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James Fallows provides Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead in The Atlantic, "a kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years."
(The photo to go with is from back then, Matthew Brady's portrait of John C. Calhoun, who I'll admit I don't remember much about. Hence the hyperlink to The National Portrait Gallery with an extended caption, and a calming oval vignette.)
Fallows provides three essential points to keep in mind as we confront this "ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions," with regard to substance, to politics, and to the journalism we depend on to follow and understand the other two.
"As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are--still--so rich, with so much margin for waste and error."
We have magpies in the neighborhood, and I have yet to meet anyone who has anything nice to say about them. Perhaps if you were deaf, you could just enjoy their interesting black and white (and blue, when the light's right) plumage and that distinctive tail. But they have nasty habits (nest predation, and feeding on carrion) and the squawking. Always with the squawking.
That species came to mind when reading John Miller's report for the AP in today's paper (weirdly promoted as "national business news"), Health overhaul foe won't buy insurance. On the one hand, please, why should Wayne Hoffman's personal problem be a newspaper story just because some billionaires are paying him a near-six figure salary to "educate" the rubes in our red state about how best to serve our corporate masters?
And on the other hand, is it really that difficult for the media (and bloggers, ha!) to look away from a squirrel? Or a magpie? Which makes it a story of cultural interest, I suppose. (While we're on animal metaphors, don't you think Fox News is like a bad dog that doesn't get taken for a walk often enough?)
Oh, and Hoffman is also encouraging his employees not to get health insurance from the exchange when it opens up. Because... misery loves company? His supposed educational non-profit "think tank" is a small enough employer that it won't be mandated to provide insurance, so it won't. Hoffman pays his employees a small fraction of what he's paid. Six of them split just over $150,000, so better than minimum wage but well within the range that will be eligible for subsidy payments for health insurance. One already enjoys socialized medicine, on Medicare, but the others—and of course Hoffman himself—are as likely as any of us to need health insurance sooner than they'll be eligible for that.
The ideology takes an interesting turn from there: Ayn Rand, meet your deeply confused collectivist altruist scion. As a public service (and educational resource!), Hoffman's Idaho Freedom Foundation created a little boilerplate PDF-generating web form as an alternative to the federal government's "doe-eyed forms" and "sycophantic radiance." (Don't be confused by Bambi in dappled light in the forest, however: his purpose is to counter "government-sanctioned propaganda, on a scale that might impress Joseph Goebbels." Seriously. We can't be sure about what Göbbels would think, because he's been dead for a while.)
Hoffman's educational exhortation offers your choice of "prewritten notations" (as opposed to postwritten ones), including:
"It is important to understand that your use of the above subsidies may come at a heavy price to both you and the country," and "Understand that our country is trillions of dollars in debt. If you accept tax credits to pay for your health insurance, that bill will have to be paid by this nation's children and grandchildren."
Yes, that's right. The Freedom Foundation is calling on corporate-employee patriots to do the right thing for their country, and not add to the crushing debt our children and grandchildren face.
Oh, I have an idea: what if Hoffman were to admit that the idea of his "Freedom Foundation" being a charity qualified for a 501(c)(3) tax exemption for itself and its donors was a comic ruse and crazy unethical, if not (yet shown to be) technically illegal? The Koch brothers (or whoever is paying for Hoffman's hobby horse; he doesn't disclose who his sugar daddies are) hardly need a tax exemption for the pocket change they toss his way. He could have another weekly column about how righteous his team is for bucking the system, and doing their part for our children and grandchildren.
Don't hold your breath for that. But do give the man credit for a certain perverse eclecticism. Here's the pièce de resistance of his select-a-notation list:
French classical liberal theorist, political economist, and member of the French assembly Frederic Bastiat once identified plunder (theft) in the following manner: "But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime." With that information in mind, ask yourself a question: Does taking government subsidies in an insurance exchange constitute plunder? What would Frederic Bastiat say about doing such a thing?
I'm guessing Ted Cruz's and Mike Lee's party members weren't that enthusiastic about the first go-round, but even less so for the encore; none showed up for Friday's show. Sadly, Idaho's two Senators were among the 17 (of the GOP's 44) who made a wan go at keeping the House's anti-Obamacare language in the budget bill.
"Thus ended another episode of congressional reality TV, a narrative in which breakout stars Cruz and Lee claimed to represent regular Americans standing up to the political establishment."
Cooler heads prevailed and batted the budget back to the House, which will resume its crisis-making on Monday I suppose, the last shopping day before the government shuts down. What the Senate's independent member, Bernie Sanders of Vermont said:
"People can disagree about the Affordable Care Act, but it is wrong for right-wing Republicans to ignore the results of the last election and hold the American people hostage by threatening to shut down the government because they can't get their way. We should not be threatening to withold pay for members of the military, the FBI, or cancer researchers. We should not be shutting down Head Start centers or denying food to fragile seniors. What happens in the House depends on whether House Speaker John Boehner surrenders to his right-wing extremists or whether he's prepared to work with Democrats and moderate Republicans to continue funding the government."
And this stab from the past, comparing Eisenhower Republicans with today's Tea Party flavor. Seems like a million years ago, doesn't it?
As if I'd just dropped off the sugar beet truck, Rep. Mike Simpson explains what a "funding gap" is ("when federal agencies lack appropriated funding to carry out programs and [must cease] operations"), and that it would be a bad thing.
"I am deeply concerned about the possibility that another funding gap and the resulting government shutdown may be looming on the horizon."
Yes, exactly, me too, what I said in my letter last week. Next sentence:
"While the House of Representatives has passed legislation to continue funding government operations through December 15, 2013, this legislation is still being considered by the Senate, and the expiration date of the current continuing resolution is rapidly approaching."
As if... the House did its duty, and that's that?! I fired back:
Thank you for your reply to my message of Sept. 18. We clearly agree, and share the deep concern that a "funding gap" and a partial shutdown of the government would be a very bad thing.
But then... you write about how the House has "passed legislation to continue funding government operations through December 15" as if the House did its job, and now it's up to the Senate. "Disingenuous" does not do your prose justice, Mike.
You know, I know, EVERYBODY KNOWS that the Senate will not defund the Affordable Care Act, and the President would not sign a bill to that effect. The House providing a symbolic, dead-on-arrival bill YET AGAIN, for MORE THAN THE FORTIETH TIME is NOT doing your job, by any stretch of the imagination.
A crucial week has gone by, and we seem no closer to solving any problems, thanks to Speaker Boehner and you going along with the radical Tea Party faction of the Republicans in the House, as if somehow your party unity were a boon to the country. It is not.
I'm still hoping to see you, personally, show some leadership in this matter. So far, not so good.
After skipping around the US News and World Report item about the proposed increase in first class postage rates—and yes, still cheap by historical standards—I was a bit taken aback by the penultimate sentence from the Postmaster General:
"We've lost 27 percent of our mail over the course of the last five to six years."
Let's assume he means the volume of their business has gone down by a quarter rather than this being about the how much of the mail doesn't make it from sender to addressee.
Not too unexpectedly, the inflation-adjusted cost has been relatively stable to slightly declining for the last several decades, even as the nominal cost has been going up. Just above the graphic, there's mention of "customers who remember the days of 20-cent stamps," which doesn't quite include me, even though I must've licked a few back in the early 1980s. I remember the days of 5-cent stamps though. And lots of numbers in between that and where it is now (which I can't quite remember without looking it up).
I do have to wonder about raising it to "49" though; why not just make it a nice, round 50 cents, two for a dollar?
The NY Times reports that the terms of the ransom note are still being formulated:
Asked whether he would put a stopgap spending bill to a vote free of Republican policy prescriptions, [Spokesman of the House John Boehner] answered, "I do not see that happening."
His party members in Congress are of the opinion that they have time (and money) to burn, as they drive the government to the brink of the cliff, yet again. We'll be running out of neurotransmitters soon, so they'll have to keep dialing up the drama to get our attention.
Part of the problem is that the net net is more like Chinese water torture than a cliff dive, and nobody knows when it's over. Yet another bill larded with "policy prescriptions" bound to be dead on arrival in the Senate? So what? Harry Reid will suck the life out of it sooner or later (even if he has to wait for a lame Ted Cruz warm-up act), the Senate will pass something else, and it'll eventually get hammered out somehow, some time, in conference, just in the nick of time.
That's as long as you don't count all the actually useful programs, and workers who are getting nicked by the process. Congress is the "1%" of the federal government, enjoying ample freedom from want and fear while they impose it on the rest of it, and us.
So here we are, with a grocery list of bad ideas from "fast-track authority" to do what they can't legislate in the light of day, to neutering the EPA and CFPB, and any other of the many things that they've passed in the House and that have gone nowhere in the Senate.
"The president says 'I'm not going to negotiate,'" Mr. Boehner said. "Well, I'm sorry, but it doesn't work that way."
We'll see. Unlike Mr. Boehner's desk, where the buck only starts, it stops at the President's; if the bozos in the House crash the economy by insisting on their brand of "negotiation" (do it our way—or else), it's pretty certain they and not he will lose the political contest. Even the Wall Street Journal's editorial board thinks so, for
"a campaign that captured the imagination of some conservatives this summer: Republicans must threaten to crash their Zeros into the aircraft carrier of ObamaCare. Their demand is that the House pair the 'must pass' [Continuing Resolution] or the debt limit with defunding the health-care bill. Kamikaze missions rarely turn out well, least of all for the pilots."
Economically, we're all at risk of going up in flames. The Congress should have been done with all the budget b.s. before they skipped out of town for their 5-week August recess. But they're playing with House money, as it were, and believing they've got this all figured out, somehow: Dana Rohrabacher of California declares that the "nature of democratic government" is now that "there's never any compromise until the stakes are high." And yet another Texan, Blake Farenthold smarmily observes, "That's why we're paid the big bucks, right, to figure these problems out."
Actually, they're paid the big bucks because they set their own salaries, and most unfortunately, those paychecks keep coming, whether or not any of the problems get solved, such as they haven't been for a couple years now.
Thomas Edsall considers the question how did conservatives get this radical? and quotes Christopher Parker, co-author of Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America:
"Ultimately, a conservative—in the classical sense—wishes to preserve a stable society. Of course, this includes stable institutions and observing the rule of law. For these reasons (and several more), a conservative prefers evolutionary, more incremental change to revolutionary change: revolutionary change threatens the stability conservatives seek to conserve. Hence, conservatives reluctantly accept change—so long as it isn't revolutionary. They do so for the sake of stability and order. Moreover, for the sake of order and stability, real conservatives are amenable to political compromise with their opponents."
As opposed to "reactionary conservatives," who are "willing to undermine long-established norms and institutions—including the law."
Scrambling to find enough reading material to fill his "extended remarks" for the Senate yesterday, Ted Cruz drew on an author who might not be pleased by the business, and missed the point of the story, for good measure.
Maybe Cruz is losing sleep and getting confused by all the kerfuffle he's stirring up. Is Obamacare addictively sweet or horribly revolting? And is that before you try it, or after?
I'm sure Ted will land on his feet either way, but for those who think they don't like the Green Eggs and Ham but haven't tried it, they may be in for a surprise.
Update: NPR provides a quick political history of "Green Eggs and Ham."
Robert Reich's latest post to Facebook reminded me of the job/business/life advice I read somewhere in the broad middle of my corporate career to "come to work each day ready to be fired." I was often willing, but never did have the occasion to do something exciting enough. It's not advice that works for everyone, I imagine; mouths to feed and rent to pay and so on. But there are limits in any circumstance.
For someone who has risen to two notches shy of the President of the United States, and for whom "firing" would be a landing softened by a cushy pension and probably a sinecure as a sought-after lobbyist, John Boehner should certainly take the advice.
He's seemed more interested in giving up one principle after another, and willing to morph into a tool of his party's extreme rump wing than he has to show some leadership of his own. Ironically, his job probably is on the line now, in spite of him seeming to do all he can to keep it.
What Reich had to say:
"Don't be distracted by the antics of Ted Cruz. The real question over the next days and weeks is whether John Boehner is a statesman who will allow the entire House to vote on whether to keep government running and then pay the nation's debts, without de-funding or delaying Obamacare—or whether Boehner is a political hack who so badly wants to keep his job as Speaker of the House that he won't bring these bills to the floor unless a majority of Republicans let him. If the latter, we're in for some difficult times. The larger question here is whether the congressional Republican Party is willing and able to govern, or is so dominated by rightwing fanatics (and their big-money patrons, like the Koch Brother) that they're intent on making Americans deeply cynical about the ability of government to do anything—in which case most of the public gives up on government and democracy, and the fanatics and big money win it all."
Peter Crabb's opening for this week's Business Insider salvo is best read as the royal "we." He's certainly speaking for himself with the rhetorical question in his headline: Don't like the Fed? But what he said:
"We just can't seem to get it right."
He goes on to speak for all economists. It's a "social science," don't you know, like psych or sosh or history. So don't expect too much of them. They're about explaining, not making accurate predictions. Since ex post facto explanations can't be taken to the bank, no one's checking that work too carefully, either.
Most of the column is spent on analyzing Texas Representative Ted Poe's "Dollar Bill Act of 2013," with a bid to go back to the good old days of the gold standard, which I'm pretty sure Crabb thinks is a good idea (but then you can't trust economists' predictions, remember), except that in this case it seems like "simply transfer[ing] monetary policy from the Fed to Congress," which of course no one in his or her right mind would suppose is a good idea.
Crabb is suspicious about COMEX setting the price of gold, as a "highly regulated market," that is not "perfectly competitive." Federal agencies governed by Congress write the rules, and so "Monetary policy or the value of the dollar [could] be manipulated by policymakers whenever the current price is not to their liking."
In closing (my favorite part of Crabb's columns, where he rolls out the non sequitur of the week), he finishes by taking credit for the sun rising in the east:
"The one thing economists have gotten right is the power of competition."
Perhaps the editor of the Business Insider could heed the message and find some competition for Crabb's one-sided opining.
A good review from a credible source is invaluable promotion for your business. These days "anyone with a well-reasoned opinion or a half-baked attitude can have his [or her] say," but better something half-baked and honest than fake reviews produced in bulk. Good for New York's Attorney General for going after what's even worse than old-fashioned false advertising.
"The investigation revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places they had never seen in countries where they had never been.
"In some cases, the reputation shops bribed their clients' customers to write more fake reviews, giving them $50 gift certificates for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews."
A hundred internet years ago when I set up this site, then and now with "almost no advertising," I included links to Amazon, because I thought their reader-supplied reviews were interesting, at least, and potentially useful. Maybe they still are, but if they are, it's because Amazon has managed to stay ahead of the inevitable arms race between touts and those of us trying to sort out wheat and chaff. User rating is a good thing (voting up the truthful and useful, down the dubious), but that can be gamed as well. Be careful out there.
There are plenty of cooler heads, but it's not clear whether any might prevail. Four term Congressman, two term New Hampshire Governor and three term U.S. Senator Judd Gregg has a few words for any of his fellow Republicans who might be listening:
"An approach to the debt ceiling that says one will not vote for its extension unless ObamaCare is defunded is the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded. It is the ultimate no-win strategy."
Except that he goes on to describe the "win" that it does provide, at the very heart of the toxic stew that is our current state of D.C. politics. Never mind "massive collateral damage to all Republicans" (and, oh right right right the country), and a "label of incompetence that will stick to the whole party," follow the money.
"[T]heir goals are improved fundraising and, in some cases, individual advancement. They have hit on an issue that plays well on the stump, producing numerous effective one-liners."
This is not "service" to the country, but self-service, with cynical disregard for the people stuck paying for the outsized salaries, staff and perquisites.
"Most Americans do not seek purity; they seek answers to the everyday problems they confront. They expect their government to be of assistance in addressing those problems, not to aggravate them through artificial and self-inflicted economic mismanagement, such as having a default crisis that could easily be avoided."
Give Jim C. Harris of Boise ("trial lawyer") credit for brevity, if not wit. His letter endorsing the Club for Growth-promoted neophyte to supplant Representative Mike Simpson in ID-2 is succinct:
"So the worst thing Mike Simpson can say about his challenger, Bryan Smith, is that he is a 'trial lawyer?' Yeah, like trial lawyers Jim Risch, Mike Crapo and Raul Labrador? It's time we had real representation in the 2nd District! It's time to replace the Washington elite with the Bryan Smiths of America."
If, um, only there were four of them? Because trial lawyers are the salt of the earth? If only we had more trial lawyers in Washington, then... well.
Readers here will know I'm not crazy about Mike Simpson of late, while I wait out the 2-3 week reply leadtime for him to explain why 42 symbolic votes against the Affordable Care Act and threatening to shut down the federal government are just what the dentist ordered. But as he veers right enough to outrun this Smith fellow, I think we can stipulate that more extreme obstruction such as passes for Idaho's "representation" in D.C. these days is not going to improve anything.
One friend thanked another for posting this item assembled with QuickMeme to Facebook, and added a few words:
He also gets free meals in Washington, goes on unnecessary junkets to exotic foreign locales with a lavish expense account (per diem allowances often in excess of $300/day), has a cadillac medical insurance plan, a lucrative retirement plan, and even gets free haircuts, all at taxpayers' expense. He gets paid full time for less than 1/2 time work and gets better perks then a full time federal employee. Even when he is at work he isn't productive in our "do nothing congress." He gets all this, and not only wants to do away with overtime for hourly workers, but also wants to destroy Obamacare, cut social security, and cut food stamps and other "entitlements" for the poor, the elderly, and the middle class. Then he refers to people who get $5.50/day in food stamps as "lazy welfare queens." Isn't that like the pot calling the kettle black? He is truly the laziest, most entitled "king of the welfare queens" if ever there was one.
Not sure how much I can add to Timothy Egan's piece for the Opinionator, Red State Pain. The contrast between rhetoric and reality right now, on the verge of fall, winter, and FY 2014 is definitely drawn in primary colors. Maybe by quoting Senator Elizabeth Warren's question regarding productivity and wages:
"If we started in 1960 and we said that, as productivity goes up—that is, as workers are producing more—then the minium wage was going to go up the same. And if that were the case, the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour. So my question, Mr. Dube, if the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn't go to the worker."
But nobody's talking about raising the minimum wage to $22 an hour (other than perhaps a Fox News crew, misunderstanding on purpose), and every single Republican in the House said no this year to raising it to less than half of that, $10.10. The conversation right now is about cutting things, various forms of present and future assistance, and shutting down the federal government to get their way.
"Shutting down government, for one, will cause a ripple effect that will be hardest on those living paycheck-to-paycheck. The biggest obsession, the Moby-Dick of the right wing, is making sure millions of people do not have access to affordable health care. This week, Republicans drew the line for any doubters: they will wreck lives to blow up the health care law."
Indeed, the once conservative but reasonable representative of Idaho's second Congressional district (where I live) is trying to outrun a primary challenge from a political nobody Tea Party sympathizer the Club for Growth scared up. Mike Simpson has held public office in Idaho for more than three decades, now in his 8th term in the U.S. House, and he's doing his best to counter (rather than simply point and laugh at) accusations that he's a "RINO" or crazy liberal, as in having "only" a 58% lifetime score for the Club. Other than being "a champion of economic freedom and a fighter for lower taxes and limited government," apparently nothing needs to be said for Mr. Smith's non-career in politics.
That's the beauty of it! He's not a career politician! Just a lawyer who enjoys cycling, playing racquetball and beekeeping in his spare time, with five kids and a degree from Brigham Young University, and a boatload of Tea Party ideology. Egan:
"What's at work here is the poison of ideology. Underlying the food assistance fight is the idea that the poor are lazy, and deserve their fate—the Ayn Rand philosophy. You don't see this same reasoning applied to those Red State agricultural-industrialists living high off farm subsidies, and that's why Republicans have separated the two major recipient groups of federal food aid. Subsidized cotton growers cannot possibly be equated with someone trying to stretch macaroni into three meals."
Robert Reich, earlier today on Facebook:
"House Republicans have just signed a suicide pact. They agreed yesterday on a plan to use the threat of a government shutdown as leverage to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Boehner caved in to his right-wing fanatics and agreed to attach the repeal to a bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. There's no way the Senate will go along—which means the government will run out of money to keep federal workers on the job and provide basic services as of October 1st.
"I was in Bill Clinton's cabinet when Newt Gingrich and his earlier band of extremists pulled this stunt the first time. It cost Republicans the White House in 1996 and ended Gingrich's reign. The American public doesn't want politicians using the government of the United States as a pawn to get what they want. The Affordable Care Act was duly enacted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. The Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality. A shutdown over repealing it will cost Republicans the House in 2014. Mark my words."
Useful infographic from the WaPo, federal debt held by the public as a percentage of GDP, from the start of the Republic:
If we'd wanted to fix it, we could have, and we still could.
I've been struck by Mike Simpson's House autoreply verbiage before, and looking at the one from yesterday's letter, I'm struck again. Thank you blah blah blah, appreciate hearing from you blah blah blah.
"Not only do I carefully consider the content of each letter or email that I receive from Idahoans, I believe it is important to respond to each one in a timely manner. Because of the complex nature of the issues and the volume of mail that I receive, please allow 2-3 weeks to receive a written response via email or postal mail."
Well, I'll be on pins and needles then, but we do know that "2-3 weeks" will be a couple days or more than a week after the start of the new fiscal year, and whatever textual response he makes won't be as meaningful as the functional response, if any. Judging by his bigger campaign literature swerving hard right and featuring his 40, count 'em 40 votes against "Obamacare," I'll be disappointed.
But the fellow with lax privacy settings who's friended Mike's Facebook presence might not be. Saying "me too" to no more military action in the Middle East, he adds "Stop Obama's illegitimate healthcare debauckle while you are at it!"
Greg Sargent's Plum Line take is that if we get a debt ceiling crisis, it's because Republican voters want one. Polls show nearly three quarters of us expect that not raising the debt limit "will cause serious harm to the U.S. economy." Even among Republicans, two out of three understand that. And among those two out of three, most of them say don't raise it.
They want serious harm. They want failure. They especially want the opposing party to fail, and they don't mind taking the broader interests of the country as a whole down if that's what's required. Sargent:
"I don't really know how to explain this. Perhaps it's confusion about the debt limit (not raising it, of course, would only cause default on debts already incurred), or maybe it's an expression of generalized hostility towards something Obama wants. Or perhaps it's that Republican lawmakers have been telling these voters for years now that spending under Obama is the leading threat to the survival of American civilization (even though the deficit is falling and there just isn't any near term crisis to speak of), and that standing up to Obama in these epic spending confrontations is the only way to arrest the republic's slide into total ruin. Apocalyptic intervention is required to salvage what's left of our country, no matter how much harm it causes in the process."
More than a year ago, the curious message came over the top of the iGoogle banner, just under the search widget:
The date was in the impossibly far, and thus meaningless, future. I imagine I did "learn more" once or twice, but now that we're little more than a month away from D-Day, my original question comes back to mind: why would they want to scrap something so useful, and that I like so much? Once upon a time, Google's spare home page, with pretty much just the search input field a couple buttons was très chic and made more so by the sheer effectiveness of what those buttons did. Now of course, the even sparer, no-button-needed search widget is embedded next to the location field at the top of my browser, so no need to go to www.google.com on the way to your destination.
But a personalized home page portal with a mail gadget, headlines from 5 favorite news sources (and "Top Stories" aggregating headlines from a wider selection), a stock market mini-ticker, a quick view of the weather, and a short list of my own frequently used bookmarks is a fine thing to have and use. So what the hell?
The "Learn more" page tells me that "with modern apps that run on platforms like Chrome and Android, the need for something like iGoogle has eroded over time." Yes, I had 16 months to "adjust or easily export [my] iGoogle data," but it was never about the data, it's about the functionality, which I like and use on a daily basis.
Oh well, it was "free" and didn't have any sponsorship (that was obvious to me, anyway). I'll find something else to look at come November 1.
Vladimir Putin opining in The New York Times, singing the praises of the United Nations (where Russia—and we—have a nice veto power), the Pope, international law, and even our equality in the eyes of God. He makes some good points with his "plea for caution":
"It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America's long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan 'you're either with us or against us.'"
Senator John McCain makes some good points too, counter-opining in the English version of Pravda, with considerably more bluster. Not so much for "the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement" that Putin was extolling, more like calling on the Russian people to throw the bum out:
"President Putin claims his purpose is to restore Russia to greatness at home and among the nations of the world. But by what measure has he restored your greatness? He has given you an economy that is based almost entirely on a few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities. Its riches will not last. And, while they do, they will be mostly in the possession of the corrupt and powerful few. Capital is fleeing Russia, which—lacking rule of law and a broad-based economy—is considered too risky for investment and entrepreneurism. He has given you a political system that is sustained by corruption and repression and isn't strong enough to tolerate dissent."
But this is all good. Let's do have more wordly warring in the op-ed sections.
Speaking of my Congressman, his oversized primary election postcard was in the mail over the weekend, celebrating his tougher-than-tough bona fides (in English, not any girly Latin, of course). Idaho Tough! Proven Conservative! Beats Straw Men With Bare Quotes!
"Out-of-state liberals can attack me all they want," he says, he writes. "I will keep fighting against the liberal Obama-Pelosi agenda."
He wants you to associate Red, White, and a Blue Eagle with his smiling face when it comes time to check a ballot, and don't forget Pro-Gun. Repeal Obamacare.
Once again, the start of a new fiscal year is fast upon us, and Congress shows little sign of completing either a budget, or whatever continuing resolutions are needed to keep government operating without disruption.
I'm sick and tired of the political games. I am at least glad that I'm in your district, and not Mr. Labrador's, as he seems interested only in political grandstanding, and utterly uninterested in doing his job.
Let me be as clear as I can. I WANT CONGRESS TO DO ITS JOB IN APPROPRIATE BUDGETING FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, WITHOUT THREATS TO THE COUNTRY'S FULL FAITH AND CREDIT. No ideological impasse justifies shutting down the government, or refusing to raise the debt ceiling when CONGRESS, through its various (in)actions has committed us to a course of spending.
Yes, certainly, we need to carefully consider appropriations, the tax code, and spending. There is nothing whatsoever about brinksmanship that provides for such careful consideration. The House of Representatives has spent MILLIONS and MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars on political theater, and precious little on DOING ITS JOB.
I'm disgusted by this, and I'm not alone. You know as well as I do that the public holds Congress in almost total contempt, and FOR MANY GOOD REASONS.
You are better positioned than most members of your party to make a difference. I hope to see you do so in the coming days and weeks.
Yes, you're facing a challenger for re-election from the extreme right, one who will attempt to use any actions of yours to work with the Democrats in his campaign. I doubt very much whether he has a chance of succeeding, and if he were to get elected, I'm sure he would make things even worse. BUT YOU NEED TO DO THE RIGHT THING FOR YOUR DISTRICT, which will be to keep the federal government working, and which will get you re-elected.
Eagle's leaders are excited about a planned terrain park, bringing a new business into the area, with an attractive recreational opportunity for its residents in a "public-private partnership" using land the city leases from the county. Local native Ryan Neptune, said to be "internationally renowned" as a snowboarder and terrain park builder is the driving force, with his latest company, Gateway Parks, ready to spend a $million on the Eagle Sports Complex off the old Horseshoe Bend Road.
In addition to his athletic talent and catchy surname, Neptune has a nose for entrepeneurship, as co-owner of Planet Snow Design and owner of Planet Snow Tools, which seem to be mixed into the one PLANET website, with an impressive list of clients (Winter Park, Vail, Telluride, as well as our local Bogus Basin, and the less fortunate Tamarack Resort outside Donnelly, ID). The company office happens to be be in our ZIPcode, just a hop, skip and short bike ride to the bench overlooking the Boise River winding through Garden City.
Anyway, the city of Eagle read through its lease agreement with the county, figured they have the leeway to enter a concession agreement, held two open houses this summer, had its staff send information to the county's staff, and posted the plans on the city's website, along with answers to 28 frequently asked questions, and a link to the Gateway Parks slide deck going from sketchy cover logo through the "Napkin Drawing" to a rather polished "Conceptual Master Plan."
But whoopsie, nobody gave the three Ada County Commissioners an engraved invitation to get a clue. David Case grumps that "Everything we have learned has been through the media or third parties. I am not going to a city's website to look stuff up."
Because... he's so busy? Too many cities to look after? Commissioner (and former Eagle mayor, for pete's sake) Rick Yzaguirre used the royal plural in expressing his little disappointment: "We are not familiar with the project." He is concerned "a for-profit business is coming onto county property to create a profit for their benefit."
Like, ah, the float tube rental facility at the county's Barber Park, the local minor league baseball team, and the horse racing folks at the county fairgrounds.
Yzaguirre's county-hosted biography touts his "solid business expertise," his own business in Eagle for which he's been awarded "Businessman of the Year" on two, count 'em, two separate occasions by the Eagle Chamber of Commerce. He has some slightly sketchier "business expertise" as well, as Rachael Daigle reported for The Boise Weekly in 2005. When Boise had a mayor who couldn't keep straight whose money was whose, we threw him out of office and into the hoosgow. Yzaguirre has managed to stay employed by the county all this time, in spite of mishandling tens of $thousands of public money even as he was helpfully chipping in donations to various Republican causes as well as his own campaign. Apparently he and the county's prosecutor get along pretty well.
The way Chris Mooney put it is that politics wrecks your ability to do math, in that facts and figures requiring some interpretation become cloudy when the subject is something you find contentious. Not just politics, then. But politics, at least, as Paul Krugman observes concerning the big picture issues of tax rates and regulating the financial industry. Just because the facts don't support your belief is no reason to give up faith.
And just because your ability to tell time is less accurate than a stopped clock doesn't mean you can't still be an "expert." Dogged tenacity is the primary requirement.
The academic paper's title is a bit dryer, and unverbified: "Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government" They designed an experiment to consider the question, "Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence?" against two (of many possible) alternative answers, the "Science Comprehension Thesis," versus the "Identity-protective Cognition Thesis."
The SCT supposes the problem is "deficits in [our] capacity to comprehend scientific evidence," because we tend to rely on heuristics that hide or exacerbate "myriad cognitive biases." We don't know enough about science to know better.
The ICT "stands SCT on its head," and imagines our "otherwise intact capacity to comprehend decision-relevant science as disabled by cultural and political conflict."
"[S]ubjects' responses became politically polarized—and even less accurate—when the same data were presented as results from the study of [something politically controversial]. ... [S]uch polarization did not abate among subjects highest in numeracy; instead, it increased."
But humans don't always remain stuck in counterfactual, ideological misconceptions. As a species, we do learn, and have figured out quite a large number of things. Perhaps we've done so well and there are now so many of us that nonadaptive patterns of behavior can have a freer run. In our successful culture, you can stumble along in ignorance and identity-protection (anti-)cognition for at least a time without being utterly wiped out. You might injure a few tens or hundreds of millions or displace a nation or five by ignoring climate change bearing down on you, but we can make more! The authors aim slightly higher, for
"the quality of a science communication environment hospitable to the exercise of the ordinarily reliable reasoning faculties that ordinary citizens use to discern what is collectively known. Identifying strategies for protecting the science communication environment from antagonistic cultural meanings—and for decontaminating it when such protective measures fail—is the most critical contribution that decision science can make to the practice of democratic government."
Alright then, who's ready to figure out how to decontaminate our science communication environment?
It would have been more shocking for me to read Matthew Crawford's account of how "scientific management" degraded blue-collar work were it not for the three decades' remove from the start of my engineering career, and the soft patina of distant memory. The description in his fine book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work, is spot on.
"The tenets of scientific management were given their first and frankest articulation by Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose Principles of Scientific Management was hugely influential in the early decades of the twentieth century. Stalin was a big fan, as were the founders of the first MBA program, at Harvard, where Taylor was invited to lecture annually. Taylor writes, 'The managers assume ... the burden of gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws and formulae.' Scattered craft knowledge is concentrated in the hands of the employer, then doled out again to workers in the form of minute instructions needed to perform some part of what is now a work process."
Indeed, my job as a process engineer was to gather, classify, tabulate, digest and emit "procedures" which were to be succinct, simple, sure-fire, and ideally requiring no judgment on the part of the "operator." I wasn't under the illusion that much of what we were doing (assembling electronic circuits, in my case) could be fully systematized and distilled to a judgment-free state, at least not by me, since I was new to a lot of the business, and depended on the best and brightest workers to tell me what mattered, how things actually worked, and for them to recognize new (or previously undetected) problems as they got in our way. There was a sense of shared enterprise and collegiality, at least, even if the underlying assumption for everyone was that engineering and scientific management was calling the shots.
Partly because the technology we were creating was evolving so quickly, both in the end products (which were some other management and engineering group's concern), and in what went inside them, I didn't recognize where we were headed, what in retrospect seems obvious:
"Once the cognitive aspects of the job are located in a separate management class, or better yet in a process that, once designed, requires no ongoing judgment of deliberation, skilled workers can be replaced with unskilled workers at a lower rate of pay."
I'd heard of Taylor, and the working version of his theory for manufacturing, but not stated quite so baldly as this:
Taylor writes that the "full possibilities" of his system "will not have been realized until almost all of the machines in the shop are run by men who are of smaller caliber and attainments, and who are therefore cheaper than those required under the old system."
Crawford goes on to describe the degredation of white collar work too, in part from his first-hand experience as an "indexer and abstractor," and a brief stint in a K Street think tank. He makes a persuasive case for the personal satisfaction and the intellectual challenge possible in manual labor, even if there are few hints of how we might backtrack from "globalization" of work and our race to the bottom, toward where we might better like to be.
Troubleshooting starts with identifying the problem.
Out in a relatively forgotten and generally peaceful quarter of the intermountain west, the Umatilla Chemical Depot dots the barren landscape—literally—like some Brobdignagian prairie dog town. An Interstate highway provides convenient panorama viewing, and Atlas Obscura has two photos from the ground, and a remarkable aerial view. (It also features another dozen "hidden wonders" mapped in the triangle between Spokane, Portland and Boise.) Track the depot down with Google Maps and its satellite view and you'll find it parked in the middle of green dots, center pivot-irrigated fields arrayed around the Columbia River, standing out in the center of the dun, dry Columbia plateau.
As locations for bunkers of chemical weapons go, this is a good one. It was also a good place to store blankets and ammunition which it did as we prepared for and engaged in World War II. In the early 1960s, "the depot took on its chemical weapons storage mission" and "stored 12% of the nation's stockpile," according to the Wikipedia entry. Multiply by 8 then to get an estimate of this country's investment in chemical weapons.
The good news is that our taxpayer dollars paid to build a disposal facility there in Umatilla and from 2004 to 2011 proceeded to incinerate not quite 4,000 tons of GB, HD and VX. If the base is closed on schedule in 2015, maybe someone will start growing wheat or poplars between the old bunkers. Wikipedia tells us that
As of September 2013, French intelligence puts the Syrian stockpile at 1,000 tonnes, including Yperite, VX and "several hundred tonnes of sarin."
So yes, when our Secretary of
WarState John Kerry responded to a
reporter's question by suggesting Bashar Al-Assad could avoid something
between an incredibly small pinprick and a barrage of cruise missiles by
just turning over all his chemical weapons "in a week," it was an
off-the-cuff and unserious suggestion.
But if the goal is to assuage our moral outrage at weapons deemed particularly horrible (as compared to... land mines, cluster bombs, incenidary weapons and all the other things that blow up and kill people), we seem to have stumbled into a way forward that makes more sense than joining a civil war between no one we really like, already in progress.
Not that you need an expert for this, but experts do say that disposing of the world's third-largest arsenal of chemical weapons (after ours, and Russia's) would be a formidable task, even without trying to do it in the middle of a shooting war. As William J. Broad and C.J. Chiver report for the NY Times,
"Syria would first have to provide specifics about all aspects of its chemical weapons program. But even that step would require negotiation to determine exactly what should be declared and whether certain systems would be covered, because many delivery systems for chemical weapons—including artillery, mortars and multiple-rocket launchers—can also fire conventional weapons."
And did we mention that the Syrian government may not control all the sites with all the stuff? Civil war and all. Intelligence gets blown up, too. We knew about 42 specific sites at one point, now "we only know a good deal about 19 of them," says one unnamed official. The U.N. has 110 chemical inspectors for the world, and a Pentagon study estimated 75,000 troops might be needed to secure Syria's weapons. Would those be... Russian troops? U.S.? U.N.? Can I see a show of hands for volunteers?
It won't be easy. But the hard work makes more sense to undertake than shooting cruise missiles at whatever seem like the "best" targets inside Syria, don't you think? Plan for decades rather than "a week" or three.
It was last millennium that Scott McNealy (who seems to have become a rather private person, ironically—or at least less of the public figure he was when Sun Microsystems stood on its own adjustable feet) observed "You have zero privacy anyway," and offered the pithy advice to just "get over it." It's been ripe for commentary in the baker's dozen years since, from the PCWorld Staff on down. It's not so easy to "get over."
The Pew Internet & American Life Project's recent survey on Anonymity, Privacy, and Security Online shows a combination of resignation and hope. The vast majority of us try to hide some of our tracks some of the time, and more than half "have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations, or the government." (55% is lower than I would have guessed for that low bar, actually.) More than 1 in 5 of those surveyed had an email or social media account hijacked. More than 1 in 10 have been harassed or stalked online, and a similar fraction have had financial information compromised. A healthy majority (59%) "do not believe it is possible to be completely anonymous online," while 37% believe it is possible.
Chances are, that 37% is simply wrong.
One of Edward Snowden's informational gifts to us is to let us know that the National Security Agency has been able to foil the basic safeguards of privacy on the web, and no doubt a number of "advanced" ones as well, by hook or by crook. Nicole Pelroth referred to the means more genteelly as "supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion," but the net net (as it were) is that
"The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world..."
Your billions of taxpayer dollars at work.
"One app shared users' locations and other personal information with 10 other companies within three seconds of being turned on."
It looks like I'm on the same side of the issue as Pope Francis, and Amy Goodman: "Why would the U.S. risk killing innocent Syrian civilians to punish the Syrian regime for killing Syrian civilians?" Russians and Republicans and Democrats and a Pope finding common cause, somehow, and an opportunity for Congress to do something useful. From the Pope's remarks on Sunday:
"Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.... I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people."
That might not work either, but in the absence of any good guys for us to support, sending a message with cruise missiles is a helpful idea for defense contractors, and no one else.
The possible unintended consequences we won't like seem far more numerous than the possible beneficial effect.
There are now 2 million Syrian refugees living just beyond its borders, in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, putting enormous pressure on these countries. More than 4 million Syrians are internally displaced. Many more are fleeing Syria in anticipation of a U.S. attack. After touring the crowded camps this week, Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, said on the Democracy Now! news hour that he is opposed to a U.S. attack: "Our concern is that a military strike ... offers the potential of widening the conflict, turning it into a wider regional conflict, inflicting the potential for more civilian casualties."
Think Progress charts the whip count in the House, currently 217 "No" or leaning that way. That's 49.9% of the members, versus just barely 10% tallied as "Yes" or leaning yes. Idaho's two representatives are leaning "No," their default opposition to the president.
If Northwest Nazarene University has a single goal, it might be reasonable to assume it's "education." All organizations have the same overweening goal as organisms, first of all: survival. What they recognize as next most important, what they are surviving in order to do, varies considerably. In business, profit is often explicitly acknowledged in this "primary" position, as it was in Bill and Dave's most excellent company where I used to work, the first of seven corporate priorities. (I see HP has moved it down a notch; "customer loyalty" first?)
But what if you're in the university business? It gets complicated. NNU is a non-profit, but they do need to keep enough cash coming in to survive. And then there's the goal to foster religious values. Their About NNU page could lead you to wonder if education is really the number one goal.
"Our mission is to encourage a habit of mind that enables each student to become God's creative and redemptive agent in today's world. We believe that the education obtained from NNU prepares graduates to be global Christians through academic excellence, social responsiveness, and creative engagement."
I don't know that much (or care that much) about the Nazarene variant of Protestant Christianity, but as a regular reader of one of their professors who features the affiliation in his byline, I bring it up as counterpoint to the simplistic idea at the opening and close of his column this week.
He argues that the U.S. would be better off if the Fed stuck to one goal, just like most organizations have (in his imagination). The goal he wants the Fed to have is stabilizing prices, and forget about trying to do anything about employment, because they can't, really. And so what if the Employment Act of 1946 actually mandated that it try to do something. They should ignore that.
At other times, he's argued that really, we'd be better off without the Fed, or if the Fed just did nothing. Is his goal of "one goal" a stepping stone toward no goals? That sounds kind of silly, but then so does much of what he writes in his weekly columns.
This week, I'm wondering if he is so single-minded and beset with cognitive dissonance that his complaints about whatever the Fed does (or doesn't do) are as ingenuous as they might appear to a reader finding his opinion for the first time. Perhaps he doesn't realize that his careful omission of relevant details lends an air of dishonesty to his argument. If it isn't outright ignorance, the best it could be is disingenuous.
Thanks in part to his regular complaining, I've paid a bit more attention of late to statements by Ben Bernanke and the market responses to them. In June, it was excessive intervention causing uncertainty, then any hint of change, as he accused the Federal Reserve Chairman and other members of the Federal Open Market Committee of "toying with investor expectations." Really. This week:
"In May of this year, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other members of the Federal Open Market Committee suggested the Fed would soon cut back on the $85 billion monthly purchases of government bonds and mortgage-backed securities. Since then policymakers have backtracked, suggesting there are no plans to taper off all the new money they are pumping into the banking system.
"These Fed speeches created a significant amount of financial market volatility over the summer. ..."
The relevant fact Crabb omits is that the greatest volatility came about when the Fed gave what sounded to me like a very measured, very careful forward-looking statement, that if the economy, and especially the employment picture continued to improve, then they would scale back on their intervention intended to keep us from backsliding into recession. Partly in response to that overreaction, they emphasized the conditional aspect of their forecast: they wouldn't taper off too quickly, or too soon.
Crabb's own "one goal" seems to be criticism, of the Fed, more often than not. If facts must be overlooked to carry it out, that is not an obstacle. The Fed said they might do what Crabb has said he wants them to do and that created significant volatility. They backed off, perhaps responding to the volatility. Crabb blames them for causing volatility! It really is over the top.
Where better than Broadway World for Sarah Horn to tell her story about getting to sing "For Good" with Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl. And thank goodness for her friend Mike Kestler, who, "bless his heart, got the whole thing on video on his iPhone." The picture's not that special, but the sound—and the story—are.
The best director I ever worked under, David Warner, had a last-minute pep talk for inspiring performance that was a gift to the audience, no matter if it was one person or a thousand. Ms. Horn's description of one moment of the duet reminded me of that moment behind the curtain, between the weeks and months of rehearsal, and the first note from the orchestra:
"I could feel them traveling along with us in this unexpected musical journey. I was not singing for the crowd as a performer usually does but was singing FOR them, in place of them. I was them and they were me. I was up there doing what every single person in that audience wished they could do. I cannot remember another time where I felt more connected to a body of people and at peace with where I was and what I was doing in a single moment."
There is ample magic in the little boxes we use for so many things these days, almost as if we were all falling into... a computer game or something. Someone shared a picture of a coffee shop sign in chalk (on Facebook, of course), "No Wi-Fi, Talk to each other." Seems to be less of that going on these days, or more of other stuff, at least, involving little boxes.
While I await the seventh coming, and waking up to the alert that iOS 7 is available and I should contact the mother ship, I'll be thinking about my skeuomorphic metaphors of tabs and file systems and how I used to know where things are but not so much any longer, as heaps of information and gadgetry surround me and search algorithms mediate my connection to all the world's knowledge, if not my own memory and experience. Well, and my own memory and experience to the extent I keep those in photographs and typed journal entries.
"In the forthcoming operating system, almost all of these metaphors are gone."
That's following on the OS versions that seemed to be doing their damndest to hide things from me, in favor of what someone else thought I should pay attention to, or (especially) buy to enhance my user experience. But this iOS update will be free? Resistance will be futile, I'm sure.
"Apple has decided we're all finally natives in the world of the screen. And whether or not we like the idea, we can do things on our phones that are impossible in the physical world. The gadget is now the official center of the world Apple has created, and it needs no outside help."
My home state is sounding like Montana back in the day when Anaconda Copper ran the place. You probably never heard of the Gogebic Taconite iron mining company, but they have enough Wisconsin legislators in the bag to be writing state laws to the company's benefit. I'd heard of taconite, but not lately. Once upon a time it was "an uneconomic waste product" until we used up the good iron ore, and the Mesabi Range showed up in geography books, and court. The Reserve Mining Company (and the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald) put quite a bit of taconite waste into Lake Superior, before a mid-1970s court decision put a stop to that. But I digress.
Today's story is about short-circuiting Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources from having any regulatory teeth, lest it interfere with plans to make a 4 mile hole for fun and profit. The private land gets a sizeable property tax break if public access is allowed for recreation, but GTac is looking to have its tax break and tell the public to eat it, too. Never mind "inventorying of potentially threatened or endangered species and water and air monitoring by the public." Or by the company. Or by the DNR.
"The proposal to be voted on next Thursday morning would allow the mining company to keep the land in the Managed Forest Law program for the tax advantages, but close public access to portions of it based on a negotiated agreement between the DNR and the company. The public and the local units of government are completely shut out of that process."
Paul Krugman: Love for Labor Lost.
"In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike—and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation's workers."
Robert Reich's reminder:
"For much of the past century, the basic bargain at the heart of America was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling. Government’s role was to encourage and enforce this bargain. We thereby created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages. And a democracy that worked reasonably well."
The guy who gets credit for mass production of automobiles also innovated in paying his workers well, "three times what the typical factory employee earned at the time," which the The Wall Street Journal deemed "an economic crime."
These days, corporate profits and CEOs are doing great, but labor seems mired in a Great Recession that won't quit. The reality-based side of the WSJ and its editorial board remain in alternate universes, with the former noting that low wages have stagnated the recovery while the latter finds ways to opine that lower wages will be better. Somehow. Reich's point of view is that
"The only way back to a buoyant economy is through a productive system whose gains are more widely shared. The only way back to a responsive democracy is through a political system whose monied interests are more effectively constrained."
I don't suppose the WSJ editorial board is big on that, either.
A bit of synchronicity brought the item on NPR's "code switch" blog to my attention just after I read the first chapter of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, "Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress." (The blog post is by someone named Lakshmi Gandhi, just to bring it all full circle.) The NPR piece is a (shorter) history behind the "sometimes offensive" expression "Don't be an Indian-giver."
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org