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unraveling

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

Mass insanity Permalink to this item

Feels to me like these guys (and gals) hare completely lost their minds, imagined their power to force the other side to meet their will was greater than it is, and they are going to drive right off the cliff, or right into a head-on collision, or right into a brick wall.

Choose whatever metaphor works for you.

Unless the President is waiting until he has no other choice but to whip out the 14th Amendment card and smack Congress upside the head? Waiting to see if they could work out their differences and cut a deal made a certain amount of sense, for May, June, and much of July, I guess.

So, we've waited, and nothing's come out. It's Wednesday night, and there's not a lot of reason to think that Congress can get anything whatsoever through both the House and the Senate at this point, let alone by next Tuesday. Certainly not a well thought-out, carefully crafted and sensible law that deals with 1, 2, or $3 trillion. Or more. (Weren't we going to have all the lawmakers actually read bills? And give the public 3 whole days to look things over?)

So, dismiss the debt ceiling issue, and let Congress spend its time on what it needs to do: budgeting. Expenses, and revenue, work it out. And get it done for FY2012 by the time it starts, October 1st. The way things have been and are going, that alone is a huge stretch goal. So time's a-wastin', let's get to it.

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

Reaping the whirlwind Permalink to this item

Speaker John Boehner has ridden the Tea Party Tiger long enough now that he may not be able to find his way back to saner realms. This running an extortion racket against the "must-pass" raising of the debt ceiling looks ready to blow up in his face. The Tea Party and its fellow travelers disagree that anything must pass. Let's just see what happens, they're saying. Or hey, let's get two-thirds of the House and Senate to not only agree on something, but to agree on an amendment to the Constitution. By next Tuesday.

Seriously? No, not seriously, insanely.

Robert Borosage debriefs Boehner's dishonest and disgraceful performance last night:

"In a speech cobbling together stale conservative talking points, Boehner claimed to be 'Speaker of the whole House,' while talking for and to its lunatic right-wing fringe. In doing so, Boehner introduced Americans into the funhouse hall of distorted mirrors that is the current conservative delusion. ...

"This ersatz crisis began when the Republican zealots in Congress decided to use the debt ceiling—a procedural oddity routinely passed in past years (18 times under Reagan alone)—to hold the economy hostage to force deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and domestic spending while opposing the slightest mention of closing tax loopholes, much less raising taxes on the rich. Yet Boehner claims the 'crisis atmosphere' was created by the president. Even Orwell's Ministry of Truth designed to peddle disinformation would blush at that one."

Unfortunately, the extortion racket is running so well, the Republicans are not about to give in a moment sooner than they have to. And why not plan to go another round in 6 months, when it can be amplified by the Presidential campaign?

Borosage provides the detail of "just how extensive the Democratic retreat has been." It's going to get worse—a lot worse—before we have the faintest hope of it getting better, I'm afraid. The lunatics aren't quite in charge, but they're braying and babbling so loudly that no one who is can accomplish anything.

The cost of policy changes (and utter incoherence) Permalink to this item

Reduced from the NYT graphic, data from the CBO and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities James Fallows hightlights the "Policy Changes under Two Presidents" illustrated by the NY Times as the chart that should accompany all discussions of the debt ceiling. The NYT graphic accompanied Teresa Tritch's "Editorial | Deconstruction," How the Deficit Got This Big. How did we get here? "The answer is largely the Bush-era tax cuts, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recessions." Non-defense discretionary spending (foreign aid, education, food safety, etc.), "accounting for only 15% of the budget, has been basically flat as a share of the economy for decades."

The first accompanying graph shows how budget realities have matched projections made in Jan. 2001 and Jan. 2009. ("Not so much.") The second one, with the shout-out from Fallows, purports to show the "cost of new policies" under Bush (FY 2002-9), and Obama (including projections, for FY 2009-17).

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Bush-era tax cuts—alone—underlie more of our debt than all the new costs projected to 2017. Fallows:

"It's based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who's "to blame" for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts."

The piece in The Atlantic also shows the chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities from May, which Fallows called the chart that should accompany every discussion of deficits. So, two charts, same story. Big cut in taxes, big increase in the deficit. Pretty straightforward. Tritch:

"A few lessons can be drawn from the numbers. First, the Bush tax cuts have had a huge damaging effect. If all of them expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels. Second, a healthy budget requires a healthy economy; recessions wreak havoc by reducing tax revenue. Government has to spur demand and create jobs in a deep downturn, even though doing so worsens the deficit in the short run. Third, spending cuts alone will not close the gap. The chronic revenue shortfalls from serial tax cuts are simply too deep to fill with spending cuts alone. Taxes have to go up."

H/t to Facebook friend Dan Henry for the link to the link to the link.

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

You can't get there from here Permalink to this item

The map of Idaho counties with boundary issues Idaho has 44 counties (10 of which start with the letter 'B', in case you were wondering), and covers a lot of territory, inhabited by not so many people as a lot of smaller states. Our population density varies from 285 people/sq.mi. (in Ada Co.) to less than 1 person/sq. mi. in depopulous Camas, Clark, and Custer Counties, according to the statistics on Wikipedia as I write. (Clark Co. has less than 0.6 persons/sq.mi.)

I was prompted to look that up after reading the press release from Redistricting Commissioner George Moses, complaining that a recently enacted redistricting law is unconstitutional and may make the "Balkanization" of Idaho worse than it already is.

Some bunch of Republicans (the only political animals who can pass laws in our state) thought it would be a good idea to require adjacent counties to be connected by a state or federal highway. In most states, that's either a low bar, or something you just wouldn't think of. In Idaho, it has to do with the difficulty traversing long distances and difficult terrain in the mountains.

If you look closely around the state, you'll find 20 boundary segments between adjacent counties that would disqualify the two from being merged. (Counting the total number of segments between adjacent counties is left as an exercise for the reader.) More than half the counties (24) are affected, and the press release says "more than half the area" of the state. Way more: those counties add up to more than 80% of the state's area, as you can pretty much see from the map here. But "affected" is not the same as "excluded." Idaho, Valley and Lemhi counties are "affected" and none could be combined under the law, but Idaho and Clearwater could, Lemhi and Custer could, Valley and Boise could, and so on.

State legislative District 35 currently comprises all of Lemhi, Custer, Butte, Clark, Jefferson and half of Fremont county, and of those, all but Jefferson lacks a connecting highway with one or more of its neighbors. Yet they're also all connected to one or more of their neighbors. (Should it be like "tag" where "electricity" counts?) The press release says:

"The Idaho Constitution requires that any legislative plan divide a minimum number of counties. Moses stated that any line drawn under the law's restrictions will split more counties than maps drawn without them. Thus, the law supersedes the constitutional requirements. It amounts to amending the constitution by statute, something the constitution itself does not permit."

If the claim in the 2nd sentence is true, the rest may follow, but is it true? It's a head-scratcher. Apart from reasonable questions of interpreting the law, the lines in question have to be only those that violate the law's constraint (whatever that is). Moses has (and lots of other people have) spent a lot more time trying to redraw lines than I have (given that I've spent none), so he may be on to something, but on the surface of our complicated map, it doesn't just jump out at me.

What might be more interesting would be to show cases where "this here combination makes sense... but we can't do it under the law." The lack of highway connection is not a coincidence, but is rather a function of geographic isolation. Which is what the law-makers were thinking, I suppose. What exactly gets broken by this constraint? One example I see: the L28 map for example, which tries to keep counties whole, founders in District 2 (Clearwater and Shoshone counties don't have a highway connection), and 35 (Clark and Fremont likewise aren't connected).

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

The miser Permalink to this item

From what he has written over the years, I can only infer that Wayne Hoffman has a deep and abiding antipathy to the idea of pensions in general, but public pensions in particular. He's relatively young, and his career choices probably haven't left him in line for any such thing himself, even as he appears to make a good living off being a mouthpiece for those better off than himself.

Idaho has one of the most highly regarded public pensions systems of all the states, one that suffered in the market trauma of the busted real estate bubble and financial crisis precipitated by the creative securitization of mortgage debt, but which has recovered fairly well in the post-recession run-up. Hoffman doesn't want any good news to color public perception though, and he's offered his own opinion on the subject, using the hobby news organ he's set up with his non-profit enterprise.

Pricy pension system has a cost, he writes. True enough. But he never seems to trouble himself to consider the benefit of the things he dislikes. Part of the comment I just left on the Idaho Reporter site, "waiting for moderation":

You make me think of the "miser" character in so many of the fairy tales that capture the cultural memory of our species. (Hint: it never ends well for the miser.)

Oh how liberals love to be generous with other people's money, you [say]? Well, we consider the future. Squeezing everything we can out of teachers is the quintessence of short-term thinking. I prefer the Finnish model: hold up teachers as an honored profession, valued in tangible terms as well as words of praise (not that I believe youíve ever found any of those, yourself).

The same is true of all of the employees who benefit from the long-term promise and financial security that the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho offers (as well as some who have been pushed out of the system). Their jobs may not be the most attractive, or the most lucrative, but they're rewarding, and PERSI is an important and legitimate part of the compensation.

And the work of public employees creates the context of a productive society in which "the market" can flourish, basic needs can be met with time and money left over for the finer things in life, and yes, some entrepreneurs can succeed beyond their wildest dreams. There's even enough left over for non-profit foundations to create advocacy organizations such as yours, built on the donations of the well-to-do.

Taken for granted Permalink to this item

When things are running smoothly, all the work that went into the design, engineering, construction, maintenance—poof!—just disappears. From our awareness. Time is precious, so why pay attention to what's working?

One reason is that your ignorance, whether accidental, self-induced or willful, can make you think it's alright to dismantle the basis of past, present and future progress. Such as... the fact that American businesses don't succeed in spite of government—they succeed because of it.

You might also fail to notice that a well-organized band of thieves has moved into your neighborhood, and has been systematically stripping out things of value and cashing them in at local pawn shops.

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

Bach-mania Permalink to this item

Frank Bruni deconstructs Much Ado about Michele in fine form, and explains "why all the fuss":

"She's a bonanza for the news media, which these days have vast acres of not only cable TV but also cyberspace to fill. She's manna for pundits, who can talk only so archly about the vanilla vanguard of Romney, Pawlenty and company. When Bachmann stormed into view, she provided a wanted, needed burst of flavor and color. But flavor and color go only so far. A Delaware woman named Christine O'Donnell can fill you in on that, provided she's not busy with coven duties."

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

Can't we all just get along? Permalink to this item

Diagrammatic map of the NY Canal and Lake Lowell, US Bureau of Reclamation
The NY Canal and Lake Lowell

I'm not sure what it was that prompted the US Fish & Wildlife Service to get serious about their charge to protect wildlife out at the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge south of Nampa, but our story so far is about as exciting as if they'd decided to swing a golf club at a hornets' nest, just to see what would happen.

One way or another, they're required to come up with a 15-year comprehensive conservation plan by September 2012, and going back to the original stated purpose of the refuge, lo and behold, there was not a mandate to be the primary location for lake recreation, as Lake Lowell has been for a century.

"The Refuge currently manages more than 200 native bird species including geese, swans, pelicans, songbirds, ducks, shorebirds, eagles, falcons, hawks and owls; and over 30 mammals, including mule deer, coyote, red fox, gophers, marmot, badger, rabbits, and beaver."

Refuge, breeding grounds, sanctuary, protection, conservation, wildlife-oriented recreation... none of the gigantic stack of laws and executive orders they're trying to follow are about motorboating, water-skiing, drinking, swimming, sailing, and so on (or at least not in a "good" way, from the point of view of the locals).

FWS hasn't started drafting the draft plan yet, but they have been rolling out planning updates, and the most recent one included Preliminary Draft Alternatives (PDF), in which the one they say is "preferred" is a long way from the status quo. The status quo is captured by "Preliminary Alternative 1," with the lake open from April 15 to September 30, a small no-wake zone at the shallow, marshy inlet end of the lake, "all current surface-water activities," "nearly the entire Refuge would be available for on-trail public use including wildlife observation, photography, jogging, bicycling, onleash dog walking, and horseback riding," hunting and fishing coordinated with the Idaho Fish & Game.

The FWS preliminary alternative marked "preferred" (preliminarily) has a shorter season, all the "Wake" boating activities (anything over 5mph, practically) in the lowest third of the lake and only after noon when it is open, and the one usage I've participated in and care about on the lake, windsurfing (along with kitesailing) is stuffed into the Lower Dam Recreation Area which actually doesn't work, given the prevailing wind when it's sailable. Not that sailors are huge users of the lake—it doesn't get windy enough, or often enough for most of us—but still, out on the edge of the desert, sailable water is a precious commodity.

The local sailing community did come together, arrange for FWS to give us a presentation about their process and constraints, and they listened to our concerns about being able to continue our low-impact recreation when conditions permit. Our Boise Sailors Association prepared and submitted a public comment that you can endorse (by reference) and amplify if you're so moved to make your own comment, preferably before the current deadline, July 29.

There are quite a few comments to consider, some of which were made at the meeting of (two of the three) Canyon County Commissioners today, with most of two dozen representatives from Idaho's Congressional delegation, Idaho's Legislature, local politicos and a few select special interest groups circling their wagons in front of a couple TV cameras and just over half as many interested members of the public. The gamut ran to the head of the Snake River Stampede, currently bucking, which had nothing whatsoever to do with Lake Lowell, but had, in his estimation, "a lot of parallels." As in?! "Once they have control of this, we're going to lose it."

No need to say who the "they" he was talking about were, and no one from the Fish and Wildlife Service was invited. Refuge Manager Jennifer Brown-Scott read about the meeting in the paper (as did I), and showed up on her own initiative (on her day off, she told me). Commission Chairman David Ferdinand made it clear she wasn't really welcome, even to provide factual information about the comment and planning process. (There've been a flurry of letters from bigwhigs asking the comment period to be extended, for 4 to 6 months... and apparently they weren't satisfied to have the FWS explain that the generation of a DRAFT PLAN is going to extend that long and longer, and comments can be submitted whenever.)

The nominal order of the day was to issue a "Proclamation" to propose that the lake ("a man-made irrigation storage facility," in case you didn't know) be recognized as a "Local Historic Property," put on the National Register of Historic Places so that along with maintenance of the irrigation works, "ancillary non-consumptive recreational uses of the irrigation waters, including incidental conservation uses of the riparian areas and surrounding lands" must be given "due consideration" for future management decisions.

Except they weren't prepared to pass that, having given Commissioner Rule a pass to go play with his grandchildren, inexplicably (but hey, who could complain about that?).

In the meantime, they heard a presentation from Deputy Prosecutor Sam Laugheed that can be summarized as "irrigators own the water, so the FWS can please just shut up." Or we're going to sue. Which would delight many of the folks gathered around the table, even though the taxpayers some of them represent would be paying for both sides of the legal contest. Sandra Mitchell of the Idaho Recreation Council expressed the hope that the County sets an example for all the other counties in the country, in taking back their land and resources from... well, themselves, since it's public land we're talking about. (But not public water: the irrigators own the water, remember.)

One Congressional staffer noted—"it's not a criticism"—that the County's comment to the FWS comes across as a pretty clear intent to litigate, and that he couldn't imagine the FWS, Dept. of the Interior, or Dept. of Justice backing down. Even though the County (or somebody?) might well have "a compelling case."

More to the point of expressing the meeting's general disdain were the comments tossed off by the small town mayors: "It's not broken, so let's don't fix it." It's "this ridiculous plan," and "it never ends." As with "them," "it" needs no further exploration.

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

Words from one of our job creators Permalink to this item

A friend sent an excerpt from the Investor's Business Daily's interview with the co-founder of Home Depot, who shared his wit and wisdom about what's wrong with the economy (couched of course in terms of "job creation" since that's the buzzword du jour).

IBD: If you could sit down with Obama and talk to him about job creation, what would you say?

[Bernie] Marcus: I'm not sure Obama would understand anything that I'd say, because he's never really worked a day outside the political or legal area. He doesn't know how to make a payroll, he doesn't understand the problems businesses face. I would try to explain that the plight of the busi nessman is very reactive to Washington. As Washington piles on regulations and mandates, the impact is tremendous. I don't think he's a bad guy. I just think he has no knowledge of this.

My goodness, what a special person he must be to have this kind of narrow-minded and arrogant point of view. Imagine if Obama were offered the sit-down and said:

"I'm not sure Marcus would understand anything I'd say, because he's never really worked inside the political and legal arena. He doesn't know how to deal with intractable opposition that does not agree on any shared goals. In business, the profit motive is a beautiful, simplifying force, and allows disparate groups to come together to accomplish useful things. In politics, we have to deal with people competing in a zero-sum game, as well as people who actively wish us harm. Some people can't be trusted to do the right thing on their own, and respond only to regulations and mandates. And we don't have the luxury of walking away from trouble, we have to face it head on.

"I don't think he's a bad guy. I just don't think he has any knowledge of this."

The actual interview went on:

IBD: Why don't more businesses speak out?

Marcus: They are frightened to death ó frightened that they will have the IRS or SEC on them. In my 50 years in business, I have never seen executives of major companies who were more intimidated by an administration.

The idea of business leaders not speaking out because they're afraid of the IRS or SEC? Because the current administration will sic the IRS or SEC on them? Oh my god. He's narrow-minded, arrogant, and a coward, happy to spit out a little innuendo without a lick of evidence.

The nearby Home Depot is rather convenient for some of the shopping I do, but I think I'll look for somewhere else to go. Grover's Pay & Pack is a better store for my money, for what merchandise they carry.

20.July.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Follow the money Permalink to this item

Freckled lily, 2004 Harold Meyerson's opinion in the Washington Post, fueled by J.P.Morgan's Eye on the Market observation that labor cost reductions are driving the margin expansion. "US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP," Michael Cembalest reports, thanks in part to "lingering excess labor supply from the recession" and "2 billion people in Asia joining the global labor force over the last two decades." Meyerson:

"In Sunday's New York Times, Tom Friedman wrote that 'there is a deep sense of theft' in both Greece and Egypt that their nation's capitalism was rigged to benefit only a connected few. In America, we don't do things that way. Here, we just look the other way as the power of workers to claim their share of the proceeds declines. It's not, strictly speaking, theft. But it has brought our economy down just the same."

Would you like global financial panic with your recession? Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein: the scariest debt-ceiling poll I've seen. (It's succinct; I can't tell you more without just quoting his whole post.)

Bad idea, good idea Permalink to this item

The "perennial favorite remedy" is back in the news, thanks to being on the Tea Party list of talking points, and a game of let's pretend at the Republican House Party this summer. If they listened to experts, we wouldn't be having this conversation, but the experts do say that a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution would be a bad idea,

"mandat[ing] perverse actions in the face of recessions. In economic downturns, tax revenues fall and some outlays, such as unemployment benefits, rise. These so-called built-in stabilizers increase the deficit but limit declines of after-tax income and purchasing power. To keep the budget balanced every year would aggravate recessions."

Down at the end of that second story, there's a really good idea mentioned, from Steven Bell, staff director of the Senate Budget Committee from 1981 to 1986 and now senior director at the Bipartisan Policy Center (and who also thinks the amendment idea is "terrible"): do away with the Congressional circus of increasing the debt limit.

"I've come to the conclusion ... that Congress cannot be entrusted with this responsibility anymore."

One of those flashes of the blindingly obvious, given the sequence of events over the last couple months.

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

Write your Senator fail Permalink to this item

Fired off emails to both of Idaho's U.S. Senators yesterday, after seeing in the news that a group of 44 GOP Senators, led by Rep. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) had declared that they wouldn't vote for any nominee for director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless they got to re-legislate the structure of the Bureau and have a committee, rather than a director in charge. Because we all know how well leadership by committee works.

Sen. Shelby has posted the letter on his website, but oddly enough he doesn't actually list, or link to a list of the signators. Are they ashamed or something? Anyway, 44 is almost all, but not quite all of the Republican caucus. It seems 3 Senators demurred, and maybe Jim Risch and Mike Crapo were in that select group, I don't know. If I had to guess, I'd guess that Crapo might be one of the select, but Risch would be in the mob.

So I wrote to each of them acknowledging that I didn't know if they'd signed on or not, but expressing my disappointment with the obstruction of what I see is a needed reform effort, in the form of the CFPB.

I received a response from JamesRisch_OutboxOnly@risch.senate.gov today, pretty much ignoring the content of what I wrote other than recognizing that my message was about the CFPB. (Ironic subject line: Responding to your message) It said:

"Currently, the CFPB is being established by President Obama and his administration. At this time, no one has been nominated by the president to direct this bureau."

This written (or at least sent) a day after Obama did, of course, announce that Richard Cordray would be nominated... but not yet officially nominated, so Risch has nothing to say? No admit or deny that he signed Shelby's letter? No response to my complaint about the illegitimate tactic?

"I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues."

What in the hell would be the point, Senator? But for what small satisfaction it might provide, I will reprint today's follow-up here:

Dear Senator Risch:

Thank you for your prompt reply to the email I sent yesterday regarding the CPFB, the President's nomination for its director, and the letter Senator Richard Shelby and 43 other Senators have signed, saying they would not vote for ANY nominee to direct the CPFB, but rather want a re-do of the legislation setting up the bureau.

I am, however, very disappointed at the content of your reply. You stated that "no one has been nominated by the president to direct this bureau" which may be technically correct, but given that the President did indeed ANNOUNCE that he would nominate Cordray is a rather odd thing for you to tell me.

You also did not address the question of whether you signed Sen. Shelby's letter. Did you?

And finally, you did not address the thoughts I shared, which you say you "really value" -- that we need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and that a declaration of obstruction is an illegitimate tactic that does not serve the interests of the country.

I would appreciate the respect of actually having my message read, and responded to. If we disagree on issues, so be it. But to be flat out ignored, and to have irrelevant information sent in response to my message is rude.

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

Lying in Congress Permalink to this item

I hadn't seen the news from this spring about the behavior of Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), as a subcommittee chairman of the House oversight committee, before this evening's mention on the Newshour, with a snippet of a congressional hearing in May, in which he accused Elizabeth Warren of lying, to which she reacted with open-mouthed astonishment.

I have seen, heard and read a lot about Elizabeth Warren, and I have no reason from that to doubt her integrity or honesty. That leaves a rather stark inference about at least one of the Republicans involved in the campaign to discredit her.

The New York Times' report of the May hearing describes rather remarkable arrogance on McHenry's part, accusing Warren of a "blatant sense of entitlement" for, um, taking someone (we assume it was a staffer) at his or her word for how long she would be needed at the hearing. Even before the hearing, McHenry told CNBC that he believed Warren had lied to Congress.

That's a crime, by the way. But if you're a member of Congress, slanderous, unfounded accusations are apparently OK? Turns out McHenry has some experience with arrogance, not too surprising for a real estate agent turned politician and protégé of Karl Rove's, steeped in the 2000 George W. Bush ascendancy. I can hardly wait to see what's next from this guy.

Slash, crush and topple Permalink to this item

Normally this time of year, politicos have the decency to take some time off, go up to the lake, spend more time with their family. But 2011 is a standout, thanks to Mitch and his pals who are devoting two full sessions of Congress to do all they can to ensure that Barack Obama is a one-term President.

It's a small-minded and venal sort of goal, but there you go.

I'm getting email from the far-right Republican Study Committee, and the not-quite-so-far-right but increasingly similar Republican National Committee, both pointing to the "three-pronged" "solution" they're calling Cut, Cap, and Balance. As in cut spending every which way (but not any which way that compromises the wealthy, financial interests, the military, military contractors, or military industries), cap future spending (but see above), and pass a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America because ...

well, why in the hell would we do that, I'm wondering?

Who doesn't like deficit spending, really? The Republicans went hog wild (or worse, elephant-wild) with it when George W. Bush and pals dreamt up the megalomaniacal concept of "pre-emptive war." Various politicians have been imagining that reining in the federal government by preventing its borrowing money would be a good idea, for more than 200 years.

Arguments could (and I suppose will) be made, but last we checked, passing a constitutional amendment first requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, and the ratification by three-fourths of the states. So some in Congress (and their goads, and fundraisers) are spending their summer vacations loudly proclaiming the need for debating symbolic action certain to be ineffectual.

Of course, I get email from both sides, and today's headline comes from Isaiah Poole's take on this "ideological exercise," which he expects would "slash, crush and topple the pillars of economic security and job growth for millions of Americans."

Meanwhile, as we drive toward the debt ceiling cliff, with McConnell and Boehner re-enacting Thelma and Louise, Bruce Bartlett's debunking five myths about the debt ceiling should be on your summer reading list. The shorter version from the former adviser to Ronald Reagan and Treasury official in Bush II administration is that (trying to) hold the line on the debt ceiling is ineffective, unprincipled, a grave risk both to our finance system and to our economy, and quite possibly unconstitutional to boot.

Not that I'm a fan of more power to the Presidency, but it seems preferable at the moment to more power to the Senate Minority Leader, who seems to have no program beyond demagoguery and obstruction. He's made it clear toppling Obama is job #1, and he seems prepared to accept widespread collateral to reach his goal. He's playing us, but the trouble is, we're all being played and are going to suffer for wont of adult supervision, as Robert Reich observes. While Cantor and Bachmann and the T.P. gang are putting on the summer follies,

"There's no back stage where the real work of governing this country can occur. At best, the vote to raise the debt ceiling kicks the can down the road only until the end of 2012. By then, if we don't elect adults, the kids will be in charge."

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

Telco satisfaction Permalink to this item

Bernice Keebler wanted to know what six not-quite-local calls Verizon was charging her $4.19 for, and the company told her ... they'd need a subpoena.

Happy ending, sort of : Ms. Keebler represented herself, the Administrative Law Judge fined the company $1,000 and ruled that the company "failed to render reasonable service." The bad news is that the Judge didn't rule against the company charging $40 and $.02/call if Keebler wanted an itemized billing. Still, some satisfaction in the $1,000 penalty.

Bastille Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Full faith and credit Permalink to this item

Imagine if you went down to the car dealer and picked out a shiny, new ride, haggled over the price and terms and signed the papers that included a loan to pay for it over 5 years, and drove home with a big smile on your face. Then imagine that a year or two later, you got tired of making that monthly payment and decided to just cap your personal "debt ceiling" and stop writing checks.

The story ends with Acme Towing in front of your house, and a blot on your credit report, pretty predictably.

The Republicans in Congress know this story as well as anyone, and aside from the most extreme right wing idiots, they know that not raising the U.S.'s debt ceiling to cover the commitments and purchases we've already made (along with decisions to do so on credit, rather than raising taxes to cover what all we bought) is simply unthinkable.

Unlike you and me, their response to this understanding was not to do the necessary thing and move on, but to seize the "opportunity" for extortion and threaten to obstruct action unless their demands are met. As David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal put it on the Newshour tonight,

"This whole showdown was established by a bunch of people in Congress who saw that the debt ceiling is a must-pass piece of legislation and they wanted to use it as a lever to get some significant deficit reduction. There were disagreements about how much spending and how much taxes. It looks like we're heading to something that will raise the debt ceiling, but it will kick the can down the road, which is exactly what people said they didn't want to do."

On the way to the game of kick the can, we have the spectacle of the Speaker of the House defending the oh-so-cute and smirky minority leader Eric Cantor, insisting that

"Any suggestion that the role that Eric has played in this meeting has been anything less than helpful is just wrong. Listen, we are in the foxhole. And I'm going to tell you what. This is not easy, because what we're trying to do here is to solve a problem that has eluded Washington for decades. I'm glad Eric's there. And those who have other opinions, they can keep them to their selves."

Just "wrong." In the "foxhole." That would be... meetings with other Congressional leaders and the President at the White House? And the other participants in those meetings, including the President, should just shut up?

I'm sensing the same problem with their Congressional leadership that the Republicans have coming up with a viable Presidential candidate. It's one thing to organize an insurgency relying on improvised legislative devices that blow up any attempt to solve problems, quite another to actually construct some sort of useful compromise between competing interests. That would be "leadership," as opposed to guerilla warfare.

What a Lucky Man He Was Permalink to this item

Rep. Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow) opines on the good fortune of Idaho's former Tax Commissioner Royce Chigbrow:

"Former Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow is a lucky man.

"Stories abound related to Commissioner Chigbrow's habit of using his position to favor some, and intimidate others. In fact, he was officially investigated over several months on suspicion of failing to appropriately deposit checks from a taxpayer. The allegations included his providing confidential information to a friend and receiving stolen checks totaling more than $30,000.

"As luck would have it, Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower announced he won't prosecute despite evidence of wrongdoing because a statute of limitations expired on one complaint. He found evidence on other complaints insufficient to prosecute.

"Prosecutor Bower received the complaint before the statute of limitations ran out. His investigation extended beyond the deadline. Surely he was aware of timelines. Surely as an experienced prosecutor Bower knows that Prosecutors regularly go to a Defendant for a waiver of the Statute of Limitations for more time to investigate. This consideration is in exchange for not immediately filing charges. But, the deadline was allowed to go by. How fortunate for Chigbrow.

"Chigbrow was removed from his position and replaced by Robert Geddes, whom we trust to act more responsibly. But how much damage is done before there is enough evidence to justify replacing a rogue in such a position? It is clear that Idaho laws are not sufficient to give necessary guidelines and transparency to protect taxpayers. So far, legislative leaders have not been willing to take strong action. Citizens should insist upon it."

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

Delirious void Permalink to this item

From Rem Koolhaas, "an architect of extraordinary talent and the profession's reigning enfant terrible," the CCTV building in Beijing, reviewed by Nicolai Ouroussoff. The photo at the top of the piece, and its caption seem to provide a perfect gestalt of the "contorted form that frames an enormous void at its center," which has to be the most perfect architectural expression for a building to house China Central Television.

The alternate critical assessment, from a Chinese critic, that "the building's contorted form, which frames an enormous void at its center, was modeled on a pornographic image of a naked woman on her hands and knees" is no less creative, but seems a superhuman leap of the imagination.

(I didn't get the pun in the NYT headline—and my own, now—until I looked up the Wikipedia entry on Koolhaas; it plays off his 1978 Delirious New York, "a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan.")

Pretty darn awesome Permalink to this item

That's Keith Kleiner's assessment of Google+ anyway. I'm taking my time to see what I think, but I did get a chuckle out of the "Networks Evolve" graphic accompanying the story. It's not too hard to imagine the Google+ team starting their brainstorming by asking "what don't you like about Facebook?" and spawning ideas left and right.

Once you post something, you can't edit it, for example. G+ fixed that.

Everybody's just in a big bucket of "friends," and you know a lot of these people are not really my friends (and vice versa). Circles.

Farmville. No.

And so on. There's stuff about Twitter in there too, but I'm even less able to say anything intelligent about Twitter because having signed up and tried to use it for a couple weeks, I have to say it's mostly just annoying. I don't think (or write) in sub-140 character hashes of cryptology. There are some interesting things, but they all involve going somewhere else to learn more, or write more, or have a meaningful conversation.

Which was true for Google, too, with one difference: with Google, you were looking for something, whereas with Twitter, things are looking for your attention. It's entertaining I guess if you don't have anything more focused to do, but generally, ick. But still, somebody, I forget who, pointed me to this piece on singularityhub.com with Twitter, so there. And David Pogue pointed me to his State of the Art column on this subject there too.

He's not saying it's awesome, yet, but he really likes Circles, and the Hangout videoconferencing possibility, and the "project," generally.

Bright idea Permalink to this item

Press release from Inovus Solar here in Boise: they persuaded the downtown WinCo Foods store to replace half their parking lot lights with on-grid "solar-enhanced" poles, using LED lights, and providing for a side-by-side comparison with the existing high-pressure sodium lights. Claim is, those 6 replacements will save 24 MWh/year. "The equivalent of planting 200 trees," they say, nice. (Not sure how the economics pencil out, though. At $.10/kWh, probably more than WinCo pays, $2,400 payback per year? Definitely worth looking at for new construction, though.)

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

If a monkey shoots herself in the forest... Permalink to this item

who gets the copyright? Techdirt and the lawyer of the guy whose camera she used duke it out in entertaining fashion.

But that's jumping ahead of the story. You have to start with the Daily Mail's article and first appreciate the artistic talent shown by the black macaque.

Dust in the wind Permalink to this item

Supernova 1987A debris disk, imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope Thanks to the Herschel Space Observatory, we have verification for the notion that our solar system was put together from stardust. One good supernova can produce enough dust to fabricate a couple hundred thousand planets such as the one you're on.

"The study, appearing in the July 8 issue of the journal Science, focused on the remains of the most recent supernova to be witnessed with the naked eye from Earth. Called SN 1987A, this remnant is the result of a stellar blast that occurred 170,000 light-years away and was seen on Earth in 1987. As the star blew up, it brightened in the night sky and then slowly faded over the following months. Because astronomers are able to witness the phases of this star's death over time, SN 1987A is one of the most extensively studied objects in the sky."

The introduction to the special issue of Science (linked above, in which I couldn't find where or which was the HSO article) provides further food for thought about our expanding understanding of the universe we inhabit, as its lede:

"It wasn't until the 1920s that astronomers realized that there were other galaxies in the universe besides our own."

Not quite 90 years on, we've got a zoo full of galaxies to explore.

Remedial lessons Permalink to this item

What has $142 in assets, more than $867,000 in unsecured debt (it hopes to "discharge" through U.S. Bankruptcy Court), 102 creditors, no property, and wants another ride on the merry-go-round with public money? Answer: the Nampa Classical Academy, led by Mike Moffett, his wife Michelle, and his twin brother Isaac.

If anyone were looking for an argument against charter schools as the bright, new model for public education, it seems like the Moffetts would be first in line.

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

But seriously Permalink to this item

Krugman: No, We Can't? Or Won't?

"Two years ago The Wall Street Journal declared that interest rates on United States debt would soon soar unless Washington stopped trying to fight the economic slump. Ever since, warnings about the imminent attack of the 'bond vigilantes' have been used to attack any spending on job creation.

"But basic economics said that rates would stay low as long as the economy was depressed—and basic economics was right. The interest rate on 10-year bonds was 3.7% when The Wall Street Journal issued that warning; at the end of last week it was 3.03%."

Fearing the bond market is one of the sorry and "ever-shifting" excuses being used to rationalize our failure to create jobs. Just moments ago, I heard Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (the guy who couldn't abide the Gang of Then There Were Five), talking to Charlie Rose about how interest rates were going to go sky high if we didn't do like he says and cut, cut, cut our way to prosperity.

No, you're not serious Permalink to this item

It's one (small) step above the "I know you are, but what am I" argument, but it is apparently all Speaker of the House John Boehner has to run with today. He says the President and Democrats are "just not serious enough" to deal with yet, so he's going to keep squeezing his lips together, having those deeply disappointed looks on his face, and stay the course toward the edge of the financial cliff in early August.

For his part, in today's press conference, the President said he thought "Speaker Boehner has been very sincere about trying to do something big."

"I think he'd like to do something big. His politics within his caucus are very difficult ... And this is part of the problem with a political process where folks are rewarded for saying irresponsible things to win elections or obtain short-term political gain, when we actually are in a position to try to do something hard we haven't always laid the groundwork for. And I think that it's going to take some work on his side, but, look, it's also going to take some work on our side, in order to get this thing done."

Educating Idaho Permalink to this item

Interesting snippets from the latest meeting of the Idaho educational technology task force in Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise blog, including a team from Discovery Education giving their Powerpoint sales pitch, swathed in pseudo-science about the "wiring" of young minds. Kids have really changed! All that TV, computer time and smartphones has affected the way they learn, we're told.

Ok, can we fix that? Or, does it just mean we need to give them more, more, more of the same because that's the way they like it (uh huh, uh huh)?

Discovery Education's "director of global learning initiatives" was joined by the regional sales director; the V.P. for customer operations and platform strategy; and the director of professional development. All of whom need to have their overhead covered by the margin on the products they're working to sell us. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that, just worth bearing in mind.

It might also be worth bearing in mind that in the midst of profound technological expansion and change, evolutionary "wiring" has not, in fact, changed in any meaningful way. The manufacturing process (by and large) for replacement humans is pretty much same as it ever was, and we're using the age-old schematic for their wiring. So rather than assuming we need to compete against the non-stop advertising blitz on their attention with more of the same, we might want to talk about that wiring, and how learning engages it. With folks who aren't trying to sell us something.

Meanwhile, Idaho state Sen. John Goedde (R-Coeur d'Alene), who was instrumental in shepherding Luna's trio of education bills through the state legislature is now saying a minimum requirement of just two online classes (versus the initial proposal of eight) might suffice. As I commented in that thread, Goedde's observation that students are going to need the skills required to be successful with technology-mediated, self-directed learning tools is right on the mark. What's not at all clear is how to develop those skills.

Making them take classes they'll fail if they lack the skills is one approach, just as the "sink or swim" method is one approach to swimming lessons. I guess that's an OK approach with someone else's kids, but would you really try it on your own?

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

The beautiful game Permalink to this item

Not much samba in the Brazil v. USA game today, the result nearly dictated by an incredibly bad showing by the officials. USA's keeper Hope Solo saved a penalty kick! in the 66th minute after a dodgy but not exactly horrid ejection of USA player Rachel Buehler for keeping Marta from a not-so-sure scoring chance in the penalty box.

But Solo saved the PK!

It's been a while since I saw any soccer that prompted me to write about it, but today, on the 12th anniversary of the USA's victory over China in the women's World Cup, there was some. Read the rest, about a game that turned beautiful with some unexpected twists.

No big deal Permalink to this item

Morning at the Diversion dam pool on the Boise River Offered his choice of the big papa deal, or the big mama deal, or the little baby deal, the Speaker of the House and his caucus are apparently only capable of considering the little one. Because the bogus, manufactured deadline of the debt ceiling and all, do we really have to stay on the job for serious work all through July?! Still, two or three $trillion is more than chump change. But don't be drinking coffee or anything when you read B.S. Boehner's opening salvo,

"Despite good-faith efforts to find common ground ..."

That would be the common ground between "we want less government, and we don't want to pay for what we already bought," and "we want government to continue to function, and we need to pay for it sooner or later."

"Good faith" in D.C. might be an oxymoron, hard to say. But that's not the outer limits of teh crazy: just imagine if T-Paw or Mrs. Bachmann were in charge and decided to drive the country off a cliff and "hope and pray and believe" to see what happens.

Call it the post-modern art of compromise, where "virtually no bipartisan deal would be acceptable." (And when all else fails, just ignore facts.) The NYT editorial board tries its hand at facts, decrying the Worst Time to Slow the Economy (and political performances on all sides):

"There has never been any evidence that the federal debt is primarily responsible for the persistent joblessness that began with the 2008 recession. The numbers have remained high because of weak consumer demand and stagnant wage growth, along with an imbalance between jobs and job skills. Republicans have long tried to link unemployment and debt so that they can blame Mr. Obama for the poor economy, and build support for their ideological goal of cutting spending.

"There is plenty of evidence, in fact, that the spending cuts already imposed by Republican intransigence are responsible for a great deal of joblessness. Although the private sector added 57,000 jobs in June, that tiny progress was reduced by the 39,000 jobs shed by federal, state and local governments, much of which came from education. As David Leonhardt noted in The Times on Friday, cutbacks in state and local spending have cost the economy about a million public-sector jobs over the last two years, in part because the federal stimulus program, bitterly opposed by Republicans, ended too soon.

"That has led to the bizarre spectacle of Republicans condemning the crisis that they helped to create and are refusing to fix. Speaker John Boehner said the poor job numbers were actually the result of the stimulus, regulations and the debt. Mr. Romney, who has been waffling over whether Mr. Obama has made the economy worse or has failed to make it better, chose to say on Friday that the White House was indifferent to high unemployment. ..."

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

Economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical Permalink to this item

It's not just me: that's how The Economist sees the insistence of the Republicans and "the cacophony of conservative media" that "not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take."

"[T]he closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look. Earlier this year House Republicans produced a report noting that an 85%-15% split between spending cuts and tax rises was the average for successful fiscal consolidations, according to historical evidence. The White House is offering an 83%-17% split (hardly a huge distance) and a promise that none of the revenue increase will come from higher marginal rates, only from eliminating loopholes. If the Republicans were real tax reformers, they would seize this offer."

Grand, grander, or grandest bargain Permalink to this item

Thumbnail linked to WSJ's interactive graphic While the Congressional orchestra fiddles on, and "everything" is on the table (would you like a "small," "medium," or "large" deal?), the latest jobs report remains mighty bleak. Anemic growth that's not keeping up with the population, unemployment higher, 14 million Americans who want to work but can't find a job.

The uncertainty of Congress screwing around ahead of the debt ceiling deadline can't help. Unemployment hasn't been this bad since Reagan was President. And OMG that photo Larry Downing got of Pelosi, Boehner and Obama captures a scary moment in this process.

In spite of that, some of the proposals that may face "formidable political opposition" sound OK to me. Even though HELLO, SOCIAL SECURITY ISN'T PART OF THE PROBLEM RIGHT NOW, a change in the cost-of-living increase calculation isn't the end of the world (but it's a decrease in future benefits, right?). As MoveOn.org put it, "reports say the president just offered to cut Social Security benefits, if Republicans agree not to let the U.S. default on its debts."

An increase in the payments that upper-income seniors make for Medicare is OK. An overhaul of the corporate tax system, great, who knows what all that means? Elimination of a variety of tax breaks that primarily benefit upper-income taxpayers, fine. Significant cuts in the military budget, farm programs and other domestic spending, that's another wildly mixed bag. Let's do fix the craziness of the Alternative Minimum Tax once and for all.

All that before Aug. 2? Probably not, which means some sort of good-faith agreement. Paul Krugman is running short of good faith, given "three of the right's favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences" from the President over the weekend.

"No, the government shouldn't budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn't 'put the economy on sounder footing.' They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren't holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they're holding back because they don't have enough customers—a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts."

But, um, hey, not to worry. John Boehner assures us "There is no agreement, in private or in public."

Godspeed, Atlantis Permalink to this item

Space shuttle Atlantis

The last Space Shuttle mission launched an hour and a half ago. (Image cropped from the poster for STS 135.)

"Atlantis go at throttle-up..." along its 8½ minute ride to orbit, that phrase still gives me chills, the last thing said before the Challenger disaster, 73 seconds into its Jan. 28, 1986 flight.

Update: excellent NYT interactive graphic of 30 years of the space shuttle.

6.July.2011 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Seriously? Permalink to this item

Never mind the particular subject at hand, Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell reading a script criticizing the "ideological rigidity being displayed by the administration" takes irony to a whole new level. It could qualify for the X Games of irony.

Looking glass ceiling Permalink to this item

Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast: Why the GOP loves the debt.

"It is the party of debt. It is the party of deficits. It is the party of recession. It is the party of unemployment. It is the party of inequality. And it is the party of middle-class stagnation and slippage.

"It is the party of all these things because it needs these conditions to exist—so that its leaders can scream 'Crisis!' But they donít desire in any meaningful way to fix the crisis. They scream about crisis because what they desire is to use the crisis as an excuse to do things to this country that the hard right has wanted to do for 30 years."

Katherine van den Heuvel suggests a simpler way out, as demanded by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment:

"The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. ..."

Where's Joe the Plumber when you need him? Permalink to this item

Something seems to be stopped up in the trickle down.

"...corporate profits captured 88% of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1% of the growth in real national income."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but as the authors of the study on The "Jobless and Wageless" Recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 underline below their tabulation of the growth in real annualized national income, corporate profits, and wage and salary accruals in the first six quarters following the end of five post-World War II recessions from 1973-75 to 2007-09,

"The absence of any positive share of national income growth due to wages and salaries received by American workers during the current economic recovery is historically unprecedented."

Bad timing Permalink to this item

Came across a replay of the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations last night and enjoyed another look at Malcolm McDowell's bad guy and all the old gang (including some of the very old gang). But as I drifted off to sleep and thought about the parallel between the Nexus and dreamland ("time has no meaning here"), I was a bit concerned that Gene Rodenberry might have rested uneasy about the abuse that some basic science took in the process.

Still somebody scraped from ST: Generations Nothing moved Star Trek plots along like warp drive, right from the get go, but the rocket from Veridian 3 estimated to reach the sun in how many seconds? In a weak knock on the already passé Strategic Defensive Initiative from the Reagan era, Data wasn't sure they'd be able to calculate the intercept in the 11 seconds available and save the day by shooting it down before it hit the sun.

Was that a ... warp rocket? Because out here in the solar system where I live, it takes more than 8 minutes for light to travel from Sol to Earth. Time enough for a long commercial break. With the Klingon sisters penetrating the Enterprise's shields and the saucer separation and the unplanned atmospheric entry and the ribbon sparkling in the sky and the hand-to-hand combat on the rusty bridge to nowhere, there was no shortage of climactic action in either of the two endings, but to have the fireworks go off and puncture the star like a dart hitting a low-flying weather-balloon and the light go out toot sweet ... that was a bit much even for me, ready to smile and wave at the Transporter and the ubiquity of class M planets (including two in the Veridian system) and countless other goofs.

Fast forward 17 years, the current summer blockbuster features the malevolent John Boehner and Mitch McConnell threatening to launch a similar rocket into the star of the full faith and credit of the United States of America, to shift the Nexus of conservative Christmas Past (and yes, why not the uncle's ranch in Idaho, too) just a bit over to the right, so we and they and the Tea Party can hop aboard to the dreamland of prosperity, trickling down like a sparkling ribbon in the sky.

Never mind the collateral damage on Veridian 4, where the pre-industrial civilization is about to be wiped out. We'll fix that in the alternate ending, after we pop back out of the Nexus at just the right moment.

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

Speaking of patriotism Permalink to this item

A day late for the anniversary, and more than 8 years after it was written, Forrest Church's call for more patriots is timely reading, even though the context of the drums for war in Iraq are behind us. (H/t to someone I'm connected with, lost in the suffle of the days.)

"American patriotism is unique. The United States of America is 'the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed ... set forth with almost dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence,' wrote a British observer, G.K. Chesterton, in 1922. Expanding the compass of natural law in the famous phrase 'all men are created equal,' the founders extended the people's inalienable rights from safety alone to liberty and equality."

Patriotic opportunity Permalink to this item

Frank Rich is back, with more space than Op-Ed provided him so well and for so long. Featured in New York magazine, with Obama's Original Sin. Has it really come down to Mitt Romney (as "ersatz Horatio Alger") vs. Obama so soon, a year and a season before the election?

"There's not much Obama can do to alter the economy by 2012, given the debt-ceiling fight, the long campaign, and nihilistic Capitol Hill antagonists opposed to any government spending that might create jobs and, by extension, help Obama keep his own. But the central question before the nation couldn't be clearer: Who pays? The taxpayers bailed out the elite; now it's the elite's turn to return the favor. Massive cuts to the safety net combined with scant sacrifice from those at the top is wrong ethically and politically. It is, in the truest sense, un-American."

Send in the clowns Permalink to this item

A set of 63 photoshopped images certain to disturb, not least with the thought of the person taking the time to do all that.

I think Newt is my favorite, 3rd from right, top row.

(H/t to Frank Rich, this link provided in the NY Mag item above.)

Cognitive consequence Permalink to this item

Poppies, late spring 2009 After a brief look at yesterday's Room for Debate blog, on the question of whether Republicans are ready for a Mormon President, noting that Jon Hunstman was quoted in Fortune magazine last year saying "I can't say I'm overly religious," I wondered out loud when eschewing absurd supernatural beliefs would be come normal. It's a certain recipe for political failure, Jeanette replied. I asked her to explain.

"Apparently sincere expression of a commonly-held mythic belief, no matter how absurd, or in fact the more absurd it is, the more you prove your capacity for loyalty to accepted authority. Call it a God, call it a political party. This endears you and builds trust among your followers.

"The psychology is well-illustrated in cross-cultural studies of religion. The more sacrifices required of you to be part of a group, the more loyal you are to the group. It works both ways: people who have somehow bridged dissonant beliefs are more loyal to the group, and it makes the group more loyal to them."

Richard Land speculates the same thing, expecting more people to vote against a candidate who downplayed his or her religious convictions. Damon Linker goes further, noting that evangelical Protestants "[insist] that the party's presidential nominees put their religious convictions at the core of their identities and at the center of their political agendas." Explaining why Huckabee was plausible, and Giuliani not, last time around, and why the high priestess of absurdity, Michele Bachmann, is on her stand-up tour. Linker says "evangelicals still require public expressions of piety on the part of Republican candidates and punish the slightest deviation into a secular outlook," but expects that they will insist on "the right kind of piety," which Mormonism is not, to the evan-Prot bloc. (Linker's biography gives him an interesting point of view; from teaching political philosophy at BYU to writing speeches for Giuliani.)

Robert Michael Franklin notes "the gamble" of downplaying ("the art of demythologizing"), even as he notes the expression of "commitment to a conservative moral agenda" is the non-negotiable. R. Marie Griffith thinks Mormons have improved to merely "spiritually odd," "their earnestness sweetly countercultural in a cynical age," the "outcomes" of their beliefs wholly salutary to the conservative mind.

Kathleen Flake provides a window into said cynical age, describing Hunstman's apparently tepid belief as "market sensitive." But the "individualistic faith" is the nut of the issue: how can you trust a "conservative" who marches to the sound of his own drum?

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

Crowd-sourcing the World Bank's data Permalink to this item

The story of the World Bank opening its treasure chest of data reminds me of the arc of my corporate career, starting when accomplishing tasks required something like a scavenger hunt to find who had what bits of information, and which energy levels comprised quanta of decision-making power. As in all bureaucracies, one had to be able to discern the holders of informal power as well as read org charts past, present, and to be.

Networked computers were a given, in a computer and instrument company, but the potential for sharing data is not the same as making it happen. It's not easy even when you want to, for one thing. But if you feel the need to "protect" the information you have, there are myriad ways to obfuscate, obstruct and conceal.

In the mid-90s, the advent of the world wide web expanded the potential of the internet, and we've been sorting out newly minted bazillionaires ever since, as information as varied as where your friends are out for dinner to aerial photographs of Port-au-Prince after an earthquake are readily available. Our interesting times show no sign of becoming less interesting. Good on Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, for recognizing and acting on the idea that "the most valuable currency of the World Bank isn't its money—it is its information."

Exclamation Permalink to this item

Piling on to yesterday's email affirmations, we have Aimee Lee Ball's entertaining Talking (Exclamation) Points. I've done my part in editing over the years to track down and quash multiple exclamation points, inserting a breath or two in breathless prose as I've seen fit, and tone down "the literary equivalent of canned applause." I enjoyed a good romp at the expense of our "ur emoticon."

And I'm old enough to have used one of those "earliest typewriters" (earliest? really?) that saved on material by letting the user build his or her own emphasis with an apostrophe, a backspace and a period. I got a hearty laugh out of WowOwow.com's chief executive, Joni Evans' observation:

"I'm not ashamed of using exclamation points to convey emphasis. I would never use a smiley face, but there are smiley-face personalities. Kathie Lee Gifford comes to mind. People are what they type. But now I am worried: I'm a frequent user of the dash, which might mean that I'm a dash kind of person. Could be a bad sign."

There's more. It's fun. Check it out!

Burning down the house Permalink to this item

On the street where I live, 2004 I still remember the feeling discovering that fireworks stands on reservations in Idaho had the good stuff, and loading up. I didn't go as far as the Wyoming shopping cart pictured by a friend discovering the motherlode on a cross-country car trip, but close enough. The peak experience was probably one 4th in Hope, Idaho, must've been 1982, with no big-money municipal show to beggar our private offerings. Size (and sound) is relative; it all depends how close to the action you are, and I can remember that as one of the best shows ever.

Adult supervision might reduce the excitement and danger of lighting fuses on things that we know will explode, but it can't eliminate the mild insanity of doing that in the wild and arid West. Even without the help of fireworks, hundreds of square miles of Arizona and New Mexico burned in June.

The story that cities, counties and states are easing restrictions hoping to collect more permit fees and sales taxes, comes from the less-flammable East, but you have to wonder whether they ran that past their actuaries and compared what it costs to call the fire brigade with what they stand to skim from pyrosales. If denizens (or visitors) can simply drive to the next town, or state to buy, what good is a restriction, though? That's the same reason almost all the states now have lotteries. Yeah, it's crazy to induce people to throw their money away, or to play with fire in a tinderbox, but everybody else is doing it, so how can we say "no"?

Determining how much our captains of industry get paid is not the same sort-of-practical decision by cash-strapped local politicians—it's a choice made for, by and of the wealthy— but I have to wonder if jacking up executive pay by 23% in the current economic climate isn't also playing with fire in a dry climate. (Or perhaps post-arson looting.)

"[I]t looks like C.E.O. pay is recovering faster than company fortunes," says the chief communications officer for GovernanceMetrics International. Never mind the fortunes of wage-earners in this country, or in the countries where US jobs have been exported. They're not talking about "gross-up" for perks:

"Most ordinary Americans aren't getting raises anywhere close to those of these chief executives. Many aren't getting raises at all—or even regular paychecks. Unemployment is still stuck at more than 9 percent."

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

NNTR Permalink to this item

10 rules to reverse the email spiral we're all spinning in, and David Pogue adds 5 more along with his link to the list.

If we had to boil it down to two rules, perhaps the first, Respect Recipients' Time and the essence of several others, Express Yourself Clearly would do.

This just in Permalink to this item

The Ironic News Report with Julianna Forlano! Must see TV (er, YouTube, what rhymes with YouTube?). Not safe for work, fossil-fuel billionaires or Republicans.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Thursday, 01-Sep-2011 19:19:08 MDT
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/201107.html