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unraveling

28.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Republican Study Committee humor Permalink to this item

Steve Scalise's emails on behalf of the Republican Study Committee are good for a few laughs once in a while. The talking points are so deliciously over the top, even if they can get long in the tooth. Today, there's this:

"The IRS’ targeting of free speech should send a frightening message to all Americans who hold sacred the freedoms that are guaranteed to us under the Bill of Rights. This week, the House struck back at the Obama Administration's heavy-handed style of Chicago politics by passing H.R. 3865 which blocks the IRS from implementing regulations that stifle free speech and constitutional rights. This legislation takes an important step to stop the Obama Administration from implementing new rules that are focused on unfairly targeting their political enemies."

As if... the IRS actually did any of that? Yes, what an attack on free speech it is to question whether a political action group has a "social welfare" claim for tax-exempt status.

Scalise didn't recite the precious title of HR 3865: the "Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014." They did managed to collect a few votes from Democrats in the House, but govtrack gives it a 28% chance of passage by the Senate, which seems high, especially given the bad blood on the standoff between veterans' benefits and sanctions on Iran, "supporting our military" in a draw with "sticking a finger in Obama's eye."

Part two of the mail is about "Ensuring fairness for all," and complaining about Obama's attempts to "unilaterally rewrite laws" "each time it delays Obamacare for a select few."

Because the Republican Study Committee wants Obamacare implemented for everybody ASAP? No, no, the legislation with the FAIR acronym (what, no BALANCED?) is to unicamerally rewrite the laws to suit themselves.

25.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ruh roh Permalink to this item

Not sure what it was about the news story about an iOS security flaw, but one whiff motivated me to download the 7.0.6 update on the iPad at my earliest convenience, today. Catching up on the news, burbling through Gizmodo's explanation of why Apple's huge security flaw is so scary with a certain smugness, I came to this

"[T]his has been going on since September. Of 2012."

Your Secure Sockets Layer encryption setup not actually secure? For millions of devices in use worldwide? For a year and a half?!

Wow.

Whoring is whoring Permalink to this item

If I can stomach my way through a whole Charles Krauthammer column (I usually can't), there's an inevitable moment when he finds a quintessentially perfect self-indictment, and nails it. The one that ran in last Sunday's Idaho Statesman is my case in point. Obama exploits unsettled science floats at upper right of page 1 of the Insight section, pretty much the Fox News talking point since the president brought it up in his state of the union speech. News, weather and sports, you know, and everybody knows something about the weather, which is a piece of climate if you like and isn't climate if you don't like, feel free to take your pick.

Cottonwood catkins

Krauthammer's illustrative parallel is with mammograms, somehow. An example of where science got something wrong, so nothing is certain. (Or at least for sure, "climate is less well understood than breast cancer," right?) And this appeal to authority:

"And how is it that the great physicist Freeman Dyson, who did some climate research in the late 1970s, thinks..."

Whatever he may think about "today's climate-change Cassandras," hijacking an old physicist to boost his point based on the essence of skepticism in science is a bit hackish even for das Krauthammer. He's probably tucked away last April's blog post from "True Jersey" nj.com, so satisfying to hear Climatologists are no Einsteins, says his successor, and easy to overlook the uncategorical dismissal of another profession with a sniper shot from the ivory tower:

"They’re absolutely lousy," he said of American journalists. "That’s true also in Europe. I don’t know why they’ve been brainwashed."

Not that anyone's going to confuse Krauthammer's punditry with journalism. The day's Bible verse distills any confusion, insufficiently cited from Deuteronomy 11, to illustrate the "more than a tinge of religion in their jeremiads," no less. The chapter is about rewards for obedience, and punishments for the opposite, and wouldn't it be ... something, if the appropriately nature-fearing ancients actually were on to something beyond the promise of (and justification for) having one's Lord "drive out all these nations before you" such that "you will disposses nations larger and mightier than yourselves."

I imagine he wanted to quote Dyson's "fellow Princeton physicist and fellow skeptic," the less well-known but more ascerbically-spoken William Happer:

"There are people who just need a cause that’s bigger than themselves. Then they can feel virtuous and say other people are not virtuous."

Yay verily I say unto you, even so, and these Cassandras are worshiping the false god of Earth Mother, too.

But Krauthammer started by staking out the high ground of agnosticism for himself, "repeating" for his lede that he's neither a denier nor a believer so that "Fox News analyst" Howard Kurtz can meta-analyze some misguided critics who wanted a newspaper to save on ink and thus "showed up just in time to make precisely the point I made in the column" as Krauthammer put it, which was ... what, now?

That the President is a whore for Cassandras? That some Britain's national weather service "concedes there's been no change—delicately called a 'pause'—in global temperature in 15 years"? (That was a report from last July; the MetOffice UK has been busy with some other stuff lately.) Most of all that science is never settled, so it's open season for potshots from pundits, so long as they start by claiming ignorance and vague belief in common sense.

24.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On the internet, everyone knows you're a dog Permalink to this item

Fresh Air's Dave Davies had a remarkable and disturbing interview today with Julia Angwin, investigative reporter and author of the book Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (which, yeah, I should mention has my Amazon Associates tag on it, so you can go shop and send me some vig, and get tracked by Jeff Bezos and so on).

Dave Davies: You wanted to find what kind of data is out there on you. Tell us a little about that, like for example, Google. Can you ask Google "what do you have on me?"

Julia Angwin: You can ask Google what do they have on you, and they do actually provide a pretty comprehensive answer. I was able to see all the Google searches I have conducted since 2006. Which was a lot of Google searches. It turns out that I had been doing about 26 thousand Google searches a month, and so I could see them by day, I could sort them by type of search, shopping, maps, and I was amazed at how revealing they were. ...

That would be well north of 2 million searches over 7 or 8 years, which yes, would comprise a more revealing and more durable record of who you are, or at least who you've been for the duration than you keep on the top of your head.

Angwin managed to track down about 200 "data brokers" with a month's work, with only "about a dozen" willing to share the data they had, which ranged from the "incredibly precise" to "very imprecise, inaccurate things, like I was a single mother, with no college education, living in a place ... that I didn't live." That very least accurate data was a company called "Alternative Scoring," producing an

"alternative credit score," to give "those [businesses] that aren't the normal buyers of credit scores a way to assess you. And I found this a little terrifying, because their data was by far the worst that I'd seen about myself and ... [one of the uses was] for hospitals to assess my ability to pay, if I showed up in their emergency room and they don't know who I am."

20.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Success in the Idaho Legislature Permalink to this item

Front page news: Controversial Idaho religious freedom bills are dead. I heard yesterday that HB 427 was being "sent back to committee," which I rather expected as an inevitable part of the process, but did not take as the last word. But this here, what Speaker of the House, Scott Bedke said: "It's not coming back this session." Russell waited until the very end to mention that

An Idaho Attorney General’s opinion said it likely violated both the Idaho and U.S. constitutions.

The companion bill, HB 426, sounds equally dead, before it had a hearing in committee. That one would have precluded the state from revoking occupational licenses if a licensee professes "sincerely held religious beliefs" for actions that would otherwise be unprofessional conduct.

From the 2004 Smithsonian National Museum of American History exhibit

After dramatic and overwhelmingly negative public testimony against HB 427, its author recognized the need for modification, at least, and it was sent to the House's General Orders for possible amendment. House members did, yes, have many good ideas for modifications, including my two favorites, to add the words instead, and (from Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, and candidate for the ID-01 U.S. House seat) to have businesses be required to post signs to indicate which groups they want to exclude.

A lot of bad ideas make it through the Idaho legislature in any given year, and many good ones fall by the wayside. (Medicaid expansion is this year's best idea that was pre-deemed a bridge too far, because Obama.) We man (and woman) up and take what comes. Once in a while, we have an unqualified success to celebrate in the form of DO NO HARM by doing nothing.

So soon? Permalink to this item

This some time cruelest and always shortest month has already brought no fewer than a dozen promo emails from United's MileagePlus program. Once upon a time, I was a regular enough customer to be one of the swells who gets to sit up front, gets called to the podium, gets free drink coupons. Now I'm one of the unwashed masses they stuff in the back of the plane and try to nickel and dime once we're committed and/or trapped inside.

They did succeed in catching my attention, at least. Mostly, I'm wondering when are you going to zero out my paltry balance?

They've registered a Service Mark for themselves, declaring they have "The world's most rewarding loyalty program. SM" Those designatory superscripts make me go "huh" most of the time, but it's good to differentiate declaratory statements with aspirations to fact from genuninely meaningless slogans. Anyway. I could liquidate my unused gift cards (I'm sure there must be one or two around the house), give miles away, buy more, get a credit card with no annual fee for one year and a whopping $95 annual fee after that, I could get a free checked bag, priority boarding, 30,000 bonus miles, earn 30 miles per $1 spend this Valentine's Day with FTD (whoops, too late for that one), choose Avis for up to 2,000 bonus miles, buy miles at up to 40% off for a spring escape and so on.

Before I'd tracked down my credentials to log in and check my account, I found an email I'd saved last May, and edited, to extract "the useful part of the ad-laden b.s." (as I put it to myself). Balance, year to date (zeroes, same then as it is now), and expiration: 6/30/2014.

Ok, delete all the emails, and make a note for May or June that I need to ping some activity to keep from getting whacked. Because who knows, someday I might fly somewhere, and United is still one of the very few choices in our town.

18.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Stream of unconsciousness Permalink to this item

Personally, I never thought Newt Gingrich was the smartest guy in the room, even though he has at times seemed pretty smart. Overcoming the decades-long funk of the Republican Party back in the 90s was clever, at least, but when he pushed his luck a bit too far and shut down the government, he started his long, slow slide to oblivion. Not to be confused with obscurity, of course. Why just a couple years ago, he was just sure he was going to be the Republican nominee for President, or as he put it,

“It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”

One of those "did I say that out loud?" moments for most people, but not for Newt. (Special mention to the "American Research Group" cited in that old story, giving Gingrich "a 31-point lead over Mitt Romney" in Florida; two months later when results were in, Romney had beat Gingrich 46-32.)

“I, also, am an amateur paleontologist, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the earth’s temperature over a long time, and I’m a lot harder to convince than just looking at a computer model.”

Way back when, Gingrich could sit on a couch with Nancy Pelosi and acknowledge that climate change was a significant problem requiring action. Somewhere along the way, maybe with his amateur paleontology hat on, he warmed up to the faith-based GOP talking point that it's all a hoax. Hell, the dinosaurs lived one a warmer planet, and everything was fine for them, amirite?

Now he's calling the Secretary of State "delusional" and saying he should resign. Via Twitter. Once Callista helps him with spell-check.

Let's just say I don't think Twitter is Mr. G's native medium.

16.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Aytpically intemperate Permalink to this item

Top-line teaser on today's front page, to the story about STATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SCOLDS OTHERS in a decision that doesn't sound terribly earth-shattering from John Sowell's report. But somehow Daniel T. Eismann got worked up enough to accuse his three colleagues in the majority of "deciding cases based solely upon whom they want to win or lose."

Pretty strong stuff for a case that's being remanded to the 6th District Bannock County Court for details about burden of proof and admission of evidence. Three judges on the Supreme Court rigged their decision to help out... well, I can't even tell which side they're supposedly helping out, but I can tell that they won't need air conditioning any time Eismann and Warren Jones are in the same room.

Jones concurred in the decision written by Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick and called Eismann’s remarks

“scurrilous and unfounded personal attacks upon the integrity and motivations” of the majority justices in the case. He wrote that they had no place in a written legal opinion.

Jones, who has served on the Supreme Court since 2007 and whose law career began in 1968, said he was “saddened and offended by such unfounded, unsupported allegations. He said there was “not a shred of evidence” to support the allegations.

“I am sad that Justice Eismann’s dissenting opinion lowers itself to personal attacks more suited to a schoolyard argument among teenagers than to a professional legal discourse that should be expected in a judicial opinion,” Jones wrote in the opinion.

Former Idaho AG and Lieutenant Governor Dave Leroy provided my headline, saying normally, Idaho's Supremes are congenial.

So, ok, tell us more about this Eismann character. He's got a book out as of last year, Freedom is Your Destiny!

"Vietnam Veteran Dan Eismann, using combat experiences to illustrate spiritual truths, invites you to take a journey with him as he presents a rock solid strategy for not only fighting your spiritual battles but winning the all important war. In the midst thereof, the most vital aspect is that you realize you can experience freedom and become all that God has destined you to be!"

Purple Heart, three medals for heroism, defeated Cathy Silak in the 2000 election, the first time a challenger unseated an incumbent SCOSTOI justice in more than half a century, served four years as Chief Justice, wrote a notable ruling defending secrecy for the Legislature's committees in 2006, once upon a time did work for Planned Parenthood, then became a born-again Christian.

It's been a while, but you can still dig up the story of that 2000 election, "one of the most partisan and contentious for the high court in decades," in which Eismann "appeared to benefit from," "tried to distance himself from," but declined to condemn "independently financed and orchestrated attack ads against Silak, the first woman appointed to an appellate court in Idaho, and capitalized on rural concern over Silak's controversial water rights decision last fall." Some of that attack ad spending came from good old Frank VanderSloot.

From that Lewiston Morning Tribune story in May, 2000:

"[Eismann's] castigation of the court in Idaho Falls this winter simply followed up on a blistering indictment Eismann issued eight months earlier when the five justices unanimously reversed him in the precedent-setting school support lawsuit, holding that the state has a constitutional responsibility to provide all students a safe environment conductive to learning.

"In a rare written rebuke, Eismann accused the Supreme Court of putting itself above the law."

Back in that campaign, "he declined to comment on any court decisions, saying that would be inappropriate," but he's feeling a little freer now.

Update: Facebook pal James Kent refers us to the Idaho Code of Judicial Conduct and its first Canon:

"A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved."

And further historical context:

"Justice Eismann was an obscure trial court judge in Murphy when he was approached by some Republican ideologues about running against Justice Silak, who had authored a politically unpopular opinion holding that certain federal water rights had priority status. Eismann is an Evangelical Christian and immediately began campaigning at Republican events statewide which was allowed but ethically questionable. Silak took the high road and only attended non-partisan groups to campaign."

For those not familiar with local geography, "obscure" and "in Murphy" are pretty much synonymous: it's south of Nampa, and on the way to nowhere, "an unincorporated census-designated place" in the vast and sparesely populated SW corner of the state that is Owyhee County.

15.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

On what makes a true blue Idahoan Permalink to this item

You can call him "Butch" or you can call him "Clem" but if you call him out on his outrageously inappropriate criticism of a sitting federal judge... well, his spokesman might give you a reply nearly as pithy as Edgar Allan Poe's raven, if the bird was raised in Rome: "Res ipsa loquitor." Props to the Idaho State Journal's assistant managing editor Michael H. O’Donnell for the best headline on the follow-up, Tilting at Winmills, to former U.S. Attorney Betty Richardson for her 2007 profile of the judge, and to other prominent Idaho politicians who spoke up for the judge when it was called for.

"Carol Winmill is gone from this world now and our good governor is lucky that’s the case. She would have boxed Butch’s ears."
Michael O’Donnell

To say that our Governor's intemperate outburst was uncalled for, would be too kind. His presumption in telling others who is and who isn't a true blue citizen of the state is nothing short of incredible. He's an authority figure who has trouble with authority. Does his 1993 DUI conviction—by a jury of his Idaho peers, no less—still sting? You don't have to dig through the alamanac for immortal anecdotes though, you can tune in to the latest Idaho Reports to soak up some of his folksy charm.

Asked about three big issues having to do with liberty that have collided in the legislature this month, the fundmentalist right-wing driven freedom to discriminate, the failure of the Legislature to respond to the Add the Words campaign for another year, and the NRA promoting guns on campus, Butch went for the low-hanging fruit.

"When it comes to Constitutional liberty," Butch started, hooray for guns on campus and the 2nd amendment," because "that campus is public domain."

Melissa Davlin asked what if "I want to carry my gun into a county courthouse... at what point do you draw the line?"

"Well, that's a good question..." he hemmed and hawed, and remembered his hunter safety training in grade school when he and his classmates brought their guns to school, and stirred his bucket of warm palaver before "surrounding it with compassion."

"Are we runnin' out of time?"

Yes sir, we sure as hell are.

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

$10 million man Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan prepares a bit of media criticism for inclusion in a time capsule for 2114 historians, as a wrapper for Bill O’Reilly’s Gift for the Ages. All I'd seen of the big Super Sunday interview with Obama was the tidbits The Daily Show used to lampoon the "the full Fox scandal grab bag," but when I started to watch the embedded YouTube video, I couldn't make it to the 2 minute mark. I'm trying to think of an adjective that's big enough to contain O'Reilly's ego. Insufferable? None that come to mind do him justice.

There's always plenty of "hypocritical" to go around, but O'Reilly's performance could be a new Olympic event, as Egan details by describing the softball sessions big Bill had with our last President.

"[R]ecords show that the bulk of the funding for [the Swift Boat] smears came from two men with close ties to Bush — one a longtime associate of Karl Rove’s, something that was easily found by a document search [that O'Reilly and his staff did not do]. ...

"O’Reilly then dismissed as “propaganda” questions about whether the combination of massive tax cuts and two costly wars might leave the country broke. [this during the 2004 campaign] ...

"The same Fox host who says his job is to hold politicians accountable actually warned his fellow citizens not to raise questions or protest.

“Americans, and indeed our allies who actively work against our military once the war is underway, will be considered enemies of the state by me,” said O’Reilly. “Just fair warning to you, Barbra Streisand, and others who see the world as you do.”

"Since Benghazi dominated O’Reilly’s interview with Obama, it’s fair to check how many times O’Reilly asked Bush about at least six attacks on United States embassies and consulates during his first term. Zero. It never came up in three long interviews, according to the transcripts Fox posted."

But the most telling item—and one about which O'Reilly has promised to "never speak of again"—is how much it cost to settle the lawsuit from a former subordinate who complained of “constant and relentless sexual harassment.”

$10 million will buy a lot of red roses and assorted chocolates.

Love it or leave it Permalink to this item

PayPal was spattered all over my incoming messages this morning. No, not because my spam filter's broken, it was Twitter chatter leaking into LinkedIn, or something. USA Today has the story of PayPal's president's credit card data getting stolen and used for "tons of fraudulent" shopping spree. My first thought was that having someone in that position get hacked might prompt more dilligent work to fix security problems. (To the extent they can be "fixed" anyway; the arms race between easy payment systems and people wanting to steal easy money won't be over any time soon. Note the bad news that the more secure "EMV chip technology" that they use in Europe didn't stop whatever the exploit was.)

"PayPal's Marcus did not waste an opportunity to tout his company's security benefits, saying the breach would not have happened if the merchant had accepted PayPal as a form of payment. PayPal says it does not share card or bank account details with merchants when shoppers use the service to buy something."

Hmm, did he let himself get hacked on purpose? Also, how do you authenticate yourself and your account if you pay by PayPal? If skimming is at issue, this is an in-person transaction, not online. Money Girl's quick and dirty tips talk about keeping a close watch on your account, (yet another) strong password we won't forget or lose, a two-factor physical security key, and "never access PayPal in public." PayPal's somewhat checkered history has certainly motivated them to improve their protections, but I'm short of convinced.

And in other news, below a too-close and personal mug shot, this same fellow is telling his employees to use PayPal's dog food "or else." San Jose in particular has too many slackers and not enough hackers.

“Employees in other offices hack into Coke machines to make them accept PayPal because they feel passionately about using PayPal everywhere. I don’t see these behaviors here in San Jose,” he wrote.

Be careful what you ask for?

12.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Rain and ice Permalink to this item

Rain

Just an observation about my behavior and response rate, as I muddle through the day about 4 or 5 interrupt layers deep from what I started working on first, about 5 hours ago. An email with the subject "This is pretty sneaky" caught my eye, and its body text did moreso:

"The President is about to propose a massive cut to Social Security checks that affects both current AND future retirees."

Definitely of interest, and what the hell? Checking to see if it had hit the headlines yet, I saw that the Senate voted to end the debate on the debt ceiling increase [good, no more shutdown circus, and good that the GOP's worst wingnuts are getting reined in, and no need for me to look to see that Idaho's senators did not join the supermajority], that Derek Jeter is going to call it good after one more season, the ex-mayor of New Orleans was found guilty, the Jade Rabbit died and it was Hundreds of Thousands Lose Power as Ice Paralyzes South that prompted me to push one more interrupt level.

Meanwhile, on the home front, a day of steady rain. Perfect February weather, although it would be more perfect if the snow level were a couple thousand feet lower. (5" overnight at Bogus but the stake says "4" now, and it's 35°F; this afternoon.)

Where were we? Oh right, massive cut to Social Security. No sign of that story. Did someone pipe up with a rumor on Twitter? Didn't see anything there, either. So, um, stay tuned.

Keep a weather eye.

11.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Can I borrow your phone? Permalink to this item

These days, that question can be a career-limiting move, as Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald explain on the new digital magazine they founded with Laura Poitras, The Intercept. Democracy Now! headlined it Death by Metadata.

"According to [Scahill and Greenwald], the NSA is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere."

(I wonder how many degrees of separation there are between this story and scammers enticing homeless people with some quick cash, to sign up for contracts they couldn't possibly fulfill with the perps reselling the smartphones on the black market. Could be a very black market.)

Exactly wrong Permalink to this item

Not all truisms are true. A stopped digital clock might simply be a blank screen, and thus not able to at least be right twice a day. A clock that's kept in good working order but is set wrong can be wrong all the time. This comes to mind while reading E.J. Dionne's opinion of where our current D.C. gridlock came from: the so-called "Austrian school" of economics, as highlighted by Ron "broken clock" Paul's insider call to his supporters during the 2012 presidential campaign.

It's only Austrian because Friederich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises happened to be born there; as Dionne notes, in the "economic juggernaut" that followed WW II (thanks to "government's exertions" in the New Deal, during and after the war), "the actual country of Austria, largely ignored the “Austrian” economists and followed a similar path." Which was good for them. Now we have "sweeping hostility to any actions by government to keep downturns from becoming catastrophes or to promote greater economic fairness," by Dionne's assessment.

One could argue whether the considerable (and continuing) action by government in response to the speculative real estate bubble and the "innovation" in finance that led to the Great Recession contradicts the claim, but certainly there was, and remains ample hostility to government intervention in the economy.

"Hayek believed, [historian Tony] Judt said, that “if you begin with welfare policies of any sort — directing individuals, taxing for social ends, engineering the outcomes of market relationships — you will end up with Hitler.”

"But to the contrary, postwar initiatives along Keynesian lines are precisely what prevented both the resurgence of fascism and the collapse of Western Europe into communist hands. For that matter, Keynesian steps also kept the whole world from going into a much deeper and more disastrous slide after the financial crisis of 2008."

8.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Consider the source Permalink to this item

A friend endorsed David Harsanyi's opinion under the derisive headline Unemployment is freedom under Obamacare on reason.com ("free minds and free markets") as "excellent," and observed that "evidently, the left and right agree that the ACA will influence people to 'choose' not to work."

Not sure why quotes on "choose," since that is word at the heart of the semantic debate about the CBO's recent projections and their being hijacked by the right for ammunition against the Affordable Care Act.

Harsanyi's meta-conclusion is that diverting a discussion of projected effects to mere semantics serves one side's purpose. If he did really intend meta-analysis (and not just adding to the noise about what the CBO said and what it means), he seems to have confused himself by his own take on the CBO forecast. He sees it as negative, and proceeds with the assumption (and no particular argument) that his is the correct, factual interpretation. Of the projections. Which if I had to guess he did not actually read for himself.

That he's "not sure why we pay this much attention to CBO projections" is an admission that he rather missed the point entirely. We pay this much attention because one side drew up negative talking points based on a misleading interpretation (to put it more charitably than Paul Krugman does there).

Remember that the CBO's mission is "nonpartisan analysis for the U.S. Congress." I don't read enough of their work to know how well they achieve it, but I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you go to the source document, and start with the web summary, you'd have to conclude first and foremost that the news coverage buried the lede. Literally.

"The federal budget deficit has fallen sharply during the past few years, and it is on a path to decline further this year and next year."

Wow, that's some good news! This year's deficit projection is 3.0% of GDP, close to the average of the last 4 decades. It's not all rosy of course, and recent years' large deficits have made debt-to-GDP "very high by historical standards."

"CBO estimates that federal debt held by the public will equal 74% of GDP at the end of this year and 79% in 2024."

That's not Grecian territory, but it is still lower than Germany's right now.

The CBO's summary is detailed, but not overly long, and surprisingly readable from where I sit. I only skipped a bit into the almost 200-page full report (searching on "participation") but it's available, and also fairly readable. The summary of their projections is good to very-good news, but if you want to dig in and extract the negative aspects of "changes in people’s economic incentives caused by federal tax and spending policies," that's in there too. Just don't take the spin from the extractive industry as the "real" story while you ignore the rest of the CBO's work.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in there about labor force participation rates, demographics, inflation (their forecast is that it will be modest, and stable, near-term, more good news). And you don't need the partisan hacks currently occupying actual seats in Congress to interpret it for you.

7.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your next opera plot Permalink to this item

Jeanette tossed out the idea for my headline as I was reading the NYT bombshell about "Wally Edge," mastermind blogger behind teen-aged politicsNJ. "Revenge of the Nerd" would work too, as the nebbish statistician for the h.s. baseball team with a good memory and careful habits goes up against the larger-than-life class president and whatever he was on the football team and stuff.

Bridget Anne Kelly, whom Mr. Christie fired after she was revealed to be the staff member who gave the order to create traffic problems, was one of Wally Edge’s best sources. Bill Stepien, the former campaign manager whom Mr. Christie sidelined after his name surfaced in emails disparaging the mayor of Fort Lee, was one of the young operatives whose career he nurtured.

The scandal, former sources and employees say, is the kind of story that Wally Edge lived for.

“He’d love every single bit of it, except for how it impacts staffers,” said one former employee, who did not want to be quoted by name because of conflicts with a current job.

Let's just say if you pre-collected any Christie 2016 memorabilia, keep it in the plastic wrappers and bring it to the Antiques Roadshow in a couple decades.

(One small correction for Ms. Zernike: 2000 was not "before blogs," even if it was before they hit the Zeitgeist.)

6.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

From the back bench Permalink to this item

Idaho's legislature has a much smaller version of the big House in D.C., with moderate Republicans running things as best they can, and rolling their eyes at the worst of the nut-jobs in their party.

Our own Vito Barbieri is making a bid for late-night, thanks to "the extra impact of video," so much more interesting than accounting on paper. With Post-it notes, a calculator, and a video feed, who cares if he can't shoot straight, doesn't want the boring job of actually serving on the budget committee, and has no proposals of his own?

“I’m just spouting off numbers and am creating confusion,” Barbieri acknowledged.

Religious free association Permalink to this item

Perhaps there were more than two people in support of Lynn Luker's defense of discrimination bill trying to get into the House State Affairs Committee yesterday, but in more than three hours of testimony that was the tally of public testimony on the record "in favor." Betsy Russell's excellent report doesn't mention the 40 to 2 tally, nor the two people from the Cornerstone Family Council who wanted the bill sent to the House with a "do pass" recommendation, but it covers the rest of the scene quite well. (Russell's Eye on Boise blog entries did include a lot more of the detail, reported live. The post at 10:35 MST yesterday summarized Barry Peters' and others' testimony, for example.)

More than 500 people showed up at the Capitol, and almost all of them to express opposition. The bill's author saying all that opposition "had an impact" is strange and disingenuous, but it is something to dump the bill to the House for unspecified amendment, rather than go forward with a vote in committee. I do wonder what a vote on it as drafted might have been, with 11 of the 13 Republicans on the 16-member committee firm in not having the committee vote one way or the other, and supporting Luker's choice to send it to General Orders. When the House gets to it, I imagine the author's amendment will be allowed, friendly-like, and if a Democrat has the temerity to offer an amendment to add the words it will be swatted down procedurally (because God forbid the Legislature should have to go on record on that).

Last winter

Then what? The House could save itself some heartburn by referring it back to committee, where Rep. Loertscher can preside over another half-day outpouring of public opposition? Or maybe with some time to think it over, he could accept the Attorney General's opinion that it "conflicts with the Idaho Tort Claims Act and could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge" and should be quietly spiked, along with its companion, HB 426, which the AG said is "likely vulnerable" to challenge because it violates both the United States and Idaho constitutions.

Some people like a challenge, though. Reading the Wikipedia entry for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 in response to a "notorious" Supreme Court decision, and then scaled back by the Supreme Court in 1997 (which ruled it "unconstitutional for state and local applicability") shows a fascinating stew of politics, law and religion. That 1997 decision prompted some state legislators to do their own thing, and experiments proceed. According to a law firm's "Religious Liberty Archive", Idaho is one of at least 13 states with its own RFRA, added in 2000.

Now Rep. Luker has come to the 2013 legislature to address "defects" supposedly exposed by other state's troubles. The discussion did get to "swords," eventually, but it didn't talk about how many edges the sword might have. One Tennessee congressman was disappointed to have their law protects "those people" as well as his own, for example.

December news from Ohio about a proposal in their legislature says they'd join "17 other states" if it passes, and quotes Joseph LaRue, "of the Phoenix-based Alliance Defending Freedom," founded in 1994 by James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame), among others, and with a decidedly particular "Christian" preference in its "unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation" in service to "the legal defense and advocacy of religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family."

Yes, there's a conflict between religious liberty and a specific, parochial definition of marriage, but they've got that covered with "natural law and the faith of millions" and a sneering dismissal of "a forgery of gender" for good measure.

The ADF's story of its founding claims "more than 30 prominent Christian leaders" and features "five exceptional men." Wikipedia contributors include a sixth, Donald Wildmon, the founder of the American Family Association which is now headed by his son, and where ex-Idahoan and professional bully Bryan Fischer is Director of Issues Analysis.

James Dobson, his organization, and the ADF are also listed among the "associations" of the organization of yesterday's two in favor, the Cornerstone Family Council, founded as the "Cornerstone Institute of Idaho" in 2000 by Gregg and Julie Lynde and Keith Kendall, and briefly the "Cornerstone Family Focus Idaho" in 2008, seen in 2012 backing the infamous forced ultrasound legislation in Idaho, and providing a voter's guide for "key family issues" that year.

"CitizenLink" bills itself as "A public policy partner of Focus on the Family, and lists various associated organizations as its state groups. Idaho's Cornerstone Family Council is "* Fully Associated *."

5.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Even worse from the Idaho House today Permalink to this item

Given a choice to save a hundred lives a year and save half a billion dollars over the next decade, or ... nothing, Idaho's House Health and Welfare Committee voted to say "now is not the right time."

We need to, uh, have an election campaign first, and waste tens of hundreds of millions of dollars, and let a bunch more people die first.

Dumped it to General Orders Permalink to this item

After 3½ hours of public testimony, and a couple of minutes "at ease," Rep. Lynn Luker averred that hearing from the citizens of Idaho was his "favorite part of the process," and that what had been said had some impact on him.

The nice thing about a seat on the podium is that having an overflow crowd show up with dozens of people representing thousands of Idahoans tell you they think your bill is wrong, offensive, ludicrous, divisive, provides cover for discrimination, has potentially repulsive consequences, is and will be bad for business, and have exactly two people (both from one organization, the "Cornerstone Family Council") speak in favor of it, you can take something positive away from that.

Suggesting that gee, he never meant an expansion of Idaho's religious freedom statute saying that "any person relying upon any government action, enactment or law" could be liable for "burdening" your religious exercise to be used "as a sword," but only as a shield, the author of the bill suggested sending it off to the House's "general orders" with a request to amend the qualifier "defensively" into the text.

Sort of like dropping back and punting, or maybe more like not being ready for the center to pass you the ball, and having it sail by your head and into your own end zone, hoping that someone on your team can fall on it for a safety before the other team gets it for a touchdown.

Betsy Russell reported that "short shortly before their vote today" (did that come in the brief minutes "at ease"? and why would this not have been made a matter of public record in the committee's proceeding?), members of the committee were provided with an opinion from our state Attorney General:

An Idaho Attorney General’s opinion ... concluded that the bill conflicts with the Idaho Tort Claims Act and could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge. The bill, according to the opinion by Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane, “could subject employees to personal liability when they are simply doing their job, and a court later decides that the state or local government policy burdened free exercise of religion.”

But damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

As for HB 426, plan on a constitutional challenge, given that parts of it

likely conflict with both the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and with the Idaho Constitution’s ban on the use of any public funds “in aid of any church or sectarian society, or for any religious or sectarian purpose.”

What did you do in the Legislature today, daddy?

No to "special rights," right? Permalink to this item

Among the many people rising in opposition to Lynn Luker's bills before the House State Affairs Committee today, Paul Rolig from the Board of Humanists of Idaho, and part of the Treasure Valley Coalition of Reason spoke eloquently:

"We oppose special rights for religious people. We believe religious and non-religious people should have the same rights and responsibilities under the law."

He called on the legislature to REPEAL THE WHOLE "Religious Freedom" SECTION of Idaho Code—it's "special rights," don't you know, that Republicans or so keenly opposed to. Right?

Update: I should note, and the chairman keeps reminding people who start giving HB 426 the criticism it so richly deserves, that today's hearing (still going after three hours, with some attrition among the long list of people who signed up to testify) is specifically, and only about HB 427. I'm sure the overflow crowd was motivated to show up and testify by both of these misguided bills. Will the whole process have to be repeated when the committee takes up HB 426?

Arguably, the legislative process would have been better served by combining these two bills (or their hearing).

Sincerely (or not) misguided Permalink to this item

It may or may not be sincere (who am I to judge?) but Rep. Lynn Luker's proposal to enshrine religious prejudice in Idaho Code is certainly misguided. 73-402 currently protects the "free exercise of religion" by providing that

"A person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government. A party who prevails in any action to enforce this chapter against a government shall recover attorney's fees and costs."

Luker's HB 426 would create a new section to provide carte blanche for holders of professional and occupational licenses to express their prejudices however they see fit so long as they're based on "sincerely held religious beliefs." Instead of assessing honesty, competence, compliance with state laws and regulations, the occupational licensing board would have the task of assessing "sincerity" underlying "client selection decisions," among other things.

And with HB 427 Luker proposes to add privilege "against any person relying upon any government action, enactment or law that burdens a person's exercise of religion."

Just yesterday, our Attorney General was telling JFAC the state needs to stop hiring expensive outside counsel, and here we are the next day, having a committee hearing on a constitutionally-challenged notion (to be as charitable as possible), and the author claims these two bills will have "no fiscal impact" on the state. Ignorance may be bliss, but it's not going to come free.

Should the swing of anyone's "free exercise" come close to the nose of any other persons in the state, litigation is a near certainty, and the law provides a lose-lose: taxpayers of the state will certainly foot the bill for the state's defense, and any party prevailing in an action to enforce the law "shall recover attorney's fees and costs." (It doesn't suggest from whom but we all know the buck stops with the taxpayers, not our indemnified "citizen legislators."

That's the misguided, or dare I say "stupid" dimension of these bills. Beyond "misguided," we can look at gross malfeasance, even before considering that the Legislature does actually have important work it could be doing.

Roger Ehlert provides some background on the context, the bills, and the man behind them, who "has fearlessly armed himself with First Amendment fervor."

“The growing level of government mandates in our lives: Obamacare, contraceptive abortion [sic] coverage that you may or may not want to support; mandates on the state and local level; counselors being told that they can’t include faith in their counseling even if the person wants it; same-sex marriage and issues, that’s a component, but it is not the focus of the two bills,” he said.

So, because Obama? That's good enough for a handful of the usual suspects as co-sponsors, but I would pray not a whole committee or body of the legislature. The state's occupational licensing board's have enough work as it is without adding the detection of sincerity to their tasks.

Luker pronounces that “This bill does not allow or encourage discrimination,” when that is exactly what it would do.

There is a crowd of people gathering and ready to enlighten Mr. Luker shortly, in the east wing of the Capitol.

4.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Missouri is beautiful too Permalink to this item

And hey, if the taxes are lower, let's pack up the wagons and go! Such was the idea that gave Idaho Rep. Kathy Sims of Coeur d'Alene the idea for a bill to give a generous tax break to military retirees under age 65, courtesy of a friend who'd just retired from the Marine Corps who told Sims she was "off to Missouri."

Sims wondered why the woman would leave, when Idaho is so beautiful, “She said, ‘They’re going to tax my military retirement.’” Sims worked with the Idaho Division of Veterans Services on her bill, HB 420; the division embraced the idea and is backing it, along with numerous veterans groups.

Insert one clause in state code and we can make a $3.5 million annual gift to express our love for those who served in and retired from the military. Some legislators pointed out the slippery slope of special treatment. (It was just last year that they had to say no to the Girl Scouts cookie monster, for example.) But our military!

Rep. Cindy Agidius, her voice breaking with emotion, said, “This is an easy vote for me. I am also from a military family. All three of my sons have served in the military, as well as my father and my husband. There’s a big difference between serving in the military and being in the Girl Scouts or being a fireman. I have a son who is a fireman,” and she said she’s grateful he wasn’t deployed for military service. “If we can exempt their retirement income, I am all for it,” Agidius said.

I've got a crazy idea: how about honoring our shared commitments, and recognizing that paying our fair share of taxes is part of our patriotic duty? We might also ask our lawmakers to recognize a vote that's too easy when they have a conflict of interest.

Deception and self-deception Permalink to this item

Still haven't got around to watching the also-ran SOTU rebuttals, and I confess I did not give my neighboring state's Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers my undivided attention during the most widely broadcast one, but I did pick up on what Paul Krugman summarizes as

"remarkable for its lack of content. A bit of uplifting personal biography, a check list of good things her party wants to happen with no hint of how it plans to make them happen."

Snow on Euonymous, 2013

There could have been a confirmation bias problem too, my assumption being that the Republican talking point was "we're not going to do anything you want us to do," and besides, it's time to start campaigning for the next election so we're all about positions and legislative "messaging" that can never find the light of law.

While it does bear repeating that the "Bette in Spokane" schtick was a load of sorry bunk (as reported by David Wasson in the home-town paper), I'm guessing that the people who "wouldn't go on that Obama website at all" are not going to be brought to their senses by a NYT op-ed, certainly not one by Paul Krugman.

There is a price to be paid for deception, and self-deception. For Bette Grenier and her family, it might be a bump in her monthly premium because she wasn't willing to shop at the Obama store, or it could be worse if they decide to "stick it to the man" by not buying insurance (whether or not they pay the penalty), and turn out to need some.

Still, both Wasson and Krugman emphasized Grenier's "minimalist" insurance, with its $10,000 deductible. Whether or not one can avail oneself of four doctor visits per year at no additional out-of-pocket costs seems beside the point, certainly for insurance. Comingling prepaid medical services with insurance may or may not be a good idea. If you think people should see doctors more often than they do, and need a particular visit to be cheaper, that sounds great. If you think people need more incentive to "take responsibility" for their health, it's a toss-up, or maybe you'd like there to be a co-pay so hypochondriacs don't go running to the doctor all the time and use up the capacity of the healthcare system.

In any event, a high deductible does not, by itself, make for "minimalist" (or inadequate, or "junk") coverage. If you have the means to cover the deductible if need be, $10,000 is a relatively small fraction of the bills for a catastrophic health problem. The probability of catastrophe matters, both for you and for insurance companies. If your bills don't rise to the level of the deductible, you may be better off financially with the cheaper, higher-deductible plan, a choice I've been making for myself for many years, dating back to when I was covered through an employer. If your bills do rise to the level of the deductible, then it will matter how good the coverage is, and besides, you'll have more important things on your mind to deal with.

Since I'm off-calendar with my health insurance, I only received "the letter" from my underwriter late last month. "Under federal guidance announced in November 2013" (which was plenty early to be factored into the Grenier's planning, let alone Rep. McMorris Rodgers' speech) I can keep the plan for its upcoming year. That's if I'm ok with it "NOT provid[ing] all of the rights and protections of the health care law," and that it "may not meet standards" for a bunch of things listed in the letter.

("May not"? Given that the policy is a written contract, and that sections 2701 though 2709 of the Public Health Service Act, as amended, are known, this could have been made more specific, I'm sure. But the government didn't require my insurer to make it so, and they did not choose to.)

When last I shopped for insurance—in 2011—I compared 8 choices from four providers, and ended up sticking with the same company I had (Regence), the lowest monthly premium, the highest annual deductible, and the highest lifetime maximum: I'm covered for $2 million, rather than only $1,250,000 that the other 7 plans and 3 providers offered. $750,000 is more than a lot of five-digit annual deductibles. So which is the "junk" plan? I compared annual premiums with my best estimate of what a "bad year" would cost (using the "annual out of pocket maximum"), and made what I thought was the best choice. (So far, so good, thanks for asking.)

I still have time to consult yourhealthidaho.org, the Idaho Department of Insurance, or my agent. Whether or not the government will be subsidizing me is up in the air, given our hard-to-predict income, but it is clear my nominal premium will be going up, by more than 100%. (So much for the benefit of clean living and individual underwriting, I've been thrown in the pool.)

I'm not calling my Senators or Congressman to complain, because amplifying the perfectly useless course they've chosen to take (shouting Repeal! until the cows come home) has precisely nothing to offer me in the way of financial or health protection.

3.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Squabbling toward perdition Permalink to this item

So now we know, the best defense beats the best offense. (But was that really the best offense? Oh my.) More importantly, how were the commercials? When I saw Coke's multilingual rendition of America the Beautiful, I thought it was kind of an odd choice, but reminiscent of that charming "teach the world to sing" thing they did many years back. (Here's a bit of a shock: that was 43 years ago!) I don't think I gave too much thought about how it would light up right-wing nut-jobs. But in retrospect, it seems as predictable as the annual "War on Christmas" put on by Rupert Murdoch's "News" channel. Here's "steadfast and loyal" (by his account) Allen B. West's take:

"Doggone we are on the road to perdition."

It reads like self-parody, but I do believe the man is serious about the "truly disturbing" fate that awaits us "if we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American [sic] the Beautiful” in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl."

Proud. To sing. A song. In English. In a commercial. During the Super Bowl.

I'll tell you what's truly disturbing. The likes of breitbart.com dialing up "outrage" and a trusty old gag metaphor over this seeming sacrilege of "a deeply Christian patriotic anthem" being sung in something other than American.

This would be a good time to review the history of the song, and its lyric, which is certainly theistic, but not the least bit "Christian." Katharine Lee Bates was educated, a college professor, a Congregational preacher's kid from Massachusetts, and in favor of the League of Nations. (She died in 1929, but it seems likely she would have been in favor of the United Nations, too.) I very much doubt she would find anything about Andrew Breitbart or his posthumous brand to celebrate, least of all his attempt to hijack her hymn, inspired by this beautiful country.

Update: Marc Johnson's take, Pitch Lady Pitch, covers everything I did, and then some, and probably better.

1.Feb.2014 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Parochial schools Permalink to this item

On the way to education reform, with forty-five states and the District of Columbia agreeing on a set of common standards to emphasize critical thinking and analytical skills, rather than rote learning, and starting to implement them in classrooms around the country, a funny thing happened. They ran into some folks who are suspicious of anything too "Common," or "progressive," or corporate, or coming out of the Gates Foundation, or god forbid, the federal government. Maybe this is the camel's nose of Agenda 21 come to take over the minds of our children!

We definitely cannot have something like that going on. We must rebrand these standards as local, because we don't want one state's students getting an education that another state thinks is appropriate. Reported in the Washington Post,

"South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), who is facing reelection, told a gathering of Republican women: “We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children. We want to educate South Carolina children on South Carolina standards, not anyone else’s standards.”

Florida's governor wants to assure his state's citizens that "these are Florida standards," "not some national standards."

It doesn't have to make sense, it just has to have political legs. Do you suppose it can be sufficiently rebranded to convince the conspiracy theorists that it's safe and local? I'm guessing not.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007