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31.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The 16 and two-thirds percent solution Permalink to this item

The lunatics are officially in charge of one-half of one-third of the asylum. John Boehner:

"There's no agreement on numbers. And nothing will be agreed to, until everything is agreed to. We control one half of one third of the government here, but we're going to continue to fight for the largest spending cuts that we can get, uh, to keep the government open and funded for the balance of this fiscal year."

La la la I can't hear you Permalink to this item

The Idaho Republicans had everything on schedule, give or take, for their oh-so-appropriate sine die celebration on April Fool's Day, but the Dems got a notion to get uppity and be as annoying as possible unless they could get a hearing for one measly attempt to raise some money from smokers (and provide a little disincentive to drug use for good measure), sponsored (but never introduced) by the GOP's own House Tax Committee chairman, Dennis Lake.

The most pressing business on the GOP minds was to add an EMERGENCY! clause added to the anti-union, anti-teacher and pro-laptop school "reform" bills so that a referendum—a vote of the people, don't you know—couldn't overturn them until late 2012. As Minority Leader John Rusche puts it, to "speed things up to subvert legal recourse and popular opinion."

One of Idaho's smokers, Rep. Bob "No No" Nonini said he doesn't think Idahoans oppose the school reform bills, a notion he's apparently not keen to actually have tested. "I donít see this overwhelming outcry to do anything - I'm hearing good support up home," Nonini said.

He didn't hear the overwhleming outcry when it was in front of the place he works (even though there he was, taking a smoke break during the protest), when it surrounded the Capitol, when it filled hearing rooms for hours on end, and he sure has hell isn't going to hear it when he's ready to pack his bag and head up home for the season.

30.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sky falling. Film at 11. Permalink to this item

Dean Baker's take on the deficit hawks is that in spite of the outsized share of national income going to the super-rich, they want the middle class to pick up the slack, raise the retirement age, buy your own damn pension, quit whining about being unemployed.

"Over the last three decades, the richest one percent of the population has increased its share of national income by almost 10 percentage points. This comes to $1.5 trillion a year, or as the deficit hawks are fond of saying, $90 trillion over the next 75 years. ...

"[T]his upward redistribution was brought about by deliberate policy. We pursued a trade and high dollar policy that was intended to put downward pressure on the wages of manufacturing workers. The Federal Reserve Board deliberately kept unemployment higher than necessary in order to weaken workers bargaining power. We extended patent monopolies to allow drug companies to jack up prices, raking in hundreds of billions a year. And, we gave the Wall Street banks the benefit of "too big to fail" status so they can borrow with a government subsidy."

Idaho's U.S. Senator Mike Crapo is one of the deficit hawks, banging the drum at last week's City Club of Boise, his talk titled "Summoning the Will to Reduce the Deficit." He was one of the 18 members of the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and is now one of the so-called Gang of Six trying to come up with a package that could find its way through the Senate.

Listening to him speak, I couldn't help but wonder whether his difficulty in speaking directly and giving a clear presentation of either our supposedly dire straits or the way forward reflected the inherent complexity of our predicament, or the inevitably stilted thinking of his position in a terminally polarized debating society driven by corporate donations.

He told the group that studies of countries over the last two centuries that let their sovereign debt get out of hand, where "out of hand" is conveniently bounded by where we are right now, debt-to-GDP of 90% or greater, is that "policy options are restricted ... you start seeing a shrinkage in the growth of the economy." And it leads to a "painful path forward."

Sounds painful. Sort of. Then he slipped in "tragedy" and "a huge collapse" which sounds slightly worse than "restricted policy options." He mixed a lot of "if" and "when" but the "experts" he talks to all agree the sky will fall in 5 years or sooner.

"Economists can predict this better than I, but you're going to see, probably, rampant inflation, interest rates will skyrocket, the dollar will be devalued, we may end up in a, frankly trying to monetize our debt, and ultimately if we see interest rates skyrocket, and we see the accumulation of debt weighing down our budget, as it could, so rapidly, we will probably see the United States face a circumstance like Greece is facing, or like Japan and a number of other nations in the world today, which would mean essentially that we would have to see the United States go into a restructuring. And if that happens, the economic consequences will be devestating to the country."

Never mind that we've been "monetizing our debt" right along. And that interest rates are and have been ridiculously low. And that the United States and Greece have as much in common as Athenian democracy and the U.S. Senate do.

Restructuring? Is that like Chapter 9 or something? Will we have to let Texas go? Don't be flippant, when the bond market loses confidence in our solvency, there will be "incredibly heavy devestation." (Worse than the greatest real estate bubble of all time? Worse than a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami?)

Meanwhile, back in Congress, they're gridlocked over the decision of whether to cut six or sixty billion dollars of discretionary spending out of a $3.5 trillion budget. What he said: "What we need is much, much more and much more robust."

Crapo said the Fiscal Commission was "the only game in town" that was considering things with a comprehensive enough scope to accomplish meaningful change, agreeing that "everything had to be on the table." They agreed that Social Security had not created the crisis, and shouldn't be used to resolve it, other than to avoid having it cause greater trouble.

They proposed "strong spending caps" over a decade on the discretionary side, to save "almost $2 trillion over a decade." On the entitlement side, "it was light," but they "started the process," and got somewhere "about $1 trillion in reform, reduction of the debt, in the entitlement system." (Presumably also over a decade.) I have a notion of what "the entitlement system" not including Social Security might mean, but he didn't say, and if he voiced a word about health care in his talk, I didn't hear it.

And what about taxes?

"On revenue, we reformed the tax code by reducing rates and helping to create a tax code that would generate a bigger base and a stronger economy and thereby generate more revenue to give a revenue component to the reduction of our debt."

Is this still the fairy tale about lowering rates increasing revenue? Without acknowledging that current federal tax rates are at historical lows? More numbers on parade. "In a sense [?] a flat tax with three tiers," a "zero option plan" that "eliminated all deductions and all credits." Rates reduced from 39 to 23%, 28 to 14%, 15 to 8%. "And we also reduced the corporate tax rate to be comparable to the highest income tax rate."

But they knew "politics" would prevent that full zero option plan from being accepted, so you can add in exceptions, but you have to pay for them with higher tax rates.

They figured they could reduce the forecasted increase in the debt by $4 trillion, and get it down to only 60% of GDP by the end of 10 years. By 2035, we'd have the "budget balanced" (just like it was 10 years ago!) and on our way to paying off our national debt. The two bad choices were to vote for the awful plan, or against it, thus "condemning America to a terrible, terrible future." Oh my. 7 of the 18 did, all the same, failing to reach the 14 supermajority necessary to force the Senate to find some other reason to avoid its findings.

29.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Head somewhere else Permalink to this item

Dave Johnson's got a good question: why are Republicans forcing a government shutdown and doing other things aimed at blowing up the economy?

There's no question that's what they are doing, the only question is to wonder why they're doing what they're doing. Is it really their plan to do everything they can to keep the economy in the crapper for another year so they'll win big in the next election, because that worked so well the last time around?

"If you read their websites and magazines you know that they hate government and talk about ways to get rid of it. They have said they just want government to go away and have been running strategies to get it small enough that they can drown it in a bathtub. If you are a Republican who doesn't think destroying government is the best approach you are called a RINO and shunned.

"They donít talk about governing, they talk about killing government, and when they get power they don't govern they destroy government. They appoint industry lobbyists to agencies that are supposed to oversee their own industries. They appoint polluters to the agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution. And they appoint people who have called for getting government out of areas like education, medical care, etc. to head up and dismantle those departments."

If only corporations ran everything, life would be so much better, eh?

Head in the clouds Permalink to this item

Virga over Washington, D.C., August 2004 It had something to do with my dad being a weather forecaster (for the Navy, in WWII) I'm sure, but the "Golden Guide" to Weather was one of my favorite early books, lots of informative pictures and diagrams, accessible text, ever-informative for reference. (I see St. Martin's Press has the series refreshed with new covers, at least.) So, of course a story about a field guide to clouds would catch my eye.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney's Cloud Collector's Handbook is featured, along with a lovely slide show linked in the sidebar. Not content to populate coffee tables, Pretor-Pinney has also founded the Cloud Appreciation Society, with "more than 25,000 members in 87 countries and counting."

"His goal, Mr. Pretor-Pinney said in an interview, is to help readers escape the tyranny of 'blue sky thinking' and to understand and appreciate the beauty of a cloudy day."

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

They know when you are sleeping, they know when you're awake Permalink to this item

Not Kris Kringle and his team of geotracking elves, it's Deutsche Telekom keeping an eye on a German Green Party politician, along with the rest of its customers. Maybe your cell provider does that for you, too? Malte Spitz "went to court to find out exactly what his cellphone company, Deutsche Telekom, knew about his whereabouts. ... In a six-month period ... Deutsche Telekom had recorded and saved his longitude and latitude coordinates 35,831 times."

That's almost 200 times a day.

Herr Spitz is more mobile than I am, and he uses his cellphone way more than I do mine. My 6-month trace would be a sleep-aid, I'm sure, but his is kind of lively, as you can see courtesy of his making it public, and Zeit Online turning it into a Google Maps animation.

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

Anti-union thugs Permalink to this item

The minivan-shopping alibi didn't pan out, and one-time Indiana deputy prosecutor Carlos Lam is now "ex" d.p. Yes, that was his email suggesting that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stage some sort of attack to discredit protesters, and "Jeez!" he's sorry about being such a putz. Back on February 19, Lam wrote:

"... I've been involved in GOP politics here in Indiana for 18 years, and I think that the situation in WI presents a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation."

Art imitates life: just a few days later, "David Koch" would give the Governor a call and toss in a similar suggestion. Walker said "we thought about that." Before, or after Lam chipped in, I wonder?

Is there not enough to do in Indiana or something? A month ago, they lost their Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Cox after his helpful tweet that Wisconsin riot police should "use live ammunition" to clear the Capitol of protesters.

Lam decried Indiana as "an unsustainable public worker gravy train bubble," so he will have at least resolved the personal angst he must have had, "feeding at the gov't trough" while keeping up his investments and stocking up on guns, gold and gasoline. (Use only with adult supervision.)

I'm sure he can find a job as a lobbyist.

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

Not too early to collect swan songs Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan provides one for Newt Gingrich, in his latest Opinionator post, In Defense of "Dithering":

"Overstatement and misjudgment are Gingrich's stock in trade—two reasons why he'll never be president. He can always be counted on to fulminate on demand, with consistency the only casualty; the subject doesn't matter."

Austerity freaks Permalink to this item

Between now and the next election campaign, there will be some serious money spent on marketing. Call that +1 for the near-term economy, while you try to hunt down some other plusses. 21% unemployment among workers ages 16 to 24, that's enough to start a revolution in some countries. New home sales lower than recorded in the half-century we've been keeping track.

The dream of home ownership that fueled the real estate bubble has morphed into a squeeze on rental housing; great for "seasoned" investors who don't need financing to tap into the market, not so great for people who just need a place to live, and are trying to piece together part-time jobs into a regular income.

Congress' most basic homework assignment will be half a year late in less than a week, and the Republicans and their TEA Party fellow travellers remain more interested in the size of their symbolism than doing their jobs. Whether it comes to what can be accused as "shutdown" or not, the continuing unresolution is having plenty of negative effects on the economy.

One close-to-home anecdote: a Pell Grant that was expected a while ago is still "pending" and in the meantime, household expenses were slipping behind ... to that point that unpaid rent garnered an eviction notice. Lucky for the student in question, family could help bridge the gap, but add the legal costs to the debt to make up. How many others have fallen behind without recourse to anyone who could help?

Here's a growth sector, though: corporate tax avoidance. Move the jobs, the money, whatever it takes offshore or into carefully constructed loopholes, invest in lobbying that saves $billions for the investment of a few $millions. Corporations United, All for One!

Halfway into FY2011, the plan is that everyone (with an income, and especially those with the biggest incomes) should pay less in taxes, government workers' unions are the root of all evil, and why should anyone get a pension if I don't? And don't you dare touch Medicare. Oh, and repeal the job-killing Obamacare so we can all shop for own healthcare insurance, thank you, or just go to the Emergency Room when we need to see a doctor.

If the drink is poisoned sugar water, just politely sipping it only delays the inevitable. Having given in to the concept of the budget slashing that Republicans had in mind, the Democrats now stand accused of "not agreeing among themselves" about how many times to shoot themselves in the feet.

Paul Krugman's take on the austerity delusion:

"A serious fiscal plan for America would address the long-run drivers of spending, above all health care costs, and it would almost certainly include some kind of tax increase. But we're not serious: any talk of using Medicare funds effectively is met with shrieks of "death panels," and the official G.O.P. position—barely challenged by Democrats—appears to be that nobody should ever pay higher taxes. Instead, all the talk is about short-run spending cuts.

"In short, we have a political climate in which self-styled deficit hawks want to punish the unemployed even as they oppose any action that would address our long-run budget problems. And here's what we know from experience abroad: The confidence fairy won't save us from the consequences of our folly."

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

Republicans in Wisconsin scraping bottom Permalink to this item

You remember the Republican approach to transparency in the Bush administration, don't you? 10 days into his new job, ex-Halliburton CEO Richard B. "Dick" Cheney convened a secret energy task force and then fought like hell to keep his guest list super-top-secret. Executive privilege! That could be Cheney's two-word obituary.

Times have changed, or perhaps it's just that state politicos don't have as grand a vision as Cheney did. Here comes the Wisconsin GOP with a shabby crusade to take a University of Wisconsin professor to task for having the temerity to speak out against Republican Governor Scott Walker's union busting. They filed a freedom-of-information request with the university, demanding all the professor's emails containing "Republican," "Scott Walker," "union," "rally," and so on.

Just trolling for whatever they can find.

But they don't need a FOI or teh Google to find Prof. Cronon's Op-Ed, it's right there in the Times.

"Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

"Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a 'laboratory of democracy.' The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers' compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959.

"University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security and were responsible for founding the union that eventually became the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Wisconsin reformers were equally active in promoting workplace safety, and often led the nation in natural resource conservation and environmental protection.

No stark reversal of a storied legacy would be complete without a heaping helping of further irony. Consider the Republican effort to discredit Cronon with their fishing expedition, given this:

"[Governor] Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights breaks with Wisconsin history in two much deeper ways as well. Among the stateís proudest traditions is a passion for transparent government that often strikes outsiders as extreme. Its open meetings law, open records law and public comment procedures are among the strongest in the nation. Indeed, the basis for the restraining order blocking the collective bargaining law is that Republicans may have violated open meetings rules in passing it. The legislation they have enacted turns out to be radical not just in its content, but in its blunt ends-justify-the-means disregard for openness and transparency."

Three votes short Permalink to this item

Mr. Luna's reworked bill to deform education in Idaho, SB 1184, made it through the Senate yesterday evening, after statewide demonstrations opposing it (and the other two bills), after volumes of opinions expressed in opposition, after the Democrats objected to waiving the actual reading, after the guy who actually runs the Senate from a back seat and the President Pro-Tem whacked away that formality, after the guy who actually runs the Senate from a back seat voted NO, after the Senate co-chair of the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee voiced the 9 reasons he was voting NO, and after first-in-the-alphabet Sen. John Andreason (R-15) prefaced his NO vote by saying constituents contacted him were 95 to 5 opposed.

"I don't know whether anyone's mind is actually open today on the Senate floor."
Sen. Elliot Werk

All these things, Tom Luna's glorious personal achievement at the expense of the people of the state, a disaster for rural schools, and Dean Cameron's 9 reasons:

  1. "It's completely unnecessary." It won't do anything to generate revenue or solve the current funding problem, and isn't needed to advance technology.
  2. "Every single stakeholder is opposed to it." Never mind "consensus," Luna's effort never aspired to even perfunctory collaboration.
  3. Taking money away from school districts does not provide "flexibility."
  4. It "ties the hands of JFAC and future legislators" with a scheme of inflators and deflators.
  5. Cuts more than $10 million from schools in seven counties: Shoshone, Payette, Canyon, Gooding, Twin Falls, Lincoln and Bingham.
  6. A "most appalling" multi-year reduction in salary-based apportionment.
  7. It shifts authority from the Legislature to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to distribute funds. [Damned if you do, and so on.]
  8. It requires taxpayers to fund any online courses students take.
  9. It creates new "entitlements" for online learning, dual credit for early graduates, and mobile computing devices.

Freedom of association Permalink to this item

Now that the Judge ruled their way and all that's left is for the good old boys to finalize the particulars in the back room, I have a question.

Apart from some their notions of purity and exclusivity by Kountry Klub members, why can't I join both, or all the parties, and vote in all the primaries? They all have something I could learn to like. For example, Republicans in Idaho pretty much get their way (except for the stupidest ideas, sometimes).

I mean, you could sue them for the right to vote in a public election, but if you can't beat 'em, why not join 'em?

Everybody partay!

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

Speaking of bullies Permalink to this item

The 'home team' at Sullivan Reberger Eiguren Apparently the Idaho Press Club has become too intimidating for the Governor. It's a good news/bad news deal, I guess: on the one hand, the press must be doing something useful if he's afraid to meet with them. On the other, seriously, Governor? Popkey:

"I'm told Otter was his charming self last week at a reception hosted by his lobbyist friends, Pat Sullivan, Phil Reberger and Roy Eiguren. A photo of Otter appears on the Sullivan Reberger Eiguren homepage. Seated at the governor's desk, apparently ready to sign a document, Otter is flanked by the power trio."

"At least he's on the job for somebody."

Of course, I had to go have a look at said home page, which has the pitch-perfect domain name "" And what a nice picture! The file name is "home-eiguren-team.jpg". I am not making this up.

I thought they passed that anti-bullying thing Permalink to this item

But no, here it is stock in trade as Idaho School Boards Association Executive Director Karen Karen Echeverria passes on the word to trustees that she's been led to understand they need to get on board with the reconstituted last leg of the education "reform" plan, or else.

"While we are not trying to change your opinion of the bill or discourage you from taking any action you feel is necessary, we want you to know that we have been warned that school districts will face some consequences should we work to kill this bill."

The Senate Education Committee is reportedly no longer interested in hearing public testimony: they got a snootful in the last round, and didn't really care for what the public had to say. They're going to give some "stakeholders" some time this afternoon.

Echeverria's email (reprinted in full in Popkey's blog) is a good introduction to what the Governor and his Superintendent of Public Instruction are about to ram through the Legislature. Hope y'all like what's coming!

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reconsidering errors Permalink to this item

Death and Life of the Great American School System cover Our choir sang yesterday, which among other things gave me the opportunity to listen to the readings and the sermon twice. I found my head full of ideas during and afterward, and then we heard part of Wisconsin Public Radio's To the Best of Our Knowledge on the way home, with Diane Ravitch talking about the ideas she's put into her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

Ravitch was Assistant Secretary of Education during George H.W. Bush's term, and a strong proponent of expanding charter schools and what became the "No Child Left Behind" program. As reported on the show, Ravitch says she's changed her mind, and now sees a political agenda behind all the recent school cuts.

"This is not just states responding to the need for austerity. The larger picture is ... a very powerful corporate reform movement. They talk about 'reform,' but their real goals are first of all privatization—taking public money out of the public sector and having deregulated schools with very little public oversight. So it's privatization but it's also de-professionalization. They want to be able to hire teacher who have very little training, and also to hire principals who were never educators, and hire superintendents who were never educators, and to relax the rules across the board."

Indeed, Idaho went a step further, and elected (and re-elected) a Superintendent of Public Instruction who was never an educator.

"The thing that's so wrong about all this is that first of all there's absolutely no research to support any of these changes; they don't improve things for kids. And secondly, if you look at the highest performing nations in the world, none of them are doing this. They are strengthening and improving their education sector."

She cites the success story of Finland— first in the world according to the Programme for International Student Assessment. (The US was #17 in 2009.) Finland "reformed its education system over the last 3 decades by recruiting and attracting the best teachers." And it's 100% union, thanks.

Ravitch noted that charter schools have become the stand-in for vouchers, which voters have consistently rejected. The "competition" provided by a somewhat freer market with charter schools has led to schools working to reject the lowest-performing kids. Test results improve, so the schools must be doing a good job, right? But even with that leg up, there is no evidence that going off in a new direction, in and of itself is a good thing. Going in the wrong direction is not an improvement.

"Conservative" has come to mean ideological, in a way that precludes changing one's mind, regardless of reality. If you have enough "faith" in your beliefs, you don't need facts. Which is not to say that ample facts are not available if you're interested.

"The moment I concluded that [the federal "No Child Left Behind" law] was a failure was when I was invited to a day-long meeting at a conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute in Washington D.C., and my job was to sum up the papers that day, the conference was about 'how's NCLB doing, what progress have we made in the first half-decade. And there were a dozen papers [from all over the country], and each of the papers said 'it's not working.' 'Choice' is not working, the required tutoring is not working, we're not seeing any real improvement in test scores. ... At the end of the day, I had to sum this up, and I had to say, it's not working."

So what should we be doing? Looking for a solution to poverty, and child poverty in particular. Finland has 3% of its children in poverty; the US 20%. Promoting a community of deeply-involved parents, children well-fed, and ready to learn; as opposed to, say, eliminating kindergarten, as some Idaho legislators think would be a good idea.

Schools can't solve the problems of poverty; the most important thing we can do is do something to address the problem of poverty ... which comes down to JOBS, does it not? Where was that Republican job program again? Hello, House of Representatives? As one teacher friend of mine wrote to me:

"Policy makers are 10 years behind the research. Ideological paradigms are hard to unseat."

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

Did he really say that? Permalink to this item

Nuclear experts are popping up all over the place to help explain what's happened, what might be happening and what's going to happen at Fukushima Daiichi and its now acknowledged "wider" consequences. (If it were me, I'd say let's just call it at least a serious accident now.) Given that we have the Idaho National Laboratory in our neighborhood, there's no surprise that a local reporter checked in with them to get a response. I was surprised to see "hysteria" in the front-page, above-the-fold headline on Thursday, given that I wasn't aware of any. I've seen a lot of grave, thoughtful concern, heard about hopes and prayers and heroism, but nothing rising to hysteria.

Nevertheless, INL Director John Grossenbacher, a retired Admiral who commanded the Navy's nuclear submarine fleet, is said to have said that while the melting cores, fires and high radiation around four damaged reactors are bad news, "the devastation in Japan doesnít necessarily mean that the multi-leveled safety technology at the Japanese reactors has failed and public safety is threatened." From Rocky Barker's report:

So far, heís confident that even if the worst happens in Japan, it presents little or no risk to people in Idaho.

"Thereís no evidence of something that is going to propel contamination into the atmosphere and carry it over here," he said. "This is not Chernobyl."

I haven't been obsessing about the calamity, but I have been following the news, as I suspect a great many others are. Apart from the unnecessity of guessing whether or not "we're OK in Idaho," the second statement is simply wrong. Demonstrably wrong.

He criticized media reports that suggested Tokyo, 150 miles south of the reactors, was measuring high levels of radiation. Television networks were putting on experts who he said were drawing conclusions about conditions without facts. "To me, thatís hysteria," he said.

Oh, so that's hysteria. Who knew?

Meanwhile the non-Admiral, non-expert Executive Director of "Idaho's Nuclear Watchdog," the Snake River Alliance, Liz Woodruff is quoted after the jump as pretty much the calm voice of reason:

"I tell people to look at the range of alternatives based on economic costs, resource use and risks. People should look at how we should spend our resources on energy and how the risks sit in their values and ethics."

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

The push to kill NPR Permalink to this item

This is the kind of story that commercial media can mostly be counted on to ignore: Shaping State Laws With Little Scrutiny, by Laura Sullivan. No cocked-up video drama, just the story of how an outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council is coordinating insider and corporate authorship of state legislation around the country.

"ALEC is a membership organization. State legislators pay $50 a year to belong. Private corporations can join, too. The tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp. and drug-maker Pfizer Inc. are among the members. They pay tens of thousands of dollars a year. Tax records show that corporations collectively pay as much as $6 million a year."

Member legislators can enjoy ALEC's three annual conferences, maybe with "scholarships" to cover the cost of their travel and entertainment, and bring home "model bills" for their states. Such as Arizona's immigration law, and maybe that stuff out of Snowflake. And just as our local Idaho Freedom Foundation dodges the definition of "lobbying" to enjoy non-profit status, so does ALEC.

"If ALEC's conferences were interpreted as lobbying, the group could lose its status as a non-profit. Corporations wouldn't be able to reap tax benefits from giving donations to the organization or write off those donations as a business expense. And legislators would have a hard time justifying attending a conference of lobbyists."

Out of Snowflake Permalink to this item

That's Snowflake, Arizona, where state Sen. Sylvia Allen hails from, chairwoman of that state's "Border Security, Federalism and States Sovereignty Committee." (Idaho's got a little border, but we haven't marhsaled that sort of committee. Yet.) She's come up with a Concurrent Resolution and a Bill that would amend their Constitution (if the voters approve) "to allow the state to become the sole regulatory authority over the levels of pollution that can be discharged into intrastate waterways," and to "make it illegal for any government official to enforce federal laws over greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter in the state."

Making it illegal to enforce federal laws. There's a concept.

Sen. Allen's been at a while. Last year she came up with the Freedom to Breathe Act, dutifully noted by the John Birch Society and Ron Paul Forums.

Where the money is Permalink to this item

Nice Op-Chart by John Arquilla and Fogelson-Lubliner, tabulating a "sampling" of the Pentagon's biggest boondoggles. Current SecDef Robert Gates hasn't had near enough applause for his brilliant pre-emptive strike, proposing to cut $78 billion! over the next five years from increases that were planned, without really addressing the elephant astride the planet. Their list has just eight items, but totals $1.3 trillion with a "tr".

"Unworkable or unnecessary systems tend to have something in common: their costs are often uncontrollable."

16.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Pushbutton protest Permalink to this item

The 'sleasy' button Robo-call yesterday, coming in with a 888 number and "toll free" on the caller ID, I let it go to voicemail. Jeanette said "I'll answer it!" but I didn't hand her the phone. One of the less-capable machines, it didn't recognize it had been shunted to VM, and left the tail of its message and prompts. The point of it (ha!) was to tap into dextrous indignation over "Obamacare," and get me to press [1] to have my name added to their petition to repeal it. Was it Idaho's Senator Mike Crapo doing the voice-over? I wasn't sure, and alas, it was too late for me to press [1] or [2] or [6][6][6]. [7] in the voicemail menu was still timely, however.

I'm guessing I might have had an opportunity to make a contribution to something if I'd pressed the right button, too. Darn it.

Ides Permanent URL to this day's entry

"More turmoil than I can stand thinking about" Permalink to this item

Turns out the design of the reactors that are now failing—dramatically, in the best case scenario—at Fukushima Daiichi have had some criticism in the past. The flaws of "cheaper and easier to build" with smaller and less expensive containment structures are being laid bare, but some, at least, were anticipated 40 years ago.

The response to an Atomic Energy Commission safety official's memo in 1972 detailing the risks, from the man who later became a chairman of the successor agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is short and to the point, concluding:

"[T]he acceptance of pressure suppression containment concepts by all elements of the nuclear field, including Regulatory and ACRS, is firmly imbedded in the conventional wisdom. Reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power. It would throw into question the continued operation of licensed plants, would make unlicensable the GE and Westinghouse ice condensor plants now in review, and would generaly create more turmoil than I can stand thinking about."

Hard to imagine a more classic entry for the annals of GroupThink. (Stephen Hanauer's memo, and Joseph Hendrie's response are both linked from the NYT article. ACRS is presumably the now-NRC's Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards.)

Engineering demands greater factors of safety as uncertainties increase, and when risks from system failure include potential for great harm. The engineered design life of nuclear power plants was in some respects a wild guess, but in many cases a well-informed and conservative one. Twenty-five years. Let's see how it goes. After it went OK (in almost every case), some problems maybe, mostly manageable, how about another 15?

Having $billions invested in the infrastructure (and similarly large or larger replacement costs), and a going concern makes a a powerful case for "let's keep going a while longer," even if the intervening decades have provided ample experience that would make you do things differently if only you could.

Yes, "it is possible that any reactor design could succumb to the one-two punch of an earthquake and tsunami," but the manner of failure, and its possible mitigation under varying scenarios are the essence of the engineering, management, and regulatory challenge. The risk of great earthquakes and tsunami were not esoteric and unknown considerations in 1970, certainly not for a facility built on Japan's east coast.

14.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

60 years of electricity from nuclear power Permalink to this item

Thanks to a fortboise reader (and older brother) for a link to the European Nuclear Society's encyclopedia entry on nuclear power electricity generation, which started with four light bulbs and EBR-I at the National Reactor Testing Station (now known as the Idaho National Laboratory) in SE Idaho.

A few entries to the left, "nuclear power plant complexes," says that the largest power plant complex in the world as of Dec. 2009 was Fukushima, with 10 units, and 9GW gross output. Not so much any more.

High energy learning Permalink to this item

After the 2nd hydrogen explosion, this one at unit #3, Reuters reports that "... officials said repeatedly it was unlikely there would be any radiation leakage." (Video in the sidebar of NYT coverage) More specifically, that Chief Cabinet Secretary "said that the release of large amounts of radiation was unlikely." (My emphasis.)

"I have received reports that the containment vessel is sound," Mr. Edano said. "I understand that there is little possibility that radioactive materials are being released in large amounts."

But now we hear that the fuel rods in #1 had been completely exposed, as opposed to the earlier report that the coolant level had dropped enough to expose "2 to 3 meters" which is still a lot. And another, and another. It seems likely that all three reactors are going to follow the same path to demise, on similar schedules, and that the experts estimating continuing releases of contaminated steam (at the very least) "could go on for weeks or even months" have a better forecast than the Chief Secretary. Those releases could be longer still:

"You're looking at several thousands of gallons a day potentially out as long as a year," said Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear engineer who worked on reactors of the same design as those in Japan.

Snippet of TerraMetrics, NASA imagery from Google Maps Here's one certain conclusion: the U.S. nuclear industry faces new uncertainty. Oh, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not a useful source of technical information or opinion, with his pithy weekend blather that "we ought not to make American and domestic policy based upon an event that happened in Japan." As if ... we're in our own little world? But no, we're on the same planet, with the same plate tectonics (in fact the same North American plate, go figure).

More useful: the American Nuclear Society's background paper, published Saturday afternoon. "The nuclear power industry will learn from this event, and redesign our facilities as needed to make them safer in the future."

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

Good news and bad news from Japan Permalink to this item

The good news is that more information about the problems at Fukushima Daiichi suggest that it may well turn out to be more of a "local incident" than "major accident," with a handful of workers closest to the problem sickened, but even those in harm's way by virtue of going to help might not be much affected.

The bad news is that radiation is the least of the worries of thousands killed outright, tens of thousands devestated, hundreds of thousands with lives profoundly affected.

As ever, a story of one person's incredible rescue arrests our attention in a way the despair of hundreds cannot: a 60-year-old man rescued after riding the roof of his house out to sea ... for the past two days, 9 miles offshore. Given that his wife was swept away by the deluge, even that joy is muted.

Some people can't be trusted Permalink to this item

Top of the list is James O'Keefe, and his doctored videos, about anything. The Blaze considers the question Does raw video of NPR exposé reveal questionable editing & tactics? to which the answer, as it has been for every other O'Keefe video to shake the news, is "Duh."

Peter Capano's NYT piece, Masters of Deception referred me, in the postscript after running more angles about the man who considers himself an "investigative journalist and filmmaker."

Looking forward to the next chapter Permalink to this item

It's been a highlight of whichever day they put him on, Sundays of late, but alas, Frank Rich's swan song for his NYT Op-ed stint. I will indeed look forward to meeting up with him at the next stop.

"A columnist's clout may well have been overstated even in Lippmann's heyday, but it has certainly dimmed in an age when everyone can and does broadcast opinions on the Web, Facebook or Twitter, let alone in print, or on cable or radio. No opinionator in any of these media could prevent the war in Iraq or derail the rise of Sarah Palin. Nor did pundits create phenomena like Barack Obama or the Tea Party. The forces of history are far bigger than any of a democracy's individual voices, however loud or widely disseminated. That's one reason America is so thrilling to write about."

Time management Permalink to this item

Just before noon You may be feeling a bit rushed today, what with it being an hour shorter and all. But if you've got a spare couple of minutes, you might enjoy Howard Mansfield's retrospective on how we got to this shared fiction of "daylight savings time." I'd heard how standardization began with the railroads, but somehow hadn't really absorbed what it would have meant for there to be "hundreds of local times, each city setting its city hall or courthouse clock to match its own solar noon." (That would be 1:54pm in Boise today, by the way.)

"To eliminate the confusion, railroads took it upon themselves in 1883 to divide the country into four time zones, with one standard time within each zone. To resist could mean economic isolation, so at noon on Nov. 18, 1883, Chicagoans had to move their clocks back 9 minutes and 32 seconds. It's as if the railroads had commanded the sun to stand still, The Chicago Tribune wrote. Louisville was set back almost 18 minutes, and The Louisville Courier-Journal called the change a 'compulsory lie.' ... In an 1884 referendum, three-quarters of voters in Bangor, Me., opposed the 25-minute change to 'Philadelphia time.'"

What say we all vote on it? Permalink to this item

I was all set to join the effort to recall Tom Luna from his post as Superintendent of Public Instruction in Idaho, even with full knowledge that it was a hopeless cause. But Marty Trillhaase's point is worth considering: recall is the wrong tool but not the only one. Instead of 75 days to collect 158,107 signatures,

"[s]ixty days after this dreadful legislative session ends, round up at least 47,432 signatures from registered voters—or 6 percent of the electorate—and demand a referendum on Luna's legislation. ...

"This would become the defining issue of the 2012 state election. The GOP legislative majority and its agenda would be on trial."

Nuclear reactions Permalink to this item

Seawater corrosion at Ft. Point, 2000 The flood of partial and vague information continues as Japanese power companies scramble to deal with the aftermath of last week's earthquake and tsunami on their nuclear facilities. I assume what comes from the Chief Cabinet Secretary has been carefully massaged and reconstituted to allay fears (good luck with that) and put things in the best possible light. Plenty to infer from "what they're saying and what they aren't saying," as one friend put it.

Only "a very small amount" of stuff. But, uh, there might be a hydrogen explosion at another reactor, too. But that's OK. "Some melting." That's OK, too. 2 to 3m of fuel rods exposed above the coolant? Definitely not OK, but we think they have them covered now. (They're supposed to be 3 to 4m under the top of the coolant.)

"Unit 2 is shut down but the backup cooling system is not working, Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power] said. Workers are trying to install equipment in order to enable cooling with seawater."

That'll be the last useful power out of that one, too, then. And here, there are six reactors on site, but the good news is that #4, 5 and 6 happened to be be shut down for scheduled maintenance when the earthquake hit.

They've still got color codes at the International Atomic Energy Agency, with 7 levels ending at "major accident." "Major" is worse than "serious" or "accident with wider consequences" or only "local consequences." Level 4, "accident with local consequences" is where the NucNet update says this is. Chernobyl was a 7, Three Mile Island a 5. (IAEA is on Facebook, and twitter. Of course.)

Update: The Barrrel has the best single article on the situation (as of 8:12am this morning in some U.S. time zone) that I've come across.

12.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Meltdown? Permalink to this item

Add a new name to the history of signal events in nuclear power: Fukushima Daiichi. Idaho's brush with the genre is not in the public consciousness the way Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are, but the core meltdown and steam explosion at an experimental reactor at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (as it was then called) in 1961 provided early experience in how badly things can go wrong.

The official messages out of Japan are somewhat confused, but some facts are clear enough: there have been intentional releases including radioactive material, and there was a major explosion, almost certainly from hydrogen. Exactly where the explosion occurred and which systems were affected isn't clear in the news, and it may not be clear to those closest to the problem, either.

"Last-ditch" is not a term you want to hear when it comes to nuclear engineering, but Hiroko Tabuchi's and Matthew L. Wald's account for the New York Times had that in the first paragraph, describing the "effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown." They've flooded the reactor (containment vessel?) with seawater, which guarantees it's done for any future production; corrosion is the eventual killer of nuclear power plants, and saltwater is highly corrosive.

"Shirakawa, Japan (CNN) — Japanese authorities are operating on the presumption that possible meltdowns are under way at two nuclear reactors, a government official said Sunday. ..."

H/t to the American Nuclear Society's blog, ANS Nuclear Cafe.

Update: There have been some forgettable diagrams made for explainers during this crisis. The NYT has a decent one in 8 whizzy Flash views that doesn't provide the plumbing schematic, but does what it does pretty well, and puts it in the context of the Daiichi site. Two of the compounding issues it shows are (1) another reactor (#2) we haven't heard anything about so far, and (2) the "spent fuel pool" [in slide #3] which is outside the primary containment vessel in the "diagram of a typical GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor." That's the part of the building where the explosion was, the roof and part of the walls destroyed [slide #7].

11.March.11 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Smartest statement on Idaho's union-bashing Permalink to this item

At least the smartest one that I heard, was Rep. Brian Cronin's statement on the floor of the Idaho House.

"Let's stop pretending that Senate bill 1108 has anything to do with education reform or the classroom or—and this is the part that offends me most—our children. My children. The bill intends to dismantle the Idaho Education Association, put teachers in their place, and ensure that teachers' voices are effectively silenced on matters of contract, classroom learning conditions, scheduling, curriculum, and many other areas where there expertise should be welcomed."

And on the not-so-smart side, we have the Governor continuing to complain that opposition to the bill is due to "confusion" from "misinformation", the same talking point Superintendent Tom Luna has been shaking his finger at. Nobody is going to accuse any Idaho politician of being a Great Communicator, but Otter and Luna seem to be aiming for a new low.

Luna did have the courage to face an auditorium of high school students this week and go one-on-one with Cronin (but drew the line at sharing the stage with the president of the Idaho Education Association, go figure). Still, compare his and the Governor's complaints about "misinformation" with a letter from a Moscow High School student, Celeste Hufford. The people of the state have the means to be extraordinarily well-informed these days, to take the time to read proposed legislation and form their own opinions. Even high school students. The Republican plan to "reform" education has motivated them to get informed, and to do something with the information.

The Governor is speaking from a distant place and time, imagining things the way they might have once been. It's annoying on the one hand, and patronizing, but ultimately just pathetic.

Dumbing down the debate Permalink to this item

The Tea Party and its Republican pals are big on "we're broke" at the moment, because it's so wonderfully easy to say, and startling to boot. Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker, for example: "We are broke in this state. We have been broke for years." And it seemed like such a nice place. But as Politifact describes, this is "broke" in the sense of "I'm broke. Can you buy the next round of beers?" They give Walker a flat-out False for his blather.

On the national scene, where deficit spending is simultaneously enshrined by history and decried for political effect, the Party that's beside itself in indignation has a squadron of staffers to unleash with dripping derision at the idea that there is anything to discuss in regard to health care beyond the repeal and replace of "ObamaCare." The fund for prevention and promoting public health is "the prevention health slush fund," the idea of actually measuring what works, and trying to promote it (effectiveness research) is "so-called," just a boondoggle for "PhDs who come to Washington on the government tab."

As ever, when the ideologues come to power and feel the power of slashing come upon them, there is no reasoned argument that can stand against the power of the bottom line. Paul Krugman details what lies before us if the only response the opposition can muster is hunkering down and only agreeing halfway.

"The president and his aides know that the G.O.P. approach to the budget is wrongheaded and destructive. But theyíve stopped making the case for an alternative approach; instead, theyíve positioned themselves as know-nothings lite, accepting the notion that spending must be slashed immediately—just not as much as Republicans want."

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

Speaking of heads rolling Permalink to this item

NPR's CEO Vivian Schiller (who is not related to senior executive Ron Schiller, recently pwned by the pustulous James O'Keefe) announced her immediate resignation after the Board decided she should quit.

The NPR CEO is out because they can't handle as much controversy as they've been having, while Fox News (the first story link I provided) happily feeds on controversy. Commercially, so that's OK. Does it feel like we're living out a science fiction episode yet?

House Majority leader Eric Cantor's takeaway from the Mr. Schiller video was that it "makes it clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR," but then he would have said that anyway, wouldn't he have?

The risable comments by Mr. Schiller included the observation that the Republican Party had been "hijacked" by the Tea Party, that "the current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved with people's personal lives," and that the Tea Party movement is "white, middle America, gun-toting," and "seriously racist people."

Which of those statements do not express facts on the ground, now?

Ron Schiller went on to lament what he called an "anti-intellectual" component of the Republican Party. "Liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives," he said.

Again, while we understand that conservatives wouldn't want an NPR executive to be thinking the obvious, much less stating it out loud, they went all apoplectic when Juan Williams was cut loose for his plain old opinion expressed on his moonlighting job. It's not like we're after equal treatment, it's just that the anti-intellectual, anti-NPR component of the Republican Party is keenly looking for an excuse to defund thoughtful, fair and balanced media interested in examining their behavior for what it is.

That decision lends itself rather nicely to an emotional approach; I suspect Cantor and pals will get excellent leverage from this latest round of self-correction by NPR.

Masters of the House Permalink to this item

Unlike most of the majority members, I listened to some of the floor debate over SB1108 in the Idaho House yesterday. Just as in the Senate Education Committee, the whole Senate, and the House Education Committee, overwhelmingly negative public input had no effect whatsoever; the more than two-thirds who voted in favor of busting the educators union had their minds firmly made up to follow their leaders, under the false flag of "education reform." Only two House members bothered with the formality of speaking up in favor of the bill, after Democrats required the whole 25 pages to be read.

The House Education Committee chairman and floor sponsor of the bill, Bob Nonini acknowledged that "you do remember your good teachers" without saying whether he remembers his good teachers. More important than vague obeisance to motherhood and apple pie, there is the apparently pressing need to remove the bad ones that this bill will supposedly addresses.

Freshman Rep. Roy Lacey (D-Pocatello) is still finding his way into his new job, but rose in opposition, wanted to read from an email he'd received but someone tweaked him by objecting away unanimous consent. Then when he quoted another member's characterization of the Bill as "mean-spirited," the Speaker reprimanded him, supposedly for direct villification of another member.

However warranted such villification may be from time to time, it's against the rules. He hadn't done it, actually, and so wasn't quite sure what he'd done wrong, but meekly proceeded to try to say what he wanted to say. His quoting from Hitler was over the top, as was the mention of the Reign of Terror, but all that slid by without reaction from the chamber.

Rather than mobs in the streets chopping off the heads of aristrocrats, the Idaho House is more of a Reign of Error, better analogous to Les Miserables than actual bloodshed. I was reminded of the 25th anniversary show at London's O2 arena that we'd just seen on public TV, and the performance of the second-rate innkeeper-thief and innkeeper, Thénardier. I thought I might make a parody from the lyric of his famous song, but when I looked them up, I saw the only modification needed was to pluralize the first word:

Masters of the House
Doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake
And an open palm
Tells a saucy tale
Makes a little stir
Customers appreciate a bon-viveur
Glad to do a friend a favor
Doesnít cost me to be nice
But nothing gets you nothing
Everything has got a little price!

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

Proof by repeated assertion Permalink to this item

"The Tax Daily for the Citizen Taxpayer" is providing David Cay Johnston ample space to develop and document his reporting on tax issues. Breaking news: Tax Revenues Plummeted is a good one to start with.

"Federal tax revenues in 2010 were much smaller than in 2000. Total individual income tax receipts fell 30 percent in real terms. Because the population kept growing, income taxes per capita plummeted."

Individual income taxes down 36% per capita for the decade. Corporate income tax receipts down 34% per capita, while profits rose 60%. Payroll taxes were up slightly, but lower per capita as the workforce grew faster than jobs and average wages slipped lower.

"You read it here first. Lowered tax rates did not result in increased tax revenues as promised by politician after pundit after professional economist. And even though this harsh truth has been obvious from the official data for some time, the same politicians and pundits keep prevaricating. Some of them even say it is irrelevant that as a share of GDP, income tax revenues are at their lowest level since 1951, when Harry S. Truman was president.

"No matter how many times advocates of lower tax rates said it, tax rate cuts did not pay for themselves, did not spur economic growth, did not increase jobs, and did not make America better off. ...

"In Washington the principles of advertising—make it simple, make it attractive, and say it over and over again until the jingle is embedded in millions of minds—have supplanted the rhetoric and reasoned compromises of the Framers. War is peace. French fries are healthy. Lower tax rates mean more revenue."

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

Cheesy pension reporting from the herd Permalink to this item

You might not have noticed it with the mob of protesters sleeping in the rotunda and all the drums banging, but as David Cay Johnston points out, one of the complaints from Wisconsin's Governor about those underworked and overpaid public servants is completely bogus. The Governor said he wanted state workers to "contribute more" to their pensions and health insurance plans. Trouble is,

"Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin's pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers. ... The 'contributions' consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages—as pensions when they retire—rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan."

Johnston's point is not about how much public workers are, or should be, paid, but rather that an essential component of journalism is the understanding of basic economic principles, and the ability to express them clearly. Employee compensation is more than simply "take home pay." It includes benefits (for all but the lowest-paid jobs), and tradeoffs between cash and benefits that are either offered by the employer and accepted by the workers, or negotiated between them. Accepting the Governor's framing of the issue (and the scapegoats he's chosen) serves to amplify false assumptions, and put proposed "solutions" in a context they don't deserve.

So much for the liberal, left-wing media.

"The reason that falsehoods are transformed into the public's common knowledge via inaccurate reporting is simple. When editors or producers back home get an account that differs from what the news herd says they raise questions and often delete unique and accurate insights. But if a reporter just repeats what everyone else is saying it usually sails unchallenged to print or airtime even when it is untrue."

Johnston's piece is long (for the web), and more nuanced than what fits in the daily blurb or a teleprompter, and well worth the read.

4.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dear U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Permalink to this item

I'm writing to you regarding the March 1, 2011 press release posted on the your website, and because Idaho's Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is featured at the top of that press release, "State and Local Officials Decry Administrationís Wild Lands Order."

I want you to know that Mr. Otter does not speak for me, as a resident of Idaho. What's more, his additional comments (not included in the press release) were ridiculously off the mark, and deeply embarrassing to me as someone who has been proud to call the great state of Idaho home for most of my life, and who chose to move to Idaho in 1975 for its wild lands, not for its golf courses.

The Idaho Statesman ran a story on its front page yesterday describing the Governor's problems with mathematics. The Governor supposed that a certain golf course in north Idaho has more people visiting in a day than one of Idaho's signature Wilderness areas, the Frank Church River of No Return in a year.

Aside from the rank obscenity of his comparison, there's the fact that he was off by about a factor of a couple hundred. From Rocky Barker's story:

"The Middle Fork [of the Salmon R.] alone attracted 10,222 floaters in 2010. Add the Main Salmonís 8,769 floaters, the 1,229 hunters who bought elk tags and the 13,000 steelhead angler days and you have more than 33,000 people who visited the Frank Church. That doesnít include the thousands of hikers and horseback packers who use the Frank Churchís thousands of miles of trail through meadows of wildflowers and past rocky peaks."


Idaho's worst case scenario Permalink to this item

Idaho's Capitol, Jan. 2010 I spent much of yesterday morning listening to Idaho's House Education Committee entertain commentary on SB 1108, the bill to disembowel the teachers' union in the state. The chairman, Bob Nonini, made it clear that even though he wasn't listed as a sponsor, he's been all in favor "from the get-go."

"I have been very supportive since the superintendent and the governor have shared these bills. ... I am supportive of these bills, and I have listened to the public testimony and yes it's very touching."

One commenter on Betsy's blog wanted to know how in the world someone with no children and no experience in education could get to be chair of that legislative committee. Who better to ignore all the "very touching" testimony running 10 to 1 against the Republican plans?

Last year Nonini celebrated the cuts the legislature made to teacher and administrator pay, and campaigned on more of the same. Still on the home page of

"Going forward school districts trustees need to proceed with extreme caution and how they deal with the teachers' union and contract negotiations. For far too long trustees have not exercised fiscal constraints and responsibility in negotiating contracts and some would say they have given away the farm in contract negotiations."

(I'll let you picture the red ink an average high school teacher would apply to those two sentences without [sic] hints.) In his concluding comments to the committee, after complaining yet again and ever that all his critics are wrong-headed, Superintendent Luna asked "So what's the worst case scenario?" I do believe having him and Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter setting the agenda for education in the state sets the stage for us to find out.

Having stood up an army of mythical ineffective teachers (you know you all had one you hated!) to pass the union-busting bill, there was then SB 1110, the supposed "incentive" for "great" teachers in a "Pay for Performance" plan slated to work miracles. In a couple years. If it gets funded, which it hasn't been and won't be by this session of the Legislature. The Magic 8-ball says "LOOKS DOUBTFUL" for years to come.

Rep. Brian Cronin pushed back in questioning Luna, who claimed that "We know what works. The question is do we have the will to do it." Luna implies that his three bills (these two and SB 1113, replacing teachers with technology, currently stillborn in the Senate Education Committee) are "what works," which is errant nonsense.

Today, continuing the general program of carving the heart out of Idaho's future, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee is figuring out how they'll cut higher education funding, and setting a bare-bones budget for community colleges, with "none of the community colleges' requests for funding, including those to cover enrollment increases."

Just the way you'd run a business, guys? You have a product that's in huge demand—the College of Western Idaho's enrollment started at 1,208 students three years ago, and is over 7,000 now—and you cut its funding?

Not only do we not have the best and the brightest running the store, the mistakes they're now legislating are guaranteed to answer Luna's rhetorical question.

3.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just when you thought it was safe to ride the subway Permalink to this item

We find out that the "cooling off" period for Larry Craig has run its course. HuffPo reports that he and the "losing Senate class of '08 [are] already lobbying." We wouldn't have needed a rule and a two year bar if we didn't know they'd all be right back to feed at the trough they helped build.

Still, some Senators, may want more than just a two year "no contact" order.

2.Mar.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Citizen involvement Permalink to this item

I didn't catch his name, but watching the House Education Committee on Idaho Public TV's Legislature Live, I got to hear a man who said he's a veteran, a district 19 representative, a Republican, the husband of a teacher, has a bachelors and masters degree, and completed doctoral studies in chemical engineering, has managed several plants, worked with unions all his life, congratulated Tom Luna on the night he was re-elected and now he's mad as hell, sounds like.

But he kept his cool for his three minute testimony, and wrapped it up with a call for the Superintendent to "quit taking shortcuts, and do the hard work."

It was applause-worthy, and the audience applauded. Rep. Nonini whacked his gavel, apologized for not reiterating "the" ground rules, said "please no applause, all I need to do is make a call and I can empty this committee room and have people come in and testify one at a time."

Update: Betsy reported the gentleman's name—Scott Nicholson—and the Chairman's threat. As I commented in Huckleberries, Nonini has been gracious in presiding over the meeting after his rather intemperate outburst.

1.March.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho House theater signifying nothing Permalink to this item

In thoughtful testimony to the Idaho House Education Committee this morning from a Blaine Co. teacher, Thomas Van Slyke described the benefits of collaboration from collective bargaining, and the importance of the parties in the negotiation being equal. He pointed out, accurately, that SB 1108 would give school boards NO REASON TO BARGAIN IN GOOD FAITH, and asked what would be the point of such negotiation?

The process is not broken where he is; the board and teachers collaborate productively. They build on their master agreement every year, and are able to consider more than just pay and benefits, to "the entire work experience. We believe that we're a district that puts students first."

Chairman Nonini attempted to infer from that testimony that "you have no trust in your school board." In other words, if you trust your school board, you should just let them dictate your working conditions?

The Chairman demonstrated that he completely missed the point Van Slyke made: that good-faith negotiations require both sides to have some power. It's as if the ... chairman of a committee, say, already had his mind made up in favor of something, and were to politely listen to hours of testimony with not the least motivation to change his mind in favor of a bill he'd cosponsored and has every intention of pushing through.

Never mind that the signups ran 4-to-1 opposed to the two bills they're considering today (and the actual testimony 6-to-1 opposed). He had a "townhall" meeting in his district and had a crowd he says was 8 or 9 to 1 in favor. So it depends on who you talk to. Don't bring him any anecdotes, because he can match you one-to-one until he ends the proceeding.

And don't bother with any actual facts about the possible efficacy of the bill; sure there aren't any, but he doesn't have to care about that.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Tuesday, 05-Apr-2011 20:23:16 MDT