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28.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We're Number One (who's two, three, four?) Permalink to this item

Here's a factoid I would not have guessed, out of VP Joe Biden's remarks to the National Governors Association: "Our GDP is bigger than that of China, Japan and Germany combined," Biden said. Really? Combined? Wikipedia's list of countries by nominal GDP suggests it's so, although it would have been more informative to say that the GDP of the USA is comparable to that of China, Japan and Germany combined.

Just as he might have said that we are still better positioned than any country in the world to lead the 21st century economically (as opposed to "own" it, which is what he did say). Then this:

"Americans have never settled for number two—literally. This is not hyperbole. Itís not one of these chauvinistic things. We want other nations to do well. Weíll do better if they do well. But we are not prepared, nor are you, to settle for being number two in anything."

November Coalition's graph, I like Joe Biden, but I think the idea of American exceptionalism in everything is a little crazy. We've got the biggest economy, the biggest military, the biggest empire, sure. And we continue to lead the world with both our incarceration rate and in the number of people imprisoned. Shanghai says we've got most of the best universities. We spend more per capita on healthcare than any other country. A lot more. But we're twenty-seventh in life-expectancy for that #1 spend. (Good news: we're ahead of Cuba, #28. Not so good news: they spend 1/25th what we do.) We're 47th in infant mortality. 14th in education when 15-year-olds are measured.

By all means, let's be the best we can, but we don't have to be the best. We could settle for really, really good when it comes to equality of opportunity, justice, education, access to health care, clean water, and so on.

Voting with their feet Permalink to this item

This just in, from Eye on Boise:

"About 100 Boise High School students are now gathered in the second-floor rotunda of the state capitol, where they're quietly doing their homework. It's part of walkouts at high schools across the state this morning in protest of the proposed school reform plan; the Associated Press reports that about 100 students walked out of classes at Meridian High School and more than 150 walked out at Nampa High. Students were also reported to have walked out of classes at other high schools in Boise, Caldwell and Pocatello.

"We are trying to show our disgust at the Legislature's passing of the two education bills so far, and that we would not like them to pass the third bill," said Tyler Honsinger, an 18-year-old senior. "We're skipping class. I think everyone here agrees that the passage of these bills are more important than what we're doing in class today. It'll affect their future schooling, he said."

This protesting at capitols thing is catchy.

Clear statement on Luna's work in Idaho Permalink to this item

Thanks the the Idaho Statesman for reprinting two editorials from others in its "WestViews" feature today. The Lewiston Morning Tribune lays it out plainly enough with Luna: A Public Servant Turned Corporate Lackey, and as a bonus, the Idaho Falls Post Register suggests a money-saving idea: let's disband the State Board of Education, since all it seems to be doing is rubber-stamping whatever the Superintendent proposes.

And here's a surprise: computer companies are already eyeing what could become a lucrative contract with the state. The budget plan for phasing in laptops for HS students, and maintenance, repairs and support comes to $57.2 million over five years. House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini is apparently excited about the lobbyists' dog and pony shows.

"I think technology is great. I wish we would have had it in our era but we didn't," Nonini said. "I don't think we can let the kids move forward without it."

The tightwad and anti-public education Republican legislature of the State of Idaho wants to buy gadgets for high school kids? I guess anything that will put union thugs out of work must be a good program in their eyes.

27.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I'm sure he's right about that Permalink to this item

I heard more Glenn Beck at once than ever before, quoted on the Apologies of the Week© on Harry Shearer's Le Show blathering on and on and on and on about something he "got wrong" and wanted to set right. OMG. Part of it was memorable though, and had the solid ring of Truth to it:

"I'm on the air for Four Hours a Day," Beck said, "without a script. That's a long time, and it's a recipe for disaster."

Burning the furniture to heat the house Permalink to this item

I know where our drinking water comes from (the pumphouse is disguised as a tract home in the subdivision) but I don't know about the natural gas. It comes up out of the ground through a pipe, into the furnace and hot water heater every time it's called for. Maybe it's coming down from British Columbia, or up from the San Juan basin under Colorado and New Mexico. The company that keeps it flowing is my age, born in the middle of the baby boom.

The marketing of natural gas for domestic purposes just about always includes the word "clean," but as compared to what? The black steel plumbing in the house is way cleaner than a coal bin, as is the flue gas, compared to what burning coal would produce. No clinkers to dispose of, either.

And it's pretty darn cheap too, thanks to the watchful oversight of our (and other) Public Utilities Commission(s). The last couple price adjustments have been down, not up (and we never saw the wild price swings that some did last decade).

The processes to obtain new sources of natural gas aren't what they used to be though, as one of tonight's Academy Award nominees has so memorably described. And now Regulation seems to be going out of style. The new plan is to test no evil, see no evil:

"[F]ederal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste [from hydraulic fracturing] not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008."

Pennsylvania knows something about coal, and now it's learning the hard way about this "cleaner" fossil fuel with more than 70,000 wells into the vast Marcellus Shale. Waste from the drilling process is going into the Monongahela River, the Susquehanna River, Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware River, the Ohio River, waters that provide what tens of millions of people in the northeast drink.

"There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90% have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the drilling industry."

Whether there's a will to measure the toxic components doesn't much matter if there's no way to remove them... or even to keep up with the enormous task.

26.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

70,000 protestors in Wisconsin Permalink to this item

That's a big crowd. Biggest there since the Vietnam War.

Our turnout for solidarity with Wisconsin was more than 100 times smaller, but spirits were high. (The Idaho Statesman staff said "nearly 400"; my estimate was a bit higher, 500+. Have a look at my pictures and decide for yourself.)

Nobody knows the inside like an insider Permalink to this item

From today's mailbox, accompanying what I put in the second update to Thursday's post about for-profit education, a book recommendation for Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans, by Wendell Potter, former health insurance exec who wrote disinformation talking points, turned "outspoken critic of corporate PR and the distortion and fear manufactured by America's health insurance industry" as he now describes himself. An Amazon reader's conclusion:

"Potter's book is essential reading for understanding the flaws in our system and how corporate profit continues to dictate who gets coverage, who doesn't and why we are ranked so poorly compared to other nations when it comes to health care."

Not so jolly, roger Permalink to this item

What do 6 bulk carriers, 1 LPG carrier, 8 dhows, 2 yachts, 14 fishing vessels, 4 tankers, 12 cargo vessels of various types, 1 tug boat and 3 other vessels have in common? They've all been hijacked and are currently being held by Somali pirates, along with more than 800 passengers and crew members.

"When a vessel is hijacked, ship owners cough up a ransom, nowadays in the neighborhood of $5 million, and most of that cost gets passed to the end user—consumers. Until recently, most hostages would emerge unharmed, albeit skinny and pale from being locked in a filthy room. The average time in captivity is around six months. ...

"The pirates used to stick relatively close to Somalia's shores. But now, using "mother ships"—hijacked vessels that serve as floating bases—they attack ships more than 1,000 miles away. Sometimes that puts them closer to India than to home. The red zone now covers more than one million square miles of water, an area naval officers say is impossible to control."

25.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A motion, a second, and then nullity Permalink to this item

Turns out the Idaho legislature does still have some adult supervision, as the Senate State Affairs Committee stuck a fork in Vito Barbieri's nullification bill; it is done, at least for this session, with a scant two votes in favor of sending it out of committee to the whole Senate. Betsy didn't say if Jack Stuart came in costume, but he was using his Patrick Henry script for his testimony, bringing an ovation from his fellow Tea Party patriots.

"I will not accept or obey the health care law. I will go to jail. ... Give me liberty or give me death!"

But I'm guessing he is using his federally-funded Medicare health insurance these days all the same, and will not be using that line for doctor visits. Don't want to risk misinterpretation when you appear before a Death Panel.

Barbieri had removed the word "null" from his bill to get it through the House, so maybe we have to call his effort a "voidity" instead.

Scott Walker, piece of work Permalink to this item

Nice post by digby, with follow up questions about the "David Koch" call to Wisconsin's Governor, who "apparently blindly answers every call and blabs uncontrollably no matter who it is."

"But seriously, folks. Are we supposed to believe that he doesn't really even know who Koch is or how much he contributed to his campaign, but that he picked up the phone and had this extremely intimate strategic discussion with him? Really?"

(Even after Andy Kroll's piece in Mother Jones, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Funded by the Koch Bros.?) The transcript of the call is now out there for your consideration in answering these questions.

"Murphy: [Laughs] Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I'll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.

"Walker: All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks, thanks for all the support and helping us move the cause forward, and we appreciate it. We're, uh, we're doing the just and right thing for the right reasons, and it's all about getting our freedoms back."

Honey, I shrunk the economy! Permalink to this item

We're well into the experiment to find out if sabotaging government magically "enables" prosperity, even as we watch remarkable history unfold in countries in the middle east. Can Libya transition from a tribal oil patch to a functioning member of the community of nations? Can Egypt bootstrap democracy after 4 decades of Mubarak? What about Bahrain, Yemen, Iran and more?

Back in the Homeland, we're having a go at slashonomics, maybe a government shutdown to torpedo the tenuous recovery, driving a stake through the heart of unions, so we can all be taken advantage of equally, and why not sell off some infrastructure to see if that'll make ends meet.

24.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our future in for-profit education Permalink to this item

The mysteriously funded conservative "think tank" run by one-term Congressman Bill Sali's former chief of staff, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, paid to bring in a motivational speaker for the Idaho House and Senate Education Committees today.

Dan Popkey touts Tom Vander Ark's "star power," the subhead calls him "a world leader in education reform" and the lede says "Newsweek once called [him] America's most influential baby boomer in education." All of which makes him the most famous person you never heard of. Not that fame and a Wikipedia page are synonymous, but he doesn't have one. The Internet Academy that he founded back in 1996 does, though.

After doing time as a school superintendent in Federal Way, Washington, and then having the happy job of dispensing some of Bill Gates' $billions, he's worked his way from degrees in mineral engineering and energy/finance to heading a PR firm, being a partner in a private equity fund for "innovative learning tools," and being on the Board of the International Association of K-12 Online Learning.

With record numbers of people looking for one job, this guy has three big ones. High-powered, at least.

I imagine the Executive Summary of the 2009 paper he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute, Private Capital and Public Education: Toward Quality at Scale encapsulates the message he's delivering today?

"Education remains one of the few sectors that information and communication technologies have not transformed. There has been virtually no productivity improvement in U.S. schools, despite a doubling of per-pupil funding over the past fifteen years. While the public delivery system is inflexible and bureaucratic and provides an inadequate impetus for performance and improvement, non-profit organizations have weak incentives and limited ability to aggregate capital for research and development or scaled impact. In contrast, for-profit enterprises may have greater ability to attract talent and capital, incentives to achieve scaled impact, and the ability to utilize multiple business strategies.

"Private capital and for-profit enterprises will play a vital role in creating tools that increase learning, staffing, and facilities productivity; developing formats and services that leverage these tools; managing high quality, cost effective education networks; and leading the sector transition from batch processing—in which learning is organized around classes of students of the same age, who progress through material at the same pace—to personalized, digital, learning services."

Never mind that his notion that information and communication technologies haven't transformed education is slightly disconnected with reality. "Public delivery system"? "Batch processing"?

He's after "productivity" breakthroughs, like, say, massively multiplayer online World of Warcraft innovation being applied to learning games. Seriously. As a bonus, maybe the U.S. military will stop complaining about the quality of their potential workforce. (Physical fitness won't be a problem with Wii Fit, right?)

Here's another gem, from Vander Ark's site (part of his Vander Ark / Ratcliff PR business), App Store School:

"When students and teachers start to crave interaction, social networking and real world projects could fill this void. Twitter, Facebook and social networking apps in both android and apple could help students stay connected, study in groups, or locate resources."

Update: Betsy Russell's blog has a flurry of entries describing the debate over SB1108 (kill the teacher's union), and SB1110 (pay for performance, with, um, no funding source, we'll worry about that later. Maybe). Both bills passed the Senate, 20-15.

Thanks to Senators Andreason, Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Cameron, Corder, Darrington, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai, Schmidt, Stegner, Stennett, Tippetts, and Werk for the NO votes.

Update #2: from a reader: "Idaho connection: Partner Bennett Ratcliff was media guru Bob Squire's assigned consultant for the Stallings Senate campaign. More recently the Honduras coup regime hired him as a PR consultant."

23.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Yes, the Governor will take that call Permalink to this item

I imagine Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy didn't really expect to get away with the prank, but did expect to get a pretty good laugh out of it, when "David Koch" called to talk to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He had to navigate the receptionist, the executive assistant, and then the chief of staff, Keith Gilkes.

That name opens doors, even if you don't give a callback number and say "calling from the VOID--with the VOID, or whatever it's called. You know, the Snype!"

Walker's spokesperson says he "says the same thing in private as he does in public," but before the Beast went to press (so to speak), maybe he wasn't quite so candid about how we was working to trick Wisconsin's Senate Democrats to coming back to the capital and then to ram his union-busting program through.

22.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We got the call, but didn't bother joining Permalink to this item

We need a different name than "town hall" for a robo-calling selection from a list of 700,000 voter names, a mostly listen-only presentation, and a couple chances to "press 1 for yes, or 2 for no." For some company in Chicago, it was a decent way to collect 15 to $20,000, and for the we-have-no-experience-in-education-but-we're-reforming-it group of Otter, Luna, Goedde and Nonini, they can now say with a straight face that, "thousands of Idahoans participated" in the discussion," as Dan Popkey led in his report of yesterday's event.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, who paid for the get-together "polled" callers on two questions: "Do you support education reform?" and "Do you support raising taxes or not?"

I presume there was not a "press [3] if you recognize that this question is self-serving at best, but certainly useless to assess anything meaningful about what you think" option?

Good for IACI President Alex LaBeau for being "not sure he'll release the survey results" (other than, um saying what they were) because "he has doubts about scientific validity."

You think?

And gee, just a coincidence that the question screening by their out-of-state vendor, and having an Otter aide pose them to the team resulted in no one opposed to the Luna-Otter plan having a chance to say or ask anything. As compared to the 5 or 10-to-1 opposition in public testimony before the Senate Education Committee.

I saw House Education Chair Bob Nonini hanging out by the Capitol yesterday during the rally at Capitol Park, watching from a safe distance. He apparently wasn't interested in walking across the street to collect some public opnion directly. (Too many union thugs in the mix?)

And the voters of the state can certainly rest easier knowing that IACI's sitting on "the largest and most sophisticated voter file in Idaho, with over 700,000 names" in it. Don't call them, they'll call you, maybe.

Education for a new century Permalink to this item

Rather than commoditized and more "customer-driven" education, where corporate interests profit from increasing students' productivity at filling in bubbles on their No Child Left Behind standardized tests, is there a vision for sustaining and enhancing the system of free, public education that has made this country great, and provided a model for the world? Here's one idea, from Zoe Weil, with the cautionary title, The World Becomes What We Teach.

"Because we are confronted with escalating, interrelated, global problems, such as climate change, human trafficking, growing extinction rates, economic instability, a looming energy catastrophe, to name just a few, we must educate a generation to solve systemic problems."

Some of the information to begin to understand and address systemic problems is already online. More of it will have to be discovered, organized and presented in concise ways and be put online, by the students of today. The means to understanding, and solving systemic problems is not something that can be taught "online" however.

Weil's TEDxDirigo presentation (available via one of our great online institutions, YouTube) shows her personally presenting the idea that we can change "schooling" from a plodding idea to an inspirational one, and education a generation that's up to solving the substantial problems we'll be leaving them.

21.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jonny Saunders rocks the house Permalink to this item

Definitely worth the price of admission to hear Timberline HS Jonny Saunders speak at today's rally in Boise's Capitol Park. Public education hasn't failed everyone in the state, Jonny made that much clear.

"Teaching is not just another job in this society, it's the way the future is shaped, and the way the next generation is raised!"

Thanks to Idaho Reporter for being right up front and capturing the speech and getting it up on the intertubes.

Brian Murphy's report for the Idaho Statesman highlighted another strong speaker, Rory Jones, from the Boise School District board: "If [Luna] was so proud of (the plan), why didnít he run on it?" Jones asked. "The fix was in." (Gee, maybe he reads my blog?)

Tom Luna's focus on the customer Permalink to this item

My sign for today's rally Dan Popkey's story in Sunday's Idaho Statesman was definitely worth the Saturday tease. Tom Luna's plan was a long time in the making, with friends in high places (and with deep pockets) going back into the first term of the Bush administration, in which Mr. Luna enjoyed a federal government job as consolation for losing his first bid for election to Idaho Superintendent.

In the sidebar section, How 'Students Come First' Came to Be, Luna bristles at the idea that he's carrying water for the corporations who will be the beneficiaries if his "customer-driven" education reform plan goes through.

"Do you think I can't have an original thought? That Iíve been spoon-fed this information and I'm incapable of doing any of this on my own?"

Just a coincidence then that it comes out so much like the ideas of the for-profit education industry making a business out of substituting technology for teachers. Still, no man is an island, and at the end of that sidebar, we read that "Luna said he did consult some outsiders, but wouldn't name them."

"They're people that are leaders in education here in Idaho that I trust, have confidence in and bounce a lot of ideas off of. And I'm going to keep that confidential."

That would be the Dick Cheney model of transparency in government, protecting one's "sources" as you move their plan through the system.

Legislature to establish system of free schools Permalink to this item

That's what Article IX, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution says.

"The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools."

Both the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction swore an oath to uphold that Constitution.

19.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Divide and conquer, in three easy steps Permalink to this item

Robert Reich: "The Republican strategy is to split the vast middle and working class—pitting unionized workers against non-unionized, public-sector workers against non-public, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who donít believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class."

First, scream like crazy over deficit spending (which, gosh, just wasn't that much of a problem during the Bush years), and convince everyone that the budget is a zero-sum game for which the more "other people" lose, the more you win.

Second, attack public employees and kill their unions. Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio are leading the way, with Idaho's GOP doing their part.

Third, politicize the Supreme Court, with Scalia and Thomas setting a new standard as "activist judges," palling around with the Koch brothers and their Tea Party shills.

Following the well-connected money Permalink to this item

Randy Stapilus posted Grove Koger's 1993-2010 timeline following the education money, on Tuesday, noting that "when the Luna-Otter plan emerged seemingly out of nowhere a month ago ... it didn't really emerge out of nowhere." A couple days later, Randy said they've had "a clutch of additional emails," and "the list of particulars has grown to an impressive length," with a link to John Miller's AP article in the Idaho Press-Tribune, Albertsons heir mixes foundation, business. (It ran in today's Idaho Statesman too, under a more direct headline, above the fold on the front page, Albertson heir cashes in on online education.)

"Since 2007, Albertson's supermarket heir Joseph B. Scott has had a golden touch with one of his investments, a company that sells online education courses and other services to public schools."

That's pretty much all the explanation needed for what seemed so inexplicable, the recent full page ad from the Albertsons Foundation saying "we've thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at education and nothing's worked so we better do the Otter-Luna plan!" (I'm paraphrasing the foundation's "letter" to Idahoans, slightly.)

The Statesman also teases for a Special Report in tomorrow's paper, Dan Popkey reporting that "Tom Luna's long ties to for-profit education leaders have helped shaped his ideology—and now his ideology may help them make money." A lot of money. Meanwhile, Kristin Rodine's report on Luna's go at the City Club of Boise yesterday quoted his mixed catastrophe metaphors:

"These are steps we must take to get our schools out of this financial tailspin. We are at a funding cliff, and we cannot ignore it."

The Republican-dominated state government has been in the driver's seat for many years, no mystery how we got here. Now pass this legislation or else I'm going to drive us right off!

US House says YES! Permalink to this item

to prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases; reducing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; restoring $557M for special ed; killing "Green the Capitol"; reducing financing the Institute of Peace; prohibiting funds for the FCC to enforce "net neutrality"; prohibiting the EPAs regulation of cement plants (because ... more mercury in the air is a good thing?); zeroing salaries for White House senior policy advisors (down with the czars!); eliminating financing for Planned Parenthood (down with family planning!); canceling the spare engine for the F-35 (down with the ... redundancy!).

US House says NO!

It will not eliminate funds for The Presidio Trust; nor restore $50M in heating subsidies for the poor; nor strip financing for the National Labor Relations Board; nor reduce funding for Amtrak; nor restore $131M for the SEC (who needs financial regulation?); nor prohibit government advertising on NASCAR cars; nor limit funding for the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan; nor eliminate funding for the Selective Service; nor remove Wyoming grey wolves from the Endangered Species Act; nor eliminate funcing for the V-22 Osprey, the military boondoggle that will not die.

And those are just highlights of the highlights of key amendments to H.R.1. Four hundred eighty more amendments we could talk about. Before we send this baby on to the world's greatest deliberative body.

18.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Courage in a small town Permalink to this item

Hell of a story about Idaho Falls and its Post Register on the Nieman Foundation's site at Harvard: A Local Newspaper Endures a Stormy Backlash, by Dean Miller, the paper's managing editor.

The same Frank Vandersloot that bought full-page ads opining against the reporting of the Boy Scouts' problem with pedophiles bought full-page ads in favor of Tom Luna's plan to decimate education in Idaho, and kill the union. Real stand-up dude.

Race to the bottom Permalink to this item

Increase in discretionary spending, per OMB A couple talking Congressional heads on the Newshour last night, fairly and balancedly chosen one each from the two name-brand parties were talking about how the closed-door bull sessions were working to see if they could make the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission's recommendations the legislative default, and then cast about for what else they could do.

Which, you know how stuff works in D.C., would be exactly like enacting the B-S commission's recommendations. Not because the commission's work was so widely recognize as ne plus ultra, but because the people who came up with the recommendations think that's what we should do. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA):

"[T]hat's why we gradually expanded our group. And now we've involved some folks who frankly have a lot more expertise about the debt commission report itself than we do, because they were members of it."

First, let's talk about discretionary spending, which is the talk of the town at the moment. From the point that George W. Bush and gang went to work on unbalancing the budget and dividing the spoils among their best friends, that part of the budget has almost doubled: in constant dollars, it went from two-thirds of a $trillion in 2001 to $1.25T last year, and 88% increase. Almost two-thirds of that increase went to the Defense Department and two wars. All but about 20% went to defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the State Department. (The accompanying graph is from OMB data, as tabulated by Rep. Xavier Becerra in his statement responding to the Fiscal Commission's report, see pgs. 4-5 of the member statements.)

So if you want to talk about discretionary spending, the only serious conversation begins with DEFENSE, after we thank Secretary Gates oh so much for his suggestion of reducing the rate of increase of defense spending, and then decide which part of our out-of-control military industrial complex, wars, black sites, and empire we're prepared to reduce voluntarily, before bankruptcy forces our hand.

Beyond that, I have two big concerns with the federal budget: the first is that the machinations over them are a total sham, essentially fraudulent as Paul Krugman puts it. The second is that even more damage will be done by the political hacks hacking away even as they don't do a damn thing to fix what's broken. Krugman's point is that health care is the top three things we need to be working on (and government revenue fourth).

"What would real action on health look like? Well, it might include things like giving an independent commission the power to ensure that Medicare only pays for procedures with real medical value; rewarding health care providers for delivering quality care rather than simply paying a fixed sum for every procedure; limiting the tax deductibility of private insurance plans; and so on.

"And what do these things have in common? Theyíre all in last year's health reform bill."

The action in D.C. may not be quite as outrageously useless as what the Idaho House came up with this week, but it may still be functionally useless, and wasting our time and money with a barking carnival show along the way.

15.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of hostility Permalink to this item

I understand from an Idaho GOP press release and the Associate Press that "Over the weekend an angry teacher showed up at Luna's mother's home, last night Luna's truck was spray painted and his tires slashed, and there have been multiple incidents of harassment in public venues." Those would be unwarranted acts of vandalism, to be sure.

However, the further quote from State Chairman Norm Semanko is almost equally over the top:

"Up to this point, the vocal minority has been spreading their propaganda without much resistance from the majority of Idahoans who support the plan. It's time for that to change. It's time for Idahoans who care about education to step up and take the time to express their support for Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna's plan through civil means: contact their legislators, write letters to the editor, post on social media, and talk to their family and friends."

Where shall we start? First of all the clever little twist of phrase about "the majority of Idahoans who support the plan": Semanko didn't say that a majority of Idahoans support the plan, but one might easily overlook that crucial "who" that allows his sentence to be true, but of no significance.

Propaganda? Cheap, and baseless shot, Norm.

Were you out of town last week when hundreds of opponents spent hours at the statehouse civilly waiting their turn to testify? Did your subscription to the Idaho Statesman run out so that you haven't been able to keep up with the letters running overwhelmingly against Luna's and Otter's plan?

You want "civil," set an example.

And the same goes for Tom Luna, who while justifiably upset by acts of vandalism and anger directed toward him and his family, has no basis to slander the Idaho Education Association for "union thuggery."

Killing the teachers' union Permalink to this item

The description of Idaho Senate Bill 1108 runs on a page and a half (AND IN ALL CAPS IS THAT REALLY NECESSARY?), but in the testimony I just sent the Education Committee, I offered a shorter title that cuts to the chase: Teachers Shall Be At Our Mercy. Here's the whole message:

I am deeply disappointed in the proposals brought to the Senate Education Committee by Superintendent Luna, and by the Committee's willful dismissal of the unprecedented outpouring of public opposition to them.

Rather than top-down directives from a management team with little experience in education, I feel it is crucial to the future of education in Idaho that budget challenges and reform needs be met with a collaborative effort between state officials, school administrators and teachers. That will of course mean working with teachers' associations, rather than working to minimize their influence, add administrative burdens to them, and define in State Code what can and cannot be negotiated.

As I read Senate Bill 1108, I find it replete with the assumption that teachers are adversaries in the process. At a minimum, this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Elimination of what little job security teachers have, reduction in notice for termination, putting dismissal at the sole discretion of boards of education but enjoining them from considering length of service are all unilateral, hostile acts. It appears to be the sponsors' intent to embody hostility to teachers in State Code.

Specifying that mutually-agreed mediation be non-binding seems likely to guarantee that it is a waste of time and money. The bill provides an arbitrary deadline (to be declared by law as "not arbitrary") for agreement to be reached, and if that fails, "the board of trustees ... shall establish compensation ... as it deems appropriate."

In other words, it shall be Idaho State Law that negotiations with teachers will be a sham and a farce.

And the sham "negotiations" will be made an annual event; the Legislature would deny teachers even the benefit of the two-year term they themselves enjoy. In order to empower itself and local school boards to dismiss teachers at will, the Legislature appears ready and willing to forgo the possibility of having stable, committed educators engaged in its school system.

On the positive side, I don't see the words "Students Come First" anywhere in SB 1108. Perhaps "Teachers Shall Be At Our Mercy" could be used as an appropriate title? Certainly they will be able to figure that out even without such candor.

Things go better with Koch Permalink to this item

Not that the financial disclosure forms for federal officials are all that intrusive (or that officials manage to fill them out correctly and completely), but it pays to be a little bit consistent when you make stuff up to fill them in. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' spokeswoman says it was a "brief drop-by" at billionaires Charles and David Koch's Palm Springs soirée, but then the disclosure report said the Federalist Society chipped in for four days of "transportation, meals and accommodations" over the weekend.

Palm Springs is a nice place; you just want to linger when you drop by, eh?

The Kochs landed two, count 'em two of the nine members of the Supreme Court for their January 2008 weekend do; Antonin Scalia was there also. Common Cause has a few questions, and a request to the Attorney General:

"Common Cause hereby formally requests that the Justice Department promptly investigate whether Justices Thomas and Scalia should have recused themselves from the Citizens United case under 28 U.S.C. § 455. If the Department finds sufficient grounds for disqualification of either Justice, we request that the Solicitor General file a Rule 60(b) motion with the full Supreme Court seeking to vacate the judgment."

♥.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The incomprehensible budget (and let the debate begin)

With trillions of dollars whizzing overhead, it's hard to know what to think right now. Brink of disaster? Wrong track? Investments for the future? Bloomberg collects some sound-bite reactions: David Stockman (Reagan's one-time budget director who eventually called b.s. on Reaganomics) says "a new low in political cowardice," since "in defense, in revenue, entitlement reform, there's nothing."

Jeffrey Sachs: "it's absurd what we're doing," "driving down the poorest of the poor" after an unprecedented boom for the wealthy (which in case you hadn't noticed, is on again).

As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan (R-WI) is the go-to guy for rebuttals, and he's managed to count up $8 in tax increases for every $1 in spending cuts (as opposed to $2 in cuts against $1 in tax increases the administration estimates). I don't know where he gets those numbers, and he couldn't explain it to the radio interviewer when she asked. His own bullet list is a confusing hash of this year, this decade, deficits and debt, and does nothing to explain that gigantic claim he's waving around.

Can Ryan make sense of what he's talking about? Does he want to? Or is he more interested in repealing the laws of arithmetic ("too much regulation!"), as Paul Krugman suggests.

You may have missed it Permalink to this item

distracted as you were by the ginger doo-dad mysteriously floating over the speaker, but the reception at the Conservative Political Action Conference for Donald Trump's assessment of Ron Paul's chances for getting elected President was interesting. The folks who've "elected" Paul the winner in the last two CPAC straw polls apparently can't handle the truth. (Mitt Romney was #1 for the three previous years, before and after the GOP nominated John McCain in 2008.)

What, are they on drugs? Permalink to this item

We've got some good news, and some bad news, and they both fit in one paragraph of Betsy Russell's report from the Statehouse:

"For every $1 spent on treatment costs, Idaho avoided $1.38 in criminal justice costs, according to new research from the Washington State University Public Policy Center. Nevertheless, Gov. Butch Otter's budget proposal for next year calls for cutting the services by 30.3 percent in state general funds, and 10.8 percent in total funds, and lawmakers are now saying they're likely to trim substantially more from the state budget than Otter recommended."

13.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The fix is already in Permalink to this item

Never mind that Idaho's Capitol saw unprecedented public participation last week, most of it in opposition to the legislative proposals brought by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna; the chair of the Senate Education Committee, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tem, and the Governor are all co-sponsors. Chairman Bob Goedde got as much as he could from the claque, alternating "pro" and "con" testimony as long as he could in spite of the signups becoming increasingly lopsided over three days, ending up 10 to 1 against.

Thanks so much for sharing your opinon, now step aside while we ram this through. We come to bury public education, not to praise it, let alone support its future in our state.

Sen. Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian) told a statewide audience how he'd "generalize" what he'd heard in the committee hearings (in preparation to dismiss them) that "those that support the school choice movement and the business advocates tend to be in the support column, those who tend to be the traditional stakeholders in the current public education system tend to be in the opposed column."

Fulcher smugly pointed out on Idaho Reports last week, "the people overwhelmingly went for the policy side of not expanding government" in the November elections, so "no one came up with any other alternatives." Because raising taxes (or correcting the mistakes of the historic tax shift short-term Governor Jim Risch accomplished in 2006) is simply not an alternative.

It's not whether we're going to dismantle education in Idaho, in other words, but the particulars of how. A few "small corrections" to be made to the Luna bills over the weekend, and then the Committee will approve them, I'm sure.

That said, you can still be a part of history, even if you didn't make your way to the Capitol last week: comments sent to the Committee Secretary, Sara Pealy at or will be distributed to the members, and become part of the public record.

Because that's where the money is Permalink to this item

The headline on Frank Rich's op-ed today is sort of hopeful, At Last, Bernie Madoff Gives Back, but the content is pretty much all bad news, about our continuing "plan" to have "socialism for capitalists, and capitalism for everybody else," as Michael Lewis described it. Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase might be momentarily discomfited by the dirt dug up by Madoff bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard, but they'll soon be laughing off business as usual.

As America's Number One financial bad guy, Madoff's name seems to be the only one in the public imagination, no doubt because "he's the only headline figure of the crash who did go to prison." It's certainly not due to the enormity of his crimes, substantial though they might have been; what the banking socialists did to the economy is orders of magnitude worse.

Instead of a "new era of responsibility," the political scene devolved to the usual suspects, bad economy means throw bums out, and our new sound track is the broken record of Republicans calling government regulation the root of all evil. In spite of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission failure to capture any bad guys (let alone the public's imagination), all that's left is the tragicomedy of newly empowered Darrel Issa on the attack, looking for overspending and partisanship in the Commission, and its chairman saying sorry, we don't have the budget or staff to answer your silly questions.

11.02.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Circus comes to town Permalink to this item

Unimpressed under teabags at CPAC The American Conservative Union's CPAC conference seems pretty far over the top to me. I mean, Dick Cheney? Presenting an award to Donald Rumsfeld? You'd get laughed out of Hollywood if you showed up with that crazy treatment. Still, I appreciate the protesters interrupted the ex-dark lord, calling him a "draft dodger" and "war criminal." I'm guessing you won't see either of these Bobsey twins going on a European vacation any time soon.

Conservatives as human gerbils? Who knows. It not only seems too early to be serious about a Presidential candidate for the GOP, it just is, as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty demonstrated by writing his own speech:

"At a very young age, I saw up close the face of loss, the face of hardship, the face of losing a job And I saw in the mirror, something else: the face of a very uncertain future."

He's still got that baby face, as a matter of fact. Among the other possibles, Donald Trump? Seriously? (Let's start by reaching agreement on what that is on his head.) Maybe to her credit (or maybe just because she couldn't negotiate the speaking fee she wanted), Palin didn't show up. CPAC not conservative enough for her? Too organized?

And Newt Gingrich, now pinched, pudgily waddling up to the lectern to blame all our troubles on Obama. Anybody feeling we need to see more of the Newtster? Maybe the Donald could hire him for something.

Ok, that's low key Permalink to this item

I don't know where California's economy ranks this week, but presumably "if it were a country," it would still be in the top 10 largest, with more than an eighth of the USA's GDP. (Wikipedia says it would be 59th largest, by area.)

And the current leader of the Golden State is travelling... by himself, on Southwest.

He's approachable, what can we say?

What's next in Eqypt? Permalink to this item

Tahrir Square, Friday night, from BBC's live feed All I know is what little I hear or read on the news from half a world away, and even though Mohamed El Baradei's Op-Ed was written before Mubarak's departure, his opinion is more important than most. Seems like he'll be the front-runner for their next President, if he's crazy enough to want the job? After they come up with a new Constitution and a new Parliament, following his prescription.

"What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervor into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity."

There seems little doubt that the transitional (?) "presidential council" will include a representative of the military. Several representatives, I'd guess.

Dark tales from the Capitol Permalink to this item

Here's an interesting story from inside Idaho, on the third day of public testimony before our Senate Education Committee. It seems the committee's secretary was dispatched to clear some unwanted literature from the hands of the public, lined up to testify.

Seriously? "This is not authorized."

"The young woman continued moving down the line, ripping papers from people's hands, then found a large pile of the papers on a bench and started collecting them."

This after day two had the Chairman just about busting a gavel in frustration at "very, very pointed and uncalled for comments." People can get frustrated when they have to present themselves as supplicants to prevent the dismantling of a system built over a century of hard work. Who would have guessed?

Cue Bobby McFerrin Permalink to this item

Gail Collins with a timely list of things we don't have to worry about. Especially comforting while the Idaho state legislature debates deciding for themselves which federal laws they'll ignore, dismantling public education (no more kindergarten! Sing along with me, "schools out for EVER!"), and so on.

"About 10 percent of a state legislature is composed of people who are totally loony. This is in a good state. It's possible that in yours, the proportion is much, much higher. That is probably something to worry about, but not today.

"The point is, they only introduce these bills to get your attention. Resist."

Starting over Permalink to this item

Screen shot from video on BBC site Yesterday's rumors about Hosni Mubarak stepping down appeared to be wishful thinking. I was listening to the radio as his statement came live, translated on the fly. I didn't hear the whole thing, but the convoluted language did communicate "not stepping down right now" well enough.

And the army's Communiqué Number One, that's interesting. (Déjà vu, anyone? From 1969, in Libya.) Sounds like the start of a new ruling party, rather. There they are meeting, and there they are forming a protective cordon around the state TV building to send out Communiqué No. 2, confirming "the lifting of the state of emergency as soon as the current circumstances end."

Is that like we'll relax the unconstitutional provisions of the USA Patriot Act when the War on Terror is over, I wonder? As Roger Cohen notes, in his Op-Ed from Cairo, "Egypt has lived under one form or other of dictatorship since 1952."

"This is a seismic event in a long-dormant Arab world, reflecting at last the modernizing urges of the region's overwhelmingly young populations. They are questing, Facebook- and Twitter-empowered, to become citizens rather than cowed subjects; they have learned that the utopias proposed by fanaticism are empty."

I hope he's right that "the tired binary view of the Arab world where only despots can hold off fanaticism is exhausted," but a ring of Generals doesn't look like quite the same as the Continental Congress.

I guess I'll have to look at Twitter myself to keep up to speed. Cohen's lead feed 8 minutes ago: #mubarak's possibly worst political speech in history. talk about a buried lead. what he meant is "I'm leaving town." which he's now done. (That was versus the 17-hours ago #Mubarak delegates his "powers and authority" to Suleiman but doesn't quit. Fury in #Tahrir. Bait and switch. Ugly Friday looms.)

It'll be a long road back from his resort home in Sharm el-Sheik to Cairo, if he ever travels that far.

10.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Talking points twisted frame of the day Permalink to this item

Now that the Republicans control the House and run the Committee on Government Oversight, we can be treated to the absurd spectacle of Dan Burton (R-IN) saying that "regulation is strangling the private sector" before a parade of witnesses all selected to speak on one side of the issue have their say?

Would that be the regulations that give Americans confidence that their food is safe, the water is drinkable and the air is clean? Or the regulation that makes our electric, natural gas, water and sewer utilities reliable and inexpensive? The regulations that keep the internet humming, or the Global Positioning System working? Cellphones, radio, TV, highways?

"Strangle" is apparently the talking points word of the day, but somebody needs to cough up this hairball of misframing. Here we go, Robert Reich:

"The reason we have continued sky-high unemployment has nothing to do with excessive regulation.... If anything, the economy unraveled because of too little regulation.... Thirty years of deregulation, culminating with the dismantling of Glass-Steagall and the abject failure of regulators at the Fed and the SEC to use the authority they still had, enabled the Street to make bundles of money and expose the rest of the economy to unprecedented levels of risk."

And more importantly,

"most of the complexity and verbiage that finds its way into the Code of Federal Regulations is the result of industry lawyers and lobbyists who exploit every potential ambiguity to avoid doing what lawmakers intend—thereby necessitating ever-more detailed and picayune rules to close the loopholes. It's an endless cat-and-mouse game that runs from regulatory agencies through the courts and then back again."

Same as the old boss Permalink to this item

The man with the name that makes you go huh?, Reince Priebus, is filling the shoes of his predecessor, Michael Steele, with the same sort of krazy klown panache we came to know and love. Paid for by the Republican National Committee, and as ever, the same punch line as you get from your kids in college (you know, "send money"), but Valentine's Day?


"Pass along a Valentine's Card from Obama, Biden, Pelosi and many more. Choose from 18 different Valentine's E-Cards that the Republican National Committee has created for this very special day. Share them with all your family and friends, especially those Democrats who need to know how you feel about the wrong direction their Party is dragging our country."

Guess who I think is a drag on the RNC, if not the country?

I took a look at one, just for giggles. Sample message: "Hope you like this Valentine's Card, your grandchildren are paying for it." (At least it is next to an attractive picture of Obama.)

Underneath the pithy parody putting words in someone else's mouth there is the obligatory disclaimer, "Not Authorized By Any Candidate Or Candidate's Committee," because OMG, who would put his or her name on something like this? Besides the RNC, that is.

9.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

An even bigger gamble on education Permalink to this item

Tom Luna is complaining that there's been "an organized attempt to get people riled up," but really, we need to give credit where it's due. This is pretty much all your doing, Mr. Superintendent. You come up with a plan to decimate Idaho educators, to destroy their union, to substitute technology for human contact, and you think organization is required to develop opposition?

The chairman of the Senate Education committee had to bend over backwards to get testimony from your supporters wedged in, all 14 who showed up when called, versus more than twice that many who spoke in opposition. The signup tally was seven-to-one opposed, more than a hundred people willing to spend most of their day at the statehouse hoping to be heard.

And unlike Frank VanderSloot who has a corporation to pay for full page ads in the newspaper, and a private jet to pop over to the Capital, a lot of them were using personal time off to do it.

Gambling on education Permalink to this item

The surest, most reliable, "can't lose" way to beat the lottery—any lottery—is of course not to play. But where's the fun in that? Mohan Srivastava, a professional gold-digger consultant, parlayed a couple of "gag" tickets into a ton of fun with statistics, and more than his share of winners.

That's not as much news as you'd think it would be, most likely because the folks who run the games that return, on average, 53 cents for every dollar spent, aren't big on this sort of publicity. As the president of one of the few companies that prints tickets put it, "Every lottery knows that it's one scandal away from being shut down." Even though the most enduring scandal doesn't seem to bother the people who are losing the most money:

"While approximately half of Americans buy at least one lottery ticket at some point, the vast majority of tickets are purchased by about 20 percent of the population. These high-frequency players tend to be poor and uneducated, which is why critics refer to lotteries as a regressive tax. (In a 2006 survey, 30 percent of people without a high school degree said that playing the lottery was a wealth-building strategy.) On average, households that make less than $12,400 a year spend 5 percent of their income on lotteries—a source of hope for just a few bucks a throw."

Beyond figuring out the baited hook of "extended play" tic-tac-toe (and deciding that $600/week wouldn't be worth the trouble to plunder the defective game), there's the much more interesting fishy pattern of "payout anomalies":

"The anomalies are always the same: Break-even tickets—where the payout is equal to the cost—are significantly underredeemed while certain types of winning tickets are vastly overredeemed. Take a blackjack scratch ticket sold by Virginia: While there were far too few $2 break-even winners redeemed, there were far too many $4, $6, $10, and $20 winners. In fact, the majority of scratch games with baited hooks in Washington and Virginia displayed this same irregularity. It's as if people had a knack for buying only tickets that paid out more than they cost."

8.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Population waves Permalink to this item

Adapted from the NYT interactive graphic, 'The Aging of America' In classic Baby Boomer style (you might say), I read the NYT story about the business opportunity in a graying population thinking about myself. Looking at the interactive graphic showing the aging of America, I picked out "my" histogram bar and noticed that it rides just on the face of the peak moving through time.

I first saw one of these demographic histograms when I took a Geography class in the mid-70s, when the "traditional" pointy plots gave way to stockier forecasts for the future. That future has arrived, and I was struck by how flat the distribution now is from age 0 to the mid-50s, the once-dramatic wave of the Boom upon which I've ridden my life still visible, but now the younger bars are quite filled-in behind it.

The NYT's point was "look at all the people 65+," and the top hat of the distribution does show dramatic increases from here on out. Now 13%, forecast to be 16% in a decade, 20% in two (with modest growth from 2030 to 2050).

I thought it would be interesting to be able to see the shape of these histograms plotted together... so I drew what you see here, picking off the data in 20 year jumps (as compared to every 5 years in the source).

Everything's bigger in Texas Permalink to this item

For example, the boasting about fiscal responsibility and how many companies might find a move to Texas attractive. Their budget shortfall is definitely in the big leagues, "roughly one-third of the state's budget," at $27 billion, give or take. Woo-ee.

"[Gov. Rick] Perry's claims of companies that have decamped from California to lay down roots in Texas appear to be overblown. When the Austin American-Statesman looked into the Texas governor's boast that there were 153 such companies in 2010, reporters found the claim included California firms that stayed put but maybe opened a Texas branch. The newspaper concluded that Perry's figure was grossly inflated.

"Perry's staff said the governor was too busy to be interviewed in Austin last week. Media reports later revealed that he was on a five-day trip through California, which involved trying to coax companies east. His spokesman refused to name the companies."

7.Feb.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Imported from Detroit (and stuff) Permalink to this item

Great game yesterday, most of all because my favorite team in pretty much all professional sports won, but also because it was competitive and left the conclusion uncertain right up to the last minute, and the 4th and 5. (Imagine... 111 million viewers on the edges of their seats. I remember a 4th and... 18 was it? that didn't turn out so well for Green Bay once upon a time.)

But now that the football season's over, we can talk about the main part of the half-day broadcast: the advertising. Hats off to Chrysler for their rock 'em-sock 'em pitch (for a product I have absolutely no interest in, whatsoever) for (a) the city of Detroit, (b) some expensive new car they're selling, and (c) Black is Beautiful. Congrats to voice-over guy Kevin Yon for getting featured, and check out what kind of attention to quality went into the ad: "he spent 2½ to 3 hours in January recording the commercial."

You can enjoy the rest on Yeah that's right, you're going to seek out advertising. This one day of the year.

What's not to like about Star Wars, and Volkswagen's Darth Vader kid? Even Anheiser Busch came through with one of note (selling that most-forgettable of products, industrially manufactured beer), going with the Western theme rather than the usual beer = babes formula.

The 1984 theme came back, for yet another computer (thingie), Motorola Xoom doing a backflip on Apple. Sentimental favorite, and as a bonus the leading actress just happens to look like one of my nieces. (And yes, she is that beautiful.)

Cars were big, except that smaller is actually getting to be better, isn't it? Have we seen gas mileage touted before? Still, luxury is a bigger sell, as in Audi v. "old luxury" (tapping into cultural themes from The Simpsons and Mission: Impossible). There was Kia's Futurama-ish concept, and yet another Beetle coming.

Update: Stuart Elliott's take, in the NYT. Among the cultural allusions he mentions that I didn't pick up on was the connection to the "Tiny Dancer" scene in Almost Famous. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, memory of that charming film is easily refreshed.

Outreach to Albania Permalink to this item

New addition to (and rotated to the top of) the blogroll, my friend from church Mike Weiss' Idahoan in Albania blog. Infrequent but interesting updates about his continuing service in the Peace Corps in that country. He was in town for a short visit before his final months of service, and I asked him about the culture shock of visiting what must feel like a bit of a foreign country to him. He mentioned "the obesity" as one of the more striking features.

"My general impression is that the Peace Corps is well intentioned, but often confused and misdirected. Yet it is almost unique among American institutions in its approach to the world. It is not trying to convert or pacify. It does not spread American largesse. It is simply an effort to meet the larger world on a one-to-one basis, a world where there are incredible inequities and challenges, to get to know them and they us, and to help, a bit, if we can. It sends mostly young people with the time, education and inclination to volunteer, and, a few oldsters, as well."

5.Feb.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just scraping by Permalink to this item

Photo by Randy Winner, posted on After all the wrangling in court settled down, the Idaho Transportation Department posted the comments and responses it received in regard to the proposed massively oversized shipments by ExxonMobil from the port of Lewiston up US 12 to Montana and then north to Alberta. Those were slated to start "when the weather allows in early 2011." Meanwhile, the early adopter, ConocoPhillips got the green light for a paltry four (as opposed to the two hundred+ bound for Alberta) monster trucks.

Time is money, but if you're headed up Lolo Pass with a you-can't-be-serious oversized load this time of year, we have to ask, "you're not from around here, are you?" I don't know what factor the weather might have played, but here, the very first load scraped into the rocks, between Greer and Kamiah. A "sharp curve" snuck up on 'em, and the "we won't ever delay traffic by more than 15 minutes" plan was busted up to 59 minutes. (The Lewiston Tribune apparently reported that ten of the delays this week ranged from 16 to 59 minutes.)

Now the ITD is demanding things. Better late than never.

It's been a lot of years (34½ if you must know) since I road my bike from Orofino to Kooskia and up over Lolo Pass on U.S. 12. The photo of the rig parked at a turnout near Kooskia in the Huckleberries item on the Spokesman-Review site is quite close to where I spent my first night (of 50) on the road in early June. The toughest part of the trip was the 50 miles up and down the rolling hills of the Palouse from Moscow to Orofino earlier that day. The stretch from Orofino up to Kooskia was smooth sailing with the relatively gentle grade of that stretch of the Clearwater and a lovely tailwind. None of the curves seemed all that "sharp" on a bike, but I do know that the turns get sharper—and steeper—on up the road.

It's going to be an interesting trip for those guys.

Work week Permalink to this item

Amazing how a regular job interferes with web surfing and blogging anymore. Not that my job has gone "regular," but I did put in "three quarters time" this Mon.-Fri. (which, now that I only bill for focused attention, is equivalent to 2 or 3 weeks on salary). Anyway, it's Saturday, so time to relax a bit, and see what all I missed.

A suburban bobcat on Boise's Greenbelt, that's worth noting! Nice day to decide to carry a camera.

From the same author, some of the Egyptian tightrope that the U.S. is walking in response to the dramatic political upheaval in the middle east. I hadn't heard much about the "first new Vice President in thirty years," but finding out that Omar Suleiman has "headed the feared Egyptian general intelligence service" since 1993 helps connect the dots. Somehow I don't think the folks in Egypt are going to see Suleiman's ascension as fondly as George H.W. Bush becoming the U.S. President after Ronald Reagan, but there are some interesting parallels to be drawn there. Nicaragua, Iran-Contra, around to Iraq. Everything is connected.

Speaking of which, in other disturbing news from that region, saboteurs blew up a pipeline that runs through Egypt's North Sinai and supplies gas to Israel and Jordan.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 01-Mar-2011 12:10:55 MST