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Bull in the china shop is too delicate a metaphor to describe what's going on with the Idaho Transportation Department's collusion with Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil to turn the north Idaho route along the Clearwater and Lochsa river into a "high and wide" corridor for moving grossly oversized equipment fabricated overseas from the port of Lewiston to Alberta's tar sands. Even after they expanded the highway and added turnouts they haven't been able to push their "test load" through without taking out trees and power lines.
It's not exactly a news flash that it snows in the mountains even in April, but there they are waiting for weather again. The most disturbing thing I've heard about the project is in a comment on Betsy Russell's "Eye on Boise" blog:
"Eyewitnesses report that pruning crews have been taking down any tree limbs that are less than 30 feet above the roadway and closer than 3 feet to the fogline along the entire length of the highway. Some of the trees mutilated are 3000-year old cedars in the Devoto Memorial Grove."
Here's what their contractor did to a Ponderosa pine too close to commerce. And a full story from Tuesday about the contested-case hearing that started in Boise this week.
In Japan, they have two lovely words for the movement of powerful elites between government "regulatory" agencies and industry: amakudari, or "descent from heaven," "allows senior bureaucrats, usually in their 50s, to land cushy jobs at the companies they once oversaw." And amaagari, "ascent to heaven," brings retired or active engineers from industry into cushy government jobs.
Here, we just call it commuting.
Couldn't help but think of Richard B. "Dick" Cheney's peregrination from the Department of Defense to Halliburton and back as I read about nuclear safety becoming a victim of government and industry collusion in Japan.
New regulations in India to restrict web content that
"is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever."
Last I saw ORLY, it was humorous l33t for "oh really?" but it turns out somebody actually has that for a name. Orly Taitz, who I further find out (I am so behind) is the Queen of the birthers as of ... July 30, 2009?
I simply must get out more often.
Way back then, she had "a staff of five to process the thousands of friend requests she receives each week." What, were they doing background checks or something? Accept, accept, accept, accept, I think I could do about 10 or 20 a minute, and easily get through 5,000 a day if I had to. (Maybe I should apply for a job in Taitz-ville.)
Anyway, it's not like evidence could stop a good conspiracy theory. Apart from the unrivaled drama of the Donald's supersonic hairdo and his very proud of himself performance in an airport hangar, there was the quieter spectacle of Republican "leaders" Eric Cantor and Mitt Romney complaining about Obama taking the trouble to put a stake in the controversy for all but the firmest of the True Believers.
You just can't please some people. So we should be grateful that the Donald was very, very pleased, even if he was mostly pleased at himself, and even if he usually is.
We all can be pleased that whether he's only pretending to be serious, or seriously imagining he's a pretender, there will be comedy tonight, "the paranoid style in American politics will endure." Still,
"History will be more unforgiving and see the birther conspiracy more clearly than we have in our contemporary debates. It will be hard to miss the fact that so much time and energy was spent trying to prove the illegitimacy and un-American-ness of our first black president. It will seem shameful. And it is."
The sorry state of Idaho politics was aptly captured in the Statesman's op-ed page yesterday, two "other views" on what our Governor has done toward nullification of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The first is from Wayne Hoffman, former newsman, former aide of one of our whack-job representatives in Congress, and now executive director of a "research" foundation that enjoys its secrecy and non-profit tax status while shamelessly shilling for corporate interests of various sorts. He says his "No. 1 priority was to prohibit the operability of Obamacare in the state of Idaho" at the start of this legislative sesssion, and celebrates his success, along with that of State Senators Monty Pearce, Steve Vick, Russ Fulcher, Chuck Winder and Sheryl Nuxoll and House Representatives Vito Barbieri, and Judy Boyle.
Mostly, his measure of success is the "apoplectic response" from editorial page editor Kevin Richert (who Hoffman calls "my friend" and "an editorial writer"; go figure), anything that Richert dislikes must be good. "We'll be watching to make sure agencies donít come up with silly excuses to implement Obamacare," Hoffman writes, so have no fear that the PPACA's consumer protections will kick in, and best of luck shopping for insurance.
The second op-ed was from House Minority Leader John Rusche, a retired pediatrician and former senior V.P. and chief medical officer of Regence BlueShield of Idaho, with the mild headline that the Governor's executive order could disadvantage some Idahoans. Only "could" because it all depends on what our headman does or doesn't sanction with waivers, and whether anyone working for the state has the temerity to ask for one. Rusche writes
"The U.S. health care system is unsupportable as it is. It costs twice as much as that of any other country and delivers poorer results. And that is before the big bulge of baby boomers hits it. Modifying how health care is delivered is really more important to our country than how the financing flows. Without participating in these Affordable Care Act initiatives, Idahoans and Idaho businesses will be left behind. There is no other system transformation effort around."
"Twice as much as any other" may be overstated, but not greatly. There is nothing in the Idaho Freedom Foundation's "research" effort, let alone its policy advocacy that hints at "system transformation." Their business is government sabotage, pure and simple. If blather about the Tenth Amendment gets it done, fine, whatever. This is your little brother kicking whatever blocks you stack one upon the other, gleefully, uselessly.
Couple of senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a "personal" capacity, if you can imagine such a thing, provide a National Strategic Narrative to address the questions of where the United States is going in the world, and how we might get there. Foreign Policy magazine provides the short introduction:
"The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world."
In the words of the narrative, we cannot isolate our own prosperity and security from the global system.
"This begins at home with quality health care and education, with a vital economy and low rates of unemployment, with thriving urban centers and carefully planned rural communities, with low crime, and a sense of common purpose underwritten by personal responsibility."
After my desktop's disk drive went inexplicably incommunicado Saturday night, and my #1 computer guy whisked it away to see what he could do, between the two of us, we learned that there are apparently a ton of Seagate drives with this problem. The drive gets into a "busy" state and from then on refuses to talk to the outside world. The 750GB drive was bundled in a Gateway box and sold to us in mid-2009, and it turns out this problem was well known months earlier. Nothing like keeping up with, um, critical firmware updates or anything. Somewhere in the contents listing there may have been the information that there was a Seagate drive inside, but maybe not. It "just worked" for a couple of years, right up until it "just stopped working" on Saturday.
Once your drive's OTL, the likes of us end users can't apply that saving firmware update any more, it has to go back to the shop. My mind rolled back to the disk drive field repair facility I helped design and build in the 1980s. Good times! They'll "flash" some new firmware in there, and poof! It'll be just like Easter Sunday.
Otherwise, the Data Recovery Services might be able to get something back, for something between $700 and $3,000. But hey, "No Data - No Charge Guarantee." And no guarantee, either.
I got through to a phone agent in short order, the big rush having ended a while ago? And after ascertaining that yes, the drive's serial number was "one of those," and yes, I've got the symptoms, he dropped into a canned script telling me about how they'd try to fix it for no charge, and I'd just have to enter into a little contract, did I want to do that?
Well yeah, I'd like to get my data back and have the drive work again. He walked me through the web form for the return authorization, down to Describe the circumstances of the failure or inaccessibility and any remedies tried where he instructed me verbatim text to enter:
This case [my case number] has been validated per the firmware issue.
"Sign" and date it, press the UPS button to generate a prepaid shipping label (and get a tracking number assigned), and away we go. At this point, the process seems exceptionally well-oiled, they must have had a lot of practice. I sure hope the repair goes as well.
My friend Keith Arnold is on the sabbatical of his life (so far), and after a remarkable 9 weeks abroad he's back home in Denver, but free to look around in a new way. His description of attending two very different services yesterday is fascinating. The first one has a lot in common with the Roman Catholic church I grew up in, in spite of a slightly incredible name: "the Self-Ruled Antiocian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese; Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America Western Rite Vicariate."
The second was something I've only known through depictions in the media: a packed house of 1500, professional sound, light, and video, auditorium seating, "two gospel soloists, guitar, bass, piano, drum kit, and 100+ singers standing on risers singing from memory."
Mother Jones: the Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions. Not too suprisingly, Wayne Hoffman's Idaho Freedom Foundation is a member of the State Policy Network. They're raising astroturf, providing political cover and acting as a farm team for the GOP, and it's working:
"More than a dozen states are currently considering legislation weakening the clout of organized labor. In many of those states, SPN think tanks have been pushing for similar prescriptions for years via 'research' papers, policy recommendations, and talking points that are widely distributed to lawmakers."
I guess with no funny pages, the New York Times has a reason to keep Ross Douthat on? His Case for Hell makes Pascal's Wager look bush league. Atheists are OK (thanks, Ross!), but if you believe in God, you have to accept Hell, too. Because just look at Tony Soprano.
Or, as Paul Krugman puts it, consider taking a hike. Since "effective federal tax rates at every level of income have fallen significantly over the past 30 years, especially at the top. And, over all, U.S. taxes are much lower as a percentage of national income than taxes in most other wealthy nations."
If the Bush-era tax cuts were really intended as "a way to dispose of a large budget surplus," mission accomplished! About 10 years ago. If they were really intended as a way to give the wealthiest among us a leg up, we've accomplished that mission as well, in spades.
Paul Ryan's plan is a giant leap beyond cynical. I mean, giving the front half of the baby boom a free pass on Medicare as it is? And the indefensible "making the Bush tax cuts permanent" (or the even more popular cast of fighting against the "tax increase" of letting them expire, as initially agreed to, and now waived, once).
The People's Budget from the Congressional Progressive Caucus deserves at least as much airtime as Ryan's (or the administration's). Eliminates the deficit within a decade without gutting the social safety net befitting the greatest economy in the history of the world.
On this gray day in late April, rain has made the grass of our morning view an astounding, deep green, setting off two lipstick-red tulips, budded against the wet, such that every time I look at them I do a double take. Can there really be a that red, set off so vibrantly against that green?
Yesterday, we spent the whole morning in church, singing for both services. Three choir pieces, culminating in the beautiful setting of e.e. cummings' "in time of daffodils" by David Dickau, and for the benediction, I read "i thank You God for most this amazing day." The slim purple-covered paperback of cummings' poetry is one of the books that has been in my possession longest, those words that first spoke to me, this is poetry.
In all modesty, I pegged the meter in the first service, and in the 60+ minutes leading up to the benediction, singing, listening to other readers, two soloists, the homily, I knew what was coming, and was simmering with the thrill of anticipation. Almost the same thing had happened when I read it aloud on Wednesday, and on Saturday, just once, for "practice," with an audience of one. The practice is the same as the doing, the being, the ears awake and eyes open.
Which is kind of an odd segue to comment on being defined by numbers in a data-heavy society, but as someone who wades in an ocean of numbers for work and play, the two seem snugly spun together. If I had a book to sell, I guess I'd be watching that number, but the novelty of watching hits on my blog wore off about 7 or 8 years ago, at least. The occasional personal response is frankly more interesting, and when I get one heartfelt message that something was useful, or moving, or appreciated, that means all the world for its moment. What Emily Dickonson said.
Not to say that watching other people keep score isn't fascinating. Keep it up!
As part of the crazy budget wrangling, "House Speaker John Boehner won from Democrats a small, weird concession: the renewal and expansion of the District of Columbia's school voucher program. Known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, it was the first federally funded voucher system. Congress ran it from 2004 until 2009, when the Obama administration began to wind it down. The District—already the epicenter of aggressive school-reform measures—woke up last Saturday morning and found that its old voucher program had returned." More in Pema Levy's report, on The American Prospect.
Vouchers were the previous wave of "school reform," founding on the twin shoals of unconstitutionality and ineffectiveness. But apparently it's "conservative" to keep flogging an idea that's legless, and still.
Reading Devin Burghart's remarkable account of Tea Time with the Posse: Inside an Idaho Tea Party Patriots Conference generates a mix of revulsion and fascination. Can this really be happening? I mean, I see and hear about craziness in the people in this state, and what passes for government, but this crazy? It used to bother me that the FBI infiltrated political organizations, but I hope they've been keeping up their program with the Tea Parties, the revived John Birch Society and others.
Here's NE Washington talk show host Laurie Roth whipping up the troops, "stopping in the middle of her talk to engage an audience member in a discussion about whether impeachment, arresting president Obama, or a military coup would be the best solution."
Roth: "We have to, we can't try, we have to get him out in 2012."
Audience member: "why wait? ... He's an illegal president now."
Roth: "He should be impeached."
Audience member: "He can't be impeached, he's not a citizen."
Roth: "How would you get him out?"
Audience member: "By having the authority of five governors, five senators, march on the Supreme Court, who have abdicated their power and authority to simply render that he is not a legal president. And send the US Marshals to arrest him."
Roth: "I couldn't agree more. What we need is a move like Zelaya in Honduras. We need the military, we need somebody to do that, or impeachment, or something like you said. We need something more than we've had."
Birtherism, racism, nullification, Islamophobia, the Articles of Confederation somehow superceding the Constitution, Idaho's own Rep. Phil "Artful Dodger" Hart, "spinning a tale of monetary usurpation and impending financial apocalypse," selling his idea of "a parallel gold monetary system to the Federal Reserve based on gold and silver."
The list wouldn't be complete without a healthy dollop of climate change denial.
Ex-Californian moved to Montana Ed Berry preceded the no-host bar and banquet, explaining how climate change is "an excuse for the federal government to take over the states," and the means to "make us slaves to the New World Order."
"Like Glenn Beck without the chalkboard or the tears, Berry spent much of his talk pinning the conspiracy on George Soros. Berry claimed that Soros is an 'atheist with skewed morals,' that he 'owns Obama,' that he 'owns the media' which he uses to brainwash people, and that he controls the Republicans."
Ok, Soros owning the Republicans is a new one on me. Give they guy credit for imagination.
Last but not least, there's the plan to get "Sheriff First" legislation in every which way, caling out the county sheriff as "chief law enforcement officer in the country."
It's a full-bodied, nut-flavored stew.
Burghart and the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights have a ton more in their detailed report of Tea Party Nationalism.
Now that Apple has surpassed Microsoft in market cap, do we have a new bogeyman? Two programmers said their research showed that Apple iPhones and iPads began tracking and storing their locations in a hidden file since iOS 4 came out, a year ago.
David Pogue considers how alarmed we should be. It's not Apple that's tracking you, just the devices you bought from them. And hey, maybe you'd like to know where you've been! (Maybe your spouse would, too.) But as someone with "nothing to hide," he's in the "get over it" camp of the privacy debate.
"[A]ccept it: Yes, Big Brother is watching you. But he's been watching you for years, well before the iPhone log came to light, and in many more ways than you suspect."
"And you know what? Iíll bet he's bored to tears."
All the same, Pogue's assessment that the "location log was incredibly difficult to access" is well below his usual technical standard. The "Unix programming skills" he describes are not all that special, and there are plenty of folks rooting around every nook and cranny of devices to find interesting things. And yeah, they write apps to make it available to everyone else, too.
Update: and awhoop, it turns out Apple is collecting your geodata. But "anonymized," they say.
Update #2, a week later: See there, Pogue says, nothing to see, just move along. (Even though parts are "not entirely convincingly.")
Ok, here's a fun event on the Boise State University Culture Calendar tomorrow night:
"Friday, April 22 - Trashion Show. Student Union Jordan Ballroom at 7pm. This event takes 'dressing trashy' to a whole new level; come watch models strut their stuff in environmentally conscious recycled materials. Tickets at the info desk. $3 general admission, free for students."
The way Ian Millhiser reads C.L. "Butch" Otter's Executive Order from yesterday, Idaho's Governor may have just shrunk Idaho's governmental enterprise by one-half. He quotes from the letter Assistant Chief Deputy A.G. Brian Kane wrote to my Representative, Elfreda Higgens, in February, regarding drafted legislation being considered by the House State Affairs Committee then, RS20315:
"As a purely voluntary program, Idaho's refusal to comply with the expanded provisions within the PPACA could potentially result in Idaho exiting the program and losing the existent federal matching funds. This could create a situation where individuals presently covered would no longer be covered, yet still require medical treatment, which likely would be required to be provided for and paid for through some non-federal means. This situation, in turn, could create an intense burden on the State's budget."
Otter's Order does provide a waiver process, so if what looks like a multi-$billion blunder was unintentional, there's a way out. But now we have to wonder: was it the Governor's intention to kill Medicaid in Idaho? It would certainly delight the Tea Party-ish proponents of nullifying government, the Vito Barbieri and Wayne Hoffman.
Update: Kevin Richert's take, for the Idaho Statesman. Since the Governor has done most or all of nullifying "Obamacare," as he apparently likes to call it, we're going to get to find out what "Ottercare" can do for us. Best hope you don't get sick.
Karl Meinhardt was listed on the program as "Social Media Visionary and author," a title which makes the eyes roll, but I did enjoy his rapid fire presentation about tapping the chaos of social media (to make money), even though I'm not really interested in doing so. His most provocative point was that social media traffic has overtaken porn. We're in the midst of THE BIGGEST CONVERSATION IN THE HISTORY OF (our corner of) THE UNIVERSE. "The news finds us" now.
Customers, Employees, Products, Partners are a CONVERSATION. "Social is not BUYMYPRODUCTBUYMYPRODUCTBUYMYPRODUCT, it's about sharing the <3" (an emoticon which just yesterday morning was not in my emoto-cabulary). Like John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, sharing his duck calling prowess on YouTube, certainly qualifying for Non Sequitur of the Day. Or Week.
TV advertising is dead. 90% (he said, probably making up the number, but still) of people skip over ads with a DVR. (I can assure you that *I* skip over at least 90% of ads with a DVR.)
SHARE YOUR IDEAS. Learn what people want. EVERYTHING YOU DO IS AN EVENT. (Hence, your public relations department, Twitter.) FEEDBACK is what allows you to AMPLIFY and FIND YOUR WAY. (He said "feedback," the rest of that sentence is me.)
One startup story: two friends in the financial industry broke out of the mold, went one year globe trekker, found that existing social media are not just the thing for the wandering technophile to keep family and friends entertained with travelogue. (Or as they wrote their history, "they were frustrated by the complexity of sharing their experiences ...") "So, when they came home they decided to start a travel journal company."
"Luckily for Nate and Natty, home happens to be Boulder, Colorado, where the tech start-up scene was beginning to really heat up when they returned. After teaching themselves how to program [with Ruby on Rails, natch] in leveraging their business backgrounds in New York, they were accepted into the prestigious TechStars program, which provided great support and mentorship as they created their company, Everlater (a name that Natty came up with, an anagram of e-Traveler)."
The Idaho Technology Council put on a little shindig yesterday, cramming a couple hundred+ of local movers, shakers, coders, and some eager to be. (Students got in free.) I enjoyed the full afternoon program and a little schmoozing, unfortunately had another commitment that precluded sticking around for the full-on tech.cocktail schmoozefest in the evening. The plan was to highlight 13 local startups in the lively, large space of the Linen Building, and give away drinks.
The organizers said they were worried at times that their idea was going to flop. Attracting a couple dozen software geeks to come out into the daylight and talk to each other in a less than fully structured environment? But what do you know, it worked just fine.
I filled 10 pages of a notebook with jots and tittles, very old school. A fellow well older than me had an iBook going for his notes, and an iPad on the chair next to him recording the proceedings. My gadgetry is so out of date!
Overheard in the warmup: "Ruby is about as magical as a language can be ... but you have to know what the naming conventions are." "MobileDataForce has spun off 2 startups in the last two months." Companies are looking for talent, and not finding enough of it around here. Not enough talent? Or not talented enough?
One new arrival pointed out that the airline connections to get her suck, and what is there for a single 26-year-old to do downtown?
Bob Lokken, giant in the Business Intelligence field, once CEO of smash-hit local startup ProClarity, now founder and CEO of WhiteCloud Analytics ("working on a niche problem - the U.S. healthcare system"), talked about the UNPRECEDENTED POTENTIAL he sees in the platform shift imminent in the intersection of cloud computing, new devices, the explosion of data from social media and the next wave coming, sensors.
Speaking of platform shift, did you know that APPLE is now #2 in the world in Market Capitalization? I did not know that, but right on cue yesterday afternoon there was the news that Apple Crushes Earnings Again, With 95 Percent Profit Growth.
The regular parade of fundraising emails has to go for attention-getting, because lord knows, they get tiresome and uninteresting after a while. If I had an irony filter on my email, they'd never get through. Here's the presence of John Boehner, Speaker of the House, for example:
"Last week, House Republicans passed a long-term budget by Chairman Paul Ryan that would help boost job creation today and lift the debt burden that threatens our children and grandchildren."
(Do you mean that symbolic action you knew would be DOA in the Senate, and that was widely ridiculed for its lack of seriousness?)
"Unfortunately, the Democrats who run Washington aren't serious about addressing our looming debt crisis."
Splutter what? Not serious, you say?!
"They believe it serves their political interests to try to demonize our proposals to cut spending and preserve critical health and retirement programs for future generations."
At least they're not demonizing you for not being serious, eh? Oh wait.
I had a college friend from Belgium who delighted in learning American idioms, and he was always interested in my explanations of their nuances. In exchange, he tried to teach me a little Flemish here and there, a task to which I was apparently unsuited. He tried to teach me a particular diphthong one day, and after half a dozen tries, I had to give up. He explained that there are some sounds that if you don't learn them as a child, you just can't make.
I was reminded of that by the news of a fascinating paper on historical linguistics that suggests a pointer back to the origin of language, based on decreasing variation with increasing distance.
"Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes."
English, Dutch and German (and French, the 4th language, my friend knows) are all about the same distance from the hypothesized origin of language in southwest Africa, and about the same complexity; it seems we both have a lot that's not in our repertoire.
I've got a simple, two-color view of the stock market, thanks to the iGoogle widget on my browser's home page. Down is red, up is green, with a 3 major indices and a half-dozen individual stocks providing my proxy to the world of investing. Yesterday, as you may recall, was sky-falling RED, as the markets reacted to the S&P downgrade of the USA's future creditworthiness.
Today, either cooler heads are prevailing, or they all moved on to whatever news is next, and the picture is (mostly) restful green. Maybe further reflection led to the proper reaction to Standard and Poor's: burst out laughing. And question the motivation.
Marc Johnson has a remodeled home for The Johnson Post, Many Things Considered, and it looks nice, even if he's keeping his comment facility closed. (Like I'm one to complain about that?) Here's his handicapping Donald Trump's chances for the D.C. real estate deal he's pretending to be interested in, examined through the lens of the Roosevelt v. Wilkie race of 1940, the last time the Republicans picked a businessman to lead their ticket:
"Donald Trump can command a lot of attention, as he is currently doing, but he can't, I suspect, stand the intense scrutiny he will get if he really becomes a candidate. The hair and wife jokes will continue and when next year rolls around, Republicans will do as they have since 1944. They'll nominate a candidate with public sector skills and experience."
Perhaps someone will object that George W. Bush was a "businessman," and how much more all-American business can you get than investment banking, multinational oil industry, an Ivy League network, and CIA connections into the arms industry? Oh, and don't forget that Harvard MBA. The section headings of Kevin Phillips' book, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, provide the full outline: Family, Dynasty, Crony Capitalism, Covert Operations, Compassionate Conservatism, Religion, Oil, Armaments and War. The rich stew of our American melting pot.
Needless to say, Trump is a buffoonish piker in the Bush league.
That paragon of index branding, Standard and Poor's (with of course no guarantee of "accuracy, adequacy, or completeness of any information used") came out with a Research Update on the United States of America, and they've got some good news, and some bad news. First, the good news. Our AAA/A-1+ rating is affirmed! Woo hoo!
"The economy of the U.S. is flexible and highly diversified, the country's effective monetary policies have supported output growth while containing inflationary pressures, and a consistent global preference for the U.S. dollar over all other currencies gives the country unique external liquidity."
They also like our "flexible labor markets and a long track record of openness to capital flows."
"In addition, its public sector uses a smaller share of national income than those of most 'AAA' rated countries--including its closest peers, the U.K., France, Germany, and Canada (all AAA/Stable/A-1+)--which implies greater revenue flexibility."
But, um, the Magic 8 Ball says "not clear to us" when it comes to the country's "very large budget deficits and rising government indebtedness," so material risk! Could be rendered meaningfully weaker than that of peer 'AAA' sovereigns. Call it AAA/Negative/A-1+. Among other reader's comments to the news story is Boston AJ's:
"These guys put top ratings on packages of mortgages made to people who could barely buy groceries, but now they are prognosticating on the outcome of complex political processes."
While the market forecast may be uncertain, the political one is not: everyone will be flogging the S&P report to suit his or her preferred agenda as we go forward into complexity.
The RNC Chairman wants to know how I'm celebrating Tax Day. (Just another day, dude.) And, Can you afford FOUR MORE YEARS of Barack Obama's presidency?
Sure, why not?
"Since he has been in office, our deficit has skyrocketed, the cost of food and gas has gone up, and we have lost millions of jobs. And as if taxes aren't high enough, President Barack Obama's new budget proposal calls for an additional $2 trillion tax hike on American families and small businesses to fuel his big government agenda."
Taxes aren't high enough, Reince; that's why the deficit is so damn big. And the whole demonization thing isn't really working for me. The new boss looks pretty much like the old boss, actually, and you and your pals had no problem when the last guy was skyrocketing the deficit and losing millions of jobs.
While maintaining a fixed idea about the world may be "conservative," if said idea has no factual basis, we have to start calling it "stupid" at some point. Our perhaps "counterproductive" to be polite. But being polite could be counterproductive, too.
Paul Ryan an Ayn Rand enthusiast, how perfect. Shouldn't he be in business by and large, rather than government, then? Given that he has gone into public service though, perhaps he could try going toe-to-toe with Maureen Dowd, and find a witty riposte to this:
"[Rand] wrote about Nietzschean superheroes who made things. She died before capitalism evolved into a vampire casino where you could bet against investments you sold to your clients, and make money off something you didn't own or that existed only on paper."
And then explain how the AAA of "atheism, amorality in romance and vigorous support for abortion" fits in with his enthusiasm for Rand's philosopy.
Now that we have the FY 2011 squared away (we do, don't we?), it's time to forge into the future. The RSC proposal having been narrowly defeated on the Republican side, we're left with Paul Ryan's plan coming out of the House, and the President's plan coming out of the White House.
If you've seen plans for $9 trillion, or $6 trillion, or whatever in budget cuts, and your eyes didn't just glaze over at absurdly large numbers (because 2.5 trillion $1 bills laid end-to-end would reach from your chair to the moon), you might wonder how you can cut that much out of a $3.5T budget. Easy! Just multiply by however many years you need to come up with your cockamamie headline.
That's right, the same team that turned in its homework 6½ months late is rolling out plans not merely for FY 2012, but far into the future. Five, 10, 20, however many years it takes to imagine a brighter, bolder future.
Anyway, it's one thing to find out that Paul Krugman thinks your proposal is simultaneously ridiculous and cruel ("gone all-in for voodoo economics"), another altogether when a pragmatic, Minnesota farmboy turned economist points at your laughable assumptions and notes how you backed away from them after being greeted with derision. Never mind the disingenuity of the whole enterprise:
"The sad irony is that when we actually ran budget surpluses in fiscal years 1998, 1999 and 2001, the Republican majority in Congress did not support the achievement. Instead these very modest surpluses were brandished as evidence American were overtaxed and were the key argument for the 2001 tax cut once George W. Bush was inaugurated."
But the good news is, Congress has cleared out of town for, that's right, their Easter recess (or as they list it slightly less religiously on their calendar, "Spring Recess"), spanning the week before and the week after Easter. Nice non-work for a 6-figure salary if you can avoid it.
I hope they're not actually printing all the budget plans making the rounds in D.C. of late, I'm afraid the Atlantic coast would be deforested again. We've now got the right-center plan from the Obama administration (but will the T.P. shut up about how he's a socialist? Nooo), the right-right plan from Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, and the way-right (a.k.a. "fair and balanced") plan from the Republican Study Committee, which mirabile dictu, just about passed the House today, thanks to the Democratic Whip letting all the Republicans vote as they saw fit.
That nice ploy almost worked to smoke out the balance of extremism that's taken over the majority party over there, but with an outcry worthy of Question Time in the British Parliament, the GOP managed to round up enough votes to quash the RSC budget.
H/t to Sisyphus on 43rd State Blues.
New York City schools gave their latest chancellor the heave-ho after a mere three months on the job, having failed, as Rudy Crew put it, in "her weakest suit—namely, she knew nothing about running a school system." If only theories were as easily put to rest as Richard Kahlenberg would like to think, we could dispense with the truly cock-eyed notion that management acumen (real or imagined) trumps the need for actual experience in the field of education.
"Her tenure also exposed the shortcomings of the cult of the private sector. Behind Ms. Black's appointment seemed to lie the assumption that surely, if someone had succeeded in the rough and tumble of the private market, doing well in the softer, less-well compensated public sector would, by comparison, be a piece of cake. ... [T]here was perhaps no greater repudiation of the cult of the noneducator and private sector manager than Mayor Michael Bloombergís choice of Ms. Blackís successor: former teacher and long-time public servant Dennis M. Walcott, about whom Mayor Bloomberg said 'there is no better person qualified to step into the job of chancellor.'"
Maybe in 5 or 10 years the news will reach Idaho, where we're trying out a state Superintendent with no experience in education. Not that Idaho's schools constitute an enterprise on the scale of New York City's, with and enrollment almost as large as our whole state population, and an annual budget north of $20 billion.
Saw it mentioned that the Gingrich-led 1995 government shutdown had one of those last-minute deals that then failed to get the "actual" vote through, so here we go again, maybe. The House Majority Leader isn't sure he's got enough of his people to pass it, after only 28 said no to the "bridge" plan. Do we have another one of those bridges to Nowhere? The Minority Whip says "my presumption is we don't know where our people are. I don't think they know where their people are."
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the 175-member House Republican Study Committee, said "while I respect that some of my Republican colleagues will ultimately support this spending deal, I believe voters are asking us to set our sights higher." By which he of course means lower.
Oh and here's a surprise, lobbyists won key concessions in budget deal, in some cases carefully avoiding leaving any fingerprints. "Everyone at the table says that someone else brought it up. They all say, 'It wasnít me.'"
You might notice that you can't spell "Rand-o-mania," much less chronicle its rampant rise without random.
"Will the Hollywood depiction of Ayn Rand's 1957 novel serve as some sort of easy-to-read cultural thermometer? Will the film flop or will it become the movie manifesto of America's nascent Tea Party?"
Film at 11, on the 15th.
Ayn Rand's Institute is hyping the "striking" parallels between her fictional dystopia and the present day.
"In Atlas we see a world crumbling under the weight of government interventions and regulations. The economy has ground to a halt. Each day more businesses are shutting their doors. The government blames greed and the free market and frantically imposes further controls. But the crisis only deepens. Sound familiar?"
Actually, not so much. (Having Dick Armey's organization promoting the film sounds like classic irony though, "imploring its followers to demand that the movie be shown in more and more theaters." Buy tickets, kids, that's all the he-man John Galt "demand" you need!) Here's what sounds familiar: a Congressional budget deal made-to-order for Koch Industries.
"[I]s it just a coincidence that so many of the the things Republicans demanded—and got—just happen to line up with the financial interests of the billionaires who fund the Tea Party and much of the "conservative movement?" Cutting money for the EPA, alternative energy efficiency, high-speed rail, efforts to fight climate change—even prohibiting NOAA from creating a Climate Service ... it reads like an oil tycoon's wish list.
"[And this after] finishing pushing through another huge tax cut for the rich. Always remember that tax cut deal any time you hear about "deficits"—which were caused by tax cuts for the rich and increases in military spending. ... this budget 'cut' deal increased the military budget by another $5 billion. ..."
Mitt Romney has announced he's ... exploring running for President. Be still my heart. Just to show how snap, snap, snap, up-to-date he is, he did it by talking to his supporters with a YouTube video.
If you've ever seen my wardrobe, you know I'm not a fashion snob, but I have to say, brown suede jacket? Plaid shirt? No tie? His earthy tones and pink-in-touch-with-his-feminine-side did match his backdrop, which was that all-American ... high school track? You can almost imagine people running around in circles down there, except that would have been distracting eh, so they did it on a Saturday. Somehow, I was still distracted, and hardly heard a word he said. Thank goodness for the transcript.
"It's time that we put America back on a course of greatness, with a growing economy, good jobs and fiscal discipline in Washington. I believe in America. I believe in the freedom and opportunity and the principles of our Constitution that have led us to become the greatest nation in history of the Earth."
As opposed to ... ?!
The only thing funner than collecting geographic confusion between Iowa and Idaho (and Ohio) is collecting "far end of the political spectrum" quips. Such as this from Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch, lamenting Bob Dylan's sellout to Chinese puppetmasters, playing a pre-approved set. (Maybe he, um, meant it to be ironic.)
"Imagine if the Tea Party in Idaho said to him, 'You're not allowed to play whatever,' you'd get a very different response."
As quoted in Maureen Dowd's decrying Op-ed. But Dylan himself has long disclaimed any status as "Big Bubba of Rebellion." And if you've heard anything of his singing lately, I have to say, the joke was on 2,000 Chinese apparatchiks in the Worker's Gymnasium in Beijing.
Here in Idaho, the Legislature is done, and the Tea Party will presumably be melting back into the woods for a while. Some may head down to Weiser for the fiddle fest. (Warning: that page's audio comes right atcha.)
Interesting inside-baseball account of last week's budget drama, by Lisa Lerer on Bloomberg News. Makes for a sort of thrilling story, but wouldn't it be better as a good novel than actual news about how our government is being managed? The "playing chicken" metaphor came up often enough, so now we just had a "successful" game of that, both sides swerving just in time to the avoid collision and "learning" the wrong lesson: chicken is an exciting game, and we can win some concessions. Before the late-night Friday finale, the pundits on the Newshour recapped the increasingly familiar melodrama:
DAVID BROOKS: I assume what they are doing—and I hope this is true—they're just trying to show their bases that they're fighting as hard as they can for them, and then, at the end of the day, in the last minute or the last second, they will just cut a deal which has probably been in the works and they knew they were heading toward all along.
And so Boehner can say to his people, we fought for spending, we fought for spending. And Reid and the Democrats can say we fought for a right to choice. And then they will—but they will have known all along, well, we will cut a deal when we have to. We have just got to say, we fought hard for you.
JIM LEHRER: Would you go along with the thesis that, even if in fact, later tonight, they do strike a deal, and they technically don't shut the government down, or whether they do, that everybody involved is going to come out a loser?
RUTH MARCUS: Pretty much. ...
The DSCC's view of the impasse:
"talks went until 3 a.m. with no agreement. The issue Republicans refuse to budge on: defunding women's healthcare. Yesterday, Sen. Reid said 'the only thing holding up an agreement is ideology.' Republicans are so against funding women's healthcare that they would shut down the federal government over it."
The NYT's view is that maybe they'll find a last-minute agreement, who knows? "The two sides appeared to be only a few billion dollars apart on the level of spending to be approved for the balance of this year," in their battle over the rounding error of a $3.5 trillion budget. And yes, the gray lady has the phrase "game of chicken" in its coverage.
The euphemism of the day is "policy dispute," as in, given that we're up against a deadline and more than 6 months late already, shouldn't we take advantage of the crisis we've manufactured, and kill funding for Planned Parenthood? Oh, and the regulatory power of the EPA while we're at it.
We watched the episode of Ken Burns' Civil War that ends with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address last night, and just thinking of it gives me chills. Not to the same extent that it did in the run of Doris Kearne Goodwin's Team of Rivals, one of the very few books I've listened to being read. It's brought to mind by the economic war that the Tea Party has undertaken on the federal government, and appears prepared to win a significant battle, tomorrow.
And by Dave Johnson's commentary on the contest, wondering who is our country FOR? We remember how Abraham Lincoln put it, but through the mists of time and without connecting it to the present.
If you follow the money, the picture is clear enough, as he spells out in a variety of time series, top tax rate, corporate tax revenue as a share of GDP, payroll tax contribution rates, share of income for the bottom 99.5%, concentration of income at the top, spending on lobbying, and the defense budget. I'm guessing fortboise readers don't need to follow the link to visualize any or all of those graphs.
Lobbying pays off, duh. In D.C. as in Boise, the corporate interests get what they pay for, in helpful legislation, in rifle-shot tax code, in lubrication to move money where it's the least encumbered by societal obligation. Legislation is created by the corporations, it is of the corporations, and it is for the corporations.
"Communities are being bankrupted, forced to lay off police, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other essential people who work to protect and help us. More and more working people are hurting, falling ever further behind, losing or barely clinging to their jobs and homes and businesses and health. At the same time big-company CEOs who cheat, bankrupt their company, ship jobs overseas and fire white collar workers by the thousands are not held accountable -- instead they are rewarded with big bonuses."
But prosperity is just around the corner! By cutting government, by shutting it down, by keeping those lazy government workers from collective bargaining (or hell, just fire 'em), the economy will magically surge anew.
Regarding the headline: it was
150 149 years ago yesterday and
today that the battle of Shiloh was fought, "the first big battle" of
the war as
the book by
Geoffrey Ward, Ken and Ric Burns put it.
"The bloodiness of Shilo was astounding to everyone. Out of 100,000 men, over 20,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. Shiloh had the same number of casualties as Waterloo. And yet when it was fought, there were another twenty Waterloos to follow."
Now that Congress is past half a year late on agreeing to a FY2011 budget, what a great time to roll out a radical plan to restructure everything, kill Medicare (but only for you 54-and-younger, fiddle-dee-dee!), save $trillions! and so on. From the right side of the Gang of Six, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo posted a perfunctory welcome, "look[ing] forward to reviewing the details." From the middle side, Senate Budget chair Kent Conrad (D-ND) fired for effect:
"Representative Ryan's proposal is partisan and ideological. He provides dramatic tax cuts for the wealthiest, financed by draconian reductions in Medicare and Medicaid. His proposals are unreasonable and unsustainable."
Not the least of the faults of Ryan's plan is that it discards important chunks of the work of last year's Fiscal Commission. Crapo was a member who endorsed the Commission's conclusions, so you would think he'd have something more meaningful to say on the subject. Stay tuned.
The end of Idaho's current legislative session couldn't
possibly come soon enough. The Republicans who run the joint are still
saying "this week," maybe tomorrow. One of the sticking points
was the not quite resolved family feud over closing their primaries,
as Dan Popkey describes:
purification rite hits a snag. It seems that in rushing to close
out independents (and dastardly Democrat operatives, you know, the ones
who've achieved control ... over nothing whatsoever in state
government), the good old boys can't settle on who's going to be in
charge. Speaker Lawerence "sic" Denney thinks it's just fine and "simply
a practicality" to have the state party chairman have the final say,
all by himself.
Something about a deadline motivates alacrity: between that story and 6:42 this morning, Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa pushed a rewrite through, and now it's "a political party" that will decide, not just the big man.
Tonight's Newshour included an interview with fast-talking House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, running his new plan for radically restructuring the next 10 years, and beyond. The sound bite at the beginning sets the tone:
"We're here to try and fix this country's problems. And that mean--if that means we have to go first and offer solutions, fine. If that means we're giving our political adversaries a political weapon to use against us, which by the way, they will have to distort, demagogue and lie to use it, shame on them. We owe it to the country to give them an honest debate."
So let me get this straight: you're ready for an honest debate in which anyone who disagrees with you is distorting, demagogueing and lying? Riiiight.
The first time through, I'm pretty sure I watched the whole Ken Burns Civil War series (just as I'm pretty sure I fell asleep at some point in most every episode; is it just TV, or Ken Burns that can make war soporific?). As they rerun the series here at the sesquicentennial of our Union's blood confirmation, the voiceover statement between the two one-hour episodes brought to mind some of the craziness of this year's session of the Idaho legislature, and the enthusiasm for the Tea Party in this state:
"Don't go away. The Civil War will be back in a moment."
When I was 18 and holding a freshly minted high-school diploma, having decided I wasn't going to start college right away, I went looking for a good paying job in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in the day when factory jobs were a damn sight easier to come by than they are now.
I don't remember how I learned about the opening at Milcut, Inc., but the location was close enough for me to walk or bike there, the work was within my ability, the pay good enough for my short-term ambition, and the little competence test they had me take a breeze. The truth was, and without any self-delusion, I was significantly overqualified for the job. I imagined my test score made me stand out, and while it might have, it was my surname that caught the eye of the president of the small company, with whom I then interviewed.
Some time after the job had been offered to me and I accepted, I learned that he was in the same small-business owners' association with my dad. Their collegial relationship was no doubt a big boost to my chances, even though we both knew I wasn't likely to stay very long. I figured to work through the winter and spring, at least. He might have been hoping to get a useful year or two out of me? It was shorter than either of us expected, as my girlfriend's wanderlust kicked in mid-semester, and we hit the open road that April.
Between times, I punched the clock, earned my pay with some enthusiasm, cut out gaskets and heavy equipment headliners, foam bushings for this, that and the other thing, played Sheepshead for a nickel a point at lunchtime, and went to the local tavern with my workmates on payday. It's nice to see they're still in business, moved a little further out of town, and now led by Junior, who would have been about 16 when I signed on for my brief tour.
What prompted this jolly trip down memory lane is the story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the son of a big donor to their Gov. Scott Walker getting a cush government job he's totally unqualified for.
Well, he's got a high-school diploma, put in a couple years at UW, worked for some Republican legislators, "helped run a legislative and losing congressional campaign," collected a couple DUIs, a part-time job here and there, and then starting at $64,728 a year and quick as a wink promoted and make that $80k.
Nice work if you can get it.
Langston Hughes' words, Carl Marsh's music, the Rev. Jason Shelton's conducting the Portara Ensemble singing "I've Known Rivers" at the First Lutheran Church. (Mother Nature joins the chorus at one point: Jason said there were "big time thunderstorms" in Tennessee yesterday.)
Jason's also posted video of the performance of one of his own compositions, Child of the Earth.
He's thinking we should cut $6 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade, and wrap up by dismantling Medicare in 2022. But hey, all you mid-to-late Boomers can keep voting Republican and don't worry about a thing:
"GOP sources familiar with the plan stress anyone 55 or older now would not be affected by the changes."
And if you like those Bush-era tax cuts that got extended at the last minute, keep liking 'em! He wants to make them permanent. No additional revenue? No cuts to the Pentagon? Some magic, apparently, and upping the ante from last year's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform "Moment of Truth," half again as much: we'll see your $4 trillion and raise you $2T. A plan of this magnitude (diminitude?) would need careful deliberation, don't you think? Or ...
"keep the forward momentum by moving the proposal quickly through the House before it stalls at the Senate doors. The bill will likely get marked up in committee Wednesday, and the Rules Committee plans to outline the parameters for debate on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. At that point, the House is expected to pass the resolution and send it to the Senate."
RJ Eskow has boiled down the health funding side of the attack, to six convenient slides (one excerpted here). Looks like the only cost containment will be giving everyone "half-off" insurance.
I guess in Republican parlance, that's a "Two for One" deal. You'll still have Social Security, and Medicare, but you'll be sending your Social Security check to pay for your Medicare. Voilà! Problem solved.
Nice message from the University of Wisconsin's Chancellor explaining a little bit about academic freedom and open records, after the state's Republicans came after Prof. Bill Cronon because they didn't like what he was writing, demanding e-mails that reference 20 words, terms and names of individuals related to current political events. They'll comply with the law, if not satisfy the fishing expedition:
"We are excluding records involving students because they are protected under FERPA. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas. ...
"To our faculty, I say: Continue to ask difficult questions, explore unpopular lines of thought and exercise your academic freedom, regardless of your point of view. As always, we will take our cue from the bronze plaque on the walls of Bascom Hall. It calls for the 'continual and fearless sifting and winnowing' of ideas. It is our tradition, our defining value, and the way to a better society."
And since the Wisconsin GOP is so concerned about the good professor, they'll be delighted to read this from the Senior University Legal Counsel:
"You should further note that the e-mails that we have reviewed contain absolutely no evidence of political motivation, contact from individuals outside normal academic channels or inappropriate conduct on the part of Professor Cronon. The university finds his conduct, as evidenced in the e-mails, beyond reproach in every respect. He has used his university e-mail account appropriately and legitimately. He has not used his university e-mail account for any inappropriate political conduct. In fact, none of the e-mails contained any reference whatsoever to any of the specific political figures that you identified (except Governor Scott Walker), nor do they in any way reference the proposed recall efforts."
How about a free listen of Paul Simon's new album, So Beautiful or So What? Yes, please! Thanks to Fresh Air and WHYY and Ken Tucker's review (even though he finished it a little snooty), I'm feeling the love.
They say it'll stream there in its entirety until its release on April 12. Get you some.
"Christian supremacy," David Barton's made-up history, and gosh it's so inspiring! I'd like to see ... everyone in the country forced at gunpoint to listen to a simultaneous telecast.
Mike Huckabee's more than just another roly-poly GOP aspirant to the presidency; he is seriously disturbed to have something like this pop out as "humor." No wonder the "United in Purpose" folks would edit it out before posting. (Erik Eckholm politely ignored Huckabee's "joke" in his report of the "Pastors' Policy Briefing" for the New York Times, too.)
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org