which was way more texty, sans headlines, sans blogroll, and decorated with the rare scanned image. The early 1 or 2 Mpx cameras were novelty upstarts, disdained by most anyone "serious" about photography.
That was then. Now, it's Kodachrome that is a step beyond disdain, and into the abyss. We'll stipulate "first successful color film" if no one puts forth a counter-argument, but it's hard to know what "still the most beloved" could mean.
The NYT story has an example, slightly incredible: Jim DeNike, 53, came in under the wire with 1,580 rolls of film (for which he paid $15,798 to have developed!), and left with close to fifty thousand slides (in a Pontiac, no less).
I assume he drove off into the sunset.
Last day of the year, and the decade. Anything that we wanted to get done by then has to happen today.
Most amusing last-minute charity pitch (from a sizeable pile): "let us help you with your taxes." I didn't, as it turned out, but we did make some contributions to Idaho educational institutions, and youth/rehab facilities. The state helps them out: to the tune of a 50% tax credit on the first $200 (each, for an individual, $400 for joint filers), if you pay at least 5x that in taxes.
And the convenience of online giving, how nice: the University of Idaho Foundation, Boise State Radio, Idaho Public TV, Idaho Youth Ranch, web servers are standing by to accept your donations at a moment's notice.
I haven't been much for resolutions most years, but while digging through poorly sorted paperwork piles just now, one came to mine for 2011: let's get organized. Just a little bit each day should do it, what do you think?
Now that the Senate ratified the New Start treaty, Mikhail Gorbachev has a suggestion for what it should work on next: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which it rejected in 1999. Among the countries holding nuclear weapons technology, 8 out of 10 have signed and ratified it.
And the refuseniks? The U.S. is keeping company with China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, India, North Korea and Pakistan.
"It is fairly certain that once the Senate agreed to ratification, most of the countries still waiting would follow. No country wants to be a 'rogue nation' forever, and we have seen that dialogue with even the most recalcitrant governments is possible. Yet dialogue can work only if the United States abandons the hypocritical position of telling others what they must not do while keeping its own options open."
He makes a good argument, but given the perversity of the Senate, I can't help but wonder if he might have had more persuasive power if he'd used reverse psychology.
The new team coming to power in the House has new budget rules in mind, which can be summarized succinctly: taxes bad, cutting spending good. So much for railing against the deficit. The NYT editorial board leans into the hypocrisy:
"[The new rules] direct the leader of the House Budget Committee to ignore several costs when computing the budget impact of future actions, as if the costs are the natural course of politics for which no payment is required.
"For example, the cost to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent would be ignored, as would the fiscal effects of repealing the health reform law. At the same time, the new rules bar the renewal of aid for low-income working families—extended temporarily in the recent tax-cut deal—unless it is fully paid for."
Everyone hates ehtanol subsidies, but we just can't quit them, and none of the hopeful Republican sycophants working the caucuses are going to breathe a word against them, lest Iowan Republicans stick a fork in them.
Ed Wallace's pitch to end the ethanol insanity sums up the state of things, with Al Gore and (current Secretary of Energy) Steve Chu belatedly stating the obvious ("a mistake," and "not an ideal transportation fuel"). But Iowa is still first, and in spite of that hopeful taste of realism, the forecast is for continuing damage to motor vehicles, fuel efficiency, the deficit, and sustainability in the farm belt.
Bogus Basin Road was fail this morning, "snafu at at the 9 mile marker" at 7:40am. Word on the street was a snowplow and bus sideways, bunch of cars stuck above the snowplow... 8" of new snow overnight on top of yesterday's foot, and only the folks living up at Pioneer Lodge to track it up. Dang.
Meanwhile, up at Brundage: eighteen inches yesterday, ten today, current conditions are "off-trail, soft fluffy powder will be stupid deep."
I eventually went up, found the conditions "interesting," with fog, wind, cold, yeah fresh snow, but what we could get at was cut up and crusted, until 2pm, when they opened up the smaller half of the backside and chair 3 became an epic mob. Had time for a pleasant, long chat waiting in line with a friend, he was in the "stuck on the road for three hours" earlybird wave.
You don't always get the worm.
You can save yourself some time seeing what the 20 hour, two foot blizzard in the northeast looked like, in the 40 seconds of time lapse from New Jersey guy Michael Black. Bonus photo gallery on that NPR page. Who doesn't like blizzard photos?
We're getting ready for some of our own, with a forecast for feet of snow in the mountains, tomorrow night and into Wednesday, 4 to 10" in the valleys.
Tom Engelhardt's closing dispatch for the year is Rebecca Solnit's "further adventures in the territories of hope, Iceberg Economies and Shadow Selves, valuable food for thought on the day after Christmas. From writing a book on the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster (as the subtitle describes), A Paradise Built in Hell, Solnit concludes that human endeavors travel on the broad shoulders of compassion and altruism, in spite of what you might have read in the newspaper (or online) on any given day.
For as much as things going wrong catch our attention, it's true that things go right more often than they don't. For most of us, we stay well ahead of the 9:1 iceberg ratio, even when we hit a patch of bad luck. But the consquences of one flaw, failure, or intentional bad act can far exceed the many small benefits of good acts upon which we build our days.
The complexity of combining the events that make up our lives typically leaves us the choice of being generally pessimistic, or optimistic, or creating our own personal mash-up of optimistic pessimism. While I'm not prepared to write as optimistically as Solnit does, I do recognize that people can and do come together and display remarkable cooperation when a pressing enough need arises. Localized disasters focus our attention.
Distributed disasters, such as employment reaching 1 out of 10 people in the work force, or the catastrophic failure of a real estate market inflated with too much "innovation" and greed, don't marshall the same kind of disaster brigade response. It's not obvious where to run with the ax and shovel and bucket of water, first of all. Nor is it easy to sustain effort when we can't see the results of what we're doing.
All the same, a positive attitude is its own reward, our everyday Pascal's wager to win a better life for ourselves and those around us. "The world could be much better if more of us were more active on behalf of what we believe in and love."
There are always the less fortunate, people caught too close to natural disasters, unrest, war, but after complaining about various flaws (and flawed actors) in our political system for most of the year, reading about new laws in Venezuela that are imposing "a new dictatorial model," I have to say things don't seem so bad in our neighborhood after all.
"Penalties for spreading political dissent on the Internet"? Holy cow, we could eliminate the national debt with that one.
Another 18 months of "decree powers." No receiving money from abroad for political parties and NGOs.
Legislators who switch political parties will be guilty of "fraud," and disqualified from holding public office. (We wouldn't have had President Reagan!)
Bypassing the legislature on "issues like public security and finances" (isn't everything public security and finances?); restrictions on Internet messages that "incite or promote disobedience of the current legal order" or "refuse the legitimately constituted authority." Chilly.
I don't suppose a lot of New Yorkers have a lot of name recognition for Idaho's junior Senator, even if they can find our state on a map (in order to come visit Sun Valley, of course). But Gail Collins featured Risch in her column today, Lame Ducks Triumphant, for his effort to amend the New Start treaty in order to get back four Humvees the Russians found in Georgia and took home with them. But
"Nothing, not even Humvees in chains, was going to stop the progress of what has recently become known as the 'hard-charging lame-duck Congress.' It is a perfect image, with its suggestion of a flock racing along in the clumsiest manner possible but still stumbling over the finish line."
Toward filibuster reform, all the Democratic Senators who will be returning to the 112th Congress signed a letter to their majority leader "urging him to consider action to change" the rules.
"Among the chief revisions that Democrats say will likely be offered: Senators could not initiate a filibuster of a bill before it reaches the floor unless they first muster 40 votes for it, and they would have to remain on the floor to sustain it. That is a change from current rules, which require the majority leader to file a cloture motion to overcome an anonymous objection to a motion to proceed, and then wait 30 hours for a vote on it."
As Ezra Klein points out, it takes about a week of floor time to bust through.
"[T]he minority has been quick to understand that time is precious in the modern Senate, and so the mere threat of a filibuster onless-pressing items like nominations is enough to stop them cold."
The Democratic unity comes in response to Mitch McConnell's "success" at using the blunt instrument to an unprecedented extent, obstructing even uncontroversial actions as a matter of course. As of ten months ago the Republicans' use of the filibuster in the 111th Congress had already surpassed all those of the 1950s and 1960s combined. The Senate had its 90th cloture vote of this term this week, looks like they won't quite match the record of the 2007-8 110th Congress, with 112.
Will we have 60 to stop debate? 67 to ratify? (Or 65, two-thirds of those remaining.) Just barely? Maybe each of those were just barely, but when it finally came time to stand up and be counted, 71 said aye.
Republican Senators Corker and Alexander (TN), Bennett (UT), Brown (MA), Cochran (MS), Collins and Snowe (MN), Gregg (NH), Isakson (GA), Johanns (NE), Lugar (IN), Murkowski (AK) and Voinovich (OH) voted in favor of it. Idaho's two Senators were in the 26 rump minority, along with Jon "message of timidity" Kyl and Jim "continued pattern of appeasement" DeMint.
On behalf of 18 very special families with net worth (in 2006) equal to the market cap of Google (today), $185 billion, raise a glass of holiday cheer (preferably something from the E&J Gallo winery) for the demonization of the Death Tax! The Gallos, the Kochs, the Mars', the Waltons and the Wegmans thank you in advance, for your 2-year, $68 billion "adjustment" to the estate tax.
From the 2006 Public Citizen report, Spending Millions to Save Billions (which derailed the effort in the Republican-controlled Congress to permanently repeal the estate tax back then):
"The most fundamental facet of their strategy has been maintaining a low profile while keeping up a steady drumbeat about the tax's toll on small businesses. Frank Blethen, the patriarch of one of the super-wealthy families profiled in this report, articulated this strategy plainly when he said that the repeal campaign should not appear to be one of ultra-wealthy white millionaires. 'We need to stress the harm to women and minorities,' he told allies. The Seattle Times, Blethen's newspaper, promptly published an ad lamenting the tax's toll on women and minorities.
"The groups financed by the super-wealthy families have attempted to strike fear in Americans by running commercials that falsely claim or insinuate that the estate tax is wreaking havoc on family businesses and threatens to snatch the savings of ordinary Americans at death.
"Facts do not support their claims. Only an infinitesimal percentage of all people who die in a given year leave businesses that amount to more than half the value of their estates and are subject to the estate tax. And those leaving legitimate family businesses are eligible for low-interest loans to help defer the effect of the estate tax...."
The Senate has a slightly different implementation of the "one man, one vote" rule, with one man able to vote no for everybody. So, who's stronger, the whole Senate, and the public support for the 9/11 First Responders' health care or Tom Coburn?
"Coburn is prepared to insist on a full debate before passing the bill—a debate that could require the Senate to stay in session continuously until early next week, according to a Coburn aide. And the House would then have to reconvene after Christmas to pass the version that ultimately emerges from the Senate."
On the one hand, what a shame to work over the holiday. On the other, lots of people have to do that... and the Congress has been doing so much good work lately, why not extend the session?
Update: Coburn apparently got enough concession to expand his green heart, and the Senate passed a modified bill, unanimously. Good for us, and them, and thanks to Jon Stewart.
Glen Greenwald's report on Pfc. Bradley Manning's detention was sketchy in parts, but had sufficient evidence to make a case that it was an violation of the 8th amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. More details from Manning's lawyer make the case stronger—and creepier—still.
Controlling his sleep, his exercise (none allowed during the 23 hours/day that he's kept in a 6 foot by 12 foot cell, and then "only walking" in an empty room for an hour), his correspondence ("If he receives a letter from someone not on his approved list, he must sign a rejection form")... there are a few tattered shreds of decency, including 2 hours and 20 minutes per day with "access to a pen and paper."
But precious few.
Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is going to vote to ratify the New Start treaty, because, among other reasons, "it leaves our country enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come." And because the last six Republican Secretaries of State support it. And because it would further the policies of Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II.
"Nuclear modernization" is also deemed a good thing. That's making sure that our nuclear weapons are really good enough to blow stuff up, and not just "wet matches." God forbid.
What isn't figuring in the discussion, when the foot (and knuckle) dragging Republicans talk about how they want enhanced anti-missile technology is to what extent missile defense would light up an arms race. "There's nothing in the treaty," Alexander said, "that would hamper our development of missile defense."
Oh goody. Here's what Chalmers Johnson had to say about ballistic missile defense (BMD) and what should be the long-discredited Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) of Edward Teller's that Ronald Reagan so loved:
"[B]oth SDI and BMD are in truth offensive concepts. It may be good public relations for its current advocates to imply that BMD is meant only to defend us against... rogue states, places like North Korea and Iran that have not acquiesced in American hegemony and might conceivably be able to produce missiles with an intercontinental range. But no one seriously believes that any nation, small or large, plans to commit suicide by launching anything as traceable as a nuclear missile against the United States....
"If BMD were a genuine defensive strategy, it would be subject to the same problems as China's Great Wall, which stopped neither Mongol nor Manchu invaders... It is about offense, and it offers ample fuel for a new global nuclear arms race while ironically making the United States considerably less secure."
(My emphasis, from an excerpt of pgs. 84-5 of The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, 2004.)
Alexander couldn't bring himself to just express how much support there is for the treaty (including his own), and how the Senate has had ample time to consider it, without also chipping in some bits about the "flawed process" of Democrats trying to "jam through" actual legislation in this lame duck session and thus having "poisoned the well," though.
Not that that really adds anything to the discussion, eh.
Including +4 for its Congressional delegation, thanks to the results of the decennial census. +2 for Florida, +1 for Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina and Utah. The losers are New York and Ohio (2 seats each), and -1 for Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Nate Silver's political calculus runs down the exurban growth to bolster the G.O.P., on FiveThirtyEight.
Didn't have my parameters well in hand for last night's astronomical show, but while looking around on the web this morning, I found something that's blindingly obvious, in retrospect. The fellow who won PC World's "Hot pic of the week" contest one week said a friend told him to try 1/200th of a second, ISO 400, f/8, which he said he "would not have thought of," and me neither. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense, given every shot I've tried has had the disk of the moon way overexposed.
But of course other people took nice photographs last night. Here's a sequence of 23 images taken over the 2½ hours of the front half of the eclipse (taken in New Zealand, looks like). Even if I had his nice camera and all the right settings, I don't think I'm ever going to have that much patience.
I was headed in the right direction last night, using spot metering, and exposure compensation of -0.7 for this shot early in the eclipse, but didn't go as far as I needed to. And didn't stay up much past midnight. Set the alarm for 1:15, and at that point, I was content to throw on sweatpants, slippers and a jacket, go outside and look, be impressed, come back to bed.
Here's another good tip for shooting in snow and cold:
"Don't exhale near camera—condensation can freeze on lenses."
Update: an alert reader points out that that nice 23-image sequence was from Aug. 28, 2007, not last night. Whoopsie. Nice pix all the same. WaPo put up a gallery from last night, including a clever juxtaposition with the Washington Monument.
It's not a pretty sight watching Republicans in the Senate dither and obstruct a matter of national security because... they have lots of reasons, but they boil down to one, the one that Mitch McConnell accidentally coughed up in the afterglow of last month's election: deny anything that could be seen as a success for Obama.
"It's the politics of petulance," as Cynthia Tucker put it on tonight's Newshour.
One of the ploys is to propose amendments, to a treaty that's been negoatiated, and signed by the leaders of the U.S. and Russia. John Thune of South Dakota insists that wouldn't amount to the Senate killing the treaty, because if the Russians didn't want to agree to the Senate's unilateral demands, they'd be the ones killing it. Right.
Idaho's Jim Risch tried his hand at rewriting the treaty over the weekend, that got swatted down, too. Hey, they've got 42 amendments in mind to try to run out the clock on this thing.
There's not time, there's not time! they cry.
John Kerry noted that the ratification had already been delayed 13 times at the request of Republicans. "Having accommodated their interests," he said, "they now come back and turn around and say: ‘Oh, you guys are terrible. You’re bringing this treaty up at the last minute.’ I mean, is there no shame, ever, with respect to the arguments that are made sometimes on the floor of the United States Senate?"
After all the non-peformance of the Congress, it's been rather remarkable to watch what they can get done when they set their minds to it. Who knows, if the Democrats had gotten things in gear a little sooner, maybe there'd be more of them in the 112th Congress.
The most remarkable bit of progress was the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," helped along by six Republicans (for cloture; no bonus points to Ensign of Nevada and Burr of N.Carolina for jumping on the train as it pulled out of the station).
So it's not exactly leadership for the Senate to acknowledge what the rest of the country accepted a long time ago; count it as progress all the same.
Regardless of what you think of Private Bradley Manning's alleged actions (for which he has yet to be tried), the conditions of his detention are cruel and unusual if Glenn Greenwald's account is accurate.
That used to be against the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"What all of this achieves is clear. Having it known that the U.S. could and would disappear people at will to "black sites," assassinate them with unseen drones, imprison them for years without a shred of due process even while knowing they were innocent, torture them mercilessly, and in general acts as a lawless and rogue imperial power created a climate of severe intimidation and fear. Who would want to challenge the U.S. Government in any way—even in legitimate ways—knowing that it could and would engage in such lawless, violent conduct without any restraints or repercussions?"
"One lump or two, Mr. Banker, sir?"
And no, we're not talking about delivering some well-deserved lumps for pushing the economy to the brink of disaster, but rather how much sugar the new Congress is likely to be dispensing. Paul Krugman:
"It's not as if the story of the crisis is particularly obscure. First, there was a widely spread housing bubble [in] the United States, Ireland, Spain, and other countries... This bubble was inflated by irresponsible lending, made possible both by bank deregulation and the failure to extend regulation to 'shadow banks,' which weren't covered by traditional regulation but nonetheless engaged in banking activities and created bank-type risks.
"Then the bubble burst, with hugely disruptive consequences. It turned out that Wall Street had created a web of interconnection nobody understood, so that the failure of Lehman Brothers, a medium-size investment bank, could threaten to take down the whole world financial system."
But the Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission don't like that version. They voted for a different vocabulary last week, one without "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection," and "deregulation" in it, preferring instead "a narrative that absolves the banks of any wrongdoing, that places all the blame on meddling politicians."
Santa's helpers Matthew Bloch, Shan Carter, Alan McClean, Census Bureau, socialexporer.com and the New York Times have teamed up to show us interactive geographic estimates of the distribution of race and ethnicity, income, home values, and education: Mapping America: every city, every block.
It is way cool.
Some of the stories they can tell:
Four of the five counties with poverty rates greater than 39 percent were on American Indian reservations in South Dakota.
Seven of the seventeen counties where more than half of those over 25 have bachelor's degrees are in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Good for Jon Stewart, doing what the real news networks (as well as "Fox News") wouldn't do, and highlight the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (which actually started as the Act of 2009. February, 2009) and the fact that it still waits for the Senate to do the right thing.
Here are the 42 Senators who voted against cloture—that is, to keep it from coming to a vote, and to be passed:
(Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, voted in favor, so that he could move reconsideration of the action... which went nowhere as well.)
There was an animated ad showing a team of turkeys pulling Santa in a sleigh across my screen when I loaded the Idaho Statesman story from early this week, about the SEC suspending trading in Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., a company that's been pitching a commercial nuclear power reactor around southern Idaho for some years (from Owyhee County, to Elmore County, and finally finding a bit of a warm reception in Payette County). It was an unintended humorous juxtaposition that couldn't be more apt: the SEC has now filed fraud charges, alleging that AEHI's CEO and Sr. VP have been working to manipulate the company's share price and line their pockets at investors' expense.
Dan Yurman has been following the AEHI story for more than 3 years, and when the halt in trading was reported earlier this week, he wrote that "it looks like AEHI's bubble has finally popped." Now that we can read the SEC's complaint (2MB PDF), it appears that it was indeed an outright scam.
For some light entertainment, read through the comment thread on Motley Fool CAPS (which stands for...? they're not saying, but the "how" makes it sound like ratings-based touting, which, um, sure, that could work), You Can Become Part Owner of a Nuclear Reactor for $0.56!!!
Or, you could be part-owner of a claim for part of Don Gillespie's Maserati.
Start your day with a total eclipse of the moon, for slightly more than an hour centered around 1:17am MST, and round around to the winter solstice at 4:38pm MST. The eclipse will be centered off the Baja California coast, fully visible (weather permitting!) for all of North and Central America.
Markos Moulitsas says the time to reform the Senate's filibuster rule couldn't be better, with the experience of 244 cloture votes in two terms fresh in mind. (The previous high for any one term was 58.)
"What was once a sporadic tool for extraordinary circumstances is now part of the GOP's everyday arsenal to break government and ensure it cannot function."
The time may be ripe because the Democrats have been so-often burned by it, and the GOP may be looking forward to its ascendency... but can they agree to give up the power of "No"? I doubt Markos' motivation would persuade them:
"Ultimately, the filibuster is undemocratic. Voters should have a clear idea of whom to blame when government doesn't deliver for them. Elections must matter."
Two things about Egan's Opinionator piece. It's not that Nancy Pelosi would have "never have heard the end of it" if she cried like Boehner does, it's that we wouldn't know her name and she would not only have never been Speaker of the House, she wouldn't have been a member of the House.
And two, I agree with Barbara Walters, he has an emotional problem. One that makes me question his fitness for being 2nd in line. His politics suck too, but you already knew I'd say that. I won't spoil Egan's punchline, but there is the elephant in the room:
"The American Dream that Boehner evokes between tears has never been more threatened. By some measures, social mobility—that is, the ability of people to move up a notch in class—is at an all-time low in this country. Poor Americans now have less than a 5 percent chance of rising to the upper-middle-class within their lifetimes.
"At the same time, the gap between the rich and poor, and the concentration of wealth owned by those at the very top, has never been so great. After examining these trends, The Economist wrote that 'the United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.'...
"Against this backdrop, Boehner has fought against strivers and strugglers at the lower end, while shilling for ever-more concentrated corporate power and banker control."
Hans Rosling's motto is "no more boring data!" He makes good on that with his presentation of 200 countries, 200 years, (in) 4 minutes, showing the progress of nations in health and wealth. (Thanks to David Brooks and his column extolling the triumph of middle-class values for the link.)
His enthusiasm for data visualization has extended to sharing a tools for those great three-dimensional animated time series, via gapminder.org, "unveiling the beauty of statistics for a fact-based world view" (and for a purpose: "promoting sustainable global development and achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.")
If you can't get enough of this guy, check out the gapminder video collection. And if you only have time for one more... try his 2007 TED talk with a conclusion illustrating that "the seemingly impossible is possible."
Word's out, the Trey McIntyre Project will be featured on the PBS Newshour tonight.
I found out from watching that he's not actually local here, he's from Kansas. Which makes it rather more interesting that he picked this town out of the blue. The segment started in the HP cafeteria where I used to have lunch (and hey, there's one of my old buddies!). And ended with the news—detailed in today's Idaho Statesman—that TMP will be one of four dance companies representing the U.S. in a 2012 world tour produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, DanceMotion USA. Coverage in the Wall Street Journal, too.
The other companies are the L.A. Jazz Tap Ensemble, to tour Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and the Congo; Rennie Harris PureMovement, a Philadelphia hip-hop company to tour Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan; and the NY Seán Curran Company headed for Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Turkmenistan. TMP is going to tour China, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Here comes Jim DeMint (R-SC) trying to force the reading of the New Start treaty, and the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. That would take an estimated 7 to 12 hours for the former, and 40 to 60 hours for the latter.
Just yesterday, I got the second reply from Idaho's Senator Mike Crapo to my repeated urging him to move the treaty forward rather than obstructing it and forcing it to be considered—all over again—in the next Congress. He's standing on the side of obstruction, something he wouldn't come right out and say the first time he replied, more than 3 weeks ago. Now,
"A number of serious and complex issues have been raised with the New START that must be thoroughly vetted and resolved to ensure the Senate ratifies an arms control treaty that is consistent with our national security interests....
"The remainder of the 111th Congress does not afford the time necessary for the Senate to thoroughly review and debate a treaty with such a profound impact on our national security."
We're too busy with theatrics?
Or two tales of elk hunts, I guess. One involved the Director of Idaho's Fish and Game Department, says he wasn't hunting, really, just helping some buddies track an elk. But they trespassed on private land without permission, he pleaded guilty and will pay a $500 fine.
Tale #2 comes from classic nutjob political wannabe Rex Rammell, found dead to rights with (as he puts it) "a nice fat cow elk," but without a valid tag. His version of the story has been in circulation for a while, and it ran in today's Idaho Statesman as a Reader's View. Dead elk, yes I shot it, you're telling me the tag's not valid here... but no, I'm not going to let you take my meat.
"You better get your gun out, because you're going to have to shoot me if you want this elk," he told the game warden.
Oh, let's have a jury trial! As Lucky1 says in the comments, "Are you just stupid or what?" For those not familiar with Idaho politics, Rammell most recently ran for Governor, and collected more than a quarter of the Republican vote in the primary.
Just to top off the stupid sundae, Rammell wants to know "What is it with these Nazis?"
Yes, that's right, enforcing the hunting laws of the state of Idaho and confiscating an illegally shot elk is comparable to Germany's National Socialist Party that started WW II. And even after two weeks of ridicule, he's willing to have his pathetic account published in the capital's daily news?
He's an Idaho original, to be sure.
Here's a hot new destination for your next European vacation: the Chernobyl area: "Ukraine plans to open up the sealed zone around the Chernobyl reactor to visitors." Also in the works is a new, $billion (give or take) enclosure to cover the first structure, "hastily built over the reactor that has been leaking radiation, cracking and threatening to collapse." They hope to have this one done by 2015.
"The new shell [will be] 345 feet tall, 853 feet wide and 490 feet long. It weighs 20,000 tons and will be slid over the old shelter using rail tracks. The new structure will be big enough to house the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris or the Statue of Liberty in New York."
If your name is "Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome," you're not, because your roof caved in under the weight of a foot and a half of snow. (Let's play without the roof, you say? Forecast temperature in Minnesota tomorrow night is -13°F.)
I thought the pair of images, "before" and "after," with a Flash-slider between them on the NYT story was pretty cool, but the video from the inside, as the snow load wins the contest is just awesome.
Not so much "burying" the lede, as flat-out inverting it, in today's NYT Week in Review piece, Keeping Secrets WikiSafe: after noting that fewer than 1% of the 251,287 confidential diplomatic cables they obtained have been released, the short article ends with this:
"[WikiLeaks] has put on the Web, for download, encrypted files containing a huge trove of documents that have not yet been released. Thousands of people have downloaded the files.
"If the United States moves to prosecute, Mr. Assange has said, the group will release the encryption key, in effect making public tens of thousands of unredacted cables—and who knows what other dangerous secrets."
Paul Krugman says he's been trying to get happy about the tax deal, since "President Obama did, after all, extract more concessions than most of us expected." But when he tallies up the good, bad and ugly, he makes it sound like a bad deal that's going to get worse.
It's so strange to have Democrats in the majority, and in the White House, but the Republicans apparently calling all the shots.
"[T]he bad stuff in the deal lasts for two years, the not-so-bad stuff expires at the end of 2011. This means that we’re talking about a boost to growth next year—but growth in 2012 that would actually be slower than in the absence of the deal."
And with a Republican House and the Democrats' slimmer Senate majority, you can bet your bottom dollar (which some folks will be down to by then) that obstruction and sabotage will be the 2012 campaign strategy even moreso than it was in 2010; Republicans will be after the grand prize year after next.
"The point is that by seeming angrier at worried supporters than he is at the hostage-takers, Mr. Obama is already signaling weakness, giving Republicans every reason to believe that they can extract another ransom."
Yoko Ono's simple, and beautiful memory of her husband. With Kishin Shinoyama's lovely portrait of the two of them together.
When we're not enjoying the thrill of a snow day, this is the traditional time of year to wonder why on earth we choose to live so far north of the tropics. (That moment of climbing into the cold bed is the worst.) We enjoy having natural gas piped into our furnace and water heater, and electricity on tap, but do occasionally fret over how long that can go on.
So it's nice to see a city in Sweden setting an example on how to make do with renewables, "generat[ing] energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines." Yum! Also "gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings."
Lowered emissions and less money spent on energy, what's not to like? Germany already has thousands of biogas energy systems, compared to fewer than 200 in this country. But we've got potential: "The E.P.A. estimated that installing such plants would be feasible at about 8,000 farms" here. Good on Wisconsin for getting the ball rolling, with its bioenergy initiative.
Nice to hear from a former President on the issues of the day yesterday. (Do you suppose George W. Bush can take time out from clearing brush or whatever he's up to these days to come in and ask Jon Kyl to get the hell out of the way and have the Senate ratify the New START treaty? George I voiced his support, albeit laconically. Along with all living Secretaries of State who served Republican administrations.)
Clinton had a generous rein to talk to the White House press corps, mostly without supervision. His main job was to endorse the Obama-GOP tax deal, with the "full disclosure I make quite a bit of money now, so the position that the Republicans have urged will personally benefit me."
"[O]n its own, I wouldn't support it because I don't think that my tax cut is the most economically efficient way to get the economy going again. But I don't want to be in the dark about the fact that I will receive the continuation of the tax rates.
"However, the agreement taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans, and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs, and to minimize the chances that it will slip back, which is what has happened in other financial collapses. Like, that's what Japan faced, and it's something that we have to avoid in America."
Here's one (self-proclaimed) progressive economist who's OK with the Obama-GOP tax deal, because only $120 billion of it is misdirected. Just think of it as 13% overspray. "He got Republicans to agree to an extension of unemployment insurance, a payroll tax holiday and (amazingly) an expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC)." The threat that was too much to bear was that Republicans said that they were "willing to let all tax cuts expire and refuse to do anything meaningful to help the unemployed unless millionaires got an extension of the Bush tax cuts."
Sort of reminds me of when Newt Gingrich and his boys threatened to shut down the government. Clinton took the dare, and the rest is a better history than giving in to the threat would have written.
But right here, right now, perhaps the strongest argument in favor of accepting the ransom demand is that a large portion of it is a whompin' big stimulus, which is arguably what the economy needs. So it's odious, Congress should vote for it anyway (says the NYT editorial board) because there's so much of what we need in it.
Texas Republican John Cook didn't say anything about their Speaker, Joe Straus' religion. You say he's Jewish? He has friends who are Jewish! Cook just thinks there ought to be a Christian conservative in charge. A conservative. Aren't all conservatives Christian? Why would you be anything but Christian, anyway?
Which headline reminds me of John Prine's song from 40 or so years ago now...
I used to sleep at the foot of Old Glory
And awake in the dawn's early light
But much to my surprise
When I opened my eyes
I was a victim of the great compromise
Robert Reich: Why the Obama tax deal confirms the Republican worldview.
I wouldn't say "confirms" as much as "concedes," myself. The Republican view is that wealth and privilege provide power and privilege at the top, and that's as it should be. It allows them to frame issues, and control the agenda, and get their way or obstruct everything.
That's why haven't reined in the influence of big money on politics, but rather opened the floodgates. The "conservative" decision of the Supreme Court is that "conservatives" with lots of money are rightfully in charge, and should stay that way. Big money expects a return on investment. A big return.
"It's the same power and privilege that got the Bush tax cuts in the first place, and claimed the lion's share of its benefits. The same power and privilege that got the estate tax phased out."
And yup, the same power and privilege that's doing it again. Do you suppose they'll thank the President and help get him re-elected, or keep talking about his "radical socialist agenda"? A ridiculous question of course; the Republicans have made their plans clear enough.
Not that the Congress is going to take up this discussion, but it's nice to have a different point of view expressed once in a while:
"The solution is to reorganize the economy so the benefits of growth are more widely shared. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes, and apply payroll taxes to incomes over $250,000. Extend Medicare to all. Extend the Earned Income Tax Credit all the way up through families earning $50,000. Make higher education free to families that now can't afford it. Rehire teachers. Repair and rebuild our infrastructure. Create a new WPA to put the unemployed back to work."
Ezra Klein brings it back, updated to show that the Obama-GOP plan is an even bigger boon to those at the high-end. (It's bigger for everyone, even the folks with less than $10,000 income, because they get a 2% payroll tax break for a little while.)
A couple hundred bucks at the low end, a $1000 or two in the mid range, and on up to $139,692 for the folks with million-dollar incomes. Damn the deficit, it's full speed ahead to tax relief for millionaires!
(How about... $7.4B for providing medical care to rescue workers and NYC residents who suffered from 9/11? No. That's a bridge too far for the Senate's Republicans.)
The we-thought-for-sure-this-would-work element of the "compromise plan" was that there was something for everybody. Two more years of the Bush tax cuts, 13 month extension of extended unemployment benefits, 2% off your Social Security payroll tax, "more generous treatment of the estate tax than [Obama thinks] is wise or warranted," but it's all temporary! Like those Bush tax cuts.
Mirabile dictu, Democrats in the House did not just roll over to have their tummies scratched, after they were cut out of the negotiations.
Here's what the little man behind the curtain was telling the staff at the the Tea Party's media outlet during last year's debate on health care insurance reform:
"When it is necessary to use the term 'public option' (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier 'so-called,' as in 'the so-called public option.'"
And another man behind the curtain (what are they doing in there?) said he wanted the #3 choice for framing the issue: "The public option, which is the government-run plan." Nothing quite like having Frank Lutz and Fox News VP's telling you how to think.
Something vaguely fishy about the surname "Porteous" (although I'm sure some good people have it), even before you see the picture of Louisiana U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Porteous, now unanimously convicted by the Senate on impeachment charges. Quote without (further) comment:
"House prosecutors say the 63-year-old judge had a gambling problem and began accepting cash and other favors from people with business before his court. He also was accused of lying to Congress and filing for bankruptcy under a false name.
"Porteous' attorneys argued that his behavior, while troubling, didn't merit impeachment."
One of John McCain's Canal Zone playmates says it's time for him to stop obstructing the (inevitable) end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Beth Coye is a retired Navy Commander, author of My Navy Too and editor of We Are Family Too.
You don't have to be afraid, Senator. Gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly around the world, and you know what? A comprehensive study showed that in Britain, Israel, Canada, South Africa and Australia, it's "had no negative impact on morale, recruitment, retention, readiness or overall combat effectiveness."
A few short years after the web started, the technology for tracking most everything you do online was invented and refined. DoubleClick rose to glory (behind the scenes), and a few years later, Google cashed them out, presumably transforming nefarious to benign with a wave of the Googly Don't Be Evil wand. And now, OMG, if you opt-out, the web won't be free anymore!
Or so say the advertising agencies who've sold their clients on the beautiful idea of being able to track everywhere you go and everything you show the least interest in. The head of Exponential Interactive, Dilip DaSilva, doesn't stop with the threats; he's rewriting the history of technology as a bonus. The ability to track users is "what helped the Internet grow so quickly."
DaSilva's comany comprises Tribal Fusion® premium CPM advertising, FullTango® peformance marketers, LeadGenuity® lead generation specialists, EchoTopics® contextual advertising (which I assume means "coming to a blog or news article near you, but you'll hardly even notice"), Techbargains online portal, and Firefly Video™ online video advertising.
Not that he's in it for the money or anything.
Short of strong legislation (which an army of ad industry lobbyists would be shooting down like ducks in a pond), the chance of very many people taking the trouble to opt-out is nil, I'd guess. This is just prophylactic disinformation to seed talking points for future work, should the Tea Party or some quasi-organized mob get wind of what they're up to. Here's Mr. E.I. again:
"If we move too far one way, the people supplying the free content will get together and say we aren’t going to supply the content for free," Mr. DaSilva said. "It's not like the publishers will offer free content to people who visit their site but don't want ads tracking them."
Yeah, that whole idea of "free content" must keep him chewing antacids. Thank goodness for the backup plan of industry-wide collusion to keep the freeloaders out.
"Through this opt-out procedure, your computer will request an 'opt-out cookie' ID tag that will prevent your anonymous data from being matched to your computer and thereby prevent us from using that data to deliver targeted advertising or other content to your computer's browser."
What's not to like? The Network Advertising Intiative form lets you pick and choose from sixty-four companies that either are tracking you, or would like to. Personally, I went for the button.
As in, Let's Not Make a Deal with Republican blackmailers. That stinking tax cut you care so much about for your swell patrons? We can live without it, actually. We've enjoyed the last 9 years lower taxes, but we still remember the 1990s, and how good it felt to have a federal budget close to balancing, and we used to make ends meet just fine. (Quite a bit better than we do now, for most of us.)
We don't believe you when you try to promote fear and uncertainty, because we know how much of the current situation is your doing. We're tired of the sabotage, the confusion you sow (deficits are horrible! But we have to have lower taxes!), the backroom dealing, the obstruction at every turn.
You want to stop anything from going through the Senate? Fine. Add a new tax cut to the list of things dead on the floor.
James Fallows calls it the mystery of the man, why this senior public figure has "in the later stages of his career, narrowed rather than broadened his view of the world and his appeals to history's judgment." In the 2000 campaign, he went from admirable to tragic, torpedoed and sunk by Karl Rove's dirty tricks machine.
Oh, and didn't he run for President again in 2008? I can't hardly remember. He seems to be showing up in feature pieces with titles like This week in crazy, earned with the incoherent argument against repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, "because our economy is in the tank." Not good when you can't out-argue the editorial board of a student newspaper. Ezra Klein puts a stake through vaunting "independence," reminding us to ask "of what?"
"He's sponsored cap-and-trade bills and now vociferously opposes them. He fought the Bush tax cuts amid lower deficits and now supports their full extension amid yawning debt. He was open to repealing DADT and now opposes it. He worried about income inequality during the 2004 election and now hardly mentions it.
"McCain seems free from the substantive commitments that anchor other legislators, but that's just let him be captured by his circumstances and relationships."
A mere 17 syllables can make fine poetry, and 140 characters is more than enough to express something profound. I think Ron Paul succeeded, as captured in the Lede blog's discussion of Wikileaks:
"In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble."
(And check out the entry just below that one: the OMB has "directed all federal agencies to bar their employees from accessing the WikiLeaks Web site and its leaked diplomatic cables.")
History professor Paul Schroeder has a different opinion, and sings the praises of secrecy in a NYT Op-Ed.
"Secrecy is an essential part of any negotiation," he writes. "No corporate merger, complicated legal settlement, amicable divorce or serious political compromise could ever be reached without a reliable level of confidentiality."
It's a remarkable notion, with pretty much no basis in fact or reason. An amicable divorce depends on secrecy? Perhaps an amicable marriage does, but what, if you succeed in hiding your assets, or what you're willing to give up, where your threshold of pain is, things will be more amicable? Secrecy is prized for the leverage it provides to the party with better information, not for the "amicability" it might ensure.
"[L]eaks like this simply make those in power retreat further into the shadows to defend themselves and their positions. Consider how Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger cut off all but their inner circle of advisers after the Pentagon Papers were published."
As, um, argument for keeping the dark secrets of the Vietnam War secret? Fail.
Mitch McConnell seems to be in the running for my least favorite politician, as he takes hypocrisy to a new level, playing "chicken" with the Senate as he decries those who disagree with him as "playing games."
As opposed to John Boehner's "chicken crap" assessment of the House's action. Imagine the gall of those Democrats, passing a tax bill reflecting their values, when they know Mitch McConnell won't let any such thing through the Senate.
Ezra Klein: Republicans dare democrats to reform the filibuster. And Sen. Jeff Merkley has made a simple proposal to do just that. Reform the filibuster by making Senators actually hold the floor to do it.
Which is the 2nd time in as many days that the first season Star Trek episode, A Taste of Armageddon has come to mind. That was the one where computer simulations took care of all the "war" fighting, and all the casualties had to do was report to the disintegration chambers to make good on the body count. The filibuster has come to the same thing, with no real fight left in it. Somebody's aide counts how Senators say they'll vote and the "dead" bills are sent to disintegration.
Can Merkley play Spock and bring back the "Destruction. Death. Disease. Horror" of debating on the Senate Floor? Stay tuned!
I suppose that there are plenty of important things in the ton of documents released by Wikileaks, but the magnitude of them seemed to trigger instant overload for my attention. The headline reports haven't seemed to include anything very sensational yet. Seems like a lot of difficult and relatively unrewarding work for journalists.
The bigger story seems to be going after Julian Assange, the man behind Wikileaks. Glenn Greenwald deconstructs the moral standards of Assange's critics in Salon, as they engage in an "increasingly bloodthirsty two-minute hate session."
"The ringleaders of this hate ritual are advocates of—and in some cases directly responsible for—the world's deadliest and most lawless actions of the last decade. And they're demanding Assange's imprisonment, or his blood, in service of a Government that has perpetrated all of these abuses and, more so, to preserve a Wall of Secrecy which has enabled them. To accomplish that, they're actually advocating—somehow with a straight face—the theory that if a single innocent person is harmed by these disclosures, then it proves that Assange and WikiLeaks are evil monsters who deserve the worst fates one can conjure, all while they devote themselves to protecting and defending a secrecy regime that spawns at least as much human suffering and disaster as any single other force in the world. That is what the secrecy regime of the permanent National Security State has spawned."
Greenwald links to Juan Cole's Top Ten Middle East Wikileaks Revelations so Far, which reads to me like a combination of "everybody knew that" and inside baseball that matter a lot to a very few and hardly at all to everyone else. Diplomacy involves competing demands, a variety of more or less obnoxious personalities and people who want power, or want to take it away from others, sometimes by force. Who knew?
And to Matt Yglesias' observation that "for the third time in a row, a WikiLeaks document dump has conclusively demonstrated that an awful lot of US government confidentiality is basically about nothing." Nothing, except that attempting to keep pretty much everything secret without any legitimate basis "is itself an improper act, a serious abuse of government secrecy powers," as Greenwald observes. Never mind a new standard of transparency.
Macleod's editorial cartoon (included at the end of the Salon piece as well) sums up the moral relativism at work here tidily.
Today's email from MoveOn.org had the subject "Republican lies are winning... again," and I wondered out loud why they seem to be so much better at that than Democrats. Jeanette's answer is our headline.
It reminds me of the novel by Eudora Welty, Jeanette said, The Optimist's Daughter. The optimist's 2nd wife, Fay, is from a different culture (and class) than the daughter, and incapable of logic. What she says is inevitably designed to get her what she wants, whatever it takes. The daughter, thinking logically, has no chance whatsoever against Fay, everything goes the way of the crazy woman.
Back to the issue of the day: Where to go with tax policy now that we've reached the conclusion of the 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts? Never mind that those cuts were time-limited, precisely because the fiscal impact of making them permanent was untenable back when we'd somehow managed to come close to balancing government spending and revenue.
Now that they've been running almost a decade, while we embarked on two foreign wars and had our economy splattered by a bursting bubble of "innovative finance," and the deficit and debt have sailed far into uncharted dragon waters, are Republicans prepared to accept that they've run their course?
Shirley, you jest.
To not renew the temporary, term-limited tax cuts would be "raising taxes"! And lord knows we don't ever want to do that! It goes against our mythology, and it would anger the gods, who would then punish us.
Today's Letters to the Editor included Carl Nelson's recitation of one of the core myths of tax policy: lowering tax rates increases revenue. Period. End of story. Shut up all ready. Proved 80 years ago! Remember the great economy "between 1921 and 1929"? That was when "jobs increased, output rose, the unemployment rate fell and incomes rose."
Bring back the roaring 20s! Oh wait, we already did that, didn't we?
So, now, about those enduring fairy tales. Writing new tax cuts, just like the old ones will not really stimulate the economy, thanks, won't hurt small business, really, won't provide a pathway to long-term growth, won't magically fix the deficit, and will make it harder to balance revenue and spending, obviously.
In case you were wondering how fully entrenched the mythology is, consider the current Batman and Robin of fiscal hard-headedness, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, with their bottle of foul-tasting medicine almost no one wants to sip, proposing that part of the plan for deficit reduction should be... yup, you guessed it, lowering tax rates, particularly for those on top.
Snow yesterday, snow last night, snow this morning. Boise got a sizeable drop, of what ended up being pretty wet and heavy snow, at least half a foot. I shoveled our driveway 4 times in the last 24 hours, and the last couple felt like old-fashioned Wisconsin shoveling. Some of the local schools and BSU cancelled classes. And a fair number of the emancipated headed up the hill for a day on the slopes.
The drive up, 10-ish, went smoothly enough, a snow floor the whole way, and seemingly uniform temperature over the 3000'+ climb, which is also out of the ordinary. It was relatively warm at the base, hit a high of 35°F this afternoon, ugh. The fresh snow was plentiful, and heavy, but fun. The traveled runs went from decent crud, then to cruddy crud, and were headed for unspeakable, when I figured I'd take my last run down the face and call it good...
Ah, that's where they put the best snow! Fog, mist, risk of bushwhacking at the bottom, but some nice medium-weight powder in big expanses before any trouble. It was worth a round trip, two more chair rides to get back up to that top and give it another go.
Can't remember starting December 1st for years and years. Hope it keeps up. And gets colder up there on the mountain.
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org